Top 10 Reasons Why I’m Looking Forward to Floating Season

Barker-Ewing, National Parks, Rafting, Wildlife

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boat, guide, mountains

It’s been a long winter. Not that I’m complaining. Thanks to an epic snow season up here in Montana, I got out on my XC skis more than 100 times! But now that the snow and ice are receding, I’m ready to exchange my ski poles for my oars. The first Barker-Ewing Scenic Float Trips of 2018 launch on May 13th, and I’ll be joining the crew in just a few weeks, as soon as the school year ends. I can’t wait!

Top 10 Reasons Why I’m Looking Forward to Floating Season:

1.  High Water. The Snake River usually reaches peak flow in late June and early July. As snowmelt feeds the current, we’re treated to a display of the river’s awesome power as it carves new channels, erases islands, and dislodges huge chunks of the bank. Every day – every trip – is a completely unique adventure.

2.  Views. Our float trips travel along the base of the mountains right through Grand Teton National Park. The first rays of sunlight turn the entire Teton range pink. Clouds cast shadows, revealing crags and canyons. The setting sun creates a glowing orange backdrop. Seriously, could anyone ever get tired of this?

3.  Green. Winter white lasts a long time in this part of the world, before yielding to the earth tones of mud season. When the soft yellows of spring finally tint the cottonwoods and willows along the river, you know that green leaves can’t be far behind. …continue reading Top 10 Reasons Why I’m Looking Forward to Floating Season

Winter has ended

Barker-Ewing, Wildlife

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The Tetons in Spring

The long winter seems to have finally ended. (Except for the ongoing snowstorms and freezing temperatures so typical of “springtime in the Rockies.”) My wife and I have just returned from a cross-country ski around our local golf course, and the signs of spring are everywhere. Just since last weekend, we’ve noticed so many changes: in the light, in the clouds, in the quality of the snow cover, and in the number and type of creatures around us. We are lucky to spend lots of time in the outdoors, and to witness the many small miracles that occur around us in each season of the year.

My summers guiding for Barker-Ewing are marked by these repeating wonders: tree leaves bud, grow, turn color, and drop; antlers grow from velvet buds to hardened forked branches that are later shed; birds wing their way northward from the southern reaches of their ranges, arrive, mate, nest, raise their broods, and fly away south again; plants grow, bloom, mature, wither, and fade back into the ground from which they sprung. In this way, we river-dwellers track the days, weeks, months, seasons and years. …continue reading Winter has ended

Olympic Fever

Barker-Ewing, Biathlon, History, Jackson Hole, Recreation, Winter Olympics

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I’ve got Olympic Fever! Up here in Jackson Hole, as the old joke goes, we have two seasons: Winter, and the Fourth of July. The warming climate has subtly altered this once-accurate description. We still enjoy just two seasons, but while Winter has become noticeably shorter, the Fourth of July has extended on both sides and is now known as Road Construction. (For those of you from more temperate climates who are wondering about the two seasons that remain: Spring in Jackson Hole is three days of mud, and Fall lasts about a week.)

Betty Woolsey, Olympian and Dude Wrangler

In truth, we do have a nice, long summer in this high mountain valley – long enough for our Barker-Ewing boatman to guide more than 200 trips each down the Snake River before low water and early sunsets bring the season to a close. But Winter comes early and it sticks around. Usually we have enough snowfall to start skiing before Thanksgiving, and in many years, spring “crust” skiing is still going strong in late May. These long winters have given many of us locals the chance to excel at winter sports. And with such an abundance of snow and cold, what choice do we have?

I was lucky to be a member of the Jackson Hole Nordic team in the 1970’s. Our training center at Trail Creek Ranch on Teton Pass was owned by Betty Woolsey, a legend in the valley and captain of the first women’s alpine ski team that raced at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Germany. Her generosity in sharing her ranch with local skiers launched the careers of many Olympians – including biathletes, Nordic skiers and Alpine skiers. (For those who don’t know, Biathlon combines cross-country skiing and target shooting.) Many more locals became members of U.S. National teams, representing America in non-Olympic years. …continue reading Olympic Fever

Whose Antlers Are Those?

Jackson Hole, National Parks, Wildlife

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Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park host annual animal and bird surveys – and the Christmas Bird Count was one of my father’s favorite events of the year. It seems as though birds and other residents of our ecosystem would be easier to spot in winter, when the seasonal background is mostly white and grey. You’d think that the mighty Bull Moose would be the easiest to spot. And they’re definitely here. Wildlife-spotters can find them around Blacktail Butte, along the Gros Ventre River corridor, and along the highway from the Wilson Bridge to Teton Village (an especially hazardous area for moose due to heavy vehicle traffic). But the Bull Moose, like many antlered animals in our neighborhood, wears a winter disguise.

Rare Video: Moose Loses an Antler | National Geographic

Flashback to 1992, when my wife was working in a jewelry store on the Jackson Hole town square. A visitor from some coastal city stopped in to shop, and commented on Jackson’s famous antler arches. “How horrible,” she lamented, “that so many beautiful creatures had to be killed to make those disgusting arches!” Eager to set her mind at ease, my wife happily informed this out-of-towner that members of the deer family – like elk, moose, and mule deer – shed their antlers after the fall rut and regrow them the following spring. This visitor’s eyes widened in disbelief. “That’s completely ridiculous. What kind of fool do you take me for?” Needless to say, she left the store empty handed. …continue reading Whose Antlers Are Those?

The Squirrel Highway

Barker-Ewing, National Parks, Rafting, Wildlife

The majestic Pine Squirrel

Three times a day from May through October, my fellow Barker-Ewing boatmen and I steer our rafts along the Snake River, from Deadman’s Bar to Moose, right through the heart of Grand Teton National Park. While journeying on this liquid highway, we are constantly on the lookout for the charismatic megafauna that use this same aquatic artery. We often get glimpses moose or deer hiding in the willow-shrouded banks or walking through the spruce and cottonwood forests that hem the river in place. On rarer occasions, we see bison, bears, and foxes.

Our rafts move fairly quickly, traveling with the current past banks and islands, so the wildlife we do see is usually on the large size. But the river habitat is teeming with hundreds of smaller species. We might hear a pine squirrel scolding us as we drift by its home, but we’ll rarely spot one unless it happens to be hanging around at the edge of the river. Boatman Hank McCurdy can identify dozens of birds by their calls, but that doesn’t make for much of a photo opp. And if you have shrews and pikas on your bucket list…well, you might as well forget it. …continue reading The Squirrel Highway