Grouse males strut to attract a female.
Grouse males strut to attract a female.

It must be the extreme frigid cold for several days in a row mixed with the snow and ice that has Wyoming on my mind. We lived in the southwest part of the state about 15 years ago in an area known as Bridger Valley, which included Lyman and Mountain View.

There was no question about what inspired the town’s name of Mountain View. The Uinta Mountains towered majestically to the south — part of the Wasatch Range in the Rocky Mountains. The outdoor opportunities were plentiful and amazing.

One of my favorite memories is getting up very, very early on a very, very cold Spring day to go out on public land with a Wyoming Game and Fish Department Ranger for a sage-grouse survey. It wasn’t just a random, out-of-the-blue trip. I was managing editor of Bridger Valley’s newspaper and sage-grouse population management and conservation was an important topic with many area groups, and the state legislature was involved.

It was a similar situation that can probably be compared to the plight of the Greater Prairie-Chicken in Oklahoma. Prairie-Chickens are large birds in the grouse family and one thing, among others, they have shared over the last 30 years is their population numbers dipping dangerously low due to loss of habitat. When we lived in Wyoming in the mid-to-late-2000s, the concern was the number of windmill farms going in and how that was affecting habitat. Yes, a familiar conservation scenario we’ve also seen in Oklahoma.

Anyway, back to the Wyoming tale, I called the local ranger for an interview and was invited out to observe the lek census. A lek is just an area where the sage-grouse gather in early spring and the males strut and show off for the females in their courtship rituals.

When the morning of the survey arrived, I was up early and had the coffee going. I had already put on as many layers of clothes as was possible, including my husband’s long johns and his heavy Carhartt jacket. The brown coat was standard wear for all the men in Wyoming. I also put on as many pairs of socks as I possibly could that would still allow me to get my boots on.

It was dark when the game ranger swung by my house and we headed out into the vast Wyoming public lands in Uinta County near an area known as Lonetree, which is at an elevation of 7,556 feet. Record (or rumor) has it that the name was accurate. At the time it was founded, there was only one lone tree. Anyway, I grabbed my camera, notebook, coffee and pencil and settled in for the 30-minute or so drive. (I mention pencil because reporters in extreme cold regions of the country know that the ink in a pen can freeze.) Lek monitoring is done about a half hour to an hour after sunrise, so we had to get to the spot when the sun was just coming up.

The sunrise was beautiful and breathtaking. I was hanging back out of the way when I saw one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen. No, not the male sage-grouse spreading his feathers in the sunlight, which was also pretty amazing, but a herd of antelope too numerous to count ran in the open range in the morning light. I snapped a few pictures, but the camera just didn’t do it justice. There must have been at least 100 antelope in the herd, maybe more. I let the camera hang around my neck and just soaked up the moment, wanting to remember every detail of it so on days like these I can still see it in my mind’s eye. It was definitely a soul moment, too.

I was privileged to have many memorable outdoor moments in Wyoming, like the time we played snowshoe baseball during the week of the dog sled races through the Unita Mountains. Having grown up in Oklahoma and living in Texas for a while, I had never seen dog sled races before. My family and I took the Dead Horse Trailhead into the Uinta Mountains and it was a spectacular sight to see the sled dogs round a bend and come flying out into the open with the white landscape sparkling in the winter sun. Another picture etched in my mind. Yes, I had my camera with me and am now going to make it a project to find that camera card.

We also did tent camping in the Unita-Wasatch-Cache National Forest at about 10,000-feet elevation. I loved it and didn’t ever want to come down again. Well, I was a little nervous about bears, although I had watched all the bear safety videos. I knew they didn’t go to an elevation above their food source and the reality that we were a food source wasn’t comforting. At 10,000-feet elevation at night it seems you can reach out and touch the stars and climb into the Big Dipper constellation. Yes, I obviously did come down and eventually we found our way back to Oklahoma.

I saw my first bear and moose in Bridger-Teton National Forest near the Teton Mountains in Wyoming. I don’t remember if it was a Grizzly or not. The fact that it was a bear was enough for me and I didn’t want to pitch a tent there.

I tried to participate in the WGFD’s Cutthroat Slam Trout Fishing Tournament, but I was never able to catch the four sub-species of trout in their native range. Heck, I couldn’t even get the hang of fly fishing; however, we did have a favorite fishing spot where we caught a lot of Rainbow and Brown Trout. Baked Trout is still one of my favorite meals.

Yes, we have gone Trout fishing at Bath Lake in Medicine Park during the season when it’s stocked, which, actually, is now and the temperature is just right for it — extreme frigid cold. Hopefully, all the fish have returned after the recent Polar Plunge event that saw throngs of people jumping in the fishing hole.

Now, if I could only get out of my driveway. Well, Trout Season is on in Medicine Park until March 15, so there is still time to get out and enjoy it. Go have an outdoor adventure. The experience and memories are worth it!

OUTDOOR TRAILS & TALES