Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. -John Muir
After a couple of days of clean-up and a few town diversions, the Wilson clan moseyed up the road toward the High Uintas. It was the fourth of July weekend, and we knew we'd be joined out in the woods by more than a few of our fellow, patriotic Americans. This is always a conundrum of sorts for us -- whether to join the maddening crowds on holiday weekends or to simply stay home and avoid the throng altogether. When we're home, we simply stay there and leave the woods to the others. Since we're already here, it's a bit hard to avoid. I'm not complaining here -- I hope that everyone who heads to the hills as we do will take away from the experience some of the awe and wonder we feel from nature, and in doing so will make some subtle change in their attitude toward nature and humanity. Maybe that's a bit too much to ask, but it doesn't stop me from dreaming.
We settled on staying put for the nights of July 3rd and 4th in a "dispersed" camping area along the Provo River on our way up route 150 through the Uinta Mountains. A quick stop at the Kamas Ranger District office in Kamas, UT, gave us a maps of the region and showed areas where this type of camping is permitted. "Dispersed" camping is camping in federal areas which is outside of designated campgrounds, but where camping is still permitted. Not all National Forests or BLM areas have dispersed camping, and it's best to check with the local Ranger Station before you set up camp outside of designated areas, but in practice, we've been able to find dispersed camping across much of our western stay. Sometimes the camps are over-used and shabby, even crowded, but most times we're in a little used and very quiet area, and find ourselves glad that we skipped the designated camping areas and struck out on our own.
We spent the two days on creek excursions, reading, writing, and, for the kids, "fishing." Children are allowed to fish without a license in most places until they're over 12, so the girls decided to make their own rods and, with bits of fishing line and hooks salvaged from the river, proceeded to fish off the rocks at our campsite. There was no success in the venture, except to say that they had a lot of fun at it, which is all you could ask for anyway. I sat in my chair, reading Wallace Stegner's Big Rock Candy Mountain, and offered the occasional encouraging word. While I do quite a bit of the cooking (see pic below!), Winter decided that, since we weren't going to enjoy any illegal fireworks on the 4th, she would make us a special 4th of July snack. The salsa was red, the sour cream was white, and the corn chips were blue -- just like our forefathers would have made. We decided that we liked that celebration better than blowing up stuff. There were others near us at our camp, but we were only inconvenienced a little by the camping neighbor, some 70 yards away, who insisted on playing his whole collection of Shania Twain CDs at high volume, just in case someone else shared his enthusiasm, or "felt like a woman." Ah, Wilderness!
After sitting on our duffs for a full day, we were ready for some adventure. We had hoped to show the girls the High Uinta wilderness a bit via a day hike. Sherri and I had, fifteen years ago, backpacked through the area, which sports wide "shelves" of rock above tree-line, dotted with sapphire lakes and ringed by snowy peaks. The area needs no trails, since, without trees, you can navigate by dead reckoning for the most part. As we headed out on the wooded Highline Trail, we couldn't remember just how many miles it was before you emerged from the woods and came out onto the Alpine shelves. After lunch, when we still hadn't reached the area we sought, we turned back, worrying that we might be getting too far out for the kids, and that we'd have a hard time getting them back to the car. At the turnaround point, I fired up the Garmin GPS unit and tracked us all the way back to the parking area. When we arrived, I was surprised that we had walked 5.2 miles out and the same back for a total of 10.4 miles. The kids had been troopers and, while tired, were pretty proud of themselves. The hike was beautiful, and the day one of those clear, bright western mountain days we won't soon forget (just look how tired we all are after that hike!).
We drove out of the Uintas and ran smack-dab into Wyoming. Yes, we purchased certain icy-cold confections for the victorious child-hikers, and nosed into traffic heading north again, with a plan to stay somewhere just south of Jackson, WY, the southern entrance to the Grand Tetons National Park. We stopped at a small city park along that route to take on water for the Aliner, and there I took a picture of Sherri -- you may notice that Sherri is rarely the subject of our photos. That's due to the fact that she takes nearly all of the photos and video of our trip. I snapped the photo below as she shot a bit of this nearly-ghost-town's old main street, with its boarded up bar and drugstore. We spent the night, after having looked for dispersed camping for a couple of hours, and finally chasing after a campground which didn't exist, except for an old sign, along Swift Creek, just out of Afton, WY. It was little more than a pull-off alongside a very dusty road in the deep canyon where the truly swift Swift Creek ran, but it was enough for us to pop-up the camper and get a little shut-eye.
In the morning we snaked our way back down Swift Creek canyon, where it seemed that the local energy company was installing a new pipe-line for what I assumed to be a power-generation and municipal water supply. There we saw that the road to the would-be campground was closed. No matter, we were headed to the Grand Tetons, and were looking forward to the trip.
We made it into the Tetons, had a trailhead lunch of baguette, ham, cheese, and fruit, and then hiked up to Taggart Lake. If you've never been to the Tetons, I can say that you're missing something truly grand. The mountains stand up, and impenetrable wall, to the west, and provide an almost cliche, postcard-like backdrop. This can make even lunch seem majestic and important. The easy hike up to the lake passed through open meadows and along ice-cold meltwater creeks. At one point, the entire meadow we were passing through was carpeted with purple lupine.
At the top, we were rewarded with the sight of Taggart Lake, where the kids decided to take a very chilly (and very brief) dip before we worked our way down through the Beaver Creek side of this four-mile loop. All the way back down, we began to worry just a bit about encountering bears in the early evening. We weren't overly worried, but thought to stick together and to lecture the kids about bear-country etiquette. Stick together. Throw down your pack and any food you have should you be approached by a bear. Make noise so that you don't encounter them in the first place. Turns out that, since Sylvie is naturally chatty, she's likely our best defense against bears, even though she's the smallest among us. I'm not completely sure of this, but I believe that she spent a grand total of seventeen seconds in silent contemplation of nature on that three hour hike. The rest of the time she talked. Excellent bear deterrent.
That evening we decided to camp in one of the official National Park campsites, and we're glad we did. Sidling in under a somewhat ominous looking sky, the kids helped to choose the exact site where we would park. They lobbied heavily for the site next to a family with two girls, obviously close to Winter and Sylvie's age. In the end, we're glad they chose the spot. The kids played together while the adults had a real conversation for the first time in a few weeks. We met Heather and Mike from Kernville, CA, who were traveling from the north to the south, headed to the Grand Canyon the next day. While we adults did play one game of charades with the four girls right before bed, the kids pretty much entertained themselves the next morning.They knew that if they bothered the adults we might decide it was time to pack up and head out, so they kept a low profile. That allowed the four adults to solve most of the world's problems over a cup of coffee. Finally, about 1/2 an hour after the official check out time, we were kicked out by the camp host making the rounds. Mike and Heather -- hope your travels treated you well on your way home.
Pulling out of the Tetons, we entered Yellowstone National Park. As one of the busiest parks in the system, we usually wouldn't have come to Yellowstone to stay for any length of time. This year, however, Thompson's Water Seal (I'm their national spokesman, if you're just tuning in . . . see me at their site at www.thompsonswaterseal.com ) is partnering with several parks, including Yellowstone, Glacier, and Niagara Falls, to help in restoration in the parks. As part of that effort, we're helping to produce several videos which will highlight their partnerships with the parks. As an incentive, we were to spend three nights in the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel within the park -- a real luxury after having been camping for three weeks without a proper shower. We worked our way around the eastern half of the park, stopping for a few pics at Artist's Point along the way. We arrived at the lodge late, and were glad to find the food at the dining room there to be quite good. Of course, after three weeks of camper food, that wasn't a huge surprise. The girls were excited to see a bunch of elk (none afraid of the throngs of tourists) up close on the lawn in front of the hotel.
The hotel is a no-frills kind of place, which suited us just fine. No TV. No AC. We were happy to have the window open all night, listening to the bleating of the baby elk looking for their mothers. In the morning, we met up with the folks from Thompson's Water Seal and our park host, Tom Porter, of the Yellowstone Park Foundation. The YPF works to secure funding and support outside of what the federal government can supply, working with just such companies as Thompson's Water Seal, who wish to support Yellowstone. Tom was a wealth of information, and pointed out that, even though some 3 million visitors come through the park each year, all you need to do to get out of their way is to walk a mile off the road. This was definitely the case as we shot our video of the Upper Blacktail cabin and barn, where some restoration work was being done by a group of retired GE employees volunteering their time. We were kept busy all morning, but the place was flush with wildflowers and even our work couldn't keep us from enjoying the quiet there. On top of it all, Tom instantly ingratiated himself with the girls by bearing gifts -- a stuffed bison and wolf, as well as a Yellowstone Wildlife guide to help them identify the wildlife they saw. Thanks, Tom, for the gifts, as well as all of your stories. Herb Dawson, who works for the park and directs the volunteers, gave the kids NPS Volunteer patches as well. We felt like we got an insider's view of Yellowstone which made us curious to come back here and really get off the beaten path.
The next day we shot more video in the Mammoth and Indian Creek campgrounds for Thompson's Water Seal. After lunch, we parted ways with the Thompson's folks and spent the rest of the day exploring the west side of the park, including the necessary visit to see Old Faithful erupt, complete with Winter timing the event and then predicting the next eruption for her Junior Ranger badge.
We also toured a few of the lesser known hot-spots in the park, remarking on their beauty, and the sulfurous smell of the active areas. We learned a lot in a ten-minute talk given by a ranger at Old Faithful. He had been a high-school science teacher, but was now retired. He'd been volunteering in Yellowstone for 43 summers, and said he had never gotten tired of watching Old Faithful blow. 8000 gallons of boiling-hot water erupt from deep within the earth on a very predictable schedule. That water, we learned, had taken 100 to 500 years to percolate down through the soil and rocks before it was shot up into the daylight again. Sure we shared that sight with a thousand other people, but we did share the sight, and we're glad we did.
At the north entrance of the park, in Gardiner, MT, is a huge stone arch which you drive under as you enter. Inscribed at the top is "For the benefit and enjoyment of the people," a reminder that Yellowstone was the first national park anywhere in the world, established in 1872. It is a unique place, and someday we hope to come back to experience more.
We left Yellowstone on Thursday, July 10th, and worked our way north. Our next assignment for Thompson's Water Seal would take us to Glacier National Park for a shoot on Monday, July 14th, so we needed to make our way up north even further. Since we knew well before we left home that we'd be in Glacier at that time, we mad a plan to meet our good friends (and fellow "gang" members), the Broy family for a week in the park. We were looking forward to seeing them, having been suffering withdrawal symptoms since leaving home. Winter and Sylvie have fallen into the habit of asking, nearly every thirty seconds, when we'll be seeing their buddies, Elli and Katey Broy.
We left Yellowstone about noon, after I completed the voice work for the Thompson's Water Seal video in our hotel room, and recorded another VO file for a commercial job sent to me earlier in the week. While I worked, the kids turned in their Junior Ranger work and picked up their patches. We drove on out of Gardiner, hoping to make it just north of Anaconda, MT, so that we could pick up supplies in Missoula the next day. About ten minutes out of Butte, MT, where I had hoped to take on fuel, I realized I'd made a bad calculation. First, I'd ignored the low-fuel warning the Tahoe had given me, hoping to make it in to Butte for cheaper fuel than in the outlying areas. Then, honestly, there were no outlying areas. As we chugged up the last pass, minutes from Butte, the engine sputtered a couple of times and died. We'd run out of gas.
Lucky for us, the Tahoe Hybrid has OnStar installed -- neither Sherri's nor my cel phone worked out there, but OnStar was able to connect us to GM Roadside Assistance, and we were on our way again within an hour and a half. The kids took it in stride, and we were able to get some reading done. We spent the night in an overused pulloff on a National Forest road, but were rewarded with seeing two elk out in the meadow across from our camp chase each other around in the chilly evening. Here's a shot of the girls "wearing" the olives from our burrito dinner . . . charming.
On our way out of that site the next day we were caught in some construction traffic. The flagger was a very cheerful woman who told us that she'd be holding us hostage for 20 minutes, but we were welcome to step out of the vehicle to enjoy the wildlife and the waterfall along side the road. The flagger at the opposite end of the construction area had just radioed to say that they'd spotted a bobcat. We stepped out to enjoy the warm morning sun and gape at the waterfall issuing from a hole in the rocks. Not too shabby for a construction stop.
We spent the day yesterday in Missoula, MT -- one of our favorite towns along the way. We lunched in a park and gathered supplies for the upcoming week in Glacier. Today I'm sitting in Colter Coffee Roaster's enjoying the free wifi and bringing this episode of the Green Family Summer to you.
Hope you enjoyed it as much as we have. Come back -- next week I'll post the Glacier stories and then we'll head into the Ball Creek Ranch Preserve to shoot some video for the Nature Conservancy. After that, we'll sail into Washington State and down to our summer camp on the Columbia River near Portland, OR.