Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hiking Coal Creek, Remembering Targhee

Coal Creek to Mesquite Divide has been our favorite hike since moving to Driggs over 13 years ago. It starts at the base of Teton Pass, on the Driggs side, and heads east towards Taylor Mountain and the Tetons. There's water, wildflowers, aspen & pine trees, views, shade, snow banks, 2,000 feet of climbing, and an incomparable view of the Tetons at the top. We've taken many friends and family members along over the years, and that final view always brings an audible "wow."

No one enjoyed this hike more than our former dog Targhee. He first did the hike at 9 months old back in '96, chasing sticks and bounding up and down hills with ease. He cleared it for the final time in September of '06, plodding steadily behind us. A dog's compressed lifespan is vivid reminder of our own advancing years, no doubt. Targhee was doing great at 11 years old, then his health hit a sudden tailspin and he was gone in March '07. Ironically, he passed away on the exact day that Bridger was born.

Targhee was the gold standard of dogs, that once-in-a-lifetime companion. Respectful and obedient, yet also playful and enthusiastic. He was always game for adventure, but his defining trait was an unmatched ability to just chill and reflect. His eyes were humanlike, his wordless communication absolutely clear. Friends called him "the wonder dog," especially after he led us out of the hills on a particularly pitch-black night, one of many great Targhee stories. Most of our Targhee photos are old prints, but this rare digital shot reflects his singular presence.

We wanted to remember Targhee in the perfect place, and Mesquite Divide was the clear choice. It took us 16 months to gather the courage, but we finally made the pilgrimage to honor him last week. The hike up Coal Creek was somber, but peaceful. Memories flooded back, especially of the friends and family who shared this hike with Targhee in years past, and even Bridger was more subdued than usual. We took turns sprinkling Targhee's ashes, then just held each other and wept. Crazy how much it still hurts, but we don't have kids, and a piece of us definitely passed away with him. We haven't been completely the same since, and if you knew Targhee you understand.

So, as the wildflowers bloom in the high country each summer, and the elk bugle each fall, and the snow piles high each winter, the Tetons will be keeping Targhee company overseeing it all. The BIG T lives on, part of that circle of life, and we'll never forget him. We're even seeing more of him in Bridger each day now, thank goodness. So, Targhee, our buddy and soulmate, R.I.P. We sincerely hope to see you again.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Mid-Summer Variety

It was a weekend of only-in-July variety around Driggs, with perfect conditions for every type of recreation. We took advantage and got out mountain biking, horseback riding, running in a local 5K charity race, and more. Man, I wish we had more than one July.

Saturday morning was the Tin Cup Challenge, a 5K/10K/Half-Marathon/Marathon event benefiting local Teton Valley, Idaho non-profit organizations. Turnout was robust; it appeared half the town of Driggs was there...yes, at least a couple hundred people!;-) So, it was fun seeing lots of friends, many with their dogs in-tow (we saved Bridger's energy for later in the day). We eased through the 5K, socialized, and made it home for a break before the next activity.

I make it a habit to ride horses at least once a year, whether I need to or not. It's mainly Joanne's hobby, but I grew up around horses, we feed them all winter and I do enjoy it once I'm out there. So, Saturday evening we joined do-it-all-Dan for a great trail ride up the South Fork of Teton Canyon, towards Alaska Basin. Wildflowers, rushing water, blue sky and rugged high country scenery made for a magical few hours. My young steed Colter did great, and I even rode out a brief bee-induced rodeo moment that kept me awake out there.

After watching the Tour de France Sunday morning (I'm addicted to that event, love the aerial scenery almost as much as the race...which enters the Alps this week!), we headed out on the mountain bikes. I'm finally starting to feel my fitness kicking into high gear, that old feeling of cresting a long, technical climb and actually wanting more. I love it. As usual, the local singletrack trails were nearly empty. It's amazing, but as the population of Teton Valley grows, the backcountry trails don't seem to get any busier. I think everyone's busy texting, which is totally fine with me.

Leaving you with a July-appropriate link to the singular, everything's-gonna-be-allright Bob Marley. Enjoy summer, y'all!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Star Valley Visit

Business took me to Star Valley, Wyoming for a couple of days last week. It's only about a two hour drive from Driggs, and there are far worse places to spend time working. This sign on the south end of the valley is a warm welcome, and honors native Olympic Gold Medalist Rulon Gardner. He's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, as are most of the people there. It must be something in the water (more on that shortly).

Star Valley sits snugly in the northwest corner of Wyoming, bisected by the Salt River (a blue-ribbon trout fishery), and punctuated by the towns of Afton, Thayne and Etna. I've been going there this time of year for ten years now, and last week was the most green and lush I've ever seen it. Hay fields were four feet tall, and nearly covered the wheel-line sprinkler systems. Old timers told me they're seeing flowers they haven't seen in twenty years. Maybe the good ole' days are returning.

Weather was perfect, evenings were long, and of course I needed my after-work endorphin fix. So, I pedaled my bike from Afton to the south, over Salt River Pass, down towards Cokeville, and back. The pavement was nearly new, traffic was minimal, and it was one of the most enjoyable road bike rides I've ever done. I actually hope to ride that section of road as part of the LoToJa bike race some day soon, so I got a nice photo at the top of Salt River Pass to remember it.

Oh yeah, back to the Star Valley water. This sign explains the local Periodic Spring, near which water is bottled and sold throughout the world. Residents originally thought the entrepreneur was crazy, because who would ever pay money just for a bottle of water? Well, a few billion people in the world don't have water as fresh as Star Valley does, so needless to say the entrepreneur made out o.k. I can attest that it's the best tasting H2O you'll ever drink (Adam Sandler's "water boy" would be proud), and that's what I think makes all the locals so agreeable.

The drive back to Driggs winds along scenic Palisades Reservoir, a boating and recreation hot spot. Six weeks ago it was empty, and "experts" were predicting it would take 2-3 years of above average precipitation to fill it up again. Newsflash: it only took six weeks, and Jackson Lake (about 100 miles above it on the Snake River) is also full. I told you we had a wet spring around here! It's great to see the reservoirs full again, and hopefully they'll stay that way for a while now.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Driggs Fourth of July

I wrote the following piece for the local Driggs paper this week. Since most of you don't receive that, I thought I'd go ahead and make it my blog entry for the week, as well. It's a bit longer than most of my entries, but I'll break it up with photos. Happy Summer, and enjoy!

"Rodeo Revelations"

My wife Joanne and I just experienced our fourteenth Fourth of July here in Teton Valley, and as part of the celebration we attended the Tetonia Rodeo. It was fantastic as a rodeo, even better as a representation of life in Teton Valley, and ultimately felt like a panacea for local ideological differences. What a great event.

Since moving to the valley, Joanne and I have worked our share and also enjoyed a variety of recreational activities. These pursuits have introduced us to amazing people and priceless adventures: mountain biking, hiking, skiing, snowmobiling, softball, fishing, floating, golfing…and horses. Ahh, horses.

You don’t just roll over in the morning and ride horses, and therein lies the beauty. You move the sprinkler pipe to grow their pasture, build barns and fences to shelter them, buck their hay, feed them, muck their stalls, train them, shoe them, brush them, soap their saddles, and watch them frolic. You get thrown a time or two, but get back on and gradually form a partnership based on mutual respect. The good ones transport you to places and feelings you’d never encounter otherwise: stunning high country vistas, crystal clear creeks, time with your thoughts, the sound of wind and hawks, Dutch Oven meals, starry campfire nights, and lifelong friendships with likeminded souls.

Horses engender resourcefulness, accountability, self-reliance, cooperation, work ethic, preparation, trust, responsibility, and common sense. Each of these traits seems to be vanishing from our world at large, but each was evident in abundance at the Tetonia Rodeo on Saturday. It was remarkable to witness.

We stood amidst valley newcomers, old timers and in-betweeners, all enjoying the same event, good conversation, tailgate refreshments, and an incredible Teton sunset. Some wore cowboy hats, others fishing hats; some sported cowboy boots, others sandals. All had big smiles.

Fred the emcee reeled off one hilarious western quip after another. Kids chased calves and busted mutton. Roping, Barrel Racing, Bronc and Bull Riding showcased longtime valley names like Hill, Breckenridge, Ripplinger, Kaufman, Cooke, Beard, Barney, and Rammell. Pee-wee class participants gritted their teeth and competed, some of them barely of school age, sixty pounds of human determination somehow handling 1,000 pounds of aggressive horse. Dirt flew, newcomers cheered, respect and wonder beamed from all eyes.

The equestrian spirit has thrived in Teton Valley for generations. Before jeeps, mountain bikes and ATV’s, there were horses, and we owe most of our mountain trails to this fact. The horse has been the lynchpin of ranching, farming, herding and hunting. It is a lifestyle that emphasizes similarities before differences, and represents authentic Western America, right here beneath the Tetons. We would be wise to preserve such heritage.

As the rodeo ended on Saturday and the crowd began departing, an east coast native and new valley friend approached me. He pointed out several kids in cowboy hats playing in the arena, and presciently remarked: “what a wonderful way for kids to grow up today.” And yesterday, and tomorrow.