Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Two Trails, One Road

The smell of bacon tickled my palate, lifting me out of my sleep a little earlier than usual this morning. Last night's slumber party was just a ruse to throw us off the scent--it was really all about Operation Bed'n Breakfast. Half the neighborhood slept here--floors, couches, chairs--anywhere they could find a place. At least 10 teen-aged creatures got up at 4:30 am to fix Mom and me breakfast in bed. We even found a couple of undocumented workers helping with the morning chores.

Nineteen years ago, a Khmer Princess, fresh from the horrors of Cambodia's Killing Fields, married a spoiled, small town hayseed, fresh from his Mormon Mission. Two perpendicular trails merged into one parallel road. I love you, Sweetheart. Happy Anniversary!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Neither Dictator nor King (the Wind Rivers)

Link to Year 2
Link to Year 3
Link to Year 4

Now rest your eyes on this [view] as far North as Halls and Middle Fork lakes and to the high peaks on the horizon. In my opinion, neither Dictator nor King has a more divine land elsewhere on the Globe. Wind River Trails by Finis Mitchell p. 78

If anyone knows that of which he speaks, it is Finis Mitchell. He was describing the location and view pictured above. Finis spent his whole life and career in the Wind River Mountains as a guide. It started on a hunt with his father into the Winds in 1906 after moving from Missouri with his family on a span of mules. Most of the 4,000 lakes in this 2.25 million acre range were virgin when he arrived. Finis started a stocking program by hauling fish in 5 gallon milk cans with burlap over the tops for cooling and aeration, all on the backs of pack animals. To this day, many of the lakes are such good habitat for fish that they self sustain.

Our trip to the Wind Rivers was much anticipated. Of significance, this venture would include the whole family--mom, dad, and all five kids packing a week's supplies on horse and mule into remote wilderness. While we hope that there are many more trips to come, we know that our aging family dynamic and logistics made this a once in a lifetime trip. We also got to share it with my brother Mike and our friend Randy Johnson. Of additional significance, we didn't own a horse or mule two years ago and I was the only one of us with some experience--and all of that, childhood experience. I am not lost on the fact that my family has humored this two year exercise in preparation with perseverance. There are a lot of chores and still, a lot to learn. Getting up that mountain required total focus and a shift in lifestyle. My heartfelt thanks to my wife and kids for allowing this dream to mature. It reminds me of the ancient wisdom If you see a man on a mountain, you can be sure he didn't fall there. Nothing could be more true. I also give heartfelt thanks to my Heavenly Father who allowed me to share this magnificent experience with my family without incident. Neither child, nor animal was harmed in the making of this memory (except the fish we ate and the marmot my dog Rooster diligently hunted down to be delivered at my feet.)

Our first night was spent in the densely wooded shores of Divide Lake. We were so abused by the mosquitoes that we nearly packed up and came straight back home. We hid in our tents all evening and witnessed our horses completely bloodied by the onslaught. We decided that Mike and I would go exploring for a better campsite the next morning before we gave up. We did find that place and promptly moved camp to the shores of Crescent Lake which was both prettier and more exposed to the wind. Our secret to surviving the mosquito war was simply timing and location. There were two hours in the morning and evening when the air was still enough that we had to hide from them. Otherwise, we could tolerate the breezy daytime and after dark, we were free.

Mike and I did a lot of riding. We logged a total of 65 miles start to finish. No one else wanted to join us on our discovery, but we sure soaked up a lot of beauty through the week. From the rivers and lakes at the base of the peaks to the North, to the quaint Ranger cabin on the shores of Cross Lake near the Highline trail, we wanted to see what was around every corner. Meanwhile, the view from the master suite back at camp was so good, everyone else was content to fish, read, and play games. We did get finally get the family to wander over to the Cross Lake Cabin for a photo-op the day before packing back out.

After the mosquitoes went to bed on the edge of darkness, we came alive around our campfire each night. Food, stories, and music warmed the cooling air.

As the firelight faded about 1:00 am Wednesday morning, and everyone crawled into their tents, I found myself sitting on the ledge overlooking Crescent Lake. The night was completely still and bathed in starlight, a blackened Silhouette of peak and pine cutting its jagged break across the heavens. From my granite seat, I watched an ancient drama unfold in the mirrored black depths below. Reflected there, a portion of the brilliant night sky danced and shimmered in the water. Winged Pegasus lept across the raging current of the great Milky Way River, which flowed out of the dark pines on the far shore. A billion points of light spilled from the Big Dipper and slowly revolved around Polaris, the North Star. A Still Small Voice breathed, "They are mine and I know them." The river across the meadow rumbled and a chorus of frogs cried, YOU ARE PART OF THIS! My heart begged the question of the ages, the question coined by the Psalmist: What is man that thou art mindful of him?

At dawn, the great drama went to rest in the mist hovering over the glassy water, lying to wait for the next still night when a man would sit on her banks and listen to His story.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Wild West, Frontier Towns Live On

This post is just a teaser. About 2 am this morning, we got back from our week-long pack trip into the Wind River mountains of South West Wyoming--specifically Sublette County. It is Ranch and Natural Gas country with cowboy grit and a distinctly old-west air. The headline photo above is last Thursday's front page of the Pinedale Roundup. It speaks volumes about the nature of that place. In our curb-and-guttered world, we have insulated ourselves from the harsh realities this rugged country takes in stride. The result? Our trusty friend Common Sense took ill and passed on. Fortunately, some places hold a majority of people who still remember her. I suspect South West Wyoming is such a place.

We pulled 10 horses/mules and nine people over ten hours of highway. My brother Mike and I were quite surprised as we drove north from Evanston to the Scab Creek Trail head. For 3 hours (about midnight to 3 am) we didn't see another moving vehicle. Even as we passed through Kemmerer, LaBarge, and Big Piney, we didn't see a soul. It was like the night before Christmas--SouthWest Wyoming was completely asleep.

For six days and six nights, we lived in bear and wolf country. We didn't see any of the big game we had hoped, and learned when we got back off the mountain that the only real wildlife we were close to was the Rainbow family that had descended on the Big Sandy like an unwelcome cloud of mosquitos. We did eat a lot of fish, see some breathtaking country, and fight our own unwelcome clouds of mosquitos. I guess we could have taken our vacation on some beach, relaxing in some nice hotel. Instead we spent a bazillion dollars, worked our guts out for two years getting people and animals prepared, then worked ourselves like rented mules for the entire week of vacation. When you see the next post and photos, you may understand why it was worth it.