Nature News from GYE #18 Dec 8 2020

Moving into this December time of darkness toward solstice and then a new year is a good time for noticing the sky.    What is uniquely happening this year ?  Look at the link below to earthsky radio from the McDonald Observatory to see this next phenomena …..

“Jupiter and Saturn are getting closer, as they near their once-in-20-years conjunction on December 21, 2020. At their closest, they’ll be only 0.1 degrees apart. That’s just 1/5 of a full moon diameter. Start watching them now, and you’ll see them draw close together.

Star chart with Jupiter, Saturn, positions of very thin crescent moon December 15, 16, 17 and 18.

In December, just as Jupiter and Saturn are nearly at their closest, the young moon will sweep past them. From December 16-25, 2020, the 2 will be separated by less than a full-moon diameter, just as the moon is passing close. Don’t miss this glorious sight in the western sky after sunset! Jupiter is brighter, outshining Saturn by 12 times. Saturn is respectably bright, shining as brilliantly as a 1st-magnitude star. Read more.


The previous newsletter focused on “what is in a name” and referred to the early years in this region.  This  GYE news will go back to the history of post Yellowstone NP and development of what is now the town of Jackson, WY and Grand Teton National Park. This is a big, great conservation story to tell in a newsletter that intends to be brief, so bare with me.

Yellowstone NP was established in 1872.  No other National lands had been protected as this kind of entity.  US Grant was president and the Civil War was recently behind us.  Fur Trappers were exploring the region and, remember, Lewis and Clark, who never saw YNP or Grand Teton, had traveled though this area and returned east to tell stories of regions close by.

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cover of David W Marshall’s John Colter story

John Colter, who had been a part of the Corps of Discovery, turned back from the Corps and traveled back upstream on the Missouri to continue this nontraditional way of life as a guide and fur trapper.  Surveyors and explorers described and mapped this region.  Settlers arrived and intended to make lives in the regions that were inhabited by Shoshone and Crow people. 

Yellowstone’s  first years with National Park status existed without any formal administration. The National Park service did not exist.   Without a budget included in the law that created Yellowstone, the first superintendents were unpaid or had very modest stipends, so they were volunteers and either visited occasionally or  had other sources of income. Soon the US army began a 30 year post in Yellowstone. Army scouts eventually became NPS rangers.  The first official Superintendent after the National Park Service was created in 1916, Horace Albright, recognized that protecting Yellowstone as an island wasn’t enough.  “Yellowstone” as an ecosystem extended far beyond the boundaries of the National Park. 

Horace Albright proceeded to work with an organized group of citizens to the south of Yellowstone who wanted to create some kind of protection for the area that is now Grand Teton NP.  They all recognized that the valley to the east of the great mountain range needed some kind of regulations or protection, but  intended  to exclude some recreation, cattle ranching and dude ranching.   Horace Albright wrote a letter to John Rockefeller inviting the family to be his guests in this spectacular region.  They finally accepted and in 1926, JDR brought his wife and 3 sons to Yellowstone NP.   The family and Horace Albright toured the area to the south of Yellowstone and they found it quite disturbing to see this spectacular landscape being consumed by tourist facilities and cabins, gas stations, dance halls and hot dog stands.  

view close to Lunch Table Hill courtesy National Park service collection

Horace Albright took the family to a spot close to present day Jackson Lake lodge.  This spot is called Lunch Tree Hill

“The summer of 1926 found John D. Rockefeller, Jr., his wife and three children, again journeying to the West.  After a visit to the Southwest and California, in July they arrived at Yellowstone for a twelve day stay.  Soon Albright was motoring his guests south to the Teton country.  The first day they picnicked on a hill (now “Lunch Tree Hill” adjacent to Jackson Lake Lodge) overlooking Jackson Lake.  Five moose browsed contentedly in the marsh below them.  Across the lake spread the majestic Teton Range.  It was a day and a view destined to have a lasting impression on Rockefeller.”  Robert W Righter

After a year or more of considering this situation, Rockefeller worked with Albright and a group of local advocates to protect this area.   Under the auspices of the Snake River Land Company, many thousands of acres of private land were purchased, for fair market value.   The intent was to turn this land back to the Federal government and add it to the original 1929 Grand Teton National Park (at that time the park spanned the mountains and a few glacial lakes, excluding the valley to the east).

Jenny Lake at the base of Cascade Canyon

This became a very controversial issue for many interests.  Private property would be taken out of the tax base, lost access for hunting, ranching, settlement, tourist concessions and resource extraction would be all be limited. These and more reasons caused this donation of land to be delayed for more than 15 years.  The state of Wyoming was very resistant to this possibility.  Big fights occurred on the state and national level.  On Sept 15, 1950, President Truman signed the bill that created Grand Teton National Park as we know it today.  This included many private inholdings and donations of 30,000 acres of Rockefeller land. Many of the private lands have been turned over to NPS ownership today, but a number of concessions were made for this deal to occur.  Grand Teton is the only National Park with an airport within its boundaries (which existed before the current boundaries.) Many inholdings exist today which had been homesteaded before the current park boundaries.  Jackson Lake dam was built long before National Park Status so the existence of the dam and water ownership is different than what one would see in most national Parks today. Limited hunting permits exist in this Park, like no other.

However, without the concessions that were made to include the Rockefeller donations, we would not have this as part of our National Park system today.  You can learn so much more about this in a book called Crucible for Conservation, The Struggle for Grand Teton National Park by Robert Righter.

Moulten Barn in Mormon Row, one of the most photographed locations in Grand Tetons nps collection

What can we learn about this to apply to life as we know it?

GYE is a bioregion that is recognized by the World Heritage Center. It is one of the largest intact bioregions in the world.  This could not have been without the foresight of a group of people who came together and believed in a common idea.  We have these opportunities today.  Despite the discouraging news about our climate and future potential for resource degradation, some of the discouraging news of our planet’s demise can change for the better. With the ideas, beliefs and leadership of some great minds we can all be a part of reversing the trend.  Don’t give up! 

Best wishes to all of you as we move toward winter solstice. As always, please contact me if you’d like to be removed from the email list, or with any ideas or questions.


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