Monday, 8 August 2016

The Call of the Jackalope

From Horseshoe Creek station I had optimistically planned a route following the line of the Pony Express Trail largely across open range to Glenrock.  This would closely pass the sites of Elkhorn, La Bonte, Bed Tick, La Prele and Box Elder stations, though it is not always certain whether all of them served as Pony Express stations, or where the exact sites lay.  Most of this route lay across private land, so if I failed to obtain permission I had also planned a longer detour using public roads.   However the logistics of obtaining all the necessary permissions was daunting and Les Bennington, the President of the Wyoming division of the NPEA, advised me against either route as the area might still be under snow. I decided to chicken out and follow a less uncertain route largely to the north of the North Platte and away from the line of the trail, but partly used by the Pony Express re-ride.  Unfortunately this meant following the main road via Orin Junction and Douglas, though it would mean I should be able to travel faster and cover more ground.
So on Friday May 20th we set off along the 319 highway to Orin Junction, a road which luckily was relatively quiet.  To our right was the Glendo reservoir, formed by damming back the North Platte. Constructed mainly for irrigation and flood control, the dam also contains two hydro-electric turbines. Due to the amount of rain, the reservoir had flooded some of the surrounding land, creating shallow ponds. I saw this strange sight in one of them..
...but was later told it was undoubtedly carp. And they were undoubtedly a feast for the pelicans in the background.

A marker for Jim Bridger's ferry across the North Platte near Orin Junction.
Jim Bridger become more popularised recently through the film 'The Revenant', as he was the young lad who together with the older Fitzpatrick abandoned the apparently fatally wounded Hugh Glass after he had been mauled by a grizzly.  He subsequently became a  renowned and well-respected mountain man who among other  exploits was the first European to discover the Great Salt Lake.

Arriving at Orin Junction relatively early, I decided to push to Douglas, where NPEA member Donny Norvell had invited me to stay. This meant a long day's riding, but it cut my journey down by a day, a positive consideration in view of my tight schedule.
Coming in to Douglas... may just be able to see the depiction on the plaque of the mythical jackalope or Lepus antilocapra for which Douglas and its environs are renowned.  Many tales surround the jackalope, which is a jackrabbit (or hare) with antelope horns.  Cowboys singing to their cattle on stormy nights found they were spookily echoed by the scary bunny, which can only breed during flashes of lightning.  Hunters were advised to wear stovepipes on their legs to protect themselves from attack.
The jackalope's celebrity spread when a stuffed and mounted example was displayed in the Bonte Hotel in Douglas in the 1930s.  The Douglas Chamber of Commerce now issues jackalope hunting licences for midnight to 2am on June 31st, though the applicants must have an IQ between 50 and 75.
The original stuffed jackalope was in fact created by local hunter and amateur taxidermist Douglas Herrick who attached antelope horns to a jackrabbit carcase, and this has subsequently became almost a cottage industry in Wyoming.
It is thought that the myth of the horned rabbit, which is also found elsewhere, may have derived from instances of rabbits affected by the Shope Papilloma virus, which produces horn like protuberances on the animal.
A rare sighting of a jackalope on a hill near Douglas...

Donny Norvell and his wife Sarah own a smallholding on the edge of Douglas, and after our long tramp down the road, it was wonderful for the horses and I to relax in comfort there.
Sarah and their little boy look on while Danny saddles up his grand black mustang Amadeus on Friday May 20th, as he was going to provide some welcome company on the day's ride...
 Notice how Donny has tucked his lead rope into his belt to make it easy to grab hold of - quite a few people ride like this around here.   From Douglas we rode north past the National Historic Site of Fort Fetterman.  A wooden fort was built here in 1867 to protect pioneers on the Bozeman trail and to act as a base during the Indian wars, and abandoned in 1882.  It has now been partially restored, but my hopes of visiting were dashed when we discovered it was closed.
From here we rode westwards along Tank Farm road, still to the north of the North Platte. We were now on open range with antelopes bounding aimlessly hither and thither across gentle sage brush covered hills.  Donny was even able to confirm my first sighting of a mule deer.
 In the late afternoon Sarah came to fetch Donny with the trailer, and I found a beautiful camp spot at a public river access point on the North Platte, just as enormous thunderclouds started to roll in.  I just managed to get my tent up and gear under cover before the rain and hail arrived.
 I shared the camp ground with three buddies on a boys outing, drinking beer round a campfire and fishing for catfish in the river...
....though they seemed to be more successful with the beers than the fish.
I had retreated to my tent which was still damp inside from Glendo morning dew. Dark had fallen when I heard a ghostly voice calling out my name - a jackalope perhaps?  But no - it was Les Bennington come to see if I was OK and announce his intention of joining me on horseback in the morning.

No comments:

Post a Comment