Rick Shory

Offering a little something you might not otherwise have

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Sphinx Junction Bridge

After dinner I went down to the bridge to watch the evening come in.  In the wilderness, you always have to keep wary for bears.  As I chose which railing to look over, upstream or downstream, I thought about a bear’s mental map of these woods.  A bear would know about this bridge.  This bridge would be the easiest way to get from the north bank to the south.  As I settled on the downstream view, I made a mental note to keep aware.

Bubbs Creek tumbled below, a roiling cataract.  Lying back I watched mayflies hover in the air above.  They are such abstract little living mechanisms.  They would seem as edgy as wasps if we didn’t know they were harmless.

Beyond the railing, and the lofting mayflies, the trees towered up.  There were cottonwoods, red and white fir, Jeffrey pine and sugar pine.  Behind the trees, swooping upward on either side, were the high white walls of Sierra granite.  It’s the same fabric Yosemite is cut from.  Above it all a few mares’ tails of cloud twisted through the blue evening sky.

A little squirrel came out on the south end of the bridge.  He evidently intended to cross.  Of course this would be easier, I thought, than finding a fallen log, or leaping tree branches above the noisy torrent.

I turned to look at him.

He saw me and froze.

He could easily rush past me and get across.  I would never be quick enough to catch him.  I knew this.   He knew no such thing.  The squirrel way is caution.  He can’t do much to fight.

To him, I controlled this six-foot-wide causeway.  I eyed him lazily, mentally inviting him to go.  I only wanted to watch.

The squirrel stood taut in his nervous standoff half a minute.  Then he ducked under the upstream edge of the bridge, the opposite side from where I was.  In that lazy evening, it took me awhile to realize he might be trying a route beneath the planks.  I wanted to see.  I swung around and looked under the edge.

Two sturdy steel I-beams ran the length of the bridge, supporting the planks.  The I-beam in view was on the downstream side so, of course, no squirrel. Casually I rolled over and peered beneath the upstream edge.

The squirrel was there.  He was clambering towards me along the flat that formed the bottom of the outward channel of the I-beam. At his size, it was like a sidewalk. He was not 6 feet away.  He froze.

I intended him no harm, just curious.

By and by, I tried a little clucking sound with my tongue.  I hoped to be encouraging.

From a creature a thousand times his size, it didn’t come across that way.

He turned tail and rocketed back the way he’d come.  He scurried so fast it was comical.  He did not even slow down till he was safely among the logs and granite boulders on the bank, thirty feet away.

I guess sometimes I might be the bear.

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Big back yard

I’ve been going up to Wyoming and back since the end of May.  Spring there is slow in coming.  This past week it was cold.  Frosty at night.  But then Pinedale is nearly 8,000 feet elevation.

I looked on the weather map, and to the south it was 70s, 80s, 90s (93F in Denver).  Color coded yellows, oranges, and reds.  But where we were, it was a patch of blue.  It was cool colors to the north too.

The sky spit sleety snow most days, and the cold wind was relentless.  Until Friday when it was suddenly sunny and still.  New snow was on the Wind River Range, to where it looked like January.

I had heard the Rainbow Gathering was going to be near Pinedale.  The rumor was at Boulder Lake.  So Friday a week ago, on the way back down to Colorado I went up there.  It was about 10 miles off the road I take home.

I found just 3 guys, camped out with a lean-to tarp and a campfire, in a drizzly rain that felt like Scotland, or winter in the Northwest.  They were nice-looking bearded hippie types, and very friendly.  The greeting, when you arrive, is “Welcome home!”.

I hung out with them awhile.  They said the final site was going to be decided in the next few days.

So, Thursday night I checked, and directions were online.  On the way home yesterday, I followed them and found the incipient gathering.  It had only “started” a day or two before but there were probably a couple hundred people already.

On the way in, I couldn’t imagine where a big gathering would camp. The landscape was all wide barren valleys, and steep slopes.  But when I got there, it was in the timber, a sort of broad bowl in the mountains.  There were lots of meadows and open woods.  Sighingly beautiful.

A lot of the men were really beautiful too.  Nice full beards.  But so many of them smoked.  If I were uncharitable, I would have thought, “just a bunch of derelicts”.

I don’t know how I would have enjoyed it if I had been free to stay and camp there.  I don’t know how I would have resonated with the vibe of smoke, drink, dope, and general debauchery in the woods.

Probably better than at the big gay gathering that happens in SE Wyoming every summer, called Rendezvous.  It’s a huge disco scene, transplanted to the woods.  The time I went, I had to camp about a mile away, to find enough quiet to sleep.  The mainstage tent blasted amped-up music till all hours.

As it was, I hung out with the guys at the Rainbow Gathering front gate, maybe 20 minutes.  I talked to them while I ate my lunch.  I was at the gathering only about an hour total.  I was antsy to get going.  It’s a good six-hour drive from Pinedale to Fort Collins, even without any detours.

It ended up being considerably longer than that.  Pinedale is to the east of the Wind River Range, which runs generally NW to SE.  Normally, I shoot south on the main highway, through the Green River basin, to the freeway east.  But detouring to the gathering site, I’d gone around to the southern toe of the range.  Driving out, I checked my map and saw it would not be a lot farther to continue on east around the Winds and take another highway.

So I ended up going home through the Sweetwater country.  It’s a beautiful, broad valley, the route of the old Oregon Trail.  The Sweetwater river winds slowly among sculptured granite hills, the tips of weathered and buried mountains.  For the pioneers, there was grass and water for livestock.  It’s the only easy wagon route across the Continental Divide north of New Mexico.  In fact, the dirt road I’d taken from the gathering site to highway 26 partly ran along top of the divide, which was just a low ridge.

I didn’t get home till nearly midnight, but it was worth it for the scenery.  It’s funny how Wyoming, which once seemed so huge and trackless, is now feeling so homey.  Partly, it’s from following my Roadside Geology book. Every little so often I see something know about.

But, strangely, it’s because the views are so vast, it gives the feel of just a big back yard.  For example the mountains I would see thirty miles to the north from the I-80 route, I now recognize as the same ranges to the south of the Sweetwater.  And there’s a gap through the hills near Tie Siding, not too far from Laramie, where you glimpse the lights of Fort Collins, nearly an hours drive before you drop down through the valleys to get there.