Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the name is recognised by many; it is famously known as the corridor to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks or as the place with “that sick mountain resort”. But for me, it’s the place that I was born and raised. Growing up in Jackson Hole I was fortunate to have a unique childhood that few are able to experience. I went on my first hike at a couple months old before I could even walk the rugged landscape of the Tetons.
My brother, dad, and I hiking to Taggart Lake in Grand Teton in the Fall after I was born.
As my childhood continued our family vacations were often spent camping in the backcountry, while fishing the rivers and lakes beneath the mountains. I would even spend my weekends during the summer horseback riding to locations that were not easily accessible by foot either because of the craggy terrain or great distances. Additionally, growing up in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem I became accustomed to abundant elk, moose, bison, bears and wolves that would move through my valley each year. No experience with the wildlife was the same, but each fundamentally shaped the person I would become.
Crazy enough, four years ago I made the boldest decision of my life and traveled 2,167 miles away from my small town in Wyoming to attend college right on the Hudson River across from Manhattan. After spending 18 years of my life hiking, camping, and horseback riding in the Grand Tetons, I was ready for a change—a big one. I wanted to broaden my horizons and see what else the world had to offer and I thought what better time than college to allow myself to live near the city that is known to make people’s dreams come true.
Unfortunately at some point in the middle of my first semester of college, the flashing lights of the city dulled and I missed home.
I missed the mountains.
I missed hiking in the open space and fresh air.
I missed the pristine landscape of the Tetons untouched by the industrialisation of man.
Hell, I even missed the moose that lived in my backyard and ate my halloween pumpkin during middle school.
Oddly enough, I didn’t expect that. You would think that I would have anticipated it, but I didn’t. Out of all the possible outcomes of my college journey, this was the last I had expected.
Everything that made my home so special, I had taken for granted.
Being so caught up in the excitement of living near New York City and getting out of my small town that it never occurred to me that home would be a place I missed this much.
As my time in college continued, I began to appreciate everything about my home. I spent my first two summers working early morning shifts at the community pool, so I could spend my afternoons hiking, fishing, and taking photos of the mountains and wildlife. During that time I saw most of the piedmont glacier lakes of my valley crystal clear, like glass, with the my beautiful mountain range reflecting perfectly.
The summer after my sophomore year, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to stay at my swim coach and her husband’s house in Yellowstone to learn more about the park service. During my time in the park, I worked alongside park employees in the geology department and wildlife management teams (bears, birds, and wolves). Every morning I spent in Yellowstone, I would jump out of bed with excitement for the day. The assignments I had seemed more like a hobby than a job to me. It opened my eyes and showed me there were careers out there that I could enjoy while also earning a healthy living. During one of my days in the park, I went on a hike off the trail to find a bald eagle nest in Lamar Valley with the Yellowstone bird team. Vividly remembering sitting in a grassy meadow near a crystal clear alpine lake waiting to find the eagles.
Thinking to myself, how stunning the world is.
Just as I finished that thought, I looked over and the nesting pair of eagles soared over the lake, brushing their talons on the water of McBride Lake. All throughout college until this point, I struggled to correlate my passion of wildlife and nature to a possible career path, but now it was so clear to me.
My final summer of college, I landed the job of a lifetime. I was fortunate enough to join a local company, Brushbuck Guide Services, doing wildlife tours in Grand Teton and Yellowstone. During this summer I saw intimate wildlife encounters that I thought only National Geographic photographers or PBS Nature videographers could see.
Wolves, bears, bison, elk and moose swimming across swift rivers were a regular sight. Cubs, calves and fawns growing up in the harsh Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem while battling predators and forces of nature was among many incredible highlights.
All of this was right in my backyard growing up; I was just too naive to see it.
Throughout my journey in college I was repeatedly shocked by the contrast between my childhood home and the densely populated areas of New York and New Jersey. I remember being flabbergasted when my college friends told me that I was unable to swim in the Hudson River unless I wanted to “turn into Superman” from the pollution in the water caused by the industrialized and populated area. Conversely, I remember my friends being just as shocked when I would tell them of the pristine environment and healthy ecosystem I lived in. I never knew it was abnormal to see moose and bears coming up to the door or that I never worried about contaminates before jumping into the bodies of water surrounding my home.
My highschool friend, Kira, jumping off a 30 ft rock into Phelps Lake in Grand Teton
The more time that I spent in Hoboken the more I realized that my childhood experience was not the norm, but was rather unusual. It became apparent to me that nature and a clean environment was not something that everyone was fortunate enough to experience on such a large scale.
Now deciding to pursue my life passion and to teach individuals the importance of nature and the delicate balance of each organism’s place in the ecosystem by using my camera and continuing my job guiding in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Furthermore, the environmental engineering degree that I obtained from Stevens Institute of Technology will enable me to do my part in cleaning up man’s mistakes with pollution and overpopulation around the world.
Written by Jaclyn Knori
For more of an insight into what it's like living and working in this amazing location, find her on Instagram @lumberjaclyn