Red, White, and Blooms in the Dubois Desert

Explosions of color in what looks like dead landscape.

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A few weeks ago, I hosted some visitors from England. We hiked up a long draw in the badlands. They were especially interested in seeing the red rocks up close.

IndianPaintbrush

Turning a corner toward a steep ridge, we encountered masses of bright red Indian paintbrush. “You’re very lucky,” I told them. “Usually we only see these much higher in the mountains.”

They took out their phones and snapped away, as did I.

They had been worried about encountering snow in late June, and it was not a foolish concern. The ground underfoot was slippery with mud — an unusual feeling in this desert climate.

Flowers060516Back on June 5, at Sheridan Creek, I had encountered my first harbinger of spring: This tiny white blossom. I don’t know its name.

I found it hiding in the straw-like dead grass. There were no signs of green yet.

It had burst forth only a few feet from some remaining patches of snow.

Recently, I took my cousin and a friend on the same hike I had enjoyed with the visitors from England. The ground was already dry and cracked.

Badlands_062418I couldn’t resist a calling out in pleasure: “The lupines are out!” These lush blue flowers — my favorite of the wild flowers we see every year — had arrived in force, to join the Indian paintbrush.

Could I write about mere flowers on Independence Day? Of course, I realized earlier today: The first flowers I saw during my wanderings this year were red, white, and blue.

I have so many pictures of flowers that I never get around to posting here: Small orange blossoms hidden beneath the sagebrush, purple daisy-like blooms that pop up on the sides of dirt roads, yellow cactus flowers that bloom and are gone in a few days. I can’t resist taking their pictures, because to look from a distance (say, in a passing car) this landscape often appears dead, or at least boring.

We know that many visitors want come to this area hoping to see wildlife, and we do see plenty of it crossing the fields on four legs or swooping across the sky. But this, I remind myself, is another wonderful form of wild life — and one which many passersby will miss.

JadeLakeWildflowers0817_5Soon, if not already, at higher elevations the wildflowers will burst out in explosions of colors, as bright and extravagant as any fireworks we see on this day every year.

A friend told me that it sometimes makes her feel wistful to see these vistas, thinking of others who are no longer fit enough to get up into the mountains to see them. I also feel sad for those who don’t know, or don’t bother.

Seize the day, and always cherish your independence …

BrooksLakeWildflowers_0817_2

© Lois Wingerson, 2018
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Cybermagic Brings a Drugstore to Dubois

After a half century, an actual main-street pharmacy.

Drugstore_Exterior I was in a meeting yesterday when someone texted me that the pharmacy was open. I rushed over as soon as I could. Co-owner Lisa Bailey, who was standing on the boardwalk in front of the store, smiled at me.

It’s true: The pharmacy is open, in what website developers would call a “soft launch.” There’s no ice cream at the fountain, no greeting cards, and no gauze pads on the shelves as yet. But I’ll be darned if you can’t get a prescription filled in Dubois today.

When we first heard that a pharmacy was coming to town, we didn’t really believe it. That old sign “Dubois DRUG Sundries” (with its implied lie) had hung above the store so long that we no longer even saw it. We knew that all you could buy in whatever store was there would be hats, purses, and ice cream. The explanations to tourists were awkward.

The misleading sign went up in 1964, when new owners began to operate the “drug store” without a pharmacist for the first time since it opened 1932. I guess “drug sundries” was meant to signify over-the-counter pills.

SandysShop2When we first moved to town, you could actually buy nonprescription pills and first-aid supplies in the store where Ian and his wife sold mostly ice cream cones and souvenirs. Later, Fawn opened a sandwich shop and curio store called Serendipity at the site. When her family left town, Grandma Kathy and a friend reopened the ice cream fountain, selling all sorts of vintage items on the side (but no pills).

Briefly there was a pop-up Christmas shop in there. But never, we knew, any drugs or even any Band-Aids. You got Advil at Superfoods. Real medicines? The Walgreens in Riverton would mail them over, or you could drive an hour to pick them up.

An actual pharmacy coming back to main street in Dubois, after a half century? It seemed too fantastic to be true.

Drugstore_ConstructionIt was true that Wyoming passed a law last year to allow telepharmacy — prescriptions filled by a pharm tech, working online at a satellite location, linked to a licensed pharmacy somewhere else. We know Dubois has the digital mojo to support such an operation (after all, Mountain Sage Clinic already offers specialty visits online), as well an eager supply of customers. But a pharmacy here? Really?

Ladders appeared inside the old drug store, and some painting went on. But then, for many months: Nothing.

“Are we ever going to have a drug store?” I asked Reg, the property manager. He would smile and shrug.

It seems that staffing problems back at Frontier Pharmacy in Big Piney delayed the grand (soft) opening in Dubois, but at last Lisa and Rob Bailey, a licensed pharmacist, are open for business here.

Pharmacy1Yesterday, Rob seemed to want to assure me that he has the right intentions for our old-West town: He talked about where he found that vintage “prescriptions” sign back in his home town of Palmer, Nebraska, and the charming old American Greetings display yet to appear. But when a neighbor peeked in the door to say welcome, I knew that the broad smile on her face wasn’t about greeting cards.

“Tell everyone our phone number is simple to remember: It’s 2400,” Rob said. “And it’s really easy to transfer your prescriptions over.”

The counter and stools are still in place, and ice cream may actually return too, once they figure out all those food-service regulations. But the Baileys already know all about medications, which is what really matters.

© Lois Wingerson, 2018
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Life on the Edge at High Water

Flood reports on the radio and other concerns.

A neighbor who keeps track of these things tells me that the river has crested. It seems to be true.

Last week, approaching a section of the riverwalk around a curve, I had a sense that something was wrong. The river wasn’t where it should be in that direction. Today, it had receded considerably. Soon I’ll be able to walk across there again.

FloodedRiverwalk“Risk of flooding in Dubois,” I’d hear on Wyoming Public Radio a week or two ago, and friends down-county would ask with concern: So how is it in Dubois?

WindRiverFloodingDuring Hurricane Sandy, I watched on Twitter videos as the East River filled subway stations in New York. During hurricane season last year, I worried as my daughter fled her apartment a few blocks from the beach in Fort Lauderdale.

We listen with horror about people in Hawaii who are airlifted away from the lava flows.

This is not that. This is the snow melt coming down, urged on after spring thunderstorms, as it does every year about now.

The river turns to chocolate milk and roars merrily along, breeching its banks at every turn. Sometimes a piece of the bank calves off, and someone’s backyard becomes a transient lake as it slows the surging water.

Anglers know it’s not time yet to tie flies and pull out the rods. The river is much too wild just now. The air may be warm, but this is still spring.

NewHouse“Seems to be a lot of building on that flood plain,” said a visitor in passing. “Not a good idea.”

Actually, it’s a perfectly good one. We know how the river rises and falls, and we know where it tends to run aground.

This is not the Hamptons or Cape Cod. These folks aren’t tempting fate; they (or their realtor and contractor) have been around here long enough to know the ups and downs of the Wind River.

WildIrisesBut there are small surprises. In one of my go-to short hike spots today, a small pond had materialized in the duff beneath the pines. The dog had a wade. Little rivulets were wandering across the meadow trying to create new islands, and my boots got wet.

Those fragile wild irises were flamboyantly abundant, as they are this time of year. They too will subside and sink into the silt after a few days, alas.

© Lois Wingerson, 2018
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

What We Share With The Wildlife

The return of animals in the spring brings a revelation.

Moose_0518“How likely are we to see wildlife on the way?” asked someone passing through on the way to Yellowstone.

“You’ll certainly see deer,” I said. “You could also see some pronghorn antelope. Some locals see grizzlies on the Pass, but I’ve never seen one there.”

“What about moose?” he asked.

“Well, if you’re really, really lucky, and keep your eyes on the trees by the river, you might see one,” I replied. “I see them once in a while. But moose are pretty rare around here these days.”

SheepA recent survey of visitors to Dubois showed that wildlife viewing is their second reason for coming here, after mountains and scenery. I know from talking to visitors and reading their posts on TripAdvisor that many people come to this area hoping to glimpse wild creatures at home in the wilderness.

It has taken years for me to appreciate one privilege of living here year-round — simple time on the ground, the opportunity to encounter the animals who share this neighborhood, as an ordinary part of my daily life.

City girl that I was, I still find pleasure in seeing cattle and horses every day. Driving down the highway toward town, I enjoy watching a hawk floating on the updraft, looking for prey. We have had to relocate the dog’s walk, because the neighbor across the road has seen the moose and her calf again. She lost last year’s baby in the spring flood waters, and he says she glared at him defiantly from his back lawn the other day, as if to say, “I’m not going to lose this one!”

Deer_grazingLast week, I invited a friend for lunch. It being a beautiful day, we chose to sit on the back porch.

As we talked, we noticed a few white-tailed deer just across the fence. We enjoyed watching them graze on the willows as we munched on our salads a few yards away.

Walking the dog in the park behind the assisted living center, I encountered an old friend coming down the river walk. “Have you seen the goslings?” he asked.

GoslingsWe rounded a corner, and there they were, being herded by Mother Goose as we approached.

This afternoon, driving toward a hike up Long Creek Road, my companion said, “There’s an antelope!”

He sat immobile, not far from the dirt road. “It’s odd to see one all alone,” she remarked.

“I hope he’s not injured,” I said.

Farther along the road, she spotted more antelope in the valley, and beyond that, a few elk. I slowed the car to look, and there they were, dark against the green of the grass.

“I wonder what they’re doing here at this time of year,” she said. You’d think they would have migrated on, and moved up-mountain.

AntelopeOnHillDriving back after our hike, we looked for the lone antelope, and argued about exactly where we had seen him before. “I guess he isn’t here any more,” I said. “That’s good.”

“There they are,” she said. A few antelope grazed on a distant hill, as a larger one stood nearby, looking out across the valley.

“I guess he’s the sentinel,” I said, glad to have come up with a reason for why we had seen him alone on the way uphill.

I may talk smart now, but to be honest, when we moved here from the city I couldn’t tell an elk from a moose. It was the landscape that compelled me, not the wildlife that live here. Later, I came to value the strong sense of community in our town.

With time, I’ve come to see these silent neighbors as an important part of that community. They may be elusive, and we rarely get to know them. Some of them (like the tourists) are only passing through. But we share a love of this place, and are glad when they return.

© Lois Wingerson, 2018
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Dubois’ Delightful Toxic Waste Site

The health care facilities are merely useful. This will be magic.

PetesPond_WillowForegroundAs spring brings life to the valley, an enchanting new creation is unfolding beside the highway, just east of the rodeo grounds. What makes the place seem even more magical is that it used to be a toxic waste site.

It’s difficult to imagine what might have been toxic about the sawmill that gave life to this community, until it closed in 1988. But an EPA document describing the “brownfields” cleanup project says the site was contaminated with petroleum byproducts including benzene and diesel fuels.

PetesPond_RiverwalkTen years after the mill closed, a local family bought the site and donated it to the Nature Conservancy, stipulating that it should be used for the “health and enjoyment of the citizens of the greater Dubois community and its future generations.” After the town gained numerous grants, the cleanup began five years ago.

The medical clinic, fitness center, and assisted living facility on the site clearly qualify in the health category, but as mere buildings they would not inspire the words “enchanting” and “magical.” As the dog and I enjoy the eastern end of the river walk, I’ve seen something emerging that will clearly deserve that description.

PetesPond_BenchViewThe good folks of Dubois Anglers and Wildlife Group (DAWGS) are busy completing Pete’s Pond, the dream of Pete Petera, a former director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department who retired to Dubois. I knew the bright-eyed gentleman all too briefly before he passed away, too early to see the project begin.

Pete wanted a place where children could enjoy fishing safely. The need for this becomes clear as I follow this part of the river walk in late May, watching the surging water breach its banks and crash past, frothing and muddy.

PetesPond_RiverFlowDAWGS long ago made the river accessible for handicapped anglers along this riverwalk. Now, on the landward side of the walk, they’re busy with backhoes creating not just a pond, but a whole new park. There’s a small stream at the inlet, and islands in the center of the pond.

What astonishes me is the sylvan aspect of the scene, where a few years ago this was hard-packed tan dirt overgrown with weeds and sage, the kind of desolate landscape so many people think of when they hear the word “Wyoming.”

PetesPond_ReflectionsIt’s a pleasure to think that this is what future travelers will see first as they pass into Dubois headed toward Yellowstone and Jackson. After that long desert drive from Rawlins or Casper, they will be enticed as they reach Dubois to stop and enjoy birds and gently lapping water, lined by trees and bordering the river.

It doesn’t yet look as green as it will, because it’s only early spring here, and the work is still under way. But I can already hear the laughter of the children.

Somewhere over there under the water is a ball that the dog lost in the weeds last summer. He’s certainly forgotten about it.  I’m very pleased to make the sacrifice.

© Lois Wingerson, 2018
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

My Yellowstone Bison Adventure

I know it’s sentimental, but I felt he was guarding me.

BisonandGeezer0518“Is that one of the geezers?” said the man at the pullout.

I smiled. “I love the way you English people say that word,” I said. “Here we pronounce it ‘guy-zer.’ In American vernacular, a geezer is — ”

“I know,” he said. “An old guy. But is that one of them? Is it Old Faithful?”

He didn’t mention the bison I was watching as it grazed nearby. Nor did he tell me he was Irish, not English, which I learned later on.

“No,” I said. “You’ll see the signs for Old Faithful about five miles further south.”

Recently I read that, while the TripAdvisor experts recommend taking three or four days to tour Yellowstone, about half of visitors come all this way just to see Old Faithful. That’s a fairly short drive up from the South Entrance, which wouldn’t open for another week EastEntrance0518yet.

We ourselves had come in last Saturday from the north. We wanted to visit the Park before the hordes began to arrive through the South Entrance. We’ll see them approaching shortly, via Dubois.

That morning we had sailed through the East Gate entirely unimpeded, only one day after it opened, after driving all the way around through Cody.

AvalancheSign0518Only a few days into May,  the northern regions of the Park were still blanketed with deep and drifting snow. A road sign just a few miles inside the entrance warned us of avalanche risk.

Pulling into an overlook, we saw that Yellowstone Lake was still almost entirely snowbound.

Farther on, people had stopped to walk on the shoreline, where the ice had melted back a foot or two.

BisononRoad0518On the second day of opening, it was about as crowded as you would want for a visit to a public park. We had a little company–just enough to feel pleasantly surrounded, not too isolated in the wilderness.

On the north side of the Lake, we encountered the first of several small “bison jams.” We had to slow down briefly when two or three cars stopped shortly ahead of us. As so often happens, a bison was ambling right down the middle of the road.

TripAdvisor experts warn visitors to anticipate lengthy delays for bison jams. That day, after a moment, the car ahead moved on and then we drove slowly past.

FromVespa0518Besides a chance to visit that overly popular Park minus the crowds, this was a dry run for our small RV and our Vespa motorbike. We don’t use the Vespa much near home, because it wouldn’t feel safe in the traffic that zooms past at 70 mph, much of it either hurrying toward the Park or home afterwards.

Inside the Park, the speed limit is a comfortable 45.  On that early-season day, we figured, even inside Yellowstone the traffic wouldn’t be too heavy.

It was very pleasant to zip around those winding roads that were nearly empty. We’d pull over every so often to let cars pass, and then continue on our leisurely way.

Vespa_at_Lodge0518We drove into the parking lot at Old Faithful and stopped the bike. It looked like rain, so we went inside the Lodge to get a drink and maybe wait out the weather.

It was surprising how many people were already wandering around inside. The building is fanciful on an oversized scale, like a Norseman’s lodge gone mad (as my husband put it).

LodgeInterior0518As I sipped my beer near the huge fireplace in the lobby, a decent-sized group listened to a tour guide.

“You want to see Old Faithful?” my husband asked as finished our drinks.

“Nah,” I said. “I’ve seen it before. Probably no different today. I’m sure it will keep going off without us.”

The conversation about the geezer happened shortly afterwards, as we headed back northward toward the campground on the Vespa. We had spoken about how it wouldn’t be safe to stop close to a bison while driving the motorbike. But I asked to stop at a pullout when I spotted one close enough to the road to catch a picture on my IPhone but far enough away to be safe.

My husband turned off the ignition so I could climb off the Vespa and catch the shot. Then it wouldn’t start again.

When the Irish couple drew up to look at the geyser a few minutes later, I was standing beside the bike watching the bison. My husband stood a few yards to the north with his thumb out, waiting for a quick lift back to the campground so he could drive back with the RV and install the dead Vespa on the rack at its rear.

I was amazed how many cars drove past without stopping.

“Poor fellow,” the Irish man said with a chuckle, looking back at him. “Nobody’s going to stop for him.”

“That’s my husband,” I said, and explained the situation. Quickly, and kindly, they offered the ride we were waiting for.

BisonCloseupMeanwhile I turned to watch the bison grazing as I continued to wait. He lifted his head to watch me in return, as I stood silently beside the odd red object. Slowly, he turned in my direction. I caught my breath.

Then, ungainly, he sat down and resumed staring placidly at me.

After a while someone else pulled up to look at him. “You waiting for someone?” the woman asked, and I explained.

“What a place to be stranded!” she said.

It was an odd and fairly lonely vigil, as the other tourists sailed past unconcerned. It must have been 25 minutes before I saw our little RV approaching from the north. Most of that time, the bison and I had been gazing at each other from a certain distance.

My husband and I busied ourselves reinstalling the Vespa on the back of the RV, and then climbed into the cab. “Oh, look,” he said. “The bison has turned away.”

YellowstoneRain0518I know it’s sentimental, but I fancied that, rather than being a threat, he had been guarding me.

Just after we pulled onto the road, the heavens opened. Other campers told us later that we had missed a rainstorm at the campground. Amazingly, during the whole excursion, neither of us felt a drop of rain.

CamperWithVespaAs night was falling, I enjoyed myself for a long time beside the campfire, looking over in the direction of the Vespa on the back of the camper–both of us sitting at rest and doing absolutely nothing at all.

What a delight to have such a peaceful day in Yellowstone Park! The woman was right: It was a great place to be stranded–and a privilege to spend a little time up (almost) close and personal with one of the few wild creatures in our general neighborhood that would never be seen passing within view of my dining room window.

I’m so grateful to my husband for suggesting that brief getaway, the perfect start to another busy summer season.

© Lois Wingerson, 2018
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Tiny Signs of Spring in the Big Valley

The signs are subtle, but unmistakeable.

“Welcome to Dubois!” read the scrolling digital sign in town last week. “Spring is almost here.”

Nonsense. Spring is already here.

We’ve waited so long for the days to lengthen and the breeze to feel more gentle. There’s no question now that the vigil is ending.

Back in Brooklyn, spring burst in with a gaudy show of flowering trees. Here, the signs are more subtle–but unmistakeable nonetheless.

Sheridan Creek WY
Last week I took a hike at Sheridan Creek. The hills were still half-covered with snow.
TinyFlower_0518
Near the creek, I spotted my first tiny, indisputable sign of spring.
Wildflowers Dubois WY
Later I saw more tiny clumps of them, harbingers of the riot of wildflowers to come.
Wheelbarrow_Stalks
Time to get the garden ready for planting. These are the stalks from last year’s hollyhocks.
CattleandCalves
I sat down to relax, and watched a calf over in the valley, searching for its mother. Finding her, he bounded over and began to suckle.
Bluebird Dubois WY
The bluebirds have returned. This one sat for hours guarding a nest (I hope).
Moose Dubois Wyoming
Best of all, driving back from town I spotted this lanky lady. (Footnote to real Neyawkers: It’s a moose.) She saw me too, and ran off. I wondered where junior was hiding.
SnowflakePines
Snow still comes, but not in earnest. The spots on the picture are snowflakes. But see the blue sky?
HalfandHalfSky
Later, back at the highway, I watched the weather coming in again. But it won’t last.

© Lois Wingerson, 2018
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.