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

Nature and Literature

Barker-Ewing, Environment, Rafting, Wildlife

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When I was in high school many years ago, the local environmental education program offered some great courses to help students see, imagine and create connections between the classroom and the great outdoors: Art and Nature, Nature and Literature, and Nature and Photography. I remember taking a Nature and Photography one winter and delighting in the contrasts between shadow and light as I tried to capture drift lines, silhouettes, and the subtleties of the snowy landscape. Those early days at the Teton Science School were adventurous and illuminating, and many of us who passed through its wooded gates have moved on to careers in science, ecology and the outdoor industry. It part of the reason why I chose the river-guiding life 35 years ago – and why I’m still guiding today.

I was recently reminded of these formative experiences at the Teton Science School when I chanced across an advert for a master filmmaking class put on by the great documentarian Werner Herzog. Herzog’s required reading: The Peregrine, by J.A. Baker. Herzog talked about The Peregrine as the only book you’d need to become a great filmmaker. I’m always on the prowl for illuminating reading, and a huge fan of Herzog’s films, so I ran down to our local independent bookstore (The Country Bookshelf in historic downtown Bozeman) and grabbed a copy. If you are in Jackson, try the Valley Bookstore, or order a copy. …continue reading Nature and Literature

The Greatest American Invention

Barker-Ewing, Environment, Hiking & Climbing, National Parks

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Families are important. Vacations are important. Our National Parks are important. And taking our families on vacations to National Parks might be the most important thing we do. As a culture, Americans enjoy a “love/hate” relationship with our jobs. We value hard work and industry to the point that we as individuals feel diminished when we step away from gainful employment. For some, there is a perceived threat that our value as an employee drops when we take a break and a co-worker does not. It’s a dilemma – but there is scientific evidence that taking time off to recharge and rest helps us approach our work with energy, efficiency and creativity.

And it’s not just vacations we need. We also can help recover from the demands of work by spending time outdoors, preferably in a natural setting. Over the last few years, studies have shown that something as simple as a walk in the woods can improve memory and performance. Time spent in forest settings improves mental and physical energy, relieves stress and reduces inflammation. When woodland walkers return to work, they feel better, perform better, and even exhibit calm during their commutes. …continue reading The Greatest American Invention