Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, Montana - July 2015 - Part One

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"This is a good fish! It will go three pounds," the young man called to us from across the lake. The Lady and I had watched him lift his rod when the Yellowstone Cutthroat took the fly. His fly rod instantly went into a deep bend and he began to expertly play the large fish.

We had spoke earlier in the morning as we passed him on the five mile trail into this lake in Montana's Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness. He was accompanied by his yellow lab, Ida. Ida was as all dogs should be. Although off leash, she never left her master's side, always heeling. She instantly and joyously followed commands, either verbal or hand. Wearing a long sleeve shirt  embroidered with the name of a respected guide service, carrying a Brodin Ghost Guide Net, and wearing the latest in polarized fishing sunglasses, it was not hard to tell this young man knew what he was doing. We spoke again as we crossed paths at the lake. We were each hunting for fish, slowly, with stealth, moving along the shoreline littered with lodgepole downfall.

"Lot of ducking and climbing, eh?" he asked with a smile. "This is tough going." He continued, "This is a good lake. I hope it is fishing like the Yellowstone is now. Not many fish are caught but when you get one, well, it is worth the trip."

"Yup, one good fish makes for the best day of fly fishing," I agreed.

We compared tactics - sight fish, hunt 'em, make your presentation count.

"I can't stand to just throw flies out on the water and sit and wait and hope for a fish to rise," he added.

"That's my job," the Lady said. "I spot the trout for him and tell him what one to catch!"
"That's what Ida does for me. She's my fish spotter!" he said easily. "Have you seen any?" he asked.
"One rise right out here." I pointed to near the outlet to the lake. "We moved down here because of the wind direction, figuring this is where the windblown terrestrials would be piling up. I just missed a strike, slow in my old age maybe."
"Good idea. Those rocks look good on the other side of the outlet. Mind if I work my way over there?" he asked.
After crossing the outlet, thick willows choked the steep shore line. He and Ida took the high route over steep rock and down the other side.

"Yes! This is a good cutty!" he said as he brought the fish in closer. "It will go three pounds. But they go a lot bigger in here, up to five pounds. My buddy caught one fish here last weekend, a five pounder." We and Ida watched as the trout was carefully released.

As much fun as it would be to again feel the weight of a three to five pound cutthroat trout on the end of my fly line, this is not why we had hiked into this lake, not what I was after with my fly rod this day.

So, what was I after? How did we make our way so many miles from home? What were we doing in Montana?" Please be patient. The story will unfold about one of our most enjoyable and memorable adventures ever.

Our summer trip plans were open. We had a couple of ideas but we pretty much could go anywhere. The Lady loves Backpacker Magazine, it's about the only periodical we subscribe to. The latest issue arrived the week before our scheduled departure and as is the Lady's habit, she rips out the articles on where to go that catches her interest and puts them away in her files. I was up for lunch.
"Take a look at this," she called from the deck. "This is a hike in the Beartooths," and handed me the dismembered page.
Our only trip into the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness was back in 1999. "You want to go into the Beartooths again?" I asked her. "We can do that."
That was how quickly our destination was settled. Fun filled evenings of planning followed. The Lady planned and got food ready and I took care of equipment.

Montana does an excellent job on providing solid information on trout species and size. They should be commended and it would be nice if other agencies provided as detailed information. This publication helped with our trip planning.

It is a long ways to Montana. We rounded it off to a thousand miles. If you haven't figured it out yet, we can hardly stand the Interstates,  fenced in linear prisons. The sameness of offerings at interchanges offends. Character has been banished. It is lifeless except for the speed and noise.

Our first night was spent along highway 50 in the middle of Nevada. As we walked in the night in solitude, we were reacquainted with nighthawks and their buzz like beep cry. We crawled into bed just as the storm hit and pelted the roof with rain and we quietly counted from flash to thunder. Wind rocked the camper as we fell into deep sleep.

The next night we spent in a small campground along Utah's highway 150 near the crest of the high Uinta Mountains. It was Saturday afternoon and we grabbed the only open site, luckily small, quiet, and secluded. We quickly noticed the difference with camping in Utah. Two out of three sites had generators running. Most food must be microwaved into submission in Utah. This was in contrast to the respectful quiet and politeness of the people. It was common to see many people quietly walking in the evening as we do. There was no loudness associated with consuming  alcohol.  It was noticeable and appreciated. We climbed in the camper just as the storm hit and pelted the roof with rain and we quietly counted from flash to thunder. Wind rocked the camper as we fell into deep sleep.

Getting an early start Sunday morning, dawn greeted us on the Uinta crest. At least it tried to. The cloud deck was thick. Midday we were overlooking one of our favorite places - South Pass of mountain man, Fremont, overland trail fame.

We moved onto Landers, Wyoming, our first time coming in on the paved highway.

We relaxed with lunch in the park and watched a small volunteer crew working on a new performance stage.

Ahead was new territory for us. I was aware of Thermopolis, its history, and the famous hot spring, but this was our first opportunity for a visit.

Part of the agreement with the American Indians in buying this site, the government agreed there would always be free soaking in the healing waters available. Although there are two resorts inside the Wyoming State Park, the agreement is honored with no park entry fee and at the Wyoming State Bath House.

The setting is glorious with the hot water sheeting across the travertine deposits and falling over the edge into the Bighorn River.

From the boardwalk,  the Lady couldn't help reaching down and dipping her hand into the water.
"Is it working?" I asked.
She looked at me puzzled but then understood. "Let me try the left hand!" She said with a big grin, "Into the magic healing water you go!"
She pulled her wet hand out of the warm water and examined it. "Nope, my finger didn't grow back," she announced. "But I do feel like it's there again!"
"Don't you always feel the 'ghost finger' phenomena when you get it wet?" I asked.
She just smiled at me.

There is a long suspension bridge across the Bighorn.

Old deposits are evident all along the river.

Flowers surrounded the source.

The temperature was in the high nineties. We would save a soak for another trip, colder weather, and not on a weekend. Anyone know of the closest, decent place to camp with a small camper, other than the two, crowded with RV's, private campgrounds in town?

Being unfamiliar with the area, we didn't know our best options for finding a secluded dispersed camping spot for the night. It was mid afternoon so we continued on to our next magical destination.

Legend Rock is reached via a graded dirt county road. The area abounds with speed goats (pronghorn).

The road into the site is gated at the top of the hill. The sign read that it closes at 6 pm. The gate was open. How does this happen way out here? We figured there must be someone on site. The woman walked from the parked motorhome and crossed the dusty parking area. She looked like she spent a great deal of time outside.
"This place closes at six," she told us. "You still have enough time to look around. Let me unlock the visitors center for you."
We followed her in as she turned on the lights. "Go ahead and close that door," she said to me as I was the last one through. She asked if we knew anything about petroglyphs. We explained we did and she told us the story of the place.
"This is a very sacred place. You need to know that. You need to feel that. This area is on a line between the hot waters of Thermopolis and the hot waters of Yellowstone. They are connected. This is a place the two worlds meet, the real world and the spirit world. This is where the two dimensions come together. This is where the artists could see into both worlds. The cracks in the rocks are entry points and passage ways. Look at the art that crosses the cracks. Some of these petroglyphs are as old as 11,000 years."

She gave us a simple site map and directed us to the trail. "When you get to site 13, there's a little post in the ground like the map says, keep an eye out for a rattlesnake. It's been hanging out in that spot."

Although maybe a bit odd, this woman was a delight. She fit the place. And, this place is outstanding. The petroglyphs are varied and of several styles. One style is original to this site. This visit was a highpoint of our trip.

Please notice the body parts on different sides of the cracks. This is intriguing art work.

The area is filled with cottontail rabbits. Throughout Wyoming it was this way and it caused me to wonder if there is a lack of predators?

Upon leaving, we asked if the woman knew of any opportunity for dispersed camping. "That's a hard one in these parts, oil well drill sites eating up the ground everywhere," she said as she scratched her chin. She came up with a suggestion and she ended with, "Well at least there ain't a sign that says you can't camp there."

We followed her suggestion but before reaching that destination we spotted a closed gate on a small dirt road. A small sign, we had to get close to read it, said, "Entering Public Lands. Please Close Gate."

We closed the gate after passing through and found an incredible lonely spot for the night. Perched on the top of high rolling ground, the views were wonderful.

We walked after dinner and watched the day end.

The crescent moon was low in the western sky.

A warm night, we sat out and waited for the stars. We wondered if our night's dreams would be filled with the sound of Indian ponies galloping by or the sounds of buffalo hunts. This was another place filled with magic.

In the morning we opted for a store bought breakfast in Cody, about an hour away. Cody is one of our all time favorite towns. It would be fun to spend a couple of early morning hours here.

We had a nice breakfast at a small place called "Mo Joe's". It was an order at the counter and we'll take it to your table place. The food was good with realistic portions. I grabbed the coffee cups and the Lady made a trip to the restroom after we ordered.
"Where you going fishing?" a voice asked from across the room as I found a table.
Two fellows where in place, looked like a regular Monday morning get together, at a corner table. The one legged guy was asking the question.
I looked them both over. They might be in the gathering fishing intelligence business, might work for "the company".
I watched what I said. "We are heading up to Montana and going into the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness. I heard you can catch some mighty big cutthroats up there."
"What exactly did you hear?" the one legged guy asked.
Now my suspicions were really on alert. "Oh just this and that and what I could find in guidebooks and such. I don't know if I've ever talked with any person about the fishing and got information that way."
The one legged guy turned to his partner, "Do you know anything about the fishing up there?"
"Not much. I did hear of a lake called Wild Bill Lake. That's where I would go."
They got back to their coffee and the Lady returned from the restroom.
"How did they know we were going fishing?" she asked. She had heard the conversation.
"Probably from my answer," I said. "I think they are spies."

After a very pleasant drive north, we arrived at Red Lodge, Montana, at the foot of the Beartooths. This would be our resupply post for our travels and adventures in the Wilderness over the next several days.

Our adventure continues in  Part Two, please Click Here


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