Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, Montana - July 2015 - Part Seven

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"Whoa, here it is!" the Lady said.

I laid on the brakes and was able to make the left into Owl Creek Campground, a private RV park. It came before we expected. It was just a name on a billboard we had seen. We had no time to sneak up on the place, check it out, make a decision. We were here. A small place, the office was right in front of us. A white plastic table was outside the office door and the usual cast of characters were seated around it. At least what I imagined the usual cast of characters would be, we had never stayed in a RV park or campground before with our camper. All eyes were on us. We both got out. A grizzled gentleman got up and walked toward me. I met him halfway.

"Since you got up and met me, I'm figuring you are the man," I said.

"Well, I'm one of two," he answered.

"All we need is a place to park and a good clean shower," I said as the Lady joined me.

"Do you have a spot for us on a Saturday night?" the Lady asked.

"For a rig your size we do, nothing bigger."

We followed him into the office. "Naw," he said. "Let's go back out and show you the spot. I'm Merlin, by the way."

We introduced ourselves as we walked across the lawn. "See that little teardrop over there?" he pointed. "That's mine. I've pulled it all across the country with my Harley." He went on with his story. "I pulled in here a few years back. I liked it here. Dee, she owns the place you know, she lets me help out around here. Now she don't pay me but she does feed me. That's good. One year I stayed the whole year here. Here's your spot. You can have 8 or 9. I like 9. I think it's nice."

We liked 8. "Is it okay if I just park the truck here?" I asked. The Lady added, "That way we're not under the tree and we can pop the top."

"Oh," Merlin said. "That would be fine. You don't need no water or power?"

"No, just this place to park."

We followed him back to the office. Dee was inside also, gathering up some items. Merlin handed us the paperwork. "Now do either of you work for law enforcement or fire? We like to help out and support them, you know."

"How 'bout twenty years doing winter mountain search and rescue?" the Lady asked.

"Good try," Dee said as she left the office.

"Too bad. That would have saved you ten percent." Merlin looked up from the paperwork we filled out.

"What are you two doing around here?" he asked.

"We're going to Independence Rock tomorrow!" the Lady answered.

"Oh that's cool!" Merlin was genuinely pleased. "All the stuff down there near the Oregon Trail is cool. I got to show you a map. There's one on the wall outside."

"Is it the same as the one in the packet you gave us?" I asked.

"Oh yeah, that'll work. Open it up."

I did and Merlin went to work as the tour guide.

"Now this is really neat." He drew a circle on the map. "When the pioneers went through here they found ice under the peat, or whatever it was. Yeah, they found a layer of ice so when the pioneers came through, they could get ice. That's cool. But you won't find no ice there if you stop. They used it all up you know. Jefferson City is here." We followed his pencil on the map. "Don't blink or you'll miss it. Oh, but it does have that hundred year old cowboy saloon. You might like that."

We paid $35 for the night. With meeting Merlin, it was worth it.

It was quiet place and the night cooled nicely. Merlin left on an evening ride on his Harley. An older couple were outside their old cabover truck camper, sitting and enjoying the night. They were pulling a small trailer full of cleaning supplies. I figured they may be campground hosts somewhere. They smiled and said hello. Later, when I mentioned to the Lady that I thought they were a nice older couple, she said slowly and clearly, "We are older than they are, dear." I've been getting that response from the Lady a lot for a few years now. 

Our last visit to "The Great Record of the Desert" was thirty years ago. Much had changed. There was now a large highway rest area. In a way, Independence Rock seemed only a backdrop to the people using the restrooms, stretching their legs, playing on the grass, or the christian  motorcycle group handing out shop cloths with their message. Only a few went through the gate and touched history.

Most that wander out to the rock are probably disappointed they do not see many inscriptions. Look at the topography then close your eyes. Go back in time. If you were camped in the area, traveling the Overland Trail, where would you put your name and date?

One of our favorite inscriptions was by Hunt, a member of the Powder River Expedition.

It sits on the southern most highpoint and overlooks the Sweetwater River.

There are several inscriptions by members of cavalry units.

Many from 1849 are fading away.

This is one of the larger panels.

Many displayed fine stone work. 

This was a favorite since it is dated July 4, 1849

We circled the entire granite outcropping.

I knew I would not find an inscription by my Great Great Grandfather Sam. He traveled west in 1864. He started for California but enroute heard of the new gold strike in Virginia City, Montana Territory. He most likely turned off the Overland Trail at Fort Laramie and took the Bridger Trail to Virginia City. There are inscriptions along the Bridger Trail, all on private property. It may be a retirement research project to find any evidence, either inscriptions or mentioned in other traveler's journals, of Sam's travels.

There is a replica Prairie Schooner on display. 

This was a half size version of the Conestoga Wagon. Oxen could survive pulling this smaller wagon day after day, mile after mile.

The first mention of a Conestoga Wagon was in 1717 by William Penn's secretary, James Logan. He carefully recorded the purchase of a "Conestogoe Wagon" from my 7x Great Grandfather. Family history researchers believe he may have built the first Conestoga Wagon as he was an Indian Trader and carpenter, was one of this first settlers in the Conestoga area, and built the first roads there. 

These two connections draw me to the history of the Overland Trails. 

Our next stop was Palisade, Colorado for peaches. We love peaches and a couple of times before on trips we've stopped, picked up peaches, and ate peaches all the way home. This time we got sidetracked. In looking at the road map to plot the route to peaches, off to the side we saw Dinosaur National Monument. We had never been there.

After turning west on US 40 in Craig, we turned down the road to Deerlodge Park on the Yampa River. Just outside the Monument boundary we took a BLM road and found a wonderfully secluded spot to camp. A huge Colorado thunderstorm was approaching from the southwest.

We had dinner outside and started  on our evening walk. The wind increased as we were hit with big drops of rain. From our highpoint we watched a microburst hit the Yampa River and it kicked up a huge cloud of dust. We worried about the tent campers at Deerlodge Park Campground. We made it back to the camper before in unleashed on us. The wind whipped at the camper and rocked us back and forth. Rain hammered against the side of the camper. The Lady was loving it. "I love the sound and smell of storm when we are cozy inside!" Lightning strikes were never closer than two miles, at least not before we fell hard asleep.

We were at the Canyon Visitor Center before they opened. A woman came and unlocked the door, "I'm here and so are you, so I might as well open early." I asked about driving down to Echo Park, the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers. "Road's closed," she said. "There was a hell of a storm last night. That road needs four hours of sun to dry out before it gets opened." It wouldn't get four hours of sun today.

We drove the Harper's Corner Road. This provides overlooks into the canyons below.

The views were incredible, enhanced by the ever changing clouds.

When we reached the Echo Park Overlook the clouds broke for a few minutes.

We did the mile and a half hike  out to the end of Harper's Corner and a marvelous view down into the Green River Canyon. The clouds returned and rain poured down on us.

We drove down off the Colorado Plateau to Jensen, Utah and headed north to the Dinosaur Quarry area. We first drove into the Green River Campground and secured a great campsite for the night. This campground is well laid out and comfortable. At the Quarry Visitor Center we took the tram up to see dinosaur bones, lots and lots of dinosaur bones.

We started down the Fossil Trail to walk back to the truck. We turned around when the rain hit and we took a tram ride down. Consulting the map, we saw there was some unexpected surprises in store for us at Dinosaur National Monument.

Our adventure continues in Part Eight, the final chapter - Please Click Here

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