September 8th-11th: Yellowstone Park
After spending Saturday and Sunday in Bozeman and Livingston viewing galleries, doing laundry, and enjoying free Shakespeare at the University, I was eager to meet up with my former coworker and favorite backpacking companion, Deedee. Our plan was to backpack for a week in the Wind River Range, but first we wanted to visit Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Deedee has spent a stressful eight years in computer networks and is now returning to school to pursue her interest in botany, so with her deep appreciation of nature I was glad to have her join me for this portion of my travels.
At the Bozeman airport I enjoyed the display of four large Russell Chatham paintings of four seasons of grand Montana vistas. Minutes later I held the door open for a man behind me and there he was. I would not have recognized him had I not read his angling books. His combined talents as an artist and angling author are a primary source of my inspiration. If you are a California fly fisher, there is no better read than his "The Angler's Coast".
Deedee and I drove south up the Yellowstone valley and stopped at the first Park attraction, Mammoth Hot Springs. The springs have deposited calcium carbonate to form orange colored terraces, interlaced with bubbling pools and cascades. A herd of elk stepped tenuously across the formations, oblivious to the tourists and warning signs. We walked the boardwalks and visited the visitor center at long enough to later find the campsites we had hoped for along Slough Creek full. We continued out of the park and found a site at the first National Forest campground beyond Cooke City at the park boundary.
We cut the frost of the morning with two cups of campstove cappuccino, then having learned our lesson about the park's campgrounds we drove directly to Tower Creek campground and picked a newly vacated site. I understand the reasoning for the crowding of campsite, to leave as much of the park in its natural state as possible and reduce the places where bears need to be monitored, but it makes for a population density rivaling inner cities. Once set up we drove the loop road around the park's main attractions, the Yellowstone canyon and lake, stopped to watch Old Faithful geyser erupt right on schedule, then continued up along the Firehole river with its boiling springs. Lightning and rainstorms were always within view, and the uncertainty in the weather kept me from stopping to paint.
Wednesday I woke early and fished a mile of Tower creek above our camp, slipping on the frost laden downed burned trees that are evident throughout the park. When I didn't come back in an hour Deedee knew I didn't catch anything. Rain threatened but we left camp for a hike up Mt. Washburn. As we arrived at the trailhead the wind and rain cut loose and poured rain and hail. Soon it passed so put on raingear to started the three mile hike anyway. We met many shivering hikers coming down in shorts and shirts. Small bursts of rain came and went as we continued up the gradual trail, skirting around the mountain to see changing views in different directions. The Beartooth range to the northeast led to Yellowstone Canyon, Hayden Valley and Yellowstone lake to the south, and briefly the skies cleared to show the Tetons beyond. To the west stretched long expanses of grey burned timber, all the way to the horizon. I hope to paint more from the photos we took, but considering the weather I was lucky to get this sketch looking south from a protected outcrop near the summit.
Thursday we were ready to leave the park, and a steady all night rain helped with the decision. We drove to Red Rocks Lakes wildlife refuge, but with our tent soaked we declined to set up a wet camp. I have been through the Centennial Valley and Red Rocks Lakes Wildlife refuge three times now and always wanted to but never have had a chance to paint, so I know I'll be back. We left to the south, through a vicious hail and rain storm so we continued south to a hotel in Idaho Falls.
September 12-14th: Jackson Hole and the Tetons
Friday we drove to Jackson. It rained only briefly that day, but the good weather was just the third place winner in good luck we had that day. Second place was that we arrived on the opening day of the Fall Arts Festival; an evening when Jackson galleries stayed open late and welcomed all with free food and drink. The highlights were the chance to see the "second 100" best of the Art for the Parks competition, portabella mushroom polenta from the Cadillac restaurant, and a margarita fountain at a gallery whose name that for that very reason I cannot recall. The best luck of all was a free campsite at Curtis Canyon in the Bridger Teton National Forest, just ten miles outside town on a ridge above the National Elk Refuge. Our site had a magnificent view of the Jackson Hole valley and the Tetons. The only thing missing were the elk, still to the north in their summer range in Yellowstone. The good weather held and I was able to sketch the following morning.
Saturday we took a dayhike up into the Tetons - a 3,000 foot climb over five miles up to Amphitheater lake at the base of Grand Teton itself. I carried larger paper and from the lake painted the breathtaking view of Grand Teton and surrounding mountains, with a pencil to speed up the layout. I had to stop so we could make the hike back down before dark, and look forward to finishing it as an antidote to cabin fever this winter.
September 14-20th: Wind River Range
Sunday we drove down to Pinedale on the west side of the Wind River Range, lingered with preparations then started in the evening on our backpack into the high country above Fremont lake. It was our goal to get to Titcomb Basin for the famous view of Fremont and Gannett peaks and then to Elbow lakes for a chance at Golden Trout much larger than we can find them in their native range of the high Sierra in California. On the morning of the second day a heavy hailstorm pelted us, covering the trail with white ball bearings. At the second lake we came to we set up a hasty camp, and crawled into the tent with our sleeping bags to wait it out. We waited all day. This gave us time to read the wonderful little guidebook "Wind River Trails" by Finis Mitchell. With no other ideas for income during the great depression of the thirties, Finis started a fishing camp with borrowed tents and horses. He stocked different trout in many of the barren lakes, carrying them in buckets on horse trains, originally on his own and later with the guidance and permission of the Game and Fish department. In town they said that he was still backpacking on crutches well into his nineties. His book is highlighted with short poems and encouraging philosophy on mans place in the wilderness as observer and protector.
Tuesday morning it was snowing, so abandoned our plans to backpack further in for prudence sake. We dayhiked to three more lakes within two miles, meeting a church group leaving early then another solo hiker who like us was waiting to see what the weather would do. He had no tent, just a bivouac sack and a black Labrador retriever, and had spent all of Monday covered up in it. He was much worse off than we were as at least we had been able to sit up and read in the protection of a down-filed tent as the skies poured forth.
We hiked up a small peak for our first view of the high peaks of the range. The sun flickered through the clouds long enough for pictures but with clouds surrounding us and stretching as far as we could see, we retreated to camp to wait and see. By three oclock the frozen raindrops still had not thawed from our tent and the skies were still dark so we packed up and left. With the bad weather most of the hotels were full with hunters, but we found a room with a kitchenette, cooked some backpacking food and spread our wet things around the room to dry. At the laundromat we recognized the man with the bivouac sack and black lab.
Wednesday was colder but sunny; so we drove up the valley of the Green River for the view, fishing, and a chance at lower day hikes in the northern section of the range. We tried the evening fishing and caught three small rainbow trout on large Stimlator dry flies. In this section of the river trout between ten and twenty inches must be released, and they were just above ten inches so we ate pasta.
Thursday morning was drizzly and grey so we took a short trip to lower Green River Lake and hiked up Clear Creek to a natural bridge. All along were splendid views of craggy sharp pinnacles shrouded in the mist, reminding me of the Chinese paintings of Quelin. Chinese painters did not paint on site; instead they meditated at the scene then later painted the spirit of the memory, and with the drizzle and foggy dampness that is what I had to do as well, with the modern convenience of snapshots.
On the hike back, I fished dry flies for brook trout. Above the falls the brookies seemed a little bigger but fewer, so I kept two of the smaller ones from the many that bit eagerly in the meadows below. That night I fried the trout in onions and garlic, covering them with tortillas that steamed to soft warmth, and we enjoyed trout burritos in the rain.
Friday was rainy again and we were tired of fighting the weather. Everything was wet. We headed towards Utah hoping to get south of the weather. It was raining there too. Saturday we went to Park City to see galleries. The scenery is worth painting and the streams worth fishing there, and maybe I will get a chance on the way back. Sunday I dropped Deedee off at the airport with regrets that we weren't able to see as much wilderness as we had hoped, and regrets too that she was leaving. I drove all day through the rain into central Colorado. My main fishing buddies Daver and Jonnie are joining me at the end of the week, so I'll scout things out, write and scan, and hope for better weather.