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Westward Wandering

by Don Simons


A severe case of wanderlust infected my heart and mind. The only medicine that could possibly treat this ailment was a RENDEZVOUS! This yearís Rocky Mountain National Rendezvous was held in central Montana. Time and distance made me keep my options open.

My trek across the Great Plains roughly followed parts of the Oregon Trail. Rain swollen rivers would have made this trip extremely difficult had it not been for many fine bridges erected by settlers.

Little time was taken to observe wildlife and points of interest along the way. A doe waded across the North Platte. Velvet antlers of two mule deer stood up above an amber field of grain. With few trees in the area, some settlers resorted to building sod houses. Chimney Rock, Courthouse Rock, and Jailhouse Rock were signs that I had taken the right path.

After a hard pressed drive of just over 1,500 miles, my wagon and I arrived at the rendezvous. My buddies from Idaho and Montana arrived days earlier and picked out a great campsite. It was very near a cold stream (good water but no fish), lots of shade, and very close to the shooting range.

For that first night all I packed in was my bedroll. I slept under a magnificent ceiling of stars held up by aspen trees. I donít recall a more spectacular display of distant suns. That high latitude put the great and little bears much higher than I am accustomed to. It was rather cold and no bugs bothered me. The next day I hauled in my diamond fly. Hind sight makes me wish I had not for it did not rain all week and I did not enjoy the stars as much as I had that first night.

My few days at rendezvous were spent relaxing, cooking, walking traderís row, shooting the breeze and lead. Morning meals were supplemented with wild goose berries. One of my comrades brought moose ribs and bear steaks. Unfortunately, the meat was cooked over aspen wood. A fellow could make some money if he were to haul in a wagon load of oak and hickory to one of these western rendezvous.

One night our camp was invaded by friendly Mormons. They were fond of roasting pillowy white globs and squeezing them between layers of chocolate and graham crackers. I affectionately dubbed this family the ďSmormonsĒ.

I visited with my dear friend, Spirit Woman, and part of her family. This is one active lady. She does not just attend these rendezvous. She has ridden in on overnight horse treks, has gone out on overnight walking treks, competes in shooting matches, organizes kid games, and does some dog soldiering. Next year she will be the first female head dog soldier at the RMNR, which is planned for northeastern Utah. I wish I had her energy.

At the end of the event we said our goodbyes and hopes to see each other next year. Heading our different ways I found myself with no set plans or destinations. I thought about studying birds in western Montana, but forest fires were not appealing. As things worked out, my wandering led me to Colterís Hell. I figured to spend a couple of days chasing large game but ended up spending five. Each morning I rose before our sun and ventured out to experience true wilderness. Images of critters such as bison, elk, mule deer, pronghorn, coyotes, wolves, and grizzlies were captured.

One morning I took a position along the Yellowstone River along with dozens of tourists. Some of us waited four hours. Finally five wolf pups appeared just across the river and played for about twenty minutes. This was a rare sight for so many folks to witness.

Another morning I watched three grizzlies on a distant mountainside when suddenly a sow bear with two cubs appeared less than fifty feet behind me. I hesitated and should have jumped into my wagon. But instead I captured their images. Luckily she decided to turn and head off another direction.

One evening I stood in a large meadow. Venus, Jupiter, a crescent Luna, and I watched a huge cloud blast out a show of lightening. Smoke from distant fires drifted in from the west. A flight of geese slashed down into the river. A pair of sandhill cranes trumpeted loudly. Wolves howled far away. It was an enchanting scene.

Unfortunately duties forced me to start heading southeast. At over 4,300 miles this round trip was rather expensive. However, the rewarding experiences made it all worth while.

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