A Sunday afternoon 30 years ago this week found me busy sitting at my desk as editor-publisher of our local newspaper office. While the weather was beautiful outside, there was work to be done inside.
It was impossible not to keep looking out the window. The beautiful Lander weather beckoned to me. My output just kept getting slower. The sun was shining on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Yet here I was, inside my office, pounding on the keys of a computer terminal.
I picked up the telephone and called home. My then five-year-old son, Michael, answered. He was loafing.
“There’s nothin’ to do,” he told me.
“How about going on a hike?” I asked, on impulse.
“Gee, dad, that would be great!” he answered.
That was it. Enough of this sweatshop. I shut off my computer, turned out the lights, locked the front door, jumped in my car and headed home. We were ready for a Sunday afternoon adventure.
My son met me at the door. He was wearing his favorite hat, jeans and boots. He already had a backpack loaded with food, soda pop and apples. He had my binoculars in his hand.
We lived three miles from Lander just off Squaw Creek Road. There is a large red, rock-covered hill that towers over the homes in our subdivision. It doesn’t have a name, but it looms about 400 feet above the land around. I pointed at the hill and said, “What do you think? Should we climb it?”
So off we went, a father and his son, heading for the boy’s first big adventure
We had to watch for rattlesnakes, which occasionally cross through the Squaw Creek country.
“Dad, tell me about when you bricked that rattlesnake on our land,” Michael asked.
“Well, son, it wasn’t that big a deal. Our dog stirred one up and I squashed it with a cement block.”
“Don’t you think we should take some bricks along just in case we see a rattlesnake?” he asked.
“No, there are plenty of rocks we can use.”
As we worked our way through the sagebrush, our house got smaller behind us and our destination got bigger. Soon, we couldn’t see the summit, just the huge red walls in front of us.
Michael wore his backpack and I carried the binoculars, a camera and a walking stick. We wore caps to protect us from the bright sun. I wore a cowboy hat and Mike had a camouflage hat with a label that read Mondak Pesticide on it. It was a gift from his grandpa Sniffin. Michael called it his army cap.
Occasionally, we came upon odd-looking rocks. “Are these dinosaur bones, dad?” He bent over and picked one up. “Sure looks like one to me.” Every rock looks like a dinosaur bone to a five-year-old.
We arrived at the first hurdle. A large wall circled the big hill. It would take some looking to find a route through it. After considerable exploring, we found a notch and soon we were standing on top of it. The view was splendid. The homes in our subdivision were now quite a bit below us and our view of the Sinks Canyon State Park area was more detailed.
It was time for a soda pop break. As we sat there on that stone ledge I thought about sitting at my desk just an hour earlier, wishing I was in this place.
Our rest was short-lived. “C’mon, dad, let’s go.”
We circled around the hill that by now was known in my mind as Michael’s Mountain. We came to a gradual grade up the south side. We walked through more rock formations until we reached the biggest rock wall. The eroded shapes were uniform as they stretched out of sight around the hill. There didn’t appear to be an easy way through it, except to climb. Not wanting to do that, we hiked around until we reached a gap where fence posts had been laid to keep cows from passing through.
“Indians must have done that, huh, dad?” my son asked.
“No, probably a rancher did that a long time ago,” I replied.
We were able to climb through. This was the last ledge we would face. The rest of the climb would be a march up the steep, grassy hillside.
“Well, son, the top is in sight. Are you ready for this final push?” He drew a deep breath and looking very serious assured me that, yes, he was ready for this final, big climb to the summit.
The view got even better. We could see the Central Wyoming College campus in Riverton. The mountains behind the foothills of the Wind River Mountains were poking their snowy peaks into our view.
Everywhere around us was down. Michael took off his backpack and we drank some pop, taking in a marvelous 360-degree view. The sun was still shining and there was very little wind.
There was noise from my neighbors working in their yards and a rancher was running a tractor off to the east.
Smoke curled up in the distance as someone was burning out an irrigation ditch.
The sky was typical Lander blue and there were few clouds.
“Does it get any better than this?” I asked my son.
He wasn’t listening.
“Are you sure this isn’t a dinosaur bone?” he asked.
“Maybe,” I replied, which was the wrong thing to say.
Soon, he had four huge bone-shaped rocks piled next to his backpack to take home.
We took some pictures and munched our lunch. We scanned the horizon with the binoculars.
It looked as if some rain clouds were forming over Fossil Mountain deep in Sinks Canyon.
After about 30 minutes, the wind started to kick up. It was probably time to go home.
While we were sitting there, I turned to my son and asked him if he was going to remember this hike.
“I sure am, dad. All my life!”
And so will I. All my life, too.
Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written six books, which are available at fine stores. His latest is Wyoming at 125. His books are also available at wyomingwonders.com.