It’s a warm summer night, and the airy, comfortable van has come to a full stop along an irrigation ditch in the sage flats. Dust whirls around the tires and Taylor Phillips, owner of EcoTour Adventures, raises a pair of binoculars to eyes.
“Anybody know if it’s a female or a male?” he asks, quietly, without turning his head.
He’s looking out across the sage flats by Mormon Row, an aptly named area just east of Blacktail Butte in Grand Teton National Park and the first settling place of the area’s early Mormon farmers. In the distance, four pronghorn graze majestically, illuminated by the golden rays of the long evening light.
Taylor has the passengers guess the gender of the elegant ungulates, pointing out territorial and behavioral clues that allow the guests to draw a portrait of what’s happening in front of them.
“Essentially, these guys are bachelors, and this is their bachelor pad,” Taylor explains. “See all that dead grass and dust? They don’t have the status within the herd to graze in more desirable territory, so here they are.”
The pronghorn, seemingly impervious to the EcoTours van parked by their pad, continue to graze. The light shifts, subtly, moment by moment, and the ridgeline of the Tetons cast lengthy shadows across the flat valley floor, creating a two-dimensional outline of the range. At Schwabacher’s Landing, the next stop on the tour, the sun dips behind Mount Owen in a final, flaring, brilliant farewell.
In between Taylor’s discussion of the earth’s stretching crust and scraping glaciers we wander trails by the twisting Snake River and giggle as beaver heads plow through the still water, creating ripples in the fly-strewn calm. The bison, elk, and moose, not visible now, but present, wander the plains and among the willow banks, sharing the cooling mountain air with the small group.
“I want people to think about how landscape and wild interact.”
While its glaring beauty never fails to arrest, this frequently crossed Antelope Flats area of Jackson Hole can lose its novelty as an exciting part of our local wilderness in its own right. Yet even here the captivating connections Taylor draws between species, plants, geology, and people shed new perspective on this giant ecosystem many call home. For him, the EcoTours experience is “to go ‘beyond pretty.’ Everyone is impressed with the beauty of this place. But I want people to think about how landscape and wild interact. How can people interact? How can a deeper understanding of this place make a visitor’s trip to the Tetons more memorable?”
The mountains have healing powers for us humans, and land holds the power to heal itself. For visitor or local, those stories of wilderness, nature, and history are etched across the valley, sprinkled across the high moraines, and sunken into the riverbeds. Those stories are written again every day at the hatch of a caddisfly, the unfurling of a scarlet gilia flower, or the brush of an elk’s leg against the silverleaf. EcoTours helps bring those stories to life.
To book a wildlife safari in Jackson Hole or Yellowstone with Taylor Phillips or his other naturalists click here.
Images © Taylor Glenn