Posted on July 11, 2012 by
The Greenists are on vacation. Please enjoy this recycled post.
Two days ago, rambling with a friend along a rocky ridge way off trail in Grand Teton National Park, I had the opportunity, for the second time, to peer down into the upper reaches of Leigh Canyon, a wild place if ever there was one. Though the mouth of the canyon, which pours out into the air-clear waters of Leigh Lake on the floor of Jackson Hole, is only a few miles from the tourist beehive of Jenny Lake, the upper canyon is a place only glimpsed by marmots, adventurous ravens and, rarely, misguided off-duty park rangers.
The first time I had the opportunity to ponder the wildness of Leigh Canyon was three years ago as I made an end-around solo traverse of the head of the canyon on a two night trip. It was my first experience going off-trail in the park that wasn’t for the expressed purpose of getting to the top of a peak, and I was rewarded with near-absolute solitude, the only incursions being the occasional passing of jetliners overhead. As I made my way down the ridge to the low point between the canyon and the Idaho side of the Teton range, I was startled and then awed to see a black bear with a cub close at her heels crossing into the saddle from the west. I’d seen plenty of bears before and I’ve seen a score of them since, but I think it was the coincidence of our crossing paths that amazed me most at the time. Few people ever tread the route I was taking, and I can’t imagine that the bear spends a whole lot of time in the unforgiving environs of the divide, but there we were, each trying to get somewhere a little more pleasant.
I kept my distance, silently watching the pair as they carefully stepped their way down the steep, loose, rocky slope into Leigh Canyon, probably to see how the forage was down around Mink Lake, knowing there would be no bothersome, picture-snapping humans at that remote locale. I followed their progress until they were too small to pick out among the boulders far below, and then I too continued on my way to finding my own place to eat and lay down for the night.
Tuesday, as I reflected back on the experience from very near the same location, it occurred to me that it may never have happened if not for the commitment of a few visionary people long before the term environmentalist was even coined. Eighty years ago John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Horace Albright and others created this park through sheer will and much political and financial wrangling. If not for their efforts, the unspoiled places in the park like Leigh Canyon could very well have ended up hosting a ski area, a highway or even a strip mine. Instead of watching a couple of bears cross the divide, I could have enjoyed the whine and dust of a swarm of ATVs. Thanks to the idea of conservation, the bear and I both have a place to go to see things as they were, and as they always should be.