By Karen Dils
In mid-July last summer, 4 couples who were/are longtime volunteers and chapter members met at the Slough Creek trailhead at the northwest part of Yellowstone National Park. They had all done horseback trips into the wilds to fish before and were eager to try their luck on this fabled river and enjoy reconnecting since 4 had moved away. The group consisted of Bob & Marjie Gray, Karen & Reed Dils, Steve & Tracy Craig (now in Greeley), and Dan & Leslie Stockton (now in Bozeman, MT).
Like most expeditions like this, whether by horse or river, it’s a “Hurry up and wait” scenario while your gear gets packed. We had young wranglers and a former elk hunting guide who used to also run a sheep ranch. SHE was 62 and a 40 year veteran of this kind of work.
All were pleasant and hard-working and provided great meals under our outfitter canvas tents.
So 11 of us on our horses (and 2 mules), and a long string of pack animals headed out for our 14 mile trip to the 4th meadow. They wanted us to eat on the horses, but we insisted we stop for a rest/pee/lunch break about 8 miles in. Weather was great and we didn’t see many anglers, but a few folks had gotten backcountry permits to backpack and camp at designated sites along the way. Interestingly there was an employee at the ranger cabin where we stopped. It turns out he was the superintendent of Yellowstone and was meeting some potential donors. For once I didn’t put my foot in my mouth as I had thanked him for his work in the park and said I hoped the proposed infrastructure bill would provide them with sorely needed funds. He hoped so too.
After this much needed stop and refueling of our bodies, we continued. Since the horses hadn’t been used much in the past year due to COVID, they seemed raring to go. Many wanted to trot which isn’t very comfortable for most riders. At two separate times, the heralded reliable mules laid down! Reed and Bob were able to scramble off so they weren’t hurt. The head wrangler had never seen them do that. On the ride out Bob’s tried to lay down, while Reed’s tried to buck him off at the start of the return trip!
Our camp was large with a shower tent where you could get hot water at certain times, many large canvas tents, a cook tent, eating tent, corrals, and outdoor fire pit all surrounded by an electric fence. Each couple was able to have their own tent with cots and lanterns. Each evening we would gather around the firepit for happy hour and twice for grilled meats for dinner – done on a grill of horseshoes welded artistically together. The rookie wrangler got the job of cutting all the needed firewood.
This was a lovely and historic place just outside the park boundary that had been settled before YNP. An old ranch was nearby and had been expanded into a dude ranch where all guests had to be ferried in by horse-drawn wagons.
Unfortunately, Slough Creek was at record low levels and was closed to fishing 2 weeks after we left due to high water temperatures. The hatches weren’t there and the fishing was not as good as the Stockton’s had experienced on a previous trip. However, everyone caught fish, hiking 3 miles downstream of camp and most were of good size, wild Yellowstone cutthroats. It was fun to explore the area and Grays spotted a grizzly bear while fishing and we all saw a black bear on the ride out. There were a few other anglers in the area. The hikes back to Slough Creek to fish were made easier as our fishing gear was hauled by the pack horses which was nice.
On our trip out, we again insisted on a stop. It was hot and dusty and the horses again wanted to get home quickly. We had to stop a couple of times to tighten the loads on the mules. There were some anglers in the first meadow and families enjoying the scenery. Still 14 miles and 4 hours is a long time on an equine. Most of us had never had such dirty faces! I think the majority said perhaps this might be their last horseback trip, but life is an adventure and we’ve had a good share of those.
One of the best things about this kind of trip was being with good friends. That is sometimes what membership in a group like Collegiate Peaks Chapter of TU can give you. Hopefully the chapter will soon be able to convene in person and enjoy our annual campouts and picnics so we can get to know each other better. If YOU would like to be the person to research and find our next place to enjoy such a gathering (campground, RV space, cabins nearby), please reach out to one of the board members. Members Ann & Henry Klaiman and Larry Payne did that for many years. A few photos are attached.