And it has continued since Jackson made those first images, creating glass negatives as big as 18 by 22 inches. Everyone from Ansel Adams to your Aunt Frieda has pointed a camera at the river and frozen its flowing water to show everyone back home.
But the famous waterway has never been on a United States Postal Service stamp. Until now.
Scheduled in early 2019 is a dozen-stamp issue that features some of the watery highlights of the National Wild and Scenic River System, federally designated rivers around the country that are closest to their original condition — free-flowing waters that are intended to remain that way.
The Wild and Scenic program is marking its 50th anniversary this year. Its goal from its inception was “saving our very best rivers,” something that “would be an endless battle unless we had a program to set the best aside,” said author and photographer Tim Palmer.
Palmer’s Snake image is on one of the stamps. The photo was taken where the Buffalo Fork meets the Snake, north of Jackson near Moran.
“It’s an iconic scene, perhaps the most iconic river and mountain image in America,” Palmer said last week from his home in southwest Oregon. “It’s a place very close to my heart.”
Palmer has written 26 books on wild rivers, western forests and conservation, including “The Snake River: Window to the West.” His most recent is “Wild and Scenic Rivers: An American Legacy.”
During 1988 research for his “Window to the West” book Palmer explored the upper reaches of the Snake and met people in Jackson Hole who introduced him to the area. Among them were Jack Shea, Roger Smith and Margaret Creel at Teton Science Schools, where Palmer was writer-in-residence several years in the late 1980s and into the ’90s. He also became acquainted with Frank and John Craighead, Jackson Hole conservationists, grizzly bear biologists and “the people who instigated the idea for the Wild and Scenic River System.”
No one, though, had to talk Palmer into his deep feeling for America’s wild rivers.
“I’m passionate about whitewater canoeing and rafting and long river trips,” he said. And, he added, at the base is his view that “rivers are the lifeline on which everything else depends.”
The Snake was nominated for inclusion in the system in 1972, but early efforts were unsuccessful. Though much of the upper Snake was protected by being in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and neighboring wilderness, it wasn’t until 2009 that some of what’s now included was incorporated into the system. Much of the Snake’s 1,078 miles, from Two Ocean Plateau to its confluence with the Columbia River, has no special protection.
Former Wyoming U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas — a conservative Republican with a fondness for conservation initiatives — made the push for the most recent inclusions of Snake tributaries.
Palmer took his Snake photo only last year, standing on the east bank of the Snake with his Canon 5D. When the Postal Service began planning for the commemorative stamps it invited him to submit photos. He sent 20 and had four selected. Besides the Snake image, the Postal Service chose Palmer images of the Flathead River in Montana, the Skagit River in Washington state and the Ontonagon River in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Two other photographers provided images of the other eight rivers featured: the Merced, the Niobrara, the Missouri, the Deschutes, the Tlikakila, the Owyhee, the Koyukuk and the Clarion.
Having art used for a postage stamp might not be as big a deal as it was before the email age, and even Palmer said he didn’t think much about it at first. But he said he’s learned many people still see creating an image for the U.S. mail as the ultimate stamp of approval, even before the stamps are released.
“I was honored to have my photos selected, and thrilled to have the Snake River chosen,” he said. “But I was not a stamp collector or anything. I didn’t really regard it as that big a deal. … But I’m finding out that other people do.”
Palmer hopes that the commemorative issue will do what others have done for other causes.
“They’re gorgeous stamps,” he said. “People will see them, some will notice they’re about a program that protects some great rivers in America — and the more who know, the better.”