Saturday, August 4
Red Mountain Campground is almost full due to the arrival of several weekend campers last night. The eighteen sites are well spaced, so it’s easy not to notice the increased population. The crew and I have been here several, lazy days.
I’m reading a fascinating series written by Montanan western writer, Richard S. Wheeler. His story takes place in Montana and Wyoming, where the crew and I have recently camped.
I’m engrossed in the tale of wilderness guide, Mister Skye, and his two “squaw” wives, when I become aware of a scratching sound. “Spike! What in the world are you doing?”
I run over to the neighboring campsite.
Spike notices me and darts away. After gathering up the mess, I go after him, intending to give him a scolding. Instead, I burst out laughing.
He’s running around the campground with his head through the handle of a brown take-out bag. The bag resting on his chest reads in large print, “Deli.”
“Oh Spikey,” I say, pulling the bag over his head, “It looks like an open and shut case, little boy. Guilty, guilty, guilty!”
One evening I visit with Ken and Marianne from Texas.
They’re our neighbors on the other side and repeat visitors to Red Mountain Campground. They recently bought a house after fourteen years as fulltimers. Both retired from education careers so we have a lot to talk about.
I ask them about the wildfire that ripped across these hills on all sides of the campground this past June.
“It was started by a kid – well, actually a man, 26 years old – setting off firecrackers across the road,” Ken explains. “It burnt thousands of acres of land.” Marianne adds, “If you go down the road a little way, you’ll see a swing set. That’s all that’s left of a beautiful home.”
Ken chimes in. “We used to sit here and watch horses roaming those hills.” We look across the river at the dead, drab mounds of burnt grass and trees. “Two of the horses were lost in the fire.”
The next day I ask Paul, the camp host, how come the land all around the campground is burnt bare, but not where the campsites are.
“Did you put down a perimeter of water?” I ask.
“No. I mowed the campground about two days before. The grass was really short and green. Over there,” he points to a black section by the road, “I hadn’t mowed that yet so it burned. I’m the one who phoned in the fire, you know.”
“Paul!” I exclaim dramatically. “You saved the campground! You’re our hero!” He laughs at my silliness before walking away, continuing his rounds.
Soon after we arrived I repaired the line of rocks that form a slight waterfall.
It’s in front of our site’s steps going down the riverbank. It was fun playing in the water, moving rocks. I like to sit with my book in the pool of water formed by the rocks, like I did back at our Zion camp. Only this water is colder and comes up to my waist, so that I’m halfway submerged in my chair.
People floating by smile and wave, shouting things like, “I like your seat!” and “Pretty cool!”
White pelicans drift in flocks overhead or bob on the river, scooping the water with their pouched beaks.
At dusk the heads of otters rise up out of the river.
At first I thought they were beavers, until Ken set me straight. They position themselves facing upstream with only their head and shoulders visible, and they remain that way for a minute or two before slipping out of sight. Then they appear again to the same position.
I train my monocular on their little brown faces, but I can’t make out in the dim light what it is they’re doing. It’s a nightly ritual . . . at least three in front of our campsite. Now I can add otters and freshwater pelicans to my list of “Wildlife I’m Seeing for the First Time.”
I feel like I’m living summer the way it was meant to be lived.
Some of the campers leave during the day, taking excursions to Bozeman, mountain lakes, or even as far as Paradise Valley and Yellowstone. Me, I’m content to stay here by the river. I made one trip into Bozeman. I get enough travel and sightseeing when we move between camps.
I’m able to post every day now.
I found a place where I can park the PTV and pick up a signal for my Verizon air card. It’s only a few miles away, where the land flattens out for huge cattle ranches. Ted Turner’s ranch is not far from here. I saw his herd of bison — or maybe they were beefalo — way off from the road, as I drove back from a grocery run to Bozeman.