The Velvet Ribbon Out of Dubois

The trip across the mountain pass is perhaps less of an adventure now, but still exhilarating.

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PassHighway022514_1Time to leave town. I have to head over the pass to catch a plane. (As they say in Brooklyn, you gotta do what you gotta do.)

It’s barely light when we turn uphill to catch the 9 AM departure. In clear weather like this, we know, the drive will take about 90 minutes. The moon is still visible in the sky, and the road is silent.

Plenty of our neighbors go over Togwotee Pass to Jackson all the time, for a shopping spree, to catch a ski lift or a show, or to visit a specialist. We rarely bother to head into that tourist hot spot, except to catch a flight.

Still, the trip across the mountain is usually a  delight–especially now that they’ve taken a little of it down to widen the highway.

We used to approach road cuts like the one below with trepidation. The lanes were narrow, the plunge off the far side was steep, and you couldn’t see what was barreling down on you from the other direction. Especially on a wintry day like this, the drive could be pretty nerve-wracking.

PassHighway022514_3No more. Today, the highway is smooth, fast, and (as you see from the pictures) well cared-for even in the winter. We’re going all the way over the Continental Divide here, above 10,000 feet and back down. Thanks in large part to the interests of the snowmobilers, it’s going to be an easy trip today.

The succession of vistas make you catch your breath, beginning with the monumental granite walls of the pinnacles, climbing to and passing across vast high mountain valleys, then drifting downward through a green tunnel of pines that open to views of the Tetons.

This pleasure came at a price. Not long ago, we had to endure hour-long waits to cross miles of washboard gravel, while the huge orange toys moved big chunks of rock from here to there, scooped the gravel flat and frosted it with asphalt.

Even back at home, we had nuisances to endure. Trucks burdened with boulders or tons of gravel would groan uphill past me as I finished my morning bike ride, and then growl noisily downhill using their jake-brakes on the way back down.

The reward for our patience is a smooth, wide ribbon. Thank you, Albright Sand & Gravel PassHighway022514_4and Oftedahl Construction. And thank heaven.

The heavy equipment that goes up and down the road most often this time of year, other than the logging trucks, are the snowplows. We see them out even at times when it’s bone dry where we are–a welcome sign that the snowshoeing farther uphill is still good.

In warmer months, this road becomes a scenic detour for those travelers who miss the turn at Moran Junction. Every so often a stranger pulls into our driveway and asks how far it is to Yellowstone. Told that the best option is to enjoy that same wonderful view again in the opposite direction for another hour or so, the driver often asks whether there’s another way around.

In fact, there is. It’s a great trip via Thermopolis and Cody, through a memorably beautiful canyon. But it reaches the northeast entrance to the park, and takes the better part of a day.

The driver’s next question: Is this a bed and breakfast?

Sorry, no. (But there are nice motels and good restaurants 10 minutes farther on, in town. Why don’t you take a look around and enjoy yourselves?)

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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Why Dubois, Wyoming? Look Here!

The brand-new Destination Dubois website shows in living color all the good reasons to come this way.

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I’m so pleased to draw your attention to the best view you could get of Dubois without actually being here. It’s on the new website sponsored by the Dubois Chamber of Commerce.*

Please do take a moment to go to www.duboiswyoming.org (or just click the first result when you google the search term “Dubois WY”) and feast your eyes.

Many of the stunning images have been contributed by Dubois residents. Local artist Gary Keimig took the lovely background picture of a sunrise above, and Sally Wulbrecht, curator of the Dubois Museum, took the pictures of the horses and hikers.

The first thing you see when you click on the website are four eye-popping images that rotate across the screen, starting with Molly Moore’s catch of two bighorn sheep:

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followed by Sally’s placid vision of a mountain valley:

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and concluding with the “call to action”:

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The new website lays out in one place the many compelling reasons to discover Dubois, such as those below:

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You’ll see many more by going to the page duboiswyoming.org/activities and scrolling down, or clicking on any of the labels beneath the horizontal brown bar at the top.

Please, if you already know and love Dubois, tell your friends about the new website by any means of communication you employ. Especially please notice the social media buttons at upper left and use them to “like” the site.

I’m going to start doing that right now, today. (Full disclosure: I wrote the text for the site. Please let me know if you find something that ought to be changed.)

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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*and funded by tourism tax dollars administered through the Wind River Visitors Council.

 

 

 

Winds of Change in the Warm Valley

The wind is up again, driving the snow flurries sideways. Is this depressing, or exciting?

RamshorninCloudThe wind is up again, driving the snow flurries sideways. It has pushed a steady bank of snow clouds across the Absarokas, and the Ramshorn peak up the valley has vanished again.

The trucks struggle even harder up the hill. Birds flap valiantly to stay on course, and soon drop out of sight to rest somewhere. The shingles on our roof rattle, and some of them fall.

It creates remarkable drifts in the snow, so deep that our dog may almost lose himself briefly while trying to run across an open field.

Full disclosure: Of course we have winds here. They did call it the Wind River Valley for a reason.

Here’s a local version of a verse from a popular folk song:

From this valley they say you are going.
Please do say it’s not something I said
But the fact that it never stops blowing
And you can’t keep your hat on your head.

Like much doggerel, those words are somewhat in jest. These are not the unceasing winds of the dust bowl.

About 15 years before that infamous dust bowl of the 1930s, in his novel The Prairie Wife,  Arthur Stringer described the prairie wind like this:

“Oh, such a wind! It made a whining and wailing noise, with each note higher, and when you felt that it couldn’t possibly increase, that it simply must ease off or the whole world would go smash, why that whining note merely grew tenser and the wind grew stronger. How it lashed things! How it shook and flailed and trampled this poor old earth of ours!”

It usually isn’t like that here. In the Wind River Valley, much of the time there is almost no wind at all. We know to expect it around 11 am if it’s going to blow up, and we know that it usually dies down in the evening (if not sooner).

flaginwindLike the bears in summer, the wind in winter is a factor in where I choose to hike. I know there’s much less wind in the tree-sheltered back roads along the river across the highway than on the high flats of the scenic overlook in town.

Writing in 2001 in the Great Plains Quarterly, cultural geographer Cary DeWit described his field studies of modern women living on the high plains of Kansas and Colorado. The wind bothered many of them a great deal, he reported, and much more than it seemed to trouble the men (unless it hindered their ability to deal with crops or the stock).

“I always hated the wind,” said one woman. “I like to say it blows cobwebs around in my mind.”

“I don’t like the wind,” another told him. “It doesn’t just mess up your hair; you have to hang on to your car door. It makes me grumpy and makes me angry.”

One of the first comments I ever received to an entry in Living Dubois also mentioned the wind, as one factor that drove its author (a woman) away from town. “I raved like this for my first three or four years in Dubois, until what you call a steady breeze nearly drove me out of my mind.”

FlyingSheetsAs for me, in a way I enjoy the wind (which I can hear even as I write). I’ve lasted nearly 10 years now, and it still hasn’t blown me away. Far from it.

The wind isn’t always pleasant, no more so than any other potentially dangerous and adverse weather phenomenon. You have to treat it with respect, for sure.

I’m glad very glad that our chinking is sound and that I don’t have to sleep outdoors in a tent during this wind. It worries me greatly when there are forest fires nearby.

We often choose to avoid driving northbound between I-80 and Lander, because out there on the sage flats the wind is often so strong and incessant that your hands eventually cramp holding the steering wheel.

But here in Dubois, especially in mild weather, I actually find the periods of wind a little exhilarating, as I might if I were on a sailboat in a sheltered bay somewhere.

Here’s what I feel about it: The wind will always bring something new from the horizon. It drove these clouds in, and it will drive them away, sooner or later. Then it will surely blow away itself.

@ Lois Wingerson, 2016

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14 Reasons to Love Dubois, Wyoming

Again and again, people come to this remote town not far from Yellowstone and fall in love. How does this happen?

DuboisWYValentineYou hear about it again and again:  Someone came to this remote town not far from Yellowstone and fell in love. How does this happen?

Let me count the ways. Those lucky folks who discover Dubois are:

1. Stunned by the scenery: A too well-kept secret. Granite peaks that rival the Grand Tetons for their splendor. The fascinating, slowly melting red desert. The quiet forests and mountain streams. The vistas never fail to astonish.

2. Seduced by the climate:  The weather is most often pleasant and dry. The sun shines most of the time. Days are generally mild in winter, and cool in summer.

Petro 93.  Fascinated by the history … and the prehistory. From the mysterious carvers of the petroglyphs to the courageous and resilient Mountain Men and homesteaders, the people of the past never fail to amaze.

4.  Charmed by the people of the present:  The welcoming instincts of Dubois’ townspeople and their impulse to help themselves and each other make it difficult to resist loving the whole community, once you get to know it.

5.  Awed by the animals:  The other beautiful residents of this valley appear unexpectedly, and leave you catching your breath in awe. You’d surely be poorer if you never saw an eagle fly–or watched an elk bound away, or glimpsed a mighty moose in the willows.

6.  Healed by the hikes (or the horseback rides):  Whatever the little misery that clouds your vision, it will vanish as soon as you can step outdoors, pause for a deep breath, and take the first few strides.

wintertrail.7.  Silenced by the snow: The noisy burdens and pressures of daily life melt away when you can get out into the soft, deep white of it, whether you’re marching on snowshoes, gliding on skis, or sailing along on your snowmobile. (It’s all good–and never too cold, as long as you stay out of the wind and wear enough layers. Don’t forget the sunglasses!)

8.  Romanced by the remoteness: It takes about an hour’s drive to find yourself in traffic or in a crowd. What does surround you? The beauty of nature, most of it accessible as public land. That said, there are plenty of good places to buy a meal or even an espresso.

9.  In love with the location:  Smack-dab in the middle of the great American West. It’s about an hour’s drive to Yellowstone in one direction and to a restored ghost town and gold mine in the other, stopping to visit Sacajawea’s grave on the reservation along the way. You’re a few days easy driving from Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park … I’ll stop there, for now.

1200px-US_map_-_geographic10.  Drawn to the artists:  You may not be skilled at capturing what you see on canvas (or film), but so many others are. Plenty of them have not resisted the lure of living here, and you have ample opportunities to admire their work on display at art or photography shows, or in local galleries.

11.  Overcome by events:  Did you think there would be nothing to do out here in the middle of so much wilderness? I find I actually welcome a quiet evening at home, after last night’s lecture on animal migrations, the jam session the night before, my neighbor’s dinner party followed by cards, and on and on. I must be sure to be rested up before the Soupenanny next weekend! I’m so sad I was closed out of that free course on early Native American art and elected to miss the hike about animal prints in the snow. Thank heaven it’s still midwinter, when not much is going on. So many choices, so little time!

12.  Beguiled by the benevolence:  There are at least 30 nonprofit organizations in a town that has not quite 1000 residents, as of the last census. Nearly every event is a benefit for one cause or another, and when we run into a true crisis — a catastrophic fire in the middle of the business district, the threatened cancellation of our ambulance service — the way Dubois pulls together to rise and recover is almost beyond descriptions.

DuboisQuiltShow080815_213.  Captivated by the creativity: Knitters and quilters. Guitarists and fiddlers. Woodcarvers and antler sculptors. Jewelry designers and master caterers. (So what is lacking here in Dubois? Walmart.)

14.  Finally, found by new friends:  I heard someone recently describe meeting people in this town as like opening a box of chocolates and finding that they’re all truffles. Among the good friends I have met here are a nuclear physicist, a retired cowboy, a Parisian photographer, a Swedish schoolteacher-turned-wrangler, a great hairdresser (“Excuse me, where do you get your hair cut? Oh, Wyoming. Where’s that?”), a computer wizard, several lawyers and a dentist, numerous artists (of course), and a microbiologist. My hiking buddy grew up in Singapore and Pakistan. Our newest neighbors have moved here from Baton Rouge.

So different, yet we all get along remarkably well. Why? We all share our love for this one remarkable place.

 

 

 

Mabel’s Girls

A new trekking club in Dubois WY is named after an early businesswoman of note if not distinction.

For nearly a decade, I’ve usually hiked these hills alone. In only the past year, I’m pleased to report, I’ve found many women to join me in exploring the delights of the Wind River Valley.

snowshoesMore accurately, they’ve invited me to join them. Today I headed for the hills on snowshoes with six other women, most of whom moved to Dubois within the past few years–from Oklahoma and Louisiana, Massachusetts and California by way of Arizona, and in one case back living in Dubois again, after leaving town for a decade to explore the country by RV and considering many other locations in which to settle permanently. Here they are

Members of the ladies’ trekking club propose to call ourselves Mabel’s Girls, after the local name for the large hill that looms over our homes. Perhaps my favorite hike is the steep climb up the public land on the northeast side of Mabel’s Hill, which rewards you with a spectacular view of the Dunoir Valley when you reach the long high plateau at the top.

Mabels Hill
View atop Mabel’s Hill

In 1932, one of Dubois’ early entrepeneurs, Mabel McFarland, opened the Long Creek Ranch and Tavern along the highway just off the highway at the western end of the hill. For many years, the tavern was popular with local cowboys and loggers as a place to stop for a drink and entertainment after a hard week’s work on the range or in the mountains.

One friend told us that when he was working on a ranch nearby many years ago, he and his buddy would occasionally ride over to Mabel’s at the end of the day, penniless and thirsty. She would stake them to one beer each and then boot them out.

Mabel features as “one of the most memorable characters” in Mary Allison’s iconic Dubois Area Local History. A photo shows Mabel standing in front of her establishment wearing trousers and a blazer, smiling, her windblown hair framing her face.

“There were many who remember those fun days,” Mary wrote, “particularly when the Dubois Roping Club ended up at Mabel’s for drinks and dinner. She was a great hostess and lots of fun.”

I have not taken time to track her history further, but I have heard that Mabel opened her new tavern 15 miles to the west of Dubois after locals who objected to her business forced her out of town. There are reports of cat-fights on the bridge in the middle of town between women who supported Mabel’s business and others who opposed it. But this is all merely hearsay.

MabelsFireplace
Fireplace viewed from US Hwy 26

Dubois Area History reports that Mabel’s tavern was badly damaged in a dynamite explosion in 1957, and burned to the ground in 1958 or 1959. There are those who say that a stone fireplace visible from the highway at the base of the hill stands as a reminder of the tavern, but our ex-cowboy friend disputes that this was the exact location.

Mabel’s Girls has no formal standing as an organization and no bylaws. But we have discussed the terms under which we might allow men to join our treks. Some members of the club joke that we should charge them for the privilege, or at least require them to break the trail.

We also note the charming exhibit currently on display at the Dubois Museum, which features dolls made from vintage clothespins depicting noteworthy women in Wyoming history. Members of Dubois’ Top of the World Homemakers Club hand-crafted the dolls in 1989, in honor of Women’s History Month.

You see Sacajawea at lower left in the image below. The first female judge in Wyoming is included, as well as the first woman to vote in Wyoming and a female doctor who dressed as a man to avoid attracting attention and unwanted comments.

Mabel McFarland is not among them.dolls

Perhaps the women who inspired the dolls are better role models for the little girls most likely to enjoy seeing them. But as one member of Mabel’s Girls commented during our winter trek today, it just wasn’t so easy for a woman to start her own business back in the day.

And without a doubt, women like Mabel were also part of the history of the West.

© Lois Wingerson 2016

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