Saturday, September 15, 2012

Drive To Shoshone National Forest

LC's brother Gary is here in Wyoming for a visit.
The last time I saw him was just about this same time last year in Tennessee.
The time before that I saw him in Alaska.
Seeing him is very much like when I see my youngest son Chris.  I never quite know which state we will bump into each other next.
He arrived early in the week, drove into town feeling rundown and then promptly got both viral and bacterial infections and was laid up for the next few days, alternating between hot and cold, and between awake and asleep.  But mostly asleep.
Feeling a little better yesterday we decided to venture out to the Shoshone National Forest, intending to drive within a few miles of the East Gate of Yellowstone.
The day was very warm.
After a couple of days of daytime temperatures in the low 60's and nighttime temperatures in the upper 30's, temperatures finally bounced back to around 80 degrees.
Still no rain.  Still not the promise or even the threat of rain.
Only very clear blue skies regardless of temperatures, that have widely varied this close to Fall.
Still feeling weak, Gary greatly enjoyed the drive as did both LC and I.  And of course so did my sweet hairy girl Jamie.
Not a long of stops.  And not a lot of walking.  But a beautiful day none-the-less and in a beautiful place.
On the way out towards the gate LC and Gary talked easily and comfortably with each other  I have heard stories about their childhood and it was often chaotic and sometimes dangerous.  They are close to each other, and have a rhythm with each other that quickly resumes when they are finally together.
I listened to these brothers sing together, laugh together, tell stories with each other, and I knew that they were both happy to be with each other.
I watched the world go by in the back seat, content to be with my dog and to not have to carry on conversation.
Our first stop was a campground and picnic area only 10 miles or so from the outskirts of Cody.
LC and James and I have stopped here a number of times before to eat lunch.
Surrounded by mountains and sitting alongside the Shoshone River it is a beautiful place.
As with all of the stopping places in the forest though, LC and I were both watchful for bears.  I held onto my dog and watched her carefully as well, knowing that she would sense a bear's presence before we did...................
There are many side roads during the 50 mile drive to the east gate of the park that LC and I have not yet explored, but we have stopped at every one of the campgrounds and picnic areas between Cody and the park.
This particular stop is one of our favorites.
Each pull-off is named and signed, and this particular one is Sleeping Giant picnic area.  It is located less than 10 miles from the park gates and is simply beautiful.
Of course, all of them are simply beautiful.
This place is located adjacent to Sleeping Giant Ski Area, which sounds like a big and fancy place but actually is not.
Sleeping Giant is a very small ski area nestled among pine forests and stunning mountains and it services mostly local skiers and snowboarders.
It reopened only a couple of years ago and is still losing money so I am not certain where it is headed in the future.  There has been much talk over the past few months re: whether zip lines and other activities should be offered during the summer to enhance the resorts' usage, with hopes of making this place financially viable.
The concern most commonly raised during discussions of summer usage surround grizzly bears.
There are many many (many) grizzlies throughout this forest.  How will summer usage impact the bears?  How will summer activities impact user safety?  Still unresolved questions.
Regardless, Sleeping Giant is a quiet ski area in the middle of the wonder that is Shoshone National Forest.   And I know from our experience last year that the drive from Cody to the ski area in the winter is filled with bison, big horn sheep, and elk sightings.
More information about Sleeping Giant:
Meanwhile, still deeply in the midst of summer this picnic area close to the ski area is a wonderful and lovely place.
More mountains.  More pine trees.  More clear and cold river.  More quiet................
The river is low.  Even lower than it was only a few weeks ago when LC and I last visited this place...............
LC, Gary, and Jamie's butt...............
We had surprisingly seen him on the way out, sitting quietly among the bushes beside the river and barely visible.
But there was no doubt.  It was definitely a buffalo.
All of us in the truck were surprised to see him.
He looked healthy and heavy, and yet he was alone and yet he was down off the mountain this early in the season.
I have no idea why but we blew right by him on the way out.
We got within two miles of the East Gate before turning around and heading back towards Cody.
It had been at least 90 minutes since we had last seen our lone bison and I hoped that he was still in the same place.
As we approached the area of our original sighting I saw a passenger van parked alongside the edge of the road.
Again surprised, I watched as 4 or 5 people, obviously tourists, popped out from behind bushes.
They were smiling and laughing and carrying cameras around their necks and I suddenly hoped that they had not bothered this wonderful and majestic animal.  Hoped that they had not gotten too close.
LC pulled into a small gravel parking area and while we left James to guard the truck for us, we all three humans began a quiet trek along the dirt embankment that paralleled the highway, all the while searching through the bushes for our buffalo..................
And then, suddenly, there he was.
I zoomed in to take a closer picture of this wonderful, beautiful, strong and prehistoric looking animal.
He was amazing.  Simply amazing................
For the next 10 minutes I continually zoomed in and out with my camera, enjoying the sight of him.  The quiet of him.  The strength of him.  The sheer power of him.
This is a "real time" picture of him, taken at the distance I was actually standing while watching him.
I was about 20 feet away from LC and Gary, and we all stood high up on the dirt embankment, watching this thing quietly graze, all the while unconcerned with our presence.
All of us had first assumed that the buffalo was an old male - perhaps pushed out of a herd by younger and stronger males - perhaps too old to be able to keep up with a herd any longer.
While watching him though, we all realized that he was not that old.  He was not injured.  He was not sick.
He did not appear to be in any distress so we do not know why he was already in winter grazing pastures this early in the season, or why he was alone.
But I was very pleased to have seen him.
Our first wild buffalo sighting since returning to Wyoming................
Looking back towards the truck...............
One last beautiful scene and one last beautiful view of our strong and powerful buffalo, before climbing back into the truck and moving on.
We made one last stop before traveling directly back to Cody...............
Ever since we first found the Wayfarers Chapel early last year LC and I always make a point to stop there.
If I were a religious person I would say that it is a spiritual place, but I will say that it is a very lovely and special place.
Located high on top of a hill, LC and I assumed the first time we drove up to this place that we would find a small and rustic structure that was a chapel.
There was no structure.
Instead we found a peaceful and wonderful outdoor chapel.
Our first visit to Wayfarers Chapel:
Chasing angels or fleeing demons, go to the mountains....................Jeffrey Rasley

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