My Corner of Wyoming

Our return visit to Alpine, Wyoming was a good one. We joked about retiring to this village, if we could afford its balanced charm– its small size, the hub of three rivers, with fly shop, comfortable motel, saloons, and crazy red-white-and blue eatery, not to mention its fantastic mountain scenery. For about a year, I’ve been dreaming to fish the Greys River nearby, and was glad to find that the river road, closed for months because of a landslide during the winter, was reopened and ready for exploration.

Due to mountain run-off, the Greys was flowing high at 1350 cfs, and certainly wasn’t wade-able, but it didn’t take long for me to achieve my goal of catching and releasing the beautiful and gutsy Snake River fine-spotted cutthroats here. The Greys River flows for 50 miles or more through the Bridger National Forest. I caught my first small cutthroats on one of its rapid little feeder streams, and then in the heavier water of the delightful Greys, I hooked and landed an 18-inch fine-spotted that took a conehead Muddler Minnow. I was on my way.

The forests and snow-capped mountains above the Greys took the colors of cutthroat trout by their subtle light-orange fins and raised them into the sublime. Every landscape seemed buoyant. The western tanagers flew above the riverbanks and added their own brand of color to the place. Gentians, gilia, and lupines starred the meadows near the road.

And what can one say about the neighboring Grand Tetons National Park? You’ve seen pictures of those towering peaks, now try to imagine walking in among them, away from the crowds, on a clear and comfortable summer day… The Snake River, the very life-blood of the Tetons, captured our imaginations, too. Bald eagles chased an osprey carrying a trout over the river and eventually succeeded in robbing the smaller bird when the trout was dropped and then snatched up quickly by a feathered interloper. Down below, among the grasses of the riverbank, a family of otters cavorted and did not seem overly concerned by a small party of kayakers passing by.

We had a camp-site on the Gros Ventres River near the park. I fished unsuccessfully for cutthroats on this water pouring off the mountains, high with spring run-off. I had better luck on the Snake, itself, below the big dam inside the park. I fooled another nice fine-spotted cutt (with a streamer) and quickly released it. Earlier, my wife and I had enjoyed a beautiful walk to Leigh Lake, directly under the majestic peaks of Moran and Grand Teton.

bull moose along the Gros Ventres…

If that wasn’t enough, the next morning I saw my first timber wolf while traveling up the road to Yellowstone. I’d seen a large animal cross the highway ahead of the car that we were following. The car moved on but we slowed down long enough for me to turn and look into the woods. There, some 30 feet from the road, a beautiful wolf, colored something like the hackle of an Adams dry fly, looked me squarely in the eye, and man, I was ready for the national park!

Leigh Lake, Grand Tetons…

We snatched what might have been the last available camp-site in the park, at Pebble Creek, 10 miles from the Cooke City entrance, and got serious with wildlife observations. Bison, of course, were everywhere. The trout fishing on Soda Butte and Pebble Creek was poor because of run-off, so on our second day in Yellowstone I elected to try the Firehole River (70 degree, or 200-degree water, depending on where you thrust your toes) and found it lots of fun for rainbows rising to a dry fly. The Gibbon River, too, was productive as long as I stayed clear of its steaming sulphur springs.

a Tetons meadow near the cabin of the late naturalist, Sigord Olson…

We were lucky to see a second wolf on this visit– a black-phased female on the Lamar, not pleased by the fact that a line of tourists on the highway prevented her from crossing to her den beyond. When a warden informed us of the problem, we got out of there quickly, and in time to see our second grizzly bear of the season, this one prowling along the Gibbon River.

a female black-phase timber wolf, Lamar River valley…

One of my favorite sights of the day involved a big bull bison that we watched as I stood fishing in the Firehole. The old fellow meandered slowly up the highway by the river, lumbering along at a bison’s summer pace, replete with irritating flies, and forced a long line of automobiles and RVs (intent on reaching Old Faithful before its “scheduled” eruption) to stop. To stop cold in the summer heat. To wait until he was good and damn ready to move off the road. A few impatient vehicles tried to slip by him but he figuratively flipped them off by shaking his massive head while stomping on the road.

last leg of a bison, Lamar River…

Meanwhile, Leighanne sat and chuckled in her roadside chair, and I found another rising trout to cast to near the boulders of the river.

Soon– Montana.

Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat, Greys…

western tanager, Greys River…

Grizzly, our second of the day, Gibbon River…

Grand Teton…

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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24 Responses to My Corner of Wyoming

  1. I spent a good part of my younger years fishing in those waters and being amazed at the beautiful scenery! How wonderful it is to read this post and see the spectacular landscape of Wyoming again. I’m happy to know that one of my favorite people got a chance to take it all in and write about it. Thanks Walt!

    • Thank you very much, Howard. I certainly enjoyed traveling through your neck of the rocky woods, and envy what must be a great bank of memories that you garnered from its beautiful streams and rivers.

  2. Bob Stanton says:

    Wow! Beautiful pics and congrats on the wolf sightings. Out of curiosity, how many subspecies of cutthroat have you caught during your excursions over the years? Somewhat unrelated but…as I’d mentioned before, I think, that I’d never actually laid eyes on a Yellow-billed Cuckoo despite frequently hearing them. Until the other morning, when I took the Tenkara rod for a stroll – a half dozen or so, moving through the trees, picking off caterpillars! Doesn’t take much to get me excited.

    • Thanks Bob. Let’s see, of the remaining dozen or so subspecies of cutthroat, this easterner has caught (over the years) the Colorado River, Greenback, Rio Grande, Snake River Fine-spotted, Westslope, and Yellowstone… Hopefully someday I will add another of these beauties. As for the cuckoos, that’s an unusual sighting, especially in a flock like that. I don’t think I’ve seen any yet this year. Maybe you’ve got more caterpillars over your way, as well. Not too many here, as yet. Keep me posted on your Tenkara progress!

  3. angus48 says:

    Reblogged this on Angus48's Blog and commented:

  4. Stellar post! Wyoming’s treasures are amazing to see. I’ve only been there twice, but long to get back again…

  5. Brent says:

    First off, I wasn’t aware that any cutt species grew as big as 18 inches–or is that a large outlier? Also, I’m more than a bit jealous. You hit the absolute jackpot in terms of animal sightings, getting just about all of the “charismatic megafauna” of the region, even the rarely seen ones. Not to mention a gorgeous snowpack in the Tetons!

    • Brent, we were more than lucky with the wildlife sightings this time around. A lot of it felt like being in a good place at a very convenient moment just by circumstance, but then again it took some planning, too. Some of the cutthroat sub-species can grow to significant sizes, given the right circumstances– the Lahontan record is, I think, 40 some pounds, but under ideal conditions, a few of the subspecies will top out at around 20-24 inches. We’ve still got a few more critter photos to share and some different kinds of landscape to boot. Consider them previews of another visit of your own someday!

  6. plaidcamper says:

    Spectacular! Big bears, wolves, bright birds, and the old bison taking his time in the heat of summer – this corner of Wyoming delivered. Beautiful photography, especially the fish, and I love the milky skies over mountain shots, very western and I can feel the summer heat.
    Wonderful post, Walt, and Montana still to come. What a trip!

    • Thanks Plaid, I’m glad that it all comes through for you. Yeah I really liked the mountain sky vistas; the weather was beautiful despite the dry heat of full-bore summer. The variety of outdoor experience was a real treat for us!

  7. Rocky Road says:

    Traveling all over, and the only place we both want to be is Wyoming!! It stole both our hearts!! I hope to make a home there in the near future… didn’t get to Alpine, but next time I’ll make sure we do ❤️❤️❤️

  8. Walt
    This post brings back memories of my wife and I trip to Yellowstone, September 19th 2015—–regrettable I didn’t get to fish, it was all sightseeing. I wish we could have seen and fished some of the areas you guys have shown here, especially the Tetons splendor. There was a huge snow storm expected in the mountains the day we left. In fact some of the shops in the park were getting ready to close their doors that week. Wonderful post thanks for sharing

    • Glad this brings back some good memories for you, Bill, and maybe you’ll have the chance to fish there someday, as well. Yes the weather in the area can be kind of unpredictable in September. I remember on our first visit to the Tetons years ago, snow began to fall as we were heading back up to Yellowstone– in August!

  9. Anonymous says:

    rivertoprambles, thanks so much for the post.Really thank you! Great.

  10. JZ says:

    A wonderful place to hide away and enjoy nature Walt. Certain places seem to carry magic that stirs. Wyoming & Montana are that kind of state, where escapes into the wilderness become surreal and views are spectacular. Especially if your a Yankee like myself, laugh. That wolf sighting and picture glimpse is amazing. That Westslope trout in the picture has length and shoulders. Enjoy the sights and sounds Walt that decorate the landscape…

  11. Thank you much, JZ. You’re right about that magic found in wild places like this, but we get what we put into it (at least), and with a little effort, and luck, we might come away with some real eye and soul openers. Pictured are the fine-spotted of the Snake watershed, a little different than the Westslope, but they’re all cool when they meet you in the hand.

  12. Bob says:

    What A trip! I read this late as I just got back to Pittsburgh from the Bighorn at Fort Smith Montana. I hope it’s not too late to tell you the tricos are hatching and really bringing the trout up!

    • Thank you, Bob. I’m glad you had a fine experience with MT’s Bighorn trico hatch. Big fish on a tiny fly like that are challenging and exciting, to boot! And fun to dream backward or forward to….I didn’t fish the Big Horn, but the Big Horn Mountains figure in my next posting here.

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