Local Color: An Autumn Hiatus

Every August, the Missouri heat and humidity have me curled up in a fetal position, whimpering, “Lord, have mercy.” I simply cannot wait for Fall to mosey its lazy way to Missouri, so I get up, wash my face, and start planning a trip to the mountains.

This Fall found us at our favorite cabin in Dubois, Wyoming. Last year I spent several days out here alone when I was deeply depleted, but this year we came looking for some fun in the wild. Our deck overlooks the Wind River and faces Warm Springs Canyon. We share the space with local deer, who acknowledge our presence with just a twitch of one ear, then go back to their grazing. Our equine neighbors run to the fence for nose rubs and a whisper of sweet nothings in their ears.

View from the deck of Dubois cabin

With a population of under 1,000 and not a single stop light or fast-food restaurant, Dubois provides a perfect escape from the world. It’s wild here. Head out of town in any direction and encounter a smorgasbord of topography including desert prairie, red-striped badlands, forested mountains, granite peaks and alpine lakes. To grizzlies and wolves, it’s home sweet home.

And if that weren’t enough, Dubois is an easy drive to Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole, and Yellowstone National Park. Wildlife abounds and the aspen put on a spectacular show. Let me show you around, but first, here’s a little local color from my journal on Day 1 of our trip.

From the moment we arrived, a cold drizzle settled in. It rained all night, sometimes fiercely, sleet pummeling the side of our cabin. The day dawned gray, with low clouds obstructing our view of Warm Springs canyon. The overnight rainfall turned the Wind River out our window into a torrent of terra cotta sludge. The thermometer outside the kitchen window registers 38. It will barely budge all day.  I take my coffee to the kitchen table and start a 1000-piece puzzle of a moose bedded down in the snow. My idea of a perfect day.

By late morning, Roger is craving biscuits and gravy, and no amount of rain will keep him from the Cowboy Cafe. We step though the door, shaking the rain off our shoulders like border collies on break, and wait for an open table. Two servers dressed in tie-dye Cowboy Cafe hoodies (the official uniform) scurry between the tight tables with plates of steaming omelets and hashbrowns delicately balanced on their arms. 

We settle into the only open table, right in front of the door, where a gust of brisk air hits us every few minutes as folks enter hungry and exit sated. Coffee sounds good, but isn’t.  We have plenty of time to observe the local diners while we wait.

At an adjacent table sits a local rancher with a mustache the size of a small goat. At the next table, two middle-aged men dressed head to toe in camoflage gear are clearly in no hurry to bag their deer on this opening day of the season. Leaning back in their chairs, they linger over the weak coffee, engaging in monosyllabic conversation while the hoodied servers bob and weave around them.

Two speakers from the tin ceiling provide classic rock ambiance. Creedance Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising proves so irresistible, the hoodied servers sing along as they refill barely-touched coffee cups. 

The bell jangles as a new customer enters with the now-expected gush of cold air. Another local, this lady shimmies into the first booth with her small dog, Bitsy. A sign not three feet from her booth declares the official restaurant policy: “no dogs allowed,” with an exception in small letters for service animals. No matter that Bitsy doesn’t meet any strict definition of service dog. She’s a local, and receives a personal greeting in baby talk from her server. 

A whiteboard near the register lists today’s selection of homemade pies in slanted scrawl. During summer, the choices fill the whiteboard with temptations impossible to resist: strawberry rhubarb, apple cinnamon, bourbon chocolate pecan, tart cherry, and 17 more. But with the end of tourist season in mid-August, the list has dwindled to only four options. Still, they are tempting. 

Finally our order arrives. Twenty minutes later we make our table available to a waiting family and Roger declares the biscuits and gravy “worth the trip.” My enjoyment stems more from the surrounding diners than my pecan pancakes, but I concur. Definitely worth the trip. 

We pass a quiet afternoon with the moose puzzle and a good book while the drizzle continues unabated. We are not so removed from our Wyoming roots to know that no one in Wyoming complains about rain. In this arid land, rain is a sign of God’s favor. And steady rain for hours? God is positively giddy. 

As daylight dims, we head out again for an evening of good company with old friends. High school was a lifetime ago, but over steaks and wine in a cozy cabin, memories flow and friendship bridges the gap of years.  

Thank you, Lord, for rest and rain and good company. And for always making us feel like locals. 

Now, come see the local color through my camera lens. We’ll start close, then venture out to the national parks.

Dubois Area

The old Shippen homestead is one of our favorite places to explore. It’s a gizzard-jarring drive across 15 miles of prairie, but worth it. The original homestead had at least three cabins and an outhouse. It’s a fun place to poke around, but we monitor the animal tracks and keep a finger on the trigger of our bear spray at all times. Nothing but a lot of moose tracks this year.

I love the rough bark of the cottonwood tree and all the berries. Don’t know what kind of berries these are, but I call them Bear Berries. This time of year, bears go wild for them. A large bleached bone makes an awesome souvenir for one of the grandsons!

Whiskey Mountain east of town is the winter habitat for big horn sheep. It’s been so warm, we thought the sheep might still be in the high country, but we spotted a small herd of ewes, lambs and juvenile rams. They kept a cautious distance, watching me from the top of a ridge, until they decided I was no threat and started moving toward me. The thrill of watching wildlife do their wild thing just never gets old.

Grand Teton National Park

Most of our wildlife chasing happens in Grand Teton National Park. We have our favorite places where we know we are likely to see moose or bear, as well as our favorite scenic spots.

My photos don’t begin to do justice to the flamboyant aspens. You may wonder just how many aspen photos does a person need? The answer: just one more!

The same question applies to the majestic Tetons. Really, how many photos does a person need of the Tetons? Just one more. Always.

Thistle at Schwabacher's Landing

The grand prize in my wildlife quest is always a grizzly bear, but we came up empty this year. We did see several black bears with cubs, but you’re mostly going to have to take my word for it. One bear was sleeping way at the top of a pine tree; another was eating berries with her cub in the thick undergrowth along the road. Trust me, there are bears in the photos below! 🙂

It’s mating season, known as the “rut,” for elk. The bulls bugle to attract a mate, and their piercing whistles echo across the meadow. It’s an otherworldly sound that never fails to give me goosebumps. What a thrill to witness!

We love taking side roads off the beaten path. On one of those detours, we watched this hungry coyote stalk his dinner for about 15 minutes before he leapt high in the air, dove into the ground, and came up with this unfortunate rodent. Ah, that circle of life thing…

We just missed moose several times in all our wanderings, but finally, we spotted a young bull and cow munching their lunch without a care in the world. I have a soft spot for moose. Isn’t this fella just the cutest?

Bull Moose in Jackson Hole

Yellowstone National Park

We continued our wildlife quest in Yellowstone, hitting the back roads instead of the geyser basin. We had Rawley with us, and dogs are basically restricted to the parking lots in the park, so that added to the appeal of the back roads. Dense morning fog finally lifted on a perfect day.

Trumpeter swans migrate from Canada to winter in the warm Yellowstone rivers. The Madison and Firehole Rivers never freeze, no matter how cold it gets in Yellowstone, because they are fed by hot water from the geothermal features. We watched this beauty preen for several minutes, then spread her wings in a graceful bow, only to resume preening!

Trumpeter swan preening

What we lacked in wildlife variety, the bison tried to make up in volume. The fluffy cows were everywhere! Such massive animals….still amazes me how many people get hurt every year because they get too close. Wild animals are, you know, wild!

Yellowstone bison

We’ve found autumn to be the best time to visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. No crowds, stunning scenery, and much better odds of seeing wildlife. Nothing nourishes our souls like time in God’s wild country. The local color from this trip will stay with us for a long time.

4 Comments

  1. Never have I ever wanted to visit Wyoming more than I do right now after experiencing it through your words and lens. Thank you for sharing your stunning pics. Also, what a gift you have with words. If that short selection is how you journal, I want to read the book.

    1. Thank you so much, Stephanie! I hope someday you’ll get to visit Wyoming and see it for yourself! Stay tuned for book announcement….a long time from now. 🙂

  2. I loved experiencing Wyoming fhrough your words and pictures! Amazing! I love how you enjoy life through simple things. I was having trouble sleeping due to the surgical pain from my right knee replacement and your post took me to a better place. Nice distraction! Thank you! Loved the photos! Love your love of nature and wildlife and crazy people. Now maybe I can sleep!

    1. Roanne, I’m delighted that I could provide you with a pleasant distraction at a time you desperately needed one! I know knee replacement recovery is long and difficult, but I hope you are feeling a little better each day. I’ll call you this week to see if you’re up for a visit. <3

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