It only took just shy of a year to put some new words down on paper and create a blog post... better late than never? Right??
Over that year, I was fortunate enough to travel a conservative estimate of 19,182 miles which included stops in 6 different countries (brief stops, but I'll count 'em) and 11 different states. So, after a spring season of traveling, another summer on a ranch in Cody, WY, a hectic four month film post-production internship in Boulder, CO, and a needed reset in my hometown of Canterbury, NH for the Holiday season, I am back here in.... Wyoming. Wapiti, Wyoming to be exact. Wapiti is an unincorporated community that lies right about half way between the town of Cody and the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park. It's an interesting mix of Betsy Devos level wealthy mansions that line the ridges of the valley claiming the most expansive views (her family has multiple properties in town and, fun fact, Wapiti is home to the school that was the source of her rational that teachers might need to be armed due to the need to fend of bears during her congressional hearing) and Ol' Rancher Dan level poor ranches that line the lower river banks. Together, however, the homes lay nestled into nooks and crannies of a valley formed by water flow eons ago, and sit within some of the most breathtaking views I have seen. Almost by default, this neck of the woods in northwestern Wyoming is starting to feel most like home as it's the area I have spent the most time since graduating college two years ago.
I am back in the area to work for the owners of Crossed Sabres Ranch in the off-season doing a mix of labor and media tasks -- the days range from fence building to photo taking. Not a bad mix at all. Though I have spent three summers working in the north-west region of Wyoming, this is my first extended stay during the winter months. It's cold. It's often cloudy. But more often that not it's beautiful. It's beautifully cold and cloudy? That might be going too far. There is a definite beauty to the remoteness which I took the opportunity to enjoy and explore on a recent weekend.
The town of Wapiti sits in a valley that runs east-west. East is to Cody, west to Yellowstone. The flat basin of the valley is maybe one mile across before rolling foothills begin to boil up from the ground, exponentially running steeper as they soar up to 10,000+ foot glaciated peaks. Somewhere between the folds of rolling foothills, private ranch property starts to end and untouched wilderness spreads to both the north and south. To the north is the tail end of the Absaroka Mountain Range and, were the crow to fly quite a ways, eventually the jagged peaks of the Beartooths in southern Montana. To the south lies the Shoshone National Forest, one of the largest in the country at 2.5 million acres, and beyond that designated wilderness area. In particular, there is a region just south of the ranch property known as the Thorofare, a land of forests and jagged peaks considered to be the most remote area in the lower 48 that runs all the way down to Jackson Hole, WY. All of that to say, immense swaths of land for exploring is very close by. So on a day off and under a moody, low-hanging cloud ceiling, I began making my way toward a massive rock formation that juts out over the foothills behind the ranch. The convenient thing about open ranch lands and wilderness areas is there are rarely any trails to be followed. There are streams to jump, sage brush to wade through, and fences to cross, but beyond that you pick the path of least resistance and head toward where you want to go. Your curiosity is your compass.
While I did not have high hopes that my camera would be of much use, my timing could not have been better as I reached the rock buttress and sun rays began to slice through the dense clouds. This formation is so imposing and so jarring to the surrounding hills, it stands like some massive rock fortress that was dropped down as a front line of defense for the mountains behind it. The jagged outcroppings at its top were like ramparts that the sun was shining through. Hence why, I have dubbed it: Fortress Rock. I have yet to hear of an existing name, and I think mine suits it quite well. I took a good bit of time to sit, admire, and photograph this new area. The landscape in this area is so dramatic that a sense of scale is really hard to ascertain from ground level. And your perception of land features changes drastically as you move closer to or farther away from a location. What looks to be a
rock wall that all exists on a single plane from far away, slowly separates into two walls -- a smaller one set in front of the other with a massive valley dividing the two -- as you move closer. A meadow that seems to extend for miles from down below is slowly divided into multiple with shallow depressions in between as you gain elevation. So it was neat to observe this area I had been living in from a completely new perspective. Quite literally, it was a landscape I hadn't seen. Headwalls, valleys, saddles, and other features all became visible for the first time.
Not far into my return back to the ranch, I did a double take to my right. Standing perfectly still and looking at me was a ewe big horn sheep. I stopped and stared at her. In two years of being in an area known for their presence I had only seen one, and that was from a sizable distance. This ewe was maybe 200 feet away. As I was standing there, another female walked up beside her companion, and then another. And then two lambs popped up close behind. I couldn't believe it. I slowly set my camera
bag down and began to attach my telephoto lens. At best, I figured I would snap off a few shots from where I was and have to crop the image in to get a decent photo. I was not expecting them to start walking across the meadow diagonal to myself, cautious of my presence but not scared or disturbed to be sharing the space with me. As the small group got closer and closer, the shutter vomit with my camera became more real (shutter vomit refers to the uncontrollable opening and closing of a camera shutter as a photographer shoots away with reckless abandon for how many images will have to be deleted later). It's not like it was a black wolf, or a cow moose with her calf -- something really worth going nuts for -- but I had never had such a close encounter with wildlife in their natural habitat. It was humbling. It really reinforced the message that in this area, it's shared property. Wildlife doesn't understand human currency. We can buy and develop as much land as we want, but until they are backed out of their homes, animals will continue to coexist as best they can. And while big horn sheep are not necessarily predatory animals (although getting knocked by those horns, even a ewe's, would be damaging) it goes to show that in these areas, humans can very easily find themselves not at the top of the food chain.
As I hiked the rest of the way down, I thought about my short jaunt overall. My goal for the weekend had been to get out and get some good photography. There wasn't really much at all, at the start of my hike, that indicated there would be any chance for good photography along the way. My view was socked in 75% of the time. But I decided to give it a go regardless and in the end it turned out alright. Had I gone and been skunked with no view whatsoever and no animal sightings, I at least would have gotten some exercise out of it and the time wouldn't have been wasted. But had I not gone, had I not given it a shot, capturing the images that I did and having that encounter with wildlife never would have been a possibility. I think, therein, is a message I strive to apply more to my own life: it's always worth a shot. There will always be some lesson or subsequent experience that you can extract to make the effort worthwhile, to avoid ever calling something a waste. And who knows, maybe you hit a goldmine. But if you don't try, opportunities will pass by you never could have imagined. I was maybe a half mile from the ranch when I encountered those sheep. They could have passed by without me having a clue they were in the area, without even considering that they might be out there.
So try for things. You can't know what's out there with doing so.