Western Vignettes


Tonight we are camping on an island in the Great Salt Lake.  One minute we were in the middle of strip malls and suburban houses and the next we were in the middle of the lake surrounded by wetland grasses and birds.  The day has been almost unbearably hot, but the evening is perfectly warm and thunderstorms are blowing in.  We sit under the canopy and watch the spidery lightning striking in the distance.  Billie Holiday quietly croons “Them There Eyes” and the crickets chime in.  And as if to remind me that no moment can be totally idyllic, a mosquito buzzes lightly in my ear.

The next morning we awake to see buffalo grazing outside of our window.  The thunderstorms have passed and all around is the sweet smell of dry grass.  Salt Lake City looks like a mirage in the cloudy distance.  There are no sounds but the calls of seabirds and the faint rustle of the buffalo as their huge bodies gracefully swish through the tall vegetation.

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Wyoming – a New Perspective

In traveling from the mountains to the desert, we have traded having to look out for bears for being on the lookout for rattlesnakes.  The mosquitoes and biting flies have given way to yellow jackets as number one pest.  Sparse juniper bushes clinging to the chalky hillsides have taken the place of the towering lodge pole pines, brick reds and toasted yellows and browns replace the lush greens of the mountains and forests.

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The Fellowship of the Bear

“Almost every day, on the park or forest radio, we hear some ranger report a bear sighting, sometimes of grizzly.  Campers molested, packs destroyed by hungry and questing bears.  Somebody was recently attacked and mauled by a griz north of the line, in Waterton Lakes…

No doubt about it, the presence of bear, especially grizzly bear, adds a spicy titillation to a stroll in the woods.  My bear loving friend Peacock goes so far as to define wilderness as a place and only a place where one enjoys the opportunity of being attacked by a dangerous wild animal.  Any place that lacks griz, or lions and tigers, or a rhino or two, is not, in his opinion, worthy of the name wilderness…A wild place without dangers is an absurdity…We must not allow our national parks and national forests to be degraded to the status of mere public playgrounds.  Open to all, yes of course.  But enter at your own risk.

Enter Glacier National Park and you enter the homeland of the grizzly bear.  We are uninvited guests here, intruders, the bear our reluctant host.  If he chooses, now and then, to chase somebody up a tree, or all the way to the hospital, that is the bear’s prerogative.  Those who prefer, quite reasonably, not to take such chances should stick to Disneyland in all its many forms and guises.”

–        from The Journey Home by Edward Abbey

It’s obvious that when hiking in bear country, one must be on the alert at all times. Conventional wisdom states that if a bear hears you coming, it will go away.  If a bear does not hear you coming and you surprise it, there will likely be trouble.  Bears, like my mother, do not like surprises.  Continue reading “The Fellowship of the Bear”

Getting Hyderized

The town of Hyder, Alaska, which had its heyday in the early 20th century when it was an important mining town, borders British Columbia on one side and the vast expanse of Misty Fiords National Monument on all others.  In other words, Hyder is literally the end of the road.  You cannot get anywhere else in Alaska by road from there, so it really is its own little outpost.  According to several residents, the town has a year-round population of about 90-100 people.  It expands somewhat during the summer months when tourists come out to look at the Salmon Glacier and look for bears.  Hyder may be one of the tiniest towns that we have stopped in, but it has more character than most of the cities we’ve visited so far.

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July Fourth by the Ocean

I’ve never liked the fourth of July. When I was little it was because I was afraid that the house would catch on fire from stray fireworks. Now I dislike it for different reasons—I think Robinson Jeffers, in his poem “July Fourth by the Ocean” makes an eloquent statement about it: “Therefore we happy masters about the solstice/light bonfires on the shore and celebrate our power.” In any case, we usually try to avoid any kind of July fourth activities not only because of feelings about it, but because there are just so many damned people around.

On the morning of July fourth this year, I thought it would be fun to hike into the next town which we had seen on a previous day’s drive. Yachats is an adorable little seaside town complete with picturesque houses with huge windows looking out to the water, welcoming small shops and cafes, and long stretches of sand walled in by stony cliffs. It bills itself as “the gem of the Oregon Coast,” and if you like the fourth of July, I can imagine that you would agree.

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