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.

An impressive site, particularly if you’re interested in geology is in the Gros Vertre
Gros Ventre Landslide
Wilderness. The Gros Ventre landslide began on June 23, 1925 after weeks of rain and the melt from a heavy snowpack. Almost 50,000,000 yards3 (38,000,000 m3) of sedimentary rock slid down the side of Sheep Mountain, crossed over the Gros Ventre River and ran up the opposite mountainside about 300 feet (91 m). This dammed the Gros Ventre River forming Lower Slide Lake. Unfortunately, two years later this dam failed flooding the town of Kelly, six miles downstream. Since I first saw it in the 1980s, parts of the landslide have been reclaimed by the forest. It is still an impressive site, easily viewed from Antelope Flats Road near the re-built town of Kelly. Of course, we drove all the way up Gros Ventre Road to the Lower Slide Lake to get as close as possible to the slide area. Once there, we were greeted with rain and a small windstorm making us retreat to our car and head back to Jackson for dinner and drier weather. But once back in the Teton area, we did stop to see the Mormon Row. This area was settled by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to support their growing
L to R: Tetons from Mormon Row, Prairie Dogs
population. Arriving from Idaho, they built 27 homesteads in this area because of the relatively good soil, shelter from winds and proximity to the Gros Ventre River. These settlers dug irrigation ditches that can still be seen today along with the iconic Moulton Barns and Chambers Homestead. Not only did we take the requisite pictures of the buildings with the Tetons in the background, but we snapped a few shots of the critters who live near these barns, too.

The greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which includes Grand Teton National Park,
Mount Moraine
Yellowstone National Park and several National Forests, is one of the largest intact mid-latitude temperate ecosystems in the world. This almost pristine area still has the same species of flora and fauna that existed in prehistoric times including the Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout and the increasingly threatened Whitebark Pine. The major peaks of the Teton Range that are in the park are South, Middle and Grand Teton, and Teewinot Mountain. Although the Tetons are spectacular, I really like Mount Moraine because of the prominent black diabase dike that is about 1.3 billion years old. However, this isn’t the oldest rock in the range. The east face of the Tetons was originally on the bottom of a sea about 2.5 billion years ago. These rocks were then pushed, pulled, twisted and pressured into metamorphic rocks. Then, 70 million years ago, the first part of the Teton Range was uplifted to form the sharp topped mountains. Glaciers eroded the mountains; when they pulled back, moraines were left forming lakes, including Jackson Lake. To get the best look at the Tetons, you need to either take the ferry across Jenny Lake to the hiking trails that lead to Inspiration Point or go on the lake tour. This year we opted to take the tour and were treated to up-
L to R: Tetons from Jenny Lake, Dave and Vince at Jenny Lake
close views of Cascade Canyon, Teewinot Mountain and a rather photogenic Osprey nest. Jenny Lake was created about 12,000 years ago by glaciers that pushed rock debris carving Cascade Canyon and forming a terminal moraine. Jenny Lake is named for a Shoshone Indian woman who married an Englishman, Richard "Beaver Dick" Leigh. Unfortunately, Jenny, and their 6 children, died of Smallpox in 1876.

Ready to read more about the National Parks? Continue on to Cold Mountains, Sliding Trees and a lot of Hot Water - Part 2.

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