Monday, August 29, 2011

Way Point After All

Heart Mountain at sunset from the house..........

Within a month of arriving in Cody LC and I had decided that we really liked this place and that this is where we wanted to stay.
We liked the quiet and honest and hard working and conservative people.
We liked the wide open spaces. 
The isolation. 
The fact that the entire population of the state is 1/2 million.
The fact that even Wyoming's big cities were actually little more than small towns.
Yellowstone and the Big Horns and Shoshone National Forest and Sunlight Basin and endless acres of public access Bureau of Land Management land were all so close and so accessible.
That we were surrounded by mountains and mountain ranges - all there for the exploring.
That in the Winter we could drive just outside of Cody and see large herds of elk and antelope and bison and big horn sheep.
That we could drive to town and drive through town and always see black tailed deer everywhere we looked.
We were always surprised and delighted to see a deer unexpectedly pop out of somebody's driveway or through somebody's bushes in their yard.
We had come to know the lone doe who wanders easily from pasture to pasture and yard to yard where we live.  Who is still watchful around us but who has come to know that she is safe to wander here.
The doe who wanders easily in the area with her two young fawns.  We watched them yesterday running across the road near the house, ducking underneath a fence and running in yet one more pasture.  One little one got left behind and we watched as he scrambled and bounced and bounded to catch up with him momma and sibling.  The babies have lost their spots.
I have watched as LC became more and more attached to Blackie and Smoky, even as I resolved (only partially successfully) that I would not get attached to them.
The wild mustangs just down the road, roaming free on thousands of acres of protected land..............

LC and Jamie and I are heading back to Tennessee in a few days.
We have had a renter in our house in Tennessee who paid regularly for almost a year and who recently has begun to not pay regularly.
Which means that for the past few months we have been paying rent here in Wyoming while also paying the mortgage for our house in Tennessee.
Which we cannot keeping doing.
She had reasons and we have given extensions and listened to broken promises and the property manager has not been proactive so we have been trying to deal with this all long distance and enough is enough.
I had a friend check on the house and thankfully it is all still in good shape.
We have told the renter to get out of the house by the end of September because we are concerned that if we do not get her out by then we will soon have difficulty evicting her and her son as we get closer to Winter.
We could find another renter but we don't want to do that.
There is nothing left in that town for us now aside from the house and it is time to do something with it............

For the past few months we have been exploring areas in Wyoming and researching on line and it has become increasingly obvious that land and homes are very expensive here.
More expensive than we can either afford or truthfully want to pay at this stage in our lives and we can buy much more land in Tennessee................

And it is time for me to go back and see my first born child.
I miss my son.  LC misses his daughter..............

We will be staying in a very old cabin on the property of a lady I used to work with in Tennessee until we get our renter out of the house.
We have a lot of things to do and not a lot of time to get it all done so this will be my last blog entry until we get back to Tennessee.
Cody Wyoming only turned out to be a way-point after all......................

Saturday, August 27, 2011

On Rattlesnake Mountain - Part 3 much for our best guesses.
After traveling slowly but surely along the alternatively smooth and rocky and flat and steeply hilled "road" high on Rattlesnake Mountain for a couple of hours heading in the direction of Chief Joseph Highway (and certain for a variety of reasons that the road would indeed pop us out onto paved road) we dead-ended.
I felt badly for a while as we turned the truck around and headed back the way we had come.
I was the one who began the "this HAS to lead to another paved road and these are all the reasons why" conversation, but after such a long and slow and beautiful ride LC also believed my unresearched gut-reaction rhetoric as well.
Intrinsically it made sense but so much for cowboy logic.
We turned the beast around and headed back the way we had come.
And soon we came to another intersection - one we had debated taking on the way in - and decided to see where it led.
After agreeing on simply heading back the way we had come we broke our agreement within only 20 minutes and headed down a different road.
And almost instantly the terrain changed.
There were fewer wild flowers.  More pine trees.  More hills close to us as opposed to the wide open grassy pastures we had greatly enjoyed to that point.
We had started the morning with my innocuous suggestion to have a picnic in the mountains.
Many hours later we were still wandering - albeit happily wandering - for miles and miles on top of Rattlesnake Mountain..................
After our first dead-end experience I have no idea why on earth we thought this particular road might lead down the mountain.
We could tell from the mountain ranges in front of us that we were traveling in the general direction of Buffalo Bill Reservoir and thought perhaps this road we were now on would lead us to Jim's Mountain.
Which would have popped us out down in Wapiti.
Regardless we had come to realize that Rattlesnake Mountain was so much more than we had ever expected.
A simple picnic in the mountains was a long forgotten goal.  And so was seriously looking for a different route back down to civilization. 
If we found another route down great.  If not we knew how to get back to our original road.
The goal became simply to see and enjoy................
One isolated rain shower off in the distance...........
I look at these pictures now and wonder why I did not notice the sky changing from blue to grey.................
Thirty beautiful minutes after we veered onto this new road it simply........ended.
No nice and civilized little sign indicating "Road Closed"
If we had continued driving another 30 feet we would have driven off a cliff................
LC and James and I all climbed out of the truck, walked close to the edge of the cliff and looked out over..........30?  40?  50?  100 miles of endless sky and endless mountain ranges.................
It was breath-taking. 
And the pictures that I took do not begin to do justice to the mountain ranges that had all of a sudden seemed to engulf the entire world.
LC wandered alone.  James and I wandered in a different direction.
Both of us tryng to take in the scene before us.
After traveling long and stopping frequently but only for brief periods, we stayed in this one place for a long while............
Sure enough........the reservoir far below us.............
As we were heading back to the main (relatively speaking) road/trail that we had been on and needed to be on again in order to make our way back down to........yes........Belfry Highway.........we talked excitedly of the beautiful things we had seen on this trip and also talked disappointingly of the animals that we did not see.
No large game at all - no bears or elk or deer or antelope.
And then I looked to my right and saw this hawk.
As LC continued to drive slowly I tried to follow this hawk with my camera.
He was moving very fast - gliding on the wind currents, flying in acrobatic maneuvers, swooping down close to the ground and then back into the air again.  He was obviously on the hunt.
I had no idea whether or not I had captured him in pictures or not until I downloaded them onto my computer.
Gratified to realize that he was indeed caught in a couple of my too-fast taken pictures.............
Which brings me back full circle to "Drive This Road At Your Own Risk" signs.
And the need to do research before heading into the mountains.
And the need to always watch the sky when in the mountains.............

We hit the road leading back down the mountain, and knowing exactly where we were and exactly what lay in front us we comfortably began our long and slow drive back through now familiar open grassy pastures, tree filled woodland in a section of Shoshone National Forest, dirt and gravel road then clay road then black volcanic dirt road.
Retracing our steps on the way home.
We were still traveling through the woodlands of Shoshone National Forest.
I could see nothing but blue sky in front of me when all of a sudden I saw a huge flash of lightning to my right.
It startled me and I looked in the passenger side mirror and was startled to see very dark and very ominous black clouds behind us.
I turned to look back behind me and to confirm what I had seen in the mirror.
They were not isolated rain showers that blow by and are gone before you know it.
This was a very large major storm coming across the mountains and it was quickly heading our way.
It began to rain very hard and lightning was suddenly all around us.
Jamie is terrified of storms and usually spends them hiding under the desk. 
When the hard and driving rain and frequent lightning and thunder started I looked back at my dog. 
Surprisingly she was not shaking like a leaf.  She was staring straight ahead and completely silent.
I stroked her head to reassure her (and me) as we continued through the flat section of the national forest in the pouring rain.
Once we made it through the forest we knew that we were going to be encountering continuous road surface changes, some rocky sections that we had to navigate up and over, and continuous climbs and descents.
Many sections had steep drop-offs down into the ravine below.
In the rain red clay became slick red clay - no traction - hugging the ditch on the wrong side of the road - spinning wheels - the truck weaving - backing down part way to try and straighten out the truck when the back end wanted to head for the ravine.
LC held his breath.  I held my breath.  Neither one of us spoke.  Jamie never made a sound.
That scene played out on one climb after another until we finally and thankfully found our way onto the black top of the Belfry Highway.
By the time we found our way down the rain had stopped and the sun was shining again.
It was a very long and very slow and very very scary trip down Rattlesnake Mountain.
A great trip.  A wonderful and exciting trip.
But once again I am reminded that in the mountains the line between "life is short - who's got the next joke?" to a dire situation that can be potentially extremely serious can be very short....................

Friday, August 26, 2011

On Rattlesnake Mountain - Part 2

This mountain was most definitely not the same as the two other mountains that I had topped since finding my way to Wyoming.
The double track and changeable trail slash road that we had been following for a couple of hours wound its way through one open grassland pasture after another.
The views changed constantly and the mountain ranges that surround Cody were visible in every direction.
Even though we were close to 9,000 feet we could see mountains in the distance that were even higher, some of them still touched with snow even in late August.
Tiny and multi-colored and hardy wildflowers were visible in the green grass - still abundant at this elevation even when they had long since disappeared at lower elevations.
The only things missing were water (small mountain lakes or rivers or waterfalls) and animal life.
During our entire trip yesterday we saw no bear, no deer, no elk or antelope.  Only a few small marmots and one very busy hawk.
The road seemed to be never ending but we were both certain of the direction we had been heading and felt sure that this road would eventually pop us out onto Chief Joseph Highway.
I realized after I downloaded pictures that all of my "road pictures" make the road slash trail look easy to navigate.
In truth it was not much of the time.
Much of it was like the picture below where it was easy-to-drive and flat and where it meandered and wandered through beautiful grassy pasture land.
But much of it also included very steep 3mph inclines and downhills, very rocky sections that we had to carefully navigate and cross our fingers for no blown tires, and deep rutted out areas where previous explorers had passed through too quickly.
As we continued we spoke often of getting a beater vehicle - something with 4x4, something mechanically sound and with good tires, something we would not cry over if it got badly scratched or dented.
Yesterday was a very good test for our new/old Ford but neither one of us want to do it again.
Thankfully my Mountain Boy has a lot of experience four wheeling.
I do not have a lot of experience doing such things but it was big fun..............
After passing no vehicles and seeing no people at all for a few hours we were both surprised to see this hiker off in the distance close to a small pond.
He was alone, seemed to be wandering away from the pond and then back and then away again, and we both hoped that in grizzly bear country he had a powerful firearm with him.
He watched us drive by and did not appear to be in any distress, and so we continued on............
Looking across at the top of Heart Mountain............
Pictures taken as I was returning to the truck after closing up the third cattle gate we passed through in our travels...............
There is something indescribably wonderful about being in the mountains.
I wrote about it while in Juneau and have felt it also since arriving in Wyoming.
I could take pictures all day long of beautiful mountain scenes, but there is a special feeling about wandering and picture taking and standing in a place high in the sky where there are no other people (well........OK.........except for one random and unexpected hiker).
This place was as quiet and open and expansive and rugged and beautiful as I had ever seen.
An isolated place in an isolated state.
I loved it.  I wished to walk it.  I didn't want to leave it.............
LC on reconnaissance.
Climbing a hill to scope out the trail up ahead that had gotten increasingly rocky, increasingly dicey, and looked up ahead to peter out.
Surely not..............
It did peter out.
And don't call me Shirley.................