You can’t tell where you are going unless you know where you have been.

~ Unknown

Back of Tetons

Looking south down the gut of the Teton Range, illustrating the daunting challenge surveyors and cartographers faced in making maps of the Tetons. The hazy peaks in the distance, including the cathedral group, appear on the Grand Teton Quad. The middle distance peaks are on the Mount Moran Quad, and include Thor as highest peak to the east, the broadly rounded Woodring to its right, a number of unnamed peaks, and then Cirque Lake. Far back is Maidenform (looking like how it got its name), and the north and south summits of Cleaver Peak to the west. Moran Canyon runs west to east below the rock strewn knob with its runty white bark pines. The photo was taken from Raynolds Peak, named for Capt. William F. Raynolds, who led the first scientifically-oriented expedition to Jackson Hole in 1860. Photographed by GJH member Beverly Boynton.


In the dystopian sci-fi movie The Matrix Reloaded, Neo, the main protagonist, must spar with Seraph, the gatekeeper, before consulting the Oracle for a big-picture perspective on the path to enlightenment. This unpleasantness was a necessity, according to Seraph, because “…you do not truly know someone, until you fight them.” The chief irony in this scene finds its existence in the fact that all of it unfolds within a computer program that is hard wired into Neo’s brain. Seraph is not real, and neither is the Oracle he protects. But still, Seraph had a good point. How can we really understand something if we never struggled with it?

The line between what is real and what is imagined is increasingly nebulous as technology invades nearly every aspect of our existence. A perfectly healthy automobile engine can be disabled by a failed computer chip, a national economy can be measured by investor enthusiasm rather than the weight of the gold in its vaults, and we can contain a big chunk of the Library of Congress inside our wrist watch. The currency in our pockets has been largely replaced by the chip in our credit card, we shop “online,” and winsome geology newsletters are distributed to hundreds of like-minded souls through a giant matrix called cyberspace. So you be the judge: is this newsletter real?

The Matrix storyline – inventive to be sure – probably strikes most folks as pretty far-fetched. But imagine how our world today would look to the early surveyors. To establish an accurate starting point for the 1899 Grand Teton Quadrangle, they had to start from a known point in the Powder River Basin and survey a continuous line across a big chunk of wild country. And once they arrived here, the real work began. The Teton Quad was earned the hard way: one determined step at a time.

If you told the early surveyors that your pocket telephone could instantly and continuously consult a series of satellites to track their precise location, and superimpose the surveyors’ location on a zoomable bird’s-eye view of anything from a few square meters to the entire continent, they would probably assume that you had been eating those funny little mushrooms that grow on buffalo chips. The notion that anyone could have that kind of power in the palm of their hand would surely be staggering to those who chiseled the Teton Quad out of an uncharted wilderness. All this implies that Seraph – fictional though he be – was probably correct. From the comfort of the nearest coffee shop anyone can consult an oracle who will reveal the most intimate contours of almost any place on the planet. Not having fought to get there, can we truly understand it? Can we ever know the land within the Teton Quadrangle the way the first surveyors did?

One person who could answer that question in the affirmative is longtime local Todd Cedarholm, an experienced surveyor who has certainly sparred with the metaphorical Seraph. Having retraced many of the steps of the early surveyors, Todd understands how this landscape slowly revealed its secrets to them. This Tuesday, (November 1st) at the Teton County Library Auditorium at 6:00 pm, Todd will take us on a virtual (no pun intended) tour that should give all of us a deeper appreciation for the giant enterprise that became the Teton Quadrangle.