There is an interesting array of people working in Moose Junction, Wyoming. Nestled under the dramatically changing Teton Range. There are fire fighters, the wolf team, the reforestation crew, the infrastructure maintenance people and then there’s the visitor center staff and interns, all soaking up as much knowledge and experience as they can in this park and informing the constant influx of public about everything from bear safety to wildflower varieties. They mostly live in the park. Tucked away in tiny log cabins, between approachable trailheads with views of the Grand outside their bedroom windows. It’s like summer camp for adventurous outdoorsy adults. A way to work hard with nature and get paid to live inside national parks. It’s incredible. 10 mile runs with bear spray in hand. A morning trek up one of the last remaining patches of snow just to say you’ve skied in June. Hiking everyday, trails that hundreds of thousands of people cross the country in minivans and RV’s to hike once in their lives.
I’m sitting at Taggart Lake, just at the base of the Grand Tetons. It’s a mile and a half hike up here by a raging stream. At the bottom of which a baby moose is in a bush nursing. The water in the lake is ice cold and crystal clear. Tiny blue butterflies flit across the path.
Little chipmunky squirrels come up to say hello. In the distance you can hear dead trees being felled by the fire crew. A buzzing chainsaw, a shout and then a crash as the tree hits the water. The pointy face of the Grand looms over it all like a squat old man who’s seen it all before. Not that there’s a whole lot going on in Wyoming. 6900 foot elevation and the nearest town of Jackson is only 8600 people.
I’m staying with Zoe Nelson, park ranger, up in what’s called the Highlands. A tiny circle of log cabins, with a fire pit in the center. The way down from Taggart is another two and a half miles, winding up above the lake to the southeast and then twisting down through lush hills covered in blue sage and blossoming damp forests where the wind makes leaning trees rub together and squeak. Just as the road comes back into view it starts raining. Yes there are obvious endorphins from the hike, and heightened senses from thinking every sound out there could be a bear, but there’s also this Disneyland, just-too-perfect look to everything, especially in spring, especially at the foot of such dramatic mountains as the Tetons. Heaven on Earth is the best I can describe it and I envy the smart group of rugged, mountainous people who found a way to call this place home.