Paul Ulrich: Spring Camping In Wyoming — Remember Not To Be An Idiot

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By Paul Ulrich, columnist

This time of year is tough in Wyoming.  Early March brings the hope of spring yet Mother Nature gave us the spring of deception last week and is doing her best Typhoid Mary impression and infected me with high grade cabin fever.  

Several inches of snow have fallen in the past day and more coming as I stare out the window and daydream of pulling my camper to the Wyoming Range for a weekend of fishing, hiking, campfires and solitude. 

My love of the outdoors started with camping.  My family spent our summers camping in the Shoshone National Forest and fall in hunting camps from the Hams Fork to Francs Fork. 

Our Summer trips consisted of fishing and floating the river, exploring the mountains, great dutch oven cooking and gathering around the campfire in the evenings.  I later learned that we camped all the time because we didn’t have enough money for vacations. 

I can tell you that my little sister and I would not have traded a day in mountains for Disneyland.  We loved it, still do, and didn’t know the difference growing up.  I am not sure that’s going to change either.  My older sister and I constantly discuss taking trips only to conclude that we just need more time in the mountains.

That’s what the mountains of Wyoming do.  They embrace you like a favorite blanket with the promise of never letting go.  They whisper in the wind and water that you are home and belong.  They create the very best memories that for some reason never fade with time.

The memories, oh the memories and lessons learned. 

Camping As A Kid

My favorite early memories are with my little sister.  We hiked and climbed trees, we rolled down hills in inner tubes and then hauled them to the river to float.  We were covered in dirt and mud most the time but didn’t care.  We spent endless hours watching moose, deer, elk and the occasional bear. 

As I grew a bit older I started camping on my own.  I was fortunate to have a family that values independence and I was allowed to venture out at a pretty early age.  Years before I could drive I would get dropped off in the mountains by myself or with a friend with a rendezvous in a few days.  That’s where the hard lessons were learned.  I didn’t always respect the power of mother nature, wasn’t always prepared and I certainly was an idiot at times.

An early spring tent camping trip with a friend outside of Cody taught me to always, I mean always, respect the weather.  Gear spread all over our campsite and not secured or properly stored sets the stage.  A foot and a half of snow overnight and two oblivious kids waking up to everything buried came next. 

Clearly this is well before cell phones and imagine two cold, wet and hungry kids miles from help.  We couldn’t start a fire, find our food and panic was setting in.  Thank the heavens my dad recognized the situation, and probably our idiocy, and arrived a day early to dig us out and get us home.

A year or so later, seemingly better prepared, we were camping in the Big Horn basin mid-summer.  Again, we were dropped off with our gear and off we went.  A great trip with a rattlesnake encounter, arrowhead hunting and beautiful warm weather. 

In fact, so warm that we poured through our water supply two days before we were set to get picked up.  The only water source within miles was a cow pond.  Now I carry a water filtration system. I did not then. How we survived drinking water the color of chocolate milk with the taste of cow pies I have no idea. 

Don’t Be An Idiot

One of the hardest lessons I learned came at the wise age of 14.  By then I am sure I felt bulletproof and had all the outdoor experience one could ever gain.  This lesson is categorized under “Don’t be an idiot”.

My friend DR and I planned a multi-day trip West of Meeteetse in one of my favorite drainages.  Pretty isolated area with good water and great hiking.  We were prepared for anything.  Day two brought a beautiful and sunny day with naught a cloud in the sky.  What should two 14 year-old boys in the middle of nowhere do with themselves?   The only possible answer was catch some rays and work on that all important tan. 

Yes, two idiots felt that stripping down, completely, was somehow a good idea.  Image these two strutting back to Cody looking like David Hasselhoff.  Reality was much, much different.  After two hours of baking parts of us that has never seen the sun reality hit. 

We accomplished something few have.  Deep fried Rocky Mountain Oysters and a remarkable bright red hue that could probably be seen from space.  As prepared as I thought I was sunscreen was not in my pack, naturally.  At this point the only option to relieve the pain was to cover ourselves in mud. 

This is not the kind of mud you would find at a spa in Jackson.  This is the kind that seeps into every pore, never washes off and smells like everything that ever died.  But it worked, kind of. 

In addition to an unusually hard lesson on not being an idiot and preparation it did lead to an encounter that may well have haunted someone forever.  Our entire trip we saw only one other person.  Here we are covered head to toe in mud after a hike to a two-track near our camp. 

A Game Warden comes around the corner and spots us.  He drives by slowly with an intent stare of bewilderment and perhaps fear.  Are they human? Has society crumbled and I walked into a Lord of the Flies situation?  He never stopped nor should he have but I always wonder what he was thinking.    

Graduated To A Camper

Today we have graduated to a camper and yearn for new trips and new adventures either alone or with our family.  The peace my wife and I enjoy on our getaways is priceless.  I absolutely love sharing my favorite spots in Wyoming with my family and creating some great memories. 

Passing down tips and lessons is also part of it and highly rewarding. 

Take a large family camping trip last summer where we got to share a first-hand lesson on burying your waste.  Sadly, this is becoming a problem in the backcountry and near developed campsites. 

After establishing a campsite for five families and a dozen kids near Laramie we discovered the surprises our neighbors with green license plates (safe assumption but an assumption none the less) left us. 

Our dogs immediately began the worse Easter egg hunt ever and discovered no less than a dozen gifts of unburied waste.  To support my claim of the origin of the gifts is the assumed composition. 

I reason that the combination of cannabis, granola and IPA craft beer must be like crack to dogs.  We buried, talked to the kids about burying and share that story as much as possible in hopes that others will respect Mother Nature.

Out of all the outdoor activities we enjoy camping is often the foundation, the launch.  Preparing and setting up a good camp is, in itself, rewarding from backpacking to a multi-family outing.  It sets the stage for the promise of solitude, exploration or simply quality time with family and friends.  

Camping also allows for some of the elements we cherish so much in Wyoming such as stewardship, self reliance and learning through failure.  Some of my most cherished memories are camping with my son and passing on what I was taught.  Grab your kids, your family and friends and get out there. 

I still love it all and after a lifetime of hard lessons and a lot of great advice the rules of camping for me are pretty simple.  Be prepared, be respectful and don’t be an idiot.

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