Friday, August 15, 2014

Unique Provinces

My just concluded cross-country Jeep trip with Mugs was 300 miles shorter than last year but still close to 7,000 miles round trip.

This was because we parted company with my daughter and two grandsons after a farewell breakfast at a favorite diner in Lima (pronounced like the bean,) Montana.

Within a few miles as we crested the (western) Continental Divide, they continued their descent down across the Snake River Plain and back to Salt Lake City where they live high on the slopes of the Wasatch.

Mugs and I then cut sharply east via country roads along the Idaho slopes of the 30 + mile Centennials, a uniquely west-east trending range of the Bitterroots, where much further north we had spent a week on a lake in the Northern Rockies as we do each year.

This short but dramatic range ends at my native Henry’s Fork River where the southwestern corner of Yellowstone Park noses between the Centennials and the 40-mile north-south trending Teton range.

When I travel, I consult maps of ecosystem provinces and regions as much as I do roadmaps.  You can view them at the national level and/or then drill down to see more distinctions at the state and even county level.

Their respective states treat them as separate, but both the Montana and Idaho sides of the Centennials and the Idaho and Wyoming side of the Tetons share an ecosystem distinct from other parts of their respective states called the “Middle Rockies.”

In the nook of Idaho that points up into those two states, the “Middle Rockies” ecosystem is a narrow crescent, thinnest below Monida and I-15 on the west, deepest from the Continental Divide to Ashton and then thinning out again between Tetonia and Driggs at a point where a break in the foothills provides a spectacular close up view of the three Grand Tetons.

Down below this crescent stretches the broad flat arch of the Snake River Plain, the only impression of Idaho visible from Interstates 84, 86 and 15.

In my opinion, the ecosystem maps are far more relevant than tourism maps which appear to have been arbitrarily manipulated to appease powerful population centers or make them more relevant.

I assume this is why the tourism map of South-central Montana, divides the Middle Rockies by running a narrow 15 mile wide shaft down the west side of Yellowstone giving it to Bozeman while nudging historic Virginia City under Butte.

Similarly, Idaho’s arbitrary tourism partitions give the misimpression that Idaho Falls down on the Snake River Plain is somehow up in the Yellowstone-Teton nook I just described.

Ecosystem maps such as the one at this link of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are far more useful and relevant to travelers because they are organic vs. political.

Tourism maps may even trip up journalists from time to time.

An otherwise excellent High Country News report I read during the trip is entitled “Idaho’s sewer system is the Snake River.”

It cites Ashton as where the Henry’s (or North) Fork joins the South Fork which had run parallel down the Jackson Hole or eastern side of the Tetons.

But Ashton is actually located less than half way down the Henry’s Fork which doesn’t merge with the South Fork until nearly to Rigby, nearly 70 river miles downstream and just north of Idaho Falls.

Minor distinction, I suppose, for anyone unfamiliar with the area and related only tangentially to a story set more than two hundred miles south and west in Magic Valley where apparently a shift from potatoes to dairy herds is creating problems downstream.

Maybe having spent the final two decades of a career in community marketing helping people grasp that Durham and Raleigh are distinct cities and that the two metro areas that just happen to co-own an airport, I may be sensitive to locations and geography.

If anything though, one would think the report would have pointed out that stakeholders along the Henry’s Fork have shaped a “best practice” plan for its management.

The report was written out of Montana and another condition worth exploring is why, and how so many towns there and in northwestern Wyoming seemed to have caught on to sense of place and the importance and value of being congruous.

While those on the Idaho side seem anything but, seemingly poster children for a statement by sense of place and land use expert, Edward T. McMahon:

“We sometimes forget that every building has a site, every site has a neighborhood, and every neighborhood is part of a community.” (And I would add, every community is part of a setting or landscape).

It is as if, to paraphrase Seth Godwin, that these property owners want to spite the spectacular mountains at their backdrop or they conceive a world where there is only two kinds of stuff, theirs and not-theirs.

More on this later, but this may be at the root of all litter.

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