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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Joys of Dubois: The Midtown Mountain Overlook

It certainly says something about the hiking trails around Dubois that I could begin to find the views from the town overlook boring.

Overlook4 It certainly says something about the hiking opportunities in and around Dubois: By now,  the scenic overlook in the middle of town seems a bit of a bore to me, because I’ve traipsed so much of it so often.

But heavens, what you can see here!

You can drive to the top, or take the rather steep trail up from the parking lots halfway up, as you see in this picture.

The huge two-level butte is literally in the middle of town. It looms over the main section of Dubois, ascended by a steep dirt road that you reach by taking a right turn from the highway, just as you begin to head west out of town.

Overlook1Here’s what you see from the top, looking east. (That’s the top of the foot trail at the lower left.) You may want to stop a moment and sit on the log guard rail to catch your breath. There are informational signs about what you’re looking at.

You can see much of the town off to your right (not visible here), or the eastern edge of town in front of you (visible in the center of this photo).

But what really pops are the mountains all around you. This is one of the few places on earth where you can see all three mountain-building processes from one location, according to geologists at the Miami University of Ohio field station near Dubois. In the photo above, at right, you can see part of the range above Whiskey Basin, rises from a wonderful valley filled with lakes dug out by a glacier. There’s a splendid hike to a glacial lake isolated at the top.

The Absaroka mountains are volcanic (dumped by the massive Yellowstone eruption about 640,000 years ago), are easily visible from the western edge of the Overlook (not shown)Overlook7.

Here, in the third photo, you see in the distance the Owl Creek Mountains to the north and east, which are tectonic (the result of subsurface plates sliding over each other).

Behind you, looking to the south from the Overlook, you would see the long hump of the Wind River Range, which is sedimentary, rising behind the town. These mountains have  eroded over the ages from a time when this area was, incredibly, ocean floor.

I’m told you can still find marine fossils over there. Haven’t had time to investigate.

Overlook6From many vantage points on the Overlook, your closer view takes in these fabulous badlands. I’m always tempted to go sliding down one of these draws. (It’s difficult to envision a steady stroll down.)

Once in a while, if it’s hot, I’ll venture down a few yards to let the dog have a rest in the shade of a sagebrush plant. I never tire of seeing these magical formations.

Overlook2Last year Dubois Area Rails & Trails added a bike route up here. It was startling to see many new avenues where I used to blaze my own way. Haven’t seen many bikers up there yet, but I did see plenty of bike tracks as I walked the trail.

It’s intriguing to inspect the rocks dropped along the Overlook3trail over the millennia. Did this one sit at the bottom of an ancient ocean, or did a glacier drop it? I have no idea. Like so many other stones on so many paths in the Wind River Valley, it’s intriguing in its own right, however it got here. (Kinda like most of my neighbors, come to think of it.)

Overlook5One thing I’ve never observed here is quadrupeds, other than my faithful canine companion and other dogs brought up here for the chance to sniff around.

But evidently other mammals are here sometimes when we’re not.

The other exception, occasionally, is horses (as you can tell from the roadside sign below). The race course is on the second level, appropriately rustic and informal. The shack sells beer and hot dogs.

OverlookSign.
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© Lois Wingerson 2015

Joys of Dubois: Mountain Shoshone Heritage (Part 1)

Those nearly traceless migrant people who left no written records clearly loved this valley and knew how to use its scarce resources to live well.

New to this valley, I quickly became captivated with its first residents: Those people with the musical name, the Mountain Shoshone.

SheepTrap5_090515 Elusive and misunderstood when they existed as a tribe, they’re now largely lost to oral history. (Some residents of the nearby Wind River Reservation may carry their blood, but their culture has vanished.)

Many people here treasure that heritage, because those nearly traceless migrant people who left no written records clearly loved this valley and knew how to use its scarce resources to live well.

The archaeologists have offered up a few relics that survive them: Bowls made of soft soapstone, flakes and points used to hunt, scant signs of their villages at treeline (of which I will tell much more later), and these: Their sheep traps, some of which are still remarkably intact.

They were sometimes known as “Sheepeaters,” because they hunted the bighorn sheep that still travel these hills. The first picture shows State of Wyoming archaeologist Dan Eakin walking along a drive line, one of the pincers of timber that the Shoshone laid over many of the high slopes to herd the sheep, passively, toward a high ridge.

SheepTrap2_090515Cresting the ridge, the sheep would find themselves wedged between lines of timber and driven with no escape route toward a pen. There by some means (I believe we still don’t know how), the hunters dispatched the sheep.

Today, with a dozen other hardy folks, I hiked a very steep slope toward a ridge to see the remains of some Shoshone sheep trap systems. “I don’t want to get personal,” Eakins called out as we were huffing our way up the slope this morning, “but I’m 57. Is anyone here younger than me?”

We called out our ages. Nobody was. The woman who organized the hike is 73.

The wood in the sheep traps has been dated to the 1760s–before the Revolutionary War, Eakins said, and well before Lewis and Clark explored this general territory in 1804-1805. He called them some of the oldest human structures in the American West. High and generally dry, they remain remarkably intact.

The second picture shows some of my friends at the end of another drive line, admiring a catch pen. The next picture shows the catch pen itself. A tree has grown up inside it, long after the last sheep was bludgeoned inside. SheepTrap3_090515

It’s sort of fallen in, but can you see the ramp that the animal had no choice but to climb?

Below you see the trap from the side. From a distance, it may look like a pile of rubble. But close up, it’s clear that this was built intentionally. But built by non-white people, long ago, almost certainly: There are no signs of ax marks, and certainly no nails. All of it was dead wood, put to very good use.

SheepTrap4_090515For years the purpose of these structures (and in fact the identity of the builders) was mere conjecture, because nobody ever found arrowheads, or bones, or any signs of butchery nearby. But a few years ago Eakin and others found a sheep processing center near Greybull, to the north, filled with artifacts identified with the Shoshone.

Why locate the processing center remote from the sheep trap? Makes sense, Eakin said. It was probably smelly. Might have spooked the sheep away from the drive lines somehow.

Anyhow, it probably wasn’t so far back in the day. Now it’s about a 4-hour drive around to Greybull, but the Mountain Shoshone didn’t drive around. They walked the ridgelines, which are much more direct.

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© Lois Wingerson 2015

Wind River Hike Reward 081615

It was a stunning mid-August day in Dubois: Clear, mild, with a gentle breeze. But for some reason I was discouraged.

Was it the pain in my leg (sciatica, knee ligament sprain, who knows?)

Whatever. I know how to solve this: Get out, and get high.

Drove straight up the road at the Sheridan Creek crossing, past many switchbacks. I pulled out at a pullout, grabbed water, bear spray, and leash, and let the dog out the back.

We hiked up the road for quite a while, until beyond a cattle guard it took a sudden jog to the right. A smaller trail went left, and so did we. After a few yards, there it was: The reward.

RewardViewWithBoots081615 RewardViewWithDog081615That’s a sharp drop-off just beyond my boots. Off in the distance, beneath that jewel-bright sky, the jagged teeth of the Absaroka range stretching from left to right.

The dog and I sat there for quite a while, listening to the birds, watching the squirrels and the butterflies, feeling the breeze.

Sooner or later, he began to whimper (seldom happy sitting around for too long during a hike). But I could have sat there much longer, feeling all the little aches, physical and psychic, drifting away.

Setting off up the road again, I realized I had left the leash behind: Good excuse for one last look at that view. LeashBearSpray081615

The leash was where I had left it, of course. Here’s the other piece of equipment I always bring on hikes here: My bear spray with the bell attached. It clinks and clangs as I hike, always announcing my presence.

I’ve never encountered a grizzly in the woods, and I don’t want ever want to.

Further rewards awaited me, as I knew they would, on the long walk back downhill. More mountains spread out ahead at every turn.

Research shows that exercise prevents and relieves all sorts of ailments, from arthritis to cardiovascular disorders to dementia and depression. Out here, that’s no surprise and no wonder. What is a wonder is the exercise itself.DownhillView081615

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015

The Lore of Lumber

Not many of these relics remain from the tie hacks, whose dangerous work helped to build the West but also, in a sense, the town of Dubois.

Flume1Near the bottom of a long series of switchbacks, hiking down from the top of a large overlook, we approached a stream running through the base of a canyon.

My hiking companion looked down from the last switchback. “What’s that?” she asked, pointing to this structure.

I was relieved to find it still intact — not fallen down and washed away or, God forbid, pilfered. Few people know about this last remnant of a flume. There aren’t many of these relics left from the watercourses constructed more than a century ago by the tie hacks, whose highly dangerous work not only helped to build the railroads that made the West but also, in a sense, created the town of Dubois.

In the early days of the last century, the tie hacks cut lumber from these mountains and fed the logs via these flumes to the Wind River, where they were floated down to Riverton to be stacked and sent on by rail. All of the tie-hack work was demanding, and much of it was potentially deadly. (Read much more in Knights of the Broadax.)

The tie hacks lived in camps in the mountains above Dubois, using the long cold winters to fell the trees and the warmth of spring to direct the logs into the flumes and down toward the river. Their stories are the kind that make you marvel at those who built these communities. The tie hack villages and their stores and post office disappeared long ago, the community essentially relocated to Dubois.

One of the tie hacks, Fritz Stevens, was still alive to tell the story when I moved to Dubois. Their achievements and exploits still survive in exhibits at the Dubois Museum, in the annual Swedish Smorgasbord (celebrating dinners in the tie camps, many of whose residents were Scandinavian), MuseumDay2008_5_FritzStevens(seated)KnotTyingand in the surnames of many descendants who still live in town. In this picture you can see the late Fritz Stevens, sitting down with his cane and somewhat obscured by the shade, demonstrating knot-tying at a recent Museum Day.

I once heard Fritz tell of enduring a logging accident that sent a pole into his mouth, knocking out several teeth and letting loose lots of blood. There would be no talk of a trip to a medical clinic, of course: There was no medical clinic. He stopped the blood, took a rest, and got back to work.

The tie hacks are gone, but the lumbering goes on. Here’s the house my neighbor is building slowly, all by himself (with help from friends) with logs left over from his long life in the industry. His wife is Fritz Stevens’ neice. Although the couple grew up in this area, they spent several years in Alaska working for the timber industry, and they have some hair-raising stories to tell about the danger of that work. As I gaze at the huge logs that make up my own house, I think now of the perils that must have been involved in providing them.

Logger2 Logger1

It’s been many decades since the lumber mill, once the basis for Dubois’ economy, closed up shop. But logging trucks still rumble down the highway every day, and things are looking up: The US Forest Service recently reopened logging in the Shoshone National Forest, so that some of the many trees killed by pine bark beetles can be removed.

It’s been sad to see that forest graying and dying in patches, and good to know that the damaged lumber will come to some use (thereby reducing the risk of fire). Said a man hauling a load of wood I met at the end of a hike the other day: “It’s easy pickins.” They can’t take it away fast enough now.

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015

Lewis and Clark (and Me)

Lewis and Clark
Lewis and Clark

“The valley along which we passed today, and through which the river winds it’s meandering course… ascends gradually on either side of the river to the bases of two ranges of high mountains. the tops of these mountains are yet covered partially with snow, while we in the valley are nearly suffocated with the intense heat of the mid-day sun; the nights are so cold that two blankets are not more than sufficient covering.”

So wrote Meriwether Lewis from the headwaters of the Missouri River on August 2, 1805 — exactly 210 years ago today.

On that day Lewis and Clark were about 150 miles north of where I hiked today, but the words still ring true. These mountains too bear snow even in August, and I indeed need a blanket or two at night (even indoors). Given global warming, it’s interesting that they also found it very hot on this date.

I set out today up a logging road about 20 minutes’ drive west of home, with the dog beside me. He hung back at first, panting, until I made it clear I would not head back.

I’ve been reading Lewis and Clark’s journals just now, and as I walked I kept thinking of the two diarists, of their guides Sacajawea and Charbonneau and the rest of the party — their exhaustion from hauling log-built canoes always upstream, the sprains and blisters and tender feet from clambering over rocky streambeds, the digestive problems from tainted water, the constant search for game to eat, the harrowing losses of tomahawks and compasses, the uncertainty about where they were headed, what lay ahead, and the odds of survival.

080215trailLewis wrote with wonder that the local natives, Sacajawea’s mountain Shoshone relatives, could survive at all in this environment. How much we owe to those natives’ kindness to the first Europeans, to the courage and stamina of the explorers and Mountain Men themselves, to the fortitude of the first European settlers who opened this wonderful land for the rest of us.

The dog and I trudged up a very rutted dirt road, through a pine forest that didn’t offer much shade. I didn’t need to carry much: A bear bell, bear spray, a water bottle.

Our trail led to a T-junction, and I chose the right turn, towards a place where the trees were thicker, offering more shade.

We scared up a grouse.

The pine grove opened into a wider meadow, covered with tall browning grass and some wild flowers still blossoming late in the season.

The road curved. What lay ahead?

I can rarely turn back when a slope or a bend beckons with the possibility of a new vista.

And there it was, just a few steps later:080215mountains

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015

Dubois Love Letter #1: A Study in Contrasts

cropped-petesgate.jpg Fifteen minutes’ drive west of Dubois, you are hiking in high alpine forest.

The scent of sage mixes with the fragrance of pine. The air is so cool you may need an extra layer in midsummer.

Your eyes behold the most beautiful color combination in nature: sagebrush and lupine.

You’re only a few miles from the Continental Divide here.

Just a mile or two east of this spot the spectacular red-rock badlands begin. They rise stunningly over the center of town, and continue to a long distance to the the east, standing above the valley like a vast array of monuments.

hikers_072215From a distance they look like solid rock, but up close you find that they are slowly dissolving sand. My husband calls them “melting ice-cream,” in geologic terms.

These hikers have just completed a hot and dry hike up Mason’s Draw and back, stopping often to give the dogs (and themselves) a drink of water.

Where they turned back at the top of the draw, it seemed as silent as the back side of the moon, except for the breeze.

Here you see the kinds of flowers that dominate in one landscape (left) and the other, just a short drive away (right).

RocksNFlowers2

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.
© Lois Wingerson 2015

Don’t Like the Weather?

HikeDark

At long last, back in Dubois.

This is the moment we have waited for! The dog and I set off west up the highway towards the Sheridan Creek area, just inside the Shoshone National Forest. Here is the alpine high-mountain forest region of the local ecosystem. A few minutes back down the highway, we could be clambering around in red-rock badlands. That’s for another day …

Today we’ll do an easy hike, just up the main road. Mustn’t push myself, only one day after I have returned to 7.500 feet above sea level.

Oh, no! What’s that heading in from the southwest? Ominous; there’s thunder.

Drat! We turn back towards the car.

Partway back, I turn around. What’s this?

HikeSunny

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015