Covered Wagon Journal 3
Extracts from the Summer 1955 Journal of Travels Through the Western National Parks and Monuments. (Partly on freelance assignment from the Sierra Club)
By Philip Hyde
July 16. At Hell’s Half Mile the water is so low that the beginning of the rapid is a waterfall of about six feet. Our party is scattered on the stream-side rocks to watch what proved to be the first successful folbot run of Hell’s Half Mile. The victors, Ray Simpson and Dave Allen, were properly feted when we reached camp, and each was presented a special medal of tin-can top with bread-wrapper laurel wreaths.
July 23. We have headed east into the Rocky Mountains from Dinosaur National Monument and are based for a few days at Georgetown, Colorado. Today, we have been up into the alpine country above Georgetown, winding through the Engelmann spruce forest on a dirt road that emerges above timberline onto a meadow whose upper limits are defined by the weathered wood walls of houses and stores. Mixed freely with the fields of blooming wildflowers are the blights of other years: abandoned mine buildings and random spaced mounds of tawny tailings. Beholding such a scene, I cannot help thinking how much of this I’ve seen in the Rockies. And, I cannot help but reflect on the good fortune of Sierrans, that an accident of geography kept our high country clean. A benevolent providence placed our gold-bearing ores on the flanks of the foothills rather than on the crest, so we may enjoy both the color of the old mines and the inspiration of high-country wilderness left intact.
July 25. The air is perfectly still as we watch the sun change the hues of the distant wall of the Wind River Range. Our camp is just north of the celebrated old South Pass by which so many emigrants crossed the Continental Divide in their covered wagons. As we crawl into our bunks in our own rubber-tired covered wagon, we can imagine we see a faint line of dust rising on the horizon.
July 26. Yellowstone-bound, we stop to watch two trumpeter swans with three young in a slough of the marsh in Jackson Hole Wildlife Refuge. Beyond them in the distance, looking at first like sticks, are a pair of sandhill cranes.
July 27. After evading at least a half dozen tourist traps the mother bears have set up along the south-entrance highway. Continuing beyond them, we arrived at Old Faithful, just in time for a playing of the geyser. We had come to Yellowstone National Park almost reluctantly, not expecting to enjoy it much because of the usual summer crowds. But something happened to the mood of the place while we were waiting for Old Faithful to play. It began as we looked around at the eager, expectant faces and built up as we began to hear a naturalist giving his introductory talk: even the public-address system became a benign presence, as we realized that we were hearing the pure gospel of conservation preached to this multitude. By the time the geyser had reached its full height, we were transformed by its sermon. Even in a crowd, its radiance glowed undimmed, and, through some kind of magic, that experience set the tone for the rest of our stay in Yellowstone.
July 29. At the suggestion of a naturalist at Mammoth Hot Springs, we took the old road part of the way to Tower Junction from Mammoth, Wyoming. Traffic had been heavy when we turned off the highway, but we met no cars during the hour and a half we spent driving leisurely down this dirt-road entrance to the Yellowstone wilderness. Even the six pronghorn antelope we came upon seemed a bit surprised to see us.
Though there are so many complaints of overcrowding in Yellowstone National Park, the wilderness is still just beyond the highway, as few visitors go far from the parking lots. The loop highway has become a slow-motion race track, with many visitors making the 160-mile circuit in one day. Many of them refuse to walk even a few yards from their cars to see a geyser or the Terraces.
July 31. A mile away from the parking lot the Black Dragon’s Cauldron bubbles and hisses, and sends its “eruptions” of charcoal-gray mud 30 to 50 feet into the air. It is the more interesting when you learn that it suddenly appeared in the middle of the forest, in 1948. Since then, it has gradually killed the forest around it, encasing living trees in the dark mud until they are suffocated.
August 6. We have been sitting around a fire, quite comfortable, in a tepee of Teton Indian Village, near Jackson, Wyoming. The rain which beats on the canvas slopes of the tepee forced cancellation of the Indian dance tonight. Mr. and Mrs. Reginald Laubin, well-known interpreters of Indian dance, and long-time students of Indian life and culture, are sitting opposite us, telling us about some of the authentic Indian objects with which the tepee is furnished. They have introduced us to some of their Indian friends who dance with them. Red Robin, a Zuni artist now living in New York, is seated next to Mr. Old Man, a large man, whose twinkling eyes betray his good nature. Next to him is his wife; then Mr. Good Friday and his wife. The Old Mans and the Good Fridays are Arapaho Indians. There is continuing good-natured banter as we begin to play the old Indian hand game. We are divided into two groups, each group appointing a “guesser” and a “hider.” One side takes the ring, and the “hider” will conceal it in one of his hands. The other side’s “guesser” will try to determine which hand has the ring, and Mr. Old Man beats accompaniment with a small hand drum. In the lulls after a guess, the Indians tell jokes, usually making the white man the butt of them. When we leave, after Mr. Old an has sung us several songs in Arapaho, we remember that we didn’t get to see the dances.
August 7. After dinner and preparations at the roadhead for the High Trip that begins tomorrow we drive back to the Indian Village to see the dances we missed last night…
(CONTINUED IN BLOG POST, “Covered Wagon Journal 4“)