Posts Tagged ‘wyoming’

A Brief History of Grand Teton National Park’s Mormon Row

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

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Grand Teton National Park is a photographer’s dream, and one place in particular draws photographers from all over the world: Mormon Row.  It’s such a distinctly American vista: the craggy, dramatic Teton range looming majestically over a symbol of settlers’ dreams and tenacity in a harsh landscape. There’s such beauty in the simplicity, in the Moulton Barns in particular; the way the warm light hits the wooden beams, some vertical, some horizontal. I’ve wondered over my years of visiting the park about the history of the area, but I never knew much besides a vague idea.

Basically, the Homestead Act of 1862, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, said that people could migrate West and set up a homestead and get 160 acres of public land to own, free.  In the 1890s, Mormon settlers from Salt Lake set up homesteads in what is now called Mormon Row. They named the village Grovont, after the Gros Ventre river (which is actually named for the Indian tribe, and means “big belly” in French). All in all, there were 27 homesteads, clustered close together, unlike most Western homesteads, which tended to be quite isolated.  The closeness helped the people of Grovont share work duties and community. In addition to the ranches and homes, Grovont also had a schoolhouse and a church.

The land and the climate are harsh. The soil was sandy and rocky. Winters in the area are long and brutal, and farming season is relatively short. The people of Grovont dealt with these conditions by digging a network of ditches, to supply water to the community.  Water still flows in some of these ditches.

Probably the most famous structure in Grovont still standing is the John Moulton barn. Pictured above, it stands near the more modern, arguably less attractive, pink stucco house that belonged to John and Bertha Moulton.  The Moultons originally lived in a log cabin on the site, but replaced it with the distinctive pink house after living there for many years. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in a pink house in the Tetons?

Nearby, John Moulton’s brother, T.A. Moulton, set up a homestead with his wife Lucille, and built a very similar barn. This barn looks a bit newer as it took T.A. Moulton over 30 years to build.

Several other barns and structures remain in the former village, which is basically a ghost town, if you think about it.

In the early 1900s, tourism in the Jackson Hole area began to take off, particularly “dude ranches.” Wealthy Easterners wanted to travel to the Tetons and have a taste of living the adventurous cowboy life. I had no idea that dude ranches were wildly popular in the 1910s and 1920s. But as tourism took off, so did people’s concerns about development and protecting the environment. Congress created Grand Teton National Park in 1929, much smaller than it is today. John D. Rockefeller Jr. in particular wanted to preserve the natural beauty of the area and began purchasing land, eventually buying 35,000 acres, which he donated to help expand Grand Teton National Park. Many former homesteads were donated or bought by the national park, some with agreements that the homesteaders or their descendents would continue to live there until their deaths. The former village of Grovont was acquired by the park in the mid-1900s, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.

 

Backpacking With a Toddler

Friday, August 19th, 2016

 

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Recently, my wife and I took our two-year-old son on his first backpacking trip.  We spent four nights in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, hiking 22 miles round trip to Shadow Lake, just west of the famous Cirque of the Towers.  Are we crazy?  Maybe.  Probably.  But it was one of the most memorable, awe-inspiring, and fun experiences of my life.  Even though, weeks later, we’re still getting all the dirt out of our hair.

Our son, who is 27 months old, is pushing 30 pounds.  Although he walked short distances on his own here and there, he spent most of the hikes on my wife’s back in a Deuter baby carrier.  That left me to carry pretty much all our gear.  With my photography equipment in my pack as well, it was very heavy.  Keeping weight down any way we could was crucial.  My gear is already really light: ultralight tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads; titanium cookware and 2-ounce canister stove.  I swear by my Steri-Pen UV water purifier, which is very light.  Our son loves drinking milk, so we brought powdered milk, and we brought some individually wrapped snack cheese for extra nutrition with minimal weight.  He also loves oatmeal, so we packed a few instant oatmeal packets for him.  Besides that, he pretty much shared our backpacking meals with us.  But of course the biggest kiddo-related weight issue would be diapers.  I did some research and discovered GroVia diapers: they’re “hybrid” cloth diapers with disposable, biodegradable inserts.  The inserts, while not quite as absorbent as our usual disposable brand, were light, packed tiny, and worked surprisingly well.  We bought two of the cloth diaper “covers” and rotated them throughout the trip.  This system saved us so much space and weight.

Giving our son a chance to hike a bit, especially in the flat, sandy-trailed meadows, was a lot of fun for him, and a nice break for my wife’s back.  It gave him an opportunity to stop and smell the wildflowers, and point out all the butterflies.  My wife: “what does a butterfly say?” Son: “butterfly say I love you.”

Seeing him take joy in bugs, clamber up a granite boulder and giggle with pride, and greet the tiny baby trout in a crystal-clear mountain lake (“hi littley fishy!”) are things I’ll never forget.  There’s nothing in the world like witnessing my son experience the wonder of the wilderness.

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Our sleeping arrangements took a bit of planning.  As we were just above 10,000 feet elevation, nights got pretty cold.  Our son slept in an REI poly base layer long-sleeve tee and socks, under fleece footy pajamas, in a fleece sleep sack (like a sleeping bag with arm holes).  We tried having him sleep in his toddler Patagonia down coat, but that didn’t seem to be comfortable for him, so we wrapped my down coat around him like a blanket.  He slept between us on his own kid-size Thermarest sleeping pad.

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Backpacking with a toddler is a challenge.  I’m not gonna lie.  Our packs were heavy and our backs were sore.  But it was so worth it.  I hope to give my son the opportunity to, as Emerson said, “live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.”  I want him to feel the exhiliration of the wilderness; to wonder at the stars and feel the ancient earth under his feet.  I want him to know the calls of ospreys and the peeps of marmots.  And, hopefully, I want to experience this with him again.  Soon!