August has been hot and fiery. Meadows are crispy and trails are dusty. Rainfall has been minimal or non-existent and the regional fires exploded during the third week of the month. Fortunately, cooler temperatures and increased humidity has helped but overall hot and dry.
August seems to be a month of fires. The largest fire currently affecting Jackson Hole would be the Berry Fire in Grand Teton Park (currently 13,177 acres). A different fire ignited by campers near Pine Creek Pass on August 22, the Tie Canyon Fire, has burned 1,014 acres. It initially headed toward the town of Victor, Idaho where many local workers live. This small mountain town is immediately over Teton Pass or west of Jackson Hole. The hard work of firefighters continues to protect the town. This fire is 44% contained. These two fires are currently making the valley smoky.
The previous fires: Lava Mountain (14,644 acres) and Cliff Creek (29,429 acres) are mostly contained but continue to smoke and smolder. Smoky skies will dominate the fall but cooler temperatures and eventual snow will help with the fire-fighting effort. Mother Nature will put these fires out as winter descends on the valley.
August and September are the main fire months in Jackson Hole. It is good to remember the benefits of fire in our dry climate. Fire rejuvenates our forests. The byproducts of fire, nitrogen and phosphorous, promote a healthy forest and naturally fertilize the woods.
On August 19, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks closed 183 miles of the Yellowstone River to all water-based recreation due to fish die off. It’s one of the most serious diseases to affect whitefish and trout. It is called Proliferative Kidney Disease which is spread by a parasite. It is estimated that thousands of fish have died so the river is closed to reduce spreading of the disease. Effect of the disease have been escalated due to low water, hot temperatures, and recreational impact.
Any closure certainly affects local businesses. At this point, it has not spread into Yellowstone Park but has been found in the Yellowstone River in Montana. The parasite is not harmful to humans but healthy fisheries are crucial to the overall health of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
August is also the month of seeds and berries. The dryness has affected the berry crop but I have still found many tasty fruits: huckleberries, thimbleberries, Oregon-grape, serviceberry, chokecherry and raspberry. Fireweed, Epilobium spp., is one of the first plants to move into burned areas thus the common name. In late August, the seed pods dry to burst open with hundreds of seeds attached to a wispy piece of cotton. They are easily carried by the wind so help rejuvenate the forest after fire. The leaves also turn a fiery red in the fall.
Thank-you firefighters for keeping us safe!
In the woods
8/6- Lake of the Crags- marmots, pikas, chipmunks, monkey flower, goldenweed, fireweed, Engelmann aster, ripe thimbleberries and huckleberries
8/7- old pass road- rainy, overcast- ripe serviceberries, sunflower seeds and huckleberries
8/10- Glory/Ski Lake- lupine, fireweed, red-tail hawk, englemann aster
8/13-wind river range/ big sandy- pine grosbeak, ripe grouse whortleberries, ripe gooseberries, showy golden eye, sky pilot, moss campion, clark’s nutcrackers, ripe whitebark pine cones, mule deer
8/20- Teton Village Rd- osprey, bald eagle
8/20- Stuart Draw- hazy skies, three female mule deer, thick stem aster, monkey-flower, fireweed, shrubby goldenweed, clark’s nutcrackers
8/21- Cache Creek- mostly dry and crispy due to hot/dry conditions
8/24- Jackson Hole Valley filled with smoke from surrounding fires
8/27- Munger Mountain- buck deer in velvet, young grouse, fireweed seeds, golden eye
An amazing August hike is Phillips Pass. It is always beautiful and spectacular when the fireweed is blooming and going to seed. The mosaic of color is endless as the blossoms mature through the meadows. It is a longer hike so 8 miles round-trip with 1600 feet total elevation gain. You access the trail at the Ski Lake/Phillips Pass trailhead above the town of Wilson, WY on Highway 22. It is on the beginning of the Teton Crest trail. Lots of hiking options in this area. To see the meadows of fireweed, you do need to get close to the pass so a bit of a hike. Drier years make it more spectacular so this year is a great year to go. Have fun!