This dispatch isn't about fire. But it is about weather, and luck.
I promised my editor the story on Glacier National Park would be the last from a weeks-long trip from California to Montana and back, but in discussing that story a different editor told me to check out Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park one day, and I said I had, but the view had underwhelmed.
After driving south from smoky Glacier to Bozeman through intermittent rain storms I spent the next week between my mobile office in the back of the camper and covering courts in small Montana towns, and then fulfilled a dream by camping at the Hyalite Reservoir, featured in this dispatch.
On Sunday I hit the road before my friends could banish me, but not until I patched up a headlight that had come loose from the housing with band-aids, later fortified with duct tape.
While the direct route to my home in the San Francisco Bay Area skirts the edge of Yellowstone National Park before entering Idaho and meandering southwesterly into Nevada, I couldn't resist the chance to stare slack-jawed at the famed mountains in Grand Teton National Park, just south of Yellowstone.
I glided past cars waiting to enter full parking lots in Yellowstone, the boardwalks crammed full of visitors. At a pullout on secluded Lewis Lake near the southern edge of the park, a young woman strummed a guitar and sang quietly to herself.
I tried to enter the camper to get water, but the key wouldn't turn in the door. I muttered something not suitable for publication to myself and wondered if I could tease one of the side windows open and reach the inside handle. Not seeing anything nearby that could prop my pint-sized body up to the six-foot-high windows, I slapped the lock on the door in frustration and heard a click. I tried the key once more. The door opened.
Towering peaks greeted Klaus the dog and I soon after entering Grand Teton National Park. We clambered out of the truck at a spot a few miles beyond the entrance where a couple were looking not at the mountains, but at the water's edge a few hundred feet away.
"Can you tell what that is?" the woman asked me.
"She thinks it's a bear," her male companion said. "It's a log."
I zoomed in with my camera. Log, I thought, but I couldn't be certain.
"Oh, just get the binoculars," she told the man. When he returned, she grabbed them and stared at the object.
"Yep. Just a log."
"But it could have been a bear," I replied.
"Yes, it could have been a bear!" she shot back before they headed to their car and drove off, leaving us alone with the mountains, and the log.
At more than 13,000 feet, Grand Teton is the highest peak in the Teton Range. 19th century French trappers called the three biggest "les tres tetons," which means the three teats, a name later anglicized and shortened.
Home to the rare Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout coveted by anglers, as well as gray wolves, cougars, moose and bears grizzly and black, the ecosystem hasn't changed much since prehistoric times.
The afternoon was getting long when we pulled into a campground at Colter Bay Village on Jackson Lake. Though I had planned on staying at least a couple days the forecast called for rain starting that evening and lasting through the next day. I paid for one night, taking the chance my spot might be reserved by the following morning.
After setting up camp I put on my hiking gear and set off for the woods, stopping to buy some overpriced bear spray from the campground store on the way.