DNA X #3

October 4th, 2011 by

“This Sublime Valley…”

H. Albright

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After a great stay in Boulder, we head “G” northwest on a nine-hour trek to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The weather is perfect, a dry 85 degrees and the traffic is sparse. We spend most of the day on WY Route 191, a combination of high sagebrush desert, mountainous forests and canyons. Arriving in Jackson late in the day it is clear that tourist season is in full swing. Bus loads, camper loads, van loads and overloaded backpackers have infested the small town. As usual we had trouble finding room at any inn. Last year we stayed in town but this year we found a bed in Teton Village at the base of the famous Jackson Hole Mountain Resort about 20 minutes out of town. We’re not particularly fond of ski resorts but actually this was a stroke of luck as the upscale Hotel Terra is clean, quiet and has a great restaurant, the Il Villaggio Osteria. Check out their homemade pizzas and Italian specials. The hoards of tourists and smoke-belching busses didn’t venture here. Right outside the door are gurgling creeks, fresh mountain breezes and “bear warning” signs. Oh, I forgot to mention, this is home to grizzly and black bears, not to mention mountain lions, wolves and other large, toothy mammals. We failed to notice this detail in the brochure so be advised and pay attention when hiking on the trails as there are no fences to quarantine the wildlife. JHMR puts on a summer face and offers a variety of activities to keep you busy. Ride the ski lift to the top of the mountain with your bike and ride down the trails or just wander in to one of three restaurants perched at the summit and enjoy a meal with spectacular views. The gourmet Couloir Restaurant and Bar sits at 9095 feet at the summit of the Bridger Gondola. Reservations are recommended and bring your camera!

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Last fall, we had our first encounter with this area (see DNA X #19 2010). We were so enchanted that we had to return. What was it about this place? Grand Teton National Park is one of the most spectacular places on Earth! Adjacent Yellowstone National Park, the National Elk Refuge and surrounding large tracts of National Forest provide a huge assortment of habitat for an incredible assemblage of wildlife not to mention spectacular scenery, geologic features, historic sites and more. It all seems so perfect and such an obvious choice for protection, but it wasn’t always that way. The history of the Jackson Hole valley is colorful and complex like the environment. Native Americans, trappers, ranchers, adventurers and tourists have all left their mark. The thought of making this area a park started in the early 1900’s. The National Park Service was eyeballing the Grand Tetons and the land surrounding the headwaters of the Snake River as an addition to Yellowstone National Park. At the time, the valley contained large cattle ranches and a few farms. With severe winters and few services it was a hard living.
The idea of “taking” away ranch land and “giving” it to the public for “enjoyment” was relatively new. Some struggling ranchers conceded to government buy out in the 1920’s while others were developing a new plan; invite wealthy easterners (“dudes”) to come experience the cowboy lifestyle. John D Rockefeller Jr. happened to visit the valley in the mid 1920’s and Yellowstone NP Superintendent Horace Albright caught his ear. Already unsightly development was making its mark on the valley and Albright wanted it stopped. Rockefeller agreed to purchase more than 35,000 acres for 1.4 million dollars. He would then donate the offending development and surrounding lands to the Park Service. This conservation effort was masked under the Snake River Land Company but when the ranchers found out about the plan they were incensed thattheir hunting and grazing rights would be gone. The battle lines were drawn and the fighting that ensued was contentious and sometimes violent.
After 20 years of bitter debate, lawsuits and political wrangling, the deal became reality. In 1950, Rockefeller’s lands and other parcels formed the current 310,000-acre Grand Teton National Park. Albright’s vision of protecting “this sublime valley” was finally a reality. Historic structures were also preserved in the valley such as the barns and houses along Mormon Row and Cunningham’s Cabin, the oldest sod-roofed log cabin. There are still many dude ranches to visit. Most are family friendly and offer horseback riding, fishing, rafting, hiking and National Park tours. Many of these ranches are booked well in advance so plan ahead, not like we didn’t!

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We decided to explore some of the off road trails in the park and search out a quiet fly fishing spot to brush up on our shaky skills. We stop at a fly shop to get a fishing license and purchase some of the local, fake bugs (flies). As we inquired about where to fish, we asked the casual question about grizzly bears. The old codger behind the counter adjusted his glasses so he could look over the rim to see if we really looked that stupid. “Yep, a couple a folks got killed so far this year, hiking in Yellowstone…” He leaves a long pause for effect. “They’re out there alright, can run pretty fast too…you do have bear spray don’t you?” He’s now looking at us like we have bad B.O. “Well, no we don’t,” said Jay who is right up there with Stephen Colbert in his distain for bears. Conveniently located right in front of the counter is a glass case full of large aerosol cans. No, the bears don’t use deodorant and the thought that some aerosol can is going to stop a charging, pissed-off, 800-pound bear left us weak in the knees! The can comes with photos of mauled humans and mangled gear. Cute. We added a can to our pile and checked out. We wondered if the old guy was directing us to a bear hot spot set aside for yummy dummies…“turn right and follow the winding trail 5 miles, it’s secluded, lots of forest, trees fall across sometimes…you do have 4 wheel drive don’t you…? “ Maybe we need a chain saw! We jumped into “G” and locked the doors. We ignored the codger’s directions and decided to stay on trails where we had a good 360-degree view. We followed the sagebrush banks of the Snake River spotting moose, eagles and antelope. We ended up along the banks of the Gros Ventre River, one of the Snake’s tributaries. Fly-fishing at last we kept the bear spray handy and maintained a sharp lookout for marauding bears. The coast was clear, perfect!

-Nelia