Roaming the Book Cliffs roadless country was a wonderful thing to do in my earlier years. My immediate family used the same camp every autumn from about 1972 until 1985.
We took a lot of our extended family and friends with us over the years so they, too, could experience such incredible doings.
We rarely had enough horses to do everything at once, so several trips back and forth from the trailhead to camp had to be made in order to get everyone and all the grub and grain transported. On occasion, some of us had to walk and lead packhorses just to save an extra trip. It was only about five miles but there were plenty of ups and downs to contend with and it felt much farther.
Near the end of the hunting season on our second or third year a big storm blew in one night. The next day it appeared to be getting more serious as the snow began to deepen and drift while the thermometer dropped, and the winds kicked up to a miserable degree. The Old Man drained his eighth or ninth cup of campfire coffee, looked at the sky and said, “Well, I guess we better get the hell out of here while we still can.” The problem was that my cousin Sando had killed a beautiful 30-inch buck the evening before a long way from camp in the wrong direction.
If we had loaded it on his horse, he would have had a long walk back to camp. We had planned to ride back to East Willow with an extra horse to retrieve it this morning, but the weather was making that impossible. We had five or six horses and five or six people to evacuate. There was no room for all the tents, sleeping bags, Dutch ovens, coffee pots, clothes bags, and so forth. However, we realized it was still October and old man winter was still probably a month away, so we figured we would tie our personal stuff to our saddles, abandon camp for a day or three, then a couple of us who could get off work would ride back in to collect the well-cooled buck hanging in the tree a few miles from camp, then we’d break down the tents, and load everything up for the trip home.
Alas, Old Sister Fate ganged up with Old Mother Nature that fall and kept the storms coming every few days. We attempted to get to camp a time or two but finally had to give up till spring. It was tough to think about what would happen to our camp, but it was purely sickening to think about losing that fine animal to the storms and the predators.
Along about the end of April my brother-in-law Danny, Uncle Kennis, and me tramped through a few snowdrifts and arrived back at camp only to find that Brother Bruin had beat us to it by two or three weeks. That old boy had enjoyed himself immensely. The two tents had collapsed due to the snow load long before, but just to get even the bear had crawled under and tested out all of what he must have assumed were Goldilocks’ beds.
Apparently, they were all “too hard,” or “too soft,” with none “just right.” So, he just shredded the bags, pillows, sleeping pads and the tents, then pooped on everything. That old blackie tasted everything while he was about it, too. I still have a bar of soap somewhere out in the shed with perfect prints of his front teeth and fangs. He bit through a gallon can of lantern gas, then rolled a Dutch oven down to the horse water hole and kind of buried it.
All the knives and forks, pots, pans, plates, cups, and everything else were scattered from hell to breakfast. We had been a little worried about how everything might have fared over the winter, but I guarantee you that we hadn’t worried enough. The place was a complete and utter un-permitted dump. We saved what we could then hauled it all home along with the trashed stuff that we were not able to burn in the campfire. We went back over by East Willow and found the beautiful antlers attached to a skeleton still in the tree. Some hungry critters had been happy for the gift, but some of us hunters were pretty humbled and sorry about what had transpired. The antlers made it back to my cousin and he has them still.
After three or four years of too much stuff and not enough horses, Dad came up with a new plan. He went into camp prior to hunting season with the horses and packs loaded with eight aluminum garbage cans with lids. There was also about 50 feet of quarter inch chain. I’m sure someone went with Dad, maybe Uncle Kennis, but it may have been Mom. I can’t remember.
Anyway, they built a 15-foot ladder from quakie poles and used it to stretch the chain from one tall tree to another some distance away. Then the garbage cans were fitted with wires so they could be hoisted up into the air with a rope and pulley system. Someone would hustle up the ladder that was leaning on the chains and wire the handles of the can to the chain, then move the pulley along the chain so the next can could be hung. We ended up using that system for about 10 years. We even stored 100-pound sacks of grain from one year to the next, not to mention canned goods, a wall tent, a couple of sleeping bags, all the cookware and so forth. Some of the trash cans were heavy enough that we used a trusted horse to haul on the pulley rope. It was a lot simpler having most of our camp gear waiting for us each year and saved a lot of wear and tear on the pack horses.
The little aspen-filled gulch where we camped was actually part of the Cunningham ranch range, but good old Bill Cunningham didn’t mind us nesting there a few weeks each year. He would even make an effort to keep his cattle off the graze so we would have good horse feed when we arrived. That little piece of heaven was remote enough and off the beaten track far enough that no one ever bothered it.
If I could live part of my life over again it would be some of those days.