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blizzard warnings - 13:52 , 03 October 2013

heelerless - 21:32 , 18 August 2013

Red Coat Inn in Fort McLeod - 11:38 , 23 June 2013

rushing into the waters - 09:53 , 21 June 2013

choosing a spot - 17:43 , 27 April 2013

2001-05-09 - 11:32 p.m.

taking a break

It's 07:30.

Right now, 80.7 miles away, the wife is probably shouting at eldest son to get out of the shower so she can get him and his brother to school, and herself to work.

Most everyone in eastern time zones is at work, and has been there a while.

I'm sitting on a pile of Eocene dirt, enjoying the view and silence.

Actually, it isn't silent. The cold wind is blowing at a good clip from the west, and I hear it whistling through the steep gullies and rustling the few shrubs here. We're sitting on the eastern side, out of the wind and in the warm sun. In one of my favorite places on this planet.

There are two rock wrens singing threats or courtships to each other in the badlands behind me.

I hear the jingle of the tags on the heeler sisters' collars as they circle around, sniffing at all the eagle whitewash and wondering why we've stopped on top of this clay peak. One of them finds a coyote scat near the top. Why was it here? There is no prey to find on this bare ground. All I can assume is that the coyotes like the view as well, to keep tabs on their world.

Eventually the sisters each paw out beds in the soft, greenish-grey clay beside me, and wait for something to happen. They do not know or care that the soil they dug in was laid down at the dawn of the Age of Mammals. In a wet period, according to Dr. Bakker. And the bands of iron-rich red soil below us were laid down in the dry periods.

Every once in a while the heelers lift their noses to the wind. Smelling the dozen elk we watched head into the draw upwind of us, I assume. I try to smell them too, but can't. I love the smell of elk.

But otherwise, it is silent. I haven't spoken since we left the truck down below and, as it turns out, will not need to speak until we get back to it.

There is little to mar the view, either. The truck we drove, the 2-track road we came in on, a stockpond and a barely visible fence are all the signs of humanity that exist. Not even a jet contrail to impinge on this scene.

The Wind Rivers are about 35 miles away, their snow-covered peaks dimmed in the shadow of clouds hanging in their lee. Even I can tell there isn't as much snow as there should be. Fifty percent of normal, they tell me.

Behind us is the bare Continental Peak, where the split Continental Divide comes together again. A few miles beyond are the Oregon Buttes, landmark of the Oregon Trail, covered with patches of dark green pine and drifts of bright snow.

Far to the south I see the Buffalo Hump and Bastard Butte. I know there's active gas wells there, the northern extreme of the gas patch (so far), but I can see no sign of them today.

Towards the newly risen sun I can barely see the Ferris Mountains, 60 miles away. Another wilderness I know and love.

In all this open country, all I can see of civilization is us.




After savoring the moment, we head over the ridge into the badlands themselves, to what I call the Boneyard. A small purple rock stands out in a layer of red soil, and I see that it's been worked. Touched at least once before by human hands. Not an arrowhead, or a minor chip. It looks like part of a broken scraper, used to scrape the meat off buffalo hides.

What is it doing up here? Was its previous owner scraping a buffalo hide up here, where the wind would dry it quickly? Or did it break while she was working below, and she threw it up here in disgust? Perhaps it was brought up here to be reworked into another tool, by a knapper who liked the view as much as I?

Normally I would pocket such a find, but not in this special place. I return it to the red clay.

Just two more steps is another patch of bright purple, a blooming vetch with more than 200 blossoms on a plant no more than two inches high and eight inches across. The badlands are speckled with these flowers, mixed in with the smaller clumps of white phlox.

We wandered the benches for a while, littered with fossilized turtle shells and rarer crocodile bones. The heelers chased butterflies (score: butterflies-3, heelers-0) as we worked ourselves in a looping trek back to the truck.

An hour well spent.

What did you do on your break today?

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