“The mountains are calling,” naturalist John Muir wrote to his sister in 1873, “and I must go.”
I know the feeling, but nature isn’t cooperating. Not yet.
As of Monday morning, the government reporting station at Sand Lake in the Medicine Bow National Forest showed 50 inches of snow still on the ground – four feet, two inches.
Looks like a longer wait than the usual Father’s Day opening of Cabin Season, when Old Dave heads for the hills.
This will be Year 41 at the cabin. Getting to our little settlement of about 100 lots on private land over the hill from Turpin Reservoir may take a couple more weeks. It’s called Overlook, way up in the Snowy Range in Carbon County.
Moose often saunter across my land. There are black bear reports, but I’ve only seen one. (A cinnamon.) Plenty of deer. I hear elk, but never see them. Lots of hummingbirds and camp robbers. Chipmunks. Foxes.
When I spent six years at the Laramie Boomerang, and then a year as editor of the Rawlins Times, I had no idea that an acre of land midway between those two towns would soon be my getaway. It’s at 9,800 feet, and from the top of the Overlook you can see all the way to the back side of Casper Mountain, 100 miles away.
Lately, we have to cut our way in with chainsaws when the roads finally open up, as trees killed by the bark beetle infestation a dozen years ago fall as their roots rot away, often blocking roads.
My old college roommate from UW and I built the log cabin when I worked at the Casper Star-Tribune. We stacked logs for three summers, 14 footers, because that’s the longest log two guys with youthful exuberance but not much sense could handle. Then we built a roof, but didn’t get the end walls finished in time, and a wet spring snow brought the roof down.
So we put it back up, with a bunch of cables, jacks, pulleys and come-alongs.
The cabin is 135 miles from Casper. But then my boss sent me to the paper in Craig, Colorado, and it turned out Craig was 135 miles from the cabin, too. Kismet, I guess. I got to know that wonderful road between Encampment and Baggs. (I saw what sure looked like a mountain man once – a guy in buckskins on horseback near Aspen Alley. He asked for a beer, but I didn’t have one.)
When the kids were little, a trip to the cabin was a rite of passage. We drove all the way from Illinois for our two precious weeks in Wyoming, drinking Mountain Dew and eating Werthers caramels along the way. After a week at the cabin, we’d hit Saratoga for groceries and to do laundry. The kids loved the public pool. I loved Hobo Pool. Then pizza by the river, and back to the cabin.
They used to run sheep near Overlook, and you could hear them in the nearby meadow at night, and the occasional bell. Wonderful memory. The sheep herders killed a few mountain lions every summer, but now that they don’t run sheep up there, we hear there are more mountain lions. About five years ago I heard one outside the cabin in the middle of the night – there isn’t a word for the growl/scream it made – and I was glad to be behind log walls.
It’s a wild place, beautiful, but unforgiving at times, 50 miles from the nearest emergency room (been there, done that, three times). And the weather can be crazy. Snow is always a possibility at our Labor Day picnics.
Not for the faint of heart, but you wouldn’t believe the Milky Way on a clear August night.
My gear is stacked up in the garage, ready to be loaded into the pickup for Season 41.
I’ll conclude with something more contemporary than John Muir – Canned Heat’s 1968 take on getting away from it all, “Going Up the Country” by Alan Wilson:
“I’m gonna leave this city, gotta get away.
“ All this fussing and fighting, you know I just can’t stay…”