[Part 4, the last in my Rocky Mountains series for 2020.]
The sportswriter Red Smith and his small son were fishing in the north woods long ago and would customarily break for lunch in a local tavern. At one point, Red’s son was wolfing down his sandwich and guzzling a Coke when he exclaimed, “Gee, Dad, this is the life, ain’t it? Fishing and eating in saloons!”
In the spirit of that youthful excitement, one well-aged father and his daughter motored from Yellowstone into Montana for some fishing and camping along the Gallatin River. The fishing was satisfactory near the forested campground, but it definitely improved on traveling up or downstream from Big Sky.
Bear activity had been noted at the camps, and warnings had been posted there, but we were pleased to have nailed down the final (and probably the quietest) tenting site available.
I wasn’t sleeping well, however. The night was eerily hushed. I heard a growl nearby, and a crashing sound as if a small tree had dropped across the gravel drive. I bolted upright from the sleeping bag and woke Alyssa from her dreams nearby. All food items had been wisely packed away, but I had foolishly hung a pair of wet fishing socks to dry on small branches just above our doorway.
Normally, the rankness of my footwear would have been a better grizzly deterrent than a can of premium bear spray. But 2020 had been nothing but unusual to this point, so I whispered to Alyssa that I was headed for the car. I’d grab those socks, bury them in a bag, and come back with our can of carnivore repellent.
The morning trout fed hungrily on midges and tiny Tricos hatching at the river seams. I found it maddening to miss their rises, but the early sun was pleasant and I stuck with one location till I changed my tactics– finally catching and releasing a hefty rainbow on a standard #12 Adams. We could now head eastward once again, with a couple of important stops in wild Wyoming.
I had wanted to fish the North Fork Shoshone since the days when I first observed it near the eastern gateway to Yellowstone… We grabbed the last available tenting site (again!) along the Shoshone in the Clearwater National Forest.
The place was semi-arid but mountain bright. The vast glides of quickly flowing water offered numerous wild trout, cutthroats and rainbows, rising to caddis and stonefly imitations. It was pleasant, and we hoped to return someday, if for no other reason than observing the incredible rock formations forged by fire, wind and water.
Paying our respects to the native cultures of the West, we traveled to the Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark located in the Big Horn Mountains. A gravel road took us to a parking lot near the summit of Medicine Mountain, ten-thousand feet above sea-level, and from there we hiked 1.5 miles to the cliffs and fissures of the sacred site.
The stone circle, 84 feet in diameter and centuries old, is a place for communion with the Great Spirit. As Black Elk said, “Everything the Power of the World does is in a circle.” And here our own summer journey found its round fruition. Vistas carried us back and forth along the paths of self-reflection. A flock of chestnut-collared longspurs (my third life-bird of the trip) lent its wings to my rambling thoughts above the Big Horn Basin.
We were coming home, but made one more significant stop– at Devils Tower (my second visit there, Alyssa’s first). We made a late-day, 2-mile walk around the structure, then obtained a final “last available tenting site” near the shadows of the rock.
Having set up our tent, we traveled to a restaurant/saloon and dined on the patio with its fine view of Devils Tower. I had a massive bourbon-burger and a local brew. Alyssa did the same but substituted a tasty vegan-burger for the meatier selection… Ah yes, “fishing and eating in saloons!” And later we would note what appeared to be a planet beaming on and off at the crest of the darkened Tower.
The light blinked slowly, off and on, as if Jupiter got obscured by passing clouds, or an alien ship was docking Hollywood-style at the top. It took us a while to realize that rock climbers had waited, by choice or necessity, for darkness to arrive before descending the mountain wall.
We travelers, though, required no light whatsoever to descend our own cliffs to the pillowed sanctity of sleep.