The Wild Life in Dubois, Wyoming

More joys of winter hikes: Abundant deer and tasty snacks.

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DeerInTrail This gal crossed our path the other day. A few seconds later, the rest of the family bounded after, too fast for me to catch their pictures.

The master of her clan stood watch afterward, just over the ridge on the right, staring warily at us as we proceeded uphill. Then he too wandered off.

The dog didn’t seem to notice. He never chases deer, apparently preferring someone else to do that.

Deer are nothing unusual in the countryside anywhere, of course. We must be wary for them as we drive the highway. They have been so abundant nearby in town that last year the council decided to have hunters cull the herd. People could reserve some of the venison at the local butcher.

deerWe don’t see them often on our property for some reason, although last year the dog did alert us to one brash creature who had approached the front door to enjoy the flowers in my planter.

My friend Karen tells me that all the houses on her side of the highway seem to have the same lawn ornaments. They reposition themselves from day to day.

One good thing about being here in the winter is that we don’t need to worry so much about bears when we hike. The bears are supposed to be sleeping it off, although a cub has been sighted in town recently. As you can see from the picture at the top, it’s been mild lately. I guess someone woke up before the end of naptime.

TelescopeKaren told me that people had been seeing lots of elk lately on the ridge to the east. I told Mark about this, and he set up the telescope facing out the east window. We’re not used to seeing them on that particular hillside. Sure enough, there they were. ElkInScope

Seeing “lots of” elk is a relative statement. Our friend Leon, a retired cowboy, says they used to see them up on that ridge by the hundreds when he worked for the Cross Ranch. Ab used to tell him to ride up there and drive them off.

In the warmer months I often scare up these beautiful, elusive creatures when I hike uphill. They always bound away out of sight, of course, but a lone male will often stand guard behind, chattering loudly at the dog and me to stop trespassing. They don’t seem to understand the concept of “public land.”

The wolves and bears have devastated the elk and moose population here, alas. (But why not the deer? Perhaps someone will write in and tell me.)

Moose are so rare that sightings are cause for celebration, while the published oral histories of the area tell us that they were abundant a century ago.

I’ve read about the explanations for this shift in the natural history of the Greater Yellowstone region, but that’s a better topic for another author. I merely note with regret that I encounter far fewer moose than when we came here less than a decade ago.

A few years ago I did see one up close during my morning bicycle ride, to my sorrow. Someone had struck it on the highway just west of Stoney Point. I wanted to hold a funeral.

BennyLeaveIt1The dog and I have somewhat different sentiments about the actions of nature’s predators, of course. He often comes trotting after me proudly dragging something far too large to transport, or stops to enjoy a snack from a disembodied joint.

In the warmer months (as you see here) I have to prevent him from indulging in these pleasures, for his own safety. Another good thing about winter is that these treats are frozen, and probably safe to consume.

He knows he’s not allowed to bring them into the car or the house. But I am tempted to import one of these bones back to Brooklyn so that he can show them off at the dog run.

(“You and your silly tennis balls! You think that plastic thing from the grocery store is a bone?“)

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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Dubois Winters: If They Only Knew …

Dodging brutal New York weather in the Wyoming wilderness? You betcha.

wintertrail.With a vigilant eye on the weather apps, we made it back to Dubois from New York City last Friday by car, dodging the storms by many miles and barely seeing a snowflake. It’s wonderful to be back.

The following day, as you may have read, the city experienced a historic snowstorm.

Here’s today’s dispatch from the New York Times: “The slush continues: mostly sunny today, with a high of 43 … Especially in a large pile of nasty snow-dirt, you wouldn’t want to ruin your Sunday (or Wednesday) best. But most snow boots, even attractive ones, don’t exactly go with a power suit.”

Oh, my.

Meanwhile, I took the photo above during my mid-afternoon walk yesterday. I wasn’t wearing either snowboots or a “power suit,” needless to say.

“All our weekend plans are ruined,” our 30-year-old son, who lives in Brooklyn, moaned in a text message on Friday evening.

Dear, dear. They had to watch old movies on Netflix last Saturday and eat something made at home for a change (probably microwave popcorn), rather than going out.

BrooklynSnowWhile not denying that a few people in the city truly suffered as a result of the storm (and tragically three died), we know what it was like for our neighbors back there. Streets were closed to traffic and the dogs could run around off leash. Shovels and salt came out of the basement.

Here’s what they face, beginning now: Crusty snowbanks stained yellow and peppered with soot, impassably slushy crosswalks, trash cans obstructing sidewalks narrowed by snow, because the garbage trucks are busy plowing elsewhere.

Here’s today’s forecast for Dubois, Wyoming:

weather012716

It can be brutally, even subzero cold overnight and in the early morning this time of year. But as the wind is usually calm until mid-day, the morning walk around the property with the dog is seldom unpleasant, because layering up really works in this dry climate.

A few hundred feet higher in elevation, a short drive to the west, there’s plenty of base for snow-shoeing (and I’m eager to get out there). Two days ago, a sudden white-out forced Karen and me to turn back from our drive toward the mountain pass for our mid-day hike. But within a half hour, while trudging the back roads near my house, it was sunny again. A few miles downhill in town, it’s almost bare and dry

I’m told the original natives called this “the valley of the warm winds.” They’re not all that mild this time of year, but it is the truth that daytime temperatures in Dubois aren’t much different (setting aside the vagaries of weather) from those back in Brooklyn–as you see above, 40 versus 43.

It may snow sideways for three or four days–and we hope it soon does, because that moisture will be needed in a few months. But at least where we are, the wind always blows most of that blizzard away in short order.

When I consider the blessings of geology here, most often I’m thinking of the beauty of majestic mountain peaks and the cathedral walls of the Pinnacles. But being cradled within this mountain fortress, between the Absarokas and the Winds, also blesses us with protection in winter.

Here’s how I show it to friends out east, using my hand:

MapAndHandOff to the left of the image there, beyond my thumb, is Jackson and the Tetons, which famously get the bulk of the snow (and the downhill skiing industry, with its rowdy crowds).

Yellowstone Park is covered by my hand, off-screen, and my index finger points down the Absaroka range toward Dubois.

The hump of my hand, representing the top of Togwotee Pass and the Continental Divide, shields us from the bulk of the precipitation and cold temperatures. Yet again, this town and this lovely valley reap benefits from our unique situation.

Enough time at the desk! I want to get out there.

@ Lois Wingerson, 2016

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Remotely and Wildly True: Of Dubois and Distance

Did National Geographic really call Dubois WY the most remote town in the lower 48? How remote is it, actually?

HighwayGoogle “Dubois WY” and you’ll soon encounter a statement that it has been designated the most remote town (or sometimes the second remotest town) in the lower 48 states. Often this distinction is attributed to National Geographic.

When we moved to Dubois, my husband and I quickly took up calling it one of the most remote towns in the lower 48 when we described it to friends. We even trotted out some criteria, whose origin I no longer recall: Farthest from the nearest Interstate, fewest traffic lights (none), fewest number of highways that run through it (one), distance to the nearest large town (about 70 miles), or proportion of land within a 360-degree radius that is publicly owned (who knows, but lots).

But is this distinction actually deserved? How remote is Dubois, and compared to what and by which criteria? Last summer I began to study the question, with interesting results.

First, I couldn’t find any such statement about Dubois in the archives of National Geographic. And many other towns lay claim to the distinction of being most remote.

I turned to local sources, Dubois town hall and the library. Sandy Hurst at town hall offered up text from a 2011 press release about Dubois:

“A place considered by National Geographic as the most remote town in the lower 48 states…  it perches on the edge of several wilderness areas and is surrounded by national forests.”

This traced back to a strategic plan for Dubois by the Foundation for Urban & Neighborhood Development of Denver, Colorado, dated 1986. The report said that Dubois had been “recently identified in national news media coverage” as the most remote location in the lower 48–the same unconfirmed designation that I was already seeing, albeit even older.

Anna Moscicki at the library turned up a wonderful quote from the memoir of Ethel Waxham, mother of the geologist David Love who defined the geological history of the Yellowstone region. Waxham wrote about her arrival in Wyoming by stagecoach in 1905:

“The other passenger beside myself was a woman of fifty or sixty, white-haired, face weather worn, bright brown eyes, Mrs. Welty. She was post mistress at Dubois, the post office farthest from the railroad of any in the U.S.”

Delightful, written when the railroads were still expanding, and perhaps an insight into the town’s perception of isolation. But not that relevant today.

In the course of promoting Living Dubois on Twitter, I was fortunate to gain the interest of Marilyn Terrell, chief researcher for National Geographic, who has also been unable to find any source for that attribution of Dubois’ remoteness by her publication (so we ought to stop using it). But she did point me to an article in Smithsonian magazine describing what truly may be the most remote settlement in the lower 48: the community of Supai, Arizona, located at the base of the Grand Canyon. At the bottom of that 3,000-foot crevasse, it is reachable only by mule train, which is how they get their mail.

But Supai isn’t really a town: It’s designated by the US Census Bureau as a “census-designated place,” which is the Bureau’s term for a populated place that is not an incorporated village and has no municipal government. So does Dubois still qualify?

Overlook7Author Henry Grabar on the website citylab.com looked into which towns were most remote by the criterion of being farthest from the nearest Interstate highway, honoring Key West, Florida, as being farthest as the crow flies, and Copper Harbor and Eagle Harbor, Michigan, (251 and 238 driving miles from the nearest Interstate), with an honorable mention to Paisley, Oregon (209 miles) due to the sheer difficulty of driving to the big highway.

Dubois is “only” about 173 miles from the nearest Interstate, at Idaho Falls, and is interestingly equidistant from Interstates at Rawlins, Casper, and Livingston MT (200, 199, and 199 miles, respectively). But considering only towns that are completely surrounded by Interstates (rather than having a national border or large body of water on at least one side), I do wonder whether Dubois might qualify as having the largest average distance to the Interstate in all 4 directions (193 miles).

If you aren’t familiar with Dubois, please be assured that you can buy plenty of groceries and hardware supplies in town, and it’s even easy to find a cafe latte. And by that other criterion of remoteness, Internet access, Dubois is marvellously well-connected. You feel the remoteness mostly by your proximity to all that wilderness.

Speaking of which, there is one remoteness criterion Dubois can legitimately claim without dispute: It is TwoOceanPasscloser than any other town in the United States to the spot in the lower 48 that is most remote from any road, and therefore reachable only on foot or by horseback. This is Two Ocean Plateau in the southeastern corner of Yellowstone Park.

This spot has been designated by the United States Geological Service as the location in the “coterminous” United States that is most distant from any road (the trailhead is at Moran, an unincorporated community). Dubois is 44.1 miles from Two Ocean Pass as the crow flies, and the plateau is farther north. Jackson is 48.8 miles away.

There is one criterion for remoteness by which Dubois fails miserably. The residents are hardly remote in their behavior toward other people. It’s one of the friendliest places I’ve ever encountered, which is one reason we go all that way to get there.

@ Lois Wingerson, 2016

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Midwinter News from the Dubois Home Front

Beyond visible plans for reviving main street, there’s so much else that’s new in town this New Year.

As we begin to pack for the great return trek westward, news from Dubois in the “bleak midwinter” is anything but bleak. Not only have we seen the plans for the revival of our main street, there’s plenty more that’s new about town.

I guess when winter sets in and short-term visitors are largely confined to the mountain passes (with their snowmobiles), Dubois can take a deep

DuboisRising
The motto on the town’s float in the last July 4 parade: Dubois rising. Everyone from town knew what that was about.

breath and get down to business in earnest.

This time last year, we heard the distressing news that the county was planning to exclude Dubois from ambulance service, having chosen to install a professional EMT operation that wasn’t breaking even. Dubois’ indomitable Mayor Twila Blakeman leaped into action. Within a few months, 18 residents had completed training and qualified as EMTs. (Note that! 18, in a population of only 1,000.) She had also found funding for air ambulance service when ground service isn’t feasible. Just try to kill this town off, literally or figuratively! The story isn’t over, but my bet is that the outlook is hopeful.

Back to 2016: I’ve been gone from town for only a few weeks now, and there’s plenty of news from friends:

Pizza’s back! After the closure of the main-street restaurant Paya, which served better pizza than any we can get in Brooklyn, I suffered pizza withdrawal all last summer. Paya has been reborn under different ownership as Hooper’s, I’m told, and the pizza there is also said to be great. (Rumor has it that a former Paya chef has been sighted at the brick oven lately.) Meanwhile Cobbler, the riverside restaurant just behind and across the parking lot from Hooper’s, will reopen under the same management as a bakery and deli-style sandwich shop. Great call: We’ve also been missing a good bakery for some time, and visitors will appreciate the made-to-order sandwich option.

Flume1
Remains of a flume used to float milled logs toward the river

Tie hack history brought to life? Former Mayor Bob Baker has been hatching plans to found a “living museum” devoted to the legendary lumbermen who worked in our mountains cutting and milling ties for the railroads, early in the last century. Although there are museums dedicated to the topic of lumbering in Arkansas, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Texas, evidently none specifically honors the tie hacks who were so important to our nation’s history. At present, all Dubois can offer for that purpose is a stone obelisk on a hill above the highway west of town (yawn … ). It has taken me years to begin to appreciate this particular history, perhaps because it wasn’t presented vividly enough. I think this is a terrific idea, especially for the next generation, and I hope it succeeds.

Brighter future for the town website. Developers are about to begin testing an update to the town’s Internet face to the world, the website www.duboiswyoming.org. (Full disclosure: I have provided the text for the new pages.) As you see it today, the website has an old-fashioned, rustic look and feel, puts cowboys front and center, and begins its description with “In Dubois time seems to move at a slower pace.” I’m hoping the new version will gymgrab prospective visitors with breathtaking images and text that compels them to pack their bags and come see for themselves.

Way better than elliptical: My hiking buddy says she’s started a snowshoe club. What great news! This is the kind of venture that keeps me going to the gym every morning back in Brooklyn, where I listen to John Denver on my headphones, look at visions of the mountains in my head rather than the yobbos on the flat screen TVs, and try to focus on more important goals than optimizing my appearance.

©Lois Wingerson, 2016

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The Great Migration: Why Bother?

Once Dubois WY was the place we went in the summer to avoid heat and humidity. Now it’s the place we leave and return to, even in the winter.

RidgelineRearEnd “Did you decide when you’re coming back?” my good friend Karen texted yesterday.

“Oh good!” she responded  after my reply, adding a smiley face. “Everyone keeps on asking when you are coming home.”

She’s got it right: home. At first, we viewed Dubois as the place we could go in the summer, to avoid the city heat and humidity. Now it’s the place we leave and return to.

Here in Brooklyn, our Wyoming plates no longer attract much attention from neighbors. People may comment on our absence, but rarely with as much fondness as my Dubois friends like Karen express.

None of them has responded to our repeated invitations to visit us out West. (All it takes is a flight to Jackson. We’ll take care of the rest. There’s so much to do and see!) It’s a tough sell here in Brooklyn, which considers itself the coolest place on earth.

Do they think we’re nuts to keep going back and forth like this?

Quite often, despite what’s clearly visible on our license plate, neighbors ask when we’re planning to go back to Montana.

I continue to wonder why Wyoming has such a low profile. After all, last year the financial planning website bankrate.com declared Wyoming the best state in the nation for retirement, not just for its uniquely low cost of living, but also for its natural beauty and low crime rates.

highway2The long commute to and from Dubois takes three and a half days in the summer when days are long, if we’re in a hurry. If we’re not, we mosey. Once we stretched it to 10 days with a detour to Austin and New Orleans.

En route, we’re totally wired with broadband, with 3 or 4 devices (phones, tablets, a laptop) to consult. Often it feels I spend the entire trip looking at a screen to check the weather (most importantly in winter) or the price of gas, or to look for a good restaurant or motel.

Why do we drive rather than fly? Partly because we always seem to be transporting stuff back to Dubois (much of it donations for the Opportunity Shop) but also, importantly, because of the dog. I never wanted to put him on a plane in the first place, and now I definitely won’t, after a Dubois friend told me at happy hour that her dog became lost luggage. (It survived.)

My husband and I like each other’s company, and we truly enjoy the trip. It’s a privilege to watch the nation unfold before us, to see the well-kept farms of the Midwest (or the sad abandoned clapboard farmhouses) giving way to huge skies and broad prairies, and them being gradually overtaken by outrageously huge natural sculptures of rock.

To answer the first question: Why bother (especially in winter)? We have needed to return east to check on our rented house and to visit family. Now we absolutely must go home to Dubois.

By why in the winter?

For one thing, because it’s home. Also, we will leave the view at left for the one at right. Any other questions?

WinterinBrooklyn

RamshornInSnow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Lois Wingerson 2016

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