Sunday, October 21, 2018

Yellowstone National Park - September 2018 - Part One

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The Grand Adventure - Summer 2018 - Part Six

Grizzlies, wolves, and bison, oh my!

This was the first time we camped in Yellowstone National Park. It was an entirely new adventure for us. We envisioned crowds, huge campgrounds, more crowds; not our cup of tea. But our friends, The Teds, go to Yellowstone once or twice a year and love it. They are avid wildlife watchers. They, very kindly, invited us to join them.

Our entry into the National Park was right out of our fears. It was backed up out to West Yellowstone. We crawled along patiently.

The Teds pulled up as we were checking into Madison Campground. We had made reservations months prior for one night. This had to be the largest campground I had ever seen in my life.

We both - the Teds and us - settled into our assigned campsites and the Teds took us down for a walk along the Madison River. What a beautiful place! What a beautiful river!  I thought about Lewis & Clark naming this river after James Madison - Secretary of State under Jefferson and would follow Jefferson as our fourth president.

After our time at Bannack, great great grandpa Sam was still on my mind, so I couldn't help but recall, while standing along the Madison River,  that Sam - obviously a very proud American - named his oldest son, my great grand dad, James Madison, and, on top of that, named his second son James Monroe.

The walk along the river and the company of our good friends made it a wonderful afternoon. Tomorrow, Monday,  the Teds would show us the ropes. Teach us how to score campsites in the small, much more intimate campgrounds that are first come, first served. 

We followed Ted's lead and instructions and secured excellent adjoining campsites in Pebble Creek. We popped up our camper tops and made breakfast. On our drive along the Lamar River we saw two wolves bedded down out from a large crowd of wildlife watchers parked along the roadside. We found out later the drama that was unfolding and had the watchers' rapt attention. A bison calf was killed by a vehicle. A grizzly was trying to claim it. Ma bison and a friend were attempting to keep the bear from reaching the carcass.  The wolves were patient and just waiting their turn for fresh buffalo. We weaved our way through the crowd with our truck and arrived moments later at our first bison jam. When these huge lumbering beasts feel like crossing the road they just do it, in mass. Vehicle travel comes to a halt.

After breakfast we all climbed into Ted's truck and drove across the Yellowstone River to the Tower Fall area. "You can get good ice cream here!" Ted explained as he led us through the packed parking lot where we had claimed the only open parking space. We would come to discover - at the popular areas - an open parking space was a gift from god and to be celebrated in the humblest and most devout way possible.

The Teds, along the drive, showed us osprey nests, wolf den sites, golden eagle nests, and other inside information that we are sworn to secrecy never to divulge. I am keeping my promise. The Teds also pointed out one high spot that is called "the phone booth" -  a very special place. If you turn just right, you can get a cell signal that allows checking in on the daily wildlife sightings reports so you can plan where you want to be the next morning, well before sunup.  On our way back from ice cream the grizzly was now on the bison carcass.

There was no parking spot .

We returned to the viewing area that evening with hopes that the grizzly and maybe wolves would return to feed on what remained of the little bison. We brought dinner along with us, set up tripods, spotting scopes, cameras, and our chairs and joined the group. What a nice group of people! Everyone pointed out what they were seeing, offered views through their equipment, and shared stories of all they had seen during their current visit to Yellowstone. It is a delightful community, these folks who so enjoy wildlife viewing in our oldest National Park. We met and talked with people from several different countries.

Alas, no grizzlies or wolves. Bison were everywhere. Young bulls practiced battle.


The old, established bull watched over what was his.

With some unknown signal, they decided it was time to cross the road.

We returned to our campsites. We sat out and swapped stories as darkness settled around us. The two resident bison bulls grazed right across the road from us. We made a note to pay attention when we got up in the middle of the night to pee.

The Teds left well before dawn Tuesday morning. They come to Yellowstone for the wildlife viewing. You need to be in place before the sun.

The Lady and I relaxed with our morning coffee and watched the boys across from our campsite.

Our plan for the day was to explore the Yellowstone backcountry on foot. We drove up the highway into Montana and started at the Warm Creek Trailhead. We'd climb up and over the high ridge and drop into the high upper meadows of Pebble Creek . We'd hike down Pebble Creek back to camp a distance of around twelve miles.

The climb was glorious and we appreciated the warm morning sun.

We started down and saw our first evidence of grizzlies, fresh claw scratch marks in the trail.

The high open meadows at the headwaters of Pebble Creek were incredible and came with a special bonus, we had not seen another person.

We were welcomed by a pair of Golden Eagles.

The vastness enveloped us. Our awareness of everything around us heightened as we moved through expanses of willows.

Fall with its new colors was already evident here in the high country.

A large bull moose moved along with us.

This hike required five fords of Pebble Creek.

At the crossing pictured above, we met a nice couple from Carbondale, Colorado. They were heading out the direction we had come, enjoying a few days of backpacking. They were the only two people we saw in the backcountry this day.

The valley slowly narrowed as it turned into a canyon.

We moved through dense forest, open meadows, willow choked riparian areas, high ridges; all touched with the colors of the coming Fall.

With one last ford of Pebble Creek, we found the Teds back at camp. Ted moved one of the boys away from his truck so we could all retrieve our truck parked up near the Northeast Entrance.

The Lady surprised me during our hike. She told me that on Wednesday, the next day, she'd really like to see some of the touristy spots. We were in Yellowstone National Park after all!

What were the Teds planning for Wednesday? After stopping at "the phone booth", Ted and Donna announced, "There's a carcass in Hayden!" They were going to Hayden Valley.

Our Yellowstone adventure will continue in the upcoming Part Two.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Bannack, Montana - September 2018

please remember you can click on a photo to see a larger version & highlighted text are links to further information

The Grand Adventure - Summer 2018 - Part Five

Bannack Stole Our Hearts & Why Am I Not A Montanan?

We drove the back roads from Grant, MT and arrived at the campground at Bannack State Park in the mid afternoon on Friday of Labor Day Weekend. We had made reservations a few days prior and noted there were several sites still open, so we were unconcerned about this being a holiday weekend. Besides, everyone was talking about the big county fair in nearby Dillon and how it was the last rodeo of the season in Montana. Everybody would be there.

The campground was a pleasant setting along Grasshopper Creek, just west of the historic ghost town. The sites were dirt, and fairly basic.

Other campers trickled in as the afternoon waned. Our entertainment was watching the camp host help shoehorn huge fifth wheels and trailers into the small sites. One fifth wheel took several attempts at getting it into place. At one point I was sure the owner was going to push it into place with the truck's back bumper. To everyone's horror, this maneuver was to position the huge generator in the pickup bed close to the mansion on wheels. It took three pulls to start. Bubba and his brother had power.

Entertainment was now watching groups of other campers wander over to the campground signage to reread the "Quiet Time" regulations.

Bubba had read it too. The roar sputtered to silence precisely at ten pm. A loud round of applause erupted across the campground.

This was almost the highlight of campground life in Bannack. Sometime if you are with us at a lonely campsite and it it is night and the time for stories, ask to hear the one about the woman in the black evening dress..................

Bannack was the site of the first gold strike in Montana.

More than a decade after the California Gold Rush that brought so many immigrants westward, later strikes such as Bannack and Alder Gulch in Montana, brought many in from established gold camps across the West, such as California's Motherlode, Nevada's Comstock, Colorado's Pikes Peak. Included in this group was an ex city marshal from Nevada City, California named Henry Plummer. While serving as marshal in Nevada City, Plummer was convicted of murdering  a woman's estranged husband. It was the kind of story that gets people talking. Yes, she was a beautiful young woman. Henry's health did not fare well in San Quentin Prison.  The prison doctor was sure Henry would not live and asked the governor of California to pardon Plummer. It was granted and he was released. Plummer's health immediately improved.

Henry Plummer ended up in Bannack. He was elected Sheriff. Several men that Plummer met in San Quentin also arrived in Montana. Coincidence?

What does this have to do with our visit to Bannack? I was searching for answers. I wanted to find out if the history that occurred here could be the answer to my question, "Why am I not a Montanan?"

We explored and wandered about in Bannack Friday and all day Saturday. It is a beautiful and fascinating place. In contrast to Bodie, where most of the buildings are closed to entry, most buildings in Bannack are open to explore inside.

I loved the perspective of the old windows. Could looking through the old glass offer that glimpse back in time?

The two story brick building that is the Hotel Meade is a gem.

It was in the Hotel Meade where we had a close encounter with a selfie.

Bannack stole our hearts. We sensed this was the beginning of a love affair with this old town.

Apparently this was not the case with my great great grandfather Sam when he came to the southwest Montana gold towns in 1864. He did not stay. He turned back around and returned to Iowa City. If he had stayed and moved his family here, I would now be a native Montanan. Why did he not stay? Perhaps walking these old streets of Bannack would provide me with an answer.

Maybe I could find an answer inside Skinner's Saloon.

Adorning the east wall were stories right out of Thomas Dimsdale's book, "The Vigilantes of Montana".

After a series of robberies by "Road Agents" of successful miners and businessmen heading back home loaded with gold dust, along with assorted killings, and other violence, the leading citizens of Montana took what they saw as justice into their own hands. The defining moment was the hanging of Sheriff Plummer from his own gallows in Bannack.

Dimsdale's book was written soon after the events and can be viewed as history written by the winners. I am currently reading a much more well rounded account, "A Decent Orderly Lynching: The Montana Vigilantes".

I highly recommend this book if you have an interest in the history of the West.

By any telling, these were ugly times. Was this the reason great great grandpa Sam turned around and went home?  Was he repulsed by the lawlessness and vigilante justice? Or perhaps were there other reasons?

With all these dark thoughts of lynchings, shootings, and such, we figured it was time to visit the cemetery. Note: Plummer was buried in an unmarked grave that is lost to time.

Great great grandpa Sam was a 45 year old man who left Iowa City for California but got turned toward southwest Montana with talk on the overland trail of the new gold strikes there. Was he looking for riches? Maybe, but it was evident he was looking for a new place to move his family, a family he had left waiting in Iowa. I do not know why Sam decided not to stay. It also could have been that the Civil War still raged. Sam was a Lincoln Republican and a Unionist. His oldest son, my great grandfather, was about to enlist in the Union Army. This area was divided, with many vocal southern sympathizers.

After being gone for six months, Sam returned to Iowa only to leave again on a quick trip down to Fort Leavenworth. My aunt told me the story that he hated the Kansas wind. Kansas was out.  In the spring of 1865 he moved the family to Richland County, Wisconsin and cleared land to farm. My family set down deep roots there and thus, I am a native of Wisconsin.

So why am I not a Montanan? My gut feeling is the answer is simple. I suspect that Sam did not like the unfamiliar arid land of the West. On his moves ever westward, he had cleared land and had farms in Ohio and in Michigan. In 1856 he moved the family to Iowa where he farmed and worked in the teamster business. In Wisconsin, I suspect, he found land he knew and land that was not dependent on irrigation.

We loved Bannack. Bannack stole our hearts. We wandered the area in the cool evenings and thoroughly enjoyed our visit here. Saturday night was a special treat - a date night for us. The movie started at seven pm in the church.

Far Horizons is an absolute abomination of history. The acting is awful. Its representation of Lewis, Clark, and Sacajawea is deplorable. All that aside, as an insight into how Hollywood turns history into entertainment, it made for a great date night in Bannack. After the movie, we wandered down dark Main Street on our walk back to the campground. I was the dashing Charleston Heston playing Captain Clark and on my arm was the beautiful Donna Reed as Sacajawea.  Ah, Hollywood.

Bannack is wonderful. Go to Bannack.

If you are interested in seeing more of my photos of Bannack, they can be found here -

Bannack, Montana - September 2018

We woke early Sunday morning and quietly prepared to leave. Our travels took us across the Centennial Valley and over Red Rock Pass. We were on our way to Yellowstone National Park.