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Teepee Rings and the Spirit Wind

Someone gave me one of those mid-range expensive weather stations, the kind with an indoor readout that talks with an outdoor unit.  It also talks to a satellite for date, time, and moon phases.  There is a feature on it that tells you a forecast: an arrow up or down, sun or clouds.

This morning I looked at the forecast on the readout.  It featured clouds and the arrow was down.  Ten minutes later W___ called and asked about a hike today.  I looked at the readout and the arrow was up.

Frankly, that about says it all for Wyoming weather.  JB, my 84 year old neighbor, tells me the old saying is “If you don’t like the weather in Wyoming, wait 10 minutes.”  I think my digital weather station feels like its riding a bucking bronco sitting on my window sill forecasting mountain weather.

W___ and I decided to meet down the mountain and go for a hike out near the mouth of the Clark’s Fork river.   The Clark’s Fork barrels down the canyon from the Beartooths, carving a deep gorge over a mile deep in places from the high plateau where I live.  Chief Joseph led his people through here, pursued by the army, fleeing to Canada.  The reason he knew the area so well was because the Nez Perce had been coming here every fall to hunt buffalo.  By 1840, the buffalo had disappeared from Idaho.  The Nez Perce had to decide to either change their diet or migrate yearly to Wyoming to hunt.  They used traditional trails through the park and into the Great Basin of Wyoming.  Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River

Today was incredibly windy.  The winds were traveling at breakneck speed down the canyon.  Sometimes gusts blew me off my feet.  Huge clouds of water blew like ghosts off the river.  W__ said it was a ‘spirit wind’.

We park at the end of a dirt road that once was a Ranch.  W__ tells me that about 12 years ago there was a large drug operation at the ranch, the owners were busted by the Feds, and because it was a Federal operation the ranch became federal property.  Eventually the state took the ranch over.  Now, its just old buildings boarded up.  We walk around in the hurricane force wind.  The main house is all boarded up, but several cabins are still open.  Most are filled with packrat items, but others have old signs and refrigerators in them.  One is filled with rolls of carpet.  The ‘drug ranch’ sits on the flat sagelands, next to the river, with old Cottonwoods surrounding it that some previous owner planted.  Its a perfect movie set.  The story goes that one of the druggies got out of prison early and went back to the ranch in the night to dig up drug money that they’d buried there.  Koda’s running around like crazy after jack rabbit scents.  I humorously instruct him to ‘Look for the money, Koda.”

The river, once roaring and wild, settles down here at the mouth and swings gently along a wide, broad plateau. We walk much further down the old dirt road, off the ranch, and towards the mountains.  W___ points out the numerous teepee rings.  At first I can’t see them well.  They’re old and the rocks are deeper in the dirt than ones I’ve seen before.  I kind of have to squint, unfocus my eyes and let my mind flow.  Soon, I’m spotting them too.  Their openings are to the east.  A few even have old fire rings in the middle.  We’re at the end of the plateau where W___ tells me the rings are large.  I ask him why some of the teepees are smaller and some are larger.  “I’m just guessing here, Old teepee rings.  Can you see them?but my theory is that the larger rings were for families that might have stayed longer; whereas the smaller teepees were temporary hunting parties.”  I like to try and imagine the community spirit that once was here, bustling with excitment and activity for the fall hunt.  Its in sharp contrast to the drug ranch of secrecy and isolation.

Yet all that’s left of both of them are a few signs, a desolate area, and a fierce wind–a ‘spirit wind’.  Newer teepee rings in the Bighorns