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April 09, 2013 8:18 am

The Amend Corner: Landmarks

Written by Don Amend

I’ve driven over the Big Horn Mountains countless times, so it’s a pretty routine trip. So routine, in fact, that sometimes the scenery doesn’t register with me.

That wasn’t the case last month when my wife and I returned to Powell after more than six weeks in Minnesota. Familiar landmarks from Dayton on reminded me of family picnics, camping trips and church outings. I remembered the summer I spent helping construct the Antelope Butte Ski Lodge, and I spotted places I had visited specifically to take a few pictures.

The sense of home grew when we started down Shell Canyon, past Granite Creek, Shell Falls and the evidence of a long-ago tornado while looking up at Copeman’s Tomb and the vague suggestion of an elephant’s head in a rock formation high above the canyon floor. It grew stronger as we followed the thread of green Shell Creek nourishes through the dry hills typical of the Big Horn Basin and crossed the Big Horn River. Then it was west across the farms of Emblem Bench and north past the twisted old cottonwoods squeezing life out of Dry Creek on our way to the cultivated fields of Powell valley and eventually to home.

I first moved to the Big Horn Basin in 1950, when I was 6 years old. Except for three years in southwest Wyoming after college, I’ve lived here ever since, and before moving to Powell I had lived all that time within an hour’s drive of Shell Canyon, Ten Sleep Canyon, Meadowlark Lake or Ranger Creek. A couple of those years were spent nearly on the banks of Paint Rock Creek and, for almost half my life, I lived within a few blocks of the Big Horn River and looked east to the Big Horns, rising only 20 miles away. My recent stay in the Midwest was my longest absence from the Basin since I returned in 1969.

It’s not that Karen and I don’t like visiting other places. This last trip, aside — I was trapped in a hospital for most of it — I like visiting southeast Minnesota, for example. It’s hilly country with a lot of pretty farms, interesting small towns and things to do. Further north, there’s pretty scenery along the Lake Superior shore and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It’s nice to visit there or other places such as Florida, Wisconsin, Kentucky or Ohio, where trees and towns aren’t so few and far between as they are here.

But after spending my life in northwest Wyoming, I’ve become used to the dry desert landscape and the circle of mountain ranges that surround the Basin. Seeing a cottonwood tree struggling to hold on to life on the banks of an intermittent stream or a strip of cultivated land winding through dry badlands tells me I’m home.

Last weekend, we took a drive back south, providing me with nearly an hour to gaze upon Cloud Peak and Bomber Mountain and enjoy the view of Shell Canyon from another perspective, as well as the twin canyons that form the W just to the north of Shell Canyon. Closer to our destination, I studied the geologic wonder that is Sheep Mountain and the canyon the wayward Big Horn River turned east to cut through it. On the way back, I enjoyed watching the clouds as they formed to the west, wondering whether any of them might bring some welcome moisture, and I renewed a longtime resolution to spend a day out in that desert some time, watching and photographing the way the clouds build over the Absarokas and the Beartooths, or dance along the face of the Big Horns.

I have never been more glad to be home.

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