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My Window on the World

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Vast. 

That is one word to describe Arches National Park. 

It is more than arches, it is a landscape of fantastic rock formations, and immense open spaces that stretch far off into the horizon. Capturing light and shadow throughout the day, the colors vary from vibrant to muted. Towering pillars, slender fins, huge slabs, groups of spires that resemble sentinels standing guard, frozen in time, pancake or pastry appearing mounds and of course arches, singles, doubles, delicate, enormous, all are a part of this strange and intriguing place. Ever evolving, as time and the elements etch their effects upon the seemingly impenetrable hardened earthly sculptures, this land can hold a person captive with it’s wonder, amazement, rugged beauty and vibrant colors.

What I thought might be a partial day of exploring into this vastness of wonder, resulted in an entire day of exploration and visual stimulation. Driving into Arches National Park is a drive upward to the higher plain and being immediately confronted with mountainous formations that dwarf all else around them. My eyes were drawn from one fantastic sight to another. Mammoth and minor both of sizes that fill the view. Balanced rocks topping slender pillars, fragile looking sprigs of stone in shapes and forms that sit atop some of the huge masses all add to the mystery of these creations.


After viewing a few of the rock formations, my first arch to see was Delicate Arch. It was a 3 mile round trip hike, which did not deter me, nor a considerable number of others. Mostly uphill I plodded on. Upon rounding a bend from the ledge path leading to it, I was struck with it’s size and solitude, standing as if the entryway to a land of intrigue. Looking through Delicate Arch as through a window, vistas both near and far opened up before me of the diversity, dignity and magnitude of all that it revealed. 

After a considerable time I started on my return, this time much easier on the gentle descent. Driving further into the park I stopped at several view points along the way, all en route to the destination of The Devils Garden Trail. This location held several arches, though requiring hiking some distances to reach them. Initially I thought I might just go to one or two, as the complete hike was 8 miles roundtrip. However, like a tasty treat, one bite is not enough. Like following a pied piper I was tempted and ventured further and further into the remote areas that hid these awesome arches. Again, a considerable number of visitor were engaged on the same discoveries, though not like the masses of crowds and hustle at sites in Yellowstone.

Along the way, I met up with a young man from Texas, Matt, and after some conversation, we agreed to venture off exploring more of the arches together. At times we were walking along tops of long slender fins of stone, clambering down boulders, trudging through sand until we came upon the next natural arches.

The day grew warmer, near 90 degrees, which I found to be much nicer than the cold, wet days of the previous weeks. The increase in temperatures also will help re-aclimate me to my return to Phoenix later today, Saturday 8/30.

At Double O arch, a young woman, Amanda, asked to walk out with us, so together we set out to the trailhead. Along the way, Matt decided to venture off to see yet another arch as Amanda and I completed our long hikes. At the trailhead, a water fountain was the popular spot as hikers filled water bottles, drank and, in our cases, splashed water over our heads and faces for a refreshing reward to a long afternoon of being in the sun. It was then after 5 p.m. and I knew that I needed to make some distance yet before nightfall to help lessen the long drive back to Phoenix the next day. After filling up with gasoline, I drove 70 miles south to Blanding, Utah and took a room for the night. I should be back in Phoenix by late this afternoon, depending on what other places might draw me off a direct route home. There were several other points of interest that I had planned to visit, but on this trip I will bypass them. 

Arches, are very much like windows. Through them are picture perfect scenes, the arches framing moments in time that to our eyes are static and unchanged. Yet, over eons, even as the arches formed and expanded to include larger views of the world beyond, so have my travels expanded to include views, scenes, and vistas that continually amaze me and draw me though the windows to explore out into what lies in that vast land before me. And as gateways to places of wonder and discovery, I will continue to travel on through new passages to other places of adventure, excitement and new discoveries.





















Moo-vin Right Along

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These two stood and posed for me this morning as I started my drive up and over Douglas Pass south of Rangely, Colorado.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


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Guess what?

NO RAIN!

For the first time in weeks I was able to stop dressing in layers. Down to just a t-shirt and later to shorts it felt good to have warm weather again. 

This was a exceptional day for driving and for more adventures and excitement, with mostly clear skies, sunshine and the returning warmth.

Driving up and over Douglas Pass was fun. It was not particularly scary or intimidating but had plenty of sharp curves and hairpin turns. At the crest of the pass, I looked to the south, where I was headed and back to the north from where I came. Both were impressive, but the south valley was the better of the two. At Loma, CO, I merged onto I-70 and head west to the Utah border about 12 miles away. Moab, Utah was my day’s destination.

Given the choice, I always try to take the secondary roads. Utah Hwy. 128 was the route I took off of the interstate.  It follows the Colorado River and into Moab. Scenic byway is exactly what it was. Nearing the river the landscape changed dramatically. Red rocks, buttes, spires, hoodoos and the river flowing through it all were eye poppingly awesome. At times the road narrowed as it hugged along sheer cliffs while on the river side a berm was so narrow to actually be nonexistent, as well as no guard rails. Concentrating of driving was imperative. Evidence of rainfall here was present on the now dry roads - that had been plowed  of the red dirt in several places along the drive. The soils here dry quickly, but also are easily eroded during heavy downpours.


Seeing a side road, I thought I’d check it out, just to see where it led toward some fantastic rock formations. Soon after entering it became obvious I was in for another of my off road thrills. With recent rains, deep ruts and erosion were all along the way. Rough, uneven surfaces had my truck rocking and rolling, with me tossed from side to side as a result.  Not knowing what was about to come around each corner, adrenaline pumping, I stuck to the road. The further back on the “road” I drove the more severe the conditions. Finally I hit a patch that looked far too challenging for me. I stopped and got out to survey the situation. What lay before me was a layered stack of rock and beyond that, at a sharp angle, more of the same. From all angles, I determined this was going to be the end of road for me on this side adventure. Luckily I was able to back up on the layered rocks and turn back. Repeating the same suspension twisting drive, my truck, and I maneuvered over the roughness, returning to the paved road. 



With heart rate returning to normal,  I continued my drive, the surroundings becoming even more spectacular. In many respects it reminded me of the red buttes and spires in Monument Valley and of the Grand Canyon. This was as though I were driving IN the Grand Canyon, including having the Colorado River in the mix.

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Taking another unpaved road off the blacktop I followed a sign marked Fisher Towers. This road led to an incredible stand of tall spires that towered high in the distance. Although a gravel road, it was not treacherous to drive. At the end, near the spires, waa a campground and trails. Being drawn in with the incredible beauty of the place, I hiked up the trail, closer to the towering pillars. This took me to lower levels before leading in closer at higher heights. After an hour slowly traveling along the trail, often stopping to take in the immensity of the whole scene, I decided to turn around and continue my drive into Moab. 

I am tempted to find other hiking trails outside of Arches National Park, as the area is full of interesting places to explore outside of the park itself. In the morning I will decide my choices, but would like to see as many of the natural arches as well. While there are other sites I would like to visit before returning to Phoenix, I believe I will put those places on hold and later this afternoon start to make a direct route home.

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Old Bones, Old Rocks, Off Road & Petroglyphs

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

80 Miles.

That is how far I traveled today. Not far in distance, but I did travel back in time nearly 2 BILLION years.

Another of Mark’s suggestions was to stop at Dinosaur National Monument, about 20+ miles from Vernal, UT. I thought I might spend the morning there, then move on to Moab, UT to visit at Arches National Park. Little did I know that I’d be swept up with the Dinosaur exhibit and lessons in geology, then with Indian Rock Art (petrogylphs) and early homesteaders.

I arrived before 9 a.m. at Dinosaur National Monument and took a short tram ride to the Carnegie Quarry, a place where they have been digging since 1909 for dinosaur bones and fossils. As luck would have it a ranger was leading a walk and learn program soon after I arrived. With a good sized group of people he took us on a short hike to talk about the geology, the changing Earth over billions of years with uplift and continental shift and, of course, dinosaur bones. While I have seen numerous examples of the layers of time in the rocks and mountains where I have traveled, this was the first time to have someone explain and point out the pretty obvious layers of the earth. With the tilted and uplifted layers, it was easy to comprehend the layering. Within those billions of years, dinosaur habitation appeared 233 million years ago. Before that, single cell life forms developed 3.5 Billion years ago. In the ranger talk, we were shown undisturbed areas holding bones of the long extinct dinosaur and, from even earlier, small clam shells from an ancient sea floor.

Layers of the Earth, uplifted and exposed over the course of eons.

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Inside the large visitor center at the quarry, they have preserved a large section of the dig which is displayed like a massive mural, hundreds of fossilized bones scattered about in the rock for all to see. Computer screens from vantage  points on a higher level help to explain and identify the bones from the different species of dinosaurs. This is one of the best ways to display and describe prehistoric times that I have ever seen. Incredibly fascinating.

After the ranger talk, I drove further into the park on Cub Creek Road to see other places of obvious layering and to investigate the places of the Indian Rock Art (petrogylphs), and to see an early ranch. Most of that road was paved, except for the last several miles, that held the most interesting parts of the self guided drive tour.                                                                                                                                                             

Back in this rugged land of beauty, the Green River flows through, it’s muddy waters forever etching deeper and deeper through the valley. One working ranch remains from a handful of hardy pioneers. From high above an overlook green fields stand out amongst the reds, grays, browns, whites of the surrounding mountains. 


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At the end of the paved road, a mostly smooth gravel road led back to the rock art and an old ranch at it’s end. But to the right of me, a much smaller unpaved dirt road led up into the hills. 

Guess which road tempted me - uh huh, the less traveled road. 

Turning up on the two track road, I was ready to add some more excitement to my day. Almost from the beginning, I was put to the test as a patch of exposed rocks were the only surface upon which to drive. Not skipping a beat, I lowered gears and my truck started to climb upward rocking me from side to side, rattling my head as the tires clung to each uneven surface pulling us up and over onto a smoother, sandy surface. 

Whew, made that, now what else is ahead?

The surface, though rutted and was relatively smooth, only a few slightly muddy spots. Continuing upward, other side roads, splintered off occasionally. I stuck to what seemed the most used, at times climbing up and over lower summits that did not challenge me as on the previous days adventure. Reaching the top of a hill, I had several choices of side paths, one climbing even higher, and others that descended to parts unknown - actually ALL went to parts unknown. Getting out and observing my surroundings, I decided that, with the doubtful weather conditions, a more prudent choice would be to cease this side trip and return to exploring on the better road below. Coming down was a piece of cake, my tires having leveled out the sandy surface on the way up. Even the rocky beginning seemed to offer me little heart pounding excitement. 

Back to the road, though unpaved, it was traveled frequently, and so, offered no surprises. Very few people were visiting out in the further reaches of the park, which I was liking. To see what I wanted to see, petroglyphs, is better when not in a crowd. Climbing up on mountainsides to reach the art panels is a deterrent to most people, but not me.

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The petroglyphs were amazing, as they have always piked my interest. I could imagine Native people standing on a ledge and painstakingly chipping away to create their masterpieces. Using sharp rocks, they had to have been dedicated to produce such interesting and unusual designs. Some things depicted are obvious, others are otherworldly. These artists were of the Fremont tribe who’s singular difference from other tribes rock art was that theirs also depicted lizards. 

Climbing up on the trails that are established, I was able to look closely at all the pictures I could see. Some faded and eroded from the elements, but most intact. This was very similar to visiting an art museum and admiring paintings from master artists. I will admit, however, that I spent more time here  viewing than in a building containing works of art. 

Heavy clouds hung over the higher mountains all day, and only drizzled occasionally. A steady rainfall held off until I had driven to the last stop on the road and started to return.

Cub Creek Road led further into this national monument where points of interest are detailed in a driving tour. With the Green River flowing along or near the roadway, picturesque scenes abounded. For lack of sunshine, however, the impact of the scenes was very muted. 

After considerable time following along a trail along the cliffs, I could see rain falling in the distance and knew I should be continuing on my day’s journey. At the end of the road, my last stop was the old cabin 

and ranch of one of the few who eked out a living in this place. This ranch was owned and run singly be a very independent woman named Josie Morris, who built her own cabin far back into the area. She lived there from 1914 to 1964 having reached the grand age of 90.

Josie had been divorced at age 40 and her children were grown, so she set out on her own to live the life she wanted, her nearest neighbor 10 miles away in the rugged wilderness. The cabin she built and where she lived has been kept in good condition by generous donors. It is rugged but she created her own paradise irrigating her fruit trees and garden from the nearby Cub Creek. She had no modern conveniences for the 50 years she lived there, but raised chickens, horses and some cattle. It is a peaceful, albeit lonely and lovely place.

Now approaching 4 p.m. and a steady drizzle falling, I started my return to the main road. Dinosaur National Monument in near the Colorado border and Moab is almost due south of there. However, no roads lead directly there. The choices are to return to the west and swing around and down or to cross over into Colorado for 60+ miles and drop south, then west back into Utah and to Moab. I choose to go into Colorado and stopped for the night in Rangely, CO., a small town, that thankfully had some motels. 

One reason I chose to stop here is that it is still a 3 hour drive to Moab and with the time then after 5 o’clock I preferred to end my long day and continue the next day.

I have a mountain pass to tackle today which likely will slow my pace. The road I’m taking is marked a scenic byway which I am looking forward to experiencing. Outside, heavy clouds are trying to block out the sun in the East. I am hoping the weather clears. Driving over the mountains in rain is no fun.











I Wonder Where This Road Will Take Me...

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Itineraries are good.

So is spontaneity.

The only agenda I had today was to go to Flaming Gorge Recreational Area. Routes on the East or West were my choices, opting for the West road, as the East one is on US-191 which I figured would be more heavily traveled. Taking the West state route was good. Absolutely no other vehicles were going south during the drive. A few were going north, but I basically had that nice paved highway all to myself.

At the lower end of the reservoir that fills the gorge, I turned off the blacktop and ventured into the recreational area and took a dirt road soon after - just to see where it would lead me. The dirt road split and I followed it down to the lake, where a few RV’s were camped out. It was a nice view, but not enough for me to think about setting up my tent and staying. Besides it was still morning, barely 10 a.m. What would I do all day there?

On the other side of my truck is the very steep descent down toward the lake. Imaging driving over the edge of what is in front of the truck and you have an idea of how steep the road was.

Easy decision for me. I drove back to a fork in the road and drove on into the huge open land before me. The roads over the land rolled along over big and small hills, climbed steep hills, followed by hefty descents too. Muddy patches, erosion etched sections, deep ruts, rocky, bumpy - and exhilarating. I followed along on a road that took me to a high overlook of the lake and a pipeline bridge that stretched across a narrower channel in the lake. 

As I came to the top of that steep hill, I could not see over my hood onto the road ahead of me. I was stretching, pulling myself up with hands on the steering wheel trying to peer ahead and over the edge of the hood. For all I knew the road just dropped off into nothingness. That set my heart rate up a few notches! It felt like riding the first car on a roller coaster, cresting at the top and seeing nothing but air all the well knowing you are about to drop downward into near oblivion. Though knowing at that summit you are briefly going to be staring into space, you will, in the next instant, be thrust forward and downward in one fell swoop leaving your breath, and your sanity, hanging for an instant before falling face downward into a heart stopping descent.

In my state of suspended animation, I still moved cautiously forward hoping to get a glimpse of land ahead of me. The road actually leveled off somewhat giving me a reprieve from fear, but then, with the front of they truck nearing a downward descent, I could tell this was going to be a very, VERY steep drop. And it looked like it was rutted and rough to boot.

I stopped, got out of the truck to investigate and stared down. Another truck was down below at the pipeline bridge about a ¼ mile from me. There were other trails that criss crossed over other adjacent hills so I could not be certain that that truck and crew had driven down (or up) on this section. It didn’t take me but a few seconds to use my discretion and nixed any idea of even trying to negotiate that terrifying drop. 

I am confident my truck was up for the job. I, on the other hand, was not.

Getting turned around, I set off again to see what other of these dirt roads were calling me. One took me to a remote cove at the waters edge, part of that one slanted so that I was also on a tilt as I negotiated around and between bushes growing close to the roadway. Nothing of interest kept me there, so it was off to explore other trails. Driving along I saw that some brave souls had hauled in their motor homes on these dirt paths and were parked near waters edge. Those areas I avoided, opting to keep to higher ground.

On the way into this out of the way excursion, I saw my first pronghorn antelopes. That leads me to the last of my morning adventure. Coming around a bend as I ascended a hill, two men with binoculars were looking down below in the vast openness. I stopped to chat and found they were spotting the pronghorns as it was bow hunting season and they were following some of the small herds. Wanting to actually get back on the main road I asked if this particular road led back to blacktop. It did, they told me, and I could then continue to the town of Manila, Utah, since I was practically touching the border from where I was. 

Off I drove, and with about 3 miles I was on solid pavement again. And I rousted a few pronghorns on the way out also. They had better run, I knew two men who were out to get them.

Still, with no definite day plan I crossed over into Utah and entered the town of Manila. There I had to stop and consult my maps. The place I wanted to go was Vernal, UT, so I took that road and began a climb up through a pass. At a lookout/ observation area, I took another side trip to an area called Navajo Cliffs. A working road crew told me I could enter but the road was being repaired further up and I would then need to return back the same way. 

As it turned out the whole area is a geological study area with many signs along the way identifying the different strata of earth. The drive was spectacular with mountains and cliffs all around, many in reds, with shapes formed millions of years ago. Geology aside, the drive was very scenic all in itself.

Well after noon, I returned to the highway and began a long ascent through a mountain pass. Higher and higher, traversing upward, each view more astounding than the one before. With only occasion pull-outs for views, I had to rely on my eyes to just absorb and marvel at the beauty I saw. 

At one of the overlooks it began to rain. I decided to keep driving and head for Vernal. I drove a long distance it seemed, and started getting tired. Noting a mile marker that indicated Mile 1, I thought I might nearly have reached the intersection I was seeking so that I could continue on US 191 South. But I pulled into an historical pull-out just then, stretched my legs and read some of the story of the area. A ranch was down another unpaved road that was open to visitors. Mid afternoon,  it was still time to check out the ranch down on a loop road. Not much to really see, other than some boarded up log buildings, I followed the short loop until it rejoined the highway. 

One of the first things I noticed was a mileage sign saying 392 Miles. That seemed odd, since I had just seen  one before my detour indicating differently. I continued on and then a highway sign read 191 NORTH. But I was supposed to be going South. Until I could turn around I continued down the mountain to a bridge crossing a narrow channel of a lake. There I checked my maps but found no indication of this location. Another man had stopped at the view spot also and upon asking him he gave me directions for hitting Hwy 191 SOUTH. 

Apparently I had missed an intersection, which really confused me. It seemed impossible that I would have missed a junction of highways. But, I did miss it as I saw when I arrived at the split in the road, and it became obvious as to why I missed it. Picture the letter “Y”. The little detour I took at the marker of “Mile 1” was almost at the center meeting point of the “Y” and the detour cut across from the left side arm to the right side arm, sending me back to the North. If I had not taken the detour, I would have dropped down on the lower leg and been headed South, as on the lower leg of the “Y”. Once again back on the road, the highway signs warned of steep descents and 10 switchbacks ahead. They weren’t kidding. Some were in quick succession, and even driving more slowly due to the situation, I reached the valley floor with ease. 

Vernal was a few miles ahead and having tired of driving, I was ready to end this “unstructured” day. Bigger than I thought it would be, Vernal had many motel choices. Not being a tourist destination as in the Yellowstone or Teton areas, room rates were much more reasonable also.

Tomorrow’s weather prediction is for rain, so, once again, I’ll play it by ear. A stop at Dinosaur National Monument might be a possibility and then maybe on to Moab, UT and Arches National Park. If rain persists I might continue south to see if I can find clear weather. 

This is NOT the steep drop off I wrote about, just a milder version of the one I avoided.

 

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Discovering Granite Falls & Hot Springs

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Monday, August 25, 2014

By the time I left Jackson, WY this morning, the clouds still clung to the mountain tops as if with tentacles that would just not let go. Though the sun tugged at those stubborn clouds, trying to loosen their grip, the clouds tenaciously held fast. 

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With more peepholes of sunlight breaking through, however it was just a matter of time until the warming sunlight would heat the clouds forcing them to release their grip and ascend further up into the sky. Driving further southward, that is exactly what transpired. Taking Rt. 191 south toward Flaming Gorge in Southern Wyoming, the scenery was tremendous as highway meandered through a very pleasant valley following Hoback River. 

Being in no hurry, I stopped often to take pictures and to be on the lookout for a road leading to Granite Hot Springs, a recommended stop from Mark H. Once I located that turnoff, I proceeded on an unpaved, well used dirt road. Many potholes and some rough going, I entered another valley of outstanding beauty. By the signage at the highway, Granite Hot Springs were 10 miles into the valley. 

Proceeding at a reasonable speed of about 20-25 mph, other vehicles came into view from behind, and in less rugged vehicles than my Toyota Tacoma. Heading in the only direction we could, we all maintained a bit faster pace and drove further and further along the road, until signage indicated “Granite Falls”. I was not sure if that was the spot of the hot springs, but just being another waterfall pulled me in where I stopped, got my camera and hiking pole and walked the short distance to the Granite Creek’s edge. There I saw a couple of bundles of clothing and shoes, but nowhere in sight did I see any people. 

Walking closer to the falls, I then saw a small group, across the turbulent creek’s waters obviously soaking in a hot pool by the creeks edge near the falls. Not wanting to disturb those soakers, I wandered around the falls and took photos. All the while I was wondering how they forded the very rapidly flowing creek with many rapids across from the hot spring. I decided to just wait, observe from a distance to see where the people crossed. The hot soaking pool was created much like the one we hikers enjoyed at Dunanda Falls. With larger rocks, the flow of the cold waters were blocked and the hot waters were more contained in the pool which comfortably would hold 4 to 6. To stretch out it would be comfortable for about 3 people. 

 In time a couple left and I followed their movements as they sought the way back to the opposite shore to where they had stashed their clothes. That prompted me to start getting ready for a venture across the waters and to my own soak in the hot springs. By the time they arrived back at their truck, I was changed into my bathing suit, water shoes and t shirt. Before attempting my crossing, I asked them about their experience. They told me a much larger pool was up the road that was created by the CCC in the Depression years, but that this little pool was much better than the larger, and better known hot springs. 

It would be cold in the river they cautioned, but assured me it was worth the effort to cross over and experience it. So I headed on down the steep path to the rivers edge attempting at first to cross nearer to the falls, but the water was far too fast and I felt certain that I be pushed into the current and soaked in ice cold water before reaching the other shore. Working my way downstream a little further, I made my move and very slowly inched my way across using a hiking pole to steady myself against the very strong current and to give stability on the slippery rocks. 

With feet extremely numb from the ice cold (and I mean, ICE cold), I clambered across the rocky, shallower waters and stepped into the hot waters. 

It was so refreshing.

My popsicle toes were ever so relieved to be warmed instantly. Sliding down into the comforting, hot spring, was its’ own reward for the adventure of crossing a strong and chilling current. But, the weather, even as I started out to cross, was very quickly changing. Those nasty clouds had marched back in and were again claiming hold of the mountain tops. The sun had no chance in this battle. Though wet from the creek crossing and now from my soak in the small pool, it seemed prudent for me to not linger so that I could make my return without further hinderance from rain on top of the cold soaking I would receive from the creek. 

So, with only a brief soak, I found what appeared to be a safe (safer) crossing spot and proceeded with my careful stepping, inching around large, uneven shaped and placed rocks and boulders, steadying myself with the hiking pole, stumbling a few times but catching myself from a fall, fighting against the strongest part of the current and successfully reached shallower waters, then upon the solid ground of the shore. 

Scurrying up the steep path, I pulled open the tailgate and shed my water shoes, grabbed my towel and began rubbing my feet to help dry AND warm them. Having gathered my dry clothes which were laying next to me, a couple who had been observing from a high vantage point returnd to their SUV parked next to mine. With pleasant conversation and them asking about my experience, I sat in my cold bathing suit, still rubbing my leg and feet with the towel. Being in no particular hurry, but my enjoying the talking, they lingered there, my dry clothing sitting beside me. Oh yeah, I wanted to get changed into some dry things, but they continued to linger…

Finally, I just had to tell them I NEEDED to change clothes. With that, like a light bulb going on, they very quickly excused themselves and drove away. Now, as I was dropping my wet bathing suit to the ground, two cars, simultaneously arrived. One couple walked past and down toward the river. The other car pulled in right in front of me. OH Great! just as I’m about to drop my suit.

The heck with modesty. Let them get an eyeful, I’m getting out of these cold, wet clothes and putting on my dry things! That was a quick change even though I knew I was clearly in their line of sight. Soon after buttoning up my pants, the woman of the couple came over and started to chat. I learned they often come to this hot spring pool and soak. It is their favorite and better suited to their tastes than the larger swimming pool just up the road. Smiling at me the whole time, she was very chatty. But as the drizzle then began to fall, I had to excuse myself and quickly got back in my truck and drove away as they walked off toward the river and their own private hot spa soak.

I wished I could have spent at least a little more time in the hot springs. At least I can say I found THAT hot spring and had the opportunity to enjoy it. It might not be the one that was recommended to me, but with Granite Falls right there it was a good find and excellent little adventure.

Not wanting to be caught on what could become a slimy, muddy road, I quickly made my way back to the highway before the drizzled turned into a downpour. 

From that point, entering the highway, it was 100 miles to Rock Springs, WY, where I planned to stop for the day. It rained for the next 35 miles and then only partially cleared.

After leaving the valley, the landscape opened up into a high prairie. Long views into the distance, sparsely populated, and with views of the snow capped Rocky Mountains to my left. Clouds still clung to the higher mountain tops and to my right I could see ever darkening clouds and rain fall in the far distance. With partial blue skies and many clouds, some high cirrus, others in gray to blue gray, black and white thick rolls of clouds accompanied me for many, many miles. Nearly 20 miles outside of Roaring Springs I found a side road and a dirt road off of that was used to access the high power electric lines towering above me. That dirt road was not maintained, with deep ruts, some mud holes and rocky. Ruff and tumble as it was I wanted to get to higher ground for a better view and photo of the sky. Quickly taking several shots, I returned to the highway and merged back onto the blacktop. That was my one last off road excursion for the day. It helped to get my blood pumping and to give me a boost after a long afternoon of driving.

 I was soon in Rock Springs where I have booked a room for tonight. 

Tomorrow I will explore at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, another of Mark’s recommended sites to visit. From there my plans are unknown.




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On Top of the World


Selfie on top of Rendezvous Mountain, Teton Village, Wyoming

What a difference a day makes.

Today, Sunday, Aug. 24 was a fine day. Sun was shining, big fluffy clouds filled the sky, just the perfect remedy for me to overcome all the dreary days of last week.

Later in the morning I headed back north into Grand Teton National Park to find a hiking trail. That brought me to the Moose Junction Ranger Station for information. A close by hike was on the Death Canyon Trail. This sounded interesting to me (maybe a bit ominous too), but the drive to this trailhead also intrigued me. Part of the road was unpaved and use of high clearance vehicles was recommended. Well now, that was an invitation to adventure for me and I set out on the designated paved road leading to the unpaved one. Additionally, that road then led to a town named Teton Village that had an attraction that I thought I’d like to experience. After Teton Village I could continue south and loop back to Jackson and my motel. A pretty efficient way to round out the day I reckoned. 

The road out to the trailhead was a narrow paved road for a number of miles and I was a bit surprised by the number of vehicles coming back on it. They must have been early morning hikers I guessed. Once I saw a place where two other cars had parked in a small designated place, I thought I had arrived at the trailhead and changed into my hiking boots, donning my day pack and hiking pole. Just as I was about to lock up the truck, a ranger came by and started a conversation. He told me the path I saw at this spot was a horse trail and the one I sought was further up the road where the pavement ended and the unpaved road began. With his instructions, I headed off and soon was on the rough, unpaved portion of road. It was well used though rocky, uneven and pocked with muddy water potholes. To my surprise there were a lot of vehicles parked in various places along the winding road amongst the trees.  Further in I found an open spot designated for parking and set out for the trailhead. The same ranger drove up in his vehicle and offered me a short ride to the actual trailhead. It was really a short distance, but I accepted his generosity and hopped in. 

On the trail, many others were out enjoying this fine day also, so I was not very concerned about being on a trail alone. (The bear warnings are always present in these areas). With a fair number of people coming back on the trail and a few others who were headed in, I felt assured with the safety in numbers even though I was hiking solo. 

Being a gradual ascent up to Phelps Lake, this hike was turning out to be a piece of cake for me, particularly when I thought of how much harder it had been on the backpacking trip carrying a heavy burden upon my back. Breathing heavily, but not straining, this was, for me, a moderate hike that got my heartbeat up and still allowed me to breath deeply without straining. Steadily I proceeded, working up a sweat beneath my three layers of clothing. In less time than I had imagined I was up at the overlook to Phelps Lake. The scene down to the lake was a peaceful one, though by now the clouds had begun rolling in over the Tetons. If the sun had been shining the lighting on the lake would have been outstanding. Still, I took some time to admire what was before me, removed my outer fleece covering, rested a short time and set out again, intending to circle around this lake, a distance of about 7 miles.

As I observed the changing weather with more cloudiness, I knew it could rain. Having my rain poncho in my day pack I was not overly concerned. But, on the down slope to the lake my left knee started aching which then forced me to start rethinking my intention of hiking all around the lake. Descents are harder on the knees, I knew, and if the lake trail were flat I’d probably be able to enjoy the day with a minimum of discomfort. Continuing down the gently sloped path, my thought processes were evaluating the knee situation with each step. 

Near the two mile mark on the trail I chatted with a group of hikers who asked if I had seen the bear. 

Huh? Bear?

Yea, well really a cub.

OH, if a cub, then a mother is nearby, that’s a formula for trouble. 

Well, we saw the cub maybe a few hours ago when we came down.

OH!, that makes me feel better, the bear and cub probably have roamed off somewhere else by now…

They continued up the trail and I down. 

The interspersion of hikers on the trail had fallen off now, so I had more actual solo time. Approaching the lake I wanted to go to the waters edge but ended up in a marshy area and changed my mind. No use getting into that swampy mess and end up lost. Additionally, the sky was totally overcast and with more threats of rain, my knee aching, my final plan was to just wrap up this hike and go back to the beginning of the trail. On the way out, the same ranger who gave me directions and a ride was approaching toward me. I stopped and chatted noting a very small waterfall back of him far up on the mountain, maybe a ¼ mile or less away. I also asked about a bear sighting. Yep, a bear has been hanging out in this area for the past week or so.

OH!

Yes, it’s been seen up near that waterfall…with her cub. With all the heavy underbrush up there it is hard to see and she stays low, out of sight - most of the time. She might poke her head up once in awhile.

Hummm (as I noticed he was carrying his can of bear spray), should I be concerned?

Probably not.

As the ranger continued on his way, I peered up at the area of the slim waterfall with its' dense vegetation, trying to see if that bear would pop up. After more than a minute of scrutinizing the area, I moved on, still feeling wary. 

Just to reassure you, I was not REALLY very concerned, as I also know wild animals do try to avoid humans if they can. And with the pretty consistent flow of hikers, the bear would keep its’ distance. 

Upward hiking offered me much less strain on my knee, so I was enjoying the hike even more. On this hike I had noticed horse dung in a few places, but on the out I saw a different type of droppings. Having visited a few ranger stations along the way, one exhibit was of the type of feces of various animals. What I now saw was a larger animal, not a horse, not another hoofed beast. Only logical conclusion was - bear. 

Oh wow, on the trail! So a real bear was hanging around here somewhere.

A bit further along, another group of hikers and an ensuing conversation. Uh huh, about THE bear.

Seeing a bear a bit closer up had an appeal to me, but only in that I thought I might get a photograph of it. But knowing a mama bear with a cub was somewhere nearby did make me cautious. 

My hike up to the lake view point was relaxed and with far fewer people this time. Downward from the lake, my hike was more of a stroll as I was really loving the solitude and scenery. The pain in my knee had vanished, the surroundings were still. Some sunlight was poking through offering more brightness along the forest trail. 

In this stillness and solitude, I began to hear a sound from behind as if a runner, breathing heavily were coming along the trail, or a fast walker breathing heavily with a bit of a snorting sound. A runner had been on the trail as I was going down the trail, so that sound was still fresh in my ears. Continuing on, every once in awhile I would detect the sound. By now I’m getting a bit paranoid, afraid to turn around and thinking of the training we had for a bear attack…fall face down, pack protecting your back, hands clasped behind your head/neck to protect those vital areas. 

Could that bear be stalking me? 

Then for awhile all that I heard was silence as I casually walked along.

After awhile the sound returned.

I’d had enough, turned around and, of course, there was nothing there, no other hiker, runner - or bear.

As I turned back around again, I heard that same sound.

Oh, for heavens sake! It was the pack upon my back that occasionally rubbed, in just the right way, and strangely enough produced a sound that I interpreted as from another person, or animal. I had to laugh at myself for my “active” imagination. 

Strolling along now, feeling peaceful and content, I did hear a real person was approaching from behind me. I stopped to make way for her but she paused also and talked. Guess the subject of our conversation…Yes indeed. THE bear.

However, this young lady had actually SEEN the bear AND taken a picture. She showed me her photograph of it, only partially obscured in the thick brush, but definitely a bear. 

Putting a lid on my paranoia, I knew I’d soon be at the trailhead and that I had never been in any real danger on this really pleasant hike. I would like to return to this area and explore more hiking in and around the Teton Mountains. 

Driving on, I headed for Teton Village, part on paved road, but a large part unpaved with the same muddy water filled potholes and rough, yet well driven surface. 

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Upon approaching Teton Village, I immediately recognized that this had to be a skier’s haven. Several chairlifts to the higher mountain were visible as well as the appearance of an Alpine village. And this stop was to cap off the day with a ride on the aerial tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. Having a discount coupon and my senior discount (age does have it’s advantages), I was lucky that the next ride up was in a mere 10 minutes. A small group boarded the tram and soon we were up, up and away.

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The views were increasingly spectacular both up slope as well as down. 12 minutes and we were on top of the barren mountain, 10,400 feet in elevation. 

It was also windy and very chilly at that height. I was very enthralled to look all about me. To the north, low clouds hung over the rest of the Teton Mountains, while down below, patches of sunlight dotted the landscape. Off in the distance to the south rain was falling along the lower slopes.

Standing up there observing, from the top of the world was exhilarating. 

And COLD.

With fingers numbed with cold I headed indoors to a small restaurant called Corbin’s Cabin and enjoyed a hot cup of cocoa and a peanut butter, bacon waffle, a specialty, I guess, for the many skiers who also enjoy the sport in the winter as well as those who ride up in the off season.

After about 45 minutes, I was ready to return to the valley floor and boarded the next tram down. On the way we were informed of a moose sighting. Sure enough, off a short way on the mountainside we saw it. A cow and a calf, hastily running down and away from the high hanging tram car.

As we departed the top, rain began to fall from clouds that hung right before our eyes. It was as though a person could reach out and grab a piece of them, like stripping off a piece of cotton candy.

By the time I was back on the road it was after 5 o’clock. It had been a good day for me, with an enjoyable hike topped off, if you will, with a ride to the top of the world.

A short 15 mile drive and I was back to my motel room.

Today, Monday, Aug. 25, a heavy fog has covered the nearby hillsides. The mountains are not visible. Rain is forecast. 

I will see if I can locate Granite Hot Springs, down an unpaved forest road and possibly soak in the hot waters. If the conditions won’t warrant that, I hope to keep driving to the Wyoming/Utah border and stay at or near Flaming Gorge. 

From there, I have no definite plans but am about ready to go home to Phoenix.

Having warmer weather will be a welcome relief from the unusually chilly and wet August I’ve been experiencing in these north woods.


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Visiting Yellowstone National Park, Part 2

Awaking the next morning, I repeated my visit across the road to Yellowstone Lake. At first it looked like a promising day and that the very early light would give way to clearing skies. I walked up and down the beach. No other souls ventured out this day. As I walked and watched the Eastern sky, the break in the clouds never came, consequently, no sunrise.

With skies darkening even more, I quickly removed my dry bedding and stashed that in the truck. Then it began to drizzle as I worked to dismantle my tent. It was quick. I simply threw the wet tent in the back of the truck over a tarp. Then I drove away.

View from my motel room balcony, town of Gardiner, MT across the bridge.

Up the road I stopped at Lake Lodge and ate. There I discovered they have a fine old lodge and cabins that overlook Yellowstone Lake. It is a very nice setting, but I am sure the rooms were more than I cared to spend. Besides that my plan was to drive to the northwest corner of the upper Yellowstone loop and visit at Mammoth Springs. On the way, I came upon the same throng of cars and people out there looking at whatever they were seeing. This time, with fewer cars and people, I pulled over, got my binoculars and peered out into the grassy area where everyone else seemed to be casting their sights. As I scanned in the distance out some 200 yards or more, I DID see something move. Partially obscured by the uneven lay of the land, I detected a dark color and what appeared to be a hump. Buffalo was my first impression, though I could not see a head. Could this be a mate to the supposed killed buffalo from a few days ago? Continuing to gaze, the animal raised its’ head. It was a bear! Grizzley bear, no less! I could not see the carcass he seemed to be dining at, but he did seem to be busy with something. Then rather quickly, the bear just turned and wandered off further away from the crowds upon the hill (and away from my position further down the road). So, I got to see a grizzly bear, and at a nice, safe distance no less! That was much better than meeting one face to face.

In addition to the bear, this morning brought out a number of buffalo, most very near the road. In all I saw the distant grizzly bear, elk (on the hotel lawn in Mammoth Springs), buffalo and a deer. I’d love to have seen a moose and maybe a grizzly just a wee bit closer so that I could have taken his photograph.

On the way to Mammoth Springs I stopped at several places to see the hot thermal features. Mammoth Springs was once a military outpost and the major entryway into Yellowstone Park. The Army managed the parks for several years until Congress created the National Park Service. These early soldiers patrolled the whole park, greeted visitors and kept an eye on “shady characters” as well as poachers. The Army’s management of the park was from 1872 to 1918, when the National Park Service took control. Policies put in place by the Army were a blueprint for the new management of the National Parks. The buildings constructed while it was Fort Yellowstone, are unique wood or stone buildings, that are really quite elegant. Those quarters look very upscale and must have been like living in the lap of luxury.

Arriving in Mammoth Springs I inquired at the hotel for rooms and none were available. But the desk clerk told me to go 5 miles up the road to Gardiner, Montana, on the border, and check for motel rooms. A campground was open and on the way to Gardiner, so checking it out on the way was the plan. Though I was willing to set up my tent, hoping it would dry out once it was set up, Mother Nature intervened, AGAIN, and let loose with even more rain and drizzle. That settled that. I took a room in Gardiner, MT for 2 nights.

Gardiner, MT was the location of the gateway to Yellowstone National Park. A large stone arch, Roosevelt Arch welcomed all visitors through that portal. A train station was located near the gate in the early years and visitors were transported into the park via horse drawn coaches. In about 1915 the first automobiles were allowed. The town of Gardiner is rustic and in many ways is a throwback to another century. My room, however, was nice with a balcony overlooking the Yellowstone River. 

Rain continued through the night. In the morning low hanging clouds shrouded the mountain tops and it was dreary. With intervals of more sunlight “trying” to break through, the drizzle came and went all day. In the afternoon I took the eastern most segment of the upper loop road back to Canyon Lodge. This was, in my opinion, the best, most scenic of the drives. Up and down mountains, through grasslands, river views, a side drive up to Blacktail Plateau on an unpaved road, which was rough, with potholes filled with muddy water, and rocky most of the way. The views were awesome.

Returning to the main road I searched for Tower Fall but later found it is inaccessible to the public. On that  drive as I drove higher on Mt. Washburn, the fog enveloped the higher elevations. And, of course, it rained. At Canyon Junction, I turned back and returned on the same road, with no change in the weather. It seemed, at times that the sun was trying hard to break through, but the heavy clouds always won the battle. The rain was off and on all the way. 

As I drove along I wished this visit to Yellowstone National Park had not been in a weird weather pattern of low temperatures and endless days of rain. I still am impressed by the beauty it possesses and would love to revisit it at a time with the temperature are warmer and the sun is dominant in the sky.

One advantage of the cold weather is that I wasn’t sweating at least. 

Jokingly I’ve said this weather is like winter weather - in Phoenix. 

This morning, Saturday, it was raining again. I took most of the morning to get up the gumption to move on and decide my next steps. On the way south I stopped again at Old Faithful to see if I could get better photos of its’ eruption. I waited around for over an hour and, as in the few days before, the skies were gloomy not allowing for very good pictures. During the time I was there it had not rained and it even looked like a break was coming in the Western sky. Ha. No such luck. It started to drizzle again as I made my way back to my truck. The one place on the loops that I had not yet seen was Grant. I stopped there, then after 4:30, and found no accommodations were available. I was given a list of hotels, however, in Jackson, Wyoming and called two, finding one with vacancy. I booked it before leaving Grant. The drive was 80 miles, more distance than I had figured. Though I would liked to have explored more around the Grant location, by then I was just ready to throw in the towel and find another warm place to stay the night (maybe two).

Dropping down from Yellowstone National Park, it is a short distance before entering Grand Teton National Park near Jackson, Wyoming which is further south of Grand Teton. 

Again, as I drove along, nearing Jackson I saw actual blue sky and a what appeared like a possible break in the weather. Mother Nature must have been rolling with laughter, for just at quickly it was all clouds and drizzling again. However to the West, the Grand Teton Mountains had come into view, showing some clearing around them. Heavy clouds capped those rugged mountain tops and remained in place as the brighter skies there also retreated in favor of the clouds. I did capture a picture of the Tetons in their partially unveiled status.

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Now I am in Jackson, WY, enjoying the comfort of a warm, well lit room and dry bed. The weather forecast  tomorrow is for partial clearing, then two more days of rain, again. I’m thinking of booking another night here so that I might go explore around the mountains or lakes. If that does not work out, I will keep heading south, possibly putting an early end to my month’s vacation. 

And wouldn’t ya know, Phoenix has been getting a fair amount of rain over these past few weeks AND, get this, the temperatures are only going to be in the 90’s for several days. 104/105 is about average for this time of year. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Before going to bed last night I booked this same room online (saved $33 too). I decided to give Mother Nature a second chance and she presented us with a brighter day. As I look out the window, the sky is blue with lots of the large puffy white clouds that make for an excellent visual (and great for photographs).

I intend to go to Grand Teton National Park, back north of Jackson, WY and to check out a place recommended by Mark H, Granite Hot Springs. Though my left knee has been aching the last day or two, I might try a hike up into the mountains also. 

Weather forecast for the area calls for afternoon rain, which continues into tomorrow. By tomorrow I’ll be heading to Southern Wyoming/Northern Utah and checking out a few other recommendations. 

Yellowstone area is large and incorporates not only the National Park. It varies considerably from one place to another, all with outstanding natural beauty. I do wish the weather had been more cooperative especially during my ventures into the actual park. Dreary, cold days do have an affect on me if they persist, as they have. Today, with brighter skies, I also feel brighter and more content than yesterday. 

While visiting this National Park, or other popular ones, one can expect large crowds during the summer months. That can be annoying at times, but I’ve had to practice patience and realize we have a whole lot of visitors who want to experience these places, especially, it seems, a lot of foreigners. Cultural differences are bound to bump into our own, particularly ones of respecting how many Americans feel about their “personal space” in crowds. While I’m not used to being crowded, blocked by others on pathways as they stop and take photos or swarm about in large groups, hoards of viewers at the best overlook sites, and general hustle and bustle and scurrying about like ants on an anthill, I realize that, in the grand scheme of things, what appears as insensitivity to common civility (as I would like it), is an enthusiasm of others to see these grand places in the ways they experience their lives. Perhaps they live in very crowded societies and that those cramped situations are a way of life which is of no bother to them. The point of this, is that being out in the backcountry as compared to being in the more populated and more visited sites, is the only true way to avoid crowds, confusions and jangled nerves. I enjoy both, but, despite the more rugged conditions of life out in the wilds, the experiences I have had in the back country is much more preferable as my way of truly experiencing the natural beauty that is present upon our Earth.

It is my pleasure to try to capture and share what I have seen and experienced with interested readers and others.

To view more of my photos, go to this link on my Shutterfly photo web page: https://azdonstravels.shutterfly.com/

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Soldiers Barracks

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Officers and some soldiers lived in these houses. 

Senior officers homes.



Yes, that is Old Faithful.






Visiting Yellowstone National Park

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Finally, on Tuesday morning, Aug. 19, I left West Yellowstone, MT and drove across the border into Wyoming and the West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Even early in the morning a long stream of vehicles were lining up at the gate. Having my National Parks Access Pass, I quickly passed though and headed off eastward into this, the first National Park in the USA.

It couldn’t have been a better day. The skies were mostly blue and clear, a good welcoming sign for me. (As way of explanation on the layout of Yellowstone N.P. the road system is like a huge figure 8, with upper and lower loops connected between with a road between Canyon Lodge to the East and Norris camp to the West. Entrances into the Park are from the West, Northwest, Northeast, East and from the south). I entered from the West and headed toward Old Faithful, of course the most recognized and notable point of interest in the park. 

While some may make a beeline directly to the major points of interest, there are many other scenic stops along the routes. I stopped and viewed most of them and hiked further into some of the areas to see hot springs, fumaroles, steam vents and geysers and the natural wonders of views along the Gibbon, Firehole and Yellowstone Rivers. 

At the assorted stops along the drive that day, the strong odor of sulphur hung in the air. Steaming mists clouded the scenes creating a mysterious and otherworldly atmosphere. It took me most of the day to casually continue on to Old Faithful.  

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At most of the stops along the drive, boardwalks are in place to protect the environment and the people who are visiting. The soils are sensitive and the earth’s crust is fragile beneath. An unexpected step in the wrong place and crashing through the crust could easily result in a deadly scalding. The boiling hot springs were often in blue steaming pools, some with streams that fed into the river, orange, yellow streaks marking the course of the hot, mineral and thermal microbe rich flow.












Boiling waters, erupting geysers, bubbling mud pots, and ferocious sounding steam vents are all a part of the wonders that can be seen throughout the park. In other places, as hot waters flow outward from hot springs, a fanned out pattern shows ridges as minerals are deposited over the surface creating a terraced surface. In older springs these terraces are much larger. Layers and layers of these terraces are like steps leading downward from the bubbling hot spots above. Other intricate and delicate formations are numerous at most of the sites. 

I arrived at Old Faithful late in the afternoon and found the next anticipated eruption was in less than an hour of my arrival. There is a semi-circle of bleacher seats (all on one level) around part of the geyser. Luckily, I found a seat in a front row next to other people who made room for me. I in turn made room for one other young man who was from Berlin, Germany. In time Old Faithful did start to bubble up more and more, until she blew her first spout of boiling water upward.  Over a short period of time, about a minute, the fountain blasted forth more forcefully, fluctuating between towering bursts and lesser ones until the intensity diminished and the eruptions ceased. Then only steam continued to emit from the old geyser.

The weather by that time had become overcast and with that bland background, the visual, on photos, did not do justice to                  the actual show of power from Old Faithful.






                                                                                     


Not having made overnight arrangements, I decided to check at the famous Old Faithful Inn for any available rooms. The famous inn was built back in about 1906 and is constructed of logs representing a very rustic, yet very elegant atmosphere. I knew these rooms would be far outside my price range, but pursued the idea anyway. They did have a room, but at $385, I asked about other properties in the park. The desk person was very helpful and found that I could find a camp site at Bridge Bay campground. He happily called them and asked to reserve a spot for me, which I then followed up on with a call to finalize the reservation. Bridge Bay is on the shore of Yellowstone Lake, the largest freshwater lake above 7000 ft in North America. Within about 40 minutes I had driven up the road to the campsite and located my space. As the weather was about to turn to rain, I quickly set up my tent and set up my bed with a couple of foam pads, a thermarest inflatable pad, sleeping bag, two pillows and two blankets. While all the efforts to make my sleep space comfortable may seem excessive, it was exactly what was needed. The night was cold and I stayed quite cozy and warm inside my little tent. 

At 9 p.m. a Ranger Talk was presented at the camp’s amphitheater, the topic was about the Yellowstone wolves and their importance in the ecosystem of the park. I found the presentation very interesting and felt comfortable sitting outside in the chilly night. With flashlight in hand, I walked down the roads and back to my tent. Just in time to crawl into my sleeping bag, the rain started to fall. It fell through most of the night, tapping raindrops upon my tent’s rain cover, a soothing way to fall to sleep.

Arising at first light, I quickly dressed in my cramped quarters and then decided to walk over to the lake and watch the sunrise. Being the only person up at that time, I witnessed one of the best sunrises I have seen. A few others came as the sky brightened, one came down and asked to take my photo portrait as I sat there absorbing the scene in quiet solitude. He then told me he would send me a copy when he returned to his home in San Francisco. 

With the sun rising further in the sky, I returned to my tent, secured things there and then hopped in my truck to drive up the road to a lodge that served breakfast. After leaving my campsite, I drove north and encounter heavy fog all along the way. This obscured my views of what lay beyond, but coming up a hill, I encounter a large number of vehicles pulled off or pulling off the road, causing quite a traffic situation. Upon a small hill were a large gathering of people most with high power camera lenses, others with binoculars. All were looking out into the mist - at SOMETHING. I parked along the road, walked over the the area below were the largest crowd were assembled and wondered what I was supposed to be seeing. 

I learned from another observer, that the previous day, wolves had taken down a buffalo and that grizzly bears were feasting on the carcass. Supposedly that was some distance out in the rolling meadow below. Seeing that the heavy fog was not about to lift anytime soon, and not wanting to deal with such a large contingent of tourists, I continued on to find my own source of food.

I missed the sign for Lake Lodge, where I intended to go, and ended up at Canyon Lodge another 15 miles away and had my breakfast. I was at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, one of the must see locations in Yellowstone.

Two of the major, if not the largest in all of the park, waterfalls are to be seen, the Upper and Lower Falls. They can be viewed on short North and South Rim drives from several vantage points. 

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Though I arrived early at the Lower Falls (to the left), I was amazed at the huge number of tourists already on site. Most were Asians, scurrying about taking photos. There was the need to be patient in all that busyness, and scant changes to enjoy the views in solitude. Waiting for a quell in the rush of people I struck up a conversation with a single young woman, who also had been hoping for less activity at the overlook. As we chatted, the crowds did disperse and we were left to enjoy the views in a much calmer manner. After reciprocating with photos we continued on to another overlook further up the road and then went our separate ways.

The entire day was consumed by my seeing the falls from all the possible sites, I chatted with several people during the day, finding people from Bowling Green, Ohio, Dayton, Ohio, Grand Rapids, Michigan and, amazingly, later in the day a young woman and her husband, she being from Woodville, Ohio, a mere 5 miles from our family home in Ohio. Her name is Manda Bartell, who perhaps my brothers may know of her  family. Her husband is Chinese, a very engaging man who was very interested in and was a part of our conversation. Manda and I exchanged several family names, many of which she was familiar. When I mentioned Elliston Cementry, she also was very familiar with that and the burial place for many of my relatives as well as hers. They had recently been back to Ohio and some of the same places I had been is where she had gone with her husband. To have run into someone who was from near my hometown was amazing to both of us. What prompted me to start a conversation with this couple was that she was wearing a U of Toledo sweatshirt, the largest city near my hometown of Gibsonburg. Seeing the shirt as we passed, I asked if she were from Toledo, which then led to our further discovery of commonality. I believe we were engaged in talking for over a half hour and would have continued to find more common connections, but it was then raining and they were on the way down to a vantage point to see the Lower Falls and I needed to return to my campsite about 20 miles away.

From both sides of the Yellowstone River that day, I sought out all the viewing spots of the two falls, some high some low  - including one that was a hike down a remote, seldom used trail, one that had not recently been traversed. It was a bit touch and go at times as I descended to the turbulent Yellowstone River below the Upper Falls as it pounded down from above, churning into the cold rushing waters. While recognizing, after having trekked down through the trees, that this was probably not my best venture into a dangerous place, I set my mind on completing this little “adventure” and slowly and deliberately made my way right down to the rocky shore of the raging river, waters lapping at my feet. The actual falls were unapproachable from this angle as the Fall had cut back into the rocks and the river then made a sharp right angle away from the falls. Still, I was seeing the foamy waters and its thundering roar as they flowed down, captured in some of the frothy mist. From this vantage point I looked up on the opposite cliffs above and saw several of the overlooks. I wondered if anyone could spot me down on that isolated and desolate spot.

My vantage point below the waterfall.

So, after a long day of exploring the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, I headed back to Bridge Bay campground where I was staying one more night. Along the way back, I encounter that same large gathering of people along the road, still causing a traffic jam and, by now with the fog lifted, people peering off into the distance looking at what was supposedly a feeding frenzy. I was not about to stop and mingle with that mass of humanity, plus it had begun to rain as I left the waterfalls. 

Oh joy, rain…

On the way I stopped at Fishing Bridge and had some supper, still raining. Then down the road to my tent. Now I’d have to actually get in as it rained, hoping I’d not get the inside too wet in the process. Inside was dry, thankfully. 

Before retiring however, I wanted to hear that night Ranger Talk, about Bisons, Bears, Elk and Wolves. Just as I had walked over to the amphitheater, it started to rain again and I was not wearing my rain poncho. With no other choice I returned to my tent and just went to sleep.

It rained throughout the night.

I’ll end here for now and continue when I am next connected to the internet.


Uncle Toms Trail. 328 steps plus steep path ¾ of the way down below Lower Falls. 





Sedge Camp and The Ride Out

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Big Sky Country! Montana lives up to it’s name.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The trail ride from Ha Hand Lake Camp to Sedge Camp was to take about 3 hours. We did not depart until after 4 p.m. and Terry told us we would be “bushwhacking” for a part of the ride, meaning taking some lesser used trails, or maybe no trial at all. Hummm, that’s intriguing.

Starting out the weather was OK, but it did not last. Off and on it rained or drizzled prompting us to stop and put on our rain slickers. Then we had some pretty steep climbs up mountain sides. I certainly was glad not to have to be hiking that kind of terrain. It WAS rugged.

The reward of that steep climb is the photo above. The weather gave us a short break for a grand vista from atop that ridge. Truly a fantastic panorama. But then we had to descend for about another hour before reaching the last camp.

The bushwhacking took us through some dense forest with much undergrowth. We twisted and turned and wound our way down the trail. Skies, having turned much darker, only intensified the darkness in the pine forest. That prompted me to say “lions and tiger and bears - OH MY!” It really was dank, dark and dreary - and a bit scary. 

But we did, finally, emerge from the woods and into a broad meadow, where another white cook tent sat in waiting. As Terry busied himself with unpacking the mules, Christine set about un-saddling the horses and hobbling them to romp in the large meadow before us. It looked forested on three sides with mountains on the fourth side. With such low cloud cover, however, it was all not very clear and I was too tired to really take in much of the scene at that time. Being after 7 o’clock p.m. and with the rain, it did not look like a very appealing camp at the time of our arrival. The horses and mules were content to start grazing and wandered off into the meadow, but this time they were within our sights. Hopefully they would not venture off into the surrounding forest.

After setting up our tents under the pines, we sat about and waited for Christine and Terry to prepare our dinner. Under the circumstances of our late arrival, dreary weather and quickly approaching nightfall, it was well after 9 p.m. before we ate. But, with a hot meal in our bellies, and being late, it was soon off to our tents. Preparing, as in the previous nights for a cold night, I was quickly in my bedroll, cuddled against the night chill. The soothing sound of raindrops on my tent quickly brought me to slumberland.


Sat, August 16, 2014

Awaking around 6 a.m. I was down to the cook tent where Terry was again brewing the strong cowboy coffee. I had my camera in hand and set out into the meadow.

This meadow had an abundance of tall grasses and a meandering stream that wove it’s way from one end to the other. Horses and mules were in sight, across the stream up on the lower, grassy slope of a mountain. The mountain directly in front of me, across the meadow was catching the early morning sunlight, glowing red in the chill of this morning. Stepping out away from camp, to my right, I was presented with two other mountains, also aglow in this warming morning light. 

As the sun rose higher, the stock, higher up on the slope were catching those first warming rays as they either grazed or just stood still presenting a perfect pastoral scene.

With the wandering stream before me I roamed about in the meadow, knocking at the frost tipped grasses, absorbing the views both visually and photographically.

With no one else stirring it was quiet and magnificent as I continued to marvel at the start to what looked the beginnings of a bright new day.

The stream was too deep to just wade across, so I stayed on the one side and observed the livestock as they stood on the other. In time, fingers and hands numbed by the cold, I headed back to the camp and had my hands wrapped around a hot steaming cup of coffee as quickly as possible.

In time, the others began to stir and we had another delicious breakfast. Our plan for the day was to hike up to a lake dead ahead of our location. That was to be Alp Lake, which Terry told us was well worth the effort to get there. By late morning we set out and alternately crossed the meadow, through the pines, upward climbing most of the way. Starting out, however, we had to cross the meadow stream, which was a challenge. Conner, handily jumped, I waded across in the most shallow spot I could find, without water topping over my boots. Laura, unfortunately did not quite fare so well and took a little dunking in her attempts both over and back. 

Other meadows along the way also were interspersed in our hike with many wildflowers throughout. Our whole troupe were together on this day excursion. Taking frequent breaks from the strenuous climbing, we took a snack break along a stream and small meadow before again striking out on this little used and sometimes disappearing trail. Several places along the way showed evidence of large hoof prints, probably elk and maybe a moose.

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After a couple of hours we reached our destination, sat upon a rock outcropping and enjoyed lunch before wandering over to Alp Lake, just out of sight from our resting spot. While the others rested or walked around the small lake I ventured into the stream that drained water from the lake and down through a narrow chute creating a slender waterfall that dropped far into a valley below. Wildflowers grew along the stream in abundance.

With the hour getting late in the afternoon, we left that peaceful place and much more quickly descended back to camp. This was a perfect day hike, a bit strenuous to climb up, but still very rewarding in the end.

The next day was our last day and so, after a more timely supper, we did not stay up for long and again were in the tents and off to sleep.







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Christine the flower child

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Last Day and Ride Out.

Again, this last morning in camp, I was up at dawn and out in the meadow taking in yet another splendid sunrise. The frost upon the grasses was even thicker and it coated my boots in a layer of ice crystals, making it appear I had been tromping out in the snow. The horses and mules, thankfully were still out in the far meadow, but well within our vision. That surely would mean an easy (easier) round up.

It started out to be an easy gathering of the animals as Laura, Conner and I went ahead to approach and keep our horses in tow. Laura helped Conner and I put rope halters on our own horses, who were patient as we approached them, touched and talked to them and willingly allowed us to attach the halters. (I had saved a couple of baby carrots from the previous day’s snack and offered them toDakota as a bribe. He liked the treat and was very compliant). By then Christine and Terry were at the scene to halter their own steeds, Cowboy and Louis. 

Cowboy was willing. 

Louis was not.

Louis avoided Christine and Terry, running and kicking up his heals, tearing about in the meadow, dodging all attempts to corner him or otherwise try to catch him. Frisky for sure. He must have been feeling his oats (or all that fresh grass he ate - or was it loco weed?). It was a sight, so see him frolicking about and teasing his master. Ha, ha, betcha can’t catch me.

 BUT, not only Louis, but one of the mules decided to follow Louis’ lead and preferred that Terry and Christine work for their living. When they ran off into the woods however, it became more of a real cat and mouse episode. They could decide, on their own to find the trail (which they surely knew is where we were headed this day) and just trot back to the trailhead on their own. 

Not a good scenario.

With plan B, we simply led the willing animals into the pines where the saddles and harness were stashed, tied them up to trees and Christine began saddling each horse. The cooperating mules posed no problems. Rambunctious Louis and his buddy mule were left alone for the time being and then, having calmed down, and always within sight in the trees, they were close at hand . Maybe tired of being mischievous, they finally, willingly, accepted defeat and allowed themselves to be fitted for the day’s ride out of the backcountry and to the waiting horse trailer at the trailhead.

The preparation time took the usual hours to complete before we could hit the completion our our pack trip and return to the trailhead. This ride was estimated at about 3 hours and with a 2:30 departure time we would be back around 5 p.m., still plenty of daylight for us to drive back to West Yellowstone to our lodging and a hot shower and spreading out on a real bed.

We took a different route back to the trailhead area, again with many high, steep ascents and descents, many small stream crossings interspersed with pine forests and meadowlands. Other than stopping briefly for a water break, we opted to continue without dismounting to stretch our legs or for a snack break. Consequently  we arrived back to our starting point at 5 p.m., ahead of our estimated time. 

It took little time for us to gather up our personal belongings and head back to town as Terry and Christine still had much to do to prepare for their own departure much later than the three guests.

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One thing I failed to mention on this horse pack trip was that, I had not topped off my gas tank before starting out on Aug. 13. Not knowing how far we would be driving to the trailhead, my truck had less than  ¼ tank of fuel as we started. As we turned down the long dirt road to the trailhead my low fuel light came on, causing me to fear running out of gas. Though I informed the others of this potential dilemma as we started the trail ride, Laura offered to drive back as I followed behind in case I stalled and then would have a means to get back to a gas station in West Yellowstone. During the whole pack trip I gave this issue little thought. There was nothing I could do about that situation until the end of the trip and did not want that hanging over me nagging me for 5 days. 

Luckily, driving slowly, and me coasting downhill when possible, I did make it back to town and filled up at the first gas station. I think I had less than half a gallon of fuel left. Whew! Squeaked by on that one! And thanks to Laura for driving ahead, slowly, to assure I conserved what little gasoline was left in my tank.

Other than a somewhat sore rump, and a little ache in my left knee, this horse pack trip was perfect for me. The layovers in camps were good for the livestock as well as us mortal beings. 

I would highly recommend this shorter venture into the backcountry on horseback. 

But, other than that one deer, no scary bears ever appeared to test my mettle and that’s just fine with me. 

My venture into the actual Yellowstone National Park, next to West Yellowstone might provide me some glimpses of such beasts. Who knows??? 

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THE END


The Round-up.

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The dawn’s early light reflected in Ha Hand Lake

Friday, August 15, 2014

I love mornings.

And THIS morning was a fine one indeed!

The night before, our second night in this camp, the skies had cleared. During the night, I awoke to a bright light shining on my tent door. It was as though someone, or something was shining a beam of light right onto my tent. I crawled out of my warm swaddling and unzipped the door. What greeted me was a bright moon just then shining through the pines, casting it’s bright beam down on my tent. I took that as a good omen for a bright and beautiful day ahead. 

As quickly as possible I snuggled back into my cozy nest and fell back to sleep. Just as dawn was breaking with the dim early morning light beginning to brighten the heavens, I awoke and and quite quickly changed into my layers of clothing to help ward off the brisk morning chill. Grabbing my camera, I walked down to the cook tent where Terry, still groggy from sleep, was setting about making cowboy coffee. With a cheerful “good morning” from me, and not wanting to wait for the coffee to brew, I headed off toward the lake. What you see above is the first light hitting some of the mountains around the lake. 

With stillness in the chill of this early dawn, I felt a peacefulness that brings me a joy that I always embrace when I awake to greet a day at sunrise. Being out in nature at times like this brings me closer to how I feel connected to Mother Earth. The reverence I feel and the wonder of being alive on this incredible planet have always comforted me.

I strode around the lake to capture in photos what I was witnessing and the calm waters of the lake reflected exactly the visual image but also the feelings I had at those moments. 

Yes! 

This was going to be a very nice day!

Terry, having the coffee brewing, walked around the lake also and captured his own images of the peaceful serenity reflected upon the still waters. 

As the sunlight lifted higher into the cold morning, banishing away the darkness, beams of the warming rays streamed down to highlight the things I notice most in these early moments of a new day. Flowers along the creek were cast in starring roles as spotlights shone upon them and long beams of sunlight streamed between the tall pines, their needles shimmering with a golden glow.

Oh yes, I do so much appreciate waking to sights such at these.

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Now, with fingers and hands numb from exposure to the cold, I headed back to the cook tent and was soon enjoying a nice, steaming hot cup of strong joe. Hands wrapped around the hot cup helped warm me inside and out. 

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As the rest of the crew began stirring, and the chill was waning as the earth warmed itself, Christine was busy fixing our breakfasts. This morning pancakes and sausages and bacon. Just the ticket for our last day in this camp and to prepare us for our journey to the second camp. 

And to round up those missing horses and mules

(You all were waiting for that, weren’t you?)

As I have already related to my readers, it takes a considerable amount of time to break camp, repack equipment and pack up the mules and horses before setting off to another location. Today was no exception. Laura, Conner and I took down our tents, packed up our duffle bags and were ready to go much sooner than when we actually hit the trail. So, having done all that we could to prepare for departure, Laura and Conner read as I milled about. Terry and Christine have their own routine in getting things ready, so we allowed them that space to do their duties. 

Not being in a mood to read a book this morning, and as our guides were off getting themselves organized, I grew impatient, whereupon, I informed Laura and Conner that I would climb up the steep slope behind camp to where the livestock had been released two nights before. That our modes of transportation had been nowhere in sight in the previous day's trekking up on the higher basin was getting to be a bit unnerving to me. Of course, if the horses and mules had met with some misfortune or just ran off into the wilds, we had food and could just as easily stayed in this wonderful setting. But still, we wondered…

Clambering up to the ridge above (no trail), I emerged a tad further away from the place where we had left the animals. But, no worries, I’d just walk back to find where I had intended to go and, in the process, look out for some sign of our livestock. Over several hills and knolls I found no evidence of their existence. I found the spot where we had stored the saddles and harness (the place where we released the horses and mules), but they had not returned there. Scouting around some more outward from that place, I decided it would be best for me and the others to just stay in place by the saddles and gear, so that I too did not end up missing. 

So I waited, looking down on part of the visible campsite below. In time Terry and Christine came into view, walking across a long grassy area just beyond the camp tent. Then Conner, Christine and Terry came into view together and were again out of sight as they returned to the camp tent area which was not in my line of sight. While I was up there on that ridge, I imagined being an Indian, or a cowboy, spying down on a group of intruders or upon a village, just observing the situation. 

I waited. 

And waited.

Over an hour passed and I began to wonder if my climbing up here was such a good idea, even though Laura and Conner knew my intentions and had surely let our guides know to where I had ventured. Maybe they were worried that I had become lost too and would be just another “problem” in locating me. But I stuck to my plan and just hung out up there. 

Soon enough, more activity stirred below as Terry, Christine and Conner, started across the meadow below with harnesses in hand and set out on the trail around the lake, on their way up to my vantage point. Good, we could then soon rendezvous and go out searching for our wandering livestock. Wait, Terry turned back and returned to camp as the other two continued on. I guessed he had forgotten something and went to retrieve it. I expected Christine and Conner to arrive to me in about 15 minutes at most. But they never came, though I sat in a conspicuous spot to be easily seen from the trail. Terry, in time set out again from below but still no sigh of the other two. What gives? Is everything disappearing up here but me?

In a short time, Terry appeared, catching his breath, inquiring about the other two and my saying they had not arrived. He called out several times and finally we received a shout back. They had mistakenly gone to another location used in a previous trip and had to double back to the real location. 

Now, all together again, the four of us (Laura choose to remain in camp), set out over hill and dale searching for our livestock. It is surprising how many little knolls and hillocks are up in those basins with little lakes and still a vast area with vistas into the distance. Somewhere up there, those rascals had to be hiding. We fanned out, often out of sight of each other on the treeless meadows. Over one knoll and looking down, no animals. And so it went for a little while. 

Then coming up and over another little hill, Christine coming from a different angle than I, we spotted the 9 desperadoes. Just hanging out around a small lake. We called out to Terry and Conner who soon reappeared and, together we converged down to the quietly waiting horses and mules. From my point of view, I was overjoyed to see them. 

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The 5 horses and 4 mules seemed to expect us and just patiently grazed, looking up at us as if to say, "OH, what took you so long?”. 

Rascals!

Quietly and gently walking up to them, we pretty efficiently rounded them up with only a little resistance from one or two horses. They actually were quite docile and easy to approach. Getting close to our own horses, we petted them and talked to them, keeping them calm as Terry and Christine haltered them. The mules went unharnessed, as they typically will follow the horses. Once all of them were back in our control, we walked them back over the grassy knolls and returned to the saddles, bridles and harness. 

It was a relief to have found the animals, unharmed and in good shape. 

It still amazed me that they were able to go over a mile away while hobbled. Again, the mules were not hobbled, only 4 of the horses were. The 5th horse, Louis, just could not get the hang of being hobbled, so they let him run free. He stuck with the pack.

On the return, we saw a good sized deer, the only true large animal I saw on the whole trip.

Now with the horses and mules once again in our control, we got them saddled up and rode back to camp. It was well after noon by then. Before continuing, we had lunch and then, again, waited for our guides to complete packing the mules and readying for the next ride to Sedge Camp. Our departure was not until late afternoon.

The late day departure meant a late arrival at our second camp...

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Riding Off Into The Wilderness

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Despite the lengthy preparation time of driving far back into the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, unloading the horses and pack mules, all the equipment needed for setting up camps, sorting through gear, food, supplies, saddling up the horses and then actually packing everything else on the mules with balanced loads on each, we finally set off from a clearing and into a thick pine forest.

Terry Search, owner of Yellowstone Mountain Guides, with just a part of the gear taken on the trip.

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As we followed along on the trail in this wilderness, we climbed and descended over rugged terrain. Good thing it was a horse I was riding or I’d have been huffing and puffing and resting for much of the ride if I were hiking. (Hikers do use these trails also). In this dense forest, were little brooks and streams to cross, many fallen trees, sometimes with the trail skirting around the obstacles and at other times the logs were cut away allowing the trail to pass through the openings. 

Beginning the ride was clear with gathering clouds and it looked ominous.  After a couple of hours on the trail, as we passed through a meadow, we stopped for our packed lunches. With the horses tied up in a stand of pines, we dismounted and sat in the nearby meadow, amidst a beautiful array of blooming wildflowers. As we finished eating, a steady drizzle of rain began to fall but not really a need for rain gear.  

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However, before mounting up again, we donned a warmer outer layer as the wind had picked up and it was now a bit chilly. As we continued on, the sun broke through and it became warmer again. Off came outer layers and on we went.  

The views were becoming ever more impressive the further back into the wilderness we rode. Tall mountains, pine forests, meadows sloping down the mountain sides. Green and lush growth from an unusual amount of summer rain and a vast array of wildflowers greeted us continually along the trails. The views were becoming better and better, and Terry would say it gets better. That was hard to imagine, but it was true, as the deeper we went, the depth of beauty also increased.

Late in the afternoon, paralleling a high, rugged mountain range, the tops barren of trees with 

patches of snow laying undisturbed high up on the slopes, I noticed their height and seemingly insurmountable passage to the other side. Stopping briefly, Terry told us we were about to climb up and over a pass and to our camp on the other side. And so, we traversed, zig zagging upward, upward, upward and crested the ridge to see a magnificent basin below. Now descending down in like manner, traversing back ad forth down the slopes we saw the first glimpse of our camp.


 In the green meadow near Ha Hand lake was a white tent structure, that was our cooking tent. (Yellowstone Mountain Guides has permanent permits from the Forestry Service at several locations in the wilderness and where the outfit takes tours and guests, including during hunting seasons after the summer pack trips. All the camps are disassembled, packed up and removed at summer’s end. In the early summer, pack mules again return with the equipment and the camp cook tent is again assembled for the next season. Sleeping tents are brought in with each trip according to the number of people on a pack trip). 

By this time, I was ready to get off my horse, Dakota, and stretch my legs, and, as you might imagine, give my butt a break. Horses were rode into a small grove of trees, tied up and the mules taken down to the camp area and unloaded of all their heavy loads. Those loads consisted of our personal items, tents, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, wool bag liners, the food, cooking utensils, hatchets, saws, fuel, etc. After the pack mules were unburdened, they and the horses were rode or led around the lake and up a high ridge above and behind our camp. There the horses were relieved of their saddles and bridles, the mules of their harness, and, of all things, to my amazement, set loose. As previously mentioned the mules, and Dakota, my horse, strode down the slope and rolled on the ground, thankful, I’m sure of being free of their burdens. The horses and mules were not tethered to any hitching posts or in the trees. They were literally set free to roam and eat grass at will. There was no enclosure or any form of restriction to contain the livestock. This surprised me. While, in immediate view the grassy area was in a bowl, sloping down from where the saddles and harness were removed and stacked in the trees and on the other three sides by steep, grass and rocky slopes.  The only restrictions upon the horses were hobbles, tied to their front legs. The mules were not restricted at all (from previous experience, mules, with horses present are not likely to wander off on their own). Now with the horses front legs hobbled, they had to jump with front legs and still, quite easily moved about as they grazed on the abundant grasses. It seemed the hobbles would prevent them from any distant travel and that they would probably just stay in the bowl shaped area and munch to their delight. Still they were far out of sight of our eyes in camp, which had me wondering about bears attacking them. It seemed that, being hobbled, they would be easy prey for a hungry grizzly or black bear. Terry and Christine were not bothered about that in the least. Walking back to camp along the trail it still concerned me that those animals were left to fend for themselves for two nights, but guessed this was how things were done, and that we’d simply return to them the second day and they would come up and be ready to be saddled up and ready to ride on to our second camp. 

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This trip of 5 days included only two camps where we stayed for two nights each. The fifth day was the day to return to our beginning trailhead. Returning to the campsite, we followed the same procedures for backcountry camping as on the hike the week before. Food, toiletries, scented items stayed near the cooking area and were suspended on a bear hang every night, or when away from camp. Tents were set up a distance from the camp cook area. In this case we chose spots near a fast flowing little stream that fell down from a narrow waterfall a short distance from our tents. It was a very pleasant site, amidst some pine trees, the rushing waters, rippling upon and over the rocks created a soothing sound promoting a quick and peaceful fall into deep slumber.

Our water source was from a spring nearby, that ran ice cold. Needs to purify or filter it were unnecessary since we took it directly from the source as it flowed out from underground. It was refreshing and delightful to taste.

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Chrstine started dinner as soon as the other livestock chores were done. We ate very well. Using both a propane gas stove and the campfire, she created delicious and varied fare, including fresh green salads with tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and other fresh ingredients. This night we were treated to salmon, cooked over the campfire, with roasted red skin potatoes and fresh vegetable. Each day, the meals were delicious and plentiful.

By the time we were served dinner, the darkness had already been upon us and eating around the glowing and flickering campfire was just the touch one would expect for a wild-land expedition. Unfortunately, drizzling rain was trying to spoil the atmosphere, but we prevailed despite that minor inconvenience. The long day caught up with us and we were soon off to our tents for a much appreciated rest. During the night the wind blew strongly accompanied by a steady downpour, the sounds of both actually helping me to fall into a deep sleep. 

The night time temperatures drop very quickly in the mountains. The sleeping bags with the wool liner were perfect for helping keep warm during the night. But, in addition. we were asked to bring sleeping clothes for additional layers of warmth. While I normally have not had such cold sleeping experiences, this additional night attire was a necessity if one were not to suffer from the cold throughout the nights. When I felt overheated, I would open up the sleeping bag slightly and ventilate with the cold air, moderating my body temperature until I had to close it up and return to sleep. Waking in the early morning cold meant a hasty retreat from the warm bag, disrobing the night clothes and quickly redressing in my daytime clothes, but in several layers - a t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, fleece shirt, parka, a fleece vest and stocking cap. It was still raining when we awoke, which made the start of the the day questionable. Terry was up and had started making cowboy coffee in a very large, campfire blackened coffee pot, just as a person could imagine for a true cowboy experience. 

As this second full day dawned brighter, the clouds began to disperse, blue skies peeked out and, finally, the sunlight broke through promising us a day to go hiking and exploring in the area. A hearty, healthy breakfast prepared us for a day of venturing out of camp and to explore and discover some truly magnificent scenery. Hiking up along the narrow waterfall near our tent, with all but Christine,  we slowly ascended to a ridge and then into a basin that beset my eyes with such views that were outstanding. As we progressed, over rolling knolls, small lakes, high peaks, green meadows adorned with colorful wildflowers, remaining snow packs, billowing white clouds and vast vistas greeted our sights. As before, with each turn of the head, the scenery and landscape was constantly offering beauty that filled my senses. I felt like my eyes were filled to overflowing at such immense views and intense natural beauty.

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Topping the ridge behind our camp, we walked along and over to where we had left the horses and mules the previous night. 

They were nowhere in sight! Oh boy, what happened to them and how in the world could they have possibly traveled very far being hobbled? Terry was not concerned as he said they make their way effectively as far as they care to roam, grazing throughout the vast basin. As we hiked over knolls and small hills, around small lakes, over several miles, we saw nary one of the animals. Evidence of their passing this way, however, were obvious with dung piles scattered about the hillsides. Still no matter where we hiked, or at what heights we hiked, the horses nor mules were nowhere to be seen. 

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We went about the morning, Terry pointing out points of interest, history and information about what we could see, and enjoyed a remarkable day with  perfect cloud cover, cool temperatures, and vast vistas far into the distance. At Expedition Pass we lunched and sat upon a ridge looking down into the basins on either side. Along the way, we came upon a snow pack that had a snow tunnel running beneath it, hollowed out by a very small, trickling stream. It was another amazing discovering along our hike.

As Laura and Conner wanted to learn fly fishing, we continued to another small lake (still no livestock in sight) where Terry instructed them in the art of fly fishing. I was very content to watch and took photos of Laura’s many catches (which were released). As the day was quickly proceeding into mid afternoon, and the weather looked sketchy, we continued along our merry way and proceeded back to camp (and still no livestock).

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Conner, casting a line into a lake.

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Arriving back in camp, Cristine had kept busy and prettied up the place with a bouquet of flowers. An unlikely, yet thoughtful, touch  making our camp feel very homey. After dinner, looking heavenward, stars filled the cold, clear night sky. A perfect ending to our day. 

But what about those mules and horses….?


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Stepping back...

Before starting the horse pack trip, and as I was hiking on the Bechler River Traverse, the tune of the “Army Song” or “The Caissons Go Rolling Along”, kept floating into my mind with the words “over hill, over dale, as we hit the dusty trail…”. That got me thinking of words to fit the hike. I wrote down my version (with admitted uneven rhyme) trying to capture that experience. (Groan and smirk, if you like).

The Bechler Hikers Go Marching Along

(to the tune of “The Caissons Goes Rolling Along”, or “The Army Goes Rolling Along”)

Over hill, over dale

As we hit the muddy trail,

The Bechler Hikers trod on.

Oh, it’s hi hi ho,

Over the trails we go

As the Bechler Hikers trod on.

 

Down the trail,

Over the glades,

Across swollen streams,

Soaked to our inner seams,

Though a lack of sunlight beams,

The Bechler Hikers trod on.

 

Rain for days,

Skies of gray,

Up and down slimy trails,

Through the marshes wet with rain,

Feet and legs sore with pain,

The Bechler Hikes slogged on.

 

Heavy packs upon our backs,

Tarp shelter from the wet,

Spirits lifted with little fret,

Bandaged feet, blisters, sores, skeeter bites,

Persevering through the fight,

The Bechler Hikers trudged on.

 

Glad for warm and sunny days,

Drying clothes and our tents,

Soaks in healing thermal spas,

Waterfalls, steaming streams, fumaroles,

And all the wonders we have seen,

The Bechler Hikers marched on.

 

All the meals

Extraordinaire,

Chris and Nate prepared nutritious fare,

Kept our souls and bodies fortified,

Through discomforts and being tired,

The Bechler Hikers hiked on.

 

Oh, it’s hi hi ho,

We will always know,

The Bechler Hikers kept plodding along.


Horsin’ Around

After a long day on the trail, a nice roll in the dirt hits the spot.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

From West Yellowstone, Montana.

Yee, haw! What a TERRIFIC adventure.

This will be brief tonight, as I am very tired.

That photo, above is of my horse, Dakota. After our first day’s ride into the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, northwest of West Yellowstone, Montana, the pack mules and he (Dakota) rolled in the dirt. The other horses did not exhibit such behavior to my knowledge, but my horse sure enjoyed his romp, rolling over, rubbing his face in the grass and dirt. It was comical to watch.

Briefly, the trip did not hit the trail on Wed., Aug 13 until nearly noon or after. It took several hours for Terry, the owner and Christine, his helper/wrangler/cook, that much time to pack the mules with our supplies and harness our horses. Horse' s having been readied first, allowed us time to mount them and ride them around the area, but mostly we just let them graze as they wished. There were 3 guests (mother and son duo, Laura and Conner and me, plus the owner and his helper, so just the 5 of us, plus 5 horses and 4 pack mules. The mules certainly carried a LOT of stuff. We reached our first camp well after 4:30 p.m.

In the next several days, I will try to write more in depth of Part 2 of my 2014 Summer Adventure.

Some photos, as a preview of what to expect...

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In Between Adventures...

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Before I start out in the morning on the horse pack trip, I thought I wrap up the time in between the Bechler River hike and today.

When I arrived back in Bozeman on Friday, 8/8, I had a reservation at a motel. Feeling oddly out of sorts after the hiking and being fatigued, I asked the motel if I could stay Saturday night also. They had just one room, mine, so I kept the same one. Until supper time I seldom left the room, not really like me, but I just felt like holing up and doing as little as possible. In the evening I walked downtown Bozeman and had dinner. The walk did me good. After calling Mark H in Phoenix, who used to live in West Yellowstone and went to college in Bozeman, I bent his ear about my woes and tried to get back on track. He suggested some places for me to go visit for short hikes and scenery. That led me to Palisades Falls on Sunday afternoon and a large reservoir south of town. Moving the old legs a bit more, again, was good. 

I saw that a campground was along one shore of the reservoir, so I tried to find an open spot. No luck there, so I started back to town and passed another campground by a river. There I found a nice spot and set up my truck as my tent. With the tail gate open I was able to lay out my sleeping pad, bag, pillows and blankets with my feet just at the end of the tailgate. The opening I enclosed with a tarp. In the night I awoke not having a soft enough surface beneath me. I had an inflatable pad that I then inflated and rearranged everything in the middle of the night. But then I was quite comfortable and cozy in the increasingly colder night temperatures.

Arising early in the morning I rearranged things and put everything back to normal. It was very cold. Having skipped dinner, I drove back to Bozeman and had breakfast at the Western Cafe, an excellent dining spot recommended by both Mark and Steve. I love that place! If you are ever in Bozeman, you should stop there for breakfast or lunch (closed for dinner). 

That afternoon, Monday, I followed up on another hike suggestion from Mark. I drove north of town to a mountain with the Montana State U “M” on a mountain side. I started on the trail and decided to take the one labeled “steep”. It Was! Very, very steep! Huffing and puffing I finally arrived at the white painted rocks laid out as an M. It covered a lot of ground up there. Resting a bit I decided to try to hike up even further to the top of the mountain. The trail never ceased being steep and my feet were really, starting to ache. Darn hiking boots, what’s with you? Coming down was one of the slowest descents I have ever done. With my feet aching so much I simply took my time. 

From up high, the views were fantastic and, for that, I felt it was worth the effort.

Once down off the trail and back into my sandals, my feet immediately felt good again. That had me wondering about my shoes, which are only a few years old and with a new insert added before this trip. Could these shoes not be fitting me properly? I decided that one more day in those hiking boots would only cause me more pain, so I resolved to check out the shoe at REI this morning before driving down to West Yellowstone. The salesperson agreed, that the boots I had were not the right ones for my foot shape. After experimenting with several pairs, I settled on a pair that are designed for heavy backpacking plus just general hiking. I wore them all day and feel good in them.

In the meantime, this morning I received a message from the horse pack trip about the meeting place and time, which is just 8 miles north of West Yellowstone. After buying my new boots, I drove the 90 miles to W. Yellowstone and have since called the company’s owner for last minute information. 

Finding a room in West Yellowstone was nearly impossible on my iPhone, as they were either too expensive or no vacancy. I decided to just walk the streets and check out the plethora of motels in town. The first place I stopped was the Madison Motel. And I lucked out. The place was built in 1912, with rooms added in the 20’s and a newer section. They offered me a room in the original section, which I am loving. A small room with wash basin, a twin bed, antique dresser and an arm chair. Bathrooms and showers are down the hall. This is all I need and the walk down the hall is of no bother to me either. And the price was very good too, ie cheap. 

I spent a big part of the afternoon walking around town (it is a small town, built primarily for the tourist trade entering Yellowstone National Park, just out of town). With all the visitors coming to Yellowstone, that is why rooms were scarce. 

Now I think I have all that I need packed for the next 6 days exploring in the mountains and will be ready to meet the others at 9 a.m.

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I’m looking into buying this fixer upper. It will make an ideal summer vacation home here in Montana. Advertised as having good ventilation, (right in and out of the broken windows), central heat (a wood stove in the middle of the room, weathered siding with character, open floor concept (it fell in years ago), mature landscaping, (you don’t say), wide open spaces in a scenic setting (yet that is true).

Day 6, Yellowstone: Bechler River Traverse

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Day 6, Friday, August 8, 2014

Before ending the previous day, Chris had let us know that to be on the trail by 7 a.m. we would need to have arisen around 5:30, giving us all ample time to take down the tents and pack up the sleeping gear, stuff that in with our own belongings, have breakfast and close the camp. We managed very well on the time, according to my watch it was 7:02 when we departed.

This was not to be a day of excessive elevation changes, but it did require a lot of tramping through extensive stretches of meadows that really were marshes. It was a beautiful morning, with the early light streaming across the meadows and through the pine forest. The sunlight cast long morning shadows over the grassy expanse as blue skies were clear and bright. This was a great day to enjoy hiking.

While I had not been particularly bothered by mosquitos over the previous days, this day was the exception. Perhaps I forgot to spray myself, or the little buggers were just more determined after so many rainy days. Despite that, I just kept trudging along.

The meadows were drying, but not dry. Wet grass soaked our pant legs, and in many places the trail was mushy, forcing us to step off trail above the soft, muddy sections. There were several little streams to cross without the need to remove boots. But eventually we did come to a larger stream where most of us changed into our water shoes and waded across that sandy bottom creek. Ryan had taken the lead this morning and kept up a good steady pace that seemed perfect for the whole group. After an hour of hiking, as we stopped to rest, Chris calculated we had come 2 miles. So the 2 mile per hour pace, if kept up, would get us to the Bechler Ranger Station near to 11 a.m. We did stop several times to drop backpacks, get a snack or to just rest, then hoisted up the packs and set off again. 

Between forest trails (giving relief from the warm sun) were more meadowlands throughout this last day of hiking. Nearing the ranger station, several groups of people were heading into the backcountry from whence we had come. Some appeared to be prepared for several days, others only out for a day hike.

The rangers who visited us in Dunanda Camp the day before, said we might see a moose on our return. That did not happen. We did see marmots, garter snakes, squirrels, chipmunks and maybe some other small mammals, but none of the beastly kind or other 4 legged creatures. Oh, but I forgot to mention, one day, crossing a marsh/meadow, we encountered two sandhill cranes that followed us squawking all the way until they strode away from us. But, as I said, no sightings of any significant large mammals. I imagine, while we slogging in the rain, the bears were sitting in their dens, all warm and cozy eating a tasty rabbit stew and sipping hot huckleberry tea. Smart bears to stay out of the rain.

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At just before 11 a.m. we saw the buildings of Bechler Ranger Station. What a relief seeing that and knowing we would soon peal off the backpacks and rest until the driver came with the van and trailer to pick us up for the return to Bozeman. The driver was a little late in arriving, but with him he brought sandwich fixings, chips, and frozen Gatorades for all, and a watermelon! It was a delicious lunch and excellent ending to our 6 day trek into the Yellowstone backcountry.

Our first stop on the way back to Bozeman, was at the Frostop Root Beer stand in Ashton, Idaho, where many of us indulged in a treat. Donna’s husband met us in Ashton, Idaho, where she then parted ways with the rest of the hikers. It was still several hours drive, during which many chatted, laughed, napped, admired the views, and rested. We hit several pockets of heavy rain on the return drive, but that did not seem to slow down our driver. 

Upon delivering the other hikers to their hotel I went along in the van to the Wildland Trekking office where my pickup was waiting. All was well. 

That evening most of the remaining hikers and Chris met at Ted’s Mountain Grill downtown Bozeman where we had a few beverages and scrumptious dinners. A couple of techies of our crew will set up a webpage where we will share our photos. 

Overall, I must say this was a difficult hike for me. Even the MOST difficult. At times I really did not think I had made a very good decision. With the unwelcome aches and pains that afflicted me, I wondered if my backcountry adventures on long backpack trips were coming to an end. There are many other places that are awaiting me, however, and unless, or until, I am totally unable to venture into the wilds, I will most likely be venturing off on a similar adventure. While sunny days are the best, I’ll still take the good with the bad. That is what adventure is all about.

This will not be my last rodeo.

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None the worse for wear.

Back row, left: Don, Donna, Debbie, Derek,

Front row, left: Ryan, Nate, Geert, Chris, Sophia

Thank you ALL for making this a very memorable adventure!

And now, my Horse Pack trip begins tomorrow, Wed. Aug. 13, 2014. I will again be exploring more of this awesome backcountry in Montana and Wyoming. I return to West Yellowstone, MT on Sunday afternoon, August 17.


Day 5, Yellowstone: Bechler River Traverse

View from our tent site - The Teton Mountains in Wyoming in the distance

Day 5, Thursday, August 7, 2014

What a joy to wake up without rain!

It still looked a bit sketchy in the East, but with blue showing through the clouds, we were all quite confident that this was the day that would be showering us with sunshine and warmth, not rain.

After another fine breakfast, some of the group started out on a hike with Nate, on the opposite side of Boundary Creek. Chris, Ryan and I stayed behind to relax (take care of my sore feet and give my legs a rest), then head back to the hot springs for the rest of the morning. The hiking group were then going to join us when they completed their morning trek. Ryan and I spread out in one of the pools and, using rocks and smaller stones, attempted to stem the flow of the cooler water entering the enclosure. We managed to block a significant amount of that cold water, affording us more hot water in which to luxuriate. 

Looking up at the cliffs above, marveling at the cascading falls, absorbing the days sunlight and thankful for once again seeing blue skies, I was feeling VERY relaxed and renewed. After awhile the hikers did arrive and were soon enjoying their soaks in the hot spring waters. 

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As lunchtime was approaching we returned the short hike up to camp, ate and prepared for the remainder of this fine day. Chris this time led those interested on another afternoon hike, while Nate stayed in camp with Ryan and I. Nate busied himself with clean up and maintenance around camp. Before the hikers had left camp we were visited by 3 park rangers on horseback from the Bechler Ranger Station (where we would be heading and ending our adventure the next day). They inspected our camp and visited for a short time before mounting up and returning to their station. The rangers are aware of who is in the backcountry and inspections like this are not uncommon.

My plan for the day was to read more of a book of stories about the early explorations of Yellowstone, clean my feet of old wrappings, and simply relax and enjoy the very warm day. Drying my feet, now free of bandages and wrappings felt so good as I also dried out. Later in the afternoon I checked that my wet clothes were drying in the tree by my tent. All were dry which allowed me to pack up those items and get a head start on the next days departure. I scouted about for more dry wood for the evening’s campfire and returned with an armful from down on a lower slope. 

The others returned by late afternoon, being welcomed by a comforting campfire. 

The remainder of this restful day was without drama, mishaps or RAIN.

The next day, our last day, was an 8 mile hike to the Bechler Ranger Station. As we were to arrive there between 11 a.m. and noon, we would need to be on the trail by 7 a.m., by far the very earliest time for departure than the previous days. The last segment of this trek would be mostly level with minimal elevation gains, and, if hiking at about 2 mph, we would arrive within our scheduled time period.

My personal belongings, already packed in a plastic bag, were ready to simply add to the backpack along with Wildland Trekking’s equipment so that the early morning preparation would be simple and without stress.

Early to bed was no problem. I planned to be up early, joining Donna, the early bird, and further ease into a stress free departure by 7 a.m.

Sophia

Nate

Debbie

Geert (G)

Derek

Donna

Ryan (bear spray in hand)

Me



Day 4, Yellowstone: Bechler River Traverse

Day 4, Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Sunlight breaking through

STILL Raining…

Despite my hopes that the rain would end overnight, that did not happen.

This morning, packing up tents and the other belongings was hurried and having the equipment soaked was just a fact. We would just hope that by the time we arrived at the next camp the weather would improve and then dry things out after setting up the tents.

This was, by far the most miserable day for hiking. Not only was there the rain, the trail was overgrown with lush vegetations, which only helped soak our clothing up to the waist and higher. Better on my feet this day, my thighs still were a bit unsteady as we marched along on trails that were so covered with plant life that it was very difficult to see the ground. Most of my attention was focused on where my feet were landing on what was becoming a sloppy, muddy mire, oftentimes as small retention ponds filled with run-off, or as little steams that served as aqueducts for the flowing rainwater.

Not long after breaking camp and hitting the muddy path, as we trod along, I stumbled and fell. Nate was behind me and immediately was there to offer assistance. I really needed it. Feeling like a turtle on its back, and slipping in the mud, nearly obscured in the overgrown, it was very difficult to get back on my feet by myself. The guardian angel Nate reached down and I offered my right hand by which he got this old turtle back on his feet. So now, not only wet but muddy as well, I just (can’t say dusted myself off), put my feet back on the trail and resumed, none the worse, not even my pride, for wear. Thinking of it now, it strikes me as oddly funny - one minute I’m slogging along and the next I’m down in a heap in the slop. Funny how things can change so quickly…

It was so confounded drizzly I had packed my camera in my backpack that morning. It was obvious, entering our 3rd day of rain, that photography was nearly futile. It took all my effort just to keep my eyes focused on the trail, and looking around at the scenery was pointless. Who needs another shot of gray, sun-less landscapes anyway? It wasn’t until we reached our next destination that I took the first photos that day. And the wait to do so was reward enough.

We had made a swoop to the north of Bechler River to that night’s camp. This was the Dunanda Falls Camp, located along Boundary Creek in the western edge of Yellowstone Park. 

Luck was changing for us also.

As we neared camp, trudging up an incline, Chris stopped our procession and told us we were at the “driveway” to camp. And he was spot on. For soon after we emerged from the trees and in sight was the camp’s bear hang. But not only that, the sky appeared to be clearing (oh, if only the blasted rain would end, the skies part and send forth warming, drying rays of sunlight)! 

Dunanda Falls camp was the most scenic for where we placed our tents, higher up on a hill that sloped down to a plateau, and in the distance the Teton Mountains in NW Wyoming. Some rumbling from the skies indicated that the old rain man was not about to throw in the towel just yet. So as quickly as possible we claimed a piece of real estate and set up our little tents.Setting up my nylon abode next to a lone pine tree, near Sophia’s domicile, we used the tree branches as our clothes line and set about hanging out our wet and dirty laundry.  

While still not completely sunny, the rain skirted us and blessed us with ever more clearing skies. 

In anticipation from Chris’s description, we were to visit the Dunanda Falls, PLUS, make that a BIG PLUS, more hot springs in which we could lounge and ease the aches and pains of several days of drudgery. 

Leading us down to the river on a now well saturated, slippery path, we scrambled down to a large fallen pine tree that provided us the bridge to the opposite shore. A short walk, over some hot streams, brief spongy bogs and scrambles over boulders, and there it was - Dunanda Falls! possibly the best of the falls we had witnessed, primarily so, as I see it, because we were able to get up close to it from the bottom. But the real rewards were the hot spring spas that awaited us on the other side of the creek. An easy, though careful fording and we were in the pools created by past visitors. Hot springs of water flowed into the river in several places. By building up walls of rocks, the colder currents of the creek were diverted somewhat allowing more of the hot water to stay within the pool. With a nice mixture of the hot and cold, the spas were temperate to very warm to hot. Some drafty cold currents swirled about in the pools also, but it did not stop us from trying to sit, lounge, lay back in the spots that offered us comfort and relaxation. Most of the troupe chose a spa a short distance away from the fall, while a smaller number of us chose one a bit closer. 

Lying back in a nearly prone position, Donna dozed off in the hottest part of that pool, while I chose a more moderate, equally soothing spot to stretch out and relax.

As though just experiencing the falls as we lounged in the healing, soothing spas was not enough, Nate and Chris toted down water bags, cups, burners and made hot drinks for those who wished them. BUT, we were  SERVED the drinks as we soaked, Nate carefully crossed the currents, gingerly maneuvered over wet rocks and logs and brought the hot refreshments to our sides. What a gem! I found I could keep my hot tea hotter, longer, by slightly submerging the cup in the hot spa water. My own personal hot pad, so to speak.

Mists from the falls were chilling, yet refreshing, The density of the mists being almost like the relentless rain of the past several days, but in this case much more welcoming. The waterfall itself may have been creating some of the stiff wind blowing the droplets of water over and all about us. Photos with waterproof cameras were the only possibility (which I do not have). 

Squinting through the mist, I watched the water as it flowed over the upper edges, dispersed and fanned out and over lower protrusions and unfurled itself like a curtain, pouring downward to the waiting boulders below, hitting them, splashing and spilling over them like white, frothy milk, continually repeating the cycle regaining it’s true liquid form as it once again became the rushing waters of Boundary Creek.

After what may have been an hour, we all departed this delightful garden of Eden, and made our way back up the steep slope to camp. Chris, having left earlier to start dinner was well into his preparations as we arrived. All in high, good spirits, we also knew that, as the weather did now truly appear to be clearing, we were NOT leaving this camp the next day. The following day, Day 6, was a day of rest, as planned. 

With Ryan taking the lead, he began to gather up dry firewood from fallen trees. YES, we were allowed a fire here and, amazingly enough, dry enough wood was found to create a most welcome, warming blaze for us to enjoy. No need for a tarp covering us this night, as the rain had really departed. 

As we sat around the warm campfire, Chris and Nate prepared chili and grilled cheese sandwiches, (if memory serves me correctly). 

After the days lengthy hike, arrival in camp,  the comforting waters of the hot springs and a fit and filling dinner by a warm campfire it was good to crawl into a dry space, snuggle into the cocoon sleeping bag and drift off to sleep to the sound of the rushing waters of Boundary Creek.



And, tomorrow, a layover day. A day to rest, dry out and enjoy more of the hot springs.



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Our bridge across Boundary Creek

Blue Skies!


At last - a sunset! And a splendid one at that.



Day 3, Yellowstone: Bechler River Traverse

Day 3, Tuesday, August 5, 2014                                                                                                            (Correction: Donna, not Debbie, was the early riser in our group. Sorry ladies for that faux pas).


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Debbie, smiling, despite the rainy conditions, with Sophia and “G” (Geert) standing by, about to cross another stream.


Rain.

A wet start on day 3. After another hearty breakfast, we set off in the drizzle. 

Now, considering that I live in Phoenix where rain is in short supply and that I actually LIKE to see it rain there, my patience with THIS wet weather was getting old - real fast. Our packs, despite having rain covers, were wet, my hat was soaked, my pants legs were soaked, my water resistant jacket, questionably adequate. (Shoes were dry inside and with the liberal application of water repellant before leaving Phoenix, they seemed to be wet only on the outside).

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My legs were just as wobbly as the night before, but, I could stand up and walk at least. I did make it across the log bridge, with a mostly empty backpack, to pack up my tent and stuff my dry belongings inside too - without too much exposure to the rain. With my pack stuffed, I went back to the log and just could not get my legs and my head to coordinate crossing over. The others were all on the other side, out of site, so I stood there, on the precipice, and tried to force myself to make that first step. 

It wasn’t gonna happen.

About that time I noticed that someone had left their backpack on this side of the shore, which got me to thinking, maybe we are resuming our hike from THIS side of the river. IF so, then I could avoid carrying the heavy load over and back again. Dumping my pack I crossed to the other side, legs a bit shaky, but without the pack, it was nearly a piece of cake. I was tremendously relieved to find that we were, indeed, resuming the hike from the other side. Alleluia!

This day we were to ford the river two times. That meant we would remove our hiking boots and cross wearing our water shoes, sandals or even some in their boots. We also crossed smaller streams that were not deep or over logs in other cases.

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The first of the two river crossings on Day 3. Swift current but not terribly deep.

The first river crossing was not particularly deep, but the current was flowing quickly and footing on the rocky riverbed was tricky, having to carefully feel one’s way, stepping over larger rocks, sliding over others, crouching to provide more stability and control, using the poles to steady and support us, and side stepping, slowly, to the other shore. As Chris got us under way from the first side, Nate stood by on the other, or either or both assisted us and encouraged us as we inched across.

As we hiked this day, my thighs were a bother, but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and bore on despite the discomfort. It seemed I was continually giving myself pep talks to overcome the weakness in my legs and strain of carrying my heavy, wet pack with soggy clothes and boots. Each rest stop was a welcome relief. Dropping the pack, eating a snack and sitting for a bit was enough to provide a boost of energy for the next leg of the day’s trek. However, stopping also meant a lack of exertion which then had me shivering in the cold. Taking advice from Donna, I opened my pack and put on a warm fleece vest under my rain jacket and that helped ward off the chill. I continued hiking thereafter, in the rain, with the vest which helped retain my body heat.

AHHH!

Today was DAY 3, L-3, Lunch #3 - the extra weight in MY pack. OH thank goodness I could lighten my load!! I know we all were grateful when our portion of the food was used each day thus making a difference in carried weight. I swear, I think my weight was reduced by 10 pounds, though Chris thinks it was more like 5 lbs. (In my mind, I prefer to place it at the higher poundage). It did make a difference in hoisting the pack upon my back, cinching up the straps and carrying it thereafter. It also seemed to make some difference on my legs. 

With no relief from the rain, Chris chose a spot on the trail and we helped set up the tarp offering us some protection from the drizzle. (I was very quick to dig out the lunch fixings from my pack).

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Huddling beneath the tarp, we chatted and watched as our guides quickly prepared our lunch, which I think were chicken, veggie wraps. As a side note, Chris and Nate were able to prepare the lunches, feed us and clean up, usually within a half hour. It was amazing what they could do using plastic baggies for mixing up ingredients. We all had a set of plasticware: dinner plate, cup, bowl and single, multi use fork, spoon combination which we dug out and used for most meals.

The end of this day was near Colonnade Falls which we reached by mid to late afternoon. 

It was even wetter than the previous day. Dense vegetation, tall, wet grasses, almost marshy, we managed to all set up our tents in the continuing drizzle. By now, with the rain falling the tents were as soggy as we.

With improvisation, we managed to erect our tarpaulin cover despite a close proximity of usable trees.

 At this site, a fire was allowed. Despite Ryan’s and others efforts to find dry wood, it was a fruitless pursuit, and so, no warmth from a campfire for us. 

After setting up our tents, a group of us set off up the trail for a short hike to Colonnade Falls which was well worth the effort. This waterfall is preceded by Iris Falls, which we viewed just before reaching camp. In the view from Colonnade, Iris is seen above it. 

As I looked off down the river, I detected some clearing the in the Western sky. 

Oh joy! 

Could this mean a dry (and warmer day ahead)? I sure hoped so.

Muddy Trail, though it got MUCH worse...

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The 2nd river crossing. More difficult. I had the guides carry my pack across.

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Debbie fording the river, Chris and Nate assisting...

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Everyone safely across, time to put on boots and resume the hike.

Sophia sets up her tent

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The Colonnade Falls Camp community shelter.

Colonnade Falls with Iris Falls above

Muddy, mucky trail 

Geert (G) hoisting bags over the bear hang

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Tent site at Colonnade Falls Camp



Day 2, Yellowstone: Bechler River Traverse

Day 2, Monday, August 4, 2014

No sunrise.

Dreary, gray and certain to rain.

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Having slept fairly well, I was not up until after 6 a.m. The only one of our troupe, Donna, from New York state, was always the early riser and waited for the rest of us to roll out. Chris and Nate got water boiling and hot drinks were self-served while they proceeded to fix breakfast. Our breakfast could consist of bacon or sausage, powdered eggs, potatoes, oatmeal, breakfast pudding, pancakes and even breakfast burrito. It was always nutritious and filling.

Knowing it was going to rain, we quickly completed our morning meal, picked up our backpacks and headed back to the tents to dismantle and pack them in our packs, along with our shared provisions and personal belongings. The bulkier, heavier items, sleeping pad, bags and tent were first stuffed into the bottom of the packs, with the food items near the center and topped with the things we would need during the day’s hike. By about 9 a.m. we were off on the Day 2 trek to Three Rivers Camp, the confluence of  rivers forming the Bechler River.

This day started with a 650 foot elevation gain to a high meadow, the highest point in the trek (although, after time, the climbs upward ALL seemed to be the highest, and toughest hikes).

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 The rain made no attempt to avoid us. Not long after starting, the rains fell, sometimes steady, often a continuous drizzle and seldom a downright downpour. The trails became minnie streams at times, small water pools and a muddy, slippery, treacherous path. At the meadow, we rested under a small stand of trees, ate snacks, and attended to blistered or sore feet with moleskin, bandages and tape. I was one of those requiring some attention to hot spots on my feet. Both Nate and Chris had done this doctoring duty before departing camp and continued to do the same throughout the hike as needed, typically before leaving camp and at rest stops. Trying to find a dry spot in such an open area met with only a “somewhat drier” space. But we all bore with the inclement conditions and dampness, rested a bit, then hoisted on our packs and set off on the trail though the meadow, which was becoming a soggy marsh, wet grasses further wetting our pant leggings and shoes, soft spots in the soil beneath sucking in and over our boots. 

Trudging on, it was nearly impossible to capture much of the scenery with the rain drenching us and obscuring what otherwise would have been some picturesque landscapes. An exception to taking pictures was Donna, who often walked and snapped shots on the go.  Stumbling and falling while doing so was sure to happen although I did not witness it. Her waterproof camera is sure to contain many photos as we were on the march. With several stream crossings, sometimes jumping and at others, over logs, the day wore on.

As this second day proceeded, my upper thighs began to feel the strain, causing me noticeable discomfort and feeling of weakness in my legs. This day had me doubting my ability to complete the whole traverse. But, steadily, and determinedly, I stuck with the pack, much of the time toward the rear so that the more agile hikers were not slowed down. It became a goal to just reach the next camp and rest. This next camp promised a nice respite from our hard hike with a short walk to “Mr. Bubbles” a series of hot springs into which we were all longing to lounge and luxuriate in warm and soothing waters. Legs feeling strained and tired, ascending inclines, breathing heavily with my loaded backpack, my unsteadiness held at bay with use of my two trekking poles, the spirit in me kept me on track, Would I make it or simply sit down in the mud and let the others proceed without me?  I kept going, wishing for camp to be just over the next crest. Lunch was prepared and served under a tarp along the trail.

Passing through more forests and along the Bechler River, finally, we reached the Three Rivers campsite. The thought of  dropping my backpack was so welcoming, but that was not to be. For before us was the Bechler River with our main camp upon the other shore. A lone, flat planed log served as the bridge to that haven of rest. At this crossing, the river was a torrent over a series of rapids, the narrow span looking as if an intimidating and slippery encounter. Danger could ensue without notice.

By choice, being at the end of the group, I watched as the others, fully outfitted with backpacks, carefully inched across the soaked and slippery log. Chris having crossed first, offered encouragement and a helping hand as people successfully passed over the river. Now, my turn, with Nate on the starting side of the log, I carefully, cautionsly approached down a few feet, over an uneven rocky mass ready to tackle this challenge. 

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Suddenly, without warning, I was off my feet and sliding.

Unknowingly, the wet rocks combined with my wet boots caused my feet to slip from under me. 

With my right hand trekking pole having no surface to catch and break my fall, the pole and right hand were immediately under me as I fell to the right, the backpack adding impetus to the downward slide. And there, only 4 feet from the river’s edge, the toes of my right boot just entering the river, I just as abruptly came to a halt. Not only did the crossed pole beneath me help avoid a disaster, but my backpack, too, caught on the rock surface, quickly and securely preventing a nearly certain, disastrous fate.

As suddenly as this befell me, Nate was at my side, steadying me, asking if I were OK and calmly, repeatedly asking me to unbuckle my pack hip and shoulder straps. Thankful that my guardian angels were on standby, and that I was to remain on dry land (relatively speaking under the wet conditions), my mind was preferring to handle this situation on it’s own. A few seconds of my unreasonableness, and I heard and understood what Nate was asking of me. Removing my pack was a sure way to assure my safety, preventing me from falling once again with a pack that I would not be able to remove if I then lost my balance again, fell and managed to have the river take me with it for a very unpleasant ride. 

Under's Nate and Chris’ watchful eyes, and regaining most of my composure I stepped up to the log and very, very carefully edged across to my waiting comrades. Nate carried my pack over to the other side. I’m not sure that the others could see just how close I had come to being completely in the river, but know that my luck was holding me from harm. Other than a small scratch on my little finger and a scrape on my arm, I was unscathed.

Once on the other shore, we then learned that our tent site was on the very side from which I had fallen. Not a very happy thought for me at that point. But with items removed, I did manage to recross with the lighter pack and set up the tent. Still shaken, I was slow to assemble my tent that night. Knowing that we all were planning to regroup and hike to “Mr. Bubbles” for a hot soak, I so looked forward to that for relaxation and soothing warmth on my body.

Grateful that the rain ended for a time, we followed Chris to the hot spa and entered into the pool of comfort. In the middle was a bubbling area from which some of the hot, underground waters emerged, while another small brook of steaming water also fed into our spa. Being on the river, those cooling waters also mixed with the hot spring waters, creating a reasonably comforting soak. With drafts of cold water sometimes swirling around our submerged torsos, the experience was exhilarating and refreshing. As we sat around the roiling central hot water vent, we noticed the slight quaking of the ground beneath us. While we joked about the possible eruption of the volcano beneath Yellowstone, a less dreadful explanation was that the effect of the boiling waters below the vent in the pool was causing the vibration we felt.

My thighs, feeling especially tight after our hiking felt much better in the hot waters, but did not totally relieve them. Still, I felt like a new man after the soak and was energized to some extent as opposed to how I felt upon entering this camp. 

It was raining again during dinner, as we huddled under a tarp stretched between the trees. Again, no fire was allowed in this camp, but would have proven unsuccessful due to everything being drenched. What little daylight prevailed as it continued to rain, I crossed over to the other side (to my tent), and found sleep soon to follow. Though warm in my sleeping bag, through the night, my sleep was disturbed by increasing aching in my thighs. The resulting stiffness had me wondering, would I be able to even walk the next day? Would the next day be less stressful? Would I slow down the rest of the group? What do I have to help relieve my aches and pains? Our guides, being our caretakers, not only bandaged and cared for blisters and sore feet, but had a dispensary of common pain medications to ease the hikers discomforts. That was to be my plan, to ask for a med that would assure my continued participation for the duration of the hike.

Rain, rain go away, please send us a sunny day.

Treacherous crossing of Bechler River, Debbie standing on slippery rocks where I tumbled.

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Derek next to a bear scratched tree


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Day 1, Yellowstone: Bechler River Traverse

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Bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for an ADVENTURE!

Day 1, Sunday, August 3, 2014 

What I pictured of this hike and what was reality differed. 

It was an adventure of unforeseen and unpredictable circumstances, as well as all that one could expect from a wilderness trek. It was scenic, awesome, green with lodge pole pines, dense vegetation, many, many streams and waterways, steaming fumaroles, vividly colored hot spring formations, frothing potholes, soothing hot spa pools, wonderful waterfalls, river fords, helpful and attentive guides, an enthusiastic, friendly, international contingent of hikers, and a sprinkling of minor mishaps, damp weather, pleasant memories and personal achievements.  

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Arising early, I arrived at the Wildland Trekking office meeting our guides Chris and Nate, and our van driver, Vi.  After they finalized equipment packing and last minute details, we all boarded and drove to the motel where the other hikers were assembled, gathered up their equipment, packed that into the trailer and set off for a 2.5 hour drive to the West Yellowstone, Montana entrance to Yellowstone National Park. A short distance from the Old Faithful Lodge, and geyser, we had a quick lunch, assembled our backpacks and divvied up the food rations amongst us. With further assistance from Chris and Nate we had our backpacks evenly packed and properly adjusted to our bodies. 

The pack was heavy.

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One last item of business was the use of our personal canisters of bear spray. With a quick release safety, the trigger could easily be accessed and the spray dispersed if a bear were to attack or approach too closely. This was an item that was NEVER to leave our sides. Luckily we had no need to use or activate our little safety devices. Darn, and I really thought I’d get a chance to at least SEE a bear, especially a grizzly, although I’d not want to see one UP CLOSE.

And so, with packs on our backs, trekking poles in hands, sun and bug screen applied, and bear sprays holstered our boots hit the trail. After leaving the trailhead we soon came upon Lonestar Geyser, the largest in the backcountry. Though we missed the eruption interval, we did stop, dropped packs and re-fortified ourselves with some of our snacks. Soon thereafer we followed the Firehole River, crossed the Continental Divide (though there is no actual indication or marker signifying its location) and continued on to near Shoshone Lake for our first campsite. While most of the group opted for a side trek to the lake, guide Chris, Ryan and I stayed in camp to rest our feet. Chris took us a short way into the forest by camp to show us where elk had rubbed bark bare of the pine trees as they scratched the velvet from their antlers. The velvet, as I understand becomes irritating to the animal and attempting to rub it off on pine trees relieves that discomfort.

In camp, we were educated by Chris concerning proper backcountry camping in bear country. At the beginning of the trip, Chris told us that it would be unlikely that we actually would see any bears due to the size of our group. Our presence with talking and other noises would probably alert the animals to keep their distance. And so it was.

Our actual “camping” spot, where we set up tents was more than 100 yards from main camp. The main camps all had “bear hangs”, a pole high above the ground over which all the food and all scented items (like toiletries, sunscreen, and insect repellant), were suspended each night. Backpacks also were relegated to the main camp. Our personal needs for the tents each night remained with us, but no food or items with scents. So it was a bit of an inconvenience to be separated from our packs with things we might need, which meant hiking back up (or down) a hill, retrieve what we forgot and then back to the tent. And don’t forget to have that bear spray with you!

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Chris planned and prepared a fantastic stir fry meal with fresh and packaged ingredients. Since we all were carrying part of our meals (all marked and in plastic baggies with the appropriate meal marked upon them), it was a delight to know your part of the meal was thus going to lighten your load. My day for that pack weight reduction was L-3 (day 3 lunch). And I, as everyone else, was ever so thankful that day for having just lost more that 5 pounds, though I swear it was 10 pounds or more! The loss of weight was very noticeable to me.

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After our dinner, clean up and attending to our dental hygiene and other personal matters, we sat around (alas no campfire was allowed in this camp), chatted and then by 8:30 most of us headed to our tents for a well deserved and good nights sleep.


No bear sightings, encounters or other dangers encountered on day 1. 

What would await us on Day 2?

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Tents far away from main camp area

Water filtration system provided a quick and safe source for our drinking and cooking water.

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Fresh foods throughout the week. See the D-1 for first nights dinner.

Fresh broccoli for the stir fry, using portable fuel and burners

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Nate and Chris clean up. Sophia handing her plate.

Debbie, international traveler from the UK, modeling her fashionable mosquito net

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You may be wondering about “the facilities” when nature called. On the trail, if nature called, a guide would remain on the trail while one would find a more “private” area, dig a hole with a trowel, and relieve oneself. Toilet paper, in that case is to be carried out and not buried (so don’t forget to take a spare plastic baggie with you…AND your bear spray!). This all is part of the “leave no trace” in camping, which also includes any food items regardless of how small, trash or any other items or signs of human presence in the backcountry. Anything left behind can be an attraction for wild things to return and search for a quick bite of leftovers. Otherwise, much to our relief, we actually had a toilet available to us - at a distance from camp of course. It was primitive, being simply a box with a hole sitting on a hillside (with a very nice view). 



A Taste of Things to Come

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What a great drive up from northern Utah, through a part of Idaho and then to West Yellowstone, MT where I stopped at a car show being held in town and had lunch. 

North of West Yellowstone, I started to enter into what I pictured as some of the scenery I will be witnessing over the next several weeks. I believe this is the Gallatin Valley with the river of the same name flowing along the highway.

The guides, Chris and Nate met us at a hotel and presented their orientation for our Bechler River hike. There I met the other members of our troupe, 4 men and 3 women. One of the women is from England, and one of the men is from Rotterdam, Holland. 

While I thought I had done a pretty good job of packing ONLY what I thought I’d need, based on the pack list sent by the guide company, I learned I could still whittle down my belongings and thus make my backpack lighter still. I am using the backpack supplied by the trekking company, which is already packed with a personal size tent, sleeping pad and sleeping bag. Everyone in the group shares carrying the cooking equipment and food, so before we start hiking we will need to pack that heavier equipment into the bottom of the pack and then fit in the other supplies and my personal stuff.

Tomorrow morning I will meet the guides at their office and park my truck at their office where they feel it is the safest to park. Luckily their office is just a mile up the same street where I am staying. I will ride with the guides to our meeting place where we pick up the others.

We leave at 7 a.m. and drive 2 ½ hours to our trailhead a little south of Old Faithful Geyser. This will be a 6 day hike, ending around lunchtime on the 6th day, August 8

We were given a course on bear awareness and how to manage any encounters with either black or grizzly bears. Chris feels, with the size of our group, that we will make enough noise that bears will be aware of us and avoid us. 

But, we will have bear spray which they will instruct us on it’s use at the trailhead. We are to carry the spray with us EVERYWHERE. 

Now that I’m here and on the eve of this part of my adventure, I’m pretty excited about getting underway.

When I return, I will resume with my experiences on the hike.

Utah - from bottom to top

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Leaving Kanab, Utah one is treated to scenes of gorgeous red rock mountains, some striated with coral, pink and white and all adorned in greenery of juniper, sage, pinion pine and scrub oaks. This really is one of my favorite spots simply for its' natural beauty, yet varied landscapes. 

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Further north of Kanab, the colors change to more gray mountains, with some coloration of reds in the mix. As the day progressed the landscapes continually changed as less rock is exposed to more green covering them. 

Farms are abundant in what is called Long Valley (a very long valley indeed) first settled by the Mormons. 

Continuous pastoral scenes were stitched together throughout the length of the valley, resplendent hay fields, some freshly cut, others with bales of hay laying in the fields, interspersed with farmsteads nestled in groves of trees, shading the home and barns, herds of cattle grazing, horses nibbling the green grasses, farmers working the fields, the entire wide valley contained within a border of lush mountains on either side and the whole scenic tapestry tied together by a lazy meandering stream that twisted and turned laying its flowing, shimmering ribbon throughout the verdant fields.

As I continued my day northward, the stature of the mountains increased in height and abundant white clouds punctuated the clear blue sky casting dappled shadows down over the mountainsides and over the entire green valley. 

Near Provo, Utah, I merged onto I-15 which switched my casual, relaxed drive to one of tenseness and extra caution. Traffic on the interstate was thick but kept moving with very few slow downs. Around Salt Lake City, it seemed the urban sprawl of that city went on forever. I figure, that from the time I entered onto I-15 until south of Odgen I was in heavy traffic for over an hour. Closer to Ogden, the traffic lessened and after Ogden it was noticeably lighter. 

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While I had planned to overnight near Ogden, I decided to continue closer to the Idaho state line and have ended my day in Tremonton, Utah. This is a farming town, in the midst of farms and ranches - a very picturesque locale.

Tomorrow I arrive in Bozeman, Montana, hopefully by mid afternoon.