Bob and Monica's Westward Journey:  June 29th  

TOPIC: June 29th

== 1 of 2 ==
Date: Mon, Sep 22 2008 4:53 pm


The June 29th episode follows. A lot fewer statistics.

June 29th

Monica and I arose to a gorgeous day, ate a quick breakfast, and hit the road. By the 29th, we had become adept in our morning routine. We travel very well together. Monica is the boss, and that is that. Once I came to appreciate this little bit of reality, we were freed to move quickly as a team, conserving time for sights on the road.
I suppose we could have sought out the thermal springs, but there is too much development around them and there is nothing else in or around Thermopolis that grabs the attention. Besides, visions of snowcapped peaks danced in my head. I could see it clearly. The day would be a splendid mountain-fest: high summits, rushing streams, dizzying canyons, and soothing spruce-fir forests. It would be a soup to nuts menu of landscape delights, and I would be Monica’s enthusiastic guide, spouting altitudes, river lengths, and the like until warned off by a menacing stare.
I was looking especially forward to the forests that I knew we would encounter by midday. Approached from the high plains, the forests would appear on the mountainsides as wavering bands of mottled green suspended between an increasingly tilted landscape of sagebrush below and stern rock above. Once in the interior of a mountain kingdom, the green would be transformed into a continuous lush carpet, cloaking steep slopes down to streambeds, but giving way to barren cliffs and alpine vegetation near the high summits.

The domain ruled by the Wyoming forests is sparse and well-defined. It stands in sharp contrast to the ubiquitous forests of the East. Scarcity induces value. To the plains-weary traveler, the western variety of mountain woodlands adds visually attractive morsels to the scant grasslands that cover much of Wyoming. But irrespective to one’s tastes in natural scenery, there are disturbing distractions increasingly evident over the Wyoming landscape. Oil wells, deep gashes in the Earth to reclaim the black gold that feeds power plants, even long lines of more benign windmills, are all ugly intrusions into a country that was meant to be ruled by sunlight, wind, and storm.

As we headed west, we planned to end the day in the vicinity of Jackson, Wyoming. Camping was a possibility, but a motel more likely. Besides, the following day we would be in Pocatello, Idaho where we would be comfortably ensconced at my daughter’s and son-in-law’s home for two and a half weeks. But as we left Thermopolis, my attention was on more immediate objectives. I wanted to reach Riverton as fast as possible, and then turn northwest onto U.S. 287 into what would be new territory for Monica. We would aim for Dubois and the scenic Togwotee Pass beyond. Near the pass, we would be slicing our way through the mighty Wind Rivers and those silent volcanic sentinels, the Absorakas. I would be presented with an opportunity to divulge more juicy statistics for Monica’s consideration. I was thinking of an acceptable venue to sneak in some all important numbers, which brings me to a brief digression on Wyoming’s spectacular terrain.

Crossing Wyoming by automobile from any direction involves both passing between and across mountain ranges. Sometimes the distance between ranges seems so vast, such as in southern Wyoming, that calling the region the Rockies seems misnamed. In other locations, northwestern Wyoming to name a place, mountain ranges are set one against the other with the traveler never sure of when a transition has been made: when one range has been exited and another entered. However, geologists are still sorting out the history of the landforms. It can be exciting to study landforms and contemplate the tectonic forces that dwarf human activity.

In the expanse of Wyoming’s high plains, the snowcapped summits of a mountain range will first appear on the horizon as ghostly lines of blue punctuated by spots of white. The significance of the horizon’s undulating form is clear only to an experienced traveler, but as the wavering blue is approached and grows dramatically as a land feature, attention is demanded – or at least it would have been to the pioneers. Driving a team of stout oxen, I can imagine the dread of the uninitiated. Would the looming form have to be crossed? Would there be wild canyon with no way through? Would there be dizzying precipices to fall over?

For today’s traveler, no such apprehension need be felt. The good side of modern technology frees us to enjoy beckoning landscapes in complete comfort. One can become lost in the beauty of the landforms without actually getting lost in those landforms. One can sense the changing forms as an artistic abstraction. For me, it is the pleasing alternation between high plains and mountain majesty that so attracts me to the Cowboy State. In Wyoming, the traveler need never feel trapped by one kind of terrain. One simply needs to be aware of what lies along a chosen route. But alas, the wealth of Wyoming landforms is lost to so many travelers – the destination to destination types with no attention paid to the in-betweens. A traveler may have heard of the Grand Tetons, but no nothing of the other ranges - lumping them all under the broad generic of the Rockies. Still others can become confused and think that local range names reflect different mountains, i.e. mountains not part of the Rocky Mountain chain.

A closer examination of Wyoming’s mountains reveals five major ranges and a dozen or so minor ones – with allowance for disagreement on what one labels a major versus minor range. By my reckoning, the Grand Tetons, Wind Rivers, Absorakas, Big Horns, and Laramie are the major ranges. The more important of the minor ranges include the Medicine Bow, Snake River, Salt River, Wyoming, Washakie, Gros Ventre, Sierra Madre, Black Hills, and Gallatin. The Pryor, Bridger, Owl Creek, Seminoe, and Rattlesnake Ranges represent some of the even lesser known minor ranges that travelers typically bypass on the way to somewhere else.

On the 29th, our route took us along the Bighorn River and into the scenic Wind River Canyon, before reaching the small Indian town of Shoshoni and larger Riverton beyond. Monica had seen the Wind River Canyon a couple of years ago. It is a feast for the eyes, but unfortunately, it is traveled at high speed by most motorists. Most truckers I observe speeding through the canyon as part of a routine would likely be hard pressed to recall a single feature of the surrounding landscape – a perpetual insult in my way of viewing things. The passage is too easy, but that would not have been true in times past.

In places, Wind River Canyon is 2,500 feet deep and well-designed geological plaques advise the traveler of their time travel from one geological era of the Earth’s formation to another. The record is preserved in rock strata to be read by those with the skills to decode the events.  An interesting fact when traveling into Wind River Canyon is the point reached which is called the changing of the waters. The Big Horn River emerges from the Wind River Canyon. While in the canyon, it is still named the Wind River. It is the only river to undergo a name change in midcourse, a fact not lost to me. When thinking about a geological feature, I like to know the origin of its name and what it represented to past human inhabitants. In terms of Wind River to Big Horn, I’m unsure of the history of the name change – a research topic for the future.

As we turned northwest out of Riverton, I knew the Wind River would thread us to between the Wind River Mountains to the south and the Absorakas to the north and it would be through open country. After Riverton, towns are scarce, Dubois being the only one and a worthy one at that. Dubois is an attractive little town with a unique naming history. According to Wikipeda, the town underwent a name change.

“Dubois, Wyoming was originally known as Never Sweat due to its warm and dry winds. However, the postal service found the name Never Sweat unacceptable so Dubois was accepted, named after Fred Dubois, an Idaho senator at the time. In protest, the citizens of Dubois rejected the French pronunciation, instead opting for Du with u as in Sue; bois, as oi in voice. The accent is on the first syllable.”

I find this name change both fascinating and funny. However, another account ascribes the name Never Sweat to the lazy disposition of the town’s residents. Regardless, why name a town after a politician from a different state? I do understand the Postal Service’s reluctance to retain the name “Never Sweat”, but changing it to an Idaho politician? Well, guess who was on the Postal Committee at the time of the name change. That is correct, Senator Dubois from Idaho. Love those politicians.

As for my tastes, I would have preferred a more appropriate name like Wind River City. The Wind River does flow through Dubois and the town lies at the foot of the magnificent Wind River Mountains. Oh well, what’s in a name?
As we passed through Dubois, we noticed a museum dedicated to the bighorn sheep named the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center. We stopped for a visit and found the little museum to be delightful. It had excellent displays of the different species of mountain sheep to include a species from the southern end of Rockies and one from Alaska. I should also point out that Dubois is located near the nationally famous Whisky Mountain Bighorn Sheep herd that once numbered over 1,400 individuals. However, the herd was in serious decline around 1991 due to an unknown factor. After failed attempts to reverse the decline, coyote predation of the lambs was identified as the main reason for the population crash. It took a number of years research to establish the cause of the problem. The herd appears to be on the rebound with the control of the coyote population.

As we headed west from Dubois, I was struck by the beauty of the Wind Rivers rising just to the south and paralleling our toute. It is ideal country to me. The basin in which Dubois sets becomes narrower as you travel westward, becoming walled in by the Absorakas to the north and Wind Rivers to the south. The landscape is shaped like a huge letter V laid on its side, with the vertex of the V at the west end. The two mountain ranges form a pincer like grip and converge at Togwotee Pass. But it was shortly after leaving Dubois that I came to fully appreciate the nature of the landscape, its exquisite blend of plains in a broad mountain valley, and of course, the mountains.
Dubois sets at between 6,900 and 7,000 feet altitude. It has a moderately severe winter climate as my last trip report indicated with an average annual temperature of 39.7 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature in Dubois has been as low as 49 degrees below zero and its all time high of 100 is not that extreme, especially considering the dryness of the climate. Dubois averages only 9.5 inches of precipitation annually, which qualifies it technically for desert status. Little precipitation falls in winter, so the snow load is light. One could find a far worse place to settle, but actually, it is more than that.

I struggle to find the right words to convey my affection for the landforms that are so pleasingly represented around Dubois. The Wind River Mountains rise fairly gently from the south. A mix of sagebrush and grasses adorn the lower slopes, slopes that grow ever steeper until sufficient altitude is attained to support a thin distribution of trees. With more altitude the tree cover grows thicker and eventually dominates, first in the wetter ravines and then along the length of the ridge. Trees may cover the summits, but usually surrender to the rock gods, two-thirds to three-quarters of the way up the slopes. From a distance, the mountains look accessible, even friendly: one can discern pathways following the spine of a ridge that retain grassy coverings and invite the hiker to experience unobstructed views. However, as seen from the base of the mountains, the country is deceptive. In a horizontal distance of a few miles into the mountain interior, the terrain becomes harsher. Beauty to the eye is guaranteed, but the spectacle comes at a price. The Wind River Mountains are incredibly rugged. Eventually, one must surmount the Wind River’s 13,000-foot snow-clad summits, home to the largest glaciers in the entire Rocky Mountain chain south of Canada. Names like Mammoth Glacier speak volumes. No wonder people who have grown up dreaming of the Wind Rivers find their high country like no place on Earth.

As Monica and I neared 9,658-foot Togwotee Pass, we spotted a side road to Brooks Lake and on the spur of the moment decided to take the road. The lake lies at an altitude of 9,048 feet and is nestled beneath the scenic Palisades that rise precipitously to wall in the lake. To the northeast, the Pinnacles abruptly rise to an altitude of 11,516 feet. The summits of both the Palisades and Pinnacles lie well above timberline in this especially beautiful area of the Absoraka-Wind River juxtaposition.

As we neared Brooks Lake, we found a likely picnic spot in full view of the Palisades and the Pinnacles, and stopped in a grassy spot near a snowfield. Before eating, we took a leisurely stroll around part of the shore gazing at deep blue water against the remnants of lava formations from the formation of those most mysterious of Wyoming mountains, the Absorakas. On return from our walk, I could not resist frolicking in the snowdrift as Monica understandingly prepared our lunch. Little boys will be little boys and Monica knew she had one in me.
On leaving Brooks Lake, I think both of us shared the notion of a return one day to camp and explore this remarkable region. The only negative from my viewpoint is the return of the Grizzly. Warning signs are everywhere evident and hikers are cautioned to carry bells or other noise makers. Pepper spray is also recommended. I do admire that great beast; just not in my backyard. Nonetheless, I would return to camp at Brooks Lake and maybe climb up into the realm of the mountain gods on the Pinnacles.

At Togwotee Pass, I struggled to recall the origin of the name. Subsequent research reminded me that Togwotee was a feared medicine man of the Sheep Eater tribe of the Northern Shoshone. Togwotee was a sub-chief to the greatest of all Shoshone chiefs, Washakie. According to my research, the Sheep Eaters lived in the high country around what is now Yellowstone National Park. They were true mountain Indians. The following quote from the Shoshone Reservation archives describes the life style attributed to the tribe.

“They stayed up there in the mountains. They did not go among the Plains Indian buffalo eaters. They used dogs for packing and watching their packhorses. They used snowshoes and could run and jump between cliffs with these. It was a hard life in the mountains. In the fall they would come down to the foot of the mountains. They did not like to dance or anything like that, they just looked for their food. They were clean people.”

I find this description of the Sheep Eaters compelling. I am unaware of any other tribe that mastered mountain living so thoroughly and lived such isolated lives. Their training from youth must have been rigorous and singularly focused for them to develop skills like no others. I am anxious to learn more, if the information exists, about this branch of the Northern Shoshone. I intend to find a worthy pine in the Elders Grove of Mohawk Trail State Forest to name the Togowtee Pine.

Passing beyond Togwotee Pass about nine miles, one reaches the point where the country suddenly opens up to the west and presents the traveler with a breathtaking view of Jackson Hole and the Tetons beyond. Even for travelers who do not know a single fact about the Tetons, the view of them is so striking as to illicit gasps. It is a scene unlike any of the previous mountain panoramas on that east to west corridor. I will save a full description of the Tetons for a later chapter of the trip chronicles. Suffice it to say here that they are incomparable, and from the moment I first saw them, the image of their long line of rugged, sky-piercing peaks impressed itself on me. In my prior home in Holyoke, two walls of my bedroom were devoted to murals of the Tetons. A second mural covered a wall in the upstairs passageway to the third floor. In addition a large painting of the Grand Teton hung that the midpoint of the stairs going from the downstairs to the second floor. In those days, the Tetons were never far from my mind – nor are they today.

Passing through Jackson Hole and toward the town of Jackson, Monica and I sensed that the motel prices would be higher than the pinnacles of the surrounding Tetons. The towns of western Wyoming and Jackson in particular have entered the era of catering to richer people who expect to pay city prices. At the south end of Jackson Hole, Jackson is now a shee-shee town, admittedly attractively constructed, but devoid of any real resemblance to a western town. Jackson favors international visitors and features lots of touristy attractions that detract from the surrounding mountain glory, but hold the attention of the spoiled financially well to do. Fortunately, the Tetons are majestic, almost overpowering. They have such a dominating presence that they have survived the current level of human encroachment. So, with dollar signs in our eyes, fearing a royal fleecing, we decided to continue on southward toward the small town of Alpine, Wyoming. I think it was a good decision.

As we drove south, we passed through the Grand Canyon of the Snake River, not to be confused with Hell’s Canyon on the Idaho-Oregon border that is also known as the Grand Canyon of the Snake. The former canyon is also called just the Snake River Canyon. It is highly scenic, but the road through it is close to the bottom, near the Snake River, so one never gets a feeling for the verticality of the canyon. I noticed high peaks with areas above timberline and guessed the mountains to attain elevations over 10,000 feet. That is in fact the case. Basically, the Snake River cuts through what is called the Snake River Range to the north and the Salt River Range to the south. It is a name change without a distinction. It is all the same mountain range.

The big attraction of the Snake River Canyon is white water rafting. The canyon’s proponents number among those gallant warriors of rapid waters who have little time to learn about the surrounding landforms, their names, characteristics, or origins. The rafters’ task is to stay afloat, drinking as little river water as possible on each crashing journey through the spray, as their crafts leap and lurch over and around rocks the size of Volkswagens. It is a sport I respect, but have not been motivated to take up. One aspect of the sport for which I am thankful is that unlike mountain skiing at sky resorts, pristine terrain does not have to be trashed for the pleasure of speed freaks and thrill seekers. I may not make any friends with this statement, but that is the way I feel.

Once through the Snake River Canyon, we homed in on the little town of Alpine, which lies in about as idyllic a setting as one could ask. Alpine has little of the ostentatious development of Jackson. For most, it is a convenient stopping point on a journey, but the proprietors of nightly accommodations had been schooled in the art of pricing for the summer months, riding in on the coattails of Jackson. However, road weariness has a way of wearing down one’s resolve to sleep cheaply. We paid our $129 for a modest, but well-decorated room, ate a scrumptious meal at the adjoining restaurant and forked over another bundle. We agreed that we would not splurge often, but would rather do it in Alpine than Jackson.

After checking in, I asked the proprietor about the mountains just beyond the motel to the north and west. A dramatic uplift began less than half a mile away from the motel. It was the Snake River Range, but the woman at the desk had no statistics to lay on me, nor did she know the name of the range. Though a long time resident, she had not absorbed even the names of the nearby landforms, to say nothing of their cultural history, or hidden scenic secrets. However, she seemed to genuinely appreciate her mountains in some aggregate context - appreciation at a distance- a kind of nature as a living wallpaper, but that is far preferable to no appreciation at all. I recognized that I would have to find my facts about the Snake River Range elsewhere. For that point in time, a soft bed was enough for both Monica and me, enjoyed in the coolness of a Wyoming summer night.

== 2 of 2 ==
Date: Mon, Sep 22 2008 9:31 pm

What a grand journey you and Monica took! You're narrative is sufficiently descriptive, photos are not needed!

Nonetheless, I thought I'd attach some family photos that were taken in Wyoming around the turn of the century, one taken at the entrance to the Thermopolis Hot Springs, and the other of the Wild Bill Cody Show...I promise not to mention that I had been one of those thrill seekers who went down the Snake Rivers on a raft (in my defense it was for official R & R between 2 two-week stints fighting fires there in the late 80's)...;>}

TOPIC: June 29th
== 2 of 6 ==
Date: Tues, Sep 23 2008 5:15 am


Thanks and thanks for the old images. They often tell a story of struggle, hardship, and perseverance - pioneer qualities.
Wyoming is an unforgiving landscape. Despite my usualt tone, I'm thankful for modern conveniences and the opportunity to enjoy places that would have been hell to get through or live in in pioneer times. I just hate to see a great land compromised by too much western-styled civilization. Fortunately, most Wyoming towns still pride themselves on their western roots and are pretty much the real deal.
The next chapter will see us crossing into Idaho, a state that I came to like far beyond my original expectations. Pocatello is a very friendly place - just the right size. It will grow and gradually be transformed into what one encounteres in the greater Salt Lake City region of Utah, but for at least another couple of decades, Pocatello would be a great place to live. More on that in due course.


== 5 of 6 ==
Date: Tues, Sep 23 2008 12:42 pm

You're right on with regard to the daily life of the Wyoming mom was born in a one room cabin that my grandmother homesteaded near Landers, Wyoming. My grandmother taught school in a one room school house (K-8), and her diary/journal records daily events that would astound today's homemaker...EVERYTHING took longer, was done from scratch, going to town to purchase merchandise was an all day trip, and social events took days of preparation. Methinks modern folks take too much for granted...

== 6 of 6 ==
Date: Tues, Sep 23 2008 12:59 pm


With respect to your last statement, I imagine there is near unanimous agreement among the members of this list. I had no idea your Wyoming roots ran so deep.


TOPIC: June 29th

== 1 of 2 ==
Date: Wed, Sep 24 2008 7:55 am
From: Larry

Bob, Excellent writing! Every time I read your stories I feel as
though I'm right beside you. I'll be traveling to Colorado in mid Oct.
15-29. The Spanish Peaks near Aguliar, and Lake Trinidad will be my
destination. I'm hunting Elk this year with a friend who has property
their and look forward to the adventure. Man the Rockies are so
Awesome! I should get some great Photos and will make sure I measure
some Western stuff. I remember on my last visit in 2000 large
Ponderosa Pine, large Cottonwood, Pinyon Pine and those Old Growth
Cedars. On the small foothills of the Spanish Peaks East the trees
look so weathered. Some must be very old, I'll have study up on my my
Western Trees again for as you know they are much different than what
I'm familiar with. Anyway I should get some good stuff. Larry

== 2 of 2 ==
Date: Wed, Sep 24 2008 9:50 am


Thanks. In the mid-1980s I climbed West Spansh Peak. What an awesome view from the summit. East Spanish Peak and West Spanish Peak were called the "Breasts of the World" by Indians. The Utes supposedly thought them to be the abode of angry gods and avoided them. The peaks abruptly rise 6,000 feet above the surrounding plains. I think they are one of Colorado's greatest scenic resources. Thei igneous origin gives geologists plenty to study - such as the Devil's Backbone. Great place.