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Our Trip West


ness

Well, ness is into a new phase of life: where family vacations are mostly behind us now, and the kids are grown up enough they aren’t doing a whole lot that requires the parents around. That, and a loosening of the work policy disallowing more than one week of vacation at a time, made for the first 2-week vacation I’ve ever taken. This trip was to be just my 19 year old son Michael and me. The plan was to head west into Colorado, then up into Wyoming and back through South Dakota, doing as much fishing as we could (or wanted to), while taking in Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore. I didn’t want to mess with camping for that long, so we got set up in an eclectic set of cabins, hotels and motels for the stops we had planned.

The first stop was Estes Park / Rocky Mountain National Park. We’ve been a number of times as a family, so we were pretty familiar with the layout. We stayed in a rustic cabin at Cascade Cottages, which is just inside the Fall River entrance to the Park. We’ve stayed with them a number of times, and Richard and Grace, who run it, have become friends of ours over the years. Two of the nicest people you could possibly meet. They do everything the way they did it 50 years ago – hand-written reservation system, check or cash only. No TV, internet, phone or Wi-Fi, and no cell coverage. The cabin has what we call the “essential 6” – bed, shower, toilet, fridge, stove and heat – and nothing else.

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We spent a few days there, fishing some in the park with a few little browns to show for it, and also taking in the spectacular scenery RMNP has to offer. My son’s a big Steven King fan, so we had to hit the Stanley Hotel of course. Spent more time in Estes and less time fishing than I wanted, but hey – it's give and take that makes these things work, right? Saw tons of wildlife as we always do (elk, big horn sheep, marmot, turkey, mule deer). This big dude was laying in the grass next to the parking lot of a motel.

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It's perty up there!

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Our next stop was Saratoga, Wyoming where we planned to hit the Encampment and North Platte rivers. We stayed at the century-old Wolf Hotel, which turned out to be a happening place with a great restaurant and bar – which seemed out of place for such a sleepy little town. First day we headed out for the Encampment Wilderness /Hog Park area. We got pretty crossed up on the crappy, unmarked, Forest Service roads, but got some help from a couple ranchers right before I blew a gasket. First stop was the beautiful Encampment, a freestone river that runs north out of Colorado. Not much happening there so we gulped down some snacks and headed over to the tailwater of a small reservoir. Man, that was some great looking water! We started walking downstream so we could fish it back up with dries and droppers. Shortly into the walk I couldn’t resist cutting off to the left to check out a little side creek. Michael says, ‘Come on dad, that’s too shallow’, just about 10 seconds before the old man proved him wrong and hooked into a (relatively) nice fish.

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Well, we all know the dangers of walking along in the tall grass next to a stream, especially when you’re not focusing on your footing. While I was catching up to the fish I stepped into a side channel, and Michael couldn’t resist taking a photo. I submit it here so the OAF smart-azzes have something to work with.

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But, I kept him on.

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We had a couple of fish out of the main channel – my best one came just as we were leaving. Unfortunately the camera got knocked off its settings, so the picture is crap. Deal with it :D

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The next day we hired a guide out of Hack’s Tackle in Saratoga for a 10-mile float on the North Platte River. The first fish of the day was a nice rainbow that I horsed and lost. After he broke off he did three or four leaps out of the water with my tackle clearly visible dangling from his mouth. When I reeled in and inspected the tippet, I saw it had been rubbed flat – which I realized happened when I wrapped it around an overhead cable a few hundred yards back. My fault x2 on that one. The guide was too eager to point out how badly had messed that one up, which ended up costing him a few bucks on the back end :D. Not a stellar day on that great river, but the catching was fairly steady. The guide was pretty good, and definitely worked his arse off. Not so good with the teaching aspect, and a little too quick to point out the flaws while never offering up an atta-boy when you got it right. Michael was pretty quick to point all that out once the guide was out of earshot. :D

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Next stop was Pinedale, Wyoming where we stayed in a nice little cabin that had a kitchenette (Log Cabin Motel). We were there to fish some of the creeks BilletHead had steered me toward in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. We were hungry so we grabbed a beer and a bite to eat at the Wind River Brewery. Those boys know how to make beer and cook too! I had an outstanding ESB and some cream of mushroom soup. After lunch we fished a really sexy looking little creek for a short time, but didn’t have much luck. After the long day in the drift boat the day before, Michael was a little petered out on fishing, so we took some time to get Michael’s casting straightened out. I had him press his elbow into his ribs and not bend at the waist. Next I relayed some of the best fly casting advice I ever got –think about it like you’re hammering a nail. Once I had his wildly-flailing arm tamed, and cured him of trying to will the line out by lurching forward and reaching, I worked with him to get the pause and timing right on his backcast. It only took a couple of minutes, and it was so satisfying – for both of us -- when that all clicked. Seeing his frustration melt away and be replaced by confidence and enthusiasm was priceless.

The area around Pinedale is desert and mountains, with plenty of public land. We saw a Golden Eagle lift off with a prairie dog in its grip, lots of Pronghorn Antelope, some sage grouse (they’re big!).

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...and plenty of cattle too. Had to convince some of them to move out of the way more than once!

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Before we left I hit the Mountain Man Museum. Very nice museum with lots of good information and artifacts relating the men that went west from around 1820 to 1840 in search of fur (primarily beaver) to fill the need created by the beaver hat fashion back east.

Next day it was off to our next stop – the Grand Tetons. We stopped in Jackson Hole for a bit, mostly to get something to eat and check that one off the list. It was a mad house, and I wasn't really in the mood, so we hit the dusty trail pretty quickly. Up in the Tetons we stayed at Colter Bay Lodge on Jackson Lake. Our first day there was mostly checking out and photographing the magnificent scenery, though I did fish a little while Michael piddled around. Turns out there's only, like, four mountains in the Teton Range. Here's the big one:

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The following morning I roused the sleepy teenager early, determined to beat the big blob of lazy tourists rolling into Yellowstone mid-morning. This was our first time there, so we had to make the required stops. We sat with the masses waiting for Old Faithful to blow. When he finally did, the wind whipped it around and onto the crowd. My first few pictures look like steam from a big tea kettle, then the rest have mist and water on the lens. Old Faithful Inn is spectacular – spent a lot of time just wandering around marveling at the architecture and all-log construction. Then it was off to the falls and other areas for sightseeing and more photos. Along the way we pulled off at a neat-looking thermal area along the Firehole River. We walked on down to get some pictures – just like another guy was doing. Next thing I noticed, he's gone and a park ranger is hot-footing it toward us. Long story short – we weren’t supposed to be there and I picked up a $125 ticket. I was a little miffed, because we never saw any signs even though the ranger insisted we walked past ‘several’. The ‘several’ turned out to be two: one in the parking lot that was knocked down, and another out in the field that was knocked down. I had seen the one in the field, but I just figured it meant don’t go stepping on steaming stuff. It was a Yellowstone speed trap. I stood the sign in the parking lot back up, because it didn’t look like Smokey was gonna do it. The $125 picture:

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Carrying on a family tradition at the Divide:

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After a couple days based out of the south side of the park, we moved over to the east side to Pahaska Teepee. That’s a neat little spot, right on the North Fork of the Shoshone, that was originally of Buffalo Bill Cody’s lodges. Kinda of a neat spot, but like Colter Bay the cabins didn’t have kitchenettes. We had some cold food, we were tired of that and down to eating at the local, expensive, not-that-great restaurants. We did a horseback ride up into the mountains one afternoon, then wandered into Cody to check things out. Boy, that’s a true wild west town – a gunfight actually broke out right on the main street. We strolled the main drag and ogled the cowgirls. At BilletHead’s suggestion we stopped in to North Fork Anglers and met Tim Wade. A few others of you might know since he’s a native Missourian. Good guy, and we had a nice chat. After that we settled in for a gunfight and all-you-can-eat prime rib buffet at the Irma Hotel. Some fun people pics:

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The last evening we did the Buffalo Bill Cody Center of the West. That's an outstanding museum and I'd highly recommend it to anyone. Lots of artifacts, art, natural history stuff. I particularly enjoyed the large collection of Fredrick Remington, Charles Russell and N.C. Wyeth paintings. Lots of weapons on display, including several pieces from TV shows (such as Matt Dillon's six-shooter).

Saw this along the way between Cody and Pahaska Teepee:

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Go figger?

It kinda pains me to say we didn’t fish Yellowstone. Please refrain from telling me what a screw up that was. I know. I fished a little on the North Fork of the Shoshone, which ran right behind our cabin. I had been warned by a couple different people that there was a grizzly momma and cubs frequenting the area, plus a moose and a calf, so I was a little leery of fishing, honestly. Michael did catch a nice cuttie at the gift shop:

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We headed east from Pahaska Teepe through the Big Horns. Man, that was some spectacular country through there. And, along the highway for many miles was a really sexy looking creek. No time to fish, again, because we were on the long trip across Wyoming to get to Custer, SD. Custer State Park was another place I wanted to fish, but we were heading to the barn, running short on time and just couldn’t do it. We did a quick look-see at Mount Rushmore that evening, then did the 11-hour drive home the following morning.

This was a great trip and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to spend that much one-on-one time with my baby boy. We saw a lot of stuff, and it really whetted my appetite for trips in the future. We both agreed a 10-day trip with fewer stops would be better. Now that we’ve got an idea what we like, what we don’t like and what we can skip, we’re ready to start thinking about next year. When I set this trip up, I knew we were packing a lot in. I didn’t want to camp for two solid weeks, especially with an antsy teenager along. We had a little cell coverage and a little Wi-Fi along the way, so the boy wasn’t totally cut off. But a lot of the areas we fished, or wanted to fish, are so much easier to get to if you’re camping nearby – rather than a 30-45 minute drive away in the nearest town. I guess you do it, learn, and then tweak it for next time, right? Already working on 2016.

Hope you enjoyed.


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