Heading down the back side of the pass, we found more wide open terrain, more views of close and distant mountains, and more narrow dirt road on a slow down grade.
By this time I found myself being surprised that we had seen no wild life.
None at all.
How could we be deep in the mountains and have seen no wild life?
There were periodic signs warning that we were in bear country.
We knew that hunters wandered this area each fall, so certainly there was deer, elk, possibly moose.
But we saw no wild life at all throughout the duration of our beautiful trip.
The funny thing about that is that I went for a mountain bike ride on BLM land in back of the house a few days ago.
It was hot, even late in the day, so I only rode about 6 miles on dusty, cement-hard trails, but in that short time I saw four antelope, three deer, rabbits and a hawk..................
Within only a few minutes of landing at the bottom of the pass we found ourselves on flat ground surrounded by abundant hard woods.
But looking ahead of me, I realized that we would quickly be hitting one more pass.
This pass would be different from the previous climb that we had just completed...............
And just like that............one minute we were surrounded by wide open, sage brush filled land, and the next moment we were climbing onto what would turn out to be a very steep pass.
In the blink of an eye we were moving into an alpine environment.
Sage moved to grass. Gnarly cedar trees moved to tall pine trees.
Muted and fading green of increasingly parched land moved into all the bright green colors that told me this mountain saw abundant snow in the winter, and more than adequate rain through the summer....................
The mountain that we now unexpectedly found ourselves driving continued to climb.
Steep road turned into steeper road.
Predictable and solid mountain trail turned into.................something a little scary actually.
So scary that when LC tried to slow the Tahoe down so that I could take pictures, I told him to go ahead.
I would take pictures when we reached the top.
The road turned into a very narrow, switchback and tight-bend filled, rocky, loose gravel trail.
Trees on both sides of us turned into trail with steep drop-offs to our right.
We continued to climb and then climb some more, four wheeling our way over heavily rocky sections, staying close to the left side of the trail so as to keep our distance from the drop-offs to our right, gingerly maneuvering the truck around sharp bends.
It was beautiful. It was very beautiful but both LC and I guardedly enjoyed the sites around us while also staying focused on getting to the top of this pass safely.
Right around the time I was consciously grateful that we had not met any on-coming vehicles (because the road was too narrow for two vehicles to pass each other and we had not seen a place to pull over in a long time), we look up ahead of us and saw a huge red truck coming our way.
We both stopped.
LC started to carefully back up, but the truck had found a small area to pull over and waved us forward.
By the time we reached the truck I realized that it had Montana plates.
The young man and woman inside the cab had eyes that looked like deer in the headlights.
It was their first trip onto this pass (welcome to the club) and they had not expected to find this road in this condition any more than we had.
As LC and the driver of the truck exchanged info about what lay up ahead in each direction, I was very glad to hear that once we reached the top of the pass it would open up again into something more predictable and open.
As we headed on our way again I looked over at LC.
We had both thinking the same thing.
We would MUCH rather be climbing up this pass than be doing what that red truck would now be doing (trying to hold the truck back on steep downhills that contained loose dirt, steep drop-offs and sharp, narrow bends in the road)...................
With much relief, we finally reached the top of the pass.
As we all three climbed out of the truck I first looked to my left.
The terrain was incredibly beautiful, and when I surveyed the road to come, I gratefully saw that it was a whole different ball game than what we had just muddled our way through.
And then I turned, walked behind the Tahoe and around to the right, and when I looked out, I found myself looking out over the entire world...................
We had been out in the beautiful mountains for many hours by this time, but as I stood at the top of what a sign at the peak told us was Antelope Pass, I was in complete awe of this place.
Without realizing it through all these hours, we had cluelessly been wandering around in the mountains all the while to reach this one monumental goal.................
Hanging on tightly to my pup, I looked over at her and smiled.
She was happy wherever she was.
Whether she was sniffing the ground across the road from the house, or whether she was sniffing the grass at the peak of Antelope Pass, my dog was a happy dog.
They are such simple, uncomplicated, wonderful, loving creatures...................
Less simple and more complicated, but still wonderful and loving...................
We stayed for a while (but not a long while) at the peak of Antelope, grabbed a quick drink and a few cookies, and loaded back into the truck intent of getting out of the mountains.
We had been driving and stopping and photographing and eating and exploring for well over six hours, and quite honestly were not exactly certain where we were.
From the mountains in the distance that we recognized, we knew that we were somewhere between Arco and Mackay but literally had no idea where this road that we were now on, was going to come out.
We had been wandering for so long on roads that were totally unknown to us, and even though we still had plenty of daylight left, both LC and I recognized that what we had done was not really a good idea.
We had plenty of gear with us, but there were things we did not have - maps, enough water to get through a night, medications, sleeping bags.
And (because we had no idea where we were), nobody else had any idea where we were either.
We weren't hundreds of miles from nowhere and we knew that, but we were still in the mountains.
Enough commiserating about poor decisions - we were OK and it was time to move it along...................
By this time in early evening, the light was completely wonderful, and I snapped these pictures while on the move.
Within a couple of minutes of leaving the pass and beginning our descent out of the mountains I looked over at LC and asked him "what's that noise"?
A minute later our quiet Tahoe suddenly sounded like a tank.
Two pieces of the tailpipe had rusted out where they came together, had come apart while maneuvering over rocky and rutted out trail while climbing the pass, and we were now driving a very very noisy vehicle.
It was all good. It was a tailpipe. We could handle a tail pipe.................
As we were making our long, slow descent we unexpectedly saw a Subaru parked right in the middle of the trail up ahead of us.
Stopping to see what the problem was, LC climbed out of the Tahoe and walked up to the young, apparently stranded adventurer.
As they talked I looked the Subaru over.
One wheel was pointing straight ahead. One wheel was pointed in. Even to the mechanically untutored such as myself, it was obvious that was a problem.
The back wheels had chains on them.
Chains on them.
Why were chains on wheels during the summer?
They talked for quite a while and finally LC wandered back to the Tahoe.
None of what the kid told LC made sense. He had been broken down since the day before, so had been out there for at least 24 hours.
Forestry Service knew that he was there.
He was fixing his transmission and thought he had it, so did not need help.
He was taking a short cut to Hailey Idaho.
This wasn't a short cut to Hailey.
What about the wheels pointed in different directions? What was the deal with the chains?
LC had no idea.
None of it made sense.
So OK..............moving on...................
Five minutes later we ran into two dirt bikers who wanted to know if we were carrying any gas, because they were out.
They had been riding in the mountains, misjudged the distances, and run out of gas.
We did not have a gas can with us, but offered to give one of them a ride into town.
We offered to stop at the Forest Service office in Mackay, let them know that two bikers were stranded in the mountains, and have THEM bring gas out to the riders.
We asked if they had cell phone service. They did.
Finally, the guys said that they would just wait around and see if anyone else drove by who might be carrying extra gas.
So OK...........moving on.................
Cute little calf standing in the middle of the road staring at us.
We had seen cows a mile of so back, but this little guy was standing in the middle of nowhere all alone, and as we slowly drove by him I found myself wishing that he would safely find his way back to his momma.............
Continuing our slow decent....................
Time seems to go by really slowly when you are driving and not exactly certain where you are headed.
At a fork in the road we picked the right fork, but with no road signs and with no map, our decision was strictly akin to a flip of a coin.
But by the time we reached this point in the picture below though, we knew where we were.
For all the hours of driving and exploring that we had just done, we were coming out close to Moore.
Only about 10 miles from our starting point earlier that morning..................
Final push down the mountain.....................
It had been an extraordinary day filled with the unknown, filled with adventure and filled with endless hours of endless mountains.
Tired (but still on an adventure high) we stopped in Arco briefly to get our tail pipe welded.
We had a quiet drive home........................
As you sit on the hillside, or lie prone under the trees of the forest, or sprawl wet-legged by a mountain stream, the great door, that does not look like a door, opens..................Stephen Graham