Copyright © 2017 Travis N. Wood
"One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise."
—Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (New York: Ballantine Books, 1970), 197.
About the Website:
Beginnings: Much of this website has been on the web for well over a decade. What is here is but a small portion of what once was a very popular site in my area. The site began as a collection of information and maps I found useful about the two mountain ranges in which I spent my time: the Big Horn Mountains of north central Wyoming, and the Black Hills along the Wyoming and South Dakota state line. But as time passed, I began collecting information about the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA) also.
Much of my original website's information on hiking and backpacking in this locale had even wider application to the Rocky Mountains. My immediate area included ecosystems from arid grasslands and evergreen forests, to glacial mountains and slopes of tundra. It was nearly as varied as the Rocky Mountain Region at large.
My resources were by necessity more inclusive of "Northern Wyoming and Vicinity" than of any particular mountain range. I had maps for Cloud Peak Wilderness and the Black Hills, wildlife information for Yellowstone, experience applicable to Bad Lands and Theodore Roosevelt National Parks, astronomy research applicable to virtually anywhere, and hundreds of links that I needed a place to organize.
Ever the independent thinker, I was testing and refining the backpacking techniques that could work for me. And so often preoccupied with maps, I was updating the maps and information for the areas of interested. Rather than divide that information between two or three websites and continue repeating myself when folks asked, I wanted a place to collect it all with an easy link for those who asked. And after all, it was I who needed my own website more than anyone. Above all, it was a handy resource for me.
Growing: Over that decade
or so, computers have become more powerful, graphic programs more capable, web
information more plentiful, Internet speeds higher. And webpage language has
grown more complex. There was no Google Earth when I started. And land managers
were often behind the pace of development. My webpage filled a gap among many
agencies and websites that now do a bit better.
If years ago, I had a need to revise, it was the abrupt closing of hosting servers that prodded me to do so. And I succeeded once in that complete revision. But my website had grown large, and comprehensive revisions had grown time-consuming. So carefully nurtured in its youth, this website had become a fond memory and a neglected child.
From earliest publication, I have backed up virtually all of my work. But rebuilding a website, even with webpages and graphics long in my possession, takes a lot of time. And as much as I dislike that notice "Under Construction," that fact will inevitably apply here for the foreseeable future. In my mid-sixties now, I'm on the verge of becoming an old man who would still rather be outdoors than sitting at his computer at home or office.
Limitations: So the visitor will excuse me, I trust, if my presentation here is not exhaustive. I do my best to organize into categories that show what I have prepared and what I do not. Numerous folks visiting my previous websites have complimented the presentations. For those, and for myself, I hope to keep that information available. Some of us do find it useful. I hope others can find what is useful to them.
But as always, for any particular questions or feedback, feel welcome to use my email address, [email protected].
I was born in early 1950s in a very small town among the foothills of the Wyoming Rockies. My parents had made the trip to the hospital from where they lived on a remote ranch in the Wyoming High Plains Steppe. That large ranch over 30 miles away is where I grew up.
The ranch had been homesteaded by my grandparents in the early 1900s on the edge of what would become the Thunder Basin National Grassland. Dozens of miles from the nearest town and 10 miles down a rough dirt road, the location was isolated and rugged. The nearest neighbors were miles away.
In my early childhood, our only electricity came from a home-made wind charger on a hill. There were no electric lines or phone lines for dozens of miles around. But the wind charger powered little more than lights at night. At home, we had no television, no working radio, and no telephone. Our water came from a windmill.
But outside there was wildlife. When homesteaded, the land still harbored an occasional wolf. The last known grizzly bear of the area had been killed a few years before, and the bison before that. In my early life, an occasional mountain lion wandered the land in front of our ranch house. Coyotes still howled at night, and bobcats, badgers, and rattlesnakes were plentiful. But no wildlife was more visible than what seemed vast herds of pronghorn. Occasionally there were mule deer and elk.
Life on the ranch, even for a child, was largely outdoors. We raised cattle, sheep, horses, and chickens. I learned to milk cows, gather eggs, ride the horses, and herd the sheep. And that involved some hiking, not just as a pastime but as part of my chores. Before I ever attended school, I was riding horse or walking miles from home on land no plow or machine had ever touched.
The steppe was nearly desert in reality. Water flowed only after large rain storms. But it might collect in a few earthen-filled dams that livestock drank from and kids like myself swam in. But the steppe seemed endless. Not only was there the Federal grassland a few minutes walk from our ranch house, but the family ranch land grew to a full township in size. Those 36 square miles or 23,000 acres of steppe were part of my job, even as a youngster. They were a maze of bluffs, rolling hills, and ravines where I herded cattle or sheep on foot or horseback.
In comparison, there was not much to do indoors. Reading materials consisted of the Encyclopedia Britannica and National Geographic magazines my grandfather had collected since the late 1800s. That was our outdoor magazine with colorful pictures of strange lands, wildlife we could only imagine, and societies of naked natives living primitive lives.
The people of the National Geographic were often darker-skinned people like me. I spent so much time outdoors that the neighbors called me a "little Indian." I liked the idea enough that in games of "cowboys and Indians" I chose to be the Indian. And as the years passed, that only made it easier to question the values of the "cowboy culture" in which I was raised.
Though we had no scout troops, I attended camp in the mountains each summer. And each summer my family took camping vacations to national parks or to the Colorado mountains where my other grandparents lived. They were what we might today call "hillbillies."
On one such vacation in 1959, we went to Yellowstone for a week. It was a couple weeks before I began my first year of school. Along the roads of Yellowstone, bears tried to crawl inside our car windows and they roamed the campgrounds. Mid-week, camped at Yellowstone Lake, my family woke to the 1959 Yellowstone Earthquake.
The magnitude 7.5 quake roared that night like a freight train through the area. It toppled the side of a mountain, buried a campground, killed dozens of people, moved highways, created a lake and frightened thousands. After the quake, many of those people fled the park. But we stayed again at the same campsite. My dad was determined to see more of Yellowstone — earthquake or not.
Soon afterward I started school at a two-room country schoolhouse with six students. The school was a few miles away from the ranch house and "out in the middle of nowhere." I spent three years at that country school. Then my family moved to town for the school year and back to the ranch for summers, weekends, and extended holidays.
Some people today speak of moving "off the grid" for a more simple and primitive lifestyle. I grew up off the grid. It is today less a dream than a strong memory ingrained into my character. Somehow I've felt the need throughout my life to return to a semblance of that life with little more than what I can carry in a pack on my back. The backcountry and wilderness have been for me places of reflection and renewal. They are places where important decisions are made, where the hubbub of modern life is set aside, where I value life in its innumerable forms, and where I content myself to let that life remain virtually unchanged by me.
Growing up on my grandparents' homestead was in itself an adventure in primitive living. But eventually I found myself in college in windy Laramie, Wyoming at 7200 feet in elevation. With high snowy mountains nearby, I was introduced to Kelty backpacks, down sleeping bags, lightweight tents, climbing ropes, cross-country skis, and the source of it all at an REI store in Boulder, Colorado. I began backpacking with mountaineers in the mountains of Wyoming and Colorado in my freshman year of college. Within that first year, I broke away to go solo. Backpacking solo is something I've continued to do regularly, often weekly, for my entire adult life.
Perhaps this website is intended as a small token of what I've learned.