Covered Wagon Journal 4
From the Summer 1955 Journal of Travels Through Western National Parks
By Philip Hyde
(See photograph full screen: Click Here.)
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. In front of us, as we are seated, is the dance platform. Behind the platform is a semi-circle of white tepees. Beyond, in the distance, the peaks of the Tetons stand silhouetted against the twilight sky. Mr. Laubin begins the program, performing symbolic dedication ceremonies as a medicine man, lighting the small campfires around the edges of the platform. During the next hour, we watch a procession of beautifully done dances, ranging from the stately Dance of the Chiefs, to the amusing Prairie Chicken Dance, and the exceptional virtuosity of the Hoop Dance. Some of the dances are solos by Mr. Laubin. Often he is joined by Mrs. Laubin and several of their Indian Troupe.
August 8. A 4:30 a.m. rising began this first day of the Teton High Trip. Our walk has taken us through meadows filled with wildflowers and through occasional woods of the bright-barked, shimmering-leaved aspens. Beneath the aspens is an almost continuous sea of blueberry bushes, whose ripening berries slow us down. Our trail enters Death Canyon and follows the course of a stream, ending in a scramble to a limestone bench that commands a fine view of the Tetons.
August 12. Crossing over the high limestone ridge separating Alaska Basin from upper Cascade Canyon, we gained a spectacular view of the high peaks. The great fault-block from of the central Teton massif is readily distinguished from this vantage point. Descending to our next camp near the head of the canyon, we passed through an amazing variety of rocks, culminating in the vicinity of camp in the gneiss of the central Teton block, fantastically twisted and contorted. In the upper basin, we crossed a definite dividing line between the gray and rust-colored sedimentary and highly crystalline metamorphic rocks. This was probably the fault line, but is so weathered here it doesn’t look like a fault.
August 13. The mist has gone up from the face of the ground this morning, wreathing the Grand Teton in a translucent veil of mystery dispelled and returning in cycles. I am poised on the brink of the high ledge near our camp, recording on film the canyon below, as the mist rises and recedes, like a tide in an arm of the ocean, in ever new phases of undulation. Finally, the warmth of the rising sun dispels the mist and sends me back to camp for breakfast.
August 19. We climbed to the top of Mt. Helen, a slight eminence on the high slate ridge above our camp in Big Horn Basin. If it is an inferior peak, it commands a superior view of this part of Glacier National Park. The horizon, through 360 degrees, is filled with a profusion of peaks, many of them sheltering the frozen white forms of ice for which this park is named. Stepping up on the pile of rocks marking the summit, we surprised three ptarmigans, their white underbodies unmistakable in this typical ptarmigan habitat.
August 20. Climbing to Dawson Pass on our way to our next camp at Pitamikin Lake, the wind was cold and brisk. As we gained the exposed saddle of the pass, it took a maximum effort to stay on our feet. The sky to our west was an angry gray, with the wind tearing away pieces of cloud and hurling them at us. As we advanced around the rocky shoulder of Flinsch Peak, a beacon-like mass of broken, flat-sided pieces of sandstone and shale, the pieces of cloud were getting larger. At one point where the trail turned into a rocky gully, we halted to turn our faces out of the freezing wind and the sharp, wind-driven missiles of hail and sleet. For about four miles, the trail, grown faint with disuse, traverses high on the shoulders of Flinsch and Mt. Moran, offering superb views over a wide expanse of eastern Glacier National Park.
August 22. Leaving our last camp at Pitamakin Lake, we coasted down the canyon to its junction with Atlantic Creek Canyon, where we turned up for the ascent to Triple Divide Pass. Shortly after starting up the canyon, we realized we were no longer on a trail, but on a junior grade road. Apparently built by a small tractor, it must have been laid out by an engineer who had never walked on a trail, for it set a constant grade and maintained it for about three miles, studiously avoiding watering places. Aside from walking on a paved highway, I can imagine no more monotonous experience. And, as if to further demoralize us, we discovered half way up that there was an alternative, not shown on the hillside, we discovered that the other trail continued up the floor of the canyon, skirted the edge of a beautiful lake far below us, then made the switchback climb up the head of the canyon to the pass, weaving back and forth across the course of the small stream that cascaded down from the snowfields above the pass. When some of the park officials we met later spoke of a disappointing decrease in trail use in the park, I could not help wondering how much experience on that trail had contributed to the decrease. I hoped too, that the tendency, evidenced in many parks we visited during the summer, to place engineering and administrative efficiency over esthetic appreciation, would somehow be checked.
August 28. The light of the rising sun is just striking the great curve of Citadel Mountain that sweeps up from the shore of St. Mary Lake, as we turn our “covered wagon” westward, for the first time this summer, over Going-to-the-Sun Highway and on to Olympic National Park.
(CONTINUED IN BLOG POST, “Covered Wagon Journal 5“)