Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Big Sky, Big Water, and Big Mountains

For years, I have listened to Dangerous tell stories about the interesting cast of characters who appear regularly in my blog.  You're familiar with most of them Utah Jack, Fremont Bob, Walking Horse Bill, Mississippi Max, Nature Dan, Iowa Holm, and many others.  While they all live in the present maybe with the exception of Fremont Bob, there is another fictional group of characters who constantly haunts Dangerous' thoughts and who always accompany us on our wilderness adventures.

I spend my time during the cold winter months listening to Dangerous recite the travels and adventures of Dick Summers, Jim Deakins, and Boone Caudill.  They arrived in the west during the early 19th Century, traveling up the Missouri River on a keel boat.  Their lives are chronicled in three volumes The Big Sky, The Way West, and Fair Land Fair Land that Guthrie wrote in the 40's, 50's, and 70's.  While waiting for the grass to green up, Dangerous and I spend our time rehashing our past adventures and A.B. Guthrie's excellent fictional accounts of the early west.  If Dangerous could pick a time and place to live eternally, it would be as a character in one of Guthrie's novels.  Short of living in a fictional work, he travels back in time each riding season when he horse packs in the Teton Valley to experience big sky, big water, and big mountains.

The Tetons are probably one of the most photographed places on earth.  Show this picture to just about anyone and they will instantly recognize it as one of the Tetons towering above Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  While a beautiful view from the highway, few get to experience directly what it was like to travel this remote back country 175 years ago.  You get some sense of what Dick, Jim, and Boone experienced if you load up a pack horse and ride 30 miles up Pacific Creek away from any oiled road.

Big Sky and Big Mountains
I suspect this might have been one of the views that Dangerous' three heroes saw as they hunted beaver in what is now the Bridger-Teton Wilderness area.  I doubt that the view has changed much since 1840, and the place names create a strong connection with the past.  You can almost sense the presence of Dick, Jim, and Boone when you ride up Pacific Creek to Two Ocean Pass.  Watch closely as you cross the Continental Divide and you can almost see the three of them riding their small Indian ponies out in front of you as you start down Atlantic Creek.  The one thing that definitely has not changed is the absence of people.  According to Dangerous, you can ride for days without seeing another human being other than ghosts from the past if you are a romantic like him.

Crossing the Yellowstone River
The same big water that A.B. Guthrie's protagonists faced is still there.  Even today, crossing the Yellowstone River on a horse is an adventure.  Dangerous tells me that his heart was pounding when he and Dottie waded into what was supposed to be a shallow ford.  Bill and Rich were off just a bit and the water washed over the backs of their horses in places.  The pack horse, Blue, decided he wasn't interested and broke loose and returned to the near bank causing all the riders to cross twice.  I suspect that Dick, Jim, and Boone had their problems with Yellowstone Country's big water as well.
Mariposa Lake
The horses and equipment have changed some over the years, but not the views.  I doubt that our 19th Century travelers had ever seen a Walking Horse, but they probably used something similar to the sawbuck packsaddle seen on Blue to haul all their goods.  Dangerous likes to believe that his three heroes probably stopped right here to admire Mariposa Lake and all the green grass for their horses.  Hopefully, all the beautiful wildflowers helped to brighten their mood like they did for our weary, contemporary wilderness travelers.
More Water
Even though Dangerous likes to dream about Big Sky Country, our real home is on the High Plateau.  What passes for a river in Canyon Country probably wouldn't be found on the map in the Teton Valley.  I have enough trouble crossing the Escalante River during the dry season, so I am not really interested in trying to follow Dangerous across the Yellowstone River without a boat or life jacket.  I prefer to stay home when he visits the big water country surrounding Yellowstone National Park.  Love to hear from you!

1 comment:

Dipsy said...

I remember a 180-fish day on Atlantic Creek during the cutthroat run.