Monday, February 25, 2013

BLM And Wild Mustangs

On a sunny, windy, and very cold late morning LC, Jamie and I drove out to BLM land.
We had originally planned to explore parts of the large, flat, desolate bowl that is known as Oregon Basin.
On the way out to the basin my Mountain Boy impulsively pulled off the wide, two lane highway, drove up a dusty and dry dirt road and stopped at the flag at the top of a hill that seemingly overlooked the entire world.
As we climbed out of the truck I hung onto the door as I reached for my pup, trying hard to not let the door swing open uncontrollably.
It was freezing.  
The temperature gauge outside my kitchen window had read 40 degrees when we left the house, but the icy wind was so strong that it felt much colder.
It didn't matter.
What mattered was that we were standing on top of a hill in the middle of BLM land less than 20 miles from the house, but it could have been a thousand miles away from the house for all of the welcome isolation that we had and felt..............
LC grabbed Jamie and slowly walked to the edge of the hill, looking out over a scene that I know he loves very much.
I stood beside the truck looking over at my sweet dog that has been in my life for over 12 years now, and over at my sweet man that has been in my life for a little over six.
We have looked at each other recently and acknowledged that we are best friends, and that we only have each other.
We are close.  Very close.  And every day I am so acutely aware of how glad I am to have him in my life.
He loves this place.
The wide, unbelievably wide open spaces.
The quiet.  The isolation.  The lack of people.  The irreplaceable ability to stand on top of a hill 20 miles from the house and see forever................
A look back towards the truck and the dirt road we had pulled onto.............
And pictures I snapped while standing in one place.
I simply snapped a picture, moved it slightly to my left, snapped another picture, rinse and repeat.
The basin we live in is absolutely huge and is completely surrounded on all sides by mountains.
It is not for everyone, but the sheer vastness and emptiness of Wyoming seems to suit us.
I had assumed (given the elevation of Cody and its location to the mountains) that once winter hit the area we would be wrapped in meat-locker cold temperatures and endless snows for months on end.
That is definitely not the case.
It snows, it melts, it snows, it blows away, it snows.
A never ending cycle of changing weather patterns.
By the end of this week it is supposed to be sunny and around 50 degrees.................
LC and I have only stopped at the flag-pole-on-top-of-the-empty-hill once before and on that day I looked only briefly at the American flag before moving on to taking pictures of the terrain that surrounded me.
This morning I stopped to look more closely at the flag pole and realized that there was more to it than I had originally thought.
In the rock garden surrounding the pole were a handful of flag rocks painted like this............
And attached to the flag pole was this message.
If you click on the picture it will enlarge.
These kinds of messages always touch me deeply.
I always think of LC, and my son Chris, and all of the others who have served and sacrificed for our country.  Always............
The mostly flat two lane Greybull Highway.
Twenty miles west is where we live.
Another 5 miles or so down the highway we would begin searching for the wild horses.
As LC and I stood in the silence on top of the hill we had decided that Oregon Basin exploration would have to wait for another day.
We hadn't seen the horses in a few weeks and it was a good day to see them................
Carter Mountain Range to the south................
Before leaving the hill we stashed Jamie safely back in the truck, walked down the dirt trail a short way, and set up a short piece of 2x4 upright in the dirt bank for target practice.
I joked with LC about setting up a 10x12 (foot) piece of plywood, but happily I hit the little piece of wood.
Ammunition is getting too expensive to spend too much time shooting just for the sake of shooting, so we did not spend a long time.
It was time to go find some wild mustangs................
A brief pit stop for Jamie at one of the many entrances to McCullough Peaks.
For an animal, and for a living creature who cannot speak, she easily manages to get her message across when she needs to stop.
Sometimes these stops are false alarms and she's just looking for an excuse to get out of the truck out of her humans.  But sometimes she means it.
Regardless, my dog happily danced around in the dirt before loading back into the truck and finally heading onto rutted out dirt trails in search of horses...............
There have been times when we have had to drive through endless BLM land for over an hour to find one of the herds of wild mustangs.  
On this particular day we found them within only a few minutes and followed a trail to the left, hoping to close the gap between us.
As we got closer, LC and I both realized that the horses were slowly grazing their way in our direction.
Slowing the truck down we inched forward, watching them the whole time and excitedly realizing that they were for sure coming our way.
In fact, if we were lucky they would wander directly across our path.
On this day we were lucky..............
Quietly climbing out of the truck, LC and I watched as this relaxed herd of 25 or so horses slowly grazed.
For 10 minutes they slowly but surely grazed their way in our direction, ignoring us and completely intent on eating.
And then unexpectedly I looked to my right and realized that a handful of horses had stopped grazing and were walking in our direction.............
Taking this as some definite but unspoken clue, other horses and then even more horses stopped their grazing and also began to walk in our direction...............
The first group (that had been a part of the group but also seemingly separate from the group) got closer and we realized that we were looking at the males.
I wrote it before and the concept still stands - these guys had an air of superiority about them.
They were the studs.  The rulers of the herd and as I watched them more closely I instantly knew which was the ultimate stallion of this beautiful group of horses.
All the males had that same air of superiority, but he was the king.  And he knew it.............
All the mustangs of this herd slowly made their way up the low rise, across the dirt road directly in front of us, and then continued walking in the snow and sage and dirt of the land on the opposite side of the trail.
LC and I watched in amazement, and my pup (who we left in the cab of the truck) watched quietly as these beautiful animals all passed in front of us.
They are always supremely gorgeous.
Free, wonderful, beautiful animals who rule this land.............
He passed by us with the other males, but as the other males in the herd continued their slow walk across BLM land this wonderful animal unexpectedly stopped.
For a few moments he stood motionless and then slowly turned to look back over the rest of the herd that was pulling up the rear.
What was he doing?  Why had he stopped?  What was he looking for?...................
The paints were my favorite..............
I stood in complete awe of the horses, as I always am whenever we come out to the peaks.
There are horses all over Cody.  
Horses all over Wyoming.
But there is something mesmerizing about these guys.
I have never been able to figure out what it is about them that I am so drawn to, and in truth have never taken the time to evaluate my response to them.
They are just wonderful.
Including this growing paint foal.
I remember seeing him months ago when he was only a little guy, staying oh so close to his momma.
He still stays close to his mother, but he has grown so much and looks wonderfully healthy.
And there it was.
As the king of the herd stood majestically on his land I realized that he was watching over his herd.
He had walked with the males up the rise and across the dirt road, had stopped and then turned back.
At the time I didn't know why.
But watching him I realized that he was watching over his females.
He was royalty.............
When the last of the herd had crossed over the road he turned and followed.............
LC and I watched them for a long time as they continued (as though walking with a single mind) up the hill on the opposite side of the road before beginning to graze again.
An outstanding experience.
Eventually we both turned, climbed back into the truck and continued on with our BLM land journey...............

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bitterroot Valley, Montana

I remember (a seeming eternity ago now) walking throughout the area in and around Juneau Alaska while LC was still down in Tennessee, looking at various prospective homes and trying to envision us living there.
I remember leaving Juneau Alaska as a worn out woman, still shell-shocked from my professional experiences up there and the beating I had taken at the hands of people who I hope eventually live up to the old adage of "what goes around, comes around". 
As my Mountain Boy, my sweet dog and I traveled areas around northern Montana, and then as we eventually found our way unexpectedly to Cody Wyoming, we looked at various prospective homes and tried to envision ourselves living there.
A world of darkness and pain later and here we are again.  Wondering exactly where we are supposed to be.
Where is our place in the world? 
The small business I started three months ago paid for itself this month.
Actually paid all of the expenses incurred in operating the business, but not yet paying me any kind of a salary.
I'm good at what I do.  I've always been good at what I do.
I don't say that to brag.  I say that because it is what it is. 
I'm doing everything I am supposed to be doing to make it a success and I can feel it - even in this time - even in this economy - that it is moving forward in the way businesses that are new but which have potential should be moving.
Over these past few months I have become by necessity, a bipolar woman.
A woman going through the motions of each day of someone who is still living.  Smiling on cue.  Making small talk on cue.  Living only still pretending.
And then putting my professional, personable, customer service face on, right on cue.  Because that's what you need to do when you run a business.
But somehow even in this economy it seems to be slowly building.
It gives me something that is mine.  It uses professional skills I haven't used in quite a while but which still seem to be there. 
It allows me to do something without having to get a "real" job where I have to deal with the same people in an office on an on-going basis every single day which I don't think I can handle anymore.
We talk about buying a home in Wyoming.  Or maybe Montana.  Or maybe even Minnesota since LC's brother lives there.
So am I actually building a business or not?
Are we going to stay here or not?
Should I sell the house in Tennessee or not?
I don't know and we'll have to see how it all pans out, but we don't have to make any decisions quickly because I don't think I can handle THOSE anymore either.............

My Mountain Boy, my travel-loving dog and I took a whirlwind trip to the Bitterroot Valley in Montana last weekend.
Three days of non-stop driving, looking and seeing through a beautiful valley in the south west portion of the state, and through endless small towns and pine tree filled mountains leading almost down to the border of Idaho.
Just to feel the place out.
To see the towns we had found online, see some of the homes we had found online, and just get a feel for an area that intrigued both of us.
For all the traveling I took very few pictures.
A real estate agent dragged us to see a lovely little mobile home that was situated right on the river bank.
We already knew before arriving that we had no interest in the property - the mobile home was overpriced and located on a rented lot in a very small mobile home park.  But it was the first property that we saw and I was fine with seeing it, as it gave both of us a chance to get the lay of the land.
Sure enough the mobile home was neat, well maintained, not very old, a sweet little place but still overpriced.
After walking through the place I left two real estate agents, the home-owner and LC to chat, and walked back to the truck to retrieve my sweet and wonderful dog who I knew was chomping at the bit to walk and wander.
Together Jamie and I wandered to the back of the property and as Jamie did her Jamie things I looked around us.
The home was located right by the river.  Right beside the river, and as I looked at the beautiful scene all around me I found myself wishing that this tiny little piece of land was included with the home.
It was a peaceful, gorgeous place.
It was a rented, peaceful, gorgeous place and no...............
A small cabin directly across the river from where I was standing, alongside the river.............
After leaving the first home we looked at two more in the small town of Darby.
The first one was located in back of one piece of property that contained two homes.
Too crowded.  Too run down.  They're asking HOW much for it?  And no.
Third house was in foreclosure.  Beautiful house.  Big.  Too big.  Beautiful house.  Too close to neighbors.  Maybe.  Probably not. 
As we stood in the rustic and beautiful kitchen of the house I made a comment related to "more land - less house" , a light bulb finally seemed to go off in our helpful real estate agents head and she asked us to follow her back to her office so that she could print off other homes that we might be interested in.
Promising to contact her if we were interested in seeing inside any of the homes after doing a drive-by my hungry Mountain Boy, always hungry dog and I left the office with a new mission.
To find a decent burger.
We did.  It was.
Before we left the mom and pop restaurant (that was filled with great food, huge wooden tables and chairs, local art work) I quickly snapped these pictures.................
We were sitting beside the window when these two young guys came peddling up to the restaurant.
I watched them as they easily smiled and talked to teach other, watched as they smiled at me when they walked in the door of the restaurant, and we smiled at each other again as all four of us left the restaurant at the same time at the end of our meals.
On the spur of the moment I asked the guys if I could snap their picture because I wanted to put it on my blog.
They happily obliged............
Downtown Darby.
A sweet little town with strong western roots and far enough away from Missoula to make it a viable possibility.
More information about this little town located half way down the valley
I know.  I know.
With all the possibilities for picture taking, I had to waste precious time taking pictures of a random dog patiently waiting for his human in the front seat of a car.
In truth we were on the move so much that I missed a million and ten better picture taking possibilities.
But I also liked this dog.............
The Welcome To Darby sign, located on the south side of town as we headed towards the small and isolated communities of Conner and Sula.............
A pathway containing bricks in remembrance of those who had served in America's many wars lined the route to the war memorial underneath the shelter.............
Darby Logger Days is a outdoor festival that is held every summer.
It is a huge festival that is a nod to the timber industry that has dominated the area for so many years, and it contains all of the usual suspects you would expect at these types of events (including wood chopping, wood carving, log rolling etc.).
A link to the event held in 2008:
We were blindly following our truck GPS.
Tom Tom has served us well all over the country.
My oldest son Sean bought him for us years ago and at the time I didn't know that we would be moving to Juneau, or that we would be spending the next few years wandering all over different parts of the country, but Tom has served us well.  And so we followed his instructions as he turned us off the two lane highway and onto this winding, snow filled country road.
As we continued to follow the river, and drive further and further away from civilization, the terrain looked and felt exactly like Alaska.
The cold and very clear river was to our right, and the pine tree and snow filled mountains got steeper, more rugged and more beautiful with every passing mile.
It was beautiful.  We were far away from civilization and people, and I was completely enamored............
After many miles of isolation, snow, mountains and river, our male GPS-voice blandly informed us that we had reached our destination.
Pulling over to the side of the road we looked across the highway and were instantly disappointed.
We had seen few homes during our journey and had passed many signs indicating trail heads and forest service buildings.  We were in straight-up national forest land.
And across the road from where we had parked the truck were three homes all within spitting distance of each other.
Crossing over the road, LC and I post-holed our way through the deep snow in the front yard, and wandered around the perimeter of the house.
Too close to other homes.  Too run down.  Too expensive for what it was.  No...............
As we crossed back over the road I reached into the truck, grabbed for my pup's leash, and she happily climbed out of the truck so that we could all wander along the side of the road a short way and explore.
All along the river were "no fishing" and "private property" signs, and since this had no hope of being "home" I looked beyond the signs and simply chose to enjoy the area.
It was beautiful.  It was stunningly, unspeakably beautiful and I looked around me feeling the comfort of the river, the hills, the mountains, the snow and the trees.............
On the way back towards the main highway I asked LC to pull the truck over so that I could take more pictures.
Our stops were brief.  We had places to go, places to see, and things to do. 
But for a few brief moments we took time to breathe and relax in nature...............

A fisherman casting a line alongside the shore by one of the pull offs where we..........pulled off............
Twenty minutes after taking the last of the above pictures we found ourselves heading up a mountain outside the tiny community of Sula, in search of a property we had seen online and were extremely curious about.
What we knew - that a large area at the top of the mountain had been divided into 1/2 acre lots, that the property all used to belong to the actor Dan Blocker (of the old TV show Bonanza), that there were a lot of homes crammed into the area, that there was a small log home that we could afford.
And so we climbed.
Not getting frustrated at our search because in reality this trip was purely for recon purposes.
What was the area like?  What were the towns like?  What were the people like?  What did the homes that we had found online (and that the real estate agent had found) look like?  Did this place hold any potential for us or not.
We wanted to find out in the few days that we had to visit.
We continued to climb and the snow continued to get deeper and deeper still.............
Less than a mile from the house I snapped this picture of a beautiful, rustic home and frozen river - both of which were deep in snow.............
My puppy unceremoniously tied to a front porch post of the empty cabin, as LC and I wandered around.
Yes it was a beautiful, pine tree and snow filled area.
Yes the homes were crammed in close together and yes the guy right next door was in the process of wildly overbuilding his home, making the cabin we were looking at appear even more crammed and small in comparison.
We had seen pictures of the inside and it was very rustic, comfortable except for very steep stairs leading to the only bedroom, and cute as could be.
We looked up and down the snow ploughed street that contained many homes and high snowbanks.
We looked at the huge house the guy next door was building on his small lot.
As LC slowly drove around the narrow, snow covered streets I searched through the sheets of paper I had in my hand, looking to see if there was anything else we wanted to see that day or if we were done.
There was one more.
Still up on the mountain and only a few streets away.
It was on a dead-end street and backed directly up against a mountain and forest service property.
As we slowly drove the narrow and winding mountain roads we found the sign that read "Dead End" and realized that this section of the road had not been ploughed.
It contained only a few homes, they were all empty, and we knew that they must all be summer homes.
We could see the house 1/8 of a mile down the road, looked at the snow doubtfully and headed down that way anyway, wondering just how deep the snow was.
By the time we reached the house, saw how much snow was covering both the buried driveway and buried front yard and began to turn the truck around, both LC and I knew that we should have left the truck back on the ploughed road and walked the rest of the way.
LC turned the wheels and suddenly we were stuck - the entire underside of the truck was buried in snow and we found ourselves going nowhere fast.
It took us almost 20 minutes of pushing, wheel turning, forward and reverse maneuvering, and snow removal around the underside and wheels of the truck before we finally broke free and could back all the way to the ploughed road.
Leaving James in the truck we did what we should have done the first time, which was walk to the house.
A manufactured home.  No outbuildings.  No front porch.  Looking through the windows no floor (only sub floor).
I liked it.  I liked where it was.  It was on a road where no other residents lived year 'round.  It was on a road that backed up to the mountains.
Why was there no floor?  It was priced OK but a little high.
The next day we found out that the hot water heater had broken at the house and ruined the floor, which explained the sub flooring.
It would be months before it was dry enough up there on the mountain to look under the place and see what kind of shape it was actually in after the mini-flood...............
The small community center located at the bottom of the mountain............
Adjacent to the small community center (and across the road from the tiniest post office building I have ever seen) was this make shift memorial................
It was late in the day by the time we headed back towards Hamilton further north up the valley.
It had been a very long day, we had seen more than a handful of homes, and even though both LC and I had been disappointed by some of the homes we had looked at, we both also had a good lay of the area.
We had some sense as to what this place was like and what it was about, and we HAD discovered some really beautiful places.
As we pulled into a gravel parking area briefly so that Jame could walk, I was deep in thought when LC broke the silence to say "look up there".
I followed his hand, looked up, and realized that we were being watched.
A small herd of deer, balancing surefootedly on top of the mountain had stopped grazing and were closely watching we surprising interlopers.
I snapped this picture quickly, knowing that they could disappear from site at any moment...............
Passing through Darby on the way back to the hotel..............
One day to travel down there, one day to look around, one day to travel back to Wyoming.
I had assumed that as we continued to travel further away from the Bitterroot and closer to Wyoming that the transition back to barren terrain where we live would be a jolt and an adjustment.
It wasn't.
LC loves the wide openess of Wyoming and so do I.  I like the terrain and love the lack of people.
It was a good trip.  Good to get away.  Good to see another part of the country.  Good to have questions about an area at least partially answered.
But only partially.
As with my entire life, there are only questions.  The answers never seem to come..............