November has been a snowy month. Early moisture helps increase winter visitation as people watch the weather and choose where to ski. Everyone gets excited. Skiing by the end of the month is quite good. The weather pattern has been a bit warm creating a solid snow pack around trees, rocks, stumps and vegetation. The month ends with almost 100 inches of fresh snow so ¼ of average for this season. It’s a great start.
I spent most of the month camping down south in Arizona. When I left town in early November, temperatures were in the fifties and few elk were on the National Elk Refuge. By the end of the month, the change in weather has started animal migration and over 4000 elk have come south. They seek forage by scraping at the snow to reach grasses and broad-leafed plants. Supplemental feeding on the elk refuge usually begins by late January. Summer irrigation has helped natural vegetation so the amount of supplemental feed- alfalfa pellets- is a bit less.
The latest report from the refuge documented approximately 4000 elk on the feed ground, over 100 Trumpeter Swans on Flat Creek, over 50 Big Horn Sheep on Miller Butte, over 35 Pronghorn north of Jackson, and Bison moving south. Since the refuge was established in 1912, many species utilize this protected land. Bison seek the alfalfa pellets. Trumpeter Swans seek free flowing water. Pronghorn usually migrate to more wind-swept plains so might have high mortality if this storm cycle continues. They have not adapted to winter foraging so don’t move the snow to find food. If snow gets deep or crusty, they will starve. Big Horn Sheep come to lower elevations and can be seen on Miller Butte on the east side of the refuge. The stone outcroppings offer perfect habitat.
As winter descends on Jackson Hole, more animals can be found near town. We live in a small valley, and the town of Jackson is nestled in the south against Snow King Mountain and the East Gros Ventre Butte. It is ideal with shelter and water. We share this pristine part of the valley more in the winter as animals seek refuge and protection from the elements. Due to homesteading, animal territories have been reduced.
Moose, mule deer and elk can all be found near town. Having these prey animals also means mountain lions and wolves can be nearby. Living in harmony is important so we stay alert and enjoy wild nature in our backyards. Elk can be seen on the refuge, deer on the hills near town and moose along Flat Creek. Who knows where those elusive predators might be?
Early December continues the storm cycle. The weather systems ebb and flow bringing more moisture to the valley. Some days end with alpenglow before the next storm. Photo is over Teton Pass showing Mount Glory which is a popular backcountry destination. Here’s to a great season!
What’s in the woods
11/3-11/18-Arizona- Ponderosa Pine, Red-tail Hawks, Ravens, Hairy Woodpecker, Pinyon Jay, American Dipper, Stellar Jay, Night Hawk, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, owls calling
11/24- Flat Creek- American Dipper
11/30- Teton Pass- Stellar Jay
If you enjoy Nordic skiing, check out JH Nordic. It’s a new site that was launched last year and shares trail suggestions, grooming updates and much more. It’s a great resource. With these early storms, backcountry skiing options are numerous. Make sure to be prepared and check out JH avalanche.org for latest avalanche conditions, weather patterns and forecasts. There is a lot of winter to come so be safe and have fun!