If you don’t live in Wyoming, let me introduce you to one amazing highway. If you do live in Wyoming, you probably know what I’m talking about.
This highway is called a two-track, and it’s quite honestly the style of highway that I love the very most because it takes us into some of the most fascinating and fun places I’ve ever seen. I first learned the term “two-track” by reading C.J. Box novels, which are all set in this sparsely populated state. These two-track highways criss-cross the Wyoming desert in very close proximity to one another, so that if the weather washes out one road, someone with an ATV, or with an all-wheel-drive, tricked-out Subaru with all-terrain truck tires, can switch lanes and take another track…and get lost. Being only a year in to this adventure, we try to keep a close eye on where we are relative to mountain ranges so we can find our way out of the desert maze.
Above is an onramp to a Wyoming highway. This particular desert road runs between two mountain ranges–Green Mountain and Granite Mountain Range. Green Mountain is covered in evergreens and still dotted with drifts of snow. Granite Mountain Range is covered in…well…big rocks. Huge difference.
Two days ago Mel and I drove up to the Green Mountain Range to the winter gate, parked, and hiked on up the mountain. We hadn’t intended to drive so far from home–almost an hour–but the wind was so fierce, and I wanted to hike so badly, that we drove to the place most protected from the wind, where the trees and canyons would redirect the worst of the gusts. The place was empty of humans. We found evidence of elk tracks, some deer, the typical pronghorn (antelope,) which is everywhere in our part of Wyoming. When we reached the end of our exploration I told Mel (knowing God would hear) that I hoped to see every wild animal that existed in our area.
Almost immediately, we heard an interesting cry-whine from above us in the mountain. We knew to be on the lookout for bear, mountain lion, moose, elk, coyote, and other larger animals.
I gasped. “Honey, did you hear that?”
“Yes. Not sure what it is.”
By this time I was winded and fighting the elevation, but was a sound we’d never heard before…except maybe on a nature documentary. Not a bear. Not a coyote. But we weren’t sure what it was at first.
I wanted to leave the trail and walk in that direction and investigate. Thankfully, Mel is the safety conscious adult in the family; he ambled away from the sounds and toward the road that would take us to the car. He knows far too well that when he’s with me, I’m fearless.
Before we were out of earshot, we heard yet another animal expression of what sounded like frustration. As if one of the hidden animals wanted to check us out and the wiser one disagreed. Sort of like us.
On the road we studied tracks, a habit I developed decades ago when hiking. We saw canine paw prints. Or were they? The claws were very prominent, but the tracks were too big for coyote, and whatever they were walked in too straight a line to be dogs. There were two or three sets. These tracks continued for several hundred feet before disappearing into the forest. We did find some other “evidence” that was not made by dog and was too big to be coyote. Mel and I both grew up on farms, and we knew coyote and dog tracks. This was different. Bear, perhaps? But the sounds we’d heard weren’t bear, and these weren’t bear tracks. Mountain lions don’t typically move in packs.
Instead of driving back home, we found another two-track–this one in the desert and quite challenging as winter had disintegrated much of the road to deep gullies and rocks. We were rewarded for our efforts by the beautiful vision of wild horses on the mountain above us. But there was another car there with visitors awe-struck by their find, so we drove on and found our own tiny herd of horses to ogle. We discovered, to our delight, that they were just as enchanted with us, and curious. They wouldn’t get too close, but just as they topped a hill and disappeared, they would then peer back over the rise to study us.
Exciting and fun!
But it was getting later in the afternoon by then, and we weren’t sure how it would take us to find our way back out to the paved highway (those are few and far between in Wyoming.) I found another two-track that seemed to head back to civilization, and took it. Suddenly, a female pronghorn (antelope) jumped up from the sage with her teensy reddish baby under her, wobbling as it tried to keep up. And then just as we expected to see mama race off and lead baby away from us, the baby disappeared. Mother raced away alone.
I knew something was up, but I wasn’t sure what. After all, last week, on a drive to one of the few scattered towns in Wyoming, we were treated to a show of a mama pronghorn attacking a coyote, right there beside the road in front of God and everybody. So we figured that if she would attack a coyote, she might very well attack us.
Mel grabbed his camera and, paying close attention to my directions and watching carefully for mama to return, he scurried up the hill in search of the baby. He finally found it. This sweetheart was clinging to the ground and frozen as if dead–though we knew it wasn’t. Mel thought it was a rock at first, but no, it was a newborn pronghorn following protocol, as newborns are taught to hide.
Mel rushed back to the car after taking the picture, and then of course I had to see. Who knew when I would next have this opportunity? I looked, fell in love, checked for mama, looked again, and ran back to the car. We got away in a hurry so as not to disrupt the natural flow of life. Multiple pronghorn bucks and does attended us the rest of the way to the paved highway while I wondered how many other babies were nestled in amongst the sage bushes. We passed a cattle drive alongside the paved road on our way home. We see those a lot around here–cowboys on horses working a huge herd of cattle with their newborn calves.
Once we got home, I researched the tracks and scat we’d found and the noises we’d heard, and spoke to a local friend who is knowledgable. We’d been within speaking distance of a pack of wolves in those mountains. I hadn’t realized wolves were so prevalent this far south in Wyoming, but apparently I was wrong. I want to go back today and check out those prints again. I want to wait until evening and listen to them howl. But I don’t want to consider the reason those wolves are there.
It’s the cycle of life, wolves searching for food, newborns hiding, cattle dropping their young in the briefly-green desert.
My request to God was granted. I knew it would be in one way or another. Here in Wyoming I’m amazed by the overly generous grace of God, the beauty of His creation despite the curse on the earth brought by man’s first sin.
Someday the lion will not harm the lamb, the wolves will not hunt the baby animals, the pronghorn won’t have to battle coyote for their babies. Someday we won’t have to carry bear spray and protection from a charging animals. I cannot imagine how much more wonderful someday will be!