The Rocky Mountains
“The shining mountains,” as Lewis and Clark called them. Lewis and Clark were commissioned military officers by the government of the United States to explore a water route from the then existing fifteen states, to and through the Rocky Mountains or also called the “Stoney Mountains, to the Pacific Ocean.” Little was known in 1805 about these mountains, or about the country west of St. Louis, Missouri for that matter.
The few traders and trappers who had ventured into that unknown country and lived to tell about it, told of places and experiences that were hard to believe. They told of giant bears that could not be stopped by ordinary flint lock rifle fire, of vast herds of wild animals that roamed prairies and hills, so many in number they were impossible to count. They told of the many many Indian tribes who lived in that vast territory who were expert horseman who chased the huge beasts called buffalo and shot them from horseback with their bows. The beaver were numberless also, a treasure trove of fur bearing animals for the taking, and fur was money and always had been. The lure of the western country fired the imagination of adventurous souls and was the cause of rivalry, jealousy, and threats of war among peoples and nations—our nation and others.
Very little was known about the interior of the Rocky Mountain region. It was surmised by our government and Captain Lewis and Captain Clark that a navigable water way through those mountains to the Pacific Ocean was feasible. It would be a fairly simple matter of following the Missouri River to its source then a short portage over the hills and crossing the continental divide and then following the westward flow of the rivers to the Pacific. The incredible vastness of the Rocky Mountains, of high, rugged, mountain ranges, one after another, after another, after another, with no visible end in sight was impossible for their minds to even conceive. Peaks so high and rugged that some of the snow never left them, and clouds often clung to their tops and even in the heat of day. This was a land that could only be seen to be believed. No! They had no idea the hills and mountains of the Eastern United States truly were like mole hills in comparison. In the tops of the Rockies could be heard the shattering echoes of the fierce collisions of fighting rams with horns so heavy and hard as to be like great rocks crashing into each other. No such animals even existed where Lewis and Clark came from. Unknown shaggy snow white mountain goats with shiny black horns that walked and jumped up and down sheer perpendicular cliffs thousands of feet high. So many animals unknown to Lewis and Clark would amaze them. The fleet pronghorn antelope, also unknown and unseen back east, could run so fast, they made a galloping horse look as if he was standing still. A galloping horse could travel about 30 miles per hour but an antelope could go 60 miles per hour.
The streams and rivers of the Rocky Mountains defied the imagination. Crystal clear and ice cold they crashed and cascaded down from Rocky snow laden peaks thousands and thousands of feet high, gushing and falling over cliffs and precipices that made the viewer dizzy just to behold them. The slow and sluggish and muddy rivers and streams of the eastern country were so different from the highly oxygenated pure cold streams, creeks and rivers of the Rocky Mountains. There were beautiful streams in the Appalachian Mountains too, thank God. But the sheer numbers of the gorgeous breathtakingly beautiful, hauntingly beautiful rivers and creeks and streams in the Rocky Mountains defied description or imagination, and couldn’t really be numbered either. They were everywhere and they were all full of beautiful silvery shiny trout and salmon with pink and red flesh flavor full and delicious. The Rocky Mountains was a land of extremes. Everything was higher, farther, deeper, wider, longer, bigger, more beautiful breath taking, challenging and difficult than anything Lewis and Clark had ever encountered. When they first saw the Rockies rising above the Montana prairies, even at a great distance, the snowcapped mountains shimmered and glistened in the sun and a shot of joy filled their souls and a shout of joy came from their lungs as they first beheld “the shining mountains” they had fought and struggled and suffered for so long to see. Little did they know the challenges ahead nor the unbelievable beauty they would behold, as they endeavored to cross them.
People that are raised in the Rockies or within the boundaries of the Rocky Mountain Cordillera never truly realize how special they are until they have to move away for various reasons such as employment, school, family reasons, etc. It is then they suffer the knowing hunger to get back there, to breath that amazing air, behold the immense forever distances, yawning canyons, gorges rolling hills that swell and drop like giant undulating waves on the sea. A place where you can walk or ride a horse for days and days and never see a sign of civilization or another person. Still today much of the vast area within the boundaries of these mountains is untouched wilderness.
I didn’t realize the fear the mountains can engender in people that aren’t used to them. I guided some hunters from Kentucky a few times, hunting elk here in Wyoming. I didn’t do it for money, they were friends of mine, some of them, but they brought a few people I didn’t know. Their reactions to these mountains were interesting to me. One particular fellow became so overwhelmed in the middle of these massive mountains where he could see anywhere from 50 to close to 100 miles in different directions when we were high on the peaks, that he really couldn’t handle it. He could see no roads, highways or buildings of any kind. He could hear nothing but the amazing silence of the wilderness. (It’s really not silent, far from it.) But he could hear no familiar sounds of civilization. I was enjoying the very thing he was hating, but I didn’t know he was, I thought he loved it like I did. Suddenly he told me he had to get out of there. He couldn’t take it. And we were just getting ready to start a stalk on a big bull elk, across the canyon. He wasn’t kidding, he refused to go one more step deeper into the beautiful elk country I had worked so hard to get him into. So we gave up the stalk, and rode out, finally coming to the Snake River which we re-forded and arrived at our truck and horse trailer on the other side. It was then that he started to talk and act like himself again. He just wasn’t used to so much open space with nothing but big wild animals in it. And he wasn’t used to such high mountains, 9, 10, up to 13 thousand feet above sea level. He couldn’t believe the horses just didn’t fall off the mountains.
Another fellow had an entirely different reaction. He loved it. He couldn’t get over how he could see so far in any direction and only see more mountains and peaks forever. He got his elk and I really enjoyed hunting with him.
Of course the Rockies can be a bad place to be in depending on your condition and the situation you find yourself in. I’ve been in several undesirable situations that I didn’t want to be in, and getting out was top priority. But when conditions are good, good health, good food, good friends, good horses, the mountains are truly wonderful and to be loved appreciated and enjoyed. They have so much, so many rich treasures, and rewards in the way of adventure, freedom, peace, and quiet, beauty, game, fish, trails, vistas, good exercise, camping, camaraderie, delightful weather, (not always) amazing aromas, and that sweet, pungent, clean clear air, and camp cooked food that tastes absolutely FANTASTICO. Thank you Lord for creating the most amazingly beautiful unforgettable mountains in the world. The Rocky Mountains!
And I must not leave out the stupendous beauty of the Rockies in the winter. Spring, summer, and fall all are beautiful, but winter has its own breathtaking beauty also the deep smooth sparkling snow is a wonderland for skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, and snowmobilers. There are actually many people who cannot wait for winter that is when the mountains are at their very best for beauty and enjoyment. I am not a skier, snowboarder type, my fun has been winter camping, snowmobiling and snowshoeing. There is a special peace about the mountains in winter that I particularly enjoy. There is much to be said about being in a cabin by the fireplace in a snowstorm in the Rockies. If you have plenty of fire, good food, time, good books, and other pastimes and those who you love- it is one of the most relaxing comfortable enjoyable places to be.