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On my way back from a workshop in Billings, MT, I camped up in the Bighorn Mountains, which are west of Sheridan, WY. This was my first time in that dramatic and most unusual mountain range, which features an interesting geologic past. I was about 6 hours north of Wheatland. What a great place to be when the temps down here on the plains are in the 90s.

I camped in a National Forest  campground, at just over 8,000 feet in elevation.  The campground was nestled near a small lake and right in the middle of a Lodgepole Pine forest. I decided to stay there because they had sites with electric. I don’t usually get electric, but I wanted to test all the electrical systems in Half Moon. Everything worked great. However, nothing could be more fabulous or more cushy than the electric mattress heater. It has controls just like an electric blanket, and on the highest setting it was too hot for the 40-degree night. After jumping into bed, I turned it down halfway and slept all warm and toasty. Having electric also meant I could keep a lamp, computer and Kindle plugged in.

The next morning, I was up early and sat out under the tall, straight pines, drinking coffee, and watching for birds. A young male moose (no antlers yet) sauntered through the campsite in front of me. Holy Mackerel! I was speechless and by the time my wits returned and I wisely thought about hiding in the van, Mr. Moose had sauntered off down the road. This was only the second time I have observed moose in the wild—they are stunning, and dangerous.

English: Moose, Superior National Forest, Minn...

I identified two new birds: Dark-Eyed Junco and Gray Jay. I am tired of sitting around all day looking for birds that never materialize. So, I cheated this time: I put birdseed out on a paper plate. Squirrels found it in about 5 minutes and, eventually, the juncos came by for a meal. I was sitting only a few feet away when they came to feed; apparently, living in a campground makes juncos tame. Identifying them was relatively easy as they were right next to me for a change. Each one had color variations, which underscore how difficult it can be to identify smaller birds unless they are practically sitting on your lap.  I saw the Gray Jay bouncing around up in the trees. He is a large and bold bird. The bird book said they are also called Camp Robbers, so like their blue cousins, they are moochers.  I also observed many robins, but did not have to look them up to know a fat robin when I see one.  Up here, apparently the animals have not heard they should run when I come around, just to tease me. I like this place! A moose and two new birds. Hot dog!

Gray Jay Perisoreus canadensis. Moose Loop wal...

Gray Jay Perisoreus canadensis. Moose Loop walk, Lake Maligne, Alberta, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)English: The Dark-eyed Junco can be found most...

The Dark-eyed Junco can be found mostly above 8,000 feet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the afternoon, I unhitched the van and drove around the area. I can’t believe I have lived here 6 years and never been to the Bighorns. However, it is a big state, and each year I discover a bit more about the richness and grandeur of our mountain environments.

Normally a loud mouth, I am an introvert when camping; part of the reason I go is to chill and decompress. But campers, especially the older ones like me who are camping in the national forests now that school is back in session, want to yak about everything. With the older bunch, everyone is an immediate friend and they start right off telling you their business and wanting to know yours. I want to yell, “I am not a Good Sam Club member, and I never will be,… I am a tired minister looking for some peace in God’s creation.” Of course I am not rude that way. Instead, I grab my stomach, moan, and head towards the potty house. Passive aggression suits me much better than yelling at nice old folk looking for company.

Speaking of people, here is a new camping pet peeve. When people walk by my site, they stare. They stare at the van, then the camper, then back to the van.  They seem to be assessing, judging, comparing. I call it being just plain nosy.  I heard one couple making comments about the dents in the van. Apparently, people cannot see me sitting inside.  I wonder if the dark-colored screens keep me invisible. Do I stare when I walk by other campers? Hmmm, maybe I should not be so judgmental about other’s nosy behavior. I try to take comfort from the fact that it could be worse, much worse. Consider, for example, a campground filled with screaming kids and hoards of pubescent girls giggling.  I remember that I am blessed to be in this beautiful place on a weekday.

To be continued….

Approximate range/distribution map of the Dark...

Approximate range/distribution map of the Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis). In keeping with WikiProject: Birds guidelines, yellow indicates the summer-only range, blue indicates the winter-only range, and green indicates the year-round range of the species. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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