There’s a point, high in the northern Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming, where the smooth asphalt gives way to the crunch of a gravel road. The evidence of isolation is evident here in the fallen trees that have settled into resting across the passageway. Watching my father climb down from the driver’s seat with a resigned sigh, reaching into the storage compartment for the still warm chainsaw, I began to wonder about what qualities the Bucking Mule Trailhead must possess to be worth such an effort. Minutes later, the RV chugged on passed the now severed fallen pine and came around the road’s bend to come face yet another of nature’s road blocks. It would take us hours to reach the campground, and the horses began to voice their discontent with each loaded kick they aimed at the trailer’s padded walls.
â–º honorable mention 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
Later, as dusk settled, and the mountain chill deepened, we pulled off the dirt road into an open expanse of grass peppered with humble flower clusters. Our family had long ago grown accustomed to the restraints of being stuck in a designated campsite, just feet from our neighbor. Here, we were completely and totally alone- not another soul or building in site, instead surrounded by the rise and fall of mountainous peaks. The sky continued to delve into an inky blackness. Never before had I seen such an impenetrable hue of darkness. Every square inch of sky was cluttered with stars, untouched by the pollution of city lights.
Come morning, as the shimmering circle of a sun pushed out from behind a particularly tall mountain top, its rays dispersed through a dense thickness of fog that drifted swiftly through camp. As we watched it settle into a lower valley below our perch, I was struck by the realization that this collection of condensation was, in fact, clouds. As our awe slackened our jaws, I began to grasp the idea of the heaven of a world into which we had entered.
Setting out on horseback, we traveled along trails that took us from the tops of mountains, down to the lowest dip of the river-carved valleys, experiencing every variety of scenery. Soon, our earlier illusion of isolation was shattered by a gully’s echo of the bleated calls of young elk calves, darting amongst a herd of at least three hundred. They moved together with an almost strategic symmetry that couldn’t be organized by the best of chorographers, only imprinted by the instinct of nature. It was unbelievable to be a part of such a natural and stunning world that was mere hours from the city of Sheridan, Wyoming.
Our vacation continuing in the same powerful, moving way, the most inspiring of nature’s displays was found upon our departure. Each day for the past week, near the mouth of the trailhead, we’d pass a female moose, always settled among the same grove of pine trees. Without fail, she’d stand, pulling greenery from the earth, pieces clinging to the whiskers of her chin. Then, as we passed her for the last time, we found she was no longer alone. From behind one of her long, muscled legs, the wobbliest of creatures struggled to stand beside its mother. In the last twenty four hours, this mother had given birth, bringing life onto this planet without assistance from nurses, bleeping machines, or fluorescent hospital lights. In no other way could I have witnessed such a display of the strength of our natural world. Compared to nature’s way of life in those Bighorn Mountains, we humans, we are the weak ones.
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