When Hannah and I travel to the Mountain States, we love to explore Western towns after a day of hiking. Some of our favorites are Flagstaff and Prescott, Arizona, Lander, Wyoming, Bozeman and Missoula, Montana, and Panguitch and Moab, Utah. Traveling to small towns provides us with a getaway with no to-do lists or the weight of responsibilities at home. They embody a freedom from our usual day-to-day. Though I love our day-to-days in Maine, these towns get me thinking in new ways and entertaining new possibilities.
Unable to visit as planned to the Grand Teton or Yellowstone National Parks due to the three feet of snow on even the lower elevation lake trails in early June, we pivot to Plan B and drive due north from Salt Lake City (where we had landed) to Pocatello, Idaho.
The former and current city flags of Pocatello, Idaho
Idaho! My first trip to the Potato State was in June of 1969 with my college roommate, Jim Francis (Mule), and Hugh Chappell (Kerch). Mule and I were transferring out of the College of Wooster in Ohio after three tumultuous years there as undergrads and Kerch was heading to Yellowstone National Park for a summer internship. It was the summer of the Beatles “Hey Jude” playing in the local pub in Idaho Falls. The following day I began hitchhiking from Idaho Falls to Tempe, the home of Arizona State University where I was transferring in the fall.
That 900 miles of hitchhiking took me three days. Just two years later my continued meager finances had me hitchhiking from Atlanta, Georgia to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio to meet up with Hannah when on the way I ended up in the Knoxville (TN) Jail. Click here for the first of this sixth part series of my being jailed in the South as a long hair.
Today, there is no hitchhiking or jail involved as Hannah and I arrive for a popular local trail – Gibson Jack Trail. Loving the chance to interact with others, I am energized by the give and take with other hikers. Truth be told, with other hikers around, we are much less likely to get lost!
Arriving at the trailhead a little after 1 PM on a sunny, 80 degree early June day, Hannah and I lather on the sunscreen, slap on our fanny packs, and immediately start steadily climbing on a rocky trail with sage, juniper, and pines; we handle the nearly 5000 feet of elevation just fine.
After 45 minutes through mountain meadows of grassland, we hit a fork in the trail and choose to cross left over a wooden bridge of planks. Unfortunately today we lack a map so we are hiking blind. Yes, I agree that’s not impressive! Usually if we have no map, we believe that we can go up and back on most any trail with a high degree of confidence that we won’t get lost. But today’s trail is a loop trail, the Gibson Jack Loop.
Here in the Targhee National Forest the signage is poor which compounds our issues. Aspens bracket the trail with leaves that are not fully leafed. Mountain snow rivulets whisk by us. It’s all pretty cool until…
After an hour we still see no other hikers but do see a distant mountain and wonder if that’s part of the loop. We are again reminded that not having a map is a major bummer. We look for a sign. I mean an omen-type sign: if we see another hiker on the trail whose advice we have a high degree of confidence in, we’ll continue on. If not, we’ll head back the way we came.
The mountain ascent is steep and rocky and makes us wonder, should we go any further? Now five miles into the wilderness without seeing a soul, we feel we are out of options and don’t want this late afternoon to be spelled L-O-S-T.
Seeing no one, we turn back, later learning that if we had continued to that mountain top, we would have had just 2.3 miles back to the trailhead. Instead, by turning back we hiked five more miles.
Some days you get the bear, some days the bear gets you. – Davy Crockett
Later, we toast the Blackfoot Mountains and small town America as the sun sets after 9 PM this early June evening here in the northern Rockies .