By Bill Sniffin, publisher
(Note: This column first appeared in December, 1988 when my son Michael was seven years old. It is featured in my book The Best Part of America. It’s reprinted here in the spirit of Christmas.)
The idea of creating a Christmas Cross on top of Crumps Mountain was not in our original plans. All we wanted to do was explore the Squaw Creek area three miles south of Lander on a Sunday afternoon and perhaps check out some deer.
We had lived at our home near Squaw Creek outside of Lander since June, 1976. And although we had always enjoyed the view of the spectacular bright red Crumps Mountain, I had never set foot on that property.
We decided a hike was a good idea and after making the appropriate phone calls for permission, we headed out. The excellent weather was perfect for it.
We left at 2:18 p.m. I believe the Denver Broncos were ahead 7-0, and darn it, I wanted to see that game! But my young son had pulled this promise out of me that we would take this hike, so away we went.
Our trip would cross a large pasture until we could cross the creek. Our original intentions weren’t to climb the hill (or mountain, as Michael referred to it). The day was glorious, about 30 degrees, no wind, and sunshine.
We followed some deer tracks to the creek and tried to find a way across. The creek was just a little too wide for my son’s seven-year-old legs. Finally, we found a place where the deer tracks revealed they used to get across.
We were originally going to hike down the creek, but he didn’t want to. He wanted to climb straight up. As we marched up the hill, we took note of the creek, the houses and the road getting smaller beneath us. Our view of the huge Wind River Mountains off in the distance kept getting better as we climbed. We saw lots of animal tracks, mainly deer.
Occasionally, the snow was about 18 inches deep and other times, the snow was gone and red mud stuck to our boots. The contrast of green bushes, white snow and red rocks was striking. The sun was peeking through the clouds just off the towering Wind River Mountains to our left.
We climbed about two thirds of the way up the hill, where we found a nice place to rest. My son decided we should mark this place as it probably was going to be as high as we were going. He was getting tired. Slogging through the mud had taken its toll.
Down in the valley, seven deer were crossing the creek where we had crossed it. They hopped across the field to the north entrance to the Boulder Loop drive, jumped the fence and headed up to our neighbor’s bird feeder.
There was a trail that led up the mountain going the other way. It was a deer trail. We wondered where it went? So, we followed the tracks and it switch backed the rest of the way up.
Just like that, we were on top!
Our view was a panorama of most of the Lander Valley to the north, Table Mountain to the east, the Wind Rivers to the south, and Red Butte to the west.
We saw two beautiful little birds chattering around in the five-foot high evergreens. They were multiple colors — white, gold, dark blue, etc. This was the weekend of the Lander Valley Christmas Audubon bird count – perhaps we should have participated.
We climbed on over the mountain ridge toward the southwest and came into a clearing almost exactly north of our home. We each found a “thinking rock,” which is my name for those rocks that are perfect for sitting on and thinking. I sat, while Michael immediately got up and wandered around. There would be little sitting for him this day.
We dragged a flat rock up to the top of the clearing and said we would use that as a marker, but he wasn’t satisfied. Instead, he wanted to tear out a root, but couldn’t quite coax it out of the ground.
I tugged at it and was surprised to see that it broke loose. So, there we stood with a 10-foot-long white root. We could use it for a marker. Without thinking, I placed it vertically against a dead tree — how about that? Michael disagreed and not really realizing what we were doing, he insisted we lay it out horizontally, which we did. And it suddenly became a cross.
We decided to call it our Christmas Cross.
The sun started to go under a cloud and the warm weather disappeared. As we shivered, we looked way down at our house. We decided it was time to head home. The trip didn’t take long at all.
Little boys like to get muddy and it was difficult keeping this boy from getting dirty from head to toe.
I kept looking back to see if our cross was visible, but it wasn’t – not to us, anyway.
Once home, we got out the binoculars and scanned the hill from our kitchen window.
And there it was. We had gone all the way up there and created this cross. It was our little way of celebrating Christmas.
Our little trip certainly didn’t measure up to the all the good charitable works people around Lander did that day delivering Christmas food baskets to the needy. But it will go down in our memories as the day we climbed Crumps Mountain and created a Christmas Cross.