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

The 21st of August

Barker-Ewing, Jackson Hole, National Parks, Wildlife

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Eclipse Sunset

The 21st of August was a truly magical day in a valley that has its fair share of magical days. We see glorious sunsets, bitter cold blizzards, gale force winds, towering thunderstorms, majestic mountains, spectacular views of the nighttime skies, and a wide variety of wildlife and bird life. In short, it’s perfect here. And by what feels like dumb luck (though is actually due to the patterns of planetary motion), Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park won the cosmic lottery and were in the path of totality for the total solar eclipse of 2017.

Eclipse Totality

I’ve seen pictures of total eclipses through the years, and have heard about people who, having gazed upon the sun’s corona, make valiant efforts to see it again. And now it all makes sense. Totality was one of the most beautiful and peaceful phenomena I have witnessed in my first 56 years. In person, it defied rationality, and left me with a bewildered child-like longing for more. …continue reading The 21st of August

Toughest Teeth in Town

National Parks, Rafting, Uncategorized, Wildlife

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The riparian bottomland habitat along the Snake River is home to a multitude of wildlife. One of the residents we often see is the beaver. There are two types of beaver in the world: the native North American beaver (Castor canadensis) and the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber). Here in Grand Teton National Park, we often see beaver in the late evening. As our rafts glide by the river’s willowed banks, we can spot these charismatic animals sitting on the shore grooming themselves, gnawing away at tree branches, or splashing into the water at our approach. Pond-dwelling beavers build dams across small streams to create deep-water environments as protection from predators, and for ice-free food storage in winter.  Along the swiftly flowing Snake, our bank-dwelling beaver can easily flee their clawed and toothed adversaries by diving into the deep channel or swimming to the opposite bank.

Beaver on Snake River bank - Barker Ewing
Beaver along the Snake River

The beavers along the Snake fell Cottonwoods and Willows for food, just as their counterparts do alongside the beaver ponds. A beaver’s primary food source is the delicate layer of cambium between the inner bark and the wood. And since beavers can’t climb, down the tree goes. Just like pond-dwelling beaver, our Snake River bank beavers also use tree branches to build the domed home called a lodge. Pond beavers usually build in the middle of the pond for protection, while the bank beaver use the lodge to cover the den that they’ve excavated into the riverbank. …continue reading Toughest Teeth in Town

Long Hikes, Short Hikes, Birds, and Squirrels

Barker-Ewing, Hiking & Climbing, Jackson Hole, National Parks, Wildlife

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Marmot at Phelps Lake is one way of seeing squirrels.

Like many destination resort communities, Jackson Hole has its share of trophy homes, five-star restaurants and Range Rovers. But what makes this place a destination in the first place? Grand Teton National Park, mountains that look like mountains, world class skiing in the winter, abundant wildlife, wild and scenic rivers. And the folks who live here year round really know how to enjoy these amenities. From professional ski bums to recreation enthusiasts, Jackson is full of people who have logged their 10,000 hours in all four seasons. They climb up and ski down our biggest peaks, bike or ski the entire circumference of the valley, run rivers in the morning and run marathons in the afternoon. I know one local gal who, at age 103, still straps on her skis every winter!

Jackson Hole is a land of extremes populated by extreme athletes. But there is plenty of room in this valley for those of us who don’t care to push ourselves quite so hard. Perhaps we’ve allowed our level of fitness to taper slightly as we’ve aged, or we’ve devoted big chunks of time to other pursuits (like kids and commuting.) We might start our outdoor season with a short hike to Taggart Lake. Or a slightly longer walk to Phelps Lake. We put in time on the trails – just not at the Olympic level. …continue reading Long Hikes, Short Hikes, Birds, and Squirrels