Last week President Obama established the first national marine monument in the Atlantic. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument will protect 4,913 square miles that encompass three sea canyons and four underwater mountains. The area is home to rare deep-sea corals, endangered whales and some species found nowhere else on the planet. President Obama had also just created the world’s largest marine protected area by expanding to 600,000 square miles, a national monument (originally declared by President George Bush) off the coast of Hawaii, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.
I heard this news while on a two-week expedition of some of the US National Parks in the NorthWest and MidWest as guest of National Geographic Travel. This journey had been especially crafted in celebration of this the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Park system.
Back on Aug. 25, 1916 President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act establishing the National Park Service (NPS), which at the time oversaw 35 national parks and monuments. Until then, there had been no guarantee that the country’s national parks would be protected and preserved by the federal government.
The first National Park, Yellowstone National Park which resides in both Montana and Wyoming, was created by Congress on March 1, 1872 “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people” and placed it “under exclusive control of the Secretary of the Interior.” The founding of Yellowstone National Park began a worldwide national park movement. Today more than 100 nations contain some 1,200 national parks or equivalent preserves.
Guiding us through some of the most breathtaking and in some cases other worldly sites were two gentlemen that had never met – but as you will see, their partnership was meant to be. Expedition Leader Nathanael Dodge has not only been a guide for many years but is also a Wilderness First Responder, with loads of expertise on safety and survival. With his skill set we never had to worry about venturing up a trail and his previous experience as a crisis prevention instructor no doubt served him well in herding “us cats” that were prone at times to go off in several directions.
Joining Dodge was Ford Cochran, a NatGeo geologist, journalist, educator and I would include stand-up comedian. Who knew that bus chats as well as lectures at lodges on the history of the world as seen through rocks, mud pots, geysers, hot springs and minerals could be so funny. Not to mention his fascination with marmots (more on that later).
So there you have it – our group leaders were DODGE and FORD – so with a little poetic license:
This is one of the longer journeys I have taken – but it sped by quickly. Here is our itinerary starting at Jackson:
Even though Jackson was only a starting point, I immediately knew that my senses were in for a treat. The lodge was simple and rather spartan but our “backyard” was something else:
There was a definite “A River Runs Through It” vibe:
Definitely NOT Brad Pitt – as you are probably aware he is busy packing his bags). There was also a momma and baby moose seen walking along the grounds, but unfortunately I didn’t catch a pic (moose was not on my menu for this trip – but you’ll see what fauna I did snap in a later post). After a relaxing day – we headed north off to the Grand Teton National Park in northwestern Wyoming.
What is a “Teton?” One definition has it as another term for Lakota, one of the indigenous peoples of the Great Plains of North America. This is a much more romantic meaning than the one given by French-Canadian explorers meaning “teat.” You choose.
Whatever the meaning, the Teton range contains some of the oldest rock in North America – it started to grow some 9 million years ago and is still growing today – so many of its mountains are relatively young. The peaks have been pushed up over time, with the highest at 13,770 feet. Old or young the Tetons are spectacular:
The highest peaked mountain is aptly named “Grand Teton.” On the day we visited it danced tantalizingly amongst the clouds, but with the patience I have learned through stalking birds, all was revealed:
The clearing skies also gave me an opportunity for some closeups of the ice fields and glaciers:
The surrounding park also had plenty of eye candy – alpine terrain and 6 lakes: Jackson, Leigh, Jenny, Bradley, Taggart and Phelps. All have a quiet serene beauty:
Right in the middle of this serenity is a large towering boulder – its placement here was certainly not peaceful as it was transported and or pushed by the power of a glacier down to the forest:
These smaller rocks and logs were also deposited by glaciers/meltwater:
Even the dew seems perfectly placed:
I don’t think this tree was feeling too serene, however based of the bear clawmarks marring its bark:
However, I want to leave this post on a gentle note so as the last of the sun’s rays poke through the clouds I will bid adieu for now:
Next week: Yellowstone… or is it Mars?