THE TOWN OF JACKSON WYOMING
Jackson Wyoming is a gateway city – when you arrive there, you are greeted with a number of paths all leading from the urban back towards nature. The mountains and valleys, flora and fauna, rain, snow and sun all contribute to create one of the most beautiful locations in North America, one that is visited by more than four million tourists annually. Here you’ll find the scenery beautiful, and the photography opportunities unlimited.
School books and maps will tell you that the town of Jackson is located at 43°28′31″N 110°46′9″W (43.475, −110.769), at an elevation of 6,237 feet (1,901 m) above sea level. According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 2.95 square miles (7.64 km2), of which 2.91 square miles (7.54 km2) is land and 0.04 square miles (0.10 km2) is water. But, to paraphrase, that is just the tip of the lava dome …
Jackson sits atop the Yellowstone Caldera; the caldera formed during the last of three super eruptions over the past 2.1 million years. The last eruption, the Lava Creek eruption, happened some 640,000 years ago and created the Yellowstone Caldera and the Lava Creek Tuff.
The regions surrounding Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone have a semi-arid climate with the wettest months between November and January; the primary form of precipitation found is snow. Grand Teton National Park averages 450 inches of snow in the mountains and 191 inches in the valley annually. Over the course of the year, the temperature can vary widely by season; from -1 for a low in January to an average high of 80 in July, you can find just about any temperature you desire. Records include a toasty 93F down to a bone chilling -66F. High altitude passes can remain snow-covered until mid-July, and thunderstorms are common during the summer months. In fact, there was recently measurable snow in downtown Jackson at the end of July 2015!
THE ORIGINAL RESIDENTS
As is the case with most of the Americas, European and early American settlers were preceded by various Native American tribes. Human history of the Grand Teton region dates back at least 11,000 years. Notable native tribes found in the Jackson area included Shoshone, Blackfeet, Crow, Bannock and Gros Ventre Indians.
John Colter was the first Caucasian to see the Teton Range when he passed thru Jackson Hole during the winter of 1807/08. He was leading a group of fur trappers through the area after having parted ways with the Lewis and Clarke expeditionary party. Based upon Colter’s observations and explorations, Lewis and Clarke expedition co-leader William Clarke eventually produced the first map of the area in 1810.
Colter is widely considered the first “mountain man” and, like those that followed him to the Jackson Hole region over the next 30 years, he was there primarily for the profitable fur trapping. The region was rich with the highly prized pelts of beaver and other fur bearing animals.
Residents of Jackson and the surrounding areas have two legs as well as four. And with a bit of exploration, six and eight, too. Other than humans, the “big ticket” denizens are wolf, moose, elk and bear. With the introduction of wolves back into Yellowstone National Park a few years ago, the eco-system of the region has begun to return to its natural balance. Grizzly bears, wolves and free-ranging herds of bison and elk live in and around the park. The Yellowstone Park bison herd is the oldest and largest public bison herd in the United States. In general, however, this region is one of the most in tact ecosystems found in the world today.
You’ll find hundreds of species of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles in the region, including several that appear on endangered or threatened species lists. The vast forests and grasslands also include unique species of plants, and Yellowstone Park is the largest and most famous megafauna location in the Continental US.
The region experiences forest fires each year; in 1988, nearly one third of the park was burnt. Fire, however, can be a blessing in disguise to ecosystems of this kind. The regrowth and positive long-term effects of fires are well documented. The role of wildfire is an important one for plant and animal species diversity. Regions of the park that have experienced wildfire in historical times have greater species diversity after reestablishment than those regions that have not been influenced by fire.
William Henry Jackson is credited for creating the first photographs of the Teton Range and Yellowstone during the 1871 Hayden Expedition. His photographs were an integral part for preserving the land in and around the Greater Yellowstone eco-system and utilized as the justification for creating the world’s first national park – Yellowstone. Since William Henry Jackson’s first trip here in 1871, millions of photographers have and continue to flock to this region to capture its natural beauty. Ansel Adams was responsible for his Snake River Overlook image and then photographers like Art Wolfe and Thomas Mangelsen continue in the tradition of highlighting the natural history here even today.
AVAILABLE TO YOU NOW
In the national parks and wild areas around Jackson, you’ll find a wide array of recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, boating, fishing and sightseeing. And, as evidenced by the variety of published photography, it is a beautiful place to create images. Access to some of the major attractions is via paved road and hiking (and often paved) path during the warmer months, and visitors can access the much of the park by way of guided tours using snow coaches or snow mobiles during the winter months.
For the non-photographer, or the photographer who isn’t out in the field, there is plenty to do. Museums, galleries, arts-related activities and more are available to every visitor. Drop by the National Museum of Wildlife Art for a look at an amazing piece of architecture in addition to a collection of art that dates back to 2500 B.C. You can also walk through the square downtown and visit the numerous photography galleries or just spend some time sitting in the park surrounded by the four infamous antler arches.
And while there is plenty to do indoors, the outdoors is there and calling every minute of the day. If you’re into it, or interested in it, it is probably available to do. Road biking, mountain biking are great options when the weather is reasonably warm and dry, though with the advent of “fat tire” bikes you’ll be able to ride year round, on any snowy or muddy terrain. Be aware of posted speed limits if you’re riding on paved roads; many roads are narrow and trucks with trailers, RV’s and other wide vehicles are spotted everywhere.
There are also a plethora of off-road and downhill mountain bike trails, suited to every skill level and bike imaginable. Jay Goodrich was responsible for photographing the first national article produced on the riding here for the May 2014 issue of Bike Magazine.