July is wildflower month and it is the time of the year when activity options are endless. Mountain passes are snow free and you can wander where your heart desires. Living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem means choices are endless but backcountry travel does require proper planning for a safe, successful excursion.
Wild country surrounds Jackson Hole so following safety guidelines is important. Bear spray is a must. We always carry bear spray. We have the honor of living with wild nature so a pepper spray can protect you from many species. Having plenty of water and proper layers are also important. Heat exhaustion can be deadly so hot days warrant extra water. Lightweight water filters are available so you don’t have to carry a lot of water weight.
Statistics for hypothermia emergencies are higher in July than January. We don’t always think of cold during the summer heat but once you get into the mountains at altitude, weather can change drastically. Snow fell in the Tetons in early July. Being prepared can make the difference of an awesome trip or not. Finally, make your plan and stick with it. Tell someone where you are going so if something were to happen, help is on the way.
Getting into the mountains ensures you see the flowers. You can see some from the roadway but you really need to get into the meadows to experience “wow” moments. I promise you that amazing sights exist but you have to take the effort to get there.
As I hike, flowers radiate their glory. You turn the corner to vibrant color. Mother Nature makes her meadows “light and airy” according to my gardening friend. She mixes colors brilliantly and the beauty lures you up the trail. The purple flax leads you to the red scarlet-gilia onto the white osha then the yellow golden eye. Around the next bend, you see the clematis that has gone to seed revealing seed heads resembling punk rockers or Phyllis Diller. The red of the scarlet-gilia catches your eye and attracts hummingbirds. The white evening primrose shares its sweet fragrance as the large white blossom shines in its’ glory. With endless fields of flowers, and you imagine all the microorganisms in the soil that allows them to grow. Some species like the soil a bit acidic and some more wet, some more dry. The beauty is breath-taking! With 1000 flowering plants, mid-summer meadows glow in a mosaic of color.
July was a hot month with minimal moisture. Lower meadows are becoming dusty and dry. Lightning has ignited two fires close to Jackson Hole. The Cliff Creek and the Lava Mountain Fires are both burning in the eastern part of the valley. They are being managed to burn since started by natural causes or lightening.
By the end of the month, both fires are growing. The Cliff Creek fire, south of town, is estimated to be 21,500 acres. The Lava Mountain fire is burning north of Dubois, WY and is estimated to be 12,200 acres.
When the valley is smoky and the mountains hazy, it is hard to remember how important the role of fire plays in our dry climate. Fire is the way that Mother Nature rejuvenates the forest. Our climate is so dry that we experience very low humidity. Down timber does not decompose without fire. Fire finishes our nutrient cycle so the forests can thrive and be healthy. The current fires are predicted to burn until snowfall.
What’s in the woods
7/2- ski lake- sunflower, lupine, penstemon, adult and baby junco
7/3- Bondurant/ upper hoback road- herds of cow elk and calves, beautiful wildlflowers, biting flies
7/6- rainy day
7/9- ski lake- buggy, beautiful meadows
7/10- rainy/ snow in the tetons
7/11- Garnet Canyon- hollyhock, sunflower, monkey flower, cow parsnip, golden-mantled ground squirrel, pika, junco, raven
7/16- fire begins Cliff Creek and grows to over 10,000 acres in one week
7/21- Munger- sunflower, red squirrel, wood betony, Indian paintbrush, yampah, monkshood, smoke heavy in valley
7/23- South Leigh- meadows of flax, osha, sweet pea, hazy skies
7/27- ski lake- bugs getting better
7/30- thunderstorms, a bit of rain but July dry overall
Seems our current choices dance the smoke dance. Where in the valley can you escape smoke? Hazy skies are typical in the summer but this month is smokier than most. I recommend going west so away from the prevailing winds and smoky skies. Maybe an excursion in the Jedidiah Smith Wilderness on the west slope of the Tetons: Coal Creek, Darby Canyon or Teton Canyon. These would be hikes but you can also mountain bike in the Big Hole Mountain Range on the west slope of Teton Valley, Idaho. I also noticed the canyons in Grand Teton Park are fairly smoke free. We must remember the crucial role fire plays in the forest. Fire promotes regeneration with the release of important nutrients, phosphorous and nitrogen, the by-products of fire. Have fun!