Archive for Wednesday, July 5, 2000

It was a trip to remember

July 5, 2000

"Forget about work."

That's what my boss told me as I was getting into my car for nine whole days away from work.

It wouldn't be easy. Even in my sleep, I fret over questions I should have asked, information I meant to add to a story and columns I could have written.

For a split second, I even considered staying behind while my family went to Wyoming.

But I packed my backpack and myself with the rest of the stuff, and in less than a day was in northern Wyoming peering into the Big Horn Mountains.

Soon, I would find myself face to face with a mountain lion, stepping from my tent into a snow storm, making simple meals over a campfire and watching a sunset from an elevation of more than 9,000 feet.

Work was long forgotten and unwanted.

Day one, Saturday, June 24:

The inventory: two vehicles, a car-top carrier, my family (me, Scott and Emily), Scott's parents and sister, four golden retrievers, backpacks for all but Emily (including the dogs), suitcases, a jogging stroller and cameras.

My notes begin a few miles into Wyoming, at the sighting of the first herd of pronghorn antelope and the distant outline of mountains.

If you had to put a name to our destination, you could say Buffalo or Tensleep or Crazy Woman Canyon. But it's not really any of those places just a mountain meadow about an hour's hike from the Battlepark trailhead in the Big Horn Mountains.

It's a long drive from Cheyenne to northern Wyoming, with plenty of historical points of interest along the way. And I wonder if, generations from now, history students will consider our trek in a sports utility vehicle as brave and perilous a journey as the pioneers made more than a century ago. Somehow, I doubt it, although our check engine light is on again.

Too late to hike up into the mountains when we arrive in Buffalo, we stay in a dive of a motel before leaving early the next morning.

Day two, Sunday, June 25

It's 53 degrees this morning. Believe me, that's warm.

The locals are wearing shorts and t-shirts. Most of us are dressed in layers long pants and jackets.

Twenty minutes into the mountains, it is 42 degrees. Shortly after arriving at the trailhead and preparing our gear for the hike, it starts to sleet.

The sleet subsides, and by the time we reach the meadow an easy hike as far as hikes go the sun is shining.

We make camp at the top of a hill, under pine trees. A stream full of trout bubbles below.

Emily, who insisted on walking most of the hike, falls asleep instantly in our tent, but later wakes, crying, and stays that way most of the night. Although I'd rather be sleeping, I hold Emily and listen to the bugles of elk.

Day three, Monday, June 26

A heavy frost, icicles and six elk greet us in the morning.

"It froze big-time," said Scott's dad. He guessed the temperature fell into the teens during the night.

We make pancakes for breakfast over the campfire and prepare for our day hike to Lily Lake about two miles away.

It's a steep, rocky hike up and down, but we aren't packing much and the jogging stroller easily carries Emily.

The trail comes out above Lily Lake, which has an overflow pond covered with lily pads. At the far edge of a lake, an animal is swimming. We decide it must be a moose, but it is too far away for even binoculars to distinguish.

The moose disappears and we start fishing. I'm not a patient fisher when the fish aren't biting, so I quickly make my way to the far side of the lake. I see the animal swimming again, from one side of the lake to the other very swiftly.

I go back for the binoculars, joking to my husband that it's probably a mountain lion. When I return, the animal is close enough for me to distinguish that it's not a moose. The binoculars tell me that it is indeed a mountain lion, and it soon swims close enough that I don't need the binoculars.

My thoughts quickly jump to Emily, who is with her grandma not so far away. The mountain lion notices Scott and I, but seems content just to swim splashing its tail periodically.

As a precaution, Scott pulls out his pistol (he's a police officer) and I turn and run to warn the others. (Writer's note: Yes, I know it's dangerous to flee a mountain lion, but remember, Scott was there with a gun).

We quickly gather our gear and head back for camp uneventfully.

(Another writer's note: Do mountain lions like to swim? I'd like to know, because this one was swimming for about an hour.)

Day four, Tuesday, June 27

We are supposed to hike to Lake Solitude today a 12 mile round trip. We wake up to snow on the ground and what in Kansas would be considered a snow storm.

The snow shows no sign of letting up, and it is impossible to keep Emily in the tent or dry, so we abandon camp, hike to the cars and drive to Buffalo for the day.

According to the locals, the mountains are still getting snow, so we stay in a cabin on a 300-acre mountain lake for the night.

Day five, Wednesday, June 28

It's warm and sunny today. We hike back to camp. The snow has melted.

We set out on another day hike to Lost Lake new territory for us. We thought we knew where we were going. We didn't look at the map. We were following a stream that surely went to the lake, or at least a lake.

After more than four hours of wandering, Lost Lake is still lost, and we circle back to camp where we decide to hike down a night early because of hungry mosquitos. Yes, we went from temperatures in the teens, to snow, to mosquito weather within a few days (and you thought Kansas weather was strange).

Rest of the vacation

We drive home, via South Dakota's Black Hills a pretty, but crowded, drive. And we are already asking ourselves if we want to go to Wyoming next year.

Yes, yes, yes.

Part of a poem I read at a mountain restaurant and wrote on a napkin sums up why:

Deep within the human soul

There is a beckoning call

That leads one to remote and exalted places

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