Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Day Three

Day three started in the morning shadow of the Winds. We skipped breakfast at camp and headed into Pinedale for some coffee. We found the only internet coffee shop and spent a couple of hours fueling up on caffeine, checked email, and chilled. It was to be mainly a travel day so we drove north toward Jackson, off the "rim", and through the hoback. We wanted to explore Jackson a bit, and act a bit civilized, but we still didn't have a shower. So, we opted for a tour of the art dealers, a few shops, and lunch at a Nepalese outdoor spot. The owner introduced himself and his last name was Sherpa. I ask if he was related to Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Tenzing was indeed his cousin. He was friends with Jamling Tenzing Norgay, the author of Touching My Father's Soul; Tenzing's son, who climbed Everest in 1996 with a team lead by David Breashears that also included mountaineer Ed Viesturs. (I recommend this book to anyone interested in mountaineering) I met Jamling in 1997 and keep his signed summit picture in my office. Jamling also summited with Peter Hillary, thus repeating the famous duo (through each son) of 1953. Of even more interest is that the owner's Grandfather was the lead Sherpa for Mallory. Mallory famously quipped when asked why climb Everest, "Because it's there" Mallory died on Everest and it was never known if he made it to the top. The successful search for his body and the the events surrounding his 1924 expedition are told in The Lost Explorer - Finding Mallory on Mount Everest ; an even better book. Whether he made it to the summit is subject to debate, but Sir Edmond Hillary said it best, "If you climb a mountain for the first time and die on the descent, is it really a complete first ascent of the mountain? I am rather inclined to think personally that maybe it is quite important, the getting down, and the complete climb of a mountain is reaching the summit and getting safely to the bottom again."

We left Jackson in a hurry to get to Yellowstone. On the way we stopped because Tammi spotted two wolves. We watch them for quite some time while they were playing and goofing around. We later found out that there was indeed a pack in the area. I hadn't planned on it, but we stayed in Colter Bay Campground. (See previous post) We waded in the lake, got hailed on, and saw a really great museum with Indian artifacts. I must say I have never seen its equal - it was quite a surprise.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Day Two

The day started early in our little green glen in the Red Desert. In 1877 the Hayden Expedition passed through this area, noting Steamboat Mountain's aspen grove and clear, flowing springs and they seemed ever the same as 140 years ago. Upon packing the car we headed south off of Steamboat Mountain and directly west over the divide yet again. This was the 4th crossing. We were headed to the largest of the dunes; Killpecker Sand Dunes, so Bridger could see them.

On the way we were surprised by a few of the resident elk. These elk are not the same herd that was noted by hunters back in the nineteenth century. Settlement and hunting wiped out most of those animals by the 1940s, when the Wyoming Game and Fish Department transplanted 86 elk from the Jackson area to the vicinity of Boar's Tusk and the Killpecker dunes. Wildlife managers hoped the elk would migrate back and forth from the Jackson area, as they had historically, which would reduce the necessity for feeding them through the winter at the National Elk Refuge, but they stayed on and are now part of the landscape. Some additional elk do migrate down from the southern end of the Winds to winter on the high plains near Oregon Buttes - we camped there on our last trip up to Pinedale. The Oregon Buttes retain the name given to them by the passing settlers bound for Oregon and California, but the trail itself is off some distance to the north.

Killpecker dunes move during the winter covering up drifting snow blown by the howling winds thus creating a natural refrigerator which releases moisture during the summer creating little ponds around the bottom of the dunes. Dune beetles and various rodent tracks suggest quite an active ecosystem. I'm sure larger predators inhabit the night as the desert is home to many unique species. We played on the dunes for about an hour and headed toward the boars tusk.

The boars tusk is a volcanic neck; a remnant of a volcano that erupted, slowed, plugged itself up, and then eroded so that all that remains is just the central tube. While we explored the cone made of tuff and basalt the resident hawks scolded us for approaching their lofty home. This desert is home to the highest raptor densities in the country. I had hoped to find some petroglyphs located nearby on White Mountain, but we were unsuccessful. Now, off north to Names Rock via the Oregon Trail and the Green River.

Bridger, as most everyone knows, is named for Jim Bridger, one of the most famous trappers and explorers of the early west. There is quite a bit around Wyoming named in honor of him. The largest being Bridger-Teton National Forest. He traipsed around these parts quite a bit and he signed his name in rock near modern day Labarge. I wanted Bridger to see it. We headed west across the high desert and met up with the Oregon Trail. As a matter of fact, Jim Bridger is credited with establishing the Wyoming section trail for the Mormons. We passed by the spot near the Little Sandy that, in 1847, Jim Bridger met Brigham Young to discuss the route to Salt Lake. Bridger, according to legend, offered $1000 for the first bushel of corn grown in Salt Lake as he discouraged the entire venture.

The book "Wagons West", by Frank McLynn, paints the clearest picture of the struggle these early settlers faced. Manifest Destiny pushed these men and woman to great extremes and it can be appreciated no better than while standing in the very tracks of the wagons, feeling the heat, smelling the sage, and feeling the wind blow from the far away buttes days and days away. The push into the unknown was an extreme act and the price was suffering, suffering, and more suffering. This picture is near modern day Farson, some distance before crossing the Green very near Simpson's Hollow where, in 1857 the Mormons burned 52 Army supply wagons to keep them from reaching Salt Lake. The plan was successful and the Army never reached the settlement - a peaceful solution was found.

On the way to Names Rock we stopped along side the Green flowing through the high desert. There are many fossils located in this area, but we simply didn't have time to stop and throughly explore the area, which of course being Wyoming is rather large. I think we were about 80 miles from the Boars Tusk. There is a large wild life refuge located around this area and between that the water there are a lot of animals. We continued on the Names Rock and then on to Pinedale. Our first stop was the Mountain Man Museum; quite a little gem, dedicated to the mountain man and the early west. Jim Bridger's rifle is here and Bridger really wanted to see that. We bummed around town, looked up an old Friend, and ate out at Fremont Lake. Fremont Lake is the second largest lake in Wyoming as well as one of the deepest lakes (600 feet) in the United States. Pleistocene glaciers of the Bull Lake and Pindale glacial periods carved out the valleys in this area and deposited terminal moraines that dammed the mountain waters. Fremont, New Fork, Half Moon, Boulder, and Willow Lakes all formed in such a manner. The massive glacial moraines surrounding Fremont Lake are classic examples of moraines formed by alpine glaciation. This moraine is visible in the right hand side of this picture of the lake. I will write about the Bull Lake and Pinedale glacial periods when we visit Yellowstone.

We spent the night at Soda Lake, but driving out there we saw several fox cubs and we watch them for quite some time. The ticks were the worst I have ever seen, but the view wasn't too bad - double click to see it best. Tomorrow, Jackson Hole.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Day One - The Red Desert

Well, I haven’t posted in a few days because we’ve been on vacation! So, I thought I would post as if we were on vacation. There simply wasn’t any internet for most of the vacation - Wyoming is known for its wide open spaces, not its internet access.

Day One –
We drove out of Denver headed north and west toward the Red Desert, the Great Divide Basin in south-western Wyoming. The Red Desert is an interesting and difficult place. It sits at the southern end of the Wind River Mountains at an average elevation of about 7000 feet composed of about 2.5 million acres, or 18,000 square miles. The continental divide separates into an eastern and western leg creating a basin from which no water escapes – not that there’s much to escape anyway. Geologically, it is an upraised and uplifted plateau worn down so that the oldest rocks in the US are now located at the surface. The largest active sand dune system in North America meanders across the Great Divide from the Jack Morrow Hills Study area to the Ferris Dunes, a distance of approximately 90 miles. Summer daytime temperatures bake the sand and clay soil, and in the winter zero is a warm day and thirty below is common. The wind rages day and night, day in – day out across the stunted sage. Before modern times it was uncrossable except on the north side hard up against the Winds. There, the Oregon Trail, the Overland Trail, the Cherokee Trail, the Mormon Pioneer Trail and the Pony Express Trail ran, and the land gave up its dust. The price to pay was rough terrain and the land still bares the wagon tracks. Such legendary figures as Chief Washakie and Jim Bridger hunted here, outlaws such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hid from the law here, and mountain men Jedediah Smith, Kit Carson and others explored the Red Desert before the West was settled. Pronghorn are the main large animal (50,000 use the greater Red Desert area), but there are wild horses and a herd of desert elk. The only herd of its kind any where in the world. We saw them headed across the sage, south toward Table Rock.

The twenty-first century has drilled most of the basin for oil and wells dot the central basin; however, there are still areas of wonder and of history. I was part of early oil boom there in 1980 driving an oil tanker to keep the rigs running. It was there, in May 1980, that I saw the sun go down twice! I was driving west about 80 miles from the road and evening came and it got dark quickly- night descended. I thought nothing of it. After some time, the sun “rose” bright and red like a morning sunrise. It set again shortly there after. I found out after I got home that night Mt. Saint Helens had erupted. The sun had been blotted out and then peeked out from underneath the ash to then actually set.

We drove toward Steamboat mountain, across the alkali flats, through the dunes, and around the buttes, hunted fossils, and visited the tri-territory site. The plaque there says this:

This site, where the Continental Divide crosses the 42 degree parallel, North Latitude, was first claimed by Spain through the presumptive right of early discoveries and explorations. The area was also a part of Acadia, granted in 1603 by Henry IV of France, and part of New England as granted to the Plymouth Colony by James I, transferred to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629. In 1682, LaSalle claimed for France the whole basin of the Mississippi River (thus including the northeastern portion of this site).

France ceded its claim to Spain in 1762 but regained them in 1800 and sold the region of “Louisiana” to the United States in 1803.

Great Britain claimed the western portion of the site in 1792 and the United States laid formal claims in 1818 until the 42 parallel was accepted as the boundary between United States and Spain in 1819. Mexico, after gaining independence from Spain in 1821, reconfirmed the boundary lines. In 1824, Great Britain relinquished her claim to the area of the Columbia River basin, reaffirming this action by the Treaty of 1846 establishing the right of the United States to the “Oregon Country.” On July 4, 1848, the cession of territory by Mexico was proclaimed giving to the United States the undisputed right to all of Wyoming.
We spent the night in the shade of Steamboat mountain among aspen, and springs, deer, and tall grass. I suppose there aren't any trees in some directions for more than 175 miles, but it was a wonderful oasis. On top of Steamboat the weather is so grim, even the paintbrush (which I have seen grow anywhere) are stunted and small. The quiet is astounding, there is a complete absence of any lights - any direction. It is open country - about as open as it gets. I love it there. Someday I want to spend many weeks there. Tomorrow, we explore some of the neat stuff.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Naked Run

If there is a king of explorers, who would it be?

Let me tell you about the greatest explorer who ever lived. Everyone knows of Livingston, Shakleton, Lewis & Clark, Amundsen, Powell, Cook, and many others. But, have you ever heard of Colter? How about Colter’s Hell? The sad thing is that this great man is almost lost to history. There is no biography, no sweeping historical account, no long written legacy; and yet his exploration is unparalleled in US history. No explorer covered what he covered and knew what he knew - none, but one thing lifts him above the others – he saw it all before long before anyone.

Lewis & Clark are heralded as the greatest of the American explorers, and rightfully so; however, upon their return neither ever explored again. Lewis was mysteriously murdered on horse back and drunk having squandered his fame and fortune never really accomplishing much of anything substantive. He barely managed to publish his famous journal. Their personal d̩nouement was recrossing the Mississippi from west to east Рthe remainder was almost meaningless and insignificant.

Of importance though is that Colter was with Lewis & Clark on the voyage of discovery, but he did not return across the Mississippi. In what I believe to be the single most brazen act of exploration he; instead of collecting his pay, and returning to the accolades of a mesmerized society, in August 1806, at the Mandan Villages, turned back and headed west back again into the unknown. This is an extraordinary act. Colter had just spent three years on one of the most intense and dangerous explorations ever made only to turn around and go straight back.

He left with two other trappers (read explorers), one of the first groups to go up the Missouri. He wintered with them (one only lasting six weeks) and then the remaining trapper headed back down the Missouri too. Colter by him self, headed into the unknown and then he to headed back down the Missouri only to run into Manuel Lisa's first expedition to the upper Missouri, and his old comrades George Drouillard, Jean-Baptiste Lepage, John Potts, Peter Weiser, and Richard Windsor. Once again, Colter turned his back on returning to the home he had left in 1803, now becoming a free trapper for Lisa. Soon joined by Colter's former partner, Forrest Hancock, these men built Fort Raymond on the Yellowstone River at the mouth of the Bighorn. Lisa sent four men out during the winter of 1807-1808 to acquaint area Indians with his new post: experienced mountain man Edward Rose, and Lewis and Clark Expedition veterans Peter Weiser, George Drouillard, and John Colter.

Colter wandered about, was wounded in an Indian battle and did a number of things before his greatest “walk”. We know of his route only from Clark’s 1814 map. But Clark met with Colter so there was direct consultation; thus, the map and Colter’s route is taken as fact by most. The only difficulty is in believing Colter did the route by himself. During the winter of 1807-1808 he explored Jackson’s Hole, traveled north to Yellowstone and first saw Yellowstone Lake (later Eustus Lake), and then back out to the Bighorn River.

One of Colter’s most famous exploits is a 300 mile naked journey after being captured by the Blackfeet and given a “head start”. He out ran all of the young braves except for one and that one he killed with the braves own lance. The story goes like this:

The Blackfeet stripped Colter and discussed something in their language that he did not understand, and then motioned for him to leave. He began walking away, expecting to be shot. When he saw several young Blackfeet men preparing themselves for a race, he realized that he was being given a chance to run, which he did. Within a few miles his nose was bleeding and his strength failing, and only one Blackfeet was behind, gaining on Colter with an upraised lance. Surprising his attacker, Colter suddenly stopped. The Indian threw his lance, breaking it, but simultaneously tripped and fell. Colter killed him with the spear point.

Catching his second wind, Colter beat the Blackfeet to the Madison River, five or six miles from where he had started. He dived into the icy snowmelt water and hid under a raft of driftwood, where he held his nose above water while the Blackfeet searched for him, even walking on the wood overhead, as Colter related the story. Long after they moved away--and not until darkness fell--did Colter, in his own account, emerge and continue traveling east.

He ate seeds and berries, dug up roots with the spear head, drank from the Yellowstone River, and moved only by night. He made his way back (300 miles) to Fort Raymond in eleven days. (A previous trip of three weeks) Mountain man Thomas James described the apparition that staggered into the fort: "His beard was long, his face and whole body were thin and emaciated by hunger, and his limbs and feet swollen and sore." The men had to ask his identity. The quotation from James reads: "The company at the fort did not recognize him...until he had made himself known."

Colter spent several more years in the Wyoming area and continued to explore. He knew Jim Bridger, but left the mountains in 1810 having explored since 1804! Six years of exploration. All most all of his comrades lay buried in the mountains, yet he walked back east and finally recrossed the Mississippi from west to east.

Colter soon would have learned of Lewis's death the previous year. He is known to have visited Clark and given him information about his own Wyoming travels that Clark incorporated into his 1814 map. Colter had to sue the estate of Meriwether Lewis for the expedition pay that he never had collected, and settled for a lesser amount to end the suit in a few months. Now about thirty-five years old, Colter also married. He and his wife Sarah, called Sally, had a son they named Hiram. They settled at La Charette, where a neighbor was Daniel Boone. (Another hero of mine) In March of 1812, when Boone's son Nathan helped create the Mounted Rangers, a mobile frontier police force, Colter signed on. But he died of an unspecified illness on May 7. The end of one of the most amazing adventures of all time – six years on the spear-tip of American history. One of the first 10 men to see the Pacific Ocean, the discover of the Tetons and the first to describe Yellowstone, a survivor of many Indian battles, a six-foot giant of a man.

Friday, June 08, 2007

What's Bloom'in

Making a natural prairie takes about three years and lots of time. This is year three and we're now starting to see a mature "garden". Most of the entire area was planted from seed and it just takes awhile. And, all the while there are lots of weeds to pull.

One of the showiest flowers in bloom now is a huge Palmeri Penstemon (Penstemon palmeri) This is over three-feet tall and is just blooming like like crazy. It blooms in early summer like all penstemons and is very drought tolerant. It produces 20 or so seeds at every flower and it has about 50 flowers on each stalk. The flower is very orchid like with a wonderful scent. Here's a close-up. A highly recommended semi-desert plant.

The beebalm (Monarda pectinata) is just starting to bloom. I dug this one up and true to its name, the bees really love it. It's very hardy, but doesn't spread out too fast. Also called Oregano de la Serra, it adds a nice flavor to sauces.

The poppies are just starting too. I love this simple cheerful flower. It is short bloomer, but seeds profusely. I don't have the carpet I would like yet, but that will no doubt come. These are Eschscholzia mexicana beside some Rocky Mountain penstemon.

The last picture is of the Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon strictus). These deeply blue flowers on straight and tall stalks just dominate the garden; their deep-blue screaming to out-do the sky. They too are excellent seeders and drought tolerant too.

Puppy - visit two

These little guys melted our hearts. One of them we will pick up on July 1st. The breeder asked us lots of questions and based upon her observations, and testing by a outside consultant who tests the puppies, she will pick out the best puppy for us.

A picture is worth a thousand words - here's the pictures.

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