Getting lost in the mountains of Grand Teton National Park.

Our next stop – Grand Teton National Park – was a short drive south from Yellowstone on the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway. As Grand Teton borders Yellowstone on the south, vacationers often combine visits to both parks.

(Fun fact: Early French explorers named this mountain range; being overcome with awe at the majesty and scale of the peaks, they were of course reminded of breasts. ‘Grand Tetons’ literally translates to ‘big boobs’).

While a much smaller than its northerly neighbor, Yellowstone, the scenery of Grand Tetons is no less stunning. The park is named for the mountains that form most of its 309,944 acres. As the youngest mountains in the Rocky Mountain Range, the Grand Tetons are also some of the highest, with Grand Teton Peak (the largest boob) soaring to a height of 13,000 feet above the lakes at its base.

As with Yellowstone, we opted to explore Grand Teton by foot and by bike. Our first day took us on a 60 mile ride from Colter Bay through the Snake River Valley, where we were afforded unobstructed views of the mountains the entire way.

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Um, yeah, so this was pretty much our view for the entire bike ride. Tough to deal with, but somehow we managed.

At the Jenny Lake Visitor Center, we were happy to discover a 2-way bike trail that paralleled the main valley road for several miles. The trail – the Grand Teton Multi-Use Pathway – took us ~ 8 miles to the town of Moose, where we opted to turn back. However, the trail – which was one of the best maintained we’ve ever ridden – extended another 12 miles to the town of Jackson. If we’d had more time (and not rushing due to family dinner obligations) we would have loved to take it! All in all, the ride offered a beautiful stretch of gently rolling terrain with epic mountain views – and a nice reprieve from the significant climbing from previous days. On the way back, we picked up the pace quite a bit, snagging a Strava course record (or two) in the process.

Check out our bike route here!

The following day we took to the trails, eager to explore the mountains. We started from the Jenny Lake Trailhead near the Visitor’s Center, and took the Jenny Lake Trail up to Inspiration Point, before doubling back and then turning on Cascade Canyon Trail and following that along a swiftly rushing creek up to Lake Solitude. Along the way, we were fortunate to catch a glimpse of a mother black bear and her cub, happily munching away on huckleberries on the side of the trail!

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Best shot we could get of Mama (lower right) & Baby Bear from the super-safe distance we were keeping.

We were very careful in passing them both at a safe distance – and we’re glad we remembered our bear spray. However, both mother and baby seemed 1,000x more interested in their berry breakfast than us, and we happily wished them a good day before continuing on.

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The trail was technical in some places, but for the most part very runnable.

All in all, the trail took us up some 8 miles and roughly 2,500 feet before ending at a snow-covered valley with the ice-filled Lake Solitude at the center – a far cry from the sweltering, 90+ degree valley floor where we had started less than 2 hours earlier.

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The views on the way to Lake Solitude were beautiful.

We stopped to enjoy the views – and a quick bite to eat – before turning back. On the way down, we opted to soak our legs in the mountain creek – which felt so so good on our tired muscles!

Check out our run/hike route here!

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The view at Lake Solitude. Why we do what we do.

Throughout our stay, we were struck by the difference in environment stewardship (or lack thereof) demonstrated by the companies that managed the lodging/dining at Grand Teton vs. Yellowstone. In Yellowstone, they have all but eliminated plastic bags and styrofoam from the park, and Xanterra (the company that constructed and manages the accommodations there) prides itself on its use of environmentally responsible materials – from beetle-killed pine in the construction of its lodges, to compostable food containers. In Grand Teton, in contrast, the Grand Tetons Lodging Company offers plastic bags and styrofoam at all of its general stores, dining, and hotels, and there is a notable lack of designated recycling or compost containers – all of which seem antithetical to the purpose and mission of the National Park System. We invite the readers of this blog to write the Grand Tetons Lodging Company (www.gtlc.com) and ask them to commit to greater environmental stewardship in their management, including the elimination of styrofoam and plastic bags from their facilities, and the provision of more recycling receptacles.

Interested in visiting the Grand Teton NP? While we enjoyed our time there, we personally will not be visiting overnight again until the GTLC cleans up its act and commits to a greater standard of environmental responsibility. We encourage you to do the same. That said, you can still visit the park for a day hike or bike ride, without patronizing GTLC facilities. Feel free to check out the run and bike ride routes we did, or check the park website for other suggestions.

Fee? Yes – $30 per vehicle. Annual National Park Passes also accepted. Dogs? Yes – on leashes and in parking areas and along roads. Dogs and other pets are not permitted on trails in any national park. MTB? Yes – on designated trails.

Next stop: Utah – Arches and Zion NP!

Guest post: It’s time to get serious about planting trees.

AIR Adventures is excited to announce that it will be featuring a series of guest articles throughout the year, penned by leaders in global conservation efforts. Our first guest blogger is none other than Dr. Anne Hallum, the President and Founder of the Alliance for International Reforestation (AIR). Under her leadership, AIR has planted nearly 5 million trees in some of the most heavily deforested parts of Central America. In this piece, Anne writes about some alarming recent trends in climate change – and our best solution for addressing them.


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Dr. Anne Hallum with farmers, in a community tree nursery they have built with training and support from the Alliance for International Reforestation (AIR).

It’s Time to Get Serious about Planting Trees

By Anne M. Hallum

Founding President, Alliance for International Reforestation

 

Chances are, most of you reading this blog entry are already aware of climate change and the impacts that is already having on our land and weather. Did you know, though, that climate change is actually accelerating? Just this month, NASA, NOAA and JMA released data for 2016 showing that for the third year in a row, Earth has had the warmest year on record. Scientists attribute the accelerations in climate change to two key factors:

  1. The ongoing persistence of fossil fuel emissions; and
  2. What scientists refer to as “feedback loops”: vicious cycles that accelerate warming trends. One example is ice melt: because ice is light colored and reflective, it bounces back most of the sun’s rays, limiting warming. As more ice melts, however, it reveals darker colored water or earth below – which actually absorbs more of the sun’s rays, and contributes to faster warming, which in turn leads to faster ice melt.

The implications of these trends are significant: Just last fall, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) of the United Nations reported that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached the milestone of 400 parts per million on a global average for the year 2016. In regards to ice melt, the most dire predictions are that coastal flooding and displacement of 150 million people will occur within decades, and increased severity of droughts, fires, and storms will continue—even if we sharply cut carbon and methane emissions today.

So at this point, one may be asking the question of what can we do? The answer is a lot, but we must act quickly, and we must think big. How so? The answer is a simple, two-pronged approach:

First, we must continue and speed our shift to solar and wind energy. Second, and just as urgently, we must plant trees to absorb current greenhouse gases already circulating in our atmosphere.

One important – and simple – strategy in tree-planting efforts is called “regenerative farming,” which involves sustainable farming techniques including terracing, and inter-planting trees with agricultural crops. Additionally, regenerative farming involves replacing chemical fertilizers with cattle manure—plowing this waste into the ground instead of releasing its potent, harmful methane.  Members of the World Agro-Forestry Centre, the Alliance for International Reforestation and other non-profits working in developing countries have been training farmers for years in sustainable farming. Now developed countries are being called upon to shift from industrialized farming that contributes to climatic problems to wide-scale sustainable farming that will sequester carbon while it feeds us. At the Paris climate talks, about 16 percent of the official participants (25 countries) pledged to promote regenerative farming. (For more information on this solution waiting in the wings, see Eric Toensmeier, The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016).

Of course, planting trees through regenerative farming is not enough. We need to plant millions – billions – of trees in order to secure our future for future generations. This means planting not just on farms, but in national parks. City parks. And city blocks, as some community revitalization efforts are already doing. Your block.

Before you dismiss this as an impossible dream, I remind readers that in the United States, we have done this before: In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a works program created to give short-term jobs to 500,000 unemployed persons. This program succeeded in planting 3 billion trees in less than ten years!  The nation had been virtually deforested to build railroads, mining shafts, towns, and for “slash-and-burn” farming, as countless old photographs will show. Observant hikers in state and national parks will notice that old-growth mammoth trees are few and far between, while the majority of trees are roughly the same age—planted in the 1930s by the hard-working heroes of the CCC.  (See Jeanne Nienaber Clarke and H. Cortner, The State and Nature: Voices Heard, Voices Unheard in America’s Environmental Dialogue, pp. 141-53, Prentice Hall, 2002.)

It is important to visualize the scale of this accomplishment and to be inspired to do it again. Before the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, world athletes and officials demanded that the Chinese government do something about the debilitating carbon pollution. The UN Environmental Programme concluded that China rose to the occasion:  One of their steps was to enlist everyone from the military to school children to plant over 30 million trees and bushes in the city center . This was an impressive achievement, and the Beijing Olympics helped to change the attitudes of the Chinese government officials regarding the crisis of climate change.  However, those 30 million trees planted in China are just one percent of the 3 billion trees the CCC planted under Roosevelt’s leadership during the crisis of deforestation in the United States.

Here is some good news we should all remember: State and local governments and environmental non-profits do not have to wait for Washington—each one of us can contact our governors, state legislatures, and mayors to take the lead in combatting existing climate change. Here are some ideas:

  • Enlist university forestry programs to map areas of the state that have been stripped of trees by mining, storms, or fires and to identify the best native trees for carbon sequestration to plant in those areas. (Perfect grant opportunity!)
  • Work with environmental nonprofits, land trusts and private citizens to obtain private land not only for trails, but for reforestation. Reforesting pasture lands would be ideal.
  • Begin student programs in public schools and universities to plant 25,000 seedlings each.
  • City governments should enact strict ordinances against clear-cutting for development; or at least require mitigation of an equal or larger number of replacement trees.
  • Enlist National Guard details to reforest areas denuded by mudslides or forest fires.

We are making exciting strides towards a future of clean energy—just look at the work of Elon Musk and massive solar-power plants opening in India and China and Nevada. But trees and regenerative farming will sequester existing carbon. We have reforested our nation before, and as our planet and atmosphere are reaching critical junctures, we must do it again – and quickly!

Interested in learning more and supporting the work of the Alliance for International Reforestation? Then visit the website here or donate directly to support their efforts here!