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By Paul Ulrich, columnist
This time of year is tough in Wyoming. Early March brings the hope of spring, but Mother Nature gave us the spring of deception last week and did her best impression of Typhoid Mary and infected me with high level cabin fever.
Several inches of snow have fallen over the past day and more to come as I gaze out the window and dream of hauling my RV up the Wyoming Range for a weekend of fishing, hiking, campfires and loneliness.
My love of the outdoors started with camping. My family spent our summers camping in the Shoshone National Forest and the fall at hunting camps from Hams Fork to Franks Fork.
Our summer trips consisted of fishing and floating down the river, exploring the mountains, cooking in the Dutch oven, and gathering around the campfire in the evening. I found out later that we were camping all the time because we didn’t have enough money for vacations.
I can tell you that my little sister and I would not have traded a day in the mountains for Disneyland. We loved him, we still love him and we didn’t know the difference growing up. I’m not sure that’s going to change either. My older sister and I constantly discuss travel only to conclude that we just need more time in the mountains.
That’s what the mountains of Wyoming do. They embrace you like a favorite blanket with the promise of never letting go. They whisper in the wind and water that you are home and you belong. They create the best memories that for some reason never fade over time.
The memories, oh the memories and the lessons learned.
Camping like a child
My earliest favorite memories are with my little sister. We hiked and climbed trees, raced down hills in inner tubes, then hauled them down the river to float. We were covered in dirt and mud most of the time, but we didn’t care. We spent endless hours watching moose, deer, elk and occasionally bears.
As I got a little older, I started camping by myself. I was lucky to have a family that valued independence and was allowed to go out at a fairly early age. Years before I could drive, I would get dropped off alone or with a friend in the mountains with an appointment in a few days. This is where the hard lessons were learned. I didn’t always respect the power of mother nature, I wasn’t always prepared, and I was definitely a fool at times.
An early spring tent camping trip with a friend outside of Cody taught me to always, I mean always, respect the weather. Equipment distributed throughout our campsite and not secured or properly stored prepares the ground. A foot and a half of snow overnight and two unconscious children waking up with everything buried came next.
Obviously, this is long before cell phones and imagine two cold, wet, hungry children miles away from help. We couldn’t start a fire, find our food, and panic set in. Thank goodness my dad recognized the situation, and probably our stupidity, and arrived a day early to dig us up and take us home.
About a year later, seemingly better prepared, we were camping in Big Horn Basin in mid-summer. Again we were dropped off with our gear and off we went. A great trip with a rattlesnake encounter, arrowhead hunting and beautiful warm weather.
In fact, so hot that we poured out our water supply two days before we were picked up. The only source of water for miles was a cow pond. Now I wear a water filtration system. I didn’t then. How we survived drinking water the color of chocolate milk with the taste of cow pies, I have no idea.
don’t be silly
One of the hardest lessons I learned came at the wise age of 14. By then, I’m sure I felt bulletproof and had all the outdoor experience one could get. This lesson is categorized as “Don’t be silly”.
My friend DR and I planned a multi-day trip west of Meeteetse to one of my favorite drains. Pretty secluded area with good water and great hiking. We were ready for anything. The second day brought a beautiful sunny day with no clouds in the sky. What should two 14-year-old boys be doing in the middle of nowhere? The only possible answer was to catch some rays and work on that all-important tan.
Yeah, two idiots thought getting completely undressed was kind of a good idea. Imagine these two strutting towards Cody looking like David Hasselhoff. The reality was very, very different. After two hours of cooking, parts of us that have never seen the reality of the sun hitting.
We have accomplished something few have. Fried Rocky Mountain oysters and a remarkable bright red hue that could probably be seen from space. As prepared as I thought I was, sunscreen wasn’t in my bag, of course. At this point, the only option to ease the pain was to cover yourself in mud.
It’s not the kind of mud you’ll find in a spa in Jackson. It’s the kind that seeps into every pore, never washes off, and smells like everything that’s dead. But it worked, somehow.
Along with an unusually hard lesson about not being an idiot and being prepared, it led to an encounter that just might have haunted someone forever. During our entire trip, we only saw one other person. Here we are covered from head to toe in mud after a hike to a two-track near our camp.
A game warden comes around the corner and spots us. He drives slowly with a watchful look of bewilderment and perhaps fear. Are they human? Did society fall apart and I got into a Lord of the Flies situation? He never quit and never should have, but I still wonder what he was thinking.
gwritten off to a camper
Today, we have become campers and aspire to new trips and new adventures, alone or with family. The peace my wife and I enjoy on our getaways is priceless. I love sharing my favorite places in Wyoming with my family and creating great memories.
Passing on advice and lessons is also part of it and very rewarding.
Had a great family camping trip last summer where we got to share a first-hand lesson on burying your trash. Unfortunately, this becomes a problem in the backcountry and near developed campsites.
After setting up a campsite for five families and a dozen kids near Laramie, we discovered the surprises left for us by our neighbors with green license plates (sure guess but guess nonetheless).
Our dogs immediately started the worst Easter egg hunt ever and discovered no less than a dozen unburied trash presents. To support my claim of the origin of the Gifts is the supposed composition.
I think the combination of cannabis, granola, and craft beer IPA must be like crack for dogs. We buried, told children about the burial, and shared this story as much as possible in hopes that others will respect Mother Nature.
Of all the outdoor activities we love, camping is often the base, the launch. Preparing and setting up a good camp is, in itself, rewarding from backpacking to a multi-family outing. It sets the stage for the promise of solitude, exploration, or simply quality time with family and friends.
Camping also enables some of the things we cherish so much in Wyoming, such as stewardship, self-reliance, and learning from failure. Some of my fondest memories are camping with my son and passing on what I was taught. Grab your kids, family and friends and get out there.
I still love it all and after a lifetime of hard lessons and lots of good advice, the rules of camping for me are pretty simple. Be prepared, be respectful, and don’t be silly.
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