The Mountain Man Trip
Jackson, Wyoming is a very pretty town. It’s also very crowded in the middle of June with people. In fact I think the population of Jackson is larger than any other town in Wyoming during peak trap season. I think I misplaced my mojo in the middle of town with all of the German tourists who were staring at the boots, belt buckles and bear skin coats at the Saloon, General Store and Indian Trading Post. If you’ve ever read the book “The Bloody Bozeman” you’ll understand. Mountain men, such as myself, don’t like crowds. They make us jittery. And they tend to make coffee taste bitter. Don’t ask me why. It’s just the way it is. And that’s why we don’t like crowds. Spooks the horses. Cluttering up the clear stream with trash, and making odd noises and pulling at the crack in their britches.
My little Volkswagon Golf was taking it in stride as I drove along Idaho Highway 31 over the Teton pass into Wyoming. It was one of the prettier drives that I’ve taken lately, though most of the ranches on the side of the road were of the “dude” variety, populated by foreigners from places like Pittsburg, San Diego, and Dallas. Ignore the fact that I’m a Texan and just remember – I’m a mountain man.
Anyhow, I arrived in Jackson in late afternoon and was immediately put off by the large crowds in town. Even the road out of town was frustrating. On one side of the road are buffalo. On the other side of the road, but running across the road are wild tourists with cameras. “OMG!” I said to myself, “Is that what I look like?” I noticed a lady on the side of the road with a very large Canon camera and an expensive white 300 f/2.8 L lens with a large hood attachment. You know? The type that costs eight grand. I looked at my camera sitting beside me with the extra wide angle attached to it. “Remember bubba,” I told my camera, “it’s not the size that matters – it’s how you use it.” Even my joke was flat. No mojo. I pressed onward and then I had a “Holy Cow!” moment when I came up to the Grand Teton National Park and the government wanted twenty bucks just to drive on the road. I had planned a day trip, perhaps camp in a primitive campground – but that would be another twenty dollars. Sheesh. I turned around and headed to the national forest. At least driving on the road through the national forest was still free. I pulled into a National Forest Campground and verified that the price to stay overnight was twenty dollars. Colorado had a burn ban in effect because of dry conditions, but at least you could burn a campfire in Wyoming. I hiked a bit in the day use area, trying to decide if I would stay the night and try to go back to the Tetons in the morning for a famous Oxbow shot. It’s a portfolio shot that most landscape photographers have – but as I thought about it – I realized that I don’t want to be like every other landscape photographer in the world. There are literally thousands of photographs of the Oxbox taken by some very talented photographers. Why would I want to just be another cog in the wheel of the machine. I’m not really interested in just being another guy who takes photos of the Oxbow in the Tetons. Naaa….. I’m a mountain man. But it would be cool just to prove that I could do it. Wouldn’t it? Oh well.
So, I came back to my original purpose again – to find beauty where none is thought to exist. To visit a place on the road where people don’t stop. I thought about this later at the Sheshone Indian Reservation – where it’s beautiful. Yes, Jackson Wyoming is beautiful too. Jackson is populated and visited by people with money and influence. The buildings are all restored, new, polished, and preserved. But- again – a mountain man, such as myself, wouldn’t be happy in Jackson for very long. A mountain man would stay in town just long enough to repack his mule with supplies, jerky, and wet some backy so he could chew it while he walked along. He might grab a bottle of bourbon and a cigar and walk back up into the mountains with his mule, his rifle and his Indian squaw. He would later sit under a rock cove and start a fire to cook a rabbit he killed with his rifle, putting the pelt on the back of his mule to dry out in the cold air to make a winter hat. There, in the remote isolation of the wilderness, he would crack a smile, light his cigar and relax.
As I drove along the road in Wyoming, I thought about the path that took me to the middle of nowhere. It was beautiful. I decided that I would visit again in a more leisurely manner in due course of time, when I could plan a proper route along the high country, to the red rock canyons, and high meadows. Maybe then I’ll spend twenty dollars and visit the place I remember from my youth. There, where I sat at the edge of a lake drinking coffee with the mountains beside me, steam rising, sunlight skimming the tops of the mountains, when I sat back in the seat, lit a cigar, took a bite of a morning biscut and smiled. Comfortable, talking with God, enjoying a morning in the remote isolation of the wilderness, being a man at peace – and alone – in the mountains.