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Back at the campsite after my trip to Buffalo, I explore by foot the meadow where I am camped. When in National Parks and Forests, people often do not wander more than 50 yards from their car, which is about  1.5 average city blocks. I vowed a long time ago to not be a part of that statistic. There is so much to see and do, even on a half mile walk.

Today, I come across a few skeletal remains of a deer. The jaw bone, spine section, and other pieces, are in a neat pile and are weathered to a limey white. I love the jaw bone because of the intact teeth, and I debate whether I should pick it up. For now, I leave it. I amble along the Forest Service Road for a while, but never venture too far into the forest. This is mountain lion country and walking alone or with a small dog is, to a mountain lion, an invitation to an easy feast.

I suppose something could happen out here, but the odds are small. To keep the odds in my favor, I always take several safety measures. First, I look around at the people. If I get a negative vibe, I move on. However, today I am at the edge of the Cloud Peak Wilderness. I doubt many bad guys come up here looking for trouble. In fact, my only neighbors are fishermen camping in a green, yurt-like structure, who are gone most of the day and into the early evening. I am virtually alone, but it is good to scout thoroughly before setting up camp anywhere.

Distant neighbor, across the meadow

Distant neighbor, across the meadow

Harm could potentially come from animals, but even the fiercest mountain lion is not really looking for a human feast and will avoid conflict. Mountain lion encounters are rare, especially in a wild habitat where its prey is plentiful.

Deer + heavy forest = prime mountain lion habit

Deer + heavy forest = prime mountain lion habit

We don’t have grizzly bear here, although I think in my lifetime they could migrate from Yellowstone into the Bighorns. A few black bear call this area home, but basic clean-camp habits deter them (trash and BBQ in the van at night). Again, encounters are rare, although this is the time of year bear might wander into my campsite looking to fatten up for the winter on my garbage. However, on the way into this area, I see lots of bushes loaded with berries. I also take comfort in having a dog who warns me when something is nearby.

wonder dog

Tango the wonder dog (mini Australian Shepherd)

 Truthfully, I am more likely to hurt my klutzy self than encounter foul play. For that reason I do not wander too far alone anymore. If I am in an area with other hikers, great, I will continue on. If not, I stay within a certain distance of the road or take nature loops and established trails around a lake.

Staying safe while wandering on foot also means taking some basic supplies: in my case a small hydration pack with rain gear, a safety mirror, aspirin, first aid, matches, fire starter, and lip balm. Back in the van I have an extensive first aid kit and extreme weather supplies, like hand warmers, candles and emergency Mylar blankets.

Taking risks is part of the experience. Maybe I would be safer at home, but then I would not see the deer at sunset or the high wilderness peaks. I would not snuggle in at night listening to the  nocturnal critters. I would not wander the banks of a small alpine lake. Not everyone needs these experiences, but I am one who loves being outdoors and if I take proper measures, I am probably safer here than in any city.

When wandering on foot in the mountains I have various missions. First, I look for signs of wildlife. Besides the scat, I can see evidence of elk on the trees, where they scrape the bark in the winter. Often a bear leaves behind an area of earth that is scratched up, evidence they are digging for roots, ants, and other delicacies. It is impossible to miss the sign of a bear at work in the soil.

At the same time, I watch for wildflowers and keep my ears open for birds. If in the mood or if the light is good, I take photos. I also love to scavenge for rocks, bones, and small detritus left by humans or animals. If I encounter trash, I pick it up and deposit in the bag I carry around for that purpose.

Wandering along a stream or creek is my favorite. Tango also loves creeks, where he can wade in and partake of a cool drink, while I enjoy the plants, rocks, and the sound of the water. Sometimes I get lucky and see a trout scooting by or a dipper (bird) darting to and from the water. I try to engage all of my senses as I wander.

In many ways I prefer my senior-ish wandering to the old days when I hiked long distances. Those outings were a test of endurance, and I was focused on the goal of getting somewhere or ticking off a certain number of miles. I missed the subtle signs of wildlife. The goal now is to move around and simply enjoy the outdoors, poking around here and meandering there.

Back in the camper,  I figure how to take down some of the black and brown valances in Half Moon. I do not like them, mostly because they get all scrunched up when the camper goes down and stay that way unless I straighten them out each time I set up. Too fru-fru for me. The curtains have their hanging hardware sewn in, so I  decide how  I will just “cover” the curtains by sewing on a nicer fabric. The old fabric will act as a warm lining. I will rehang with the existing hardware that is across the top strip of the curtain. Sounds like a winter project in front of the fireplace while watching Sunday Night Football.

But, right now it is night again, and the sunset over the Cloud Peak wilderness is beautiful. I snap photos for the blog. I am thankful for this serene spot and for all the privacy. Tango is thankful for the wad of bedding where he is already cuddled up. As the night temperatures fall, I turn the heater on for about 10 minutes and am amazed again how fast this camper warms up. Of course it cools off, eventually, so I run it a few more times while reading, writing, and drinking my nightcap of hot chocolate. Finally, I push Tango to the other side of the bed, crawl in, adjust all the bedding layers, and read until the Kindle runs out of power.

2nd night

Night 2- Bighorn National Forest

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4 thoughts on “Back to the Bighorns – Part 2

  1. “In many ways I prefer my senior-ish wandering to the old days when I hiked long distances. Those outings were a test of endurance, and I was focused on the goal of getting somewhere or ticking off a certain number of miles. I missed the subtle signs of wildlife. The goal now is to move around and simply enjoy the outdoors, poking around here and meandering there.” – Agreed, 100%!!!

  2. Tango is such a beauty and sounds like the perfect companion for added safety. I have to admit, I’m so new to this living amongst the wildlife and a bit scared of many creatures, so you make it sound so soul-lifting. I’m anxious to get more well-equipped and schooled in my surroundings. Helpful post!

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