In the Tetons, you’ll often come across hitchhikers on the inner- and outer-mountain roads. Most of the time, the people you find are lone river floaters hoping to make it back to their cars or hikers in need of a break from the heel-toe express. So, in the time I’ve been here, I’ve picked up three different people going my way.
The latest of the hitchhikers was a guy named Jason Reinhardt, an employee of Hoback Peak Outfitters and a Wyoming interpretive guide. Of the people I’ve picked up – and they’ve all been great – Jason was certainly the coolest. I took him about an hour past the Moran junction (where I would have turned to go back to the station) to the city of Dubois.
The drive was long, but I pretty much got a free interpretive tour of the southern Absaroka Range, the northern Wind River Range, and the Dubois Badlands. Very cool stuff.
Plus, Jason knew a whole ton of stuff about bighorn sheep, wolves, bears, bark beetles, the Army Corps of Engineers, and so on. So, for the hour or so of our unofficial tour, I soaked up as much information as possible and stopped to take pictures on the way back.
Heading back west on Highway 26, we stopped to see the Tie Hack Memorial just past Elk Ridge. The memorial is dedicated to the people involved in the creation of the country’s first transcontinental railroad.
Tie hacks, as they were called, were loggers who could fell and limb a tree to railroad specifications quickly and accurately at a rate of about $25 per day. The tie hacks would float the ties down the Wind River, a technique that depended on accurate timing and water level estimates.
Past the memorial, we stopped at Brooks Lake and observed the bark beetle damage (thanks for the tip, Jason) and took a few pictures. The dead trees you see in the picture below are affected pine trees, which now provide burn material for wildfires.
We saw similar damage at Wind River Lake, also off of Highway 26.
In an effort to prevent wildfires from getting out of hand, the national forest organizes controlled burns – approved at a federal level – to manage the burn material. In other areas, affected trees are sold for lumber, which prevents the cutting of healthy trees.
The species that affects this area is the mountain pine bark beetle, which arrived to the United States as stowaways on imported lumber. These beetles live and breed on the inner bark of living trees, cutting the flow of nutrients, and killing masses. Frustratingly, it’s difficult to eradicate the beetles – you can burn them, poison them, introduce a competitive species (never a good idea, really), or trick them. To trick them, scientists mark individual pine trees – usually Whitebark Pines, which are important to bears – with chemical patches that tell the beetles “Stay away! I’m claimed by another beetle.” The problem is that the method is time consuming, expensive, and difficult to implement in alpine/subalpine areas. (Imagine climbing a mountain with a backpack of tree patches and spending all day stapling them to thousands of trees.)
At any rate, the forest seems to have a few ways of handling the problem, while also managing social interests surrounding lumber harvesting and private land aesthetics. Rock on.