Sunday, September 27, 2015

Cold Mountains, Sliding Trees and a Lot of Hot Water - Part 1

Rafters on the Snake River
Jackson is a town in Jackson Hole valley; both are incredibly scenic. Although we visited in the middle of the summer, the nights in this area are a bit cool. Walking around the town was a study in international affairs in that we met travelers from all over the world and all were trying to see the sights, get something to eat and/or do some shopping. Jackson is the closest entrance to the National Elk Refuge, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. This area is almost as crowded in the winter because Jackson is also near to several ski resorts. If you’re into art, there are galleries in town as well as the National Museum of Wildlife Art, the Grand Teton Music Festival, and the Center for the Arts. The landmarks in town that tourists flock to are the large arches of shed elk antlers at the four entrances to the town square; these were put in place in 1953 and were restored in 2015. The only group allowed to collect antlers is the Boy Scouts. They go out onto the Elk Refuge, pick up the antlers, donate some to the city, and sell the rest to artists and folks interested in using them in folk remedies. Jackson Hole was visited at least 11,000 years, when the first hunter-gatherer Paleo-Indians began migrating into the region looking for food and supplies. It was originally populated by the Shoshoni, Crow, Blackfeet, Bannock, and Gros Ventre who used this lush valley as a place to hunt, fish and camp. Trappers and explorers traveled through the area in the early 1800s, and in the late 1800s William Henry Jackson was so taken with the scenery that he photographed Teton Mountains and Yellowstone. The first permanent white settlers began arriving in the 1880s; the Town of Jackson was established in 1894 and some of the early buildings can still be found in the Town Square area. In 1920 Jackson made history by electing the first all-woman city council. U.S. Government expeditions to the region started in the mid-19th century as a result of Yellowstone exploration. Although photographs taken by William Jackson and the sketches by Tom Moran were used as evidence to convince Congress to protect
Elk Refuge near Jackson, Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park, it wasn’t until 1929 that Grand Teton National Park was created. In the 1930s, conservationists led by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. started buying land in Jackson Hole which could be added to the existing national park. However, public opinion and Congressional efforts were against these efforts. The conservationists prevailed and Jackson Hole National Monument was established in 1943. In 1950 the monument was abolished but 30,000 acres of the monument land was added to Grand Teton National Park.

Cold Mountains, Sliding Trees and a Lot of Hot Water - Part 2

We left Jackson and the Tetons behind (although we did stop for several more pictures of
Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River
those grand mountains) and headed on up the Teton Park Road into our oldest national park. Yellowstone National Park is located mostly in Wyoming, but it also spreads into Montana and Idaho. It was established by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. This park is known for its wildlife and its many geothermal features, especially Old Faithful Geyser. It has a variety of ecosystems, but the subalpine forest is most common. Yellowstone is named for the igneous, volcanic rock rhyolite that changes to a yellow color as it ages and is exposed to the weather. When I was a geology student, our professor called this yellow rock ‘rotten rhyolite’ and I suppose I will always think of it as such. There are also other igneous rocks to be found in the park, including obsidian, a natural glass that the Clovis culture used to make cutting tools and weapons. In the 1950s, an obsidian projectile point of Clovis origin dating from about 11,000 years ago was found near Gardiner, Montana (the northern entrance to Yellowstone). Early explorers told stories of the existence of an area of ‘fire and brimstone’, boiling mud, steaming rivers, spouting water, a mountain of glass and yellow rock and petrified trees were dismissed as the result of either delirium or over-active imagination. Bad weather and the American Civil War prevented any exploration of the area until 1869 when the privately funded Cook–Folsom–Peterson Expedition finally made it from the Yellowstone River to Yellowstone Lake and began a detailed study of the area. With the evidence of this and subsequent expeditions, as well as the photographs by William Henry Jackson and paintings by Thomas Moran, Yellowstone was given the protection of National Park status. However, poaching and destruction of natural resources continued until the U.S. Army came to Mammoth Hot Springs in 1886 and built Camp Sheridan. Eventually there was enough funding and manpower to maintain protection of the park’s wildlife and natural resources. These policies and regulations formed the basis of the management principles adopted by National Park Service when it was created in 1916.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Diggin’ Dinos

Meeker, Colorado
It’s a long way from Colorado Springs, Colorado to Jackson, Wyoming so we decided to spend the night in Meeker, Colorado. I was introduced to this interesting little town back in 1981 when all that was there were a couple of bars and a public park. In fact, we camped in that public park on every visit that we made bringing teachers from the Science/Mathematics Education Department from UT-Dallas to Yellowstone. The last time I visited there was a bar that, for a couple of dollars, you could rent a towel and get a shower; that was real luxury compared to where we’d been camping! I’m happy to say that the town hasn’t changed much, except for the addition of several places to stay and a few restaurants.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Colorful Colorado

Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak
Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs are two of my favorite cities and I’ve written about them previously, so if you want to know more about the area take a look at Springing to Manitou. From Capulin National Monument it’s a short drive (about 244 miles or 393 kilometers) to Colorado Springs giving us just enough time to plan our attack on the Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak. The Garden of the Gods is actually a public park that was designated a National Natural Landmark (NNL) in 1971. The NNL Program is the only national natural areas program that identifies and recognizes the best examples of biological and geological features in both public and private ownership. The program supports voluntary preservation of sites that strengthen the public's appreciation of the country's natural heritage. The National Park Service administers the NNL Program and may assist NNL owners with the conservation of these sites. At the Garden of the Gods there is a Visitor’s Center with lots of information about the geology and ecology of the park; there is also a restaurant and a gift shop.

Friday, September 4, 2015

On the Road to Yellowstone

Across the valley to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains
Road trips are not my favorite way to travel, so why do I go on them? Generally I use this mode because I can’t see something I’m interested in any other way. One really good reason is to gain an appreciation of the natural world that surrounds us. Someone, and I can’t remember who, said that if you’ve never seen something you can’t appreciate it, and if you can’t appreciate it you won’t be moved to take care of it, and finally if you don’t take care of it, it may be gone forever. This is particularly true of the natural world. I spent a lot of years teaching about the ecology and geology of our country and I never saw a student who wasn’t moved to become a better steward of the land and perhaps inspire his/her students and family to become stewards, as well.

In 1981 I visited Yellowstone National Park for the first time. On the way there, we stopped at several other National Parks or Monuments. These are the gems of the US and should continue to be treated as such.

“The National Park Service invites you to find your park! In celebration of the 100th birthday of the National Park Service in 2016, we are launching a movement to spread the word about the amazing places we manage, the inspirational stories that the national parks tell, our country's natural resources, and our diverse cultural heritage.” 
~ National Park Service