The High Country

Feeling rushed and frazzled at the end of the school year, I knew some time away from my usual stomping grounds would help me get my head together. Luckily, my parents and I had been planning a trip away from those grounds for some time, and the day after Woodberry's final faculty meeting of the year, I hopped a plane to Salt Lake City. Mom and Dad had been touring Yosemite and Nevada and Idaho for a week already, but they drove back to SLC to meet me at the airport. From the parking deck, I could see already that I was surrounded by high peaks, far craggier than the round blue ridges of my Appalachian homeland, and that even in June, they were snowy. I would not be completely out of sight of such mountains for the next ten days.

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We headed north into Idaho along I-15, giving me a look at the western birds I hadn't seen in some time--Black-billed Magpies, Western Meadowlarks, Western Kingbirds--and settled for the evening in Pocatello. My recently purchased National Geographic Guide to Birdwatching Sites (Western U.S.) identified the nearby Caribou National Forest as a good birding spot, and author Mel White did not steer me wrong: no sooner had we pulled over to park near the Kinney Creek trail than I spotted my first lifer of the trip, a Lazuli Bunting singing proudly atop a small tree. Black-headed Grosbeaks, Spotted Towhees, and my first Green-tailed Towhees appeared as I made my way up the trail, and a Golden Eagle (visible to the upper left in the photo below) calmly surveyed the scene from its perch atop a juniper.

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Back near the trailhead I spotted a Warbling Vireo, plus a Yellow Warbler that was chasing a darker bird--Virginia's Warbler, lifer #3--and hopped back in the car. We were spending the night in Jackson, WY, and there was a lot of driving yet to do. For much of the trip, we followed the Snake River, which provided occasional gorgeous vistas such as this one:

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Flying over the gorge were scores of birds, but their rapid movement made it impossible to identify them; all I could be sure about was that they were swallows. Probably. Or possibly one (or more?) of the various western species of swift? All I knew was that I'd have to see one standing still before I could ID it. Luckily, soon after we crossed the border, we pulled down into the gorge in hopes of a photo op. I got one, but not the one I'd expected:

DSC00777.JPGYes, it was a Violet-green Swallow, and I had my first life bird in Wyoming.

Dad had visited Jackson before, but like my hometown of Chapel Hill, the place had changed over the years, becoming more focused on the tourists who might spin through town than the natives who actually had to live there. The downtown was especially egregious in this regard, but we did venture into one spot that Dad remembered fondly, where I ate a pretty good elk burger, but had to settle for bottled beer, as they have nothing on draft:

DSC00787.JPGIt's a great-looking joint inside, with saddles for barstools, but not one that looks like a major draw for the locals.

We spent the night at the Buckrail Lodge, which had woodsy-looking cabinish rooms and a pleasant little garden from which I could view the evening sky and note that the Eurasian Collared-Dove, introduced from Europe somewhere in the southeastern US, has now reached the Grand Tetons. It also contains this sculpture, which gives the viewer the unsettling impression that the cowboy is somehow pissing up a rope:

DSC00794.JPGAnd then it was time for dinner, which we decided to eat a little farther from the center of town. The name of the place, however, struck me as a little amusing: the Virginian Restaurant. I mean, here I was a good two thousand miles from home, eating at the Virginian. It wouldn't be the only indication I'd see that the people who settled the west sometimes felt a certain nostalgia--or at least a certain ambivalence--about their new home.

NEXT: THE SCENIC ROUTE (or RENDEZVOUS AT TEN THOUSAND FEET)

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on June 15, 2013 5:12 PM.

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