restricted access Day 3: Keepers of the Thorofare
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36 d ay 3 Keepers of the Thorofare There are many wilderness patrol cabins in Yellowstone National Park, . . . but none of the[m] has quite the overwhelming power of the wilderness [as] around Thoroughfare where natural plant and animal life in such abundance reigns supreme with very little disturbance by the minor and temporary presence of man. —Curtis K. Skinner, n.d. Familiar skies greet us as we awaken—overcast and gray. Last night’s rain has moistened our world, but with no rain falling right now, the storm may be spent. Today is a layover day, ours to make of what we will. Over a breakfast of hot cereal, we decide to hang out here for a while, and if the rain holds off, to paddle over to the campsite we had reserved and enjoy the view from there in the afternoon. Looking around the cabin, I see the collection of furniture and supplies typical for Yellowstone’s patrol cabins and fire lookouts: two sets of bunk beds, a woodstove for cooking and another for heating, a small rustic table with even more rustic folding chairs, and some cabinets with canned food and cooking implements (figure 3.1). The familiar cabin smells are also present: firewood, wood smoke, wood stain—in other words, all things wood, a reflection of the cabin’s connection to the surrounding forest. Many of the cabins also contain items of comfort , such as more supportive chairs, or other functional additions, such as the solar-powered lights in this one. Evoking the feelings that its users have for this cabin and its surroundings, it also has two stained glass windows high on either end. Designed by former Thorofare ranger Bob Jackson, each features a lesser-known but charismatic area resident: a cutthroat trout and a loon. KEEPERS OF THE THOROFARE 37 The cabins remain tools of the wilderness management trade, as evidenced by the logbook for this cabin, which I spend the morning absorbed in. Everyone using the cabins is required to record their visit in the logbook, along with salient details about their travels and activities. Many also add wildlife sightings and personal stories and reflections. The logbook, then, becomes both a way to communicate to the next rangers using the cabin and also a history of the vicinity, a collection of stories about the cabin, its environs, and its users. Most of the entries are mundane, but there are often some memorable gems. Reading this cabin’s logbook, I see my own entry from 1993, the night before the epic walk in the rain. We had just come from the Thorofare Ranger Station and a breakfast of cheese crepes with Bob Jackson (exotic fare for two backpackers already tired of their oatmeal). About twelve miles by trail from this cabin, the Thorofare Ranger Station is the center of ranger activity in its namesake region, because it is staffed full time when the ground is not snow-covered (it is not, therefore, just a “patrol cabin”). A journey through its logbooks, along 3.1. The author enjoying the warmth of the Trail Creek Cabin woodstove, 2014. Photo by Eric Compas. Used with permission. 38 DAY 3 with some other first-person narratives (all held at the park’s library and archives in Gardiner, Montana) gives us a window into the lives of the people working there and their efforts to protect the Thorofare. Stories are best told first-person (without being reworded), so the side trip that follows here is made up partly of unaltered stories from the logbooks and other first-person accounts. More than just a diversion, though, the trip also provides some insight into the motivations of those who guard the area, as well as evidence indicating that wildness is easily threatened, necessitating ongoing stewardship efforts. e The first Thorofare cabin was probably built by army scouts in 1903 a mile or two west of its current location, between the Yellowstone River and its largest wilderness tributary, Thorofare Creek. That cabin lasted about ten years, after which scouts replaced it with a new one at the base of the Trident (its current location). That cabin stood for only about a year, destroyed by a bear between fall 1914 and spring 1915. It was quickly rebuilt, but in 1920 rangers converted it to a barn when they built the larger cabin still in use today next door (figures 3.2 and 3.3). About the larger cabin, the park’s first NPS...


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