Monday, August 27, 2012

Tracing Routes Thousands of Years Old

Within a decade after non-natives first set eyes on the Grand Teton Mountains, in the shadows of which I was born and spent my early years, five sets of my great-great-great grandparents were already migrating westward from their ancestral homes in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

They stopped for a few years at various points along each side of the Mississippi River before continuing their migration. I’ve traced the routes they took during the four cross-country trips I’ve taken over the last thirty months with Mugsy, my English Bulldog.

But my ancestors were traveling the 1,500-mile Native American trade routes carved at least 2,000 years ago between that Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho, where I was born, and the Hopewell Culture through which I traveled on the outbound leg of my most recent trip after I cut across the Ohio River on the 2,700-foot Ravenswood Bridge and up scenic US Highway 33 through southeastern Ohio to Columbus.

One of the first tasks I faced in each of the three cities I represented as a community-destination marketing executive over the last forty years in my now-concluded career was to deepen historical sketches for each place beyond the date used by the respective chambers of commerce which all began when European-Americans commenced commerce.

Bear Gulch is where I learned to ski, that is after I had proven to my father at age six that I was capable of hiking to the top of a hillside behind our ranch house and repeatedly “snowplowing” down.

The ski area had been developed in the late 1930s along the Idaho boundary of Yellowstone Park about a dozen miles from where my grandparents and great-grandparents had homesteaded to raise cattle and horses.

It had been developed by Norwegian-Americans, still the dominant ethnicity in Fremont County today and a T-bar or Poma-lift was developed about  the time I was born. For me though, my early skiing was on the Teddy Bear rope tow at Bear Gulch.

During my college years, Bear Gulch was supplanted 45 miles south along the Tetons by the development of Grand Targhee Resort just off the road we often traveled during the 1950s before cutting up over the pass to have Sunday dinner at a café in a much less pretentious Jackson, Wyoming.

A few months after I was recruited to come to Durham NC in 1989 and where I still live, the facilities at Bear Gulch burned. However, over the years, Bear Gulch, Idaho had become famous as the source of obsidian points shaped and traded by Paleo-Indians as much as 10,000 years ago and found in what is southern Ohio today.

But obsidian isn’t the only thing produced in my native land that finds its way across the Great Plains to the Midwest. Thanks to the data curated into a spectacular new book entitled, The Atlas of Yellowstone, I now understand why the area where I was born and raised is known as the “Headwaters of the Nation.”

Waters from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem drain into the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California. They fuel huge drainage basins for the Columbia-Snake, Green-Colorado and Missouri-Mississippi river systems.

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