Hard Things

Ibantik Lake just before the heavens opened.

There were changes to an annual two-night trip to the Uinta Mountains in Utah. My energetic son wanted to make a 12-mile loop on the Notch Mountain trail with his four kids to help teach them that they can do hard things. I researched the trail and was dismayed to find it rated as “moderate to difficult”. That sounded a bit much for kids ranging from six to thirteen and one on Social Security. But I was committed to the trip and when I couldn’t talk Ben out of it, I determined to go. Mountains are unyielding and Ben might need help.

Rain plagued the day of our departure and empty parking lots at the otherwise busy trailheads were an indicator of just how substantial the weather had been. We could see fresh snow on Bald Mountain and Ben mentioned in passing that the Mirror Lake weather station said we could expect snow by ten p.m.

The temperature was already below 40 degrees when we started hiking and we could see high 20’s by morning. With our late start, we knew that we would not make the allotted three miles and resolved to camp at Clegg Lake about a mile and a half away. It was mostly downhill so the hiking wasn’t bad but the rain had turned the trails into fishable streams and keeping feet dry meant a lot of rock hopping, slowing us down even further.

We pitched camp in a snowstorm and I expected one very cold night. Ben heated some hot chocolate for the kids and they all crowded into a single tent for warmth and slept well enough. I was far more comfortable than I expected, due in part to a new pad that reflects body heat and a single large air-activated handwarmer. However, the wind gusted all night, condemning me to a fitful sleep.

In the morning, instead of the six inches of snow, there was only a skiff that was gone by 0900. The kids were warmed by a hot breakfast and we packed up and began a long day that saw us lose and gain about 700 feet of elevation over four miles. The kids did well and despite my misgivings, after some equipment adjustments they (and I) handled the hiking like pros with little complaining.

The day was terrific—clear skies, pleasant temperatures and fantastic scenery. After making camp at Ibantik Lake, the kids fished, explored and enjoyed a hearty freeze-dried dinner. Since fire restrictions were still in place, there was little to do when the sun went down and when the temperature dropped, we went to bed early.

That night, things changed. Wind gusted down off of Notch Mountain all night long attempting to rip our tents out from under us. At 0510, a pattering on the tent announced the beginning of rain. It stopped after an hour and soon I was up to see if I could photograph the lake. The black cloud hanging over The Notch, exactly where we had to go, looked menacing and soon Ben and the kids were up and scrambling to get packed up as the storm descended upon us. It was raining hard as we stepped away from camp. Nearing The Notch after an hour of steady uphill hiking in the rain, rain changed to hail and kids began to wail. Hands were cold, legs were wet, feet were soggy, kids were awash with fear that the trail and trial would never end. From the saddle, misty clouds obscured the valley below and thunder echoed off the peaks. It was a long 4.5 miles and the kids required a lot of encouragement to continue.

Once back at the truck though, the kids quickly recovered their spirits. They had survived physical discomfort and challenge and had done a hard thing, putting a little more steel in their spines. Sometime, somewhere, that steel will help them through some other hard thing. Unrelenting mountains had once again proven themselves as the best teachers.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho