Phobias and More

I think I might have had a phobia or two or three; maybe I still do.  At times I seemed to have had irrational fears of doing something stupid.  Problem is that fear often comes true.  I appear to have a long history of doing stupid things.  My newest phobia concerned pulling my new/used Aliner camper to the Big Horn Mountains for a camping trip. What bad things lurked out there that would make my first trip a disaster?  It was too late now to worry.  I was on my way, camper in tow, attached to my Chevy Traverse. Whether I would end up proving my neurosis or not was yet to be discovered.

On this first trip I was driving alone except for my fears, phobias, and neurosis riding in the back seat ready to jump me at any moment.  Fortunately, interstate highway 25 heading north to Buffalo is an easy drive.  As I drove, I sang along with 50’s music on the radio.  My singing does hurt my ears but it also keeps the flies that are trapped in the car annoyed and buzzing about. I like to antagonize them before I shoo them out the window. I would not be alone once I arrived at Meadowlark as I was meeting members of the Casper Photography Association for our July photo field trip.

I could see in the rear view mirror, the white camper, with bubble shaped windows, all tucked into its folded travel position following me politely. That’s good!  If it was passing me, I’d be in trouble.  I do recall a similar situation I witnessed in Casper several years ago, but I was not directly involved.  Remembering this incident helped one of my phobias attempt to arise from the back seat.

Aliner camper trail parked at Meadowlark Lake in the Big Horn National Forest.

Aliner camper trail parked at Meadowlark Lake in the Big Horn National Forest.

With this particular circumstance, I was following an old, sliver, beat up pickup pulling a battered, faded green, utility trailer with lawn mowing equipment and piles of green grass in its bed. Hand painted on the tailgate in white was “Have mower, Will Travel” and a phone number.  They were headed east on 12th street laughing and visiting with each other and traveling a little faster than maybe they should have been.

They bounced over a dip in the road and I watched amazed as that darn dilapidated trailer popped right off the ball and became a detached independent vehicle traveling by itself apparently with a mind of its own.  It skedaddled to the left bouncing and speeding up as it headed north, green grass blowing out.  I’m sure that little trailer was thinking, “what fun.  I’m free. Wheee”.  It didn’t seem to have a care in the world as it galloped on it’s way.  The old pickup proceeded straight, the occupants still laughing and visiting unaware of their newly sovereign trailer.  That trailer merrily danced over the curb and spotted a small, beautiful, cream-colored boat innocently parked on the owner’s driveway.  The detached trailer made a beeline for that boat.  Its tongue, like a spear, bayoneted the watercraft flying right into the side coming to a stop only after all the trailer’s tongue had disappeared deep into the cream-colored hull of the boat.  Eventually, the driver of the pickup gave a double take, his cap flying off, as he finally noticed his trailer ram into the boat.  The pickup came to a screeching halt. I swerved to miss them.  No one was hurt so I kept on driving thanking my lucky stars it wasn’t my trailer or boat.

The vision of that trailer impaled in the boat was haunting me now as I traveled with my camper trailer following close behind me. I kept checking the rear view mirrors in case the camper had desires to travel independently.  I had made sure I had locked the ball hitch into place and fastened the safety cables.  If the trailer did mysteriously pop off, those cables would at least keep the trailer from scurrying into the other lane or the bar ditch.  Needless to say, I was relieved it didn’t go visiting during this drive.

Another fear was that the camper would get a flat tire, and I’d never know about it.  This fear (phobia?) also comes from my past.  As a teenager working for a rancher during “haying” out of Big Piney, Wyoming, I was given the simple task of driving an orange Allis-Charmer tractor sweep to some hay fields at the Johnson Place near Cottonwood Creek many miles to the north from the home place on South Piney Creek.

The first time I ever saw a sweep I thought it must be a manufacturing mistake. I walked around it with deep concern.  I had seen enough tractors to know that the smaller wheels go in front and the large ones were in the back.  This monstrosity was reversed. It must be the result of someone’s nightmare.  It was a freak. The large tires are in the front and the smaller steering tires were in the back.  Attached to the front just beyond the large tires was a rack of four steel teeth probably five feet long and each tooth about four inches in diameter.  It was designed to push wind-rowed loose hay in front of it with that horrendous rack of steel teeth. The seat sat in front of the engine instead of behind it as it would in a normal tractor.  The steering wheel sat even further in front and just behind the sweep head. How was I to drive such a mutant?

I wasn’t going to admit my fear to anyone.  All I needed to do was take the sweep and drive along some dirt roads I was familiar with and safely get the sweep into the hay fields of the Johnson Place. Any idiot could do that.   As a teenager, I was not about to admit I had reservations about driving such a thing.  I was full of fake confidence and swagger.  I’d told Bob, the rancher, I’d just pretend I was driving backwards but be going forward. He looked at me dubiously.  My stomach did flip flops.  Would Bob let me drive?  He didn’t have anyone else available for the drive. I was the bottom of the barrel and got elected as driver.

I was having a good old time driving, singing merrily, harmonizing with the sound of the engine serving as music.  Road dust trailed behind me creating a long rooster tail of reddish-colored dirt which swirled into the air making a cloud following above and behind me.  The tractor bounced and wobbled along with me steering.  I was living one of my boyhood dreams.  I was working on a ranch in Wyoming, sometimes being a cowboy, sometimes milking cows, sometimes fencing and now working the hay fields and driving a tractor even if  this tractor looked funny.  Not bad for a boy not long removed from Louisiana.   How much better could it get?  Fake confidence exuding from me more and more.

Not a care in world; waving at vehicles as they met me on the rutted, dirt road; minding my own business; never realizing or thinking about…. tires….. I was only 16 and rather new to driving. I never thought during the entire trip to turn my head and examine the steering tires. So, it was to my utter amazement when I arrived at my destination that I had been driving on a flat tire. The small left rear tire was flat ,and I hadn’t noticed it.  Fortunately only the bottom was flat.  Bob didn’t seem to think that was good enough and was somewhat upset to say the least.  I’m not sure how long I’d been driving on the flat.  The tire was ruined, but since the wheel was good enough, it didn’t need replaced.

Bob talked about firing me, but realized I was still the bottom of barrel as far as hands went, so he kept me on.  He screamed and cussed at me  for while.  He even wondered if my brain was a quart low.  I could tell he wasn’t an experienced cusser.  He wasn’t nearly as good at cussing as Everette. One could tell Everette was an experienced cusser.  Everette cussed fluently.  I knew that because earlier in the Summer back at the home ranch, John and an unnamed co-conspirator attempted to tip the out house over.  We never accomplished it.  How was anyone to know Everette was in it.  John and the unnamed co-conspirator didn’t see why he was using such eloquent cuss words.  After all, he climbed out of the out house and was hardly wet or messy.  That old cowboy sure could cuss, but that’s another story.

That tire deal was another example of my paranoia and stupidity that haunted me from my illustrious past as I pulled the camper ever northward on I25 finally arriving safe and secure.

It was fantastic trip with no flats and no runaway trailers.  The camper was very comfortable for the two nights I stayed there.  The photo club members were great friends and I enjoyed their company. We all managed to take some good photos.  It was a fun trip.  My phobias did not cause any problems.  What was I ever worried about?  Success!!  But wait, what is that lurking in the back seat???


This picture can not be taken while staying at the Holiday Inn, but can be if one stays at the campground on the hill above Meadowlark Lake.

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Lunacy At It’s Finest

People at times suspect I’m struck with bouts of lunacy.  Occasionally they might be correct.  On some of those occasions I was with the Casper Photography Association.  When that occurred I knew I was not alone with bouts of lunacy. Maybe this could be called mass lunacy. In our defense we were simply doing what photographers do, and it might have seemed to others that lunacy periodically prevailed.

If lunacy included dragging myself out of a warm bed long before sunrise while it was still totally black outside, stars bright and the air smelling damp from the night, then count me guilty but not repentant.  Include me as crazy for driving awful distances while sipping hot coffee from a mug, hearing mostly silence except for the quiet rumble of the car engine and the sleepy talk of other camera club members in the car who were participating in this madness, but excited none the less.  Following blindly the other car also loaded with nutty photographers, I had no idea of where we were going but we were on a Utah highway outside of Moab.  We were climbing towards some distant high buttes and bluffs in Canyonlands National Park.  Way off in the east a slight lightening of the sky was just barely noticeable if one looked closely.  I knew morning was arriving sometime.  Maybe that would shine some light on this wacky trip.  Fruitcake or not,  I did have a name as to where this loony club was going this early morning, “Mesa Arch”.

Arriving at the parking lot, there were a number of vehicles already parked.  I kinda figured some of their drivers must be napping waiting for sunrise.  With the trail barely visible, no one would be unhinged enough to be out hiking at this early time of the morning except nutcases like us.

No longer driving on autopilot, I staggered out of the car. The other club members had already begun the trek up the narrow trail.  Strapped around my head was a lamp which really didn’t shine brightly enough as the battery was dying.  My dim beam matched my dim brain this early in the morning.  The light didn’t really brighten the trail causing me to stumble over unseen rocks, holes, and other camouflaged obstacles reaching out to trip me.  I continued to scurry along bumping my toes and knees as I stepped around large boulders and Juniper branches which scratched my arms as they stretched out to grab me.

Tasting the dust kicked up by other club members, I scrambled along that half hidden trail as best I could, using my dim lamp. Silence was in the air as it was still too early for even the birds to sing or crickets to chirp.  They were smart enough to still be in bed. Packing a camera and monopod, I hurried along the trail trying to arrive in one piece. I wasn’t concerned about finding my way back, so I didn’t need to drop bread crumbs as the trail was well used and marked.

Slowly the sky began to lighten and show only a hint of pinkness.  The air started to lose the  pale bluish lavender hue of predawn. The trail was becoming more visible and easier to follow. A few birds were starting their morning song.  I could travel faster now.  I visualized just the right place to catch the first rays of the rising sun breaking through the frame of that rocky arch which been there for thousands and maybe millions of years.  Of course, I am in an awful rush as the arch just might disappear before I arrive and then I would miss the picture.

I smelled the brown powder of dirt hanging in the air as others ahead of me stomped along the trail. I figured that dust must be from one or two of the other club members just ahead of me.  How could anyone else beat us to this lonely outpost of rock?  We should arrive early enough to find a great spot even if a few others rolled in a little earlier than we did. My normal big smile grew larger with thoughts of a photo masterpiece.

Almost there.  Hey!! Hold on!  Did I see lights ahead of us?  Maybe one or two beat us there, but I was sure we were one of the earliest arrivals.  Just one more bend in the trail.  Rounding it, I spied what was supposed to be our “semi-private” arch to photograph.   There must have been twenty people already lined up in front of Mesa Arch elbow to elbow, tripods covering the entire front side of the arch. How could that many crazies beat us here?  What a bunch of lunatics!!  This isn’t the way I had visualized my photo opportunity.  Could I squirm into a spot between all those people?  My smile dimmed tremendously.

Photo by Lolena Shambaugh

Maybe I should run down there and roll myself into them like a human bowling ball and knock them all over. Might even get a strike! Then I’d have my pick of spots in front of the arch.  I doubted that would do any good, though, as they’d just jump back up and hog more space and punch me out.  Besides I could see the Utah papers, “Casper photographer arrested for being a human bowling ball. 20 other photographers pound him.”

Instead, I casually strolled to the arch, elbowed my way in where I spotted a slight opening at the left end of the mass of tripods behind each of which was a person.  To my left was a large bush with some sort of thorns which tore into my hands as I squirmed into the horizontal line of other nutcases.  On my right was a gentleman with his Nikon on a Manford tripod.  He politely allowed me to cuddle up next to the bush as he acknowledged my presence with an engaging smile and a warm hello with an accent I was familiar with but couldn’t place.  Maybe British or Australian.  I wasn’t sure.

I was most intrigued by a gentleman on down to my right.  His clothes were tattered.  He hadn’t shaved in days or more. On his head sat a ragged hunter orange hat with warm fuzzy flaps.  My son called the one I once owned, my Elmer Fudd hat.  The old guy’s tripod must have weighed 10 pounds and was a relic of the 80’s.    As we arrived, he swore with more crude words than I knew the meaning, “(Expletives deleted), where did all these (more expletives deleted) people come from?”  He echoed my thoughts, but I was too shy to actually say those kind of words out loud. I immediately noticed he used an old Pentax k-1000 which was the type I used At East Jr. High when I taught photography in the 90’s. He made an impression on me not by just his demeanor, but  by that Pentax.  Wish I would have met him years ago.  However, once I was lined up ready to do some photography, he pretty much ignored all of us and just mumbled unintelligent things under his breath.  He was great fun!!  Wish he was from Casper.  He’d have made a great addition to the photo club.

Using a monopod I could carefully keep my arms within my body space as to not invade any one else’s area including the thorny bush on my left.  The monopod has one leg, not three. I didn’t have to spread out. Tripods with their three legs meant using more space and taking more time to set up. Some type of support was necessary as a longer exposure in the dim light of dawn was necessary.  I was in a hurry so my monopod went up quickly.  I could then get to what this lunatic came for….. Mesa Arch pictures. I hurriedly set up ready to click and jealously began to strategize my composition of the arch.  I was ready to shoot.  I didn’t want the others who arrived earlier than I did to take all the pictures and leave me without any to take.

The sky slowly became lighter.  The photographers began to speculate as to exactly where the sun would rise in the eastern distance.  The man with the engaging smile, friendly demeanor, and accent next to me on the right pulled out his black iPhone and punched the buttons for the Helios app.  As I glanced over his shoulder, I saw that it showed the exact positions the sun would be in at any particular time during the day including sunrise. I hadn’t known there was an app for that.  I mentally told myself I should check that out after I went home.

Before the sun actually came up the photographers were busily clicking their shutters in hopes of getting the red glow which so famously adorns this particular arch, and, yes, I began to notice and shoot, too.  I had no idea of which f/stop and shutter combination to use.  I was crazy enough to use the auto exposure and, of course, my pictures came up dark on the digital screen. Typical photo for me.

I began to hear murmurs as some of the folks began mentioning how they had their cameras set. Listening to their advice, especially the old guy in the Elmer Fudd hat, I changed to manual exposure and made the necessary adjustments. Then I merrily clicked away.  I heard the sweetest sound you could imagine…. the sound of the camera shutter….  The digital screen now began to register much better exposures.  It pays to listen to the mumblings of a fellow loony using a Pentax.

Mesa Arch at sunrise with the famous red glow

As the sun began to rise over the distant mountains,  I continued to click, redirect the composition, and click again. I zoomed, used wide angle and whatever re-framing I desired to obtain what I hoped would be an award winner.  Finally, there was too much sunlight. The red glow on the arch was more difficult to photograph. Most photographers slowly began to pack up and walk back down the trail.  Some diehards remained.  Most of our group were leaving, so I followed them down the now well-lighted trail making re-acquaintance with the same rocks and shrubs that attacked me on the way up.  This time I could avoid most of them.

My thoughts were still on the magnificent arch I had spent the early morning hiking to and photographing.  It was pretty cool.  I know now I wasn’t early enough to get the best photo spot.  The old adage of the early bird gets the worm had new meaning.  Even though I had not arrived earlier,  I still felt that this had been a case of lunacy at it’s finest.

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A Deer Experience

I’m reminded of the story of the bank robber, Willie Sutton in the 1920’s and 30’s. When asked why he robbed banks, as he was usually caught and spent half his adult life in prison, supposedly  said, “because that’s where the money is.” He also said that he robbed banks because he enjoyed it.  He loved it. He was more alive when he was inside a bank, robbing it, than at any other time in his life.  Likewise, I drive this short road at the base of Casper Mountain because that’s were the Mule Deer are.  I enjoy photographing them, and I feel very alive at photography moments.  I’m hopeful for pictures of large bucks just waiting to be on the cover of Field Stream magazine portrayed as Superman type bucks.

Early February is a great time to be on this “road to somewhere” (see previous story).  There were several inches of fresh bluish-tinged snow from the day before. The tint came from clouds casting their color. I knew I would need to overexpose by a stop or two or fix the photos in Photoshop if I expected the snow to appear white like most think it should look.  I wish I had a dollar for every bluish-tinged snow picture I have taken before I learned this  little lesson.  I could probably buy myself a new lens.

The pavement was a dark grey almost black asphalt with a white dashed line dividing it and a yellow no passing line on my side. The snowplow had been by and shoved snow high along the periphery of the road.  The cold, wet stuff was mounded deep enough that I didn’t want to drive into it for fear I’d find myself stuck. After all, I wasn’t driving a snowmobile. even though I sometimes drove like that’s what I had.

Sometimes my brain digresses and wanders off imagining “what if’s”.  Right now a “what if” crossed my mind of pulling into a pile of snow so I’d be out of the roadway. What if I found myself high centered and the SUV’s wheels spinning and going nowhere?  I think this was actually a vision from past times of really being stuck in the snow. As in the past I remembered digging myself out and being cold and miserable doing that.  If I found myself stuck, I  had a short, red handled shovel which I carried to dig out…. Ummmm, my shovel is still in the back of the SUV where I stored it, isn’t it? I don’t recall seeing it for some time. I tell myself,  “stay out of that fresh plowed snow. You don’t want to crawl around digging through that frigid, wet stuff.”  I pull off where the plow had pushed the snow a little further back.

It was probably in the 30’s, warmish for this time of year, which caused the plowed part of the road to be mostly clear with patches of slushy ice and steam rising from it.  At least it wasn’t 20 below and the tires hadn’t frozen square this morning.  I felt a slight breeze and there was some chill but not cold enough to freeze snot to my upper lip from my runny nose.  I mention this slight breeze with trepidation because we Wyomingites know that if you say out loud that the wind isn’t blowing badly, it hears you and starts roaring. If you’ve ever felt the bite of Wyoming’s hurricane like, bone-chilling, Arctic wind, you’ll understand why we don’t speak of it when it’s not blowing.  No reason to tempt a torrid, hypothermic, cyclonic, speedy gale to come up and ruin the day.

Winter had been progressing for several months in this high plains area of central Wyoming, and it still had a few months to go.   The vegetation was bare.  Dead looking scrubs clustered together in bunches against the snow. They were waiting for a distant Spring but now each created their own wind chiseled drift.  The snows had come. The wind had blown. Snow drifts had been sculpted.  They really can be beautiful if a person isn’t trudging through them on foot.  They were especially pretty today.  Each little drift piled deeply next to dried stalks of last Summer’s grass, other bare brush, and fence posts or trees.  Each drift’s tail stringing  away and becoming narrower. The light dancing off every undulating drift showing different contours and colors.

Deer were standing and feeding in the snow off in the distance finding what shrubs and burnished gold grasses protruded.  I could see a lighter sky towards town but still mostly cloud covered with just a hint of blue trying to appear.  A reddish splash of color was appearing on the snow covered distant hills as the sun was moving lower and some rays of light were barely peeping through.

Not far from the edge of the pavement where I had pulled over, I checked out a couple of Mule Deer. I could see why they were called Mule Deer with those giant muley ears which constantly moved independently. They had a dark V-shaped mark extending from between the eyes upward and laterally which is more conspicuous in males. Their white muzzles accenting their dark mostly black, shiny noses. I jumped out of my vehicle as my camera, hanging from its strap around my neck, banged against my chest. Fortunately, my heavy coat protected me from camera bruises. I began taking my usual not so good pictures but still visualizing magazine covers portraying Superman bucks.

Not so much a great photo but fun anyway.

Suddenly a dog spooked the deer from up above.  Several bucks, many with  large pointy antlers, started quickly streaming down out of a copse of dark green pines where they had been leisurely keeping out of site and spending their time.   There were more large bucks than I had ever seen before at one time.  Surprisingly, as I rarely get lucky with picture opportunities, many of the bucks came my way,  one following the other, their super-sized antlers silhouetted against the snow, each with all four legs hitting the ground together. They bounced and lifted themselves high as they churned through the icy white stuff in my direction.

My thought was, “hey, this is me. Nothing this neat happens to me. Better take advantage of it, but, then again, this is me, so I’ll probably mess it up”.

Those bucks continued flying down the hill, hooves whipping and throwing white snow as they glided my way. Their muscular legs propelled them at incredible speed. Maybe they weren’t traveling as fast as a speeding bullet but their powerful legs, like a locomotive, would not be stopped.  They leaped over a log rail fence that wasn’t as tall as a building but was as least as tall as they were.  Some would squat bending their hind legs down and launch up and over the fence in one giant Superman leap.  I had the the camera on continuous shoot and just let it fire.  Some bucks I caught in flight over the fence, most I did not.

Preparing to launch!

Launched!  Able to leap tall fences in a single bound.

After crossing the rail fence, some milled around seemingly ready to settle down.   Some bucks even used their hoofs to paw the snow in search of a morsel of food. The air was distinctly scented with the odor of deer as the breeze carried that smell to my olfactory nerves. This was only the calm before the storm.

Settling down but still aware.

The dogs from further up the hill by the red-roofed barn began running around the singular human in the corral. They were in a frenzy and barked and played.  The bucks, with extremely acute hearing, quickly raised their mighty antlered heads to determine the direction of the playing pups.

Those magnificent deer, faster than a speeding bullet, were off a second time and raced toward the road and the barbed wire fence. Would that string of steel barbs stop them? No! They leaped and flew over the jagged strands with ease in continuous motion as if the three strings of wire weren’t there, more graceful than Superman running hurdles. Pure beauty of flying and none of them needed a cape as they soared.  A site to behold.

I had no time to focus and shoot each individual. Fortunately, my camera was still set on the continuous shutter setter. Watching and anticipating the area they were going to jump, I prefocused and used auto exposure.  As the first buck came into my viewfinder, I released the shutter button and held it down enjoying not only the bucks but the beautiful sound of the camera  shutter firing.   I missed a lot those critters as so many were vaulting the fence.   I did manage to bumble and stumble my way to a few good pictures but only because the camera kept shooting as long as I held the shutter release.  This day I really appreciated camera technology.


I kept shooting until the grand animals had all leaped the fences bordering each side of the road and had run off into the distant pines at the base of Casper Mountain, their white rumps with black, tipped tails waving at me as they disappeared from site leaving only tracks and a faint musky scent.

I stood transfixed in total awe at what I had witnessed. My breath showing as a white fog tasting like clean, clear, ice as the temperature had begun to drop.  Never in a million years did I expect to witness such a parade of bucks.  But I did!!  Willie Sutton might have been right about banks being where the money is.  I was right about where the deer are. To say I felt exuberant and excited was belittling those words.  Photography in central Wyoming is alive and well.  Probably none of the pictures from today will appear on Field and Stream magazine but all to remain in my and my computer’s memory.

Superman be jealous of these bucks running as fast as a speeding camera, being more powerful like a locomotive, able to leap tall fences at a single bound.

Please visit my web site at for these and other wildlife photographs.  Please skip back through the other galleries also.

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The Road to Somewhere

The adage goes something like this, “If you continue to do what you’ve always done, you’ll continue to get what you’ve always got”.  Maybe that’s my problem.  I keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.  Let me change my tactics by using “author’s license” and refashion that statement.  By using “author’s license” that’s just a nice way of having fun with someone else’s idea to fit what I want so I can write my article.  Here’s the way I would say it using “artist license”.   “If you continue to drive the same road, you’ll continue get to where you’ve always gone.”  Yep, I’m guilty.  I’ve driven the same road near Casper, Wyoming, sometimes several times a week for probably around 20 or more years.  I am not required to travel this road.  It was not the way to work or the grocery store or church or anyplace I need to go. No one held a gun to my head. I took this ride on my own accord in hopes of finding a world record Mule Deer buck to photograph. I haven’t taken that picture yet, but I continue to do what I’ve always done in hopes of photographing the great king buck.

This Fall and early Winter began like many other years I’ve traveled this short stretch of black asphalt at the base of Casper Mountain.  Dark, scattered patches of pine trees border part of this lane and some folks have their homes nearby.  Grasses, brush and willows cover  much of the mountain slope.  This time of year the shrubs are  naked of leaves but the gray brown stalks of their branches clump together to give deer both food and shelter. The wind keeps some vegetation blown clear of snow providing browse for deer.  In previous years I usually saw those wily critters off in the distance but rarely close enough for a great award winning photograph. In the past I have managed pictures of cute fawns and sweet looking doe and occasionally some average size bucks.

Things began to improve this Winter on my several drives.  During one drive I spotted a large buck laying in the brush not far off the pavement.  He had the largest set of antlers I could remember during my trips on this road. He ignored me and my car.  He was just laying scanning his territory keeping an eye out for potential danger.  Obviously he wasn’t concerned with insignificant me.  I knew if I tried to walk closer to him, he’d spook and high tail it out of the country.  I didn’t want to  unnecessarily  stress him as he needed to conserve his energy during this time of year.  Consequently I stayed at my car and managed to get some first-rate photographs by using my 2x teleconverter, my 18-250 mm zoom lens and leaned on the front of my car for support.  Finally, I was photographing a large deer and was close enough to to fill my camera frame with BUCK!!

Laying and ignoring me

Resting but alert

For those of you unfamiliar, the 2x teleconverter doubles the focal length of a lens and is considered a poor photographer’s substitute for a real telephoto lens. I think that comes close to describing me.  The lens is placed between the lens and the camera body. Using the 2x, I cranked out my 18-250 mm lens to its max telephoto. That made it similar to using a 500 mm telephoto.  A solid tripod is helpful or if you don’t have one, the camera still needs to be braced. To steady the camera I leaned on the hood of the car and used my arms as a tripod.  I turned the engine off to prevent its idle from causing camera movement problems.  I might add, a 2x teleconverter requires twice a much additional light; therefore, another reason to hold steady is shooting at faster shutter speeds with this gadget is difficult.

After shooting way to many photographs, I was more inspired than ever as I drove away smiling with the buck still laying quietly and undisturbed. I knew I would return in the near future.  Maybe doing the same thing would actually bring different results.  It already had!!

Still motivated I made the drive on other day.  Amazingly, I  spotted some young bucks not to far off the road sparring with their antlers and trying to push each other around.  I’d never seen this before on this road or anywhere else.  My good luck this Winter was continuing.  They didn’t appear to be fighting for dominance and mating season was long over.  They were more like the 7th grade boys I used to teach.  Just pushing each other and goofing around trying to show they were tough.  Maybe they were practicing for another, more serious time during a future mating season?  It was amazing to just sit in my car, watch them, and take some pictures. This time I used the edge of the car window to brace my camera lens on.  I felt very fortunate to witness and photograph this miracle of nature.

Young bucks sparring.

Same road, a few days later, the turkeys were out.  No, not weird people, but real live wild turkeys…. Birds.  And the deer were out enjoying a stroll, too.  The turkeys didn’t seem to mind the company, but I think the deer might have had second thoughts or were at least curious as to what those feathery critters were all about.  Once again, just being there and watching and photographing was a special and fun experience.

Who are you?

What are you doing in my world?

I seem to be throwing some kinks into that old saying, “If you continue to do what you’ve always done, you’ll continue to get what you’ve always got” or maybe there’s something to be said for consistency or perseverance or being stubborn. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is wisdom in being aware of doing the same thing and then wondering why the results don’t change, but that might not always be the best move in photography.  In this instance, I think of myself as more of an Edison. He tested over a 1000 different filaments before he came up with the right one for the incandescent light bulb. He persisted. No, I’m not an Edison.  Far from it but driving that same thoroughfare was just me being like a purposeful Edison. Instead of producing inventions, I have desired to create photographs. I am convinced I should continue to drive the road to somewhere.

My next article will be about amazing mule deer that are faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!.  Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s …….!”   Or??  Well …. Maybe…..  Stay tuned for for my next article and discover the truth of flying deer…… No, not Rudolf.

Also please visit my web site at for these and other wildlife photographs.  Skip back through the other galleries too.

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A Dream Come True: Leigh Lake Trip part 2

“Tits!!” Declared the tall blond woman wearing a revealing halter top, as she ambled toward me part of a cluster of older grey-haired men and women.  My ears perked up! I tilted my head to better hear the conversation as any normal American male might do.  “Took me 59 years to figure out that one. Now I know where ‘Tetons’ comes from.  Tits!! Big breasts! Peaks! from the early French mountain men…..” The lady speaking turned slightly pink in her cheeks as she giggled and snickered and passed me on the walkway at Colter Bay in the Tetons. The breeze whipped the rest of her words away, and I  proceeded on out of earshot. I briefly contemplated why it took the lady so many years to learn that tidbit and why she was having the conversation.  Smiling at this fragment of dialogue, it brought back memories of when I taught Wyoming History and had to explain to my students the American origin of the word “Tetons”.  I had explained it slightly differently to the students but with the same message.

I was back in the Tetons later the same Summer, gawking at those amazing “peaks” but not thinking of the origin of the name.  The Casper Photography Association was on an amazing mountain adventure canoeing and camping at Leigh Lake in the Tetons.  This trip was a dream coming true for me.

The sun had long ago set this Sunday night and falling asleep was proving difficult.  Not only was I still excited about this dream trip, my thin camping pad was not the cushion I thought it would be when I had purchased it and my back was feeling it.  However I was tired and laying there with the tent window flap open with only the mosquito netting closed so those buzzing little critters wouldn’t zip around biting, sucking and bothering me during the night. Mostly that was successful except for those two who managed to find their way in and kept me busy swatting them also making it difficult to fall asleep.

Don’t know if I was actually sleeping, dozing, dreaming or awake in the period ones goes through in the journey to the land of nod, but I could swear the mosquitos were talking.  One mosquito seem to whisper to the other, “Shall we eat him here or take him back into the deep forest and slowly devour him”?  The other replied, “naw, let’s eat him here because if we take him back into the forest, the big boys will just take him away from us.”  Musta been a dream but they were large devils and looked as if they had imbibed in steroids.

Never-the-less, in those steps to falling asleep, I attempted to keep my eyes on them as I peered up through the netted opening and but quickly lost interest and ignored them as I witnessed the pure black night sky pierced by tiny sparkling campfires of starlight. What a vision to distract me from the wildlife in my tent and finally fall asleep viewing.

The next morning I began to wake with only a few rocks and roots poking me in my back (Note to self… figure out how to fix that for the next night). I had managed to make it through the night without too many shoulder and hip cramps or aches but certainly could feel where the rocks and roots and hard ground had dug into my body through the pad.  The two mosquitoes were still there resting on the yellow fabric of the tent probably satiated from sucking my blood during the night.  Likely enough I had large red welts on my mug caused by those little critters. I didn’t contemplate long how I was going to get revenge on those beasts, I reached up and slapped at them. Missed.  Not intimidated, they each buzzed away laughing at me.

I was still snug and warm in my downy sleeping bag as my thoughts began to deliberate rolling out of the bag’s warmth into the brisk mountain air that crept into my small two person tent.  I tested the air by waving my arm around the invigorating coolness stirring the mosquitos into a frenzy.  I decided to stay in the cozy, toasty bag just a little longer and protect myself from my biting ‘friends’.

Out of my sleep induced fogginess and lost fight with the mosquitos, I began to remember one of the reasons I was here and that was to take pictures.  I couldn’t do that wrapped in the warmth of my hard bed, hunkered in the tent. Consequently, I rolled out onto the unyielding tent floor.  Found my pants on the floor. Sitting up I crammed in one leg at a time, then straightened my knees as they snapped and cracked.  I discovered my blue shirt wadded up in the corner, pulled it into my face, and sniffed at it. It didn’t smell too badly.  It had just a hint of bug repellant and camp smoke plus some other unidentifiable odors . I tugged it on and glanced out.

The sky was lighter and a soft pink color was beginning to show. I hastened to unzip the tent door, grabbed my camera and crawled out on my hands and knees. Attempting to stand, my cramped legs wouldn’t let me. Leaning on a nearby tree stump, my almost sixty-five year old knees creaked and my back popped into place as I finally unfolded myself into a standing position while pushing up from the stump. I scanned the eastern sky across the black lake surveying the soft twilight of morning.

Reds, yellows, and purples of the sky reflected in the smooth, calm lake.  I sucked in a lungful of fresh mountain air accented with pine.  Feeling the damp, refreshing fragrance and morning coolness of the the lake drifting towards me, I was seduced and just stared at the scene. The longer I waited and gazed in awe, the more color appeared in the sky and on the water.  Coming to life, excited to photograph the palette of early morning colorful light glancing off the lake, I put my camera’s viewfinder to my eye, composed the scene, set the shutter and aperture combination and fired.

Wanting to be closer to the water as my tent was back a few steps from the lake edge.  I was careful, I maneuvered around two tents,  framed a canoe between trees and shot and fired off several frames. Other club members had also arisen and were creating sunrise photographs.  Al mentioned “it was like a feeding frenzy of sharks”.  I thought he meant the photographers but when queried he almost shouted, “I mean the mosquitos!”  Coming back down from my photo frenzy, I hadn’t even noticed the droning, airborne, little pesky devils since I had been in the tent.  There were swarms of them buzzing about in the air.   The photographers were swatting as they composed with their cameras.  It looked as if they were flapping their arms in hopes of flying.  I’m not sure how they kept from blurring images in their shooting madness.

Pinks Began to reflect in the Lake.

Al Photographing Sunrise over Leigh Lake

As the yellowish  sun came up quickly and our early orangish colors reflecting off the lake dissipated, it was time to start thinking of breakfast.  Food!!!  I was ready. But first we had to go to the bear station and retrieve the provisions.  Reaching up with the long steel pole provided by the Park Service, we latched onto our black food bags and hauled them down, the smell of the plastic bags disturbing the morning fragrances.

Back at camp, Lolena began laying out the breakfast dishes and making preparations.  Once the fare from the bear station was available to her, she cracked eggs and emptied their contents into her silver wok, beat them into a creamy liquid and mixed in fresh bell peppers.  It wasn’t long before the ingredients of yellowish tan contents began to sizzle and bubble sending out a terrific breakfast aroma mixed with fresh mountain smells.

Harry, Wayne, Francis, and Pete had arrived from their campsite lured by hunger and the the smell of scrambled eggs.  Shortly, we all were feasting on this yummy feed.  Lolena’s mystique as a camp cook reverberated amongst the campers.  Pete had brought bagels.  He warmed those on Lolena’s camp stove.  I smeared creamy blueberry spread on the still steaming bread and scarfed it down in between bites of scrambled eggs and sips of coffee.  This was what camp life was supposed to be.

During breakfast I slowed down cramming food in my mouth long enough to ask Al if he could refresh my memory about how Leigh Lake was named.  I considered Al the resident Leigh Lake expert. It was his idea for this canoe/camping expedition as he had taken this trip many times with his family.  I had forgotten the story and was hoping he would prompt my lapsing memory.  He said it was named for an early settler, Dick Leigh.  He commented that the namers probably used ‘Leigh’ as they didn’t want it called “Dick Lake”.  We all chuckled at that.  My apologies to all those who are named ‘Dick’.

Sitting there feeding my mug on Lolena’s and Pete’s great breakfast, my mind began to wander and I was not able to put it back in my head immediately.  Being an ‘old’ History teacher and with Al’s concept of ‘Dick Lake’ rolling around in my wandering mind, I dragged bits and pieces from the shadows in my memory. I finally remembered Leigh and Jenny lakes were named after Richard ‘Beaver Dick’ Leigh and his wife Jenny. In the winter of 1876, the Leigh family sheltered a woman whose family had died of smallpox.  As a result, the entire Leigh family contracted the disease.  Jenny and the five children died; Dick became ill but survived.  That made me think I only had to worry about becoming lunch for a grizzly which I could protect myself from using bear spray.  The Leigh family had no such protection from Smallpox.

During the day we took the canoes out for our own special explorations. Denny and Al decided to paddle to the other side and try and photograph Leigh Lake from that angle.  Pete, Francis and Wayne went off on their own  fishing or photography trips. Lori wanted to paddle around but didn’t want to go alone. No one else was ready as Margi and Lolena had other camp things to do or had agreed to go canoeing with someone else. Not wanting to let the lake experience pass me by, I volunteered to accompany her as long as we stayed near shore.  Neither of us were experienced canoeist.  I was still too nervous to take my camera out while in the canoe so I made sure it was in the dry bag and boarded. More comfortable this time, I didn’t even have visions of potential disaster of swimming with the fish if I tipped the canoe as Denny’s instructions were beginning to pay off. We wisely stayed near shore and even managed to steer the boat fairly well.

Traveling as far up the lake as possible, we crossed a clear, glacial fed stream cascading into the navy blue of Leigh Lake. The rushing stream’s current was obvious as its white frothing water gushed into the lake. Wanting pictures using our 35 mm cameras, we beached the canoe on the gravelly lake edge beyond which was vegetation so thick a person would find it difficult to walk through. Profuse foliage started not far from shore and followed the steep slope of Mt. Moran on up to tree line.  If we wanted to climb the mountain, the tip of our landed canoe would almost be the place to start. I’m not sure how we would have crawled through the brush, pines and spruce just back from the lake, but fortunately climbing mountains was not on our agenda, photography was. My senses were over whelmed with the beauty and splendor around us, and I wanted it on ‘film’.

Taking my black 35 Pentax SLR with it’s zoom lens from the dry bag, I threw its strap around my neck and began surveying  the scene.  I felt the best place to get a picture was right in the middle of the glacial stream.  By this time I’d totally forgotten the fear of getting my feet wet and cold in mountain water.  I was off wading into the clear, shallow stream. Stumbling along the rock strewn  bottom, sandals slipping on the wet stones, feeling water so cold it was difficult to tolerate the pain except for a few minutes, I began searching for a place where I could stand out of the water.  I’ve never put my feet in anything as frigid as that ice cold glacial stream.  It was tumbling down from melting snow and glaciers from higher in the mountains covered in lodgepole pine that grew straight and true. Some had been blown down in the past.   They had become sun bleached and jumbled together in a bizarre conglomeration of angles.  Dancing about in the frigid water, I found a pile of small rocks that had been washed together with just enough space that I could stand on.  That put me high enough to stay out of the glacial water and do my photography.

In the distance to the west was Mt. Woodring, whose  jagged purple gray crevices were laced with snow. I blasted away taking pictures as if I had a stuck trigger finger hoping something would emerge to be a fantastic picture.  A breathtaking  picture never materialized in my final accounting but I sure had fun shooting.  Lori was a lot smarter than me and stayed on dry land and contemplated and composed her shots more carefully and probably came up with something better than I did.

Glacial Stream with Mt. Woodring in the Background

The only thing I’ve found that the photo club members might find as enjoyable as their photography is eating.  Supper couldn’t roll around soon enough for most of us.  For dinner this Sunday evening, Lolena created her special spaghetti with Jimmy Dean Italian sausage. This was another great meal. I think we all ate like sumo wrestlers devouring their last meal. But that wasn’t all. After we were full of food and were involved in great conversation,  Lolena surprised us with homemade blueberry dumplings made on her camp stove.  WOW!!   Out in the wilderness and she makes a fantastic dessert.  I told you she was amazing!   I was hoping everyone would be too full of spaghetti and wouldn’t want the blueberry dumplings. That would mean more for me. No such luck.  My eating ability was becoming legendary among these people but I would not be able to show it off this evening.    Everyone wanted their fair share.  The dumplings were fantastic and Lolena had once again outdone herself.

After stuffing our bellies with all that food, it seemed all we could do was sit and watch the dancing blaze of the campfire.  Conversation was set aside as we stared at those mesmerizing flames that lit up our faces and turned them pinkish.  Another great day of canoeing and photography and eating was passing, and we all seemed content.  What more would a photo club want!  Satisfied,  I staggered off to my tent with it’s hard floor.  Climbing into my sleeping bag I soon realized I hadn’t removed the rocks and roots under the pad and tent floor.  It didn’t matter.  Exhausted and full from to much to eat and content with the photos I had taken, I fell asleep breathing in the fragrant night air spiced with campfire smoke not noticing two mosquitos humming and smiling, obviously not malnourished, ravenously ogling me.

As Monday morning crept out of the darkness, from the haziness of a sound sleep I heard what seemed to be the most pitiful, whimpering, moaning and groaning and what seemed like garbled words I couldn’t quite make out.  Was it a bear growling and demanding my leg or was it the buzzing mosquitos crawling around my ear?  After waking a little more, I heard the same racket again except a little louder and clearer but still in a distressed tone. Sound travels  easily and far in the mountains especially during the quiet morning.   I realized the noise was coming from Lori’s tent not to far from mine, “Does anyone have some pain pills? Anybody?   I ache and I’m sore from the hard ground and I’m miserable”.  I thought, “yeah, you were like me and slept on rocks and packed soil all night, I suspect you are aching a little.”  All of us were sympathetic to her pain and began searching our gear for something to help her.

“Sure, I’ve got something.  Just a few minutes and let me find it,”  I mumbled back towards the area I remembered Lori had set up her tent.

No laying around this morning. I needed to put an end to Lori’s sad pleading.  It was our last morning and I was looking forward to more sunrise pictures.  Dressing in the tent with a low ceiling  meant staying on my knees or sitting to get dressed.  I had practiced this yesterday morning so was getting used to it and had it figured out and quickly put my wrinkled somewhat more smelly clothes back on.

Digging through my bag for Ibuprofen, I finally found that little white plastic jar with the snap on lid right under the toothpaste tube and on top of my camp soap.   Surprisingly enough, nothing had mysteriously broken open during the night to cause a mess.  The Ibuprofen jar remained clean and the child proof lid was there to open. Fumbling with it, I grimaced silently under my breath and wondered how to get that uncompromising circled lid to pop off.  Somehow it magically fell open, spilling the contents onto the tent floor each little pill rolling away from me.  At least I was still on my knees so I could knee walk to each one even if each move along the hard floor caused my leg joints to twinge and tingle. I reached out, used my stiff fingers and collected each little disc.  Next, to quiet Lori with a couple of the little pellets and move on to some morning photography.

Crawling out on this second morning,  I found my favorite tree stump.  Reached out, grabbed it, pulled myself up, and stretched once again. Camera dangling from my neck, pain pills in the palm of my hand, my knees crackling and popping, I took a few steps, plunked out two rose colored pills into Lori’s outstretched hand and mumbled something about now she could stop her whimpering.  She grunted something back and arched her eyebrows at me and dismissed my snide comment with a smile as she tossed the pills into her mouth and took a long swallow of water from the blue bottle in her other hand.

Noticing a few clouds off in the east, I was not disappointed with the sunrise. I knew that some clouds meant more color in the sky as the sun began its journey.   Fighting off mosquitos, I braced myself against a tree to help prevent camera shake.  The smell of pine bark and pitch filled my nose as I composed, set my 35 mm digital SLR and began firing. Once again I shotgunned my photography.  Fortunately ‘film’ is cheap now with memory cards.  I haven’t yet filled my 16 gig card but planned to put that to the test.  Crimson, lavender, and yellowish  shades of color  were blossoming out of the east.  There was another feeding frenzy of photographers whipping their arms to keep the mosquitos at bay and photographing the scene.  I photographed trees and canoes framing the sunrise.  This was an amazing morning of shooting a beautiful sunrise.

Sunrise on Leigh Lake

During all this feeding euphoria of photography, I kept wondering, where’s Lolena? It wasn’t the ‘where’s Wally’ type wondering but where was our president and why wasn’t she out here with us?  She told me this story later which explained her absence:

Worming and squirming wasn’t working.  Laying there and screaming might do the job, but Denny was busy and wouldn’t hear her. She’s is not one to go into hysterics when confronted with adversity. No crazed panic was going to creep out of her lips. She’d figure this riddle out on her own.   Continuing to reach and seize for the sleeping bag zipper wasn’t working as she just couldn’t track it down. It wasn’t on the side of the bag where she knew it had been when she had fallen asleep.  Her thought was, “where was that silly device I’m supposed to grab and pull to open this bag?” It was nowhere to be found.   Did it mysteriously disappear during her tossing and turning last night?  Doubtful, but where was it?  In the meantime, the sky and lake continued its progression from grey to orange and lavender.    Threshing around trying to find the zipper, she finally felt it against her back as she lay facing the top of the tent.  There was no way she could reach it.  Wiggling, slithering, twisting and flailing didn’t work either as the slick bag stuck against the rough mattress just like they were epoxied together.

All that she could do was more floundering.  Her arms weren’t long enough to reach around and grab the zipper.  Maybe if she would have had rubber arms she could have made that stretch, or if her joints could just release enough. But, no, nothing was as convenient as that.  She was stuck, flustered, confounded.  The tent continued to reflect the sunrise colors  she was missing.  Laying there musing on her dilemma, she smiled and giggled at such a silly quandary.  The brief sunrise passed her by, but she enjoyed the sunrise anyway as it reflected inside her tent. Talk about making lemonade when handed a lemon!

Finally, squirming out of the top of the bag she managed to crawl out of her tent.  As I recall when asked where she’d been that she had missed a great sunrise, she nonchalantly gave us her playful smile, giggled and said she’d witnessed its wonders from the inside of her tent and enjoyed it immensely.  I remember I kinda cocked my head to the side, gave her a questioning look, and wondered what that mischievous smile was all about.  She then changed the subject and told us to go get breakfast down from the bear pole as she had important work to do.

It had been a delightful morning of sunrise photography but this club runs on food.  Lolena fixed us a quick and easy fresh apple oatmeal breakfast.  When I once again queried “how do you do it?”   Her eyes twinkled mischievously as if she was hiding some great secret, “it was easy”.  To me it was a gourmet’s delight even if I’m not a gourmet. I just like to eat.  Spoonful at a time I slowly feasted on our last ‘Lolena’ meal as we’d soon be packing up and heading back to civilization.

Wayne and Francis

When we had first arrived, Denny and Lolena had set up the Pee pee Teepee and Al supplied the porta potty as the business end that goes inside the teepee.  He had, more as a joke, mentioned earlier that he hoped to not end up carrying out anything deposited in it.  As it turned out, he carried it out anyway.  Apparently Park Service rules say that we are supposed to carry out everything…. ummm, that means everything…. He and Margi were great sports when it finally came time to break camp.  They packaged up the deposits in such a manner that wouldn’t leak, carried the double enclosed bag back in their canoe, and found the proper place to dump it after we returned to civilization.  My thanks go out to them for going above and beyond the call of duty.  No joke, they packed out everyone’s ‘duty’ without complaint.

Packing up did take less time than I at first thought it would. As I examined the camp, I couldn’t believe we had packed all those tents, sleeping bags, and cooking accoutrements in five canoes plus all ten of our bodies.  Stowing it all back into the canoes made me think that we might need a shoehorn to stuff our gear into each canoe.  A shoehorn was not necessary, as the tents disappeared into bags or were compressed and tied tightly; sleeping bags rolled and ready to go; cooking gear packed ready for storage.  Once again I would let Denny load our canoe but this time I did not lash my heavy bags to it.  I had learned my lesson and didn’t want to go eye ball to eye ball with the fish. But I did notice two large mosquitos hanging around eyeing me ravenously.

Before shoving off, Denny insisted that we all have our picture taken in front of the loaded canoes.  Agreeing it was a great idea, we all piled in or on a canoe.  Denny positioned his camera on his tripod, set the self-timer and gingerly hastened to find his place in the picture. He laughed that he didn’t stumble to badly with the few steps he needed to get into his place for the photo.  We could see the camera blinking white and then flashing the final time as it’s shutter opened and closed making immortal our set of travelers.  Thank you, Denny for a fun photo.

Al, Wayne, Harry, Francis, Lolena, Wayne, Margi, Lori, Sam, Denny Photo by Dennis Shambaugh

It was 10:00 a.m. as we entered the lake with our loaded canoes. I remember the time we shoved off as Lolena said she needed to get a rock out of her sandal.  I knew that feeling as I’d dumped plenty out the past couple of days and was more than willing to wait. Those little pebbles gave new meaning to ‘bur under the saddle’ and there was no need for her to carry one in her sandal for the next few hours.  Didn’t want her kicking her foot while in the canoe.  Lori might not appreciate the rocking motion that would cause.

Since it was still early in the day, the lake was calm. The water was black and sparkling, pleasantly inviting us to enjoy our trip back.  Paddling was easier and Denny and I did a better job of keeping a straighter course.  I think it was just that Denny had figured out how to override my poor paddling with his expert stirring.

As we moved on down the lake, I wished the canoe had a rear view mirror so I could see the snow cragged peaks of Mount Moran a few final times. For me there would be no turning around to see what we were leaving behind as I still had a lasting fear of causing harm by rocking  us and possibly tipping the canoe.  I plan on working on that fear so that during a future trip, I’ll feel confident enough to photograph from the canoe.

A mic would have also been a good addition as we traveled the blue lake so I could hear the gabbing and giggling behind me which had nothing to do with Mount Moran.  The noise came from Lolena and Lori jabbering.  Apparently Lori was like a stand up comic but in a canoe and not standing.  Evidently she was making wise cracks that only Lolena was privy to. I continued to hear the seemingly constant laughing, giggling, and bantering of the two ladies as we paddled along the green, pine and spruce covered shores of this moraine created blue lake.  It did sound as if they were having lots of fun.  Later I found out that Lori was keeping Lolena in stitches with her funny comments and remarks and Lolena was ready to pee her pants.  There is no porta potty in a canoe, and I think Lori just told Lolena to cross her legs and paddle.

The canoe trip was coming to an end, my self confidence and Tilly hat intact. I had not become a headline in the “Casper Star-Tribune” as a grizzly’s dinner.  Nor did I send our gear for a bath after turning the canoe over. My back aches would eventually go away. I hadn’t needed life flighted out. Cold, wet feet now were common and caused no worry.  No major mishaps by anyone and thankfully that included me. We’d all had fun and were coming back safe, happy, and dry.  The rented canoe would sail home tied tightly to the top of my SUV on the trip back to Casper.  Driving that stretch of Wyoming highways from Jackson to Casper and  passing through beautiful sagebrush covered hills, I gave a silent thank-you to those in the past who managed to save, conserve, and preserve the Tetons.   My thoughts also turned to those yet today who manage and protect our Wyoming wild lands and gave them a giant thank-you also.  Because of so many, including members of the Casper Photography Association, my dream of canoeing in the mountains had finally come true.

For more of my photos of the Tetons, please go to  and click on “galleries” and then “WyomingSummer”.  There are at least two pages of WyomingSummer. Please look through all pages in this gallery.  Thank you for any purchases and don’t forget you can interchange mats and frames and find one to your liking.

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A Dream Come True: Leigh Lake trip Part 1

There!!  Through the top  of the windshield  I could see its curved, sleek, green body jutting out over the top of my SUV. It was silhouetted against the clear, Air Force blue sky, dedicated to providing transportation over mountain lakes and streams.  The sleek canoe we rented was strapped tightly on top cutting through the Wyoming air on our way to Leigh Lake in the Tetons. Excitement was in the air. Having a canoe on top my SUV proved to me it was really happening. The Casper Photography Association had proposed this canoe/camping trip months ago, and it was finally beginning. This was a dream coming true for me.

All along the drive,  Lori, my fuel sharing traveling companion on this trip, kept a wary eye on the canoe and would comment, “yep, it’s still there. It looks good.”  Somewhat later after the Wyoming wind began its daily rush,  she attentively mentioned,  “Ohhhh, it’s slipping to the side.  I think the wind is pushing it.  Shouldn’t we stop and secure it better?”  My response was my typical hard-headedness, “naw, it’s on tight and isn’t going anywhere. Besides, we’re almost there”.  Lori was doubtful but remained calm and circumspect.

As we traveled the two-lane black top, my spirits soared the closer we were to Jackson. Fortunately, by the time we stopped, the canoe hadn’t soared but stayed secure enough.  We made it safely to Jackson, but no thanks to me as by the time we were there, the canoe had loosened somewhat. I probably should have listened to the more reasoned voice of Lori, but my flawed male pride had prevailed. Fortunately, that hadn’t caused a disaster.

Up early at the motel Saturday morning, I dressed for canoe travel.  Viewing my refection in the mirror, I thought I looked pretty dapper and suave as I admired myself wearing my new blue, long-sleeved, fishing shirt and my new cream colored Tilly hat perched at a slight angle on my head.  During my shopping spree before this trip I was hoping my new ensemble would make me look more like Harrison Ford or Clark Gable or some other famous male star of the movies. I did feel a little foolish admiring myself like that, as being vain or suave or dapper was not my style.  They say clothes make the man…. yeah, sure… I did enjoy a brief moment of my ego lifting before venturing forth and having my new found Harrison Ford attitude melt away.

I tend to silently worry about complications beyond my control or even caused by me. My trepidations on this trip  included tipping the canoe and soaking all our camping gear; being a grizzly’s lunch (headlines to include “Casper Photographer Eaten by Grizzly”); and surviving two nights sleeping on the hard ground with only a slender pad to keep the rocks and roots from poking me all night.  I really wanted to concentrate not being the cause of any mishaps on this trip as it seems sometimes misadventure follows me.  Maybe I could fake it, but for two more days?

It was still too early to meet the rest of the crew for breakfast, so I settled in to wait in the room until the others were in the lobby.  Might as well watch some news on the TV, as I would be out of civilized contact for a couple of days.  I brewed some coffee using the little coffee maker so graciously supplied by the motel.  While it sat there and splashed and gurgled brown liquid into the clear, glass pot, sending out its delicious aroma into the room, I stood searching for the TV.   Ummm, where was that TV?  I inspected the low standing, long, fake wood cabinet in the room thinking I’d see that big old clunker somewhere on it. Nope, it wasn’t obviously apparent sitting where I expected it to be. Did I have one? I peeked into the beige fridge and small brown microwave in case the TV was masquerading as one of them. I opened each door of the potential imposters. Maybe the TV was hiding inside either one or the other?  Nope, not there.  Wondering where it was, I shook my head in a bedazzled sort of way.   Finally I gave up my search and just figured this room didn’t have a TV.  I supposed  I didn’t need to watch the news.  It didn’t matter if the world was still turning ’round or not, I was going canoeing today.

Sipping my room brewed coffee, I wandered into the lobby now hoping to sneak in unnoticed  as I really didn’t feel dandy even if my attire might have temporarily given me that attitude when I was alone in my room. Deep down I knew I had no resemblance to  Harrison Ford.   Lolena was the only one there and had the graciousness not to mention my hat or shirt. I was relieved at that.  I slyly asked her if she had a TV in her room as I didn’t.   She looked up and gave me a knowing smile and said in a very  diplomatic way, “yes I did, it was on the wall”….. Ooooohhhhh….the light came on in my head, but my  ego took a slight tumble.  I hadn’t thought to look there. Having a TV on the wall was new to me. Who would’a thought? With a mischievous smile,She did admit that she earlier had the same problem as I did. She had searched for a big box on the dresser, but she had the presence of mind to finally look up to the wall, something I wasn’t smart enough to do. I did feel better knowing that someone else had a similar  problem as mine.

Slinking back to my room somewhat embarrassed, I slipped the rectangular shaped key card into the lock, gently and slowly opened the door and peeked into the room.  Sure ‘nuf there it was right where it had always been and not hiding in the microwave or fridge. It was a black edged, large, but thin, wall mounted, TV.  I didn’t even turn it on, just grabbed my gear, slipped out, and packed the SUV.

We were off on our drive towards String Lake, self confidence intact. Five vehicles each with a canoe strapped on the top,  convoying up the road.  I felt like “Rubber Duck”  from the movie, “Convoy”, with Kris Kristofferson. We even had small,  black, individual, two way radios so each vehicle could stay in contact.  I was on top of the world ready to brave the rigors of canoeing.   But, first stop was Dornan’s at Moose, for breakfast. This photo club runs on food, and we weren’t to be denied.  It was pretty good grub, too, including scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, hash browns, and crisp bacon.  What a delectable, outdoor fare enhanced with a fantastic view of the Grand Teton off across the roaring Snake River to our west.  The Grand’s snow fields contrasted against the gray granite, thrusting almost 7,000 feet above the valley floor.  Yellow Arrow Leaf Balsams were flowering in great profusion all around us.  The air smelled of Spring in the Rockies mixed with breakfast odors.  Scrumptious!!

After wolfing down that great breakfast, I wondered around with my camera snapping pictures.  “Gee”, I thought, what if I had a penny for every picture ever taken of the Grand Teton?  I’d be rich and have a condo in Jackson Hole. I’d be a “zillion billionaire”.  Dream on….

The Grand as seen from Dornan’s, its snow fields contrasting against the gray granite, thrusting almost 7,000 feet above the valley floor .  Yellow Arrow Leaf Balsams were flowering in great profusion all around us.

Scientists say the Tetons were formed from a giant fault in the earth seven to ten million years ago.  They are considered a “young” mountain range as most of the Rockies are over fifty million years old.  Since they are young, that means they haven’t had time for erosion to wear them down.  Those scientists say the Tetons are rising at the rate of about a foot every 500 years thus growing faster than they are eroding.  Don’t think I’ll stick around and watch rocks grow, and besides I’m afraid I’m eroding a little faster than the Tetons are eroding.

Finally, after much anticipation,  we rolled into String Lake. It’s obvious why String Lake was named what it was when viewed on a map.  It’s a string of shallow water connecting Leigh Lake with Jenny Lake. Our first task after arriving was to unload and carry the canoes to the water’s edge, lug the camping gear and baggage, and set everything by the canoes.

What a beautiful day…. clear,  blatantly blue sky blanketing translucent, clean, shallow water in String lake reflecting the Tetons.  A person could easily see the  rocky bottom a few feet down. Trout were abundant and their sleek, finny bodies could be seen as they would swim by.

String Lake

I’ve always had a fondness for String Lake as my wife, Sandy, and I used to bring our kids here and float around in little rubber rafts.  I still harbor visions of blowing up those rubbery little air hogs.  I put the Big Bad Wolf to shame with my huffing and puffing, lips to plastic, gasping and turning purple as I tried to blast air through that little polyethylene insert, the taste of plastic strong in my mouth.  Finally they were full enough of my hot air to launch which was easy and the kids loved them.  Scott even stepped out of the raft and waded in the icy water. Shaun and Sara were too young for such cold fun but enjoyed the ride. I always thought the lake was too frigid to wade in. Scott, on the other hand, waded and played in the bone-chilling water and relished it’s cleanness,  coldness, and the beauty of being alive and in the Tetons.

I left loading the canoe to others as I have no experience in this intricate operation. I had a great fear of potential harm if I had loaded the canoe. My  mental vision consisted  of the boat tipping over and dumping both of us as a result of my poor packing job.  We’d then be bobbing in the cold lake tasting it’s chill,  trying to grab our gear while seeing the canoe floating away upside down. That was not what I wanted.  Best to leave loading to those who knew how to pack it properly.  I hauled my two bags to the canoe and gave them to Denny to place correctly trusting his judgement.  After he placed them, I tied my bags to the canoe so that if we tipped, the bags wouldn’t go floating off. ….. more later on that…. it wasn’t a bright idea.  I was still learning and sometimes my learning curve is steep.

As we launched the canoes, I dreaded getting my feet wet or cold even though I was wearing sandals. Gee, what a pansy. Helping with launching the canoe, I gingerly stepped along the edge of the shore obviously trying to stay dry. Denny mentioned, “ you have to get your feet wet sometime, Sam”.  Darn, he had noticed.  I finally stepped into the clear, cold water. It was chilly but not as bad as I had imagined. Scott had been right. It was fun and just a part of boating.

As I prepared to step into the canoe, I was fearful of tipping it over.  Denny’s instructions were “stay low and in the middle, hold on to the gunnels (sides), one foot then the other and set down.”  I gingerly grabbed each side, bent way over but not too much and stayed low and gently sat on the hard crossbar.  It was a snap.  No tipping and everything was rather stable. My thoughts amazingly turned to, “I can do this.”  I think Denny holding the canoe had a lot to do with the canoe’s stability.  He didn’t want his gear to go for a swim.

Denny shoved the canoe off and stepped in without causing much movement. I envied him that talent.  He had me in front where I couldn’t do much damage, just paddle.  As it turned out, I couldn’t even do that correctly.  I kept paddling in such a manner that if left alone, we’d still be on String Lake going in circles. The moose next Winter would be wondering what we were doing on their lake frozen in the center.  I kept thinking, “this isn’t brain surgery, but maybe I needed brain surgery to figure out how to paddle”.  Because of my paddling, we tended to go in a zig zag pattern as we moved slowly toward the portage at the east end of String Lake.  Denney’s excellent use of the paddle as a rudder and his paddling skills helped to keep us going in a straighter line in spite of my erratic efforts.

Glancing up at the mountains rising to our west, their sharp, grey granite, crag edges with white snow fields, demanded my attention.  I discovered many years ago riding through the Park the first time at age 15 that there was no way a person could not keep from peering up and staring at the those magnificent Tetons.  Canoeing on String Lake didn’t change that but only intensified my desire to see the mountains and relish in the feel of a dream coming true.  Maybe that’s a reason I wasn’t able to help keep the canoe going in a straight line.

After zig zagging across String Lake and gawking at those fabulous Tetons, we reached the portage area. Denny told me to stop paddling that he would get us to shore.  This was smart thinking as we did want to land the canoe safely. After landing, I carefully stepped out and didn’t tip us over.  Success again. We unloaded each canoe and carried canoes and gear over a dirt, pine-lined, well-used portage that wasn’t steep but slightly uphill and not a great distance.  It was easily wide enough for four people holding and carrying each side of a canoe. It took several trips over the dirt path to get the gear and canoes to Leigh Lake. Each of us did our share of lugging everything we were to use at our camp on Leigh Lake.

At the Leigh Lake end of the portage there were log steps a person had to maneuver down in order to actually get to the water’s edge. I managed to successfully negotiate the steps several times either carrying gear or helping with a canoe and not falling and stumbling and needing life flighted out.  We once again loaded each canoe, and I tied my bags to the boat.  I managed to attentively crawl back in and didn’t tip us over.  More success. My paddling was better now as Denny’s training was beginning to sink into my feeble brain, or had Denny just figured out how to override my pathetic paddling?

Pete and Harry in their canoe on Leigh Lake

Wow!! what a view.  Mt Moran dominated the skyline jutting up clear and sharp with dark timber plunging steeply  to the edge of Leigh Lake.  Grey rock, green pines, blue sky– magnificence! Better than any post card or painting I’d ever seen. A living canvas of mountain splendor.  Once again I just had to keep surveying such grandeur. I think I could have counted the individual trees because the atmosphere was so clear and clean and pure. The fragrant smell of mountain air and clean water was dominating my olfactory senses. No way was I going to not view and take mental images of this scene. At least now we were heading mostly towards Mt. Moran, and I was in front of the canoe. I could gaze and paddle at the same time.  I didn’t take pictures, as I didn’t want to get my camera out for fear of wiggling and capsizing the canoe.  Once again, visions of us tasting the cold water as our canoe filled with water came to mind. Consequently, the only pictures of this part of our journey are locked in my mind unable to figure a way out.

On the hour and half paddle, I recollected that Mt. Moran was named after the landscape artist who first painted the Tetons.  Thomas Moran was a British-born painter whose beautiful works of Yellowstone in 1871 probably tipped the balance toward creating our nation’s first national park.  (from the book Grand Teton Trivia by Charlie Craighead).  I could certainly understand why he’d be painting these scenes.  If only I wasn’t a scardy cat and didn’t feel comfortable for fear of  losing my camera to the depths below, I would have taken some pictures.  But, oh my, what magnificent watery scenes.

After we rounded the first point of land, the wind came up, and I could even see small white caps on the once placid lake.  I paddled hard even if I didn’t know what I was doing.  At times the waves splashed up and sent sprays of water into the front of the canoe and across my face.  I was beginning to think a trout might get blown in, but I suppose they are way too smart to be in a canoe while the wind is blowing white caps.  Finally, paddling closer to shore, the wind and water calmed, and we dropped off one group at site 15.  We needed two camp sites as the Park Service allows only six people in any one camp.  We had ten total.  Harry, Pete, Francis and her husband, Wayne, would be camping here.  Later they would canoe to our site for dinner, more photography and socializing.

The rest of us continued plunging hard back into the white caps as we moved further up the shore of the lake. Denny made sure we weren’t broadsided by waves.  Tasting the splashed in wetness was fun and exhilarating. Viewing Mt. Moran and the surrounding Lake was the most amazing feeling.  I was catching a glimpse of what it might have been like to be a French voyageur or mountain man with a canoe loaded heavy with pelts, plying the cold waters of the Rocky Mountains teeming with beaver and other fur bearing animals. They must have admired this scene and had similar feelings that I was having.

Finally, we arrived at site #16, Paintbrush Inlet, our site which was a pretty area just off the water with a circular fire box and logs placed in a square so the campfire could be enjoyed.  Lolena, Dennis, Lori, Al, Margi, and myself would be camping in this site.

As we were unloading, Denny  noticed and mentioned I shouldn’t have tied my heavy bags on the canoe as that might cause the boat to be pulled under the water from their weight if we would have toppled over. Canoes do float if turned over but not with heavy bags dragging them down.   Ohhhh crud ….. I had messed up.  My brain then went into over drive as I imagined watching the canoe slowly disappear below the surface.  Would I have dived for the canoe, my eyes open trying to see the canoe either on the bottom or continuing its slow decent in that cold clear lake? I’d probably be staring at fish eye ball to eye ball, my arms flaying out to pull myself down deep and kicking my feet, my cheeks and eyes all bulged out trying to hold air,  all the while fully clothed and life vest on. My new Tilly hat floating somewhere above to mark the spot of my error.  Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but I did feel badly for having unknowingly caused potential harm.

We checked out the campsite.  It was neat, clean and small.  When we departed, it would be the same way.  We’d only take pictures and leave footprints ( I read that somewhere once and thought I’d throw it in here).

Campsite #16

Lolena began to fix dinner as it was getting that time of day. She had volunteered to bring all the fixings and do the cooking.  What a woman!  She made Paella.  Among other ingredients it has sausage, chicken, onion, red pepper, canned tomatoes, saffron, bell pepper, rice, etc. She fixed it in the large wok she brought and cooked it as a one dish meal using the gas stove for heat one of us carried in a canoe.The aroma of the paella drifted across the campsite making my mouth water. Here was a meal for ten hungry photographers who knew how to eat.  I asked her how she did it, and she just, once again flashed her winning smile and said, “I’ve been doing such as this for years and just know how to do it”.  Lolena is an amazing camp cook.  What an fantastic feed in the wilderness!  I’m surprised a grizzly didn’t show up for a taste. That critter would have brushed us aside and dug right into the paella.  I doubt he would have shared it.

Lolena fixing dinner using her large wok and Harry in the background probably smacking his lips.

Francis sharing her birthday watermelon she hauled in on her canoe. Pete was off to the right taking his piece of watermelon for consumption.

While Lolena was creating that fantastic meal, some of us went searching for firewood.  Firewood was pretty scarce because of the heavy use the area received during the earlier part of the Summer. Scouting for wood and picture opportunities, my camera dangling from around my neck, I followed as close to the shore line as I could.  Scrambling and climbing over old, large, downed, grey trees with blue-green lichen clinging to their sides then squeezing through thickets of green brush with the smell of wet, boggy ground, I finally found myself at water’s edge.  Mt. Moran loomed large ballooning up from Leigh Lake. The mountain was awesome with its gleaming cliffs and deep shadows of blues and greys and white glaciers and snow fields.  I took some photographs, but nothing was going to capture the high I was feeling and the incredible beauty I was experiencing.

Mt. Moran loomed large ballooning up from Leigh Lake. The mountain was awesome with its gleaming cliffs and deep shadows of blues and greys and white glaciers and snow fields.

After dinner we gathered up the garbage and food and anything that might have a food smell and took it to the bear box and bear pole.  This was a place away from the campsite the Park Service had provided to help keep the bears away from camp.  The idea is to move the bear bait away from campers so that we’d be less likely to become a grizzly’s meal.  The bear pole was a steel pole planted in the ground and sticking high into the air with four steel spikes evenly spaced at the top. It was designed to hang articles high enough to be out of reach of any plundering bear. A green-colored steel box that latched was also there for our use.  We crammed the rest of our food a into it.  Thus secured, we all felt better that we were protecting ourselves from a marauding grizzly, but I was also a little sad as all my snacks were hanging on the pole out of  not only a bear’s reach but my reach.  It was apparent I would be on a diet the rest of the night.

We saw no bears nor any new sign of bear.  Most of us did bring bear pepper spray but had no need for it and that’s fine with me.  I could just see myself facing a charging grizzly, then quick drawing my bear spray, hitting him with the pepper, and just making him mad.  Survivors would know I’d been there when they found my spray can,  camera, and maybe what was left of my Tilly hat, in the bear poop.

As the sun set,  we pulled out cameras and shot more pictures.  There were canoers and kayakers on the lake, dead trees picturesquely jutting out near water’s edge, and Mt. Moran obligingly posing for us.  The sky darkened but not before it turned a salmon color and pleased our visual senses and our cameras.

As the sun set on Leigh Lake, the water turned a slight shade of salmon and many of us captured it on our cameras.

During the evening, we sat around the campfire, exchanged pleasantries and stories about the day or just sat and absorbed the amazing experience of primitive camping in the Tetons.

Lolena and Lori

Lori, Margi, Al, Denny, Lolena

The shadows slowly darkened. Reflections began to disappear in the dark rippling lake. Campfire smoke drifted in its gray color encircling the area and it’s smell gave each of us the perfume of a day well spent.  The stars appeared above in the black sky one at a time eventually creating a ceiling of thousands of tiny sparkling campfires as each of us, one or two at a time, drifted off to our tents and sleeping bags.

End of Part 1 which consist of our first two days.  Please come back for Part 2 which will be about days three and four.  Time of publication is not yet established meaning I’m a slow writer.

For more of my photos of the Tetons, please go to  and click on “galleries” and then “WyomingSummer”.  There are at least two pages of WyomingSummer. Please look through all pages in this gallery.  Thank you for any purchases and don’t forget you can interchange mats and frames and find one to your liking.  Framed or unframed photos will be shipped directly to you from

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Forest Service Reminiscing

One of the most unexpected events I can remember in my summers working for the Forest Service is the hot day my Forest Service pickup fell out from under me. I can look back on it with humor today since it’s been over 4o years, and I am still reminiscing about this galvanizing event. It must have made an impression on my young, naive mind.  I was employed as a Fire Guard on the Big Piney District of the Bridger National Forest. It seemed to me that Fire Guard simply meant that I did whatever the ranger told me to do from fixing and building fence, to cleaning outhouses, picking up trash along the road, building corrals,  fire pre-suppression and control, fighting fire and anything else he could think of to keep me out of trouble and out of his hair.  Sometimes that even worked but not on this day, at least not our of trouble.  It wasn’t even my fault. Really is wasn’t!

I had just crossed Edwards Creek, a small, clear, mountain stream tumbling on its way to larger streams and on to the Green River. The drone of the tires almost hypnotized me as they pounded over the rock and gravel of the road.  Hot, dry air rushed through the open window irritating my eyes with noxious smelling dirt filtering into the truck cab.  Speeding along about 20 mph, without warning I discerned a peculiar racket.   Thud, kerwack, wham!!  Thud.   Feeling the loss of control of my rear end; the truck’s, I mean, my stomach went queasy.  Sensing the left rear side of my truck dropping,  there was no time to react much less panic.  I was going nowhere fast.  Instantly I came to a screeching halt. I was stopped dead in my tracks.  Road dust poured through the open windows burning my eyes.  The air tasted like dirt as I sat there trying to figure out what had happened.  I was dumbfounded.  Dumbfounded pretty much fits me at that age of life anyway, but, just leave “founded” off and it would be more accurate.  Had the world stopped?   “Flat tire” came to mind.  I had experienced those before, but they didn’t act like this.  They would usually have a popping sound proceeding the thump, thump, thump of the flat,  and I might have trouble steering the green beast of a truck.  In short order I discovered a nasty flat wasn’t the problem at all.

The pickup truck was, as I recall, a 1957 Chevy, and, of course, Forest Service green. Not my favorite color, but that’s a different story.  It drove smoothly and usually caused no problems except this day it did.  Or I should say the left rear wheel had problems on this day.  Wheels are supposed to turn round and round,  but they aren’t supposed to turn so much they rip out of the lug bolts.  This was later diagnosed as metal fatigue.  Who would expect that?  I sometimes found myself fatigued and could understand that, but not metal!  At the time I was more mechanically challenged than I am today.  Yes, I know, in the 1960’s we didn’t use that term “challenged”.  That’s a newer term,  but it’s nicer than the term used then…. mechanically stupid would probably been used in that era.  And I was, but it wouldn’t have mattered if I was a mechanical genus.  Metal fatigue would catapult this into my memory.

I jumped out of the truck, somewhat frantic and befuddled, hoping no one else would be driving up the reddish-colored dirt road as I was stuck in the middle of it and couldn’t move the vehicle if I wanted. That Chevy reminded me of a green, macabre monster just sitting there defeated and unable to budge, road dust still tainting the air around it.  At first, my mind rebelled at the ludicrous spectacle perplexing my vision.   Examining the view more closely, I discerned that the frame of the truck was ensconced on the ground and the left green-colored rear wheel fender was buckled under itself.  The Lug bolts were still attached to the hub. The rest of the wheel, with a gaping hole in the center, was laying next to the truck as if someone had just pulled it off and deposited it there. I’m sure I was being laughed at by someone or something.  It was a sorrowful looking scene, the truck all crosswise in the road with the wheel hub sitting on the ground sticking into the red dirt.  It wasn’t pretty. Scratching my head I examined the situation.  Slowly it began to dawn on me what had happened. Accessing the circumstance as only a twenty year old could, I thought about panicking.  Instead I began to ponder a solution.  Solution, oh solution,  Wherefore aren’t thou, oh solution?  Slowly I developed a response to my predicament.  No problem;  just pull out the handyman jack; jack it up and mount the spare. Piece of cake.

I really appreciate handyman jacks.  I’ve employed them for various reasons besides jacking the truck up to replace flats including winching me out of mud holes into which I should have never steamrolled.  Don’t mention that to the the ranger.  This is another story of my lapses of judgement he doesn’t need to know about.  I knew how “handy” these jacks could be, but I didn’t really use it very often as who really needs to take advantage of a jack every day or even every week.  I jerked the jack out and noticed it was dirty, clogged up with gunk, and smelled kind of yucky. Next my thoughts changed to “ut oh”.  The words of Ray Lewis came back to me.  “Sam, keep your jack cleaned and oiled and wrap the spring apparatus so it won’t get dusty and dirty.  Someday you’ll want to use it and need to have it ready.”  Did I listen?  Of course not.  My jack was a mess and wouldn’t do what jacks are supposed to do.  Namely, jack so a vehicle will go up.

Ray was an older more experienced employee who accommodated

us kids when he didn’t need to and probably didn’t want to, but we learned tremendously  from him and respected him even more.  He wasn’t ancient. He was probably in his late 50’s or early 60’s.   At that time to me being about 20 that meant he was an old critter.  I was told he was originally a redhead, but you couldn’t prove that by looking at him when I knew him.  His hair was snow white and close-cropped.  His limp I’m sure bothered him, but he never let it get in his way.  He seemed to know something about everything.  He once told me he had first come to the Piney area in a wagon with his parents on the Lander Cutoff of the Oregon Trail. He said that as young man he had homesteaded on Fountenelle Creek but eventually gave it up. Not old enough to be a pioneer in the Oregon Trail sense of the word, folks, when he was a boy, still traveled by horse and wagon.  He probably silently laughed at us young guys as he dealt with our antics.  His smile was infectious but when he added his chuckle to that smile and shook his head back and forth, we knew we’d done something brainless.   I was visualizing Ray as I remembered that one important lesson he had once stressed with me.  Keep your handy man jack clean and oiled.  Of course, who really did that?  He did.  I didn’t and would quickly regret it.  I was brainless.

The jack wouldn’t go up.  It was clogged with grease, road dirt, and all kinds of crude.  Here I was out in the “wilderness” with no help and a jack that didn’t work, but  hey, no problem.  I’d use my Forest Service radio to call for help even if that would be humiliating.  Maybe Brian, the Recreation Guard, was nearby and would come to help.   I clicked the send button of the radio and was rewarded with the crackling noise of loud, blank, static. That was not a good sound.  I was still in the Edwards Creek Valley surrounded by tall lodgepole pine trees and mountains;  consequently,  the radio couldn’t get out from my position.  No help would be coming by way of me crying out for help using that piece of technology. Sad but true, I was stuck.  Did I panic yet?  Believe it or not, no.  No panic attack this time but I knew I had a wacky problem to solve.

I was torn between hoping someone, Brian, the ranger, a tourist, or someone, would come by and help me out or if I should start walking, or, ….. figure it out myself.  Of course,  if help came they’d see my embarrassing predicament, a jack that didn’t work from my own ineptness. What smug, twenty  year old, Forest Service employee wanted that?  No sir, not me. Walking wasn’t going to be fun as it was a long way home.  I was in dire straights.  I’d have to get out of this myself, somehow.

What to do? What would Ray do besides snicker at me, smile, and shake his head?  Sometimes the most simplistic of ideas is the right one.  I needed to clean the jack!  How to do that?  Wracking my feeble brain, I remembered I happened to have part of a five gallon can of gasoline I used for the chain saw.  Grabbing it and a rag, I threw the jack into the middle of that red, dirt road and poured a small quantity of gasoline onto it.  The harsh smell of fuel wafted up to my nostrils as I scrubbed the gasoline into the jack gears with the rag.  I cleaned out all that muck and gunk that had collected during the summer then dribbled a little motor oil onto the spring.  Setting it up right,  I tested it by levering the handle up and down and letting the oil lubricate the spring and pin.  It worked. The moveable parts of  the jack ran smoothly. It’s amazing what a little TLC could do.  I managed to save myself!  Who cared if the radio wouldn’t work or no one would come along?  Walking out was no longer necessary as an option.  Maybe I was fortunate the radio didn’t work?  I could save myself and not look moronic in front of my boss.  I could do that another time with a lot less effort.

Congratulating myself, I found suitable size rocks to block the wheels in order to prevent the vehicle from rolling, placed the jack under the rear bumper and cranked the glossy oak handle up and down.   Miracle of miracles,  the truck moved up and up as it should have.  I could see the pin move in out of the sprocket holes of the jack. Finally,  the broken wheel hub was high enough to remove that ugly looking circle of fatigued metal.  I quickly used my lug bolt wrench which I hadn’t even lost yet, loosened the lugs, pulled off the torn metal of the decrepit wheel, threw it in the truck with the old tire,  put the spare tire on, and tightened the lugs.  With excitement bursting its way out,  I felt like singing but didn’t want to scare the wildlife.

Reversing a handy man jack is as simple as flipping a lever.  Since I had cleaned the jack, it worked flawlessly. Cranking the smooth, wooden handle again, the truck was gently lowered to the ground one notch at a time as the jack spring pulled the pin to the next lower sprocket.  Next, after removing the jack, I lovingly swaddled the jack in the rag I had used to clean it, and set it gently and lovingly back to its proper place in the pickup bed.  Unblocking the wheels, I was soon on the road again, hot air and dust swirling through the cab, filling my nose with the perfume of road dirt.   I felt smug and had a large smile on my face.  Well, maybe I was also relieved that I wouldn’t be embarrassed if found mired crosswise on that road. Maybe I wasn’t so dimwitted after all?

A person would think that the truck wheel falling out from under me would happen once in a lift time.  Nope, it happened again.  I wasn’t alone the next time. I was with the assistant ranger and he was driving, but that’s another story for another time.  I’ll leave it there and repeat what I asked the assistant ranger, as I watched a truck wheel roll past us and sensed the rear of the truck drop and we crashed to the ground,  “Is your  handyman jack clean and working properly?”

Sam Sherman in Forest Service uniform Sept. 1968 at McDougal Gap, Big Piney, Ranger District, Bridger National Forest, Wyoming Range. Photo by Sandy Sherman.

See Sam’s photographs at

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