It's not hard to find Roland Cheek's work on the internet; google the name and you'll come up with several hundred offerings--check and see.
Just yesterday, my friend John Naismith asked, "So what do you plan to do for Jane on Valentine's?"
I put on my best imitation of being badly wounded. "John, you phrased it wrong. You should've asked what she's gonna do for me!" He grinned and dropped the query, but I was hardly joking. Our's will be a repeat of last year's arrangement. See below:
She acquires the main course by regularly checking the lobster pots she keeps in Flathead Lake, brings 'em home, boils 'em, serves 'em. All I do is light the fireplace blaze, set the table, light candles, and pour wine.
Don't you think this a splendid arrangement?
She needn't wear a pink cap and join a million-woman march to cause me to notice her. Instead, I'll offer a couple of photos of what the kinds of things she does in the middle of long packtrips to attract attention. (Who wouldn't love her?)
* * * * * * * * *
Now that my health is on the rebound, I'm thinking of once again doing a little wilderness packing. Two criterions seem crucial to making my first venture in several years into a rebounding success: 1. A small, docile pack animal that an old man can reach and tie; 2. A few more creature comforts than was my norm in years gone by. With those criterions in mind, I concentrated the other day, on a little practice run around the homestead. What do y'all think?
The whiskey! MY GOD, I FORGOT THE WHISKEY!
That damned Obama! Looks like he'll haunt me to the end ---- like saving my favorite Utah hiking place so's my kids and their kids can hike there, too. To give you an idea, take a look at a special place called simply "The Citadel".
Easy enough to see why it's called "The Citadel" isn't it? The stunning rock formation--and the Anasazi dwellings found on the end--provide the most formidable defensive position I can imagine. To access out to the end meant any enemies must approach in clear view for perhaps a half-mile. Then the only viable way to close meant following the 20-foot-wide runway platform of eroded sandstone for 300 yards before reaching the hidden ruins. It's easy to see why 10 or 15 fighters could hold off an attacking regiment of club-wielding, spear throwing aggressors.
Actually, the place seems to hold a kind of religious significance for me. The Citadel should remain forever in perpetuity as it's near the center of the brand-new declared Bear's Ears National Monument.
Thank you, President Obama.
It is my fortune --- good or bad --- to have a couple of friends who have a certain modicum of talent at piscatorial pursuit.
It's not so much that vanity can be located within them, for neither spends a whole hell of a lot of time gloating. But damn! both have nothing but short shrift for me when I chide them for all the "bait" fish they display. The result, of course, is that each defends their fishing acumen so passionately that my psyche is so battered and torn that I must slink away to hide from all the rest of my peers.
Then a light bulb flashed! Perhaps Larry and John lack my experience and dispatch. Perhaps they have no clear example against with they can measure their presumed successes.
VOILA! says I. I will demonstrate:
Jane and Roland just off the boat. Now I ask you, who can doubt my wisdom and our experience?
(Oh yes! They came out of Angel's Bathing Pool, in the Missions)
It's easier to be Thankful when you dwell in a place that's filled with places like this:
And when you marry a gal like this:
Most of the attractive young ladies to whom I've made suggestive advances would turn up their noses at such accommodation for elicit romance, but not this sweet young thing and her dog.
This old trapper cabin lies along the Whitefish Divide trail north of the Werner Peak Lookout. It's commonly known as the "Chinaman's Cabin", but was, in fact, built and occupied by a trapper of Japanese extraction.
I'm actually quite fond of old cabins, and especially fond ot the kind of "cheesecake" exemplified by this beauty who now has been my wife for over six decades. But I actually took this photo to portray Jane's Brittany spaniel, Tess, who never strays far from her mistress.
(Yeah, right! I'm also selling bridges today.)
You are tracking a lone bull; been on his trail since daylight.You know he's a bull--and a big one--because of the way he urinated between his tracks, and how he left tine-marks in the snow each time he paused to nip off a clump of bluebunch wheatgrass. But he leads you into a maze of tracks left by a herd that bedded here earlier, then began grazing in all directions. Where in the hell did your bull go?
I'm often asked if I miss guiding others to adventure in the Bob Marshall Wilderness?
First a little background: I began as a wilderness outfitter in 1970, doing so part-time while working for Plum Creek Lumber Company as a safety director. I went full-time in 1974, doing exactly what I wanted to do for 21 years.
Naturally, during those 21 years, I saw all kinds of weather, with all kinds of people. Our son Marc and I picked a cutleaf daisy on top the Chinese Wall on the 2nd day of November in 1974, and I showed a pasqueflower to hunter Russ Barnett on the backside of Table Mountain in November in a subsequent year.
Then there were other years: Like 1986 when a group of North Carolina hunters -- all family -- rode into our Spotted Bear River tent compound in two feet of snow and 20-degrees below zero! A lot of poker was played on that trip.
God and Jane and advancing age whispered that it was time to quit, while we still could. Jane did cartwheels, and my back sighed with relief at its release from throwing heavy loads on top of tall horses. But God went Jane and my back one better by insuring that I had no second thoughts about leaving an occupation that I loved when I loved it no longer. The photo below shows my guide Rob standing aside the resting horse string at the top of the pass leading from our early season hunting camp.
"The world is rough and you gotta be tough!" is an old adage I used to tell my hunters and their guides. But tell the truth, The Good Lord showed me I was no longer as tough as I once was.
Collaborator (Back Country Horsemen), neighbor (two houses north), friend (most of the time), with a trophy animal that I couldn't quite "bugle" in, but managed to "talk" to long enough so that the friend could stalk into position for his first bull elk.
Though, from my small copse of stunted trees I couldn't see Ken's progress (across a ravine, over a low rocky ridge, and into a spruce forest beyond), I could imagine the pressure building on my buddy as he crept forward, especially each time the elk fell silent.
Ken told how he could hear the beast raking a small fir with his antlers: "That's when I would creep forward. When he stopped, I stopped. Then he'd bugle again and my nerves bounced around like innertubes!"
After the longest time, I felt like we'd lost him ---- he'd not responded to my entreaties for several minutes ---- when Ken's rifle went:
One must sometimes ask one's self what friends are for, if not to clean and butcher the elk that provided ample liver to go with the onions we planned on for supper?
I did offer a lot of based-on-experience suggestions while monitoring my friend's process, however . . . .
A most unusual hunting camp was one load I packed into the Bob Marshall Wilderness for friends back in 1970. The tipi slept six, with room for a couple more sleeping bags. All feet were pointed toward the central fire, a low blaze that kept the sleeping and lodging quarters surprisingly warm. The friends were from Minneapolis and Martin City. My neighbor Stan Ove (pictured on left, admiring the lodge) helped with the packing chore.
It's a little peculiar that one of the most unusual camps with which I was associated was also one of the my very first undertaken as a professional outfitter.
We have these friends, see? Bill & Mary Lepper live off Farm To Market Road, west of Whitefish. They call their acreage the "Lepper Colony." Their home is on a timbered bench, high above the Stillwater River. They keep horses, dogs, cats, and grandkids.
The "Lepper Colony" is also home to an amalgam of wildlife: whitetail deer, wild turkey's, coyotes, foxes, etc. The occasional moose wanders through. Hawks, eagles, and turkey vultures soar overhead. They have flying squirrels that come by night to their second-story-deck bird feeder.
Bill's a gadget guy, accomplished enough to keep Jane's and my computers going. In a spirit of curiosity, Bill set up a remote, motion-sensor camera pointed below that deck just to see what else might be wandering around their house late at night. Imagine Bill's and Mary's surprise when the camera disclosed a mountain lion within ten feet of their hot tub,
and a black bear climbing up a deck support post. But their most recent visitor was ......... well .........
The really strange oddity about all this is the Leppers just spent a few days at Many Glacier looking for grizzly bears without success -------- only to find the creatures are making house calls along Farm-To-Market-Road.
They live in a GOOD place, don'tcha think?
The problem with most people is that they want to be alive for as long as possible without having any idea whatsoever how to live.
Me at thirteen.
Me through the rest of my life ---------- up to now.
I'm unsure if what I've said means anything to anyone ------- including me.
This is sad, but it's an actual rendition of a 1976 cover from "The New Yorker" magazine, an upscale rag from the innards of Manhattan Island. Of course, the magazine's cover is pure satire, meant to poke fun at the elitism emanating from a class of citizens who consider themselves superior in every way to folks who dwell outside of New York City. "Big Apple" dwellers are actually the most provincial, in-grown, incestual class of herd animals in this world. Next are Californians, where Hollywood-ites have their own perspecxtive. And TEXANS? Gawd let's don't get into them!
Instead, let's project a little Montana-ism into the mix and see what we can come up with:
Don't you sorta feel sorry for those poor people from New York, Houston, and Hollywood?
It has come to my unwonted attention that I've recently been the target of malicious, tasteless, and unjustified rumor.
For instance, one is that multi-tasking is beyond my ken. The inference is not so much that I tend to so narrowly focus that only one thought at a time can penetrate, but that I'm too clumsy to entertain more than one thought or action without falling flat on a ballroom floor.
That, of course, is a bald-faced lie. So I can't jitterbug, so what? I can keep time to a slow waltz, if they'll slow the music down enough for an old guy to keep pace. And who's to say that, while I'm doing just one thing at a time, that I cannot hold my own at at least THINKING OF SOMETHING ELSE.
But, heh-heh, I not only can think of more than one thing at a time, I can actually DO more than one thing at a time, as the following photograph will prove:
Guaranteed way to wake up! Glacier Park's Belly River. Before sunrise. An annoying need to pee. Not so annoying any more!
My dictionary reads: "Abnormally increased appetite for consumption of food. . . ." Apparently hyperphagia is associated with some physical abnormality, such as an injury to the hypothalamus (whatever that is). The word derives from the Greek words "polys" which means "very much" or "many", and "phago" meaning "eating" or "devouring". For humans, then, "hyperphagia" is bad stuff!
For bears, though, hyperphagia holds different connotations, like with this USF&W grizzly:
You see, bears every autumn enter a frenzied-feeding stage called hyperphagia where they do the eating equivalent of a sprint to the finish line at the end of a long race. Their finish line is hibernation and it is literally a case of you'd better put on enough fat to take you through your winter's sleep, or you'll die.
How that translates to us, is the big Ursids simply don't give a damn about us. Get out of the way! I have no time for you! I gotta eat these berries or clean up this "gut pile" from a hunter-killed elk. Then I must dig some roots and top all that off with a few cattail. No! No! I don't want to go through the hassle of trying to filch baking powder biscuits from your firepit Dutch oven; just casing the joint takes too much time away from stuffing myself for winter. Just let me be! There's no time for argument!
You can learn a bit more about this from my book, "Learning To Talk Bear":
I really don't want to talk to you about this
Or even this
Or not even this
Nope. You see, what I really want to talk to you about is where the real values in fishing lies ------------- in finding and "feeling" what places like this does to your soul.
That concludes today's lesson. Thank you for listening.
She was a beautiful steed. Conformation? Perfect; good withers, sturdy shoulders and hind end, good barrel, long and solid legs. Tennessee Walker. Riding her was like straddling a plush lounge seat in a Rolls Royce at a ground-eating speed.
She was also not to be trusted. She threw herself over backward on me three times because she blew up in ticklish circumstances. One must watch her hind feet, too. And she took a mouthful out of my side a couple of times when sought to tighten her cinch.
This horse, another mare, was also Tennessee Walker. Unlike Tanglefoot, the horse above, this one was ugly as sin, and clumsy. Rocky had a bone-jarring trot and galloped like a sick Holstein. But boy howdy! could she walk; walk rings around the horse above. And it was like riding on air. In addition, from the time I broke her until she passed into that great horse heaven in the sky, the only thing on her mind was to find out just what it was I wanted her to do, then by God! do it! To the very best of her ability.
But did you think I want to talk today about horses? I don't. It's country that I want to share with you. Both pics were taken well within the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Either of the two ponies, as the photos attest, took me there.
A good horse and wild country! What else could one wish for?
A wild woman, maybe? Scroll on down to view her.
Common knowledge has it that old-time packers were big and tough, with scrambled brains and muscles-in-their-eyebrows. Common knowledge sucks ----- else how would you explain the photo below?
Wanna see another pic of the woman?
Maybe you've got guts enough to tell her she ain't big enough or tough enough to pack horses into the wilderness, but I sure as hell didn't!
The rest of our hiking group has fixated on the cocktail ice at their feet. I'm out of the picture, trying to locate the rest of the ingredients necessary for a really successful hike conclusion along the Whitefish Divide. Though I did come up with Sierra cups as tumbler substitutes, I never found a blender, nor an electrical outlet even had I done so. Limes were scarce, too, as were tequilla, triple sec, and salt. So we had to make-do with Southern Comfort sipped neat as a suitable celebrant.
Magic moments are moments designed and "made to happen", then experienced, as opposed to "Memory Nuggets" that should be interpreted as blind chance that will likely never again occur. Examples might be:
Magic Moment: when a son or daughter is surprised at a high school ballgame when their soldier father or mother is ushered on to the floor as a new arrival from Afghanistan. That's "design"at it's most magic moment.
Memory Nugget: while driving up a slow and winding Glacier Park road, a mountain lion bounds up from beneath a short bridge over a tiny stream. He pauses briefly to stare eye-to-eye not more than four feet from our daughter's passenger side window, then bounds away. That's a "memory nugget" almost surely never to be repeated.
Magic moments can be replicated again and again, though their luster diminishes with each similar appearance.
Memory nuggets are rare, never to be deliberately encountered, and certainly to be infinitely cherished for the gifts from the gods that they surely are.
There's a lot of magic between man and dog when they're working for the same end.
Once upon a time, my wife Jane commiserated on the fact that she had little time to work in her flower gardens at home. It was while we were in the middle of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, leading others to adventure.
"I don't know why you worry so much about it," my long-time guide and great friend Larry Gleason drawled, gazing around at the arrays of wildflowers spreading across the yellow pine / bunchgrass meadows through which our horse string plodded. "Seems like God provides plenty of his own without you having to fret about it much."
Her head swiveled and she smiled as she drank in Larry's sage comment, as well as the purples and yellows and oranges and reds and blues and pinks and whites nodding their colorful heads all around us. And she said no more about any wish to push fingernails into freshly tilled dirt in our backyard.
She's trainable, you see.
Pasqueflowers are fabulously beautiful wild crocus, most often found in undisturbed soil --------- like that found in wilderness.
Aldo Leopold once wrote: "The right to find a pasqueflower is as inalienable as free speech."
Smart guy, that Aldo. He was trainable, too.
Perhaps one of the best-known destinations in the southern portion of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, though it's a relatively short distance (about 20 miles in from the North Fork Blackfoot trailhead) compared to most other destination places in "The Bob".
The Danaher is named for an early pioneer into the country, and actually is the place where the South Fork of the Flathead River (Wild & Scenic) begins.
Of the plethora of beautiful places gracing America's greatest wilderness, The Danaher is not necessarily my all-time personal favorite, but it's high on the list.
More on The Danaher can be found in my book, "Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness": http://www.rolandcheek.com/BobMarStore.html
Now you know--I'm a sucker for sage. I have this strange affinity for the underdogs--even in plants. And in my part of the country (west slope of the Rockies, up near the Canadian Line) sage is rare; found only in small, isolated, dry-site openings. Elk and deer like those openings, too. And grizzly bears, and wolves, and an entire medly of lesser birds and mammals.
I like it that small islands of sage exist where one might think it has no business being. I like the looks of its smoky ambience when the full scope is viewed across a meadow. And I like its smell: wild and don't give-a-damn free.
This field of sage is located in Glacier Park, north of Polebridge, in the valley of the North Fork of the Flathead. It's a dry-site plant that's not ashamed of its around-the-next-bend's neighbors, either.
Both photos from floating the Flathead's South Fork, in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. For more on the Bob Marshall, take a look at my book about "the Bob": http://www.rolandcheek.com/BobMarStore.html
Back in my "other" life, when leading folks from all over America and, sometimes, the world to adventure in the greatest wilderness in the galaxy, we planned, each year, something special: what we called our "Geological Gypsy Trip". It was quite popular, led by one of my heroes, the late John Montagne, professor emeritus of geology at Montana State University.
Like our guests, I learned a lot about how that rugged land atop the continental divide was formed. Below, see a boulder from the Devonian era filled with fossils laid down under the sea, but now resting near the summit of one of the Bob Marshall's highest mountains.
John Montagne was not only my idea of the world's most knowledgable geologist, but he was unquestionably the world's greatest teacher. Perhaps the reason our trips were so wildly popular.
Some of what I learned from my hero, John, was taken into my coffeetable book, "Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness". Filled with upwards of 100 full color photos, the book is for sale in hardcover for just $17.95, softcover for $10.95. For more info, click HERE.
Our son Marcus is supt. of a $70 million dollar remodel project on a Denver mansion listed on the nation's Historical Register. It was Marc that alerted me to the importance of initial quality in constructing long-lasting comfort and appearance. As an example, I'll offer a couple of comparisons:
Obviously serviceable. But just as obviously hastily constructed, with less-than-satisfactory maintenance. Serviceable, but not exactly comfortable. Certainly not ostentatious. Compare this, then, with:
Surely our second selection requires little more than a glance to note the higher quality construction and maintenance. Not only is the latter example's construction calibre tight and exemplary, but additional amenities, such as "valet parking" and surrounding scenic vistas abound.
No wonder I selected #2 for the cover of my book: My Best Work Is Done At the Office
To learn more about the book, CLICK HERE
Sometimes, in order to obtain correct angles for really good photos one must employ ingenuity .......... like climbing a tree. Unfortunately, I failed to obtain top-notch clarity for this bear and her three cubs because my tree selection left a little to be desired: too small. Too, I clambered so high into its top that one wonders how the fragile limbs supported the weight of an obese ex-outfitter.
Besides, all components were shaking!
You may wish to check out my book "Learning To Talk Bear", an excellent treatise on my own learning experiences with the great beasts. http://www.rolandcheek.com/LttbStore.html
She's always focused on wanting to shoot photos of someone else, so I suggested she dry a "selfie" of herself. This is her first attempt. I hope she quits any future obsession she might have with her own good looks and returns to taking photos of others. . . .
Our son Marc and I lean against an Anasazi tower to stare out across a section of southeastern Utah that spreads across what's known as the "Four Corners" region, where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah come together. Originally it was thought these Anasazi towers were signal towers, intended to carry messages from- and to- distant places. But I wonder?
My reason for wondering is that it seems there are too many of them. For instance, there are at least a dozen within a few miles of this tower; one locale of perhaps a single acre sports the remnants of seven (7) towers.
Back to square one.
The chasm opening at Marc's and my feet is several hundred feet to first bounce.
Where've we been? Southeastern Utah, searching for remnants of the ancient Anasazi culture. One thing we found blew our minds!
From Encyclopaedia Britannica
Kiva: subterranean ceremonial and social chamber built by the Pueblo Indians of the southwestern United States. The traditional round shape of the earliest kivas recalls the round pit houses of the prehistoric Ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi) from whom the Pueblo tribes are thought to have descended.
A small hole in the floor of the kiva (sometimes dug into the earth) served as the symbolic place of origin of the tribe; the Hopi word for this element is sípapu. Although a kiva’s most important purpose is as a venue for rituals, kivas can also be used for political meetings and casual gatherings of the men of the village.d
Over the last quarter-century Jane and I have visited many Anasazi ruins, many of which included kivas. But this year . . . . "I dunno Marc, but something looks odd atop that little knob." Our son stopped his vehicle and said, "I'll just run up there and see. If there's anything, I'll wave my arms and jump up and down." Ten minutes later, we joined him. What he found on the very pinnacle of that sharp pointed, 300-ft high knob was the remnants of a kiva:
Jane points to what we think might be the "sipapu" hole.
Such a stunning find defies what little we know about kivas, which heretofore we've believed associated with a village and at ground level.
Perhaps someone can help us understand what we've found.
Jane serves 'em. Serves other good stuff, too. Like rolled flank steak, lobster, shrimp salad, cornish hens (or grouse in season). This is proof positive that my wife raised the level of our camp cuisine when she joined us on the trail.
With me, it was lumpy pancakes, macaroni & cheese, and peanut butter sandwiches. She made such a notable difference that prospective guests began asking for the specific dates that Jane would attend the party. I didn't mind though, because she made no distinction between outfitter and guests when serving time rolled around.
It did make for more dishwashing, however, and that role fell to me as the only way I could keep my fingernails skookum clean.
We get into depth in the story of our Bob Marshall guiding years in our book "Dance On the Wild Side." For more on the subject, click: http://www.rolandcheek.com/DanceStore.html
It's that time of year when kids and older horses begin dreaming of things been and things to be. Older horses and kids are made for each other. Check out my video to learn why:
Last week we discussed failed dreams by early settlers:
But there were failures by Native American, too:
A dilapidating Anasazi stone building constructed somewhere around 800 years ago. Here, too, is a story fraught with broken dreams, along with one hell of a lot of sweat and toil. Theirs were dreams destroyed, apparently by climate change--which might be a factor we Americans should consider, what with southwestern reservoirs slowly declining amid ever-growing population increases; the exact same factors that led to these Indians fleeing their homes in search of more favorable environments.
Jane and I will soon again be visiting S.E. Utah in search for more evidence of broken Anasazi dreams.
There's a story here; in every old decaying homestead cabin there's a story. It's a tale rich in sweat, blood, tears, and dreams. Don't forget the dreams. This cabin was designed to be a home, not just a shelter; a home of splendid dimensions: 16-feet wide and 24-feet long. Odds are good there was a woman involved somewhere, if not during its construction, then intended as a dwelling for a bride-to-be, or a wife from across the ocean.
Every log came from a carefully selected tree; selection that took time and thought. That tree was felled, limbed, cut into the proper lengths, then it's bark removed with adz or ax. Each log was rolled into place to assess its fit and mark proper joint placement. Then the log was rolled back for joint hewing and touch-up adzing for a better fit.
Overall, there may have been at least two day's work in each log. I count 20 logs on the two cabin sides we see, and can assume there are as many on the remaining sides. That means the better part of three months work went into the cabin logs. Then came the rafters and roof, in this case split shakes. And somehow the cabin builder had to find time to clear ground and plant a crop, care for livestock, cook and consume meals, and break away for an evening's hoe-down at a down-country church social.
Had he made a go of it there would, today, be a big barn nearby, and probably a two-story white-painted house standing on this very spot. But obviously some of his dreams failed to materialize: either there was never a bride in the offing or wife overseas; his crops were hailed out or his milch cow died. Or maybe he just pined away out of loneliness and overwork.
But because the cabin can't tell the story, we'll never know.
There's no way one can get a perspective of the immensity of what's usually considered the most outstanding feature in the Bob Marshall Wilderness: The Chinese Wall. For that you might want to consult the double-truck centerfold in my coffee table book, "Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness". That panoramic view of the Wall (taken from Prairie Reef) will certainly provide a measure of its scope, if not its height.
However, the above photo of the horseback party below the Wall certainly discloses how puny we humans appear in comparison to some of nature's handiwork.
For more info on the book CLICK HERE
This ponderosa pine tree carries the marks of desperation: where earlier travelers, probably American Indians, stripped bark from a mature yellow pine to get at the life-giving cambium layer near the tree's wood itself. Usually that particular food source was only utilized during periods of extreme hunger; but it was nourishing and life-sustaining.
There're not many ancient yellow pine forests left in today's world; most long ago felled for the trees' superior lumber. This particular photo was taken near White River Park, in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The surrounding pine-and-bunchgrass landscapes provide lovely natural parks and meadows along a particularly beautiful river corridor for several miles.
I'm guessing both Blackfeet and Flathead Indians favored camping there, just as it attracts me. Sometimes, though, their camps must've been hard, perhaps in March. Maybe that's why Indians called March the "Hunger Moon".
For more info, or to order, CLICK HERE
There's been a modicum of excitement springing from Oregon's Malheur country of late, what with the armed stand-off between emigrants from Nevada and the U.S. Government over who was to manage the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which spreads like a giant "T" south and east of the community of Burns (Harney County Seat).
Primarily known more as a wetlands bird refuge, the Malheur's surrounding lands are usually considered stark and barren. (I've actually seen sage grouse hunters stalking through sagebrush wearing stovepipes on their legs as protection from rattlesnakes.) Just east of the refuge rises the Steens Mountains, considered one the finest examples of "fault block" mountains in the United States (fault blocks can be caused by both "tension" faults or "thrust" faults on the earth's surface). It's 26 dirt road miles to the 8,000-foot summit of the Steens from Frenchglen on the west, yet just three miles from that same summit down a near-perpendicular drop into the Alvord Desert to the East.
I hunted for mule deer in the Steens over a half-century ago. And four decades later I returned to look for wild horses. Found same, both times.
Those horses weren't merely beautiful, they were outstanding. Though roaming free over a vast landscape of public land (BLM) they were every one sleek, with excellent conformation. In my yesteryear as an outfitter/guide in the Bob Marshall Wilderness I would've been proud to have any of these animals in my strings. I went there because a great percentage of wild horses in the Steens are supposedly buckskins, and I have a curious affinity for horses so marked. But, as you can see, their colors range from steeldusts to bays, sorrels to paints, and all colors between. (Perhaps a quarter of this band of upwards of forty were indeed buckskins.)
There may be better ways to spend idle late-spring afternoons, but damme! if I know what they might be!
February 23, 2016
Marias Pass, some years ago. On a shoulder of Elk Calf Mountain.
Some camps are more primitive than others. Here, for instance, there were no crystal chandeliers, no recliner chairs, no down-filled queen-size beds. There were, however, toasts of Southern Comfort mixed with Yukon Jack between blizzard gusts, along with borderline thrills and chills from spooky spills from yesteryear.
Simply one more potential tragedy avoided during our love for- and research into- the bowels of nature
Jane and I have a book out that discloses other potential tragedies avoided during our multi-decades of life together amid the Northern Rockies. The book is "Dance On The Wild Side." More can be gleaned about the book by Clicking Here
Coal Creek Cabin in Glacier Park. Friends, accomplished winter travelers, Bob Muth and the late Loren Kreck condescended to drag me along as their millstone. As you can see, it was a sunny day in February, some years back.
We crossed the Middle Fork of the Flathead wearing waders and carrying our skis. The snowpack was hard-crusted and relatively easy going once one climbed from the river bottom to the glacial bench above. The cabin, if memory serves me, is about four miles up-creek, via a good Park Service trail that snakes through a lodgepole forest.
Jane and I also visited this cabin on a horseback circuit through Glacier while researching my "Chocolate Legs" book about the grizzly bear that made front page copy all across America. Click here for more
This could be what happens when parents let their children marry beneath themselves. Here, Jane, having made a poor choice in mate-selection is out panning for gold in order raise funds to buy milk and bread for her hungry kids. Unfortunately, on this day, she only made enough to buy bread. Looks like bread and water for her poor family.
I tried to tell her she'd find more gold in a downtown bank than in a streamside bank.
But she worries about handling a flyrod effectively during a stickup inside a brick-and-mortar building!
Back in "the old days" (if they were lucky) folks could spring ski at Many Glacier. And if folks were blessed as well as being lucky they might hit a late March or early April day when it was sunny and warm, with no wind. Like the day pictured below, when the Cheeks and the Ausks skied to Grinnell Lake amid balmy spring weather, crossing Swiftcurrent Lake from the Many Glacier Hotel, across to Josephine Lake, up it, and finally following the trail to Grinnell.
Jane, Phyllis, and Ken astride the frozen lake
In those days, Glacier Park's leadership seemed a little more public spirited, and during an open spring--like occurred in 2015--when the road melted snow-free, they opened the gate and let folks enjoy spring skiing and snowshoeing in what is unquestionably one of the most beautiful valleys in America.
Whereas today, present administrations seems dictated-to by the calendar and a pre-programmed time-frame, no matter global warming, el ninjo, spring weather patterns, or revealed logic.
More's the pity.
I recently received some justified criticism about the quality of the photos I'm posting on my Facebook site and I held up my hands in surrender. "Ma'am," I said, "I've known for decades that I can never compete with top wildlife photographers like Brett Swain, or great landscape photographers like Dennis Skinner. But what I've got is what I've got. Most were taken 50 or 60 years ago and are washed out during storage and exposure to the elements--not to mention my probably poor camera settings and quick-from-the-hip shutter releases."
But I went on to explain that, at the very least, even my poor quality photos do prove that I was there and, hopefully, tell a story. Such as the ones I'll use in this week's "Mountain Musing":
Obviously the pic is washed out through years and exposure, but it does tell a story about the vagaries of whitewater rafting. Note the paddle thrusting above the torrent, and looking closely: one can see the prow of the Avon Redshank about to emerge through the roiling water.
I took my raft and its fisherfolk through first, then sprinted back upstream to portray the second raft. What makes the second raft most notable (at least to me) is its occupants (pictured below):
That second raft's occupants were my family (left to right) Jane, Cheri, and Marc. While our son and daughter were both experienced oar-benders, their mother wanted to polish her skills. Here she's poised above the whitewater chute, trying to swallow her terrors.
As great as the skills of both aforementioned photographers, neither Brett nor Dennis could possibly provide any better photos to contribute to this little tale.
Therefore, I reckon my readers will have to accept my photo quality in order to listen to my stories.
My previous "Mountain Musing" pictured a bit of the area along the North Fork of the Sun River, in the Bob Marshall Wilderness called Biggs Creek Flat. In that previous post, I said the Biggs Creek area is where buffalo should roam. A surprising number of readers agreed. So now I wish to add a little frosting to that cake with another picture or two, sort of in substantiation to that last post.
I wouldn't mind either, if a few other Facebookers with photos of the Biggs area (such as Rick Graetz? for one) weighed in with some of their own.
Which is anything but flat. . . .
Biggs Creek Flat lies within the eastern portion of the Bob Marshall Wilderness; it's up the North Fork of the Sun. There are huge rolling meadows there, interspersed with fingers of trees running up draws. And grass. My God! What grass! Sometimes belly-deep to a packstring winding through hill and dale.
Though there are four elk visible on the open knob just to right-center of the photo, and hundreds of elk roaming there each spring, I really wanted to see a band of buffalo busting out of one the nearby draws, galloping in their patented rocking chair lope across the field before my saddlehorse.
Despite my knowing there are no buffalo in "the Bob", this is the wilderness and the wild place where they should roam free and unfettered. And I still wanted to see them here. A half-dozen would be about right; sufficient number to frighten my horses spitless and restore a sense that the last wildlife component that was here when Lewis and Clark traipsed through a few miles east has been restored to America's greatest wilderness.
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Danged beavers anyhow! This is a dam the pesky critters threw up on the outlet creek below Stanton Lake. What industry. As if he's (or they're planning to raise the level of that mile-long Great Bear Wilderness lake! Beavers have to be the dam-buildingest creatures God ever made. Any place with flowing water is vulnerable to their compulsion to dam it.
Beavers are the Floyd Dominys of the animal world (Dominy was long-time head of the Bureau of Reclamation, responsible for the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River, as well as myriad others, including efforts to dam Grand Canyon). Beavers are often the bane of forest road culverts, throwing up dams overnight and washing out roads. Really ambitious ones with stars in their eyes have even begun dam construction across major rivers, such as the Willamette and the Susquehanna.
Civil engineers curse them; sometimes though one wonders if its not mostly from professional envy.
You see, beavers are also world class conservationists, responsible for developing ponds and marshes and bogs and swamps that are vital for fish and waterfowl and mammals and yes, people who are hikers and birdwatchers and fisherfolk.
If you're interested in reading an interesting book about the value of beavers, try Three Against the Wilderness, by the late Eric Collier. It's an old book, written by a very talented outdoors journalist who lived near Cache Creek in western British Columbia. His story is a book-length non-fiction tale about restoring beavers to his home country; how the essential animals had been trapped to near-extinction and how returning the creatures to the land helped restore moose habitat and downstream irrigation water for farmers and ranchers, not to mention what a godsend the little four-footed dam builders were to the country's fisheries.
When I read the book sometime in the mid-sixties, Three Against the Wilderness was readily available in libraries and bookstores.
If not today, it should be.
Jane's last saddlehorse. An Arab. Had a mind of his own. An Arab terrorist to Jane, who finally came to an understanding with the feisty little brute. Theirs was a love-hate relationship, though. She hated to climb on him; then loved the ride when she did. He loved the woman who spent so many miles leading him along mountain trails, yet hated any kind of conformity while cherishing competition.
Cricket was the last of our 30-horse string left on the home place after we retired from guiding others into the Bob Marshall Wilderness. At age 30 the horse was still peppy and feisty--but lonesome after the last of his buddies passed over the Great Divide.
So Jane gave him to the grandson of a friend. The friend sent Jane a picture of Cricket and her grandson winning a blue ribbon in an O-Mok-See when Cricket was 32 and her grandson eight.
For much of my life I've suffered abuse because of a perceived affinity for Ford trucks and automobiles. Though my loyalty actually attached somewhere south of where my detractors perception resides, I dutifully suffered in silence lo! these many years, mostly because I'm known far and wide as one who eschews disagreement.
However, since the clamor seems to be waning, and my beaten and trodden body is healing nicely, I would like to take one last parting shot in my defense:
*Thank you, and good night!
There are several things about this picture that is intriguing: a) it's an . . . uh . . . unusual method of Interstate highway travel; b) his loaded backpack and obvious facial hair appears to lead one to conclude the young man spent at least some of his previous days off-roadl; c) the "Deer Lodge" exit sign in the background might cause thoughts that he's either a recent prison release, or he's been hiking the Flint Range.
In any case, where's he headed? Butte perhaps; Anaconda maybe. Or points south or east on Interstates 90 or 15.
There's more to the wonder, too: what's his travel range on roller blades? Has he been far on the Interstate? Where did he originate? Missoula? Naw, not sufficiently debonaire-appearing to hale from that citadel of smug and arrogant complacency.
On the bright side, he appears to be slim and healthy. Obviously he's possessed of a travel mode that sustains a healthy lifestyle. In fact, I find his ingenuity quite refreshing.
As well as one of envy.
There was a time when, much younger, I had a dream of becoming a top wildlife photographer, like Brett Swain is today, or a landscape photographer in the class of Dennis Skinner. To prove my bonafides, I offer this mountain goat photo from my long-ago files. I'm sure you can, at a glance, see why my stuff never graced the cover of National Geographic; nor has it been displayed in the same gallery as the works of Ansel Adams.
In retrospect, the only value my photo efforts can possibly make to posterity is to prove that I was, by God, there!
This is the kind of Montana view that, back in 1964, stole our family's heart from Southwestern Oregon. Please understand there was nothing wrong with the place where we originated, only that Montana was (and is) a place of dreams. It's a place where Jane and I "Danced On the Wild Side"; where we fell ever more deeply in love; where we've lived out our lives in light and love, freedom and elan; where we made a life instead of merely a living.
It's the kind of life and place for which we gave thanks a few days ago.
This is my first wilderness elk camp. The year was 1967. The camp was actually set in what is now the Great Bear Wilderness, very near its boundary with the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Pictured with a cup of coffee is my wife's father, Sam Wingfield. Sam always wanted to take an elk and begged me to guide him on a wilderness hunt.
The camp appears pretty elaborate for just two hunters. But it didn't seem like good form to take one's father-in-law on a second-class adventure.
Sam shot a five-point bull the very next day. That bull, maddened by the rut, actually charged within thirty feet.
Good camp. Good country. Good company. Good outcome.
It was a great way to begin several decades of wilderness hunting adventures.
A very wise mentor once told me, "If a man is really lucky, he'll own one great horse in his life, and two great dogs."
Well, I was lucky enough to be owned by a really great horse: Buck, my all-time great saddlehorse
And my luck held--in part--by being claimed by the world's best grouse dog: a Brittany spaniel named Hunter
Unfortunately, the prediction of my friend about buddying up with TWO great dogs has yet to produce that 2nd great canine master, but I'm patient.
The odd thing that my mentor (Hazen Lawson) never mentioned, though, was a WIFE! Doesn't it seem a little out of character for one of my most profound lifetime advisors to mention a horse and a dog, but remain strangely silent about a wife (or wives)? How many can one expect? Will they be great? Or just so-so?
My own personal experience with wives is the same as with the dog and horse--I've only been owned by one. But that one has been great!
In just ten more days, that lady and I will celebrate our 61st wedding anniversary. This year, the 27th day of November happens to fall on BLACK FRIDAY!
Doesn't that tell you something?
This is what I signed up for:
After a lifetime of togetherness, this is what happens when she maneuvers for control:
And then . . . the warranty runs out:
Don't blame me --------- you've been warned!
It was 1990, and time I retired from the very demanding trade as an outfitter/guide in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. I was 55-years-old and prematurely stove up from lifting heavy packs onto wild-eyed broncs, rising at four a.m. despite blizzards, torrential rain, and a dispeptic ulser. Besides, my wife Jane wanted me to retire to help rake leaves around the old homestead come autumn.
I decided to hell with it, I'm gonna sprawl on a Mazatlan beach and slather suntan lotion on a browning body and ogle cute young things from daylight to dark.
Only thing was I'm a notorious procratinator, backsliding from one lifetime scene to the next. Would I actually quit what I'd enjoyed doing for over two decades. That's apparently about the time Jane sold her soul to the devil and caused the biggest dump of snow in our early season hunting country that we'd experienced during 25 years trodding that landscape.
It was around the first of November when we cut and run for lower elevations and warmer climes. Here's a picture of my guide and packer Rob Johnson breaking trail over the last high pass that allowed access to safety:
Rob did stop at the top for a potty break.
Now you know why I never went back!
Glacier Park's Lake McDonald, taken from Rocky Point on a sunshining December day. Obviously that opportunity will come again, soon. The trick is seizing the day when it arrives.
We skied from the McDonald Creek bridge near Apgar, following the snowed-in road to Fish Creek Campground, then trekked the lakeshore around to Rocky Point. The round trip is approximately six miles. AND the day provides a spectacular lunch spot and a fine pool for practicing your backstroke just below one's feet.
A thru-the-clouds view of the lower Swan Valley from the trail to Birch Lake, in Jewel Basin. Note the upper end of Flathead Lake taken across the northern end of the Mission Mountain Range.
"The Jewel" is swiftly becoming a first-alternative as the hiking destination of choice for valley residents soured at people numbers in Glacier Park during the peak of tourist season.
Jewel Basin is a 15,000 acre "hiking" area established by the U.S. Forest Service near the north end of the Swan Range. It includes numerous alpine lakes, each set like "jewels" imbedded among fabulously beautiful glacier-carved cirques. Many of those lakes and cirques are accessed via forest trails that offer circle routes for hikers who prefer not to retrace outward-bound tracks back to their trailhead.
Additional benefits are splendid views of mountains summits in Glacier Park, the Great Bear Wilderness, and even the Bob Marshall and Mission Mountain Wildernesses.
An interesting photo from past files, taken perhaps 30 years ago on a float trip down the South Fork of the Flathead. Participants included guests Mike and Julie Post (wearing yellow), Steve and Cheri Melby (in blue), and Jane Cheek and her frowning husband (in red).
The thing that makes this pic more notable than usual are the land claims spelled out on each pullover shirt; a Jane "surprise" that she broke out during the 7-day trip. Each shirt staked claim to a portion of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. For instance, the ladies' shirts (left to right) read "Little Salmon Hilton", "Big Prairie Country Club", and "Spotted Bear Estates".
The guys shirts read "Big Salmon Hyatt", "Bob Marshall Resort", and "White River Yacht Club".
Of all Jane's cockeyed ideas, this proved to be her most outstanding--and hilarious--surprise; especially when the Spotted Bear District Ranger visited our camp at Salmon Forks and evidenced little appreciation for her humor.
We're near the heart of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Archery season opens the next day. As you can see, my two hunters are ready. Their guide has tuned up his elk bugle and we're all prepared for whatever comes tomorrow.
We rolled out of bed the next morning to eight inches of heavy wet snow. The hunters were game, but the snow gods put a damper on all elk activity. And when heavy rain began falling the following day, the young men's ardor began to wane.
So goes hunting.
But remember, "she's not over 'til it's over." On our way out of the wilderness, a huge bull elk heard our packtrain moving through the forest and began bugling his way up-trail toward us. Suddenly our prospects brightened!
Then one of the hunters trailing the packhorses said to Jane in a loud voice, "I don't know why Roland keeps on blowin' on that bugle. There ain't no elk in here anyhow."
Turned out he was right.
It's a place of rare beauty. Beginning on the north near U.S. Highway 2 and spreading for 130,000 U.S. Forest Service acres south, the "Badger-Two Med" (as it's often referred to by conservationists and developers alike) is sandwiched between the Bob Marshall Wilderness on the west and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation to the east. Glacier Park spreads across the Continental Divide to the north.
The Blackfeet claim treaty rights in the Badger-Two Med for hunting, firewood gathering, and religious purposes. Conservationists want to preserve it. Energy speculators see potential for oill and gas discovery (in fact, there are still valid exploration leases issued decades ago by the federal government that have been contested ever since). As one can readily see, the future of the Badger-Two Med has been cussed and discussed for over 30 years.
Jane and I skied into one proposed drill site back in the early '80s, and we've hiked and horsebacked much of that land since we retired as Bob Marshall Wilderness outfitters in 1990.
It's a beautiful place, the Badger-Two Med; well worthy of preserving so our kids and their kids can also learn to love wild things in wild places.
The only thing this scene lacks is Charlie Russell sitting with his paints before an easel. He would, of course, be conjuring images of Blackfeet braves astride painted ponies, pointing down in wonder at their first Missouri River steamboat.
I can almost see it, can't you?
I have an affinity for old cabins, especially old homestead cabins. There were many homesteads and homestead cabins up the North Fork of the Flathead prior to that land's designation as Glacier National Park. None, however, came close to matching this one in design, size, and elegance.
My wife Jane peers out of one front window opening while Phyllis and Ken Ausk wave from the empty doorway. (Note the upstairs window openings, too.)
I can only marvel at the vision exemplified by those men and women who dared dream of a new life in a raw land, let alone demonstrate the industry necessary to make their dream come true. Note the size of the wall logs near Jane's head. Each log is dovetailed at the building's corners to fit with it's connecting log. Each dovetail joint was axed and chiseled to fit together perfectly. In addition, each log was adzed smooth along its surface before the next log was placed atop it. An individual log may well have entailed an entire day's labor just to fit it so well. And that's not to consider time spent in the woods selecting, felling, trimming, and drying (for several months) each log prior to beginning actual construction.
How did the homesteader lift each log into place? The building, if memory serves me correctly, is perhaps 36-feet long, which meant that some of those two-feet-in-diameter logs were full length. Even given time to dry, each had to have more heft than one or two men could handle. Toothpicks they were not!
Remember, too, this construction took place before motorized chainsaws. There were no cable cranes for lifting, no bulldozers for dragging,
On the other hand, there were no I-Phones for texting, no laptops for surfing, no television for brain deadening.
Nope, this was an elegant home for its day and age--the size of the windows alone, indicate that. But I came away wondering when the builder found time to clear land for crops, to plow, plant, cultivate, and harvest?
I could tell you this is the normal chuckwagon vittles for us cowboys . . .
But I'd be pulling your leg because . . .
This is JANE'S chuckwagon fare for THIS hardworking cowboy.
Got it now? Why I married her over 60 years ago?
I have to tell this story:
She was preparing to enter the pool as I finished my swim for the day. I gasped. "Bonnie, what ... what happened?" Her hair had previously been long, the color of a midnight coal mine; now it was perhaps a quarter of an inch in length over her entire skull. Thoughts of the unthinkable raced through my mind.
"No, Roland, it's not what you think," the substiture schoolteacher replied. "This is in support of one of my kids who has leukemia."
"I don't understand?"
She moved nearer, turning her head so I could read the words shaved into the stubble of her hair. On the left side was "Cats" (for Columbia Falls Wildcats), near the rear neck was "Gabby", on the right was "#7" (his football jersey number).
Bonnie Zepnick said the boy's name is Gabby Delorme. She said Gabby is a great boy, kind and considerate, a good student, with no behavior problems. "Right now he's in Seattle for treatment, devastated that he can't play football during his senior year.
"Well, I can't play football for him, but I can take this haircut to every one of Columbia Falls' home games in support of him."
What a teacher!
What a human being!
What a thing!
(photos taken at the Wave athletic club in Whitefish by Wayne Smith)
I stumbled on the old cabin while deer hunting in Oregon's Coast Range Mountains. I was sixteen. The year would've been--let's see--1951. I first thought it was a trapper's cabin, but the structure was far too elaborate for a place for a mountain man to hole up for a couple of weeks to avoid winter gales.
Nope, this cabin was perthaps 24 feet long and a good dozen wide. There were glass skylights set in the shake roof, placed to provide plenty of light over the still-standing iron cookstove and nearby split-plank dining table.
The cabin was situated on state forest land. Whoever dwelled here had a lot of time on their hands because leaning against the cabin wall, under the porch, was a hand-carved rake, with tiny finger-size tines set in a two-inch crosspiece connected to its six-foot willow-stalk handle. Whoever spent time here spent a bunch of it. A rusted axe with a knife-whittled handle leaned beside the rake. There was a cracked shovel on the rake's other side.
The cabin was still fairly clean, although dust and cobwebs proved that it'd not been used for years.
Later, talking with a few old-timers in the country, they thought such a cabin might've been one used by (and they put a name to him) who shot and killed a revenuer during prohibition, then hid out in the mountains for several years.
That's the best I can do on short notice. You'll have to use your imagination for the rest of the story....
Perhaps our most popular summer excursion during Jane's and my years guiding others to adventure in the Bob Marshall Wilderness was what we called our "Geological Gypsy Trip", with a geologist along as a landform interpreter. Here, Dr. John Montagne, Professor Emeritus of Geology at Montana State University lectures a small family group in the middle of "the Bob".
It was finds such as these fossils embadded in rocks from the Devonian Period--say a couple of hundred million years ago--that made those summer roving trips come alive for our guests.
* There are at least four different types of fossils, all laid down in shallow seas, in the rock pictured above; a rock, incidentally, that today squats on a talus slope near the top of the Continental Divide.
This just might be Jane's and my favorite place in the whole world: a tiny little glacier-carved basin perched high in the Flathead Range, near the middle of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. It was tough to get into, but remarkably restorative when one did.
We didn't often take others there. But once in a great while, for a few folks we really, really liked . . . .
It's an error that one must forego amenities normal to suburbia. Here, for instance, is half of our camp washer/dryer combination. (The washer half will be shown just as soon as it quits raining).
As a young, dumb, piteous, male I was in love with the protagonist in National Velvet. It was my great good fortune, however, that Elizabeth Taylor saw more merit in entire trainloads of actors and politicians without ever making a run at me. One could say the same about others of the fair sex, despite my wildest, drooling, hang-dog infatuations.
I finally grew up at a ripe old age and turned my romantic laser from starlets to mountain lakes. Somewhere out there I knew in my heart of hearts that there existed a remotest-of-remote high mountain lake that's teeming with the kind of love I ached for the most: fish; big fish; lots of giant trout who relished an embrace from a handsome and debonnaire young guy with a delightful assortment of dry flies to make any cutthroat dizzy with desire.
Not so, though I've visited most of 'em. (And I thought Liz was fickle!) Those experiences weren't entirely wasted, however, for I learned. I learned how to set my sights on better fishing grounds for even more beautiful catches-of-the-day.
Landed one, too. That was over 60 years ago. She's better at fishing those mountain lakes, too:
Better to be lucky than smart, huh?
Provide enough Southern Comfort and even crusty old cowboys will jump into ice cold streams in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Obviously this Hereford pusher is almost sufficiently supplied. All he lacks is the fortitude to slip out of his boots. Tell the truth, we got tired of waiting and threw him in a few moments after the picture was snapped, boots and all!
He's married to someone close to her mother and me. Both daughter and husband lives in a far-off state; the one most popular to weather-sensitive wimps. Still, their nostalgia for Montana runs swift and deep despite recollection of blizzard and endless sub-zero days, and they sometimes return to their roots in order to reclaim a vestige or two of the good health and psychic vitality so abundant to residents of the Treasure State.
The following photo will clearly demonstrate our son-in-law's dedication to availing himself of the opportunity to fine-tune a physique endangered by the easy life in far-off gomorrah:
The woodpile was Randy's in its entirety. He split it over a week of concentrated effort and is depicted here nearing the end of his Roland-designed workout regime at the new Roland-engineered fitness center.
(Since Randy is connected to the family, I gave him a price break on what we normally charge out-of-state wannabees to bring their bodies back to a point where they can return to their decadent homelands in pride, and perhaps even a little arrogance.)
This, just in: "PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Two Oregon hikers who were assaulted by a beaver after they climbed onto its dam have been hospitalized for injuries incurred during the rare attack, law enforcement officials said on Friday." The story goes on from there: how one man fled into the Deschutes River and the other was cornered in a log jam filled with debris. . . .
It's not enough that we Montanans have dangerous grizzlies and black bears, wolves, rattlesnakes, mountain lions, and mosquitoes (that actually take more blood than all the rest combined). Now it seems beavers might join the fray.
No more walking beaver dams for me! Why I've even sent Jane atop a beaver house for photo-op purposes; I had no idea I was placing her in harms way. No, Jane, you can't pet the bison. No, Jane, don't throw rocks at the peevish bull moose; he could be casting lascivious eyes at the cow over yonder. That much I already knew. Now, however, we must watch our backside for beavers.
I wonder if there's risk that these ferocious buck-toothed beaver creatures might gang up in packs and attack outside their usual habitue? Is it possible today's beaver crop might hold a grudge that Jim Bridger and his ilk almost trapped their ancestors to extinction while supplying pelts for the tophat felts of European and New England foppery?
If this recent frenzy of dangerous wildlife continues to mushroom around my homeland, I might want to move to downtown Los Angeles, where it's safe.
This Jewel Basin trail has a couple of attributes to recommend it: 1) Views are spectacular in every direction; 2) For a mountaintop hike, it's do-able, even for an old codger like me. The summit of Aeneas is a little less than three miles from Camp Misery parking lot, the primary jumping-off trailhead into Jewel Basin. Fortunately, the road up from the valley bottom (pictured to the hikers' right) permits much of the climb to be accomplished via automobile.
Jewel Basin trails offer Flathead Valley locals ideal alternatives to crowded Glacier Park paths during peak of the tourist season.
Sometime during the last years of his life, the late, much loved, sorely missed, U.S.F.S. silviculturist, wildlife photographer, former smoke jumper, skier par excellance, Danny On, asked me to keep an eye out for a rare flower in the part of the wild country we sometimes traveled--a Franklin ladyslipper. Seems that Danny had received a letter from a Vanderbilt botanist who said he'd spotted one growing in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and the guy provided map coordinates.
Jane and I, accompanied sometimes by our son Marc, sometimes by guests, spent many years in search for the flower. Then one day, just prior to a dangerous stream crossing, Jane dropped the halter rope for her saddlehorse. When she bent forward to retrieve the errant rope, she squealed, "R-R-OLAND!"
I was tired and cross and disgusted with her lack of competence. "What?"
"My ... my horse ... is trying to eat your flower!"
"WHAT!" I cried, leaping from my horse.
Jane cradles the rare flower in her fingers. The coordinates provided by the Vanderbilt professor were wildly off, but the Franklin ladyslipper was, by God, within our riding range!
Our lives are richer because Jane was clumsy, her horse wasn't overly hungry, and I got over being cranky at the just-right moment!
Of all the mountain peaks and passes I've stood upon, passed through, or scramble over, the ripple rock sedimentary display at Glacier National Park's Boulder Pass (near the Canadian Line) is my idea of the most striking I've seen. Slab after slab. Rock after rock. Some still in horizontal layers. Some tilted. Some standing on edge.
If one cannot grasp seabed layering while roaming Boulder Pass, and how subsequent wave action worked on seabed mud, then one should go back and repeat geology 101. Later, geology 102 will require one to grasp thrust faulting, and how techtonic plate collisions can push those seabed formed rock layers up into mountains thousands of feet in the air.
It's not something I learned in typing, home-ec, biology, or health & P.E. And if it was taught in English or algebra, I slept through it.
Lest our blog followers get the wrong impression, we were unable, always, to serve steak and lobster during our Bob Marshall Wilderness adventures. Sometimes we fell on hard times and somebody might have to actually go fishing.
Fortunately, we most times were able to rise to the occasion--especially when trout were rising to their occasion.
SEE THE POST BELOW FOR MORE CLARITY
She didn't swim. Well, she thought she couldn't swim. But it didn't stop her from fishing, though wading white water scared the coon-dog crap out of her. How could I not love a woman like that?
Jack Samson, former Executive Editor for "Field & Stream" had the distinction of being the very first editor to reject a magazine story of mine. Some years later, Jack Samson was riding in a raft I piloted while floating down the South Fork of the Flathead. Am I one to hold a grudge?
But no, Jack Samson never bought a story from me. Did he catch another fish? (I'll never tell.)
Later, however, Jack Samson's boss at "Field & Stream" ran stories with my byline. And he never fished with me. Go figure.
Robin Yale took me to the woodshed for skipping a week of "Mountain Musings". Robin may be my most faithful blog follower and I take her criticism to heart. For that reason, I'm not only begging Robin's forgiveness, but also offering the following pics as examples of "reasons why".
Jane and I left home on April 24 for Southeast Utah where we joined our son Marc and two other couples. We spent a week there, starting for home on May 4. We offer "Newspaper Rock", a fine example of Anasazi art, that we found on the way to Canyonlands National Park, as "Exhibit A":
We visited "Newspaper Rock" on May 4. As "Exhibit B & C" we offer the stark contrast between hiking the Canyonlands
The Snow-covered Mountains Surrounding Kintla Lake
Which we visited six days later, on Mother's Day during Jane's annual search for grizzly bears. (No bears, but she did spot a wolf stalking a small herd of whitetail deer). Though her left arm obscures it, she's wearing her annual orchid given her by the same guy that's busy grilling steaks atop a lakeside picnic table.
(Now, Robin, am I forgiven just a teensy bit?)
(I'm a tad late with this "Mountain Musing" offering, as one can readily see by perusing the date of the piece I'd prepared earlier. But there's a good reason, which I'll share next Tuesday)
Jane specialized in tasty and attractive trail dinners, including extra-special table decor. Note the corn had been roasted in its husk and peeled back for special presentation; the barbecued ribs, the half-peeled boiled potatoes, the mushroom-egg-asparagus salad. Rib-tickling delightful!
One might construe the table's only weakness in its wine service. But crystal stemware simply does not travel well in backcountry packboxes, especially when atop balky mules.
It's possible that a few misguided folks might struggle to believe I taught my wife how to fish, especially when exhibiting my catch for the day:
It's the time of year when male spruce grouse strut their stuff. From the looks of this one's tail feathers, he stood up when another bigger, tougher grouse told him to shut up!
It's a common malady that strikes all wild males when grass greens up and thoughts turn to recollections of love. Happened to me once, too!
As I recall, my tailfeathers got ruffled, too!
"Here's what we'll do!. We'll leave a car up at the Fielding trail head, drop down to the Walton Ranger Station, hike up the Ole Creek Trail and come out at the other car; save retracing our steps. Whadda you guys and girls say?"
"What about crossing Ole Creek?"
"A snap. Naturally there's the hiking bridge on the lower end. Up above, we'll find an easy crossing and wade it."
"What about 'bushwhacking'?" Jane said. "I've been out with you before."
"Well, I'm pretty sure I can find where the old Park Service Trail crosses."
You guessed it. Spring run-off was tapering off, but the creek was still high and too deep to cross where the trail was marked. "What now?" the group demanded.
"Hmm. I'm pretty sure I spotted braided riffles back about a half-mile. Means we might have to bushwhack a little after we get across. No problem."
"If we get across," Doug muttered.
The bushwhacking wasn't great either. It wasn't one of my most glorious guiding experience.
Tess, Jane's Brittany spaniel, can't seem to remember where she buried her bone.
I cannot visit a crumbling old homestead like the one along the Missouri River at Bullwhacker Flats without contemplating the enormous effort and busted dreams that are reflected there. Take a hard look at each corral rail, each juniper post. Recollect that this development came before delivery trucks and gasoline tractors--even before roads. Scan the distant skyline. See how far this homesteader had to go for each and every rail. Harness the team, hitch them to a wagon, drive the ensemble crosscountry to axe down poles and posts. Trim them of limbs, load them, haul them to his and her riverside dream place that may, at the time, be only a tent or the makings of a soddy.
Then dig the postholes, set each post, tamp the soil tightly around it. One post, two, three. Then the rails, one by one until the corral takes shape to hold his team of work horses, and perhaps a saddle horse and milk cow.
This homesteader was proud of his (and perhaps her) work. The arch over the long-gone corral gate shows that. Perhaps they dreamed their homestead would become a showplace throughout their Missouri Breaks country.
Look at the log house and log sheds, their sod roofs. Then think of the barrels of sweat equity that went into creating their little place of heaven in far off Montana Territory. Did they live long enough to see a Model T Ford or a Stanley Steamer putz into their place via wagon roads from Havre or Chinook or Harlem.
There's a lifetime of work and sweat and dreams went into every homestead. What ended this dream? Did they walk away? If so, why? What destroyed the dream?
Or were they carried away?
I cannot visit such a place without marveling at the enormity of effort by or forefathers and mothers!
My purpose today is to portray what makes a great leader among ordinary dog teams. Consider the following two images:
Count 'em. In the first image, it takes eight (8!) dogs to move one (1) person--on snow. Whereas in the second image, one (1) dog drags six (6!) people--without snow!
Seems obvious to me, as it must to you: couple the lead dog in the second picture with the team in the first, and you've got an Iditarod winner plain and simple.
She just don't get it! So she can't load a 100lb pack atop a balky horse during a stampede, skin a buffalo in a blizzard, shoot the heads from high-flying honkers with her .22 revolver, or pitch a dry and comfortable tipi in a driving rainstorm--you'd at least think Jane could handle cooking chores to fill the energy requirements of her over-trodden husband. But no! Instead of hominy and grits and a side of elk ribs, she views campfire vittles as an epicurean challenge.
Steak and lobster! Over a campfire. In the middle of a wilderness! Who ever heard of such a thing!
I never could understand why so many of our guests wanted to take her home with them.....
For most of our 60 years together, choosing campsites have been my prerogative--for a very good reason, as the following example will reveal:
We were backpacking along the South Fork of the Sun River, on the Bob Marshall's east side. It was mid-afternoon on a warm and balmy day. We were moving well, having already spotted elk, deer, four bighorn rams and a stand-offish grizzly sow with a football-size blond cub at her side. I was eager for more.
We paused where the trail neared a river bank, then strolled out to peer down into the crystal stream. Jane murmured, "Why don't you ever let me choose where we camp, Roland?"
I chuckled. "Okay, honey, today you pick the campsite."
"Really?" She slipped from her backpack and leaned over it. "Okay, this is it."
Damn woman! Anybody can see she has no talent for choosing a place to camp: too far to water, long way to wood, and not much for a view.
Our coffeetable book, Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness is available through our website
Aww, shoot! I took pity on the hard-working little woman who'd toiled uncomplainingly (if a little slaphazzardly) alongside her husband for an entire day as we cut and stacked a woodpile for the oncoming winter. So the next morning I suggested she should go fishing. "Go on, Janie," I said. "I'll knock down another tree or two, then grab a cup of coffee and contemplate my navel. Meanwhile, you go on out to the little pond and catch a mess of brookies for breakfast."
She didn't even stop to mull over the right or wrong of my idea. Just grabed a rod, called her dog and trotted gleefully away, merely waving offhandedly as I called, "Have fun!"
Damn woman! Can't do anything right. Said she could only catch one!
I've been there. But I haven't "been there" while they've been "doing that." Nowadays, with sage grouse as a "species of concern" to wildlife managers, the public is discouraged from visiting the birds' mating sites while their dancing rituals are in progress.
But I've watched both Franklin grouse (fools hen) and blue grouse strut their stuff while wooing comely females to their boudoir, so it's easy enough to conjure up images of the biggest grouse of all congregating on their dancing grounds to "trip the light fantastic" before a circle of spell-bound maidens awaiting only an extended hand from the beau of their dreams.
Jane and I stumbled onto sage grouse dancing grounds while side-trip hiking during a float trip through the Missouri Breaks, then again while hunting fossils on a private ranch out of Jordan.
We've visited sites with dozens of these homestead piles, indicating a big Saturday-night blow-out for these oversized birds.
She wanted gold, but settled for me instead!
Panning for color along a stream near Diamond City. It was Jane's first experience at gold prospecting. To her disappointment, she had no more luck at finding riches with her pan than she had with a husband!
"Perhaps," she was told, "You need to try panning elsewhere?"
"Not on your life!" she flamed. "I already have a lifetime of training in this husband. And I'm not about to go through the agony again!"
We'd skied up Tunnel Creek from the Paola Road junction with U.S. 2, up the Flathead's Middle Fork. Jane wondered about avalanche danger, for snows were heavy and deep, and the weather was unusually balmy for late January. But I told her we were safe as long as we skied the bottom, where the huge spruce trees grew. Still, the scenic open hillside to the west beckoned. And we soon bumped into deposits from a previous day's avalanche. On the ridgeline above we spotted a near-continuous cornice snaking along its crest. That's when we turned back into the ancient spruce forest and wended our way back to the road.
Two weeks later. Another balmy mid-February day. Being as wise and logical as I am wont to be, I suggested skiing again up Tunnel Creek. "After all, we know it avalanched last month."
The avalanche our ladies stand atop is a second one that ran out over the one we'd clambered over only weeks earlier. We eyed the ridgeline above where winds were alread depositing new cornices along its crest. "Perhaps we'd ought to get out of Dodge," I muttered.
It's one of my favorite places in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. But, come to think on it, there's danged few of ANY places in "the Bob" that aren't favorites of mine.
One time Jane volunteered to lead horses out of the wilderness while our son Marc and I floated down the South Fork of the Flathead from Big Salmon Lake. As one chance in a thousand happened, we floated beneath the bridge just as Jane rode into the middle of the swaying span trailing six mostly empty pack and saddle horses. Thoughtlessly, we waved and shouted up at the half-petrified Jane. Neither she nor her staggering, rambunctious ponies considered us in any kind of objective light!
It was the last time Jane ever RODE a pony across that bridge. Instead, she always dismounted and led her saddle horse across. And if chance occurred for her to again lead packhorses, she still dismounted and led her entire string across while she staggered the planks on the swinging bridge.
My coffeetable book, Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness pictures both cabin and bridge. It's available in hardcover and softcover from Roland's bookstore:
That's the Wall Creek Cliffs in the middle distance, with Silvertip Mountain rearing up behind. The ride over Bungalow is one of my favorites, but it's a tough one, with a steep climb and no water for upwards of 12 long miles.
It's a tough place to be caught out when storm clouds gather--as it looks like they're doing now. And it's kinda spooky to ride or hike down during dark, as I might've faced the late afternoon when I took this picture.
But I'll let you in on a little secret:
In all my years traveling Glacier Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness, I've visited four places with views that I'll rate as 10! Bungalow Mountain is one of those four.
The place is Rocky Point, up Lake McDonald from the Fish Creek Campground. In winter, it's about a three-mile ski or snowshoe journey from where the plowed road ends at the McDonald Creek bridge, near Apgar. A leisurely breakfast, a casual scenic drive to Glacier Park, and an exhilarating trek along McDonald's shore, and voila! a perfect place to eat lunch and drink from the elixir of God's excellence.
The lake is not often ice-free, as it is in this picture, nor are we always sun-warmed, as Doug was during our visit. But the view is always spectacular, the company we choose while visiting, and our own physical elan by just being there makes it one damn good lunch place.
Fortunately, there are other places of equal excellence, so there are enough choices to keep this one from over-crowding.
I've always considered this photo to be an interesting study on equine and canine thought processes. Obviously school is still out via the eyes of both. "Are you through yet?" they might ask. "What's he going to do now?" "It's okay so far boss, so please! don't foul up a good thing now."
We're at Big Prairie, deep within the Bob Marshall Wilderness, packing up, preparing to travel the thirty miles out to the Meadow Creek trailhead and the road to civilization. Jane's small cocker spaniel became footsore, so we made a bed of sorts from a cardboard box atop an empty packhorse. It seems both dog and horse can hardly believe their good fortune, but they each appear to be withholding judgment until the train gets under way.
What do you think they're thinking? That Christmas is here, right now? Today?
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No, they're none of the ponies from my old Skyline Outfit trying to avoid being selected for tomorrows work. Instead these are wild horses from the Steens Mountains in Oregon. Lacy Sayre had asked if I wished to go on a wild horse search with him and I said, "Shucks, okay."
Buckskin horses have always been my favorite, but note the two steeldust grays near the tail of the running herd. I'm told the Steens herd is supposed to be the purest strain of the original Spanish "Barb" horses first introduced into the New World by Castillian conquistadores. Oddly, the buckskin color is supposed to be dominant in the Steens' ponies, but not so with the band that I got close enough to photograph.
These horses looked in superb condition, with top-notch confirmation, and fine running form. I'd have been pleased to have any of 'em in my old string.
With my bunch, however, I could most of the time walk up to one and scratch his ear. But occasionally the entire herd would get a wild hair and act every bit as if they were running free in the Steens Mountains, instead of the Rocky Mountains.
* Remember to visit my website bookstore for Christmas book ideas. Click Here to browse.
It wasn't Thanksgiving, this I know. You see, my "Thanksgiving" fell on a Saturday, back on November 27, 1954 when the skookum-looking young lady pictured below selected ME as her first-choice for a footwarmer with whom to spend the rest of her life.
Whether it was my luck or hers might be arguable. But personally I think it academic when our 60th falls on Thanksgiving Day six decades later and both of us are still pleased with the bargain we struck while still in our teens.
She was beautiful then, and beautiful now -------- and (it's my opinion) every day in between.
I can't be sure of her beauty during the nights, though, because footwarmers aren't typically allowed out from beneath the sheets (besides it's dark then, too).
I love you honey every day,
The pick of the litter in every way
To most red-blooded elk hunters, this would probably look like perfect weather to pursue the wily wapiti. But it could get dicey when you're camped along a cliff ledge at seven-thousand feet, and thirty miles from road's end--and it looks like more storms are on the way.
Here my hunting pardner, Ken Ausk weighs the alternatives: (a) whether to cut and run, (b) saddle up a pony and slip his rifle into the saddle's scabbard, or (c) go on back inside the tent and pour another shot of tarantula juice into a cup of coal miner's coffee.
The truth is, we both opted for a warm tent and a little anti-formatic while we sought a wider range of options that seemed to fade farther away the longer we stayed.
The next day we woke up to eighteen inches of blowing drifting snow and all other options were off the table as we scrambled to get the hell out of Dodge!
Last week, I briefly stated that we changed the title and cover for the first book in the "Sapphires of Yogo" series. What I failed to do was explain our rationale for doing so. Now I wish to tell why:
I made a couple of critical mistakes in coming up with a cover for the first book in our Yogo series: The first was my choice for the title; I wanted to try a book with a one-word title and thought everyone else would be as intrigued with the word "Yogo" as I am. They weren't. Hell, many Montanans didn't even know what it meant, let alone somebody from Kalamazoo or Flowery Branch or Tallahassee. The success of folks relating to the second book demonstrated clearly that "sapphires" was a more connective word than "Yogo".
My second mistake was in thinking I might have a modicum of design talent hidden somewhere in my genes. If so, it's still in my jeans, as the quality of design delivered by Outside Media, who WAS hidden in my home town proved with their design of the second book, "Sapphires At War," conclusively proved.
So Jane and I bit the bullet and decided to go for broke by commissioning Collin Hamman and Outside Media to show us another cover. This is what they came up with--with our title change:
That's the "Why", the "What", the "When", and the "Where". You'll have to take it from there.
Then we went on from there:
It's coming! I know it's coming. Despite network weather prognostication that forecasts a warm dry winter clear up here in Northwest Montana, I suspect there's some road apples being sown. The very same newspaper carried an editorial predicting a winter with severe cold and heavy snows.
My crystal ball tells me both are right.
At least I'm thinking they're right enough that I'll prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
The above photo was taken on a Joe Tonsmeire-led hut tour Jane and I took into the mountains southwest of Salmon, Idaho. But I have some equally terrifying pics of some of our hunting camps in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Prepare and pray is the best policy. Trust me.
The Pentagon Cabin on the Spotted Bear River marked the halfway point to the road from our early season hunting camp in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. We usually ate lunch here while sitting on the porch, trying to brace our flagging will for the next fourteen miles to our road's end corrals. One cannot easily tell that our horses had, earlier in the day, broke through two to three feet of snow while struggling through a high pass.
Nor did one wish to think about the 70 miles of widing graveled, probably icy road ahead of us to reach home and hearth.
Today, while reviewing some of those old photos, I can only wonder that I once thought this was FUN. Age does that to a guy, I guess. But in some ways, I'm glad those days are gone forever.
On the other hand, Jane used to claim she would send out a boy and get home a MAN!
And that good fellows, might be an added benefit to the rib-eye from a bull elk I could hand her while tottering through the door at midnight.
See my full color coffetable book, Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness in my website bookstore:
Click on book for more information.
There's this thing about kids and horses--well, anyway, most kids and horses. Can't keep 'em apart. Shouldn't even try to keep 'em apart.
Truth tell, they're made for each other, kids and horses--especially kids and older horses who just might be pleased to make buddies with some small person who'll feed 'em an occasional carrot, apple core, sugar cube, or a palm full of oats.
Meanwhile, that adventuresome kid might be pleased to crawl up on that old pony and make like Butch Cassiday shooting up Dodge while the old horse plods docilely around the pasture with dreams of galloping free with the wild bunch dashing wildly across the Llano Estacado. Such dreams are inherent to the young. And one might be surprised how imbedded they can be in the conciousness of the aging.
I talk about "Kids & Horses--A Match Made In Heaven--(or hell!)" in an audio slide show found on my website. Here's the link:
It's a great show, one about which Bob Jones, Pres. Back Country Horsemen of California's Redshank Riders wrote:
This was a marvelous presentation. You have single-handedly saved countless older horses from neglect or euthanasia and have put promise back into their lives. Bravo for you Sir, and bravo to you also for your vision in helping to found the BCH of which I'm a proud member. Thank you for all you have done and continue to do.
It's Indian Summer, fall of the year. Tail-end of September. Mornings are chill, days warm. Mountains spectacular. Elk bugling. Bears stocking up for their long winter naps. Wildlife of all types.
Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Goats. And people!
Many Glacier and its hordes of people can be tough for an old Bob Marshall Wilderness guide to handle. But it has its advantages: wife happy, no ponies to saddle. She likes flush toilets, too. And camping in our extended-top van is handier than setting up tents in the rain, after riding horses up and down steep mountainsides all day.
We're talking here of trade-offs, aren't we? We're trading what we once did for what we can do. Perhaps is a good trade or a bad trade. I don't know. But the all-important thing is we're still doing!
Available at reduced price for pre-sale on Amazon's Kindle until October 25. Click on book for details.
Two Pennsylvania hunters, Rufus Gehris of Boyertown, and Ted Modlens of Thompson were two very unlikely guys to be perched on a shoulder of Silvertip Mountain, near the heart of the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
I'd scheduled them sight unseen, for our late October hunt into the headwaters of the North Fork of White River. It was 27 grueling miles into camp, then five miles cross country up to the divide looking down into Black Bear Creek. As you can see, the weather was bluebird. But Ted was into his seventies and there's very little you could name that could go wrong with a person that Rufus never suffered: blood cancer, missing ribs, eratic heart, etc., etc.
But both wonderful old gentlemen thought they'd died and gone to heaven just to be able to sit where they are in this photo and drink from the elixir of life at its best.
Rufus hunted with me seven years in a row before his heart finally gave out in his Pennsylvania home. Ted hunted twice more, then came with his family on a summer "gypsy" trip, where we roved through the mountain wilds for a week of sheer bliss.
Did Rufus and Ted get their elk? Gawd, I hope not, especially from where they perched on that day!
Did they care? Not on your life!
I devote a chapter to Rufus in my book about elk hunting (The Phantom Ghost of Harriet Lou in print, Learn About Elk as an e-book). The chapter is titled "Great Heart and A Mile of Guts".
Both available at Amazon.
It wasn't easy, trekking through the wilderness during all those years! Sometimes rustling up riding ponies before daylight, saddling and packing resistent outlaws who seemed perfectly willing to hang around this campsite until the day before Christmas.
Then it was long rides to God knows where, over trails that to be polite should barely be referred to as faint paths used by church mice on their way to the outhouse. Get to the next campspot and find somebody else already there, so you ride on to a little meadow you know about that's over the next hill. Arrive there just as the sun ball sinks behind yonder horizon, and there're yet horses to unload, and unsaddle, grain to be doled out, sweat and dust to brush clean, then hobble and turn 'em loose.
Have I said anything yet about a camp still to set up? Or how about the short rations on an empty belly? Gawd, sometimes the only thing one can do is take up a couple of notches on your belt and squat against a tree trunk with crummy crummy grub like . . .
. . . steak and lobster when you'd really rather have sowbelly and pinto beans.
Such hardships a broken down old outfitter had to endure!
Aww, I'm not being entirely fair--the animal pictured above came from a little south of Glacier. South of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, too. Well, also a little south of Yellowstone. Iit was found in a National Park though--Big Bend National Park, which is north of something. Like the Rio Grande!
Brett, of course, has a past history of driving me to drink with his repertoire of great wildlife shots of every creature to scamper, crawl, leap, and lumber through America's hiking park. By comparison, I fail miserably. However, I've not been too miserable while failing miserably in most of the places I've spent contemplating my navel--as long as the mountains scratch the sky, and rivers run God knows where.
According to my research, Armadillos were South American imports who imported themselves via the Isthmus of Panama land bridge that connected North and South Americas, beginning a few million years ago. Opossums and porcupines were also south-of-the-border migrants. Meanwhile, ancestors of bears, cats, dogs, horses, llamas, and raccoons made the trek going the other direction.
* You might want to check this site occasionally, because I can't imagine Brett taking this challenge lying down.
In science, it's known as Oncorhynchus clarki lewisi. More commonly to commoners like you and me, we know it as the Westslope Cutthroat Trout. You might be excused should you think the fish above appears less regal than he really is, but he's Montana's State Fish!
First described by Captain William of Lewis & Clark fame during the expedition's excursion from St. Louis to wave to Japan across Pacific tidewater, the "cut", as he's most commonly known to died-in-the-wool flyfishing enthusiasts enjoys its preferred habitats in the purists waters flowing through undeveloped mountains and unfettered valleys.
Those kinds of fish dwelling in those kinds of places are inclined to be a trifle dumb, easy to catch, even to a clumsy presentation--like the kind I regularly performed as a matter of course. Once, floating down the South Fork of the Flathead, through the Bob Marshall Wilderness, wife Jane tired of fishing and leaned her rod so its tip dangled over the back of the raft. Her plan was to take a brief nap. Unfortunately, her tippet dangled from the rod tip, and a gray hackle dangled from that, barely kissing the water from time to time.
She was unable to nap because she was too busy releasing fish!
I tell about her fishing legerdemain in our book, Dance On the Wild Side. The book is available, both from our website bookstore, and through Amazon.
I'd like to lie a little bit and tell you all our camps looked this well laid-out in some of God's best places, but truth tell, sometimes we had to make do with less. Like gravel bars or lodgepole thickets. Too, sometimes God must've conspired with the devil to dump a bunch of rain just as we pulled into the place we planned to camp. Sometime snow dumped on us during the night, collapsing our fly and/or tents.
I could tell you about other times and places, but tears drip on my keyboard while typing those stories, so I'll have to get to 'em some other time.
I'm guessing we had a party total of six on what must've been a summer roving trip. The three tents make that logical. Note the rainfly, too. That was the convention center for our camps, the cocktail lounge, dining room, gathering place during foul weather. There was usually a blazing campfire just outside the fly, and a ready coffee pot steaming on the coals.
I note six horses grazing, which meant there were two or three tied to a highline, and perhaps one or two outside the photo.
Sadly, I'm struggling to remember exactly where this photo was shot--maybe up Little Salmon Creek--but it could be around Big Prairie, or someplace in the Middle Fork of the Flathead, or on the Sun River side.
It was a good camp, though, that's easy to see. And the weather was right.
It's the finest piece of forest craftsmanship I know--and that's limited. I do know what I've been told, though, and I'll offer it for your own information and evaluation.
The cabin is (I'm guessing here) roughly 20 to 24 feet wide by 30 feet long, with a full-size loft overhead that can provide sleeping quarters for upwards of a 20-member fire crew. It sports a walk-in basement.
I'm told an old German craftsman constructed this (and other) cabins in the Bob Marshall Wilderness back in the 1920s and '30s. Supposedly, the builder and a helper came in one summer, dug and poured the basement, and selected the trees for the cabin, which was felled, limbed, and skidded to the cabin site using a team of draft horses. The next summer, he and his helper returned to hew the logs and double-dovetail the joints. He and the helper supposedly would lay a round of logs per day, raising the cabin walls as they went.
The logs received no chinking. Instead the logs were hewn so meticulously that they fit together so tightly that a mouse cannot find a way into the cabin unless some thoughtless soul leaves a door or a window open.
Poles were used for rafters, and shakes split from properly chosen fir blocks.
I've been in the cabin, even spent an evening or two there while packing supplies to the Forest Service via a Back Country Horseman volunteer project. The cabin is every bit as finely constructed inside as outside.
The cabin is mentioned in my book, Learning To Talk Bear, available via our website or thru Amazon.
Put your finger as near as you can judge on the geographic center of a Bob Marshall Wilderness map and you'll discover you're very close to the top of the best known geological feature of "the Bob": the "Chinese Wall", somewhere around Salt Mountain.
Now slide your fingertip to the west, toward the North Fork of White River. Look closely now; just before your finger slides across the river, there's this small spring-fed lake, called What Else? Spring Lake.
There are no trails to Spring Lake. Bushwhacking is the only way. There are no big trout in Spring Lake, either. But there are lots of little ones--six to eight inches. All are native cutthroats stocked by God, and not by Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
How is it that I know so much about Spring Lake? Well--okay--the lake was roughly four miles from my early season hunting camp. Occasionally I made the trek to Spring Lake so I could lean back against a pine tree and contemplate my navel in a place where I never encountered another human being during the 21 years I led hunting parties and summer horseback packtrips into the area.
Coffeetable book, available in both hardcover and softcover from Roland's website:
I'm unsure whether many viewers will recognize this lake. The "Who" is me; I took the photo while hunting in 1965 (that's the "When"). "Why?" Because it's a lovely lake in a beautiful cirque, and the "What?" is because, at the moment I decided this was a picture crying to be taken, I was too pooped to plod further.
The "Where" is Almeda Lake at the very head of Essex Creek. If one can make it out Essex Creek to the bar at the Izaak Walton Inn (along U.S. Highway 2) one can replenish his liquids. My problem was I'd hiked up from the Hungry Horse Reservoir side, and my Jeep station wagon was parked somewhere 3,000 feet below, to the West.
I visited Almeda Lake one more time, hiking up and over the ridge to the left of the pic from Dickey Creek. The different route was shorter, but worse bushwhacking. Even I whined and sniveled over that one. But I did replenish my liquids by hiking out to Essex that time.
Incidentally, Almeda Lake is now in the Great Bear Wilderness. The mountains on the skyline beyond are in Glacier Park.
(I've been there and done that, too.)
I'm about to give up on ever training this lady--I send her out to gather firewood, expecting that she would break a few dead limbs from surrounding pine trees. The next thing I know the misguided woman is rolling this block, discarded by long-ago woodcutters, uphill to the road. She said she was hoping to impress her lazy husband and, hopefully, inspire him to help with the firewood.
She did, too!
July 22, 2014
Rafting the South Fork of the Flathead, in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. One signal that whitewater's ahead is hearing what sounds like the roar of a freight train coming from around the next bend. Only thing is, rail tracks are roughly 100 miles away--and you know it!
That's when a prudent oarsman beaches his raft and walks ahead to study the oncoming rapids with an eye for approach tactics, entry point, and desired exit strategy. I would be a tad dishonest, too, if I failed to mention that maximizing thrills (safely, of course) entered into the calculations.
This bit of whitewater, just upstream from the mouth of Black Bear Creek, always looks more challenging than it really is to an experienced whitewater rat.
Still, I've seen companions actually fingering their rosaries as we dipped into the mailstrom. Each time we emerged, however, streaming water from faces, life jackets, and raft scuppers it always seemed the rosaries had been abandoned in favor of death grips on the raft's safety ropes!
Still, faces were usually shining, teeth glistening, and throats hoarse from screaming in ecstasy.
Merely another thrilling day amid the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Available in both hardcover and softcover at http://www.rolandcheek.com/BobMarshall.html
It's probable no single other plant provided Indians in the Northern Rockies and the Pacific Northwest as much sustenance as the Camassia quamash or the camas. The Journals of Lewis and Clark make much of their introduction to camas roots by the Nez Perce Indians, during an especially trying and hungry period for the intrepid explorers.
When the camas is in flower, entire fields turn their beautiful shade of blue. Many place names in the Pacific Northwest carries the name: "Camas Prairie," "Camas Valley," "Big Camas," "Mount Camas;" even a city (Camas, Washington) and a county (Camas County, Idaho).
Camas fields were so vital to certain Indian tribes that territorial battles were fought over tribal rights. Early pioneers depended on camas bulbs for nourishment. Traders and trappers and miners depended to some degree on the camas for survival.
There is another flower with a bulb easy to confuse with the nourishing blue camas--known as "death" camas. Fortunately death camas flowers are white, making them easy to distinguish when the plants are in flower. But be careful otherwise!
"The Good Lord does not subtract from a man's span of life the hours he spends fishing." - Herbert Hoover
The above photo is of my good friend, the late Dennis Swift. We're at Trinkus Lake, in the Swan Range, above the community of Swan Lake, on a weekend outing into some of the Swan country that is (as yet) undesignated--the Jewel Basin Hiking Area lies along the Swan crest to the north, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness boundary is a few miles south.
Dennis held a degree in forestry from the University of Montana, and was, at the time, a planer foreman for Stoltze Land and Lumber Company. He was also a fine, quiet gentleman who was one of the founding fathers of Back Country Horsemen, a nationwide group of trail riding horse users who now have chapters all over America. Dennis was the very first work project chairman who planned and oversaw that first BCH chapter's volunteer service efforts in Glacier Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
As an asideline, Dennis's father, Ernest Swift, was a former head of the National Wildlife Federation, and before that, the Wisconsin Fish and Game Dept. Ernie Swift became famous as a fearless game warden who arrested members of Chicago's Capone gang for shooting deer in Northern Wisconsin out of season.
Also known by stuffy scientific sorts by its Latin name as Cypripedium montanum. But anybody that is anybody knows it as simply Mountain Ladyslipper, although the beautiful wild orchid is sometimes referred to as a "Moccasin Flower" (I kinda like that, too).
The Mountain Ladyslipper is a true Westerner; perhaps better than that even by being a Northwesterner, found only in Northern California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, MONTANA, Wyoming and Alaska, as well as Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia in Canada.
Somehow I always felt comforted when pausing by a patch of Mountain Ladyslippers to re-examine life and love and friends and family--maybe like I did as a toddler when crawling into my mother's lap. Mountain Ladyslippers, usually found at high elevation in open woods and subalpine slopes, asks nothing from us but admiration and the opportunity to dwell peacefully and fragrantly in quiet and restful places.
Their's is not a bad formula for us to follow, too, when one pauses to think about it.
This photo will obviously put to rest malignant rumors that hunters are coarse troglodytes reverting to Neanderthal natures in pursuit of the wiley wapiti. Not so! One can readily note the advanced architecture prevalent in my exhibit "A" above, located for a brief period of time in the middle of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Certainly no stone was left unturned to provide every creature comfort rarely found even in Ramadas or Hamptons or Hiltons of Marths's Vinyards or Beverly Hills or near Waikiki beaches. Yet the comfort station pictured above was ideally positioned to provide both visitor ease and splendid view to a picturesque panorama of mountains and forests par excellance!
Such dedication to hygiene, health, humanity, and heavenly bliss!
The very pinnacle of outdoors perfection
He was everyone's favorite wildlife photographer. His name was Danny On and he was a "Silviculturist" with the U.S. Forest Service; one of the kindest, most gentle, most talented individual anyone could ever meet.
One day I visited Danny in his office as he sorted wildlife slides. The photo above was one of his rejects, discarded carelessly across his desk, along with a dozen others of bears, birds, bighorns, mountain goats, and various other creatures. "Go ahead and keep them if you'd like, Roland," the man said. "They're rejects."
I've studied this elk photo often and, I can see nothing in it that would've caused one of the world's finest wildlife photographer to cast it aside. Perhaps the one he chose would've had the magnificent bull centered with the mountain? Maybe the lighting was better a few seconds earlier? I don't know. But when Danny On cast the slide across his desk and said it was a reject, that's when any dream I had of becoming a world-class wildlife photographer went up in smoke!
Danny died on Big Mountain (now Whitefish Mountain) in a skiing accident. Much of the world as I knew it, mourned the loss. In fact, there's a trail on that mountain commemorated in his honor.
They're actually wild crocus, but folks in the circles I run around with call them "Pasqueflowers". They're only found in undisturbed soil (no cultivated fields, no logging clearcuts, no bulldozed roadways) and grow well on dry site hillsides, among scattered trees, and maturing brushfields. Many of my friends consider pasqueflowers to be their favorite wildflower, perhaps mostly because of the discriminatingly beautiful places it chooses for its home.
Aldo Leopold may have been one of those aficionados, for he wrote: "The right to find a pasqueflower is as inalienable as free speech."
Pasqueflowers should be in full bloom up in the Bob Marshall Wilderness about now, catching the passersby eyes amid scattered meadows and yellow pine sprinkled hillsides and benches. Look for them between White River Park and Big Prairie; they'll be flashing like sequins in the raimant of a ravishingly beautiful lady who's all gussied up for opening night fanfare at the opera.
The packstring starts down into the White River Basin after topping Pagoda Pass (upper right corner). This is an especially scenic trail; to the west of the pass it skirts the steep, near-treeless Damnation Creek headwater; traveling east, the trail passes down an open limestone syncline with many parks and lush meadows. Through July, there's abundant wildflowers of many hues and fragrance.
Just before the trail leaves the steep and stifling Helen Creek drainage to break out into the old wildfire denuded Damnation, we'd tie up our saddlehorses and pick a paper lunch sack of Labrador Tea leaves (also called "trapper's tea") that grew along the dark and wooded trail on the ridge's north slope.
We didn't spend too long at it, though, because there were still many miles of trail ahead before we reached our favorite camping spot.
It's Lena Lake beyond my favorite. I like Lena Lake, too, but I like the lady more. Yeah, it's been a few years ago, but she's still just as beautiful today--and probably in a better mood, since she hasn't had to hike so far lately in order to please me.
Then, I was taking photos that eventually found their way into my coffeetable book about the Bob Marshall Wilderness (see page 26). The year was 1982. The hike for this photo-op was roughly ten miles. Then we had to make camp. Only then did she get to go fishing. Only then did she spend a couple of hours up to her armpits in Lena Lake--so far from shore because that was what was needed to give her room to work her dry fly. After awhile, I tired of pounding tent stakes, rolling out pads and sleeping bags, gathering firewood, and just sat back against a log to watch my favorite person doing her own thing at one of my favorite lakes, blending her own special love with her own special place.
1982 will remain in my memory bank as a special time, with a special person, in a special place.
Today it's 2014. At this time, on this day, my special place is squatting before a computer screen. My special person has crawled into her heated waterbed in our own special bedroom place. Meanwhile, I work on--kinda like pounding tent stakes and gathering firewood. It's called duty.
Life is still good.
Chunks of meat wrapped in bacon slices and impaled on sharpened sticks, then propped over a bed of coals. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste and ..... Oh boy!
(Note the partially peeled potatoes also roasting over the coals.)
This photo was snapped while Jane was demonstrating her innovative cooking acumen to a family group on a Spring Explorer Trip into "the Bob". Those Spring Explorer Trips were designed to occur at the peak of the wildflower season, where she's been known to identify over 125 different species of wildflowers in bloom.
One thing Jane regretted about her immersion into our leading visitors from around the world into the Bob Marshall Wilderness was her "having to give up her home flower gardens."
Our friend Larry Gleason scoffed at that concern by murmuring, "You wait and see. God will provide plenty of His own!"
Available only through Roland's bookstore: http://rolandcheek.com/BobMarshall.html
This photo is taken somewhere around Pale Creek, near the boundary between the Great Bear and Bob Marshall Wildernesses. By the grace of God, and a titanic citizen struggle, much of the wild lands between "the Bob" and Glacier National Park was designated the Great Bear Wilderness by Congress in 1978. With the addition of the Scapegoat Wilderness on the south end of the Bob Marshall, one can travel upwards of 200 trail miles from the Canadian Line south, always traversing land the way God made it.
We might liken the visionary folks who were instrumental in setting these places aside for future America to the immortal words of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill when he referred to the small cadre of English fighter pilots who saved their country from Nazi onslaught during World War II:
My Lake is not "my lake"--that is, it's not Roland's lake, but belongs to everyone who visits the fabulously beautiful gem. My Lake snuggles beneath the Chinese Wall, all but atop America's Continental Divide. The photo taken above was snapped in 1970. It's of a party of old friends, all but one of which has now passed over the "greatest divide" of all.
My Lake is hard to reach, thirty miles, or so, from road's end. It's on the map, in the Sun River Game Preserve portion of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. It's about eight miles from, and a couple of thousand feet higher than, my old early season hunting camp. Sometimes, when hunting was tough and hunters weary, we would take a day off and ride to My Lake. Inevitably, it seemed, when we passed the invisible boundary into the Sun River Game Preserve we'd spot mule deer bucks, hear bugling bull elk, or have to virtually kick big black bears out of the way to reach the lake. All would be thumbing their noses at us and shouting "Nyah, Nyah, Nyah!"
Another of the many splendid individuals who helped carry me to the person I became. Hazen and his wife Ruth dwelled at "Square Peg Ranch" near Polebridge. He was a retired school superintendant and a former Glacier Park seasonal ranger when I first met him. He was also an excellent horseman, a whitewater enthusiast, and an overall nice guy.
I've always wondered what he saw in me?
Hazen guided during one week-long horseback-in, river float-out flyfishing trip each year. And it wasn't unusual to have guests name the rugged outdoorsman "Amazin' Hazen" during their odyssey in his care.
Hazen was one of my half-dozen mentors during a lifetime in the company of outstanding older individuals. Now I'm the elder--but without anyone to mentor.
Photo is of a packstring fording the South Fork of the Flathead, in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. They're crossing from Kelly Point to Black Bear Flats. The ford is a decent one, unmarked on any current maps (or old maps, for that matter). The route was one of my preferred crossing points from mid-summer through hunting season. During the high waters of spring and early summer, we used the Black Bear suspension bridge to get to the other side--another half-hour travel time, but safer.
Concentration is your most important tool for fording streams, no matter whether on horseback or foot. Choose your entry point and focus on where you wish to exit. Keep moving. Do not let you or your horse become mesmerized by the moving water, thus drifting downstream with the flow. Instead, rein your pony relentlessly toward your exit point.
The river ford we're crossing in the above picture is just above a jumbled rapids, filled with big boulders. Let horses drift with the current here and one could hardly wish for more trouble!
Just because it's April Fool's Day is no reason for you to not believe!
In this photo, Roland and Jane stand along the Spotted Bear River. I'd just watched the flash of a huge fish lumbering upstream against the current. The spread of my hands indicates not--as you'd imagine--the length of the fish, but how big around he was below the dorsal fin.
We called Ron Mitchell, "Pegleg". Here's why:
When Ron Mitchell rode the long 27 miles into the heart of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, to our hunting camp, he traveled in in two pieces: with his artificial leg carried atop the load on one of my packhorses.
Accompanying three others of his childhood friends--all of whom dreamed of a hunting trip into "the Bob" since childhood--Pegleg wondered if he could make it. (Me, too.) But we've guided few others with such resolute courage and determination.
The party spent ten fabulous perfect-weather days with us, during which every single morning Pegleg shrugged from his sleeping bag, slipped into his artificial limb and "went hunting."
It was a learning experience for everyone. We learned that it was easier for Pegleg if we sidehilled a mountain in a manner that allowed him to swing his artificial limb on the downhill slope. We hunted some on horseback, but it turned out, after his long ride in and the certainty of an equally long ride out, that Pegleg preferred to hunt on foot.
He was game! Oh, he was game. And his long-time friends were perfectly considerate, as was all of our crew.
What an experience--for Pegleg and for us!
The basin on Cliff Creek is about as close to the middle of the Bob Marshall Wilderness as one could get. When, as a young man, I wished to explore "the Bob" I placed my finger in the center of my map and vowed to go there. This is what I found.
The photo clearly indicates the method used to get there, but it tells nothing about the three tough prior days, nor the additional two on the way back.
It does, however, clearly portray that the trip was worth it!
March 11, 2014
For years, Jane and I annually conducted what we called a "Geological Gypsy Trip" into the Bob Marshall Wilderness. For a number of those years we were blessed by having John Montagne, professor emeritus of geology at Montana State University, along as landform interpreter. In the above photo, taken near the top of Switchback Pass, John (who preferred "John" over "Doctor" or "Professor") explains a complex geological conundrum to a three-generation family group from California who were our guests for that year's week-long foray. John had the rare gift of being able to explain a complex subject in such cogent layman's terms that it was easy even for a plebian like me to understand. If he thought otherwise, then he'd try another tack.
One rare evening, after everyone else (guests, wrangler, cook) had turned in for the evening, I finished checking our horses and returned to the dying campfire. There I found John with a yellow note tablet in his hand. I said, "What'cha doing John, catching up on correspondence?"
He said, "No, Roland." He studied the fire for a few more moments, then added, "It's those boys ... I don't think I'm getting through to them, and I'm trying to design a lesson-plan for tomorrow that can help."
I stood by that dying campfire stunned! Here was one of America's foremost college geology professors, a friend who was along on the trip unpaid, worrying about the fact that he wasn't reaching 13 and 16-year-old boys with the fascination of the earth's land and techtonic plate movements. What a guy! (Incidentally, the 13-year-old went on to obtain a degree in geology.)
Is it any wonder that I consider the late John Montagne to be among the half-dozen most influential persons in my life? My hero?
This pic has Jane backpacking along the South Fork of the Sun River, above Gibson Reservoir. It seems we had a couple of days of our own and an uncontrollable urge to visit some of those vast open spaces found on the east side of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Not wanting to transport horses for the two hundred road miles around the "Bob" for just two or three days, we decided "What the heck? We can hike in from Benchmark, stay overnight along the trail, and come out at Mortimer Gulch and still get our Bob Marshall 'fix'."
Nothing more simple.
Except Jane kept loading my backpack with her Maybelline.
A couple of weeks or so ago, I spilled the beans about Jane's and my favorite place in all the Bob Marshall Wilderness--a place we called "God's High Table." I alluded to the fact that we took only a few of our most favored guests there: like Grace Wylie of Wausau, Wisconsin. Here, Grace had to dig out her scratch pad and sketch--proof positive that Jane and I were not the only ones inspired by the beauty of that lonesome place.
My only regret about leading this fascinating couple to this fabulous place is that I never captured her husband Bob's face when I panned a bit of sand from the tiny creek flowing there and showed the Wausau civil engineer several flakes of gold!
(Honesty compels me to reveal that, through sleight-of-hand, I'd previously added a few flakes to the pan.)
So goes our life of adventure..........
We called them "rock rabbits," but they're better known as "pikas," and they're scattered over much of the higher elevations of the Mountain West. Shy, retiring,usually found around rocky, boulder-strewn slopes in alpine country. Occasionally we would simply sit down at the bottom of a talus slope and watch the rockslide before us for movement. Sure enough, there'd soon be one of the round-earted little rabbits scampering around. Then two. Three!
The little rabbits do not hibernate. Instead they live beneath the rocks all winter, subsisting off "haymows" of grass and forbs collected and stored during their brief summers. Occasionally, if rain dampens the little animal's haymows, they'll bring them out of storage to dry. See two dryiing haymows pictured with my red hat between:
One will often hear pikas long before one can spot them. Theirs is a sharp, high-pitched, one-note whistle of alarm. And they'll all disappear under nearby rocks, or into holes. Then, if one is sufficiently motionless--and sufficiently patient--they'll magically reappear, one by one.
There may be no cuter animal in all nature's kingdom!
Sorry--this pic was taken deep in the Bob Marshall Wilderness on Mother's Day--not Valentine's Day. It's of my wife Jane and her horse Cricket. The remarkable thing I'd like to call to your attention is the beautiful orchid corsage the woman is wearing. I'd ordered it special, concealed it in one of the packboxes during the long ride in, then presented it at the proper moment with a "flair d'elan" that I can sometimes pull off without stumbling over a pile of horsebiscuits.
She also receives her special orchid each St. Valentine's Day, but not (fortunately) in the wilderness, where winter reigns supreme on the 14th of every February.
The photo was taken near Salmon Forks, twenty miles up the South Fork from the Meadow Creek trailhead. It looks as though we're packed up to leave, probably to edge farther upriver to White River Park.
The reason I can't be more definitive about what happened later that day, is there's a great deal of bliss accompanying my treatment when I can pull off such a coup as a Mother's Day corsage ... two days from the shop of a professional florist.
Ahh, sweet dreams!
Jane and I had many "favorite" places in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, but this is IT, our own private favorite place. As a matter of fact, we shared this spot with very few other folks while we were guiding--only those we felt harbored our same affinity for a bit of God's best handiwork.
I won't even tell you where it is and how to get there now, being the insufferable selfish old guy that I am, even though at this stage in life I'll never again visit there. Neither will you find our private name for it on a map. But I will tell you it's somewhere around 30 trail miles into the wilderness (by the shortest route), then an additional five "shanks mare" miles until you can sprawl in this meadow and dip water from its tiny stream.
I won't tell you how to get to our private God's High Table because really private places should remain as private places. Doing so, permits you an opportunity to search for your own such place.
Isn't it beautiful, though? And peaceful? Didn't we have to pay a toll in sweat and effort to get there?
Yep, on all counts.
Hint: It's also pictured in my coffeetable book, Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness. CLICK HERE
He recently passed over the Great Divide, perhaps one of the best-loved cartoonist in America; certainly in Montana. And not just by me. Stan was my friend, hunting companion, hale buddy well met. The pic above is of Stan standing perhaps 100 feet from my hunting camp tent, near the center of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Lone Butte towers behind.
Stan Lynde was my friend long before I ever met the guy. We were friends because of a brave and bumbling sheriff (Rick O'Shay) of a cowtown called Conniption, and his sidekick (Hipshot Percussion), who was a dangerous gunman with a heart of gold (and every recognizable weakness found in most of us lesser humans). Stan's Rick O'Shay comic strip was never just cartoon, but art. Great art. With a message about western values and admirable mores. The strip was staffed with a full caste of two-legged people and more admirable four-legged ones--like Rick's "Tanglefoot" horse and Hipshot's "Belle Starr" cat.
Rick O'Shay's landscapes were breathtaking and sometimes the strip's messages would take your breath away.
Stan and I were both fellow members of the Western Writers Association, and Jane and I spent hours in the company of Stan and his wife Lynda. The guy's passing leaves a hole that may never be filled. But all our lives are the richer for having known him.
May he rest in peace.
This pic was taken perhaps two thirds of the way to the summit of Prairie Reef looking west toward Red Butte and the Chinese Wall. The snowcapped Swan Range towers beyond. What gives this shot special poignance is that the viewer is gazing across the massive Lewis Overthrust, one of the world's great "thrust faults". The contact point is first evident somewhere up in British Columbia, running through Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness to disappear, so I'm told, down toward Yellowstone.
In short, the earth fractured amidst a collision of continents, and the western portion of the fracture pushed east, as is evidence of the much more ancient red rock pushing up and over the limestone layer of Prairie Reef, where I'm standing to take take the photo. (No, I was in no immediate danger--the event occurred many millions of years ago, and took other millions of years to reach its present state.)
From the top of Prairie Reef is a great place to view the Chinese Wall--the centerfold of my coffeetable book, Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness (see below) was taken from there. One can also view the Great Plains from Prairie Reef.
It's an imposing suspension bridge. Replaced the one taken out during the '64 flood with timbers, planking, cables and cement for the abutments on each side lifted in via helicopter.
This bridge is 11 miles up the Flathead's South Fork from the Meadow Creek Trailhead. The span is long enough that it gets enough swing to it to alarm an old packer pulling a ten-horse packstring. How do I know?
Jane volunteered to pull her son's and her husband's saddlehorses, along with two near-empty packhorses out of the wilderness, while the men floated out via rubber raft. As luck had it, we floated beneath the bridge at exactly the same time she chose to cross it. She still talks in somewhat unflattering terms about how some of her trailing horses tried to leap from the bridge, and into our raft.
At least one of the floaters still laugh about what scared the heck out of her.
* "The Dogged and the Damned" is still on sale as an e-book for $2.99 through January 15.
This sign was in place at a beautiful Camp Creek meadow, when I first visited there in 1967. For whatever reason, something seemed almost sacred about the place. Knowing of the Indian battle added to that feeling. Unfortunately, the sign was gone when I took wife Jane and our son Marc through the area 20 years later--a casualty of the "purist" philosophy that such signs weren't appropriate in designated wildernesses.
This meadow is up the South Fork of the Flathead River, some dozen miles above the Big Prairie Ranger Station, and is near two trail junctions leading to passes through the Continental Divide into the Sun River Country (no doubt "designated trail routes" for Blackfeet war parties). The people who put a curse on the above sign are the same ones who decided distances aren't appropriate for Wilderness signing--the reason why you can find a sign at the trail junction to Camp Creek Pass and one to Danaher Meadows, but neither will share with you the distance to either place.
A pox on such arrogant decision-making.
* My book "The Dogged and the Damned" is available FREE as an e-book today and tomorrow (Jan. 7 & 8) at Amazon's Kindle Store: Click Here
It seems appropriate to picture this great canyon gorge leading up from the Flathead's Middle Fork to the huge scenic meadows (behind the camera--see November 19 below) to Gateway Pass and finally down to Swift Reservoir, where the prairie begins. Picturing Gateway Gorge serves as an apt metaphor for our passing from the old year to the new, as happens from time to time, more or less on a yearly basis.
Gateway Gorge is even more impressive looking from the bottom up, instead of the top down. But either way, it's a great place to see, to visit, to sort of hang out. The streams are small at this elevation, and the fish are small. But the views are large--like the one from Flattop Mountain looking down into the Middle Fork country.
The limestone rocks in this vicinity are fossil-filled, too--all laid down beneath shallow seas, perhaps 150 million years ago, before I was born, before even my father was born, and his father's father was born!
Jane and I have visited this country often, most of the time accessing it from the Swift Reservoir trailhead, but sometimes from Schafer Meadows and the Middle Fork.
No, it's not the Bob Marshall Wilderness, but next to it! The Great Bear. I had a bright idea that I could snowshoe in and catch some monstrous fish through the ice. I caught cold, instead.
Stanton is a relatively short hike--perhaps three miles to the upper end. But the climb from its Stanton Creek trailhead is steep for perhaps a half mile. We've cross-country skied in there, as well as snowshoed, but for my money, boots on the ground during summer doldrums is the best way.
Stanton is a beautiful body of water, occupying a big glacial cirque, fed by a still-remnant glacier rising from the north side of Great Northern Mountain. The lake is surrounded by a forest of larch, spruce, cedar, lodgepole pine, and fir. Despite my red-neck reputation, it's also a good place to swim midway through your hike.
P.S. That was one Christmas when Santa failed to find me.
Located up the North Fork of Sun River, say 8 or 10 miles up from where the two forks come together at the head of Gibson Reservoir. Biggs Flat is a great place to camp, only a little south of where the Headquarters Pass Trail spills into this great glacial-carved bottom, and near where the Moose Creek Trail leaves for the base of the Chinese Wall.
One spring (around mid-May) Jane and I counted over 100 head of elk scattered here and on the hill beyond. Can you think of a better place to do so?
By the way, May is a great time for wildflowers and, if memory serves me correctly, we identified upwards of seventy different varieties here and on the surrounding hills.
I'm a little discontented that it's been a decade or two since I've visited here.
You think Switzerland is the only place with "Alps"? Then take a look at the ones in the middle of the Bob Marshall Wilderness....
Long time friend and part time guide Larry Gleason studies a map trying to figure out where in hell we are, while our son, Marc applies a more practical approach in looking for the lost trail.
Where we are, of course, is high in the Flathead Alps, a seldom visited portion of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Us guys had left Larry's wife and Marc's mother back with the horses, as we three climbed farther and deeper into strange and forebidding country.
This photo, by the way, is on pg. 30 of my coffeetable book, Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness, available in hardcover print edition for just $17.95, only through Roland's and Jane's online bookstore: http://rolandcheek.com/BobMarshall.html / check it out.
December 3, 2013
I always thought that Halfmoon Park should be named "Honeymoon Park" because it has that radiance. The problem was, Jane and I were first married in 1954 and being totally unaware of the then non-existent Scapegoat Wilderess, let alone Halfmoon (Honeymoon) Park in that Wilderness, we wasted our first honeymoon on Grand Canyon. But if we ever marry again, mostly to enable a second time around, I'm hoping we spend that honeymoon at Halfmoon.
I first visited the place twenty years ago, accompanied by friends, part-time guide Larry Gleason, and the world's greatest geologist, professor emeritus at Montana State University, the late John Montagne. The cliff face you see emerging into sunlight in the above picture was a shoulder of Scapegoat Mountain (which we climbed later that day).
Should you ever wish to learn more about how and why some folks can't get their fill of adventure, visit my bookstore at http://rolandcheek.com/bookstore.html
Our meeting was by chance, two couples pausing to admire Red Rock Falls, in Glacier Park's Swiftcurrent Valley. The Hertwecks were headed east, the Cheeks west. To my query, Timothy said they lived in Connecticut. To his query, Jane replied, the Flathead; this is our backyard. He said he loved Montana and hoped to retire somewhere out here. Then he told us he'd first visited Montana with the Boy Scouts, back in 1971. "We hiked in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Are you familiar with it?"
Jane laughed and told the couple that I wrote and photographed the first book about "The Bob." Then she added, "We were outfitters and guides there for over 20 years. A friendship is developing. When Jane and I arrived back at our campsite in late afternoon, Timothy Hertweck had already visited there, leaving a six-pack of beer and a note. Since then, Tim sent 1971 photos of the best trip of his life and asked if I recognized any of them.
The answer is yes, of course. Here's one nearing the Chinese Wall, near the head of Moose Creek.
For sale only on my website: http://rolandcheek.com/bookstore.html
I'm prejudiced in favor of a few spot-on places in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and Big River Meadows qualifies as one of the best. The Meadows open up through the surprisingly gentle Gateway Pass, from Birch Creek on the east side, or through the fear-evoking ramparts of Gateway Gorge on the west. Son Marc and I first hit Big River Meadows in 1981, while filming for my forthcoming book, Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness (this photo is a two-page double truck [pgs. 10 & 11] in that coffeetable book). But I just had to show the place to Jane soon after, and we had to return several times to see if it really is as beautiful as we first thought.
Larry Gleason and I were here with John Montagne after we retired from outfitting when the MSU Geology Prof. Emeritus discovered a nearby sea-life fossil bonanza. And to top it off, a herd of about a hundred herd of elk crossed the background mountain the following morning.
This is the view that Jane and her faithful Brittany spaniel Tess was eyeballing outside our little two-person tent while I hogged the inside when I heard a string of riders passing. Suddenly one of the riders squealed: "That looks like Tess!" Then, "That looks like Jane!"
The lady and her husband, from Wisconsin, had been guests of ours before we retired from outfitting. Now they were visiting "the Bob" with other guides. I can't possibly think of a better place for enjoying an "old home week" get together.
* Available only through our bookstore:http://rolandcheek.com/BobMarshall.html
Got a certain amount of "native appeal" don't it? Located in the northwest corner of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, accessed from the Swan side through Inspiration Pass, or up the Bunker Creek Road (past Hungry Horse Reservoir and Spotted Bear). Shortest "shanks mare" jaunt is eight miles from the Gorge Creek trailhead (Bunker Creek).
There've been some nice cutthroats taken from Sunburst Lake. Reason I know that for sure is ... well ... you know....
Sunburst Lake is pictured in my coffeetable book about "the Bob" on pg. 28, in the same section that pictures other Bob Marshall Wilderness lakes. That book, incidentally, is for sale only through the bookstore on my website. To view the book, Click Here
* By the way, "Dance On the Wild Side," the story of Jane's and my life as outfitters and guides in America's greatest wilderness is FREE as an e-book on Amazon's Kindle Store through Friday--a heck of a bargain! To view the book on Amazon, CLICK HERE
Oh yes, The Danaher. Headwaters of the South Fork of the Flathead. I don't know anyone who's ever been there that considers it a "ho-hum" piece of God's handiwork. If such folks exist, I'm not one of 'em. But, then, see for yourself:
It's likely you and me aren't alone. Climb the hill where I took the photol and one can see where the original homesteader planned his drainage ditches to turn the huge meadow into tillable land. Then descend the hill and wander through the band of trees in the middle distance and run into some remnant machinery left by that original homesteader when he sold his already proven homestead to the U.S. Forest Service, back in the 1920s.
I tell about some of those homestead attempts on pg. 60 in my coffetable book "Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness. For sale only in my bookstore. Click Here to see
Last week's "Mountain Musing" blog featured one of the better known outhouses within the Bob Marshall Wilderness--the one at Gates Park, up the North Fork of the Sun River. Now let's take a more encompassing look at the Ranger Station itself:
As mentioned in the previous blog, Gates Park Ranger Station was initially a homestead acquired by the U.S. Forest Service before the area was designated as the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The station is near the headwaters of the North Fork of the Sun River, on the east side of "The Bob". One of the smarter things the agency did was retain the original homestead for their station headquarters.
The 1988 Gates Park lightning-caused wildfire swept through much of the area pictured in this previous photo, but the station was spared, and today, the surrounding forest heals itself.
The last time I visited the station, brilliantly beautiful fireweed, in full pink bloom, towered as high as my hat while I perched in the saddle of a tall horse, staring around in awe-struck wonder.
The above photo (in a better rendition) is on pg. 62 of my full color coffeetable book, "Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness", available for puchase through my own bookstore. Click here to view
(Okay, I'm a week late with this "Mountain Musing" posting--if anyone noticed. But I ran away from home in order to get a wilderness "fix". Am I sorry? No. Did anyone miss me? Probably not. Now that we've cleared up that problem, take a look at this next Bob Marshall vignette:)
Point of Information: The pic does NOT portray the Gates Park Ranger Station, but its outhouse (first things first).
The station is an old homestead located up the North Fork of Sun River, a dozen miles above Gibson Reservoir. Gates Park anchors a series of huge, open meadows amid a fine mixed fir, pine, and spruce forest. It's one of my favorite places in "The Bob."
A wildfire ripped through the area during the hot, dry year of '88, when all efforts failed to contain wildfires throughout the Mountain West, including fires in both Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Sparks from the Gates Park fire fell on my hunting camp tents during early September, from clear across the Continental Divide, maybe 20 miles away!
For your information, The above photo (taken by Ellen Hargrave while I held my saddlehorse's lead rope through a knothole in the door) is used on the cover of my book of short stories: "My Best Work Is Done At the Office". The book is for sale in both print and as an e-book on Amazon. To view its info, Click Here.
Horses and riders pause to admire the view: Below "the Wall", near the head of Mosse Creek.
Usually, when we'd arrive here, I'd tell my guests after the long day's ride: "Aww, what the heck? You see one mountain you've seen 'em all."
Most of 'em would look at me like I was crazy!
* "The Wall" is pictured in the centerfold of my coffeetable book, Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness. The book is available from my websit: Click Here To View
Whether you're a hunter, angler, birdwatcher, flower browser, wildlife photographer, or scenic artist fascinated by sunrise or mountain horizon, utimately one must come to grips with how the land or lake was formed. It's geological info you MUST have to understand what you got. Take a look at the following photo while I struggle to explain:
I discovered this fossil-filled, dining table-sized boulder while elk hunting some years ago. It lay at the bottom of huge cliffs towering far overhead. I shrugged from my daypack, jerked out my camera and snapped this photo, then picked up my rifle and continued on my way. But I never forgot the boulder, returning from time to time to puzzle on the phenomenon, then read about the manner in which it came to pass.
The shell fragments you see are composed of brachiopods and pelecypods laid down in a warm sea, perhaps millions and millions of years worth of fossils decomposing ever more and more onto those first deposited, ultimately compressing thick layers of decaying animal matter into hardened limestone rock. Additional millions of years passed and the land where these fossils were originally embedded rose and the seas retreated. The land continued to rise, pushed up into accordion-like pleats by continental collision, forming what we now know as the Rocky Mountains.
I learned all of the above because one day I decided to go elk hunting.
* This boulder lies yet within three miles of North America's continental crest, very near what we've named the "Chinese Wall," perhaps the most well-known feature near the heart of one of America's best known wildernes areas. The boulder is pictured on pg 42 of my coffeetable book "Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness. To learn more, click on book:
September 24, 2013
At Many Glacier this weekend looking for grizzly bears. Saw bears; several bears. But no grizzlies. Some folks, looking at the same bear, swore to God it was a grizzly. They were adamant. Did no good for me to demur. See what you think:
Here's another look at the same bear from a different angle:
Both pics were taken by friend Bill Lepper, using a Nikon D7000 digital camera. The bear was 100 yards away, more or less.
No matter, griz or black, it was one helluva big bear.
* My book about the grizzly bear, "Chocolate Legs" begins at Many Glacier and ends 16 years later at Two Medicine; both are key scenic areas in Glacier National Park.
Herb Toelke, though at the time I hadn't sufficient knowledge to appreciate the guy, was a highly successful old-time outfitter, with a couple of hunting camps in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and, above all, the majority of horse concessions in Glacier National Park. As such, the livestock he called his own numbered well over a hundred horses and mules.
I had a chance once to talk to the old man, sitting close to his knee on the deck of Jane's and my home. One thing the old man told me stuck: he said the biggest change he'd seen in the Bob Marshall Wilderness during his years was in the quality of horse flesh. "Why you wouldn't believe the scroungy, sway-backed cayuses I used to see back before and just after World War II.
I thought of Herb this evening, while observing the "Taj Mahal" horse trailers whisking up and down today's highway. Then, as it happened, an old beater ton-and-a-half stock truck loaded with horses putzed past my field of view and I recalled that when I first arrived in Montana in 1964, those trucks were the "norm" for equine transport headed for "the Bob" during hunting season. When I brought the subject up with Jane, she nodded and said, "You almost never see a horse carried in the back of a pickup anymore."
True. And two-horse trailers are seldom seen, too. Instead, they're air-conditioned, heated, overhead-chandelier Hiltons, each carrying ponies worth hundreds and thousands of dollars--at least that's what the owners paid for them. (On the trail they might be worth significantly less.)
Herb was right, today's horses have better confirmation, richer blood-lines, more potential. The transport systems hauling them to the trailheads are infinitely more comfortable, safer, more reliable. The vehicles pulling those magnificent transports are more powerful, classier, and are themselves more luxurious for the driver and his or her passengers who are, invariably, more wealthy and sometimes dressed as showy as if they stepped out of the nearest Abercrombie & Fitch.
So why don't today's hunters return with more elk?
* My "Learn About Elk" is available now as an e-book. Click here
The first I remember of the kid, he was maybe ten-years-old. He accompanied his father (wrestling coach at Billings West High) on a visit to my Billings hospital room. (I was there because of a run-amuck blood vessel I'd foolishly ruptured some days before while trying to treadmill-prove I was as good at sixty-five as I was at thirty-five. The boy's grandfather is one of my best friends (a guide for me for many years during my Bob Marshall Wilderness outfitting years) and the boys father (and mother) an attractive young couple Jane and I offered a rafting ride down the South Fork of the Flathead while they were on their honeymoon (hiking "the Bob").
Oddly, the boy, influenced no doubt by a few flattering hints dropped by his misguided parents and grandparents, seems to think I'm bigger and better than I know me to be.
Full-growed, the boy turned out to be a stand-out tackle on his high school football team, sufficiently promising that I felt justified in calling a former pro-footballer friend of mine's (who also recruits for U. of Iowa) attention to the boy.
The lad, however, chose to forego athletic scholarships to pursue a degree in an outdoors-type career: biology and (gasp!) outdoors writing. Unfortunately the lad, now a couple of years into college, thinks of me as some sort of an example to which he should aspire (no matter how diligent I am in trying to dissuade him). And just today, he sent me a paper he's writing about the piscatorial opportunities afforded by the Absoraka and Beartooth Mountain ranges near his Billings homeland. Ben did me the honor of asking if I would read his dissertation and make suggestions for improvement. I had little to say about his subject, but made a suggestion or two on the dissertation's organization.
The truth is, I take some pride in the kid. It's not that I can claim him, but I can try!
* Connecting to youths has never been my foremost objective, but it happens. I even wrote an essay about it: "Bridging Generation Gaps", which will be available as a FREE download at Amazon's Kindle Store Sep. 22-26. Click here to view book
Her excitement was palpable. She'd been hiking with her dog along a lake a few miles from her California home. "I know you guys have heard it before! You even wrote about it in a book or two. But for me, it was my first time!" She'd first heard the bull elk bugling at a distance; thought it was some wannabe hunter practicing calling. But the guy kept on and kept on. Then he was joined by another across the narrow canyon. "I thought, for crying out loud! why don't they just shut up!
"Then when the first bull walked out where I could see him, and bugled--Dad, he was huge! Then when the other one on my side answered him ... it was so exciting!"
They were, of course, Tule elk, slightly smaller than my Rocky Mountain variety, but still monsters to our daughter who didn't realize elk dwelled so near her home. "One had, I think, about a dozen cows with him. The other, more like 15. But they kept on screaming at one another. Oh, it was so exciting!" She and her dog watched them for upwards of an hour. "They didn't fight, or anything," she said. "And they never even approached the other. If I would've stayed, would they eventually have fought?"
"Probably not, Cheri. If each had a harem of cows, it would have been unlike them to have risked what they had in order to try to obtain more. But clearly, you were watching the ritual of the rut. And I'm pleased that you were able to see what your mother and I saw many times."
* My book, "Learn About Elk," is available in e-book form at Amazon's Kindle Store for just $5.99. Click here to see.
John first came with my old Skyline Outfit back in the late '70s, looking for the flyfishing Valhalla that is the South Fork of the Flathead, deep in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. A gregararious guy with many friends, both from the community where he lives and his days as a university student. The guy took to horseback riding, flycasting along lonesome river reaches, the camaraderie found around remote campfires, and splendid vistas found nowhere else on earth.
It was my great good fortune, at the time, to be owned by the world's greatest hunting dog, a Brittany spaniel who ranged free alongside our plodding string of horses and riders, back and forth, ahead and behind, ever searching for the scent of a grouse. For two days, John sat his trail horse as we ventured deeper and deeper into the wilderness, watching the spaniel range through yellow pine parks and bunchgrass meadows, return to count our horses and riders, then bounce off again to protect us from any killer birds that might lurk amid the shadows.
Finally the man twisted in the saddle to peer back at me and my string of plodding packhorses. A HUGE smile lit John's face. "That has got to be," he said, "the luckiest dog in the world!"
* And remember that I'm serializing "The Dogged and the Damned" at www.amazonbookshowcase.com
I once wrote a book where the gods smiled and I got most everything right. Not the book's writing quality--I don't write bad books--but I'm talking about the title, the cover, that vital first connection to the reader. That book was Learning To Talk Bear, and it was my first serious, full length story about my episodic curve in learning about grizzly bears. Why I failed to go to school on that first book, I can only plead ignorance. Name anyone browsing who could fail to be intrigued by the title? Learning about bears! Wow! Then the cover: a giant bear waving--what an image!
Cut to scene two, a book about my learning curve relative to the second of North America's most charismatic creatures: elk, Cervis canadensis, the wily wapiti. Instead of spinning off my lucky break on the bear book by branding the elk book with the same theme, I chose The Phantom Ghost of Harriet Lou. It didn't take long before I learned that bookstores didn't know how to catalogue the book, sometimes filing it on childrens bookshelves, sometimes placing it in fantasy or sci-fi rows where no one could find it.
Cut to scene three. Though helpless to do anything about the elk book's print cover and title, we saw an opportunity to correct the problem when we went to digital editions: hence Learn About Elk became the title of the e-book version of our elk book, known in print as The Phantom Ghost of Harriet Lou.
Nothing else has changed but its title and the cover. The book is still the same great readable, informative book that was reprinted three times and received a bunch of great reviews on Amazon and elsewhere.
Now available FREE as an e-book at Amazon's Kindle Store, Aug. 20 - 22.
Introducing THE DOGGED AND THE DAMNED in serial
Remember the old magazine installments of yesteryear? Some of the world’s best books by some of the world’s best writers were introduced as serials in, say, the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, even the Ladies Home Journal, as well as dozens of other magazines.
I remember being introduced to C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower novels through those magazine pages. Same with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and dozens of other serious novels and important non-fiction works.
The idea began in the Saturday Evening Post as early as 1903, with their serialization of Jack London’s Call of the Wild. So there’s a long history of book serialization in periodicals.
I liked those serials so well that I’d like to carry the concept forward in Jane’s efforts to introduce my work to new readers. That’s some of the thinking behind our releasing The Dogged and the Damned in serialization through my AUTHOR page on Amazon: www.AmazonBookShowcase.com Click on it to begin reading as early as this week!
The plan is to release installments Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, (at no cost to you) beginning Monday, August 12 and continuing until around Christmas. Jane and I hope you try this new concept in reaching old friends and new readers with what I think is the best and most important book I’ve written.
- Roland Cheek
* Watch for FREE downloads for "Learn About Elk, coming August 20 - 22.
"Mountain Musing" is about to change from its twice-weekly delivery dates (Mondays & Thursday) to once-per-week, on Tuesday. The reason? Because another blog will join it and Saturday's "Campfire Culture" as a third Roland blog offering. The plan is to introduce my coming "The Dogged and the Damned" e-book in serial form in 800 to 1,100 word segments, posted tri-weekly (Mon, Wed, Fri).
At least, that's the plan. It'll be a novel and innovative way to promote a book via internet serialization. (Remember the Saturday Evening Post serials from years ago?) While posting it three times a week will be a challenge, it's one to which I'm looking forward. My tri-weekly postings may turn out to be "try" weekly, or even "try" weakly. But I'm committed.
"Campfire Culture" is, of course, devoted to an outdoors focus, while "Mountain Musing" strays much farther abroad--wherever I want to go (like sharing this exciting new concept). The oncoming new blog will be devoted to books, perhaps eventually getting into my upcoming stories: like the one about Yogo sapphires, the world's greatest gemstone discovery (even greater than South Africa's Kimberley diamond yield). Or perhaps I'll use the new blog to introduce the decades-long letter exchange with Bob Elman (my late, great editor), and how he taught me to write. First, though, will come installments of "The Dogged and the Damned" in all it's raw, newly updated, based-on-a-true-story about a soldier suffering the effects of terrible WW II battles, and his war at home:
* And finally, sneaking under the wire comes "The Silver Yoke," final book in my "Valediction For Revenge" Western series, offered FREE at Amazon's Kindle Store, August 6 - 10. Click Here to View
The Wall Creek Cliffs loom in the middle foreground with Silvertip Mountain towering in the distance. There was a fresh dusting of snow when Tom Saubert and I rode from camp at daylight to search for missing horses.
Tom, of course, might be the world's best Western artist, as exemplified by the oil painting he did from memory, with me and my favorite saddlehorse Buck leading the tailed-up missing ponies across some of the greatest landscape in America. Come to think on it, painting scenes such as this is probably a bunch easier when you're exposed to scenes like this.
My regret is that, at my age, I'll no doubt never again ride another horse like Buck in a place like that pictured above. Nowadays, though, all is not lost--I can still visit places like the one below, with a woman like the one pictured:
The note was to Jane, from Tom White of Harrisburg, Oregon, ordering a couple of books. At the bottom of his note was an addendum: "P.S. Roland, we need a good western." Tom has been a follower of my "Valediction For Revenge" western series since its first book, "Echoes of Vengeance" was released.
By great good fortune, Tom isn't the only reader abroad in the land who likes westerns, as indicated by this recent email from Jack Collins of Ronan, Montana: "Roland, Just read Bloody Merchants War & Lincoln County Crucible. Loved 'em both. Great history, characters and action!!! I like good westerns & history and haven't seen any for awhile. These satisfied my thirst!"
Or consider this recent Amazon review of Bloody Merchants War: "This book is clearly a Western in the Classic style. While I liked that, what impressed me was how well the author put his words together in conveying the setting, characters and events--far, far better than the norm for this Genre. This story of the beginning of the often told Lincoln County War brings it to life. The Bloody Merchants' War is a good bet for any fan of Classic Westerns."
MAYDAY! MAYDAY! THE INFO BELOW ABOUT SILVER YOKE IS WRONG!
* Jane is, of course, engaged in a promotional e-book campaign to promote my books, offering some FREE, or at ridiculously reduced prices in order to expose more readers to my work. Today, for instance, the last book in my "Valediction For Revenge" series, The Silver Yoke is offered FREE at Amazon's Kindle store. Click to view
SILVER YOKE WON'T GO FREE UNTIL AUG. 6! (MY ERROR)
* Crisis On the Stinkingwater, 5th book in the series, is also on sale through Aug. 10 for just $.99-cents, and the entire series is regularly priced at $3.99 each. Try 'em. You'll like 'em.
* To see all Roland Cheek books on the Kindle Store, Click to view
A very wise old man--one whom I respected, perhaps a role model--once told me, "If a man is lucky, he'll have one great horse and two great dogs in his life." Perhaps there's some truth in what he said, because I've had one great horse. His name was "Buck."
We were buddies, Buck and me. But our relationship began a little shaky:
That's, of course, an artist's rendition of our learning curve, Buck's and mine, put together by my good friend, top western artist Tom Saubert, who had ample opportunity to observe me'n my pony while we worked at coming to an understanding.
Actually, Buck learned to buck faster than I learned to ride. I tell our story in chapter 11 of "Dance On the Wild Side," the story of our life--Jane's and mine--as we came to terms with a life of love and adventure.
* Some day I'll tell you about the world's greatest dog, "Hunter."
Our daughter, a high school English teacher is visiting. One of her demands was that mom and dad join her in reading the same book during her visit. Her idea was that we can then discuss the book from individual perspectives. She offered several choices; Jane and I chose Michener's "Mexico." Jane checked two copies from area libraries, Cheri brought a copy from her California library. Thus far we've just begun; it opens with scenes about bullfighting.
"Ernest Hemingway and Robert Ruark also wrote about bullfighting," I muttered, wondering about the sport's attraction. With both Jane and Cheri staring in interest, I shared a story my father told me about the town in Texas where I was born.
GET YOUR FINGER OFF THAT "DELETE" KEY, I'M GOING SOMEWHERE WITH THIS!
Sweetwater is a small town in West Texas that is notable for but two things: 1) It's annual rattlesnake roundup, and 2) it may be the only small town in America that produced two high school football stars from the same team who eventually became Pro Football Hall of Famers: quarterback Sammy Baugh and tackle Bulldog Turner. Baugh was a senior playing his final high school season, while Turner was a freshman on a team playing for the championship against San Angelo; my father sat in the stands as a rabid Sweetwater fan.
Dad told me a lady sat in the row before him who'd just been to Mexico to watch bullfighting. At half-time, with San Angelo leading, she told my father, "Next to football, bullfighting is the most brutal sport in the world."
* "Crisis On the Stinkingwater" is offered FREE today on Amazon's Kindle Store: Click Here
* And if you missed a FREE "Gunnar's Mine" it's on sale at $.99-cents until July 31. Also on Kindle.
My friend is a retired U.S. Forest Service firefighter. He's predicting another hot, dry summer which will lead to critical danger levels for forest fires in this part of the Northern Rockies. Greg spent a great deal of his life jumping from airplanes onto the path of wildfires to help contain them. He was a "smokejumper" member of "hotshot" crews, the elitist of elite firefighters, highly trained and often directed wherever needed, all over America.
I asked Greg what he knew of the Arizona tragedy where a number of firefighters died as a wildfire they were trying to contain blew up and overran them. Though his informaton was sketchy because of a lack of released information, the former group leader thought the entire cadre of men was overcome in very few seconds, dying as they deployed into a relatively new innovation: a sort of sleeping bag-cocoon-like fire shelter designed as a desperate last line of defense in case of disaster. When I asked for more information about the shelters, Greg shook his head and said he thought little of them. "I had a good friend who died in one. He and another firefighter was overrun by flames and they deployed their shelters and crawled in. But my friend wasn't wearing gloves and it grew too hot for him to hold the shelter edges down."
I suppose my face betrayed horror at the thought, because Greg added: "His buddy was wearing gloves, so he was able to hold his down, and he survived."
I asked if a helicopter might be able to rescue trapped firefighters? He said, "There's too much smoke for them to find us. And probably too much wind. A big fire creates its own wind, you know." Then he told me that a helicopter once saved him and his crew by dumping a load of water it was carrying on an onrushing fire. "The chopper was right overhead, but the pilot couldn't see through the smoke. We could hear him. He kept asking over the radio, 'Where are you? Where are you?' Finally when it sounded like he was right overhead and we had no time left, we told him to go ahead and dump. His water landed right on top of the leading flames and saved us."
* COMING SOON AS AN E-BOOK, IN REVISED FORM:
Back on the last day of last year, I posted a "Mountain Musing" blog with a photo of a Northern Flying Squirrel adept at "second-story" thievery, raiding friends Bill & Mary Lepper's bird feeder. The feeder is located on an upper deck railing; the squirrel's effrontery was such that he made his raid in plain sight of the home owners and their guests while steaks were cooking on a barbecue grill perched on the same deck. See photo below:
Bill recently sent a second photo of a second raider, also with an eye on that same bird feeder. Fortunately the guy wasn't cooking steaks at the time, nor was he on the deck. Instead, the pic was taken through his living room window.
The "Lepper Colony" (they have such a sign on their driveway) is in a rural setting off the Farm-To-Market Road west of Whitefish. Their property borders the Stillwater River. And if you haven't already figured it out,their place has a certain character all its own. They have horses, cats, dogs, deer, and turkeys hanging around the place, along with rare squirrels, black bears, and wild wannabe friends.
Oh, by the way . . .
* Gunnar's Mine is FREE at Amazon's Kindle Store until July 19. Don't miss it! http://amzn.to/YIMNZj
Not too many days goes by that I don't reflect on the luck of the draw; how I came to life in this land where opportunity is limited only by sideboards of our own making; where every person can rise (or sink) to the level of his or her own merits. On this day, however, my reflections went beyond. What makes America what it is? What makes her people so enterprising? So industrious? So confident? Is it our free enterprise system? Or our secular society? Or our cultural mix? What fosters such apparent individual initiative to weld our strength?
First it was individual freedom, right? Then we grew strong in trade, sharing our prosperity with the world--at a price, of course! Such growth produced a manufacturing behemoth, an economic powerhouse, all driven by the individual's initiatives among America's amalgam of cultures.
Other dominant nations suffered defeat and decline; why not us? We suffered defeat in Vietnam, but where's the decline? There are those who claim the American dream is a thing of the past, but they're absurd. As long as our nation continues to cultivate individual initiative we'll not just survive, but flourish. Computerization and internet technology saved us from our Vietnam tragedy; a salvation driven by individuals pursuing the American dream, creating the technology that drives today's world.
Funny, though, we're not satisfied with merely proving ourselves; no, we seem singularly possessed with pulling up the rest of the world with our own bootstraps
* Look for the 2nd edition, with a new foreword. Watch for it!
I'm pleased to have thus far lived my life largely outdoors. It's not uncommon among folks dwelling in this part of the country, all the moreso than others elsewhere. Living outdoors is easier to do when one is surrounded by sapphire-colored lakes, sky-scratching mountains chocked with forests of stately yellow pine and golden tamarack, an abundant array of wildlife, and topped with a few smiling, cheerful, healthy, humans with similar inclinations. It's easy to remain pleased with an outdoors environment when outdoors is all you've got, and what you've got is all this!
You see, we writers, nurses, millworkers, mechanics, and hamburger flippers feel no need to acquire deeds to our outdoors; nor get permission in order to visit it or use it because it's mostly public land, public waters, and public air. It's already ours. We already own it. We don't have to cut barbed wire or sneak to venture out.
And with ownership of such vast reaches of public land by and for the people comes a commensurate responsibility to maintain that public land in the kind of state that we can revel in breathing its air, splashing its water, and lazing in a mountain meadow on a warm July morning with a grass stem stuck between our teeth. That's why the people of the Flathead fought hard to keep a high dam from flooding the valley and backing water to Whitefish and Columbia Falls; why they turned thumbs down on locating a paper mill between Kalispell and Columbia Falls; why they rejected massive clearcutting of our public forests.
Are the people of this part of the Northern Rockies just lucky? Or have they earned their fortune?
* "Echoes of Vengeance," the first title in my "Valediction For Revenge" series of Historical Westerns, and "My Best Work Is Done At the Office," a book filled with 100 humorous and inspiring tales, have both gone on sale as Kindle e-books for just $2.99 each, until July 20: Click Here
I suspect some observers of Jane's efforts at exposing readers to my e-books might wish to know if all her sweat-driven promotional efforts produces dividends? So here are a few early results:
In May, Jane gave away over 2,000 free books. During those promotions, "Dance On the Wild Side" hit number 2 in Amazon's "Love and Adventure" (Free book) category, whereas "Learning To Talk Bear jigged up to number 7 in "Bears." Of course they've since fallen. Presently the bear book is number 59 in Endangered Species (actual book sales).
As you'll recall, Jane's promos didn't just include FREE books, but also a bewildering array of reduced-price sales across a spectrum of our titles, some down as low as $.99-cents. And her specials will continue, both with FREE books and with reduced-price sales.
Now, how did (or does) this translate?
The bottom line, of course, is actual book sales--are we selling more books? Well, yes. Though we haven't ordered up a Brinks armored van to transport money for us, the month of June proved to be our best sales month yet. Seven times more than in May and more than twice as good as our best previous month (last December, Christmas sales). Though we're still far short of generating sufficient revenue for us to buy two hamburgers and shakes from McDonald's each month, there's an uptick in sales that have us crossing our fingers.
Enough to want to see what next month brings.
I don't watch television. When networks converted from analog to digital, we elected not to buy a black box converter for our old TV set. I was already jaded with network programming anyway, and considered most television news to be, at best, fictitious enhancement of questionable truth; at worst, outright lies.
It's bad enough, in my view, to present misrepresented events as truth, but what made it even worse is when talking-head analysts comes on after the "news" clips to tell us what we should think. Their entire news packages all seemed designed to make my blood boil; enough so that I decided my time could be better spent ogling distant vistas or admiring flowers as they grow.
Still, when you're locked into some physically strenuous endeavor--like I recently was with an exercise bike at a nearby athletic club--and a television set hanging before my location is in the middle of an earth-shaking news event, it's nearly impossible not to watch. The event the network spent 10 minutes covering (complete with end-of-coverage analysis) was LeBron James losing his headband in a basketball game.
That's why we don't have a functioning television set in our home!
* Don't forget that my two historical novels about the Lincoln County War are on sale as e-books this week for just $.99-cents each at Amazon's Kindle Store.
Bloody Merchants War: CLICK HERE
Lincoln County Crucible: CLICK HERE
My wife's campaign to expose more readers to my work is heating up. Though tomorrow is the last day for downloading my Bloody Merchant's War FREE from Amazon's Kindle Store, the title will remain on sale for $.99-cents, starting Saturday, June 29. (Click Here to access the book.) What's more, the companion book, "Lincoln County Crucible" is also on sale at the same time for just $.99-cents on Amazon.
The woman is heartless; she's insistent on exposing readers, old or new, to my books. She cares not in the least whether we make money from the sales of those books, only that you read them. That's the WHY she insists on all the special sales--to encourage you to read my stuff. Eventually there'll be new titles offered (I already have two new books written that are just waiting in the wings until Jane establishes substantial numbers in her reading audience.
And don't forget the new look for "The Dogged and the Damned" when it's presented in e-book form, probably in August:
While you wait, though, think BLOODY MERCHANTS WAR and LINCOLN COUNTY CRUCIBLE. For $.99-cents each, how can you not do so? Click Here.
BLOODY MERCHANTS WAR FREE
Within my Valediction For Revenge Western series, there are two books about the best known feud in the annals of western America: New Mexico's Lincoln County War. The two books include a list of characters from infamy: Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, John Chisum, Alexander McSween, John Tunstall, Susan McSween, Jimmy Dolan . . .
The first of the two, "Bloody Merchants War" takes the feud up to and through the bloody five day gunbattle where McSween and a number of his men were cut down trying to flee their burning home. That book is offered FREE for five days on Amazon's Kindle Store, beginning June 24. Click Here
The second book, "Lincoln Country Crucible" continues on as a new Territorial Governor tries to gain control over the rampant evil loosed in Southeastern New Mexico. "Lincoln County Crucible" will also go on sale at a much-reduced price beginning July 1.
Watch for them. Download them. They're pretty darned accurate historical fiction.
My last "Mountain Musing" touched on the certainty that some real-time facts can be too unbelievable for a novelist to include in a work in progress. And I cited a scene from my book "The Dogged and the Damned," where a sheriff's posse surrounded an escaped mental patient from a veteran's hospital. Though the scene was crafted from newspaper clippings of the event, clippings that I collected over fifty years ago, I scissored his escape down until, though still amazing, was less shocking. And more believable.
That book, presently in paper edition, will soon be available as an e-book. Though the story hasn't been altered from print to electronic, it's presentation will be far different, reflecting the "thriller" tale that really did occur in the mountains and forests surrounding my hometown, during my youth.
The title will remain the same: "The Dogged and the Damned." But the new e-book cover will better reflect the tragic story of an ex-combat soldier suffering the mental effects of World War II battle scars during his second war at home.
Watch for it.
* And watch for "Bloody Merchant's War" to be given away FREE at Amazon's Kindle Store, beginning Monday, June 24.
Sometimes it is said that "truth" can be more unbelievable than "fiction." There may be a kernel of truth there. For instance, I wrote a novel based loosely on a series of events occurring in the mountains of Southwestern Oregon, where I came to manhood. The events took place at a U.S. Veterans Hospital in the 1950s, and concerned a patient suffering debilitating mental trauma from a series of battles during World War II; we now call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
Over the course of hospital incarceration, the patient bolted several time in order to live by his wits in the surrounding forests and mountains. Each time he was brought back. During his last attempt at freedom the patient engaged in a firefight with 17 surrounding posse members, escaping through their cordon, but wounding a deputy during the dash.
I wrote my book, "The Dogged and the Damned" as fiction, largely because records of mental treatment are sealed. But the several instances of the patient's escapes and escapades were well-reported through local and national news media, even making the pages of the "New York Times."
But, in the scene where my protagonist broke through the police cordon, I did not utilize all of my researched press clippings because, in my view, few readers would've believed reports of the actual events.
I had my guy breaking through a ring of seven deputies, where the actual cordon included seventeen! Nor did I include the fact that those 17 deputies was buttressed by an armored car! Nor did I reveal that those deputies threw sticks of dynamite at the log my hospital escapee hid behind in an attempt to drive him from his refuge. I did, however, follow the news reports in one regard: I had my guy armed with a .22 single-shot rimfire rifle, whereas deputies in the cordon surrounding him were armed with 12-gauge riot guns.
Now I ask, which is more believable: Fact? Or fiction?
My e-book "Chocolate Legs" is on sale on Amazon's Kindle Store this week for just $.99-cents.
The email dropped into my "in" box quite by surprise:
I just came across your Anasazi video on YouTube. Wow. What a commentary. I love your writing style and delivery and I know it's not really something you can be taught. You either have it, or not.
Would you be interested in writing for and voicing a new adventure travel documentary/series . . . ?
It's an idea I've had in my head for years and I now have the contacts to potentially make it happen.
The writer goes on to to mention remote places Jane and I have visited through our years hiking the Southwest. Then he reveals that he "owns a small video TV commercial production company in (may God help me!) the UK," ending with:
Let me know what you think. We're putting the pitch together over the next few weeks.
That Anasazi show can be accessed by clicking here.
What do I think? For one thing, I think most serious writers dream of someday doing screen work, even writers like me with no experience in the medium. But I also think I feel a warm glow that a professional from (to me) outer-space evaluated my stuff and recognized merit in the synthesis between "writing style and delivery." A would-be scribbler who labors a lifetime in the boondocks might never get that kind of affirmation.
I've been around long enough, though, not to expect too much from this cyberspace connection. On the other hand, perhaps you'll see a photo spread in The Guardian about a rich and famous Montana screenwriter (wearing an ascot) strolling down Picadilly.
* The sale for "Learning To Talk Bear"e-books continues for three more days. And tomorrow will see "Dance On the Wild Side"go on sale for just $2.99 in Amazon's Kindle Store: CLICK HERE
Have you ever been caught up in trivial routines that become habit-forming? Of course you have; we all have. Reading the daily newspaper from A to Z was a routine I had to break by finally discontinuing its delivery. I became a slave by scanning the front page, then turning to cartoon strips and the sports page. Pretty quickly I moved on to the editorial page and the outdoors page. Suddenly I was captured by Police Reports and the obituary page. Blink an eye and I'm onto the advertising section, and from there to the society section. When I found myself actually contemplating trying a crossword puzzle I was suddenly jolted back to reality: I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR ANY OF THIS!!!
Jane has two friends who are caught up by garage sales. I have a couple of buddies who cannot NOT stop for a beer on their way home from work. Now it's text messaging for kids of all ages, and internet games for the thoughtless.
In the absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily or weekly or hourly or monthly trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.
Tragically I sometimes find myself doing routine stuff because it's easy and comforting when I should be tackling something far more portentious and ultimately, more rewarding. Damn you, Roland! Get your head screwed on straight!
"Learning to Talk Bear," in case you missed it when it was free on Amazon's Kindle page, went on sale yesterday for $4.99 in e-book. CLICK HERE to go to the sale link.
June 3, 2013
I'm not much into television. We once had a television set; still have it, actually. But we only use it for watching movies borrowed from friends, or ones ordered from Netflix. As it turns out, we couldn't use the big-eyed box for watching television if we wanted, because when the networks moved from analog to digital and told us we must buy a black box converter in order to continue watching their manifestos from above, I asked, "Why?"
You see, we weren't watching TV anyway, and the set was gathering dust. My take on network news is that I'm not into fantasy. And as fas as game shows go, I consider ourtoors living a greater show than Fox or NBC or CBS can conjure from their artificial make-believe.
Tell the truth, when nattering neighbors talk of LeBron James or American Idol I haven't any idea about their subject at hand and care not that I'm feckless, restless, or clueless. Neither do I spend time gnawing the bone of Washington's latest budget crisis or the impending rise of China to superpower status. Politics is boring and religion would be too, were the forms to which it invariably evolves weren't so maniacal, fratricidal, homicidal, and genocidal.
But let's go back to America's Idol. Is that something to which I might aspire? Naw, Roland, forget it--you'll never make an American Idol, but you might find your place in some folks' nightmares.
* On June 5, "Learning To Talk Bear" will go on sale on Amazon's Kindle store for $4.99. You save two dollars from the list price.
Well, we went all in with "Learning To Talk Bear," our best selling book, giving it away FREE as e-books on Amazon in the hopes we could develop readers who wanted more of my stuff. I prepped for the promo effort via this "Mountain Musing" blog, and my "Campfire Culture" blog for a couple weeks prior. Jane programmed several promotional venues, including some paid advertising. And we posted the giveaway program on Facebook and Twitter. So what happened?
On Monday, the first of the five giveaway days, 238 "Talk Bear" books were downloaded AND 112 "Dance On the Wild Side" (which somehow got listed as FREE at the same time).
Though bewildered, we decided, since our objective is to expose readers to my work, that no harm was being done. But we shook our head at the fact that a book with no promotion at all, was downloading half as many as one we've promoted the heck out of.
Imagine our surprise the next morning when "Dance On the Wild Side" was outperforming our best selling "Learning To Talk Bear" by two-to-one! By the end of day two, over 900 "Dance" books had been downloaded to 400 "Bear" books! But what was even more surprising is that "Dance On the Wild Side" shot up to #2 in the free book category of "Love & Romance" and #2 in "Adventurers & Explorers". ("Learning To Talk Bear") made #2 in the "Conservation" category.)
I'm not sure how much longer "Dance On the Wild Side" will remain FREE since we didn't initiate the process. But the link to Amazon's page where you can order the book FREE (at least through today) is: http://amzn.to/VVrt1R
'"Learning To Talk Bear" will remain FREE through tomorrow (Friday, May 31). The link to that FREE book is: http://amzn.to/YDBck5
Okay, this is our big experiment in introducing readers to my books: until Friday, May 31, we're giving away my best selling book FREE on Amazon's Kindle Store http://amzn.to/YDBck5. Should you wish more information about the book, your best source is to go to my bookstore, where each of my books are described in detail: http://bit.ly/16AoNAs and even read the first chapter: http://bit.ly/13zieqA
"Learning To Talk Bear" is not about a monster grizzly bear standing over a prostrate maiden, blood dripping from his claws; it's about real bears in their everyday lives. It's about how they're trying to get along with us. And it's about what we have to do to get along with them.
"Learning To Talk Bear" delivered to your Kindle or I-Pad FREE is an entertaining, educational bargain. Take advantage of it.
"Why would you just give away your best-selling book?"
John is a friend, a successful businessman, now retired. Simply giving away "Learning To Talk Bear" in e-book form beginning May 27 (via Amazon's Kindle store), to him, flies in the face of good business prudence. (Actually I think he worries about us.)
"We're hoping to expose more people to the quality of my writing, John." We were sitting on steam room benches at an athletic club where we're both members. When it was obvious the guy still struggled with the concept, I added, "There's considerable evidence that such promotional efforts have worked in other cases."
I wondered at the attraction his toes seemed to have for him. Then he nodded and cleared his throat. "Well, we have around 60 members in our hiking group and I sent out an email to all of them advising them that, if they haven't already read this book, that your offer provides a great opportunity for them to do so."
I smiled. "See?"
That's the why for Jane's FREE e-book. Let your friends and neighbors--even your enemies--know they can get Roland's best-selling book at no cost to them. Your sound advice will confound your enemies, and your friends and neighbors will thank you for letting 'em know about a book that can benefit them. Send them a link to this "Mountain Musing" blog: http://bit.ly/YIzLde where they can easily link to the book's most informative description Click Here via its page on my bookstore.
Watch this blog next Monday, May 27, for a direct link to a FREE "Learning To Talk Bear" on Amazon Kindle's Store.
Jane will begin a huge e-book promotion on Amazon's Kindle store in a week. Heretofore, we've provided links to our books on Kindle, and we'll do so again at the appropriate time. But all of a sudden, it struck me that Amazon isn't the best place to get information about my books--that place would be our website!
Learning To Talk Bear? Click Here for the most informative link to that book. It goes directly to that book's page on our own bookstore. From there, you can also Click Here to read the first chapter, another link to keeping our readers "best" informed!
My website bookstore is also the best place to read reviews about each of my books, whether you choose to buy them elsewhere or from us, in e-books or as print-on-paper. No one else either, can or will, provide as much information as the guy who wrote the book(s).
Try 'em; sit back and enjoy.
Jane: my packmate for upwards of six decades
We were sitting side by side, watching a meadow in the hopes we'd spot a grizzly bear. Instead a red fox trotted out. I nudged Jane and pointed, raising my binoculars. The fox appeared to be trolling for ground squirrels, wandering from grass tussock to grass tussock. I handed the glasses to my wife who studied the animal before it disappeared down into a swale where a tiny creek trickled. We hoped he would reappear on our side of the meadow, which he did, perhaps a hundred yards away.
Jane saw him first as he trotted up and into view. We traded the glasses back and forth. "Pretty," she murmured.
"I don't think he even knows we're here," I whispered, handing her the glasses. Just as she raised the binocs for a clear view, the fox turned away from us and raised his white-tipped tail straight into the air.
"He just gave us the finger!" Jane exclaimed.
* Remember that Headwater Montana is serializing my "Learning To Talk Bear" chapter on the Giefer Griz in their website: http://www.headwatersmontana.com/
* And don't forget Jane's big e-book promotion of "Learning To Talk Bear" coming May 27 - 31
When I first saw the old Post Office it was a log cabin dug into a gravel glacial bench. At that time, the split shake roof was still intact, and much of one interior wall was lined with tiny 4-inch by 6-inch cubicles where incoming mail was stuffed for the surrounding homesteaders. I didn't count the cubicles, but if memory serves me correctly there had to be thirty or forty, each serving one of the dozens of settler families with already established land claims before Glacier Park was set aside as a National Park in 1910.
The character-building wagon road from Belton (now West Glacier) snaked some forty miles up and over the benchland once under ice during the latest glacial epoch, diving down into and out of the many cascading streams draining the west side of the mountains of Glacier. The wagon road, still today, stands less as an engineering marvel than an endurance miracle, as anyone daring to drive it today in a modern 4X4 will attest. But consider those days: in a farm wagon without springs! The road actually reached another twenty miles beyond the old Post Office, to the Canadian Line, near where prospect holes for oil and gas drill rigs attested to yet another world for we human dreamers.
The '88 Red Bench wildfire that swept east from the Red Meadow Creek drainage to burn the old pole bridge entry to the Park Ranger Station, also jumped the river to burn through Big Prairie, consuming the ramshackle, now defunct Post Office. But on this year's Mother's Day, while Jane and I hiked the country where the dugout building once stood, I sat and studied on its logistics:
For the dozens of homestead families dwelling far from civilization, going to town in a farm wagon constituted at least a week's round-trip journey. Perhaps a visit to town twice each year? I wondered how many of these sorts of Post Offices was scattered throughout the West, where settlers were isolated from railtracks and auto highways? I'll bet there were lots of mail collection points in, say, 1918. Post Offices then were probably located in some homesteaders front room, perhaps with cubicles for each neighbor's mail.
Today, there're email and smart phones with text messaging. Today, real brick and mortar Post Offices are shutting down. Meanwhile the ones still open are contemplating curtailing hours and services. Post Offices as a thing of the past? As the dugout Post Office at Big Prairie in Glacier Park can attest, it's not entirely unthinkable.
* Don't forget Jane's big "Learning To Talk Bear" promotion coming up beginning May 27.
May 9, 2013
We took a little ramble last Saturday--Jane and me. The Wolf Creek Trailhead begins off the route to Jewel Basin, just as the road begins its climb up into the Swan Range Mountains. The trail is a steady, but gradual, ascent. There was a time when we moved faster and steadier, but the years take their toll. Nevertheless, the air was just as sweet, the forest just as enchanting, flowers just as gorgeous, and the company just as delightful as when we were younger and still just as madly in love.
We paused where the trail turned the corner to slant down into the Wolf Creek cataract and decided its view of the Swan Valley was sufficiently beguiling to warrant a lunch stop. I chose a spot along the trail that seemed devoid of grass tufts and brush shoots, shrugged from my daypack, and took a seat with a view. Jane sprawled beside me.
It's that time of year, so we were cognizant of ticks,but thus far had not encountered so much as one of pesky little varmints. It is said they inhabit grass tufts and brush shoots while waiting to hitch a ride on some unsuspecting warm-blooded creature. I usually wear light-colored clothing and hiking shorts while trodding tick country; if I can't see 'em, at least I can feel them as they work their way up my luscious body.
I'd not taken two bites from my sandwich until I discovered two ticks climbing up my left calf. I pointed them out to Jane while chuckling and plucking them away. She said, "There's another--no, two more--on your sock/" My boot was resting in the bare trail, there was gravel and soil all around where we sat. "There's another crawling up your boot laces." All in all, I picked upwards of 20 ticks from my left leg, stocking, and shoe. Jane sitting next to me on that side found one crawling on her. And I had but two on my right leg.
We never found where they were coming from--out of the ground maybe. Does bear spray work on ticks?
* Don't forget Jane's big promotion for our best selling "Learning To Talk Bear" coming up soon.
* And remember Headwaters Montana who is serializing the book's chapter on the Giefer Grizzly on their website: http://www.headwatersmontana.com/
Along toward the end of this month (in exactly three weeks, actually) Jane is planning a huge promotion on our best selling book. Look for the Amazon Kindle version of "Learning To Talk Bear" (pictured below).
Or order print copies from us: Click Here
Meanwhile Jane will spend her Mother's Day as usual, looking for grizzly bears. (She lets me tag along.) "Learning To Talk Bear" also contains chapters on a few of our bear watching adventures. But the heart of the book lies in the actual profiles of individual bears as they go about their work and play, as revealed through studies of the great beasts by trained biologists monitoring them through radio telemetry.
FYI, Headwaters Montana, the sterling conservation group who regularly carries my "contributing column"
has begun a six-part series on the Giefer Grizzly (lifted from ch. 21 of "Learning To Talk Bear"), perhaps Northwest Montana's best known bear; one who regularly practiced cabin renovations all over the Flathead's North Fork on both sides of the border. Check in to Headwater's website to follow the series: http://www.headwatersmontana.com/
The kids were from somewhere in New York; Ithaca, I believe. They weren't really kids, but college students on an Outward Bound excursion. Thus far, they said, they'd been out for 81 days, and had but little more than a week to go before their three-month tour was over.
Two were attractive young ladies, six were handsome young men. All were cheerful, planning to overtake their group leader somewhere out on the mesa top and make camp. A few minutes before, their enthusiasm waned when they discovered the waterhole they sought (marked on their map) was dry and they feared they'd have to backtrack to a spring they'd left six miles back. Then advance members from our hiking group loomed on their return to the trailhead. One, Lacy, had a five-gallon jug of water in the back of his pickup. Talk about a career track to popularity!
They filled their water bottles and prepared to catch their leader about the time the straggler in our group (me) walked out to greet them. I told them I'd talked to their leader a half-hour earlier. She, too, was an extraordinarily fit young lady between twenty-five and thirty who carried an enormous pack. Sweat trickled freely down the faces of both of us. I asked if she had a beer in that pack? She smiled and said, "I wish!"
Theirs was a three month adventure, river rafting on the Colorado and San Juan, scaling cliffs, hiking deserts--all for college credits. Where was Outward Bound when I needed it as a rebellious teenager? My thoughts, though, ran to water. The land they trekked on this day was an unforgiving one for persons without water. And had not Lacy came to their rescue, they might've been in dire straits.
When Jane and I first began visiting Utah's canyonlands a couple of decades ago, it required a decidedly different paradigm in thinking: water became paramount over any other consideration. Were we carrying enough? Was an emergency source available somewhere along our route? Those youths came near to learning a hard lesson--except that my friend (who understands the essential nature of always being prepared) came to their rescue.
Saw a kid flying a kite the other day. He obviously knew what he was doing because the kite was lofting and gliding, dipping and swooping with aplomb. The kite had a long red tail that waved merrily to all below. There was a brisk breeze and the kid knew enough to take advantage of it. But it started me wondering. . . .
How many of today's boys have a kite ready to hand in case the wind blows? When I was a tad, all boys had kites laying around in barn loft or attic for easy access if a tempest threatened. I've even draped one or two over powerlines or into maple trees myself. Frankly, I was never good with kites. But there are boys of all ages, from seven to seventy, who are good at it. And there are places and times when they don't mind showing off how good they can be.
One such place is Long Bearch, Washington, just north of the mouth of the Columlbia River. Jane and I stumbled on it while looking for a place to just hike along the ocean. What we didn't know was Long Beach is one of the premier places in the entire world to go fly a kite. In fact, the Kite Flying Hall of Fame is there, along with the World Kite Museum.
On the day Jane and I strolled its beach, there were dozens of kites flying, being handled by dozens of boys, some of whom wore whiskers down to their breastbones. And what kites! There were box kites with two guide strings. Some were double box kites with four strings. A few even guided multiple dimension kites with EIGHT strings. The things those god-like kiters could do--even dipping and diving to music--made my dreams as a 10-year-old seem moribund in the extreme.
By the way, there's 20 miles of beach at Long Beach. A beautiful stretch of sand. And ocean. And kites.
Stewart Adams sound advice passed along in my April 11 blog seems so insightful, I think I'll leave it up for your inspirational pleasure for another few days. I will, however, pass along a couple of humorous lines the guy emailed me after reading the way I used his name in vain:
"Roland, you're a master of the 'Sara Dippity' deliveries. I was not only surprised but delighted at the encouraging contents of the blog.
"Just as a parallel thought: have you ever considered writing for a living? I think you're really talented!"
Stewart Adams is a phenomenal guy. I met him at an athletic club where Jane and I go for exercise twice each week. I also visited with Stew's wife Debbie while we both rode parallel stationary bicycles. Somehow, during our time on the side-by-sides, Debbie pointed to a nearby treadmill where an average-sized, white-haired guy plodded steadily on. "That's my husband," she said.
I waved and he waved back. "He has Parkinson's disease," she murmured.
"Oh! I'm sorry."
"He won't quit. He's had it for a couple of years now and he's determined to fight it as long as he can."
Since that time, perhaps four years ago, I've talked often with Stew; the last just a couple of days ago. He was adjusting some weights on a machine when I wandered up to chat with a guy I've learned is always cheerful and upbeat. By way of an ice-breaker, I said, "You're looking good."
He chuckled. "As good as what?"
"Well, Stewart, you don't look a damn bit worse than you did the last time I saw you. And for either of us, given our age, that's a victory."
He paused with the weights in his hand and peered at me from pale blue eyes and a fading smile. "What else can we do?" When I shrugged, he said, "I have a friend with a bad heart condition who asked me the other day what he could do? He said, given his weak heart, that he can't walk any more." Stew leaned forward and murmured, "I told him, then crawl!"
I thought about what Stew said on my way home and decided it's advice that begs to be passed along in my blog. If you can't run, then walk. And if you can't walk, then crawl. But don't--ever! ever!--give up!
Stewart and Debbie Adams own Bear Mountain Mercantile in downtown Whitefish, Montana--a business they plan on operating 50 or 60 years hence. I hope they make it. And I hope I'm around to take his advice.
I doubt if she could meet the Pony Express's exacting delivery standards, but she's certainly capable of traveling their kinds of distances . . . in spades! Her name is Benice Ende. I met her at a Back Country Horseman state convention in Kalispell over the weekend. She rides horses for fun 'cause she enjoys it.
So what? you might ask. Lots of people ride horses for fun. The difference between Bernice and the rest of us is that when Bernice takes her ponies out for a spin, she sometimes doesn't stop for a COUPLE OF THOUSAND miles! In 2005, the lady rode 2,000 miles across country. But that was merely a warm up for '06 and '07 when she went out stargazing and never came back until 5,000 trail miles had passed beneath her pony's feet. Let's see, she took time to catch her breath in 2008 and only logged 3,000 miles, then with her engines fully tuned turned in 6,000 miles in '09 & 2010 before settling in to allow a leisurely winter in her Trego home.
I'd say her Continent-spanning trail rides constitutes a terminal case of wanderlust. But what the heck? She's doing what she wants, and more power to her. Soon she hopes to begin a ride across Canada from the shores of the Pacific to soak her ponies tired feet in Atlantic saltwater before calling it quits.
Bernice tracked me down in a convention hallway to tell me how much she appreciates Back Country Horsemen and the fact that they're helping to keep trails open for horseback riders across America.
"Why me?" I asked.
She said it was because I had something to do with BCH's beginning. "Last year," she said, "they would've closed a lot of trails to horse use in Nevada and I wouldn't have been able to ride through the state had not Back Country Horsemen been there to prevent it."
I guess what the lady said is true. There are BCH chapters in most western states, and some in the east. The expansion of the outfit has indeed exceeded most folk's wildest dreams.
You can contact Bernice Ende via email: email@example.com. But don't be surprised if her response is slow in come; Pony Express Way Stations are few and far between on the routes she travels.
"The Elysium End," about an old man who wants to die and the horse he detests (who doesn't) will be offered FREE for four days, beginning tomorrow, April 5 on Amazon's Kindle store. The Elysium End. CLICK HERE
There are many good writers from Alaska, but in my mind there is only one great one. I became enamored with Nick Jans' work when he was still teaching Eskimo kids how to dribble a basketball and diagram sentences out where feeder streams from the Brooks Range get their second wind splashing into the mighty Yukon. I started with his Tracks of the Unseen, liked it enough to wish to know more about his up-and-down teaching career with the Inupiat Eskimos via The Last Light Breaking, then began unseemly salivating when I heard Nick was telling the Timothy Treadwell story through the eyes of the best damned writer in Alaska: The Grizzly Maze: Timothy Treadwell's Fatal Attraction To Alaskan Bears.
Nick married and moved from the Alaskan bush to the islands of Southeast Alaska (though I'm unsure which came first, the move or the marriage). But there, he branched out into newspaper columns and continued his excellent magazine work. And he's still writing books. If Nick Jans sounds a little bit like Roland Cheek, that's exactly what I want you to think. And why wouldn't I? Nick's a better writer.
Just yesterday, the guy posted this email to the Montana guy who he thinks writes pretty good books about grizzly bears: Glad to hear you're still kicking. Me, too. Working on first edit of my 10th book, A Wolf Called Romeo, out with Houghton Mifflin spring 2014. Good luck with your efforts...Cheers, Nick
So now Nick is about to release another wildlife book; this one about a wolf.
Move over Farley Mowat.
Despite the plethora of "Chinese fire drills" that occurred during our last FREE promotional efforts at making my work available to readers everywhere, my wife is undaunted and will try again. This time, beginning April 5 and lasting for four days, my short fiction, "The Elysium End" will be available for FREE downloads on Roland Cheek's page at Amazon's Kindle store.
"The Elysium End" is a man-and-horse story about a terminally ill old man who no longer believes he has any reason for living. The story unfolds through the preparations the sick man has made to ensure an honorable death amid his own favorite and very private place.
The only flaw in the man's elaborate plan was that his horse--the ugly white mare he detests and who he believes detests him--has other ideas. FREE Friday, April 5 - 8 for loading into your reading devices at Roland's page on Amazon's Kindle store. Friday, April 5 through Monday, April 8.
I think you'll like it--a story with heart.
By the way, my Campfire Column blog for the week talks about bears and daylight saving time. I'm not sure of the connection, either. But you might want to CLICK HERE to see if you can make any sense out of it.
It's that time of year. Every year it happens. Damned wildlife exhibitionists!
From about this time in March until the last week in April, wildlife insists on putting on roadside displays, apparently satisfied that hunting season is long-gone, winter is just past, and greening shoots are pushing up through last year's dead grass.
Every Monday and Thursday morning, Jane and I work out at an athletic club in Whitefish. We leave home at 7:00a.m. and return around 11:00a.m. Today there were 40 - 50 head of elk grazing in a pasture just west of the still-winterized waterslide at the junction of U.S. 2 and MT 206. Then there was another herd southwest of the Blue Moon nightclub (junction of U.S. 2 and MT 40), and a small bunch along the Whitefish River.
At the athletic club, Eddie told me his wife spotted a mountain lion in their yard (north of Spencer Lake) the day before, so he ambled into the nearby forest and discovered a fresh deer kill. He and a friend put up "trail cameras" (triggered by motion sensors) and within 45 minutes had pictures of two of the tawny cats feeding on the carcass.
On the way home, the only elk still out at mid-day were 9-head near the Blue Moon corner. But turkeys were strutting their stuff across the highway from where the waterslide elk had been. The big herd had no doubt moved out or bedded down. But the pasture where they grazed was really exposed, with scant cover nearby. So my guess is they moved some distance before siesta-time. Meanwhile, the turkeys:
I presume gobblling will soon be echoing from copses and hollows. Our resident China rooster cackled yesterday--probably merely practicing up for spring training. But we took considerable pleasure that he's decided to make our place his home.
I'm even thinking of crowing or cackling or bugling or gobbling a little.
Being able to roll with the punches is important to the psyche of any writer, self-published or otherwise. For instance, yesterday my lifetime "packmate" (Jane) placed one of my $.99-cent essays ("Chickens & Eggheads") free at Amazon's Kindle Store for five days. The essay is about how today's historians are so insistent that school texts have every "eye" dotted and every "tee" crossed that the result is such dry, boring texts that they're killing any love for reading among their dry, bored students.
That was Jane's intent. Her plan was then to begin five free days of my book of short stories, "My Best Work Is Done At the Office," on March 26. In order to implement her overall schedule, she'd put considerable effort into promoting the "Chickens & Eggheads" title prior to its free release, and none at all for the short story book, planning on beginning its promos next week. But Amazon screwed up!
Amazon screwed up by releasing both books free at the same time. When she discovered the mix-up Jane tried immediately to get the short story book's release back in its proper time slot. But stopping a behemoth like Amazon is tough, and even turning them is hard. So the upshot is that both books were free at the same time, one with promotion behind it, the other with none.
So what happened? There were, on the first day, almost four times more free downloads for "My Best Work Is Done At the Office" than for "Chickens & Eggheads."
You can check both titles out at Roland Cheek's page on the Kindle Store by clicking Here. At the time this blog is released, the short story book is still free, but we anticipate it will be pulled at any time, then go up free again, as was planned, on March 26. But check out the page and see.
Throughtout our long and often misdirected life, nature has occasionally mesmerized us with a few surprising, sometimes thrilling, sometimes terrorizing, sometimes bewildering glimpses into the manifold riches of its wildlife bounty. The most rewarding of those glimpses are always sudden and unexpected, usually breathtaking, often shocking . . . and exceedingly memorable.
*Like our awakening to first daylight one morning to a red fox family cavorting outside our bedroom windows: mother and three juvenile delinquents bounding, between shade trees, tussling through flower beds, chasing across lawn grass. They kept it up for an hour as we stood side by side at the windows, oohing and awing at unrestrained nature in full display.
*Like the flying squirrel who skipped to a nearby bird feeder as my friend Bill grilled steaks while we discussed weighty world affairs.
*Like the flight of 22 mallards who plunged into two-feet of snow between my woodpile and a willow shelterbelt; a decision made manifest by low clouds and a blinding snowstorm. I might've missed the once-in-a-lifetime event had I not been staring out my office window as I wrestled with a thorny sentence structure.
*But of all nature/s surprises, our favorite was the day the ringed turtle dove fluttered down to the same woodpile where I worked splitting and stacking. I grinned and stacked while he cocked an eye to watch. Then I murmured a greeting and laid fingers within inches of the bird as he shuffled six additional inches away. I called Jane; we marveled that the bird demonstrated no real desire to leave. She got a pan with birdseed scattered on the bottom and soon had the dove she named "Feller" perched on the pan rim eating. He rode the pan all the way inside our home, where he spent the winter in the master bathroom.
That bathroom was airy, with big windows to the outside. And "Feller" seemed reasonably content--until spring--when "Willard," the mourning dove showed up and we discovered that "Feller" wasn't a feller at all as the two doves began a cooing conversation and "Willard" tried to beat the windows down.
When Jane released her winter guest to "Willard's" tender loving care, the two doves hung around for a few days, embarrassing us with their cooing and fondling, then they absconded for their honeymoon.
Foxes on the patio, mallards burying into front yard snow, flying squirrels to barbecues, and ringnecked turtle doves on a woodpile are all unpredictable. And perhaps it's that unpredictability that makes them so special.
Jeff Laszlo writes: "The thought of freedom and ownership was a radical concept to someone from a place where neither were allowed."
Jeff's comment related to a "Campfire Culture" blog I'd written about viewing the American dream through the eyes of European immigrants fleeing pograms, serfdom and military conscription. Within that blog, I wrote of the Finlander, the Polack, the Russky who received 160 acres of stark prairie land by merely promising to live on it for five years. "So what that they nearly starved? They were on the threshold of starvation in their birthland anyway. Here, at least they OWNED LAND."
The full text of Jeff Laszlo's response embodies those immigrants' opportunities; a fulfillment of their dreams. Is it any wonder their roots were as firm as their love for the adoptive land?
My grandfather came to the US from Russia as a teenager. I am told he came in servitude. He ended up in Butte Montana after a brief time in OH. In Butte he peddled supplies to miners and ranchers from a catalog. He eventually owned a hotel and brokered railroad tickets, buying round trips and selling them as one ways for a profit. In the late 30s he bought ranch land that was worth pennies per acre. Today [that] ranch is quite valuable. He sent his children to Exeter not knowing where or what it was but he had heard one of The Copper Kings had sent a son there and said "If its good enough for him it's good enough for me." The thought of freedom and ownership was a radical concept to someone from a place where neither were allowed.
Quite a concept isn't it, freedom and ownership? It's probable that we, who've never known a place where it's not allowed, cannot fully grasp the hopelessness and powerlessness of those fleeing a dead-end existence. Had the Russian serf dwelling in constant fear of a Cossack pogram even heard that he could have land FREE in the New World just by asking? AMERICA, where streets are paved with gold! Where land is given to anyone who asks! You can have the gold, I'll take THE LAND!
It was the American dream.
It still IS the American dream!