The moose were just yards from us, nonchalantly grazing the marshes.
They were more wary than frightened of the three humans who intruded
on their morning meal. I furiously worked my camera, as did Dorothy,
the other guest who got up early with me to photograph them. We fired
frame after frame at these odd looking creatures who look like one
of nature's mistakes. But they were fascinating and well worth the
pitch-black wake-up call our guide, Tim Doud, gave us to capture them
To view the two cows, we trudged into the marshes just outside of
camp. After we ran out of film on our shooting safari, we went back
to eat breakfast. The moose practically followed us into camp to drink
from a nearby spring.
I was elated to be so close to something I had only seen in zoos,
but to Tim this was a common occurrence.
Tim owns and operates Bliss Creek Outfitters, a full-service outfitting
business, which provides both vacation and hunting trips, as well as
schools for guides and camp cooks. His guide school is one of the few
in the country and, to their knowledge, they offer the only camp cook
Our 5-day pack trip took us into Wyoming's Washakie wilderness of
the Shoshone National Forest. Camp is based in Bliss Creek Meadows,
southeast of Yellowstone National Park. The Absaroka mountain Range
is a stunning backdrop for some spectacular scenery, and the meadows
are a haven for wildlife. To reach camp, we rode horseback for 8 hours,
traveling 22 miles down the south fork of the Shoshone River. At least
5 of those miles were along a rock slide hundreds of feet above the
riverbed. Although safe, the trail is not for the fainthearted or those
seriously out of shape. We crossed the river numerous times and alternated
between riding the timber bordering the river and traversing the canyon
Our destination was
Bliss Creek Meadows, an idyllic spot at the confluence of Bliss
Creek and the meandering
Shoshone River. It's one of those "get-away-from-it-all" places
that you see only in pictures, and rarely get the chance to experience.
Tim explained it this
like our guests to be totally relaxed and forget the things they
the things that made
them want to get away from their day-to-day life in the first place.
They get a better sense of self and what's important. a lot of
people don't believe what we have up here is still available, and
awed when they see moose and deer in camp."
Nestled in the pines at around 8,400 feet, the campsite is considered
a primitive wilderness camp, which means it's only accessible on horseback
or foot. The trail we took to camp is the same the Shoshone Indian
tribes, as well as John Colter, mountain man and hunter for the Lewis
and Clark Expedition, used over 100 years age.
Although the camp is primitive on one hand, it's civilized on the
other. There are large, canvas wall tents, which sleep two to four
people comfortable. The log beds have mattresses and come in either
twin or extra-wide (for couples) sizes. Each tent has a wood stove,
a propane lantern, and mats on the floor near the beds to keep your
feet off the bare ground. That's especially nice in the chilly mornings
while you're getting dressed.
There's a shower tent with an actual hot shower! Now that's something
you won't find most places in the woods. Water in a large metal tank
is heated on a wood stove, and through a series of pulleys and horses,
you can stand underneath hot, running water. The tent is much like
a sauna; no matter how chilly the air is outside, you're warm while
The cook tent is also comfortable with its various stoves and a long,
kitchen table. It doesn't matter what time of the day it is or what
the weather's like, you dine in the comfort of a warm, well-lit tent.
The camp cook surprised us every day with meals fit for visiting royalty,
not just a bunch of hungry horsebackers. Some of the tasty fare included
the likes of steak and eggs and French toast for breakfast, baked pork
chops and barbecue chicken for dinner, and chocolate pie and cheesecake
Our group was small, only five guests, but Tim likes it that way.
"We try to keep things personalized," Tim explained, "between
two to six people, unless a group wants to book a larger party." The
group after us consisted of eight photographers from the Midwest.
Our group was the typical interesting mix of people that such vacation
trips usually bring together. Three were friends from California: a
patent attorney, a research biologist, and an information systems specialist.
Then, besides myself, there was a plumber from Berlin, Germany. He
spoke English reasonably well, so we all could talk to him.
What was somewhat unusual about our group was that all were horse
people. The attorney is an avid endurance rider, who has completed
the famed Tevis Cup several times, and the biologist and the informations
systems specialist were no strangers to distance riding either. The
German, who likes to play polo, takes a horseback riding vacation somewhere
in the world every year.
On day two, we rode up Bliss Creek to a ridge overlooking Bliss Creek
Meadows and the Shoshone River valley. Before we reached the top of
the ridge, we spooked a herd of elk. We got off our horses and quietly
sneaked thorough the woods to see them. They took off when we got close,
but we located them later while taking in the breathtaking vistas from
the top of the ridge. The small elk herd was below us then, and we
spotted another herd as well.
Tim told us about a white cow elk he saw the year before in this same
area, but we didn't get that lucky. That color is unusual for elk and
seeing one is a real treat.
Tim is the fellow to follow to find wildlife. An avid bow hunter himself,
he's an expert guide and bugler. He's won numerous elk calling championships
and is on the pro staff of the Quacker Boy Call Company. Besides vacation
trips, Bliss Creek Outfitters offers hunting trips for bear, elk, deer,
sheep, and moose.
The following day we rode farther down the Shoshone River and up Crescent
Pass, which is on the Continental Divide. Climbing up the 10,800 foot
pass was something to write home about. Even the endurance riders took
notice. The attorney remarked that terrain for the Tevis Cup wasn't
any more difficult that what we had climbed. Fortunately, we were well-mounted
with horses and mules used to the steep switchbacks and loose granite
that fell away beneath their feet. I was impressed with Bliss Creek's
tough, sturdy, sure-footed stock, who took care of the guests and never
faltered on the trail.
Tim is proud of his
string and should be. "We have a variety
of horses from a variety of backgrounds," Tim said. "We
have mustangs, Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, Quarter Horses, Missouri
Trotters, Appaloosas, and mules. Most of them ride as well as pack,
so they are versatile."
Once we reached the summit of the pass, we rode to aqua-colored Elk
Lake. It was August, but the lake was still surrounded by banks of
snow. We lunched there and fished. The lake is one of the few places
noted for golden trout.
Fishing is a big draw on these trips. I even tried it for the first
time in about 20 years. Enough brookies and cutthroat trout were caught
(not by me) just outside camp to serve up for breakfast the last morning.
Getting down from Crescent Pass was as tricky as getting up, so we
dismounted and walked a good portion of the way to prevent soring the
horses. Steep switchbacks are hard on horses' shoulders and backs.
When we were close to camp, we flushed out a moose along the trail.
Tim and I jumped off our horses and bushwhacked in search of picture
possibilities, but the crafty animal was able to hide too well in the
Guests at Bliss Creek aren't locked into riding everyday. Tim offers
a flexible schedule for activities.
"We always ask the night before what people want to do the next
day," Tim says. "If there are six guests and three want
to fish and three want to ride, then three people fish and three
ride. No one is tied down to a set schedule."
But being all horse people, we wanted to ride. So up Pierpont Pass
we went, following the canyon walls of Clark Creek until we reached
the over 10,000-foot summit. The ridge overlooks Hidden or Secret Basin
(it has two names), one of those grandiose mountain bowls that's hard
to capture even in a wide-angle lens. From the grassy meadows on the
valley floor to the statuesque pines to the stark mountain cliffs,
it's difficult to take it all in at once.
On our way to and from Pierpont, we observed an unusual situation.
That morning, two of the oldest pack string veterans had escaped the
morning gather and gone their merry way. (Every night, the string is
turned loose to feed in the meadows; a wrangler brings them back in
the morning.) When we ran into the renegades, they were grazing with
a moose. The three made a strange little herd. But then the moose in
Bliss Creek Meadows are a little on the unflappable side, as we had
found throughout the week.
That night, around the campfire, we roasted marshmallows and Tim entertained
us with elk bugling calls and stories. It seems the area around camp
was named after Jack Bliss, a famous outlaw and horse thief gunned
down by Wyoming ranch detectives in 1892. Naturally, Tim couldn't resist
mentioning that Jack Bliss' ghost is supposed to still haunt the area,
and that his apparition was once seen in my tent.
On Friday, we headed back. It's always sad to leave a place that has
as much to offer an outdoor enthusiast as this one does. I thoroughly
enjoyed my wilderness experience with just a touch of the city, and
I'll especially remember the moose in the meadow.