Rocks in the Gallatin

Tuesday, May 27, 2008 -- Bozeman, MT

34 years ago, in the Summer of 1974, Dar and I were living in Fairmont, MN as a result of a job transfer to my first sales territory for Duo-Fast Corporation. We'd been married for just two years and were still childless. One day we decided to take a weeks vacation, get in my pickup truck, and head for Yellowstone Park.

I won't belabor the rest of that old story except for one small memory of an experience we had along the Gallatin River on our way to the western entrance to the park. We had stayed the night before in a motel in Bozeman. We got an early start and on our drive south that morning we stopped at a large pull-off between the highway and the river. Large rocks, boulders really, littered the area including a number of them out in the riverbed. For a few minutes we climbed around on the rocks and found it was possible to jump from rock to rock and get onto a large one out in the middle of the river.

It was a mountain-cool sunny summer day and we apparently hadn't had breakfast yet because we decided this would be a good spot to fill the morning void in our stomachs. The memory-snapshot I have is sitting on top of that rock, in the middle of the river with the fast-flowing Gallatin rushing all around us, eating a bowl of Cheerios while soaking in the sun and the wonder of the moment. It was an unusual moment in time that we've both reflected on over the years.

So, our objective yesterday, Monday, was to find that pull-off and find the boulder. High water from the heavy spring run-off would be a complicating factor, but we both remember that rock being large and thought that it'd certainly be visible if not accessible.

The search made us realize how much things change as time goes by. It's been 34 years, a long time by some standards, but just a snap-of-the-fingers in the natural history of rivers and mountains and rocks.

First we drove South along the river. On our first pass the spot didn't jump out at us like we thought it would. Trees have grown, there's been erosion, rivers change -- filling in material here and taking it out over there. It became clear that our search would need to be more in depth and we'd have to take those mental images we had and "age" them with what might have happened since.

So, after refueling in West Yellowstone, we drove back North with a more careful and detailed eye. The first possibility was an area that was now a small National Forest Campground. The area felt right and maybe the campground had been developed since we'd been here 34 years ago. Hmmm. But we didn't see large rocks and, while the water was high, I don't think it's high enough to cover rocks the size of those in our memories.

The second possibility was a good-sized pull-off, but there was brush and small trees that blocked views of the river in some areas. Further exploration did find a good collection of large rocks about the right size. They're strewn on both sides and in the stream bed itself. The largest of the suspect rocks were well out in the river and almost covered by water -- almost. They looked to be about the right size and shape. The brush and small trees that we didn't remember were growing in an area that appeared to be filled in by small logs and brush that perhaps got clogged up here over the years. The river may have then filled in that clogged up area with sand and dirt, which created a nice spot for trees and brush to take root.

While not definitive, that second spot is, in our minds, most likely that spot we remember from 34 years ago. We snapped some pictures and paused to let the senses soak in the moment... and the memories. I thought about how much things have changed in just the last 34 years and how much things must have changed in the more than 200 years since the L&C Gang passed through the west. Perceptions and memories are problematic -- fluid and always changing -- and sometimes memories can be more satisfying than reality. Wow.

Then I had a gas pain and a sudden yen for Cheerios.

T
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