Thunder Eggs and a Petrified Tree

round rocks

Thunder eggs

Thursday, September 4, 1980—did camp chores, then Mike and I walked the six miles to Little Nelchina airstrip. We were waiting for Ray to show up with the welder. On the way I saw three ptarmigan. He didn’t come, so we walked back to camp with our packs.

Friday, September 5, 1980—we rested up some and tied the dredge up on top of the buggy. Dug a garbage hole, buried our garbage, did some target shooting, carried in wood and caught four trout and two graylings.

Saturday, September 6, 1980—swamp buggy isn’t here with the welder and it’s been several days. We’re wondering where it’s at, so I left camp at 11:30 a.m. and walked 27 miles looking for Ray, not knowing just exactly what trail he might have taken to get to us. The last hour of walking was in the dark and as I came up on a long swamp, all I could see is the water in each track (vehicle track) shining from the stars. I decided to camp along the trail. I’m carrying a pack, sleeping bag, hip boots and some grub. I lay down along the trail on a small piece of canvas (in my sleeping bag) and pull the canvas around over the top of my sleeping bag (in case we get a shower in the night) and go to sleep. During the day I had seen two cow moose, and one calf and a very large bear track, along with lots of broken down ATV’s and swamp buggies. (There are lots of hunters traveling now and this country is hard on vehicles.)

Sunday, September 7, 1980—I was up real early and walked the last three miles out to the highway and hitched a ride to Nelchina. At Nelchina, I got reorganized and went to Gunsight Lodge. Whitey flew me to the confluence of the Little Nelchina and Flat Creek, where I waited again for Ray for several hours. While I’m waiting, I’m walking around this large gravel bar that Whitey landed his plane on and I found a rock that is called a thunder egg. I kept looking and found eight of them. If you cut these rocks in half, they are beautiful in the center. I gather these all up and I have them ready right beside my pack so I can take them with me when Whitey comes, but somehow I didn’t pick them up and take them when I left. When I got to the camp at Flat Creek, the welder had already been delivered.

Monday, September 8, 1980—got up real early and welded the buggy wheel back together, mounted it on the buggy and loaded up our camp. Mike feels that his wife would like to have him back home now. On the way out to the highway we saw three caribou. On the Nelchina, there was a huge piece of petrified tree (I had seen it previously) that I thought I could lift and put on the back of the swamp buggy to take back with us. As we went down the trail, I lost track of where it was and we got past it, so I didn’t turn around to go back and look for it again. It was going to be dark anyhow. Even so, it got quite dark on the trail the last hour that we were coming out. When we got out to Cal’s, Ray Kole was there. Ray is the man that brought the welder out for me. We visited there for a while.

Tuesday, September 9, 1980—went to Gunsight and saw Sylvia. (She’s been working there and rather than drive the 20 mile back and forth each way, she would stay overnight and work another day.) Then we stopped at Cal’s and drove the buggy home. Mike and I unloaded the gear and got him ready to go home. Dan Billman stopped by and then I went back to Gunsight and stayed the night with Sylvia.

An eagle, a bear and a three-toed dinosaur

man with a short beard

Norman Wilkins, early 1980s

Monday, September 1, 1980—I saw a large bull and cow, but it was too far to shoot. Charlie saw a cow and a calf but didn’t want to shoot those. We sighted in his rifle. It rained and blew hard and then a few flakes of snow. It’s pretty cold up in these mountains tonight.

Tuesday, September 2, 1980—up early and hunted off to the north. We walked up a creek there quite some distance. Brought our lunch with us. Saw a pinnacle of rock—an outcropping quite tall and it had lots of white eagle pooh on it. An eagle was sitting up there looking the country over. We walked a little farther and there was an esker (gravel esker) sticking up not too awfully high and it had a really sharp peak on its top. I decided to walk down this. Charlie followed me. We were walking along and I saw this interesting rock—it’s been broke in two. It was a three-toed dinosaur track. This rock was made out of mud, water and pressure at some time in the distant past. I picked up the two pieces that make the dinosaur track and put them in my pack.

We ate our lunch and headed south and east. We saw some more caribou that were too far away to shoot. We shot some ptarmigan, boiled it up and ate the meat. We boiled everything on this ptarmigan, all the little bones and we drank the broth from that—really was good.

One day when we were out hunting ptarmigan, I had a 12 gage shotgun and Charlie carried a rifle. We’d switch off shooting. When I shot a ptarmigan, why then I’d give him the shotgun and I’d take his rifle and he’s shoot the next ptarmigan and so on. We were walking up through the willows and we came upon a six foot grizzly. All I saw at first was just his head. He had heard us coming and was looking at me. Then he stood up and I said “Bear!” to warn Charlie that there was a bear close by. Charlie couldn’t tell from that whether or not the bear was coming at us, so he was backpedaling. When the bear stood up and saw there was two of us, the thing reeled and ran. Charlie said afterwards he was concerned that he was handling a strange gun and was wishing he had his familiar .30-06 in his hands when I hollered “bear”. Here I am holding his .30-06, not familiar with it—and I wished I had my shotgun! But nothing came of it and we got back to camp and dressed out the ptarmigan and had our supper.

Wednesday, September 3, 1980—Charlie had breakfast and walked out to the strip on the Little Nelchina to meet Whitey, the pilot. Whitey will fly him out to the highway. He’s sorry to have to leave us, but he must. I hunted ptarmigan and got five. Mike came back in the early afternoon. He had made arrangements to have a fellow with a swamp buggy bring the welder to us.

Bear in camp and a rollover

trees-300pixFriday, August 31, 1979—in the morning, we heard pans rattling outside the tent where we’d been cooking. Jerry, he rolled out of his sack. His tent has a zipper on the door and It had been raining and snowing and had frozen during the night and the zipper was frozen shut. Jerry wiggled it until he finally got it opened a little bit and he looked out at this grizzly bear and yelled, “Bear in camp!” I got out of my sleeping bag and grabbed the shotgun and looked out the window from my end. It was just getting light outside and I’m looking out the tent window just in time to see the bear come and pick up a chunk of ham and gobble it. He was standing about twelve feet away looking me in the eye. He was really a beautiful bear. He looked to be about three years old, didn’t have the large head yet, and he appeared to have a long neck. (That tells a person that he’s not a mature bear.) I’ve got every confidence in the 12-gage. Jerry yells at him and tells him to get out of there and he bounds over the hill towards Tyone Creek.

I take the radiator out of the buggy and draw a picture and measure it and Jerry fixes breakfast—he’s a good cook. I take a small lunch and a raincoat and start walking out to the highway (It’s about 26 to 27 miles out there). I say so long to Jerry, from the top of the first hill. He has the flu and I tell him to sleep in the buggy in case the bear comes back. Flushed ptarmigan from off the trail and two miles later, two nice caribou bulls at about 200 yards. Then at three miles, a snow track, pulling a trailer, he had the tongue broke out. They planned to chain the tongue and the trailer and the snow track all together and continued to the hunt. I walk on to Little Nelchina and get a good drink of water and I tie my pant legs tight to my boots (loosened the boot strings and tied the pants tight to the boots) and then wade the river as fast as I can. That keeps most of the water from getting in my boots. It works real well. I get across the river and there’s more bear droppings and the more along the river I walked, I see more. Two miles later the trail over Monument Mountain, I eat half of my food. Two thirds up the mountain, I smell carrion. I talk out loud and move on. (Talking helps avoid the possibility of startling a bear that might be in the vicinity.) No water here—small dip with snow and it doesn’t taste good. I stop and rest a little coming down the other side of the mountain. Get a drink at Crooked Creek and I’m getting quite tired now.

I’m 4 ½ miles from the highway when a fellow gives me a ride. He’s got a brand new Ranger track hunting vehicle and he’s got a new trailer behind it. The guy is really thorough; he has built a ROP on it (rollover protection). When we come to the top of a big hill, I ask him if he wants me to get off and walk down the hill and he says, no, he thought it would be alright. We get down the hill about a third of the way and all of a sudden, the trailer hitch comes unhooked from the Ranger. It’s a new outfit and he hadn’t snugged up the bolt that keeps the hitch fastened to the Ranger and it ran ahead into the track and threw the track off of the Ranger. The Ranger went over on its side and on up on its top and is sliding down the trail, upside down. We didn’t slide so awfully far, but it finally got stopped. He had safety belts on the seats and we were both strapped in and hanging upside down off of the seats. He asked if I’m all right. I told him yes, I was not hurt. So he undid his belt and dropped out and got out of the frame and I got mine unhooked and got out of the Ranger. We’re standing there looking at it and telling each other how lucky we are we aren’t hurt and I look at my rifle—it’s got 4 inches of mud on the muzzle from where it had dragged in the trail coming down.

There was nothing left to do but try to get the Ranger up on its tracks. He had a come-along with him and a really good strong rope. Luckily the rope reached some willows that were big enough to use as an anchor. It was a nylon rope and the darned thing stretched quite a bit. We had to unhook the come-along and re-hook and hook and re-hook. I’d hold the rope tight as I could while he would be changing it. We finally got the Ranger rolled upright—and it’s crooked in the trail. We have to get it pulled around and blocked so it won’t roll on down this hill. We get it jacked up off of the ground and we loosen the adjustments for the track and we get the track on there and then readjust the tracks. We discover what caused the accident when we went to hook it up to the Ranger; it was obvious that this bolt had gotten loose and let the whole thing happen. So we tightened that bolt. When he went to try to start the motor then, it wouldn’t start. On closer inspection, we find that when the Ranger was rolling down the hill, it got to going really fast and he was using the gears and its compression to help with the brakes. It was going so fast that the pressure stretched the bolts that held the head on the motor. He did have a toolbox with all the tools he needed to work on it, so he re-tightened the head bolts. Then it started and ran well and we got out to the gravel pit at the highway (what everyone calls the trailhead).

He had a vehicle there and gave me a ride to the Nelchina Lodge and then all that was left for the evening was to eat, drink and sleep. I was really tired.