They Like Bears in MontanaIt was recommended to us by our friends in Laurel, and I also can now highly recommend driving over the Bear-tooth Scenic Byway on your way to Yellowstone. It’s a beautifully rugged region of Montana in which you are guaranteed spectacular vistas and perhaps even some thrilling wildlife.
Even if you don’t see wildlife, you might think you did anyway.
We were near the top of the ridge, above 10,000 feet elevation. We stopped the car next to a large, barren field. With lots of space and no sheer cliffs, we let Beorn out for a brief walk with The Missus. They walked down roughly fifty yards from the road.
Right then another car pulls up behind ours and stops. A couple that look to be in their twenties get out to view the scenery.
I take a mental note of their appearance, and quickly categorize them: young, fashionable city dwellers unfamiliar with nature. It was just a hunch, but I acted on it.
“You’ll want to take some photos of this,” I said to them excitedly, pointing towards The Missus and Beorn. “My wife is petting a bear!”
Their eyes got big and they quickly grabbed their phones to snap some pictures of this amazing event.
After a few photos, they see Beorn’s white blaze and long tail. Realizing they’ve been had, they turn to me in surprise and confusion.
I give them my best shit-eating grin. Disappointed, they get back in their car and leave.
I was technically correct. “Beorn” is an Old English / Middle English word meaning “bear”. It’s also a character from Tolkien’s The Hobbit, a man who can change into a bear. So I didn’t lie. Not really.
The Road through Yellowstone on the way to Jackson Hole
In Yellowstone, everyone stops for bison. If there’s a traffic slowdown, it’s most likely because someone slowed down to photograph a bison shitting out a steaming pile next to the road. It’s a bit annoying, these traffic slowdowns, but I have to admit the bison in Yellowstone are HUGE! We live near a ranch that raises bison and they aren’t half as big as these suckers.
The landscape in Yellowstone is always spectacular, with wonderful surprises around nearly every corner, surprises which, in Yellowstone, usually include more people. Over three million people visit every year, which is why we chose the week after Labor Day to go. There were still a lot of people, but not nearly as many as during the Summer months, when getting to see one of the natural attractions is like cramming onto a subway in China. It’s ironic that in order to “get back to nature” we have to brace ourselves for such huge crowds of people.
On this leg of our journey, there were only three places that were intensely crowded and I can’t remember their names, but I took at least one decent photo despite the crowds.
It was a long drive south through the park, and Beorn needed a potty break, so we stopped just outside Yellowstone for him to do his duty in the woods next to the Snake River. I would have bagged it, but Beorn is a secret pooper and prefers to do it in the tall grass out of eyesight. Spying him in time to clean it up is, literally, a crapshoot. While The Missus and I were collecting souvenirs on our trip, Beorn was leaving them.
Predicting when Beorn would press out a stink pickle became one of the themes of this trip.
After about eight or nine hours of driving and sight-seeing, we pulled into our campsite in Jackson Hole, Wyoming just before 7pm on Thursday. Exhausted, we had a light, alliterative dinner of crackers, cold cuts and Coors Light.
The next day, Beorn was going to discover his special purpose and in the process earn a new nickname.
Beorn The Chick Magnet
Beorn and I are sitting outside a shop in Jackson Hole. I’m on a bench. He’s on the sidewalk. The dog is attracting all kinds of attention from all kinds of humans, but particularly the female variety. The dog is a Chick Magnet, and I’ve never loved him more than I do at this moment.
The dog is a Chick Magnet, and I’ve never loved him more than I do at this moment.Me
Earlier that day, we went for a hike in the thin air of 8000+ feet to Ski Lake, a popular trail for dogs and their humans. The one-way distance was listed as 1.9 miles, so we took lots of stops to catch our breath. The weather was hot, and many of the water sources had dried up, but when we finally reached the top, Beorn was rewarded with a swim in an icy-cold glacial tarn. He swam for a few minutes, clearly enjoying the cool water. Then he walked out and shook next to The Missus. I tried to tell her that’s a compliment in Dog Culture, like farting in college, but she had her doubts.
We hiked back down and went into town for lunch. Afterward, we decided to walk around looking for a few items. My T-shirt supply was looking particularly sad, so my goal was to replenish it on our trip. We weren’t sure if Beorn was welcome in the shops, so we took turns on the sidewalk with him while the other went in to shop.
That’s how I find myself at this moment fending off hordes of womenfolk lusting after my dog. They don’t care a whit about me and I’m perfectly fine with that. As a fat, bald old fart, I’m just grateful for the attention.
There’s something about a crowd of total strangers that transforms me into a mild extrovert and bullshitter. I think it’s because most of the people that know me are well aware that I am full of shit and have stopped listening. Over the years, they’ve built up their immunity. But strangers? They have no knowledge or experience with my particular brand of smart-assery, and so they approach me as lambs: innocent and trusting.
“You may be wondering about this beast at my side,” I say to the crowd.
“Well, for those of you familiar with them, this is a Bernese Mountain Dog and he is very friendly.
“For those of you not familiar with them, this is a bear, and you can pet him for five dollars.”
I get a few laughs, no money. But for me, the laughs are payment in full.
One Hundred Degrees of Hell: Moab, UT
We left Jackson Hole the next morning for Flaming Gorge in southern Wyoming. It was very pleasant.
Here’s a nice photo I took of the “flaming” part of the gorge.
We arrive in Moab, Utah, after a grindingly hot drive south out of Wyoming and a crazily narrow road out of Colorado.
The Kid joins us, having driven up from Albuquerque. Beorn The Chick Magnet is not thrilled sharing the back of the car with her. He’s giving her the Bitch Stare, as in “Bitch, what are you doing in my space?” I tell her that’s the usual reaction whenever we get a new pet.
“Give it a couple days. I’m sure he’ll accept you,” I said with a smile.
Not sure she enjoyed that joke as much as I did.
The Delicate Arch Question
The trail to Delicate Arch is best done somewhere cooler, like Banff. Unfortunately, Delicate Arch is located in Arches National Park in Utah. After dropping Beorn The Chick Magnet off in his air-conditioned doggy day care in the morning, we left for our hike.
Delicate Arch sits on the edge of a bowl of rock carved out by water and wind. The drop to the bottom looked to be about fifty feet or so. In order to get under the arch to pose for their photo, everyone must walk around the edge of the bowl, which is curved downward like a funnel. It’s like a toilet bowl, and I couldn’t help wondering if, whenever someone slips and falls into the bowl (as I’m sure happens a lot) do they roll clockwise or counter-clockwise?
Some questions simply remain unanswered. Ponder this philosophical truism silently while you view these photos.
We went shopping in Moab afterwards, and I bought four shirts, two hats, a bottle of hot sauce and two books. The ladies bought a pair of sandals and a couple shirts. When it came to upholding the tourist economy, I was definitely pulling my weight.
While visiting one shop, I struck up a conversation with an artist selling his oil paintings. I told him I used to paint mostly in oils but had switched to digital a few years back for reasons of health, convenience, and professional necessity. His eyes glazed over when I said “digital”. It happens a lot. Digital art is not seen as “real art” by many traditional artists.
As a traditional artist who made the transition to digital and now does both, I dedicate the following cartoon to every single one of these traditionalist snobs:
He was nice enough, however and encouraged me to pick up my lonely oils and get painting again. That was actually good advice.
I handed him my card which has a couple of my digital art samples on it. “Nice,” he said. Then he handed it back to me.
That evening, we went back to Arches just so I could take some photos with dramatic evening lighting. Here’s a tip: Almost no one is in Arches National Park around sunset.
John Wayne and sandy beaches
Our last day in Moab, we had nothing planned except finding a place for Beorn The Chick Magnet to swim, so we drove up the Colorado River and as luck would have it, we stumbled into the world of John Wayne, Yul Brenner and just about every western movie ever made. It’s the Red Cliffs Lodge, and it’s a stunning place and a filming location for over 100 Hollywood westerns.
They have a movie museum in the basement, so Faith went to the main desk and asked if Beorn The Chick Magnet could go in with us. Because he’s a Chick Magnet, Beorn got a special invitation to visit the museum. He liked it for the air conditioning, but wasn’t impressed with the stuffed coyote on display. After sniffing its butt for a minute, he gave a “Harrumph” and turned away.
The Most Pressing Question
Eight hours from Moab back to Jackson Hole, arriving there early enough to set up camp next to the Snake River and enjoy our first (and only) campfire. We spent much of the evening discussing our most pressing question:
When is Beorn The Chick Magnet going to poop?
Having adapted to life on the road, he answered that question in the morning just as we were preparing to leave. He did his duty, and laid down near the back of the car waiting to load up.
It’s good to clear the pipes before a long road trip. On that Beorn The Chick Magnet and I are in full agreement.
Beorn The Chick Magnet – as popular as bison
After a dream involving milk chocolate dinosaurs and Ving Rhames (dont ask), I wake up in our tent in a Jackson Hole KOA. It’s 36°(F); it’s 6:00 a.m. and the night was filled with rain showers. We’re all mostly dry, Beorn The Chick Magnet having crawled on top of The Missus.
We pack up and hit the road.
On the drive north back to Yellowstone, we stopped so our Chick Magnet Mountain Dog could spend some time appreciating the awesome mountains.
Back in Yellowstone, we took a more westerly course taking us through the hot springs and geyser region.
I can’t enjoy it because in the back of my mind I know we’re standing on a crust mere feet above a seething super-volcano. Everyone is standing around taking photos, but I’m thinking “This could blow any second!”
We stopped next to a series of hot spring pools bubbling with boiling water (from a SUPER-VOLCANO!!) that The Missus wanted to see. Because of park rules, Beorn The Chick Magnet was only permitted in the parking area and sidewalks, not the trails themselves. As we were walking with him to the trailhead, where I would stay with him while the Missus went to see the sights, we stopped.
Up ahead there was a crowd of people watching and taking pictures of a very large bison near the trailhead. They were getting within a couple yards of the giant beast. I knew the danger of that, so I took Beorn The Chick Magnet back toward the parking lot and sat on a bench to wait for The Missus.
Within minutes Beorn The Chick Magnet had attracted a crowd that rivaled that of the bison. This offered me yet another chance to hone my “You Can Pet My Bear For Five Dollars” routine. The response was about the same, except for the asians who didn’t quite understand English, or humor. They offered confused smiles. They were very nice.
The amount of people Beorn The Chick Magnet attracted everywhere we went was amazing. I had my camera with me and took one last photo:
The President’s dogs and the Queen of Ireland
Beorn The Chick Magnet was the big attraction everywhere we went on our trip. Even coming home, stopped in Missoula for fuel. The Missus took Beorn The Chick Magnet out for a short walk.
On her return to the car, a woman approaches and (of course) asks if she could pet Beorn The Chick Magnet. She is soon joined by her travel partner. They were a couple from Ireland heading to Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. They were looking for dining tips. We recommended Famous Willy’s Texas BBQ. Too bad they were vegetarians.
She fell in love with Beorn The Chick Magnet and mentioned that the President of Ireland has two Bernese Mountain Dogs. I, in turn, asked if they were going to seek an audience with the Queen of Ireland* in Sandpoint, Idaho.
“If so,” I said helpfully, “I could put in a good word, seeing as how I’m her brother.”
They looked a little confused at that, but didn’t pursue it.
*The Queen of Ireland is Kate McAlister, a friend of mine from way back when. I’ve adopted her as my older sister. I call her Sister and she calls me Brother, which confuses the hell out of everyone, to our mutual delight. She’s Irish, of course, and loves the home isle with a passion that’s impossible to quantify. Everyone knows her in Sandpoint, where she is referred to as The Queen of Ireland.
She turned 60 last Friday the Thirteenth. Here’s a pic of me at the party with my sister, the Queen of Ireland.
Now we’re home after our week on the road. Beorn The Chick Magnet is growing accustomed to being the only dog. We still miss Boris every day, but life is moving forward, I think Beorn’s going to be fine, and so will we… eventually.
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