National Geographic : 1948 Jun
Cloud Gardens in the Tetons BY FRANK AND JOHN CRAIGHEAD With Illustrations from Photographs by the Authors FROM wartime service in warm oceans and hot tropical forests, we had returned to Wyoming-to the Jackson Hole valley and canyon roads of snow, to a dazzling white ness scarcely toned down by forest green, to nightly subfreezing temperatures.* Our wives, Margaret and Esther, had waited for us in a log cabin on the Snake River. Now we were packing our gear in to snow buried cabins of the Xv X Ranch, owned by "Uncle Jim," a homesteader who had arrived in this part of the country in the midst of a snowstorm, with $17.50 his total capital. The four of us webbed in with a load at a time. Taking off our packs, we read the sign on the door. "If I'm not at home, I'm off fishing. If I don't come back, see if you can make a living off the place." Old Jimmy was home, however, and wel comed us with a dinner of elk steak, fried parsnips, potatoes, muffins, coffee, and the remark, "Come and get it." Wilderness Fun Even in Winter During the following weeks the spring sun slugged it out with gray snow flurries that roared down the canyons of the Tetons and attempted to spread over the valley. Although looking forward to spring, we were not anxious to see winter go. There were skiing and ice fishing. There were wonderful light snows for tracking mink and marten, or for reading the story of beavers at work. The deep snow blanket slowed down the gaunt moose and elk so that we could overtake and photograph them from snowshoes. On one such chase Frank pressed a cow moose and her yearling too close and went up an aspen tree as she turned and charged him. Days of fly-fishing from snowshoes, when we froze the trout beside us as fast as we pulled them in, passed all too quickly. As if by magic a hot sun burned the snow blanket until the tops of the fences showed, then the tips of the sagebrush. Warm winds whipped away the evaporating moisture, while the porous glacial soil absorbed the melted snow and slowly released it to the Snake River. Almost overnight spring had come to the valley, and winter slowly receded up the mountains. Buttercups turned the first bare ground to a glistening gold. Shaggy, ill-tempered moose dragged out of the Snake River willow bot- toms, waded into the unfrozen beaver ponds, and daily grew warier as they gained strength and flesh from the slimy green algae. Grouse drummed in courtship day and night. Seldom glimpsed, Wilson's snipe performed their evening nuptial flights, their direction less, winnowing whistles seeming to come from dead trees in the swamp, from steepled spruce trees, from the dusky sky directly above, or from low in the sedge-lined channels leading to the beaver houses. A lonesome saw-whet owl calling vainly and monotonously for a mate, the hoots of nesting great horned owls, the ripples left by rising trout, aspens turning green and willows red all said that winter snows had retreated for another short half year. A move to summer cabins on the STS Ranch, owned by two naturalists, the Murie brothers, placed us within sight and sound of this and much more. With the appearance of the first buttercups. spring beauties, and yellow fritillaries, we checked our camera equipment, got together flower presses and vasculum, and, with per mission from Grand Teton National Park officials, prepared to photograph the alpine flowers (map, page 813). Snow still lay deep in the mountains, the flowers dormant beneath it. However, we could start photographing mountain-climbing flowers such as the buttercup, glacier lily, and spring beauty that bloom first in the valley, then follow the receding snows up to timber line. There were also valley flowers, the earliest bluebells and larkspurs. Supplies Must Be Light To back-pack up to the alpine regions, we had to select a minimum of equipment, with emphasis on lightness and utility. We started with the food. On a smoke rack open to the sun we placed salted strips of beef. The combined action of sun and aspen smoke * Frank and John Craighead wrote for the NA TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE their experiences as young hobbyists hunting and taming wild birds, "Adventures with Birds of Prey," July, 1937, and "In Quest of the Golden Eagle," May, 1940. Through the first story they received an invitation to visit a royal fellow-falconer in India, and the story of their experiences, "Life with an Indian Prince," appeared in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for February, 1942. Their Navy service is recounted in "We Sur vive on a Pacific Atoll," January, 1948. Graduates of Penn State College, they are at present working on their Ph.D. degrees at the University of Michigan.