Saturday, June 4, 2011

Walking To The Edge Of The Light

While I was out running the other day on BLM land I found myself traveling on a trail that included a long dirt straight-away.
I have run on this straight section regularly because it is not only slightly downhill but also leads to another trail that eventually connects with the road and home.
This same trail also connects with still another trail that LC and Jamie and I followed up into the hills recently when we came across the "BLM Killing Fields":
At the end of the straight-away the other day I took a different trail to slightly increase the length of my run and found myself jogging on yet one more dirt and grassy single track trail that paralleled a fence line.
It included many small ups and downs so I was slugging it out and alternating walking with running, still wondering what a 51 year old woman was doing sucking wind among the sage brush......

I bypassed it at first - wondered "what the hell was that?" - stopped - and retraced my steps to go back and take a second look.
I looked down at the tracks in the dirt and saw that many antelope had passed this way.
But there was one track that I kept coming back to.
I looked at the large size of the print and the roundness of the print and knew that this was not a good sign.
I wanted my Mountain Boy (who used to do a lot of tracking in the mountains of Eastern Tennessee when he was in law enforcement - both animal and people tracking) to see it but I was pretty sure that it was a cougar track.
I was close to the "killing field" - it was just on the other side of the fence line that I was following and up the hill - and suddenly I felt very uncomfortable running where I was running............

That evening LC and James and I drove down to the next road and parked the truck close to an entrance of BLM land and within a few minutes walking distance of where I had seen the tracks.
I have very little experience identifying tracks but even I could see what it looked like.
Big cat.
We walked on the single track until we found the tracks in question and then climbed through the barbed wire fence to walk the more open double track on the way back to the truck.
And on the way back Jamie found the remains of an antelope hide.
I looked up into the hills.
I had just run this trail that morning.
I always carry a firearm with me when I head out onto BLM on bike because I inevitably end up wandering around both on bike and on foot in the hills.
I was going to have to carry a firearm with me on my runs as well...........

By the time we got back to the truck it was late afternoon and when we left the house had only planned on being away from home for 10 or 15 minutes.
On the spur of the moment my Mountain Boy asked me if I wanted to go for a drive.
For a while he had been talking about a dirt road that apparently led up to the radio towers we could see in the distance and he wanted to check it out.
On such a beautiful late afternoon (heading into early evening) I said of course............
We drove on the Greybull Highway for only a few miles before turning off and pulling onto a side road, crossed one of the very many cattle guards that are located on side roads throughout the region, and found ourselves on a long and wide open dirt road.
It quickly became apparent that the radio towers were a long way off.
We had no idea where we were going or where we would end up but were again, as we so often are, in adventure and exploration mode.............
The dirt road started out innocently enough.
A dry and wide open road that weaved itself through flat BLM terrain.
This was wild horse country but we did not see any the other day.
After only a few miles of quiet driving we began to climb.....and climb.....and climb.
Quickly the dirt road turned into a very steep hill.
LC has done a lot of off-roading over the years but I have not.
He was unperturbed by the steepness of the hills and switch backs, the rocks that had slid down from the hillsides and were now laying in the "road", nor was he perturbed by the very steep drop offs.
I on the other hand was holding my breath and hanging onto the grab bar inside the truck for all it was worth.
I asked LC to stop once on the way up so that I could take a picture but the incredible steepness of the road was unnerving and I did not ask him again.
On the very right side of the road in this picture is a road sign indicating a sharp bend in the road.
In addition to the very sharp incline there were also multiple sharp bends in the road.
More breath holding and more grab bar grabbing.............
I had never driven anything like this road before.
I am not squeamish about a whole lot of things but this honestly made me uneasy.
It was so steep that I was hoping we would not have to come back down this way.
I would have sucked it up if we had to (but I really did not want to) and thankfully we took a very long and scenic route home and did not have to retrace our steps............
We had climbed probably 3000 feet within only a few short miles.
And yes........worth it.
I climbed out of the truck and the wind was incredibly cold and very strong.
I fought against the wind and stood taking in the miles of wide open terrain that stood in front of me, and then fought to steady my camera to take pictures.
It was beautiful.
It was beyond beautiful.  It was mystical.
Incredible and wild scenery forged out of the volcanic activity of many thousands of years ago............
All of the flowers I have seen on BLM land to date have been small.
Tiny and delicate clusters of fragile wild flowers growing low to the ground.
As we continued to more gradually climb even higher into the sky I was both shocked and delighted to turn a bend in the road and see an entire hilltop filled with tall grass and clusters of bright yellow flowers.
Not tiny fragile little things.
Stocky, tall, heavy beautiful flowers.
I have no idea what they were but they were outstanding because of the sheer unexpectedness of them.
No flowers before this place.
No flowers after this place.
Just here on this grass filled hill.
I loved them..............
After the initial shock of that first long and steep and never-ending climb, we still had more climbing to do.
But the remainder of our ascent was marked by a combination of long gradual climb followed by long periods of flat road that traveled the ridge lines.
While taking pictures of unexpected yellow flowers in an unexpected field of green I turned and finally saw the towers up close...............
One of a vast number of unexpected small ponds seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
I had assumed there was no water at such elevations and in such desolate territory.
We saw small ponds of water (some of them clear and some of them reddened by the rock) every few miles.
I am not certain how high we actually got the other day but I would guess around 9000 feet............
By this time it was about 7pm.
The sun was shining, the sky was very blue, the horizon was hazy, and the wind was gale force strong............
We could see the towns of Cody and Powell as we continued driving the ridge line.
They were off in the far distance.
And we had not passed even one vehicle in all the time we had been up in this isolated mountain place.............
A very long winding, climbing, dropping dirt road...........
After stopping briefly to take this picture, we decided against taking the side road up to the towers.
We were in the middle of nowhere and continued forging ahead........
The first herd of antelope we saw high in the mountains.........
Driving further in one flat plains section of the dirt road we came across a second herd of female antelope.
After taking a couple of pictures of the females my Mountain Boy and I realized that the females were all intensely focused on something on the opposite side of the road...........
The male............
When we first saw the male he was a long way off but as we watched he slowly made his way in our direction.
When we realized that he was coming this way both LC and I got out of the truck to watch.
The females were intently focused on the male.
The male was intently focused on the females.
And as the male took his time making his way towards the rest of the herd LC and I had huge fun providing each other with juvenile step-by-step broadcast-announcer-type descriptions of the male/female antelope reunion.
Again, two adults being stupid and having fun..............
So windy that it created waves on the pond...............
During our drive we came across mostly a very well maintained dirt and gravel road.
Miles and miles of dirt and gravel road that meandered up into the mountains, followed multiple ridge lines and then finally and gradually dropped down on the back side, leading us back to Greybull Highway.
We came across a few rock slide areas that we had to weave around as we progressed but they were not serious rock slides.
We also came across this washed-out section of road not too far from the highway............
A sign at the trail head before heading back onto the highway..............
There are multiple trails throughout the entire area that will be worthy of exploration in the future.
In all we traveled about 25 adventurous, beautiful miles on dirt road the other evening............

When you walk to the edge of all the light you have
And you take the first step into the darkness of the unknown
You must believe that one of two things will happen
There will be something solid for you to stand upon
or you will be taught to fly........Patrick Overton

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