Today was one of those lovely, lazy, exploratory sorts of days. My friend Jordan and I decided to go explore the Gros Ventres with cameras, binoculars, and fishing rods, just in case. We drove up along Crystal Creek as far as her vehicle would take us in four wheel drive. We wanted to follow an easy trail that would take us to some willow flats where we heard the fishing might be good, despite the muddy waters everywhere else lately. However, we couldn’t cross the raging brown creek in order to follow the trail. So instead, we followed a different “unmaintained trail” in the Gros Ventre Wilderness which took us through a very Maine-like conifer forest, where we actually saw moss (unusual for Wyoming as far as I can tell…), and up a bluff overlooking the rushing creek. Then the trail wanted to lead us across what looked like an old landslide where the footing was loose and the risk of falling was too great. It also started to sprinkle a bit and we saw dark clouds coming towards us. We turned around, drove back west along the road, and pulled off at an unidentified trailhead.
A group of three had just returned from a hike and said, “We just saw a lion up that way. And there’s lots of grizzly activity. So make noise.” We got our bear spray in hand and decided to just walk up the trail a bit to see where it went while talking loudly. The trail quickly met with another rushing, brown creek surrounded by conifers and some willows, so we followed a different trail up our side of the creek. Then we saw a massive pile of elk fur in the trail. There were a few bones with some old tendons hanging on, but mostly clumps of fur. My understanding is that mountain lions try to remove fur from their prey before hiding the rest of the carcass away somewhere because they don’t process fur very well…so we had a feeling that this might be evidence of a lion kill. We walked on another 20 feet or so to a spot where the trail again wanted us to cross the turbulent creek and we noticed several camouflaged game cameras pointed right at us from the other side. Knowing that the scientists at the Teton Cougar Project frequently put up game cameras in places cougars frequent, we took this as a final clue that it was about time to turn around. We started hiking back, bear spray still at the ready, and voices obnoxiously loud. It had been raining slow, fat raindrops on us for the duration of this hike, but seemingly out of nowhere a huge clap of thunder sounded overhead and we decided to run the last 100 yards or so back to the car. An eerie experience for sure!
We drove back through more rain and some thunder and listened to the mud spray up loudly onto the undercarriage. As we reached the floor of Jackson Hole, the skies were clearer and the sun was shining. We spotted beautiful (albeit toxic) larkspur on our road and took pictures as the wind picked up in front of the dark skies following us.