It’s a beautiful time for a family hike to Wind Cave

Living the Wild Life

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Photos by Bill Schiess,

With six weeks of plus 90 degrees cooking the wildflowers on the low hills, meadows of wildflowers greeted the hikers spending a day traipsing up Darby Canyon to the Wind Caves near Alta, Wyoming. Fields of Fireweed entertained thousands of bees that ignored the humanoids as they worked the last mile of the 3.4 mile hike.

My extended family was not the only hikers looking for beauty and cooler temperatures to exercise in nature last Saturday. Over 100 people, including hikers younger than five years old, and about 30 dogs enjoyed the sights and smells of vegetation along the trail. An occasional huckleberry, serviceberry and thimble berry entertained the taste buds of some.

As we headed up the trail toward the cave, we encountered some scarlet Indian paintbrush as bright as I have ever seen. Near them were three people chucking limbs and parts of rotten logs across an illegal trail cutting across some switchbacks. Mark and Donna Whitham along with Rhonda Aliah from Idaho Falls are part of the Forest Service’s “Adopt and Trail” program and the Darby Trail is theirs to maintain.

“We come up three or four times each year to check out the trail and do light maintenance work to make the trail more enjoyable for the hikers,” Mark said. “It is a never ending battle to try to keep people from making shortcuts that cause the trail to erode.”

The Whithams have been working this trail for seven or eight years while this was Aliah’s first time. They usually hike up the 3.4 miles and then work their way down trimming bushes that are encroaching on the trail as well as repairing the trail.

A half mile further up the trail near a beautiful bouquet of Blue asters I met the Johnson family from Shelley as they trudged up the dusty trail. With two young children the couple was with a larger group of friends that I saw an hour later working their way up the steep incline to the mouth of the cave.

A group of visitors from Colorado looking for a short, easy hike for their last day in the Yellowstone area, visited with us next to a cloud of Prairie Smoke blossoms producing seeds for next year. We took pictures of them with the cave entrance across the canyon.

In the meadow below the waterfall, four large coveys of Fireweed touched off the beautiful greens backed by what looked like a trail of colorful ants making their way up the canyon. While sitting on a rock eating lunch, I was entertained by bees pollinating 11 different species of flowers including Hot Rock penstemon, Colorado columbine, Engelmann aster, Showy goldeneye, Butter-and-eggs toadfax, Skyrocket gilia, Mountain bluebell, Roundleaf harebell, Wild blue flax, Horsemint and Western coneflower.

We stopped long enough to get a picture of some of our group next to a flock of fireweed before heading back down the mountain. I trailed behind the group because my 73-year-old legs were tired from the other outdoor activities I had been involved in the three previous days and I still had pictures to take.

I noticed that most of the dogs were well behaved and did not bark unless they encountered a Red squirrel harvesting pine cones; the hikers were pleasant and I even met some former students of mine. While crossing paths with a young couple, the lady asked how I was doing.

“Tired,” I said.

“This is probably the best place – out in nature – to be tired,” she replied. I agreed.

The babies in packs were sleeping and a five-year old was complaining that her legs were tired because they were too short. I gave her a snack and informed her that her legs were not too short because they reached the ground.

As I neared the end of the seven mile trek, I reflected that with all the beauty from the plants, flowers, vistas, waterfall and the cave, the people I met even made it even more beautiful. “Thank you; now back to the heat!”