Climb Grand Teton…Virtually

Grand Teton virtual climb

Click to view larger image of Grand Teton virtual climb, Photo Courtesy NPS Photo Courtesy NPS, K Kanes, Photographer

Photo Courtesy NPS
K Kanes, Photographer
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Scaling “the Grand,” that picturesque mountain that hangs over Jackson, Wyoming, along with its battleship-gray sisters in the Teton Range, was a ridiculous thought that found harbor in the back of my mind in the spring of 1985 when I first glanced up at the peak.

Along with a dozen or so other neighboring peaks that rise above 10,000 feet, the Tetons form a ponderous, jagged stretch of rock that is the Lower 48’s most arresting mountain range. The soul of Grand Teton National Park, the Grand as it’s known harbors world-class climbs.

Some climbers tackle the mountain on their own, while neophytes such as myself are herded ever upward under the watchful guidance of one of Jackson’s two resident climbing outfitters, Exum Mountain Guides and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides.

To me, an Easterner by birth, the 13,770-foot tall Grand Teton is a breathtaking, and incredibly tall, mountain. But climb it? Not only am I usually most comfortable with both feet firmly planted flat on the ground, but the thought of only a thin rope and a precarious hand- or toe-hold between me and an incredible long way down scared the hell out of me, quite frankly.

The view from atop the Grand Teton is incredible. To the west, the Jedediah Smith Wilderness stands. To the north, Yellowstone National Park. To the east, Jackson Hole, with the moraine that is Timbered Island so very well defined.

Now, if you haven’t climbed to the roof of Grand Teton National Park, or can’t, you can still enjoy the view.

A new virtual tour produced by the park staff takes you from the Jackson Hole Valley to the summit from the comfort of your living room or office. No cold or pelting rain, no thunder claps or lightning strikes, just a nice mix of interactive still photos and video cuts that take you to the top.

This virtual mountaineering excursion—or eClimb, as the park dubs it—provides an introduction to the features, geology, history, and excitement of scaling the granite ledges and spires that form the Grand Teton massif: the highest peak in the Teton Range and second highest mountain in Wyoming. This web-based tour introduces viewers to the various elements (rocky terrain, plants and wildlife) that exist in Grand Teton’s forest and alpine communities.

As an eClimber you can control images and sounds at each stop along your virtual tour, and you can activate videos to explore the human and natural history related to each location along the climbing route. By hovering your mouse over a photograph, hidden images will be revealed through the click of a button.

eClimbers can also use videos to imagine scrambling over boulder fields and wedging through rocky alcoves as they experience the thrill of climbing and drama of a mountain rescue in a virtual landscape.

To find this virtual climb, go to Grand Teton’s website ( and click on  “Grand Teton eClimb” near the bottom of the home page.

For Wild About Utah, this is Kurt Repanshek with National Parks Traveler

Image: Courtesy USGS,
Image: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek,
Text:     Kurt Repanshek,

Additional Reading:

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton eClimb

National Parks Traveler: Climb The Grand Teton…Virtually!




Pot Holes and Fairly Shrimp

Aerial view of potholes in Navajo sandstone, Grand County, Utah. Photo Courtesy USGS
Aerial view of potholes in Navajo sandstone, Grand County, Utah.

Photo Courtesy USGS 

Click to view larger image of Adult Fairy Shrimp, Photo Courtesy USGSAdult fairy shrimp
Branchinecta packardi.
Photo Courtesy USGS 

Click to view larger image of Adult Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp, Photo Courtesy USGSAdult Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp
Branchinecta lynchi
Photo Courtesy USGS 

Shrimp in the desert landscape of Canyonlands National Park? Yep. You can find them, –fairy shrimp– when the rainy season arrives and turns dry, dusty potholes into water-filled rock basins brimming with life.

A surprising array of creatures relies on these potholes for life, and one of the most curious is the fairy shrimp. These unique crustaceans are found in small potholes that dot sandstone outcrops found in America’s Southwest. Their eggs maintain resilience during the dry season, and when spring rains arrive, the shrimp hatch.

There are more than 300 varieties of fairy shrimp, the most common being the Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp. These little guys measure between a half-inch to one-and-a-half inches long as adults. They can be found anywhere ephemeral pools are present, though the majority of their population resides in California and Oregon.

Fairy shrimp vary in color depending on the menu found in their particular pool of residency, ranging from translucent, to orange, even to blue! They feature 11 pairs of legs to propel themselves upside-down, or more scientifically, ventral side-up.

They also use these incredibly helpful legs to eat unicellular algae, ciliates (sil-ee-its), and bacteria by filter and suspension feeding methods. They filter-feed by pumping water through filtration structures — located in their multi-purpose legs — thus capturing the food. They also are adept at suspension feeding by plucking food floating in the water, again, with their tentacle-like legs. They may also grab or scrape food from the surfaces of other things in their vernal pool, such as sticks and rocks.

What’s truly amazing is how fairy shrimp reproduce. They typically lay drought-tolerant eggs during the summer that over-winter in the dried sediment on the pot hole bottom and then hatch in the spring when the potholes fill with rainwater However, if drought sets in, eggs can be transferred to other pools by floating in gusts of wind or being carried by a particularly curious animal.

These eggs are tough and can withstand varying temperatures, drought, and even the test of time; eggs in laboratory settings have survived intact up to 15 years before hatching.

Under the right conditions, you can observe fairy shrimp in Canyonlands, Arches, and Death Valley national parks. Canyonlands and Arches boast at least two species of fairy shrimp: the Packard Ferry Shrimp, also known as the Rock Pool Ferry Shrimp or the Arizona Ferry Shrimp, and the Great Plains Ferry Shrimp.

Fairy shrimp hatch in the Spring, right after the potholes and vernal pools re-fill with water, so that will be your prime time to look for these interesting creatures. As travelers, you can do your part to help the fairy shrimp by leaving their vernal pools alone. Drinking water, stepping in, or touching a pool can throw off the entire mini-eco-system located in this fascinating habitat.

And remember, our fingers are very salty, so even if you’re using a gentle touch, do not put your fingers in a vernal pool, as it just might raise the salinity and throw off the dissolved oxygen percentage needed for fairy shrimp to survive.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Image: Courtesy USGS,
Image: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek,
Text:     Kurt Repanshek,

Additional Reading:

The Geology of Canyonlands National Park

Chesler Park
Canyonlands National Park
Photo Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, Photographer

Chesler Park
Canyonlands National Park
Photo Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, Photographer

Baked by time like some multi-layer geologic tort, Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah features a landscape cut by canyons, rumpled by upthrusts, dimpled by grabens, and even pockmarked, some believe, by ancient asteroids.

Just outside of Moab rises a kaleidoscope of tilted and carved geology laid down over the eons. There’s the red and white Cedar Mesa sandstone, the grayish-green Morrison Formation, pinkish Entrada sandstone, and tawny Navajo sandstone, just to name some of the geologic layers. Stacked like pancakes, they help make Canyonlands the most rugged national park in the Southwest and, quite possibly, if you find yourself deep in the park’s Maze District, in the entire Lower 48 states.

In each of the park’s districts — Island in the Sky, Needles, Maze and Horseshoe Canyon — the remarkable effects of geologic time and its endless erosion on this sedimentary landscape rise about you.

If you could turn back the geologic clock, you would see the landscape flooded by oceans, crisscrossed by rivers, covered by mudflats and buried by sand. At various times through the millennia, the climate has resembled a tropical coast, an interior desert, and everything in between.

For hundreds of millions of years, material was deposited. Layer upon layer of sedimentary rock formed as buried materials were cemented by precipitates in the ground water. Each layer contains clues to its origin, such as patterns or fossils, which reveals the environment when it was deposited. For example, the colorful Cedar Mesa Sandstone occurred when periodic floods of iron-rich debris from nearby mountains inundated coastal dunes of white sand.

Along with sedimentation, movements in the earth’s crust altered surface features. The North American continent migrated north from the equator and the local climate and environment here changed dramatically.

Peer into the ragged maw of Canyonlands from the Island in the Sky District on the northern end of the park, and it’s no mystery how the park came by its name.

Spend the night at the Squaw Flat Campground in the Needles District and a morning hike into Chesler Park surrounds you with Creamsicle-hued minarets towering high above, like a king’s crown.

Though Canyonlands covers less than 350,000 acres, which is less than one-seventh the size of Yellowstone National Park, it feels much larger. No doubt it’s the park’s vastness and openness — you won’t find any forests here. Indeed, one old timer said that, “On a clear day, you can see the back of your own head.”

Spend a few minutes contemplating the natural forces, and the hundreds of millions of years that laid down these sediments and compressed these layers of rock. It’s really only recently that these layers have eroded to form the remarkable landscape seen today in Canyonlands National Park.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Image: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek,
Text:     Kurt Repanshek,

Additional Reading:

Canyonlands National Park, National Parks Service,

Exploring The Parks: Musings From Island In The Sky At Canyonlands National Park, Article – Lee Dalton – 06/24/2014

Exploring The Parks: Musings From The Needles District In Canyonlands National Park, Article – Lee Dalton – 06/19/2014

Reflections Of Time In Canyonlands, Article – Lee Dalton – 06/19/2014, Canyonlands Articles

Hylland, Rebecca, What are Igneous, Sedimentary & Metamorphic Rocks?, Glad You Asked, Utah Geological Survey,

An Arizona Road Trip Back Into the Past

Montezuma Castle, Courtesy US NPS
Montezuma Castle
Courtesy US NPS
Location of Hubbell Trading Post NHS in the Southern Colorado Plateau Network,  Courtesy US NPSLocation of Hubbell Trading Post NHS in the Southern Colorado Plateau Network
Courtesy US NPS
Hubbell Trading Post, Courtesy US NPSHubbell Trading Post Interior
Courtesy US NPS

Arizona is rich in history — from the 1800s all the way back to the Late Triassic Period. You can stitch together a road trip that winds out of Flagstaff to Montezuma Castle National Monument, to Petrified Forest National Park, and ends at Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site. Along the way you’ll experience fascinating chapters of geologic and cultural history.

At Montezuma Castle, 45 minutes south of Flagstaff and just off Interstate 17 (Exit 289), a short walk places you in front of a 5-story-tall cliff dwelling that offered safety from invaders: it stands 100 feet above the valley floor, nestled into an alcove.

The site was misnamed Montezuma Castle in the late 1800s by whites who thought the structure had been built by the Aztec people. The original owners, members of the Southern Sinagua (seen aug wah) people, called this area home from roughly 1100-1425 A.D.

Stroll the short trail that loops around a vegetated landscape below the “castle,” and you’ll find great views as well of the remains of Castle A. That dwelling once rose 60 feet and was home to about 100 residents.

From Montezuma’s Castle, it’s 95 miles via Arizona 87 to Winslow, and then 34 miles east on Interstate 40 to Holbrook. Finally, another 19 miles southeast on Arizona 180 leads you into Petrified Forest National Park and its unusual landscape.

There’s no lodging within the park, and you have to leave by sundown, so you will need to make some tough decisions if you have just one day. Do you take time to tour the Rainbow Forest Museum with its dinosaur displays, or hike out to Agate House?

A building built of petrified wood is pretty cool, so stretch your legs with a walk to the house. Then head north and deeper into the park to the Crystal Forest Trail. Wander this path and you’ll find yourself surrounded by petrified wood with its hues of yellow, red, and green, black and white.

Blue Mesa is another great stop. There’s a trail that takes you down into another colorful landscape of badlands and chunks, logs, and even slabs of petrified wood in shades of red, blue, yellow and black.

The northern end of the park road is anchored by the Painted Desert, a great place for sunset photos. Here you’ll also see the Painted Desert Inn, which some day could put the Park Service back into the lodging business but today is just a museum piece.

Back on Interstate 40, drive 22 miles east to Chambers, and then north on U.S. 191 for about 38 miles to Ganado and Hubbell Trading Post. This authentic trading post was opened by John Lorenzo Hubbell in 1878 on the Navajo Reservation.

Although it was added to the National Park System in 1967, Hubbell is not a museum piece but an active trading post. As such, it still holds richly woven Navajo rugs, jewelry, and other Native American artworks for purchase.

Schedule your visit to Hubbell Trading Post for May and you just might be able to attend the annual Native American Art Auction. Check with the park (928-755-3475) for the exact date.

If you have a little more free time, you could extend your your trip by heading 39 miles north on 191 to Canyon de Chelly National Monument.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Image: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek,
Text:     Kurt Repanshek,

Additional Reading:

Montezuma Castle National Monument,,

Montezuma Castle National Monument, US National Park Service,

Geographic Area covered by the State of Deseret and Utah Territory, International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers,