“Fishing and Eating in Saloons”

[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.

Slowly, a welcome rest returned to old Montana.

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.

North Fork Shoshone

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.

Eating? Ah, the pretzels & mustard were great…

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.

Devils 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.

Alyssa at the far end of the spur…

the Big Horn Basin…

toward the Medicine Wheel…

the “Old City of Jerusalem” rock formation, North Fork Shoshone…




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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18 Responses to “Fishing and Eating in Saloons”

  1. Don T says:

    Quite the adventure. Memories for life. Especially like the thought of fishing and eating in saloons!

    Welcome home.

  2. UB says:

    What a trip! Thank you for sharing it with all of us Walt! Just great scenery and pictures capturing much of the beauty of the area. Certainly looked like there was more water there than in the local region. Again, thanks for sharing your great adventures with us. UB

    • You’re welcome, UB, and thanks for that. It soon became obvious to us that in most places where we stopped to fish & camp there was more water available than back home in the East. The mountain run off had only recently finished, and that was good.

  3. plaidcamper says:

    Wonderful stories, Walt! In a tent, hearing the tread of a large something and your bear spray is in the vehicle? Yup, you’re not going to fall asleep anytime soon, no matter how rank the socks are! I’ve had similar tent nights where sleep doesn’t come due to the same. Well, drier socks maybe, but probably equally perfumed…
    Thoroughly enjoyed this series!

  4. Ross says:

    What a great trip you have had, and to share it with your daughter – fantastic! Your stories and pictures have been great; such a wonderful land.

  5. Bob Stanton says:

    Wonderful conclusion to the series, Walter. Though I think that you could have easily titled it “A Last Tenting-Site Travelogue.”

    • Why, thanks, Mr. Bob! The last tenting site was indeed an overriding theme here, wasn’t it. I probably would have used a similar title if we wound up fending off a large carnivore, in which case the title might have been “The Last Tenting-Site, Ever.”

  6. loydtruss says:

    You and Alyssa have proven the best way to experience a trip like this is getting close to nature and its landscape; which by the way from the pics is spectacular. Did you guys see anyone else fishing some of the waters you were fishing? I assume the campground inhibits were not fly fishermen?
    I doubt Cathey and I will ever get to go back and revisit the states you guys have visited, but I can always go back to these great posts and reminisce. Thanks for sharing your great adventure with all of us!!!

    • Thanks Bill! Getting as close as possible, within reason & personal ability, is what it was all about. and I guess we pulled it off pretty well. Some of the waters fished had more anglers in them than I’ve ever seen before (which isn’t surprising, given the unusual nature of the world this summer) and many of the campground folks were fishermen & hikers, people who preferred being there instead of in the risky motels & lodges. Thanks again & have a wonderful new season.

  7. Brent says:

    I chuckled out loud at the idea of the rank socks potentially doubling as bear deterrent. That certainly tracks well with my memories of long western road trips! Thanks for sharing this account of a wonderful trek through the wild and beautiful places we’re lucky to still have. Medicine Wheel is something I might’ve overlooked, but it seems well worth the visit.

    • Those socks rank well with some of those memories, no doubt. Over all, a great trip, as you can imagine… The Medicine Wheel is a must-see for the Big Horn traveler… Also, enjoyed your photos of the recent trip to the Cape, with gator, bears, and all.

  8. Dan Hayes says:

    What a great way to wrap up your father and daughter journey! The scenery shots were spectacular and the accompanying text vivid. Healthy trout and cold, flowing water helped to console those of us in locales where stream flows continue to drop and fishing ceased prior to midsummer. Best of all we were able to travel west with you and your daughter to better times. Thanks for sharing the trip.

    • Much obliged, Dan, and thank you for your thoughts. I’m hoping to see fishable conditions here again before too long, although I fear that many trout probably succumbed to the hot & dry conditions. The western fishing wasn’t as productive as in previous years but, as the wise ones have said on numerous occasions, there’s a lot more to fishing than simply catching fish.

  9. Jet Eliot says:

    This post was heavenly, Walt. Thanks for taking us along with you and Alyssa into the wild west adventures. Your eloquent writing had me worried about the bears, taking in the vast beauty, appreciating your lovely trip with your daughter, and pondering all the miracles of life in the woods. Fantastic photos, too.

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