An Adventure: The Great American Eclipse of 2017, Part 5 – August 22, 2017

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Leah approaching the Green River Lakes on the Bridger-Teton National Forest Trail No. 94

The Great American Eclipse of 2017, so named for the course the Moon-shrouded Sun scored across the contiguous Lower Forty-Eight, had been prophesied, divined or otherwise predicted by the scientific body for who knows how many decades, or centuries.  The real planning, however, by the common masses, the body of which I am a proud member, began about two or three years prior.  Millions had entered the path of totality from one coast to the other; blocks of hotel rooms had been booked for years; preparations made, foodstuff stored, fuel accumulated, land managers prepared for the crowds – and I had sworn off the whole thing until at the relatively last moment I had decided three weeks in advance that, yes, I would like to see this once-in-a-lifetime event a mere eight hours journey by car to the north of my home in Gunnison, Colorado.

I had endured opprobrium from my coworkers for leaving during the busy season, a massive traffic jam in Glenwood Springs and general anxiety due to the uncertain reality that I would find upon reaching my chosen spot in the Wind River Range of Wyoming.  I had been prepared to be turned back or somehow rebuffed up until I reached the trailhead. Once I started hiking I knew that success would then depend not upon the guiding hand of the government in the guise of the Bridger-Teton National Forest but rather upon the chance of weather and the desire within my own heart.  Success had indeed ensued and I now found myself indulgently enjoying a moment of enforced indolence in the morning sunlight.  Warmth and golden shafts of light greeted my emergence from the tent and I knew that my decision to spend an extra night had just then returned fine dividends.  The folks who had been camping in myriad localities the previous night had mostly disappeared leaving me and a few others the peaceful solitude of the backcountry.

This fifth day of my adventure to see the eclipse found me fairly tired and exhausted.  This morning I had decided to sleep in, having no reason to rush off anywhere.  Three nights in the Roaring Fork Basin above the Green River had left me feeling a profound appreciation for my immediate vicinity.  After greeting the day the dogs and I wandered over to the food cache where I had hung it such as to prevent incursion by bears and other food-seeking critters.  A small outcropping served as breakfast nook and as the water boiled I cast my gaze out over the nearby forest.  What a fantastic trip I had had, I thought to myself, and I looked forward to its conclusion with a hint of regret at its ending.

Returning to camp I packed up my gear and stowed away all the accouterments that make my backpacking treks possible.  I took one last around at the campsite that had so ably served me.  Draco and Leah, my two German shepherds who often accompany me on my hikes, lay in repose upon their oval depressions in the grass.  I called them and they stretched, rose up, stretched again and, wagging tails, wandered over to where I had their panniers waiting for them.  These I loaded upon the dogs and then strapped.  Hoisting my pack to my shoulders I felt exalted to begin the hike out to the Green River Lakes Trailhead via the Bridger-Teton National Forest Trail No. 94.  Walking away from camp I turned to look one last time and happily noted the indented grass where the tent had left an imprint.  No trash had been left behind and except for the grass which would soon recover I had not marred the natural beauty of the forest.  I walked slowly towards the trail, taking it all in.

We followed the trail to the south and began to climb up to the divide between the Roaring Fork and the Green River.  Once we emerged from a small, shallow gully the views opened up and a fine presentation of the Green River curving from its initial northward flow to one more westward lay out before and below me.  The dogs cared not one wit about this interesting piece of topography and showed more interest in the resident rodent population.  I paused to admire the Wind River Range about the Green River Lakes.  The smoke that had created the hazy skies had dissipated and I could make out the Gros Ventre Range clearly, the large patches of snow especially visible.

The trail at this point makes a three mile descent to the river itself, utilizing a gentle grade.  Fairly exposed to the strong Sun, there are enough water holes to keep the pups hydrated.  Slowly yet inexorably we hiked down until we finally reached the pack bridge that crosses the Green River at the outlet of the lower of the eponymous lakes.  Upon reaching the parking lot I found a scene of what felt like desolation.  Only about twenty-five percent of the vehicles remained compared to when I began my outbound journey.  It would appear that most of the horde had left the day before, and, again, I was happy that I delayed my own departure by a day.  Reaching the car, I found it parked in an awkward position that had made sense when I had to jostle for a place but now seemed as if I had just “slobbishly” left it in some random locale.

Driving back down Bridger-Teton National Forest Road 650 I noted the abundance of dispersed campsites now readily available.  It suddenly seemed like any other normal day in the mountains.  There were still many people about but the area wasn’t stuffed to capacity and then some.  I drove along the gravel road slowly to preserve my fragile tires but also so that I could admire the scenery.  At Dollar Lake I paused and let the dogs out of the car so that they could enjoy a dip in the water.  I found an interesting fish swimming in the shallows and am still not sure exactly what it is, although I don’t believe its a trout.  Not wanting to disturb the fish I moved to another location, but the dogs weren’t really interested in swimming anyhow, so we continued our drive out to Wyoming 352 and the junction with U.S. 191.

Turning towards the west on northbound U.S. 191 I then drove a few miles to U.S. 189, where I turned south.  Traffic was minimal, and I had the road mostly to myself.  Listening to the radio most of the news was related to the massive amounts of record-setting traffic counts seen the previous day throughout the State of Wyoming, especially on the Interstate 25 corridor.  Yet again, staying the extra night had proven to be a boon.  However, I must admit to being surprised by the lack of traffic on U.S. 189.  Off to the east I could see the ragged ridgeline of the Wind River Range nearly forty miles distant.  In between stretched out the vast sagebrush steppe so familiar to travelers in the interior western United States.  Much of the native wildlife has been displaced recently by the energy boom, and sometimes a smoggy haze lingers over the valley.  To the west rose the Wyoming Range, where efforts to keep the drillers at bay may have been successful.

The dogs rested contentedly in the back of the station wagon as I drove southbound past Marbleton and Big Piney, and then through La Barge.  South of that last town the Sublette Cutoff of the Oregon Trail crosses both the Green River and the modern highway.  I stopped at Names Hill, where travelers along the trail left their names inscribed in the rock.  Jim Bridger’s name is prominently displayed, but as he was illiterate, or thought to be so, the inscription is either a fraud or had been done for him.  Still, an interesting sight and site, and I dwelt on the history suggested by these names.  A handful of other cars had pulled off, as well, and most folks wore something commemorating the recent eclipse.  We where all smiles talking to one another about what we had seen.  The sagebrush suggested a near desert climate and we soon stopped at a boat ramp on the Fontenelle Reservoir where I let the dogs out to romp in the water.  This time they did swim, eagerly splashing about the cool liquid.

Returning to the car, we again set the wheels humming upon the pavement as we slid southwards towards the junction with Wyoming 240.  We followed that highway to its southern terminus with U.S. 30 and drove east to Interstate 80.  Eschewing the mainstream, and all its concomitant tractor-trailer traffic, I shortly exited the four-lanes and used the alternate Wyoming 374.  That latter highway is old U.S. 30 and parallels the interstate, and now serves as a feeder route for the industrial extraction of fossil-fuels and minerals.  This road I followed all the way to the city of Green River, Wyoming, where it became the business loop for the freeway.  I stopped to get a snack and then left town southbound again on Wyoming 530.  I’ll say this about Green River – someone has a sense of humor.  To wit:  the local airport is named the “Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport”.

Continuing south, I began to realize that the day had turned towards evening and that I need to find a place to sleep.  I made one last stop to observe the lonely mesas and towering clouds, while also letting the dogs stretch their legs and piddle.  I had hoped to make a short foray up into the High Uintas but decided that I was about an hour behind to make that realization happen.  Perusing the map, I espied a campground on the southern end of the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, within the eponymous National Recreation Area. Just shy of the Wyoming-Utah state line I turned off the main highway and onto Ashley National Forest Road 146.   Named for the valley it flooded, I stayed the night at Lucerne Valley Campground.  Mostly suited to folks towing trailers and boating on the reservoir, I still appreciated the hot showers and wide open spaces.

The dogs and I made one short evening hike over to the nearby waters before settling down at our campsite.  There is something salubrious about being next to water in the desert, and I enjoyed the breeze that fluttered the leaves of the nearby cottonwood.  I had noted on the map that just prior to arriving at the campground we had passed into Utah.  An interpretive sign nearby told about he school district that had existed prior to the inundating of the nearby lowlands.  Apparently, this school had sat nearly on the sate line, and was supposedly the only school district in the country to exist in two states.  Thus, the school had to meet standards for both Wyoming and Utah.  I cooked dinner and fed the dogs and ate my food while watching the Sun set.  Another fine day had been had by us all, and I felt grateful that I had been able to do what I set out to do.

An Adventure: The Great American Eclipse of 2017, Part 4 – August 21, 2017

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The Teton Range seen during totality

The previous evening I had retired fairly early so that on this morning of the eclipse I could awake before sunrise.  I’m not one to set alarms when backpacking, so I left it to my own internal clock to tell me when it was time to get up.  This I did ably enough, and was able to feed myself a hot breakfast in the waning starlight.  I figured on four hours to reach the summit of Three Waters Mountain, four miles on trail and three off.  The Great American Eclipse would occur at half past eleven, when the moon would obscure the Sun.  Thus, I set off on the trail by six-thirty, so as to have a bit of extra time to figure things out.  I wasn’t even really sure that I could bushwhack up to that triple divide.  I had decided that it wouldn’t matter if I reached the summit or not for the eclipse, that I would be happy regardless of where I viewed totality from.  Still, somehow I thought it would be extraordinary to view the event from the triple divide that so neatly divides the western United States.

As I left camp in the Roaring Fork Basin the last stars had winked out excepting one that shone in the brightening sky to the east.  I walked out to the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF) Trail No. 94 and walked north to the footbridge where I crossed the Roaring Fork.  I couldn’t see much in the low light but could rather sense the forest waking with the dawn.  Birds chirped and sang their songs, but mostly silence held sway excepting for the sound of my footfalls.  The trail swung to the west, downstream, before climbing up a steep slope to reach the summit of Gunsight Pass.  By this time the Sun had risen, but remained hidden by clouds.  I considered the possibility that clouds would hide the entire eclipse but didn’t worry much as the sky was mostly clear.

The blue sky alleviated another of my concerns, that of lightening strikes.  The bushwhack up to Three Waters Mountain would cross open tundra and leave the dogs and I exposed to any electrical storms.  We had hustled up to Gunsight Pass, so I was all too happy to stop there and study our surroundings.  Thunderstorms seemed a remote possibility at best.  I stared north from the pass into Fish Creek Park and beyond.  No wonder the early travelers in this area thought so much of this region.  From nearby Union Pass a trekker can easily access the three major watersheds of the Columbia, Colorado and Missouri Rivers.  I took note of the time and realized that I had three hours to go three miles.  I thought it reasonable that I should accomplish that if the terrain was as easy to pass through as I kenned it to be.

An old two-track rises up to the east and then fades out near Point 10665.  From there I had to choose my own route, and decided to cross the basin rather than follow the ridge.  This distance seemed immense, but in reality was a scant mile.  I bypassed Point 10862, and followed a wide gully up to the west and then north of Point 11409.  Draco and Leah gamely followed along, finding plenty of water to keep refreshed.  Near the latter point a large patch of snow, ample eough to show up on my map, allowed the pups an opportunity to romp and play.  Frolic they did, sometimes upside down writhing such that I habitually call Draco’s antics “fish out of water”.  I noted to myself that this was the first time that I had ever been above treeline in the Wind River Range.

As far as bushwhacks go, I found this one easy.  A few patches of willow, and avoidance of rough outcroppings, where all that hindered an otherwise obliging hike to the summit.  Beyond the spectacle of the eclipse I felt exaltation at the fact that a half a mile away the great triple divide beckoned.  I enjoy the topography and geography of our world, and this point dividing three main river systems pulses with the power of my imagination.  Getting close to the top, the area becomes fairly level and rocky sans boulders.  The summit area of Three Waters Mountain is fairly nondescript, except perhaps that twenty feet away an eight-hundred foot cliff drops off into Jakey’s Fork, which feeds the Missouri River via the Wind, Bighorn and Yellowstone Rivers.

I examined the cliffs and lakes below, again marveling at the geologic diversity of the Rocky Mountains.  Looking to the northwest I examined the Seven Lakes area and Fish Creek Park, all drained by South Fork Fish Creek which eventually wanders to the Columbia River via the Gros Ventre and Snake Rivers.  On the distant horizon the Teton Range could be discerned with clarity.  The northern view presented the southern sentinels of the  Absaroka Range, while the Gros Ventre Range showed a snowy face off to the west.  To the south I could see the northern end of the Wind River Range, where the Green River begins its odyssey to the Colorado River and eventually the Gulf of California.  Both headwaters of the Green and Gros Ventre Rivers are within the Bridger-Teton National Forest, but only the former are in the Bridger Wilderness.  Jakey’s Fork, part of the Missouri River drainage, is within the Shoshone National Forest and Fitzpatrick Wilderness.

It soon became evident that the sky would lack clouds enough for me to see the totality for the duration.  I sat back and soon noticed that the light began to diminish, and although it seemed that I sat in full sunshine, the reality was that the Sun had already begun to transit behind the Moon.  ‘Twas a singularly odd sensation to sit with the Sun directly above and the light diminishing such that I would think sunset was oncoming.  I wasn’t sure how the shepherds would react to the eclipse, and therefore I decided to hold them lest they blunder off the cliff twenty feet away.  As the light diminished so did the temperature, and the day at just above eleven-thousand six-hundred feet grew decidedly chilly.  I had arrived just before eleven in the morning, and thus sat in increasingly colder conditions on what would have otherwise been a warm day above treeline.  I donned an additional layer and then another.  Hat and gloves followed, and I hunched up to concentrate my heat when with nearly imperceptible swiftness a great shadow swept across the Earth’s surface.

A hole in the sky, that is, a large black disc where the Sun would normally be, loomed above, surrounded by cobalt blue sky, with me and a craned neck staring straight up at it.  I had been duly warned not to look directly at the Sun, common enough sense I would suppose, during the partial eclipse.  On all horizons the reds, yellows, oranges and pinks typical of crepuscular light cast a peculiar glow upon the mountains.  I was especially awed by the Teton Range.  I needn’t have worried about the dogs, as they both remained oblivious and moved not one bit.  The winds had been gathering during the building up of the eclipse but they blew heartily once the Moon obscured the Sun.  I pivoted in place, alternately gazing off at the horizon or staring up at the black disc surrounded by a glowing corona.  I hastily attempted to take some snapshots but couldn’t quite capture the situation.

Totality lasted a bare two minutes, and ended just as quickly as it had begun.  The sky brightened as soon as the Sun poked itself out from behind the Moon.  I sat another ten or fifteen minutes, admiring the view and wondering at these wonderful Rocky Mountains.  I had grown quite cold before finally deciding to begin the hike back.  I walked exalted and quite content with myself.  Not only had I visited this powerful triple divide that separates the three great watersheds of the western United States but had done so during the Great American Eclipse.  I warmed up quickly and so did the dogs.  The latter enjoyed rolling around on the snowfields that we found lingering on shady aspects.  I descended the mountain via the route that I ascended.  I chose a secluded place just north of Point 10665, surrounded by small conifers and allowing a view to the north, where I could sit and admire the view.  Here I sat or lay down in repose for an hour or so, letting my mind work over the wonders that I had just seen.

We hiked back down from Gunsight Pass and into the Roaring Fork.  At the base of the pass I stopped to investigate an old trail junction.  The map shows that the Bridger-Teton National Forest Trail No. 146 ventures off to the west but I couldn’t find the routing.  I then took a short cut to camp following an old routing of the BTNF Trail No. 94.  Once back at camp there was not much for me to do but recover from the physical effort made to reach the summit.  I napped, and then later moseyed around the nearby meadows and patches of forest.  Finally, I ate my hearty dinner and reflected on the day’s events.  The wonder of it all left me shaking my head because I found it hard to believe that I had just seen what I saw.  Draco and Leah seemed not perturbed by the eclipse but they were just as tired as I was.

Finally, after feeding myself and the shepherds, I wandered over to the creek one last time so that the dogs could have some water before sleep.  I crawled into the tent, the pups attempting to follow.  However, I kept them outside since it wasn’t that cold at night nor did rain threaten.  They curled up in a ball a few feet away.  I lay out just a bit longer, watching the revelation of the night stars one by one.  I heard forest critters going about their business.  Then I heard branches and twigs breaking in the the willow nearby and got up to see what it was.  Through the darkness I discerned a moose and said very large creature espied us.  This moose seemed to not be amused by our presence and I worried that the beast might become aggressive.  The dogs were already tied up and I became concerned that they couldn’t escape a rampaging moose.  I couldn’t see very well, and have no real proof, but I could not help but feel that this moose had had enough of humanity the last few days and that our presence here in this spot was the so-called “last straw”.  After a couple of minutes of staring, the large creature finally ambled off to continue browsing, and I gratefully fell asleep.

In retrospect I thought it odd that no other person thought of this place, excepting two other fellows whom I had met the day before and then later saw hiking up.  I last saw them about half a mile west of the summit, and never saw them again, so I know not why they didn’t finish their hike.  I would imagine that many other folks made summits of the other peaks in the region, and I remember looking over at the mighty Teton Range and thinking about who might be over there.  Nonetheless, I found it curious that out of millions of people who traveled from all over the country and world to see this natural phenomenon only I and two others thought of witnessing the event from Three Waters Mountain.  Yes, despite the moose situation, I did sleep well and rejoiced in my dreams.