Lake Effect, Spring 2013, Volume 17: Choreography of Paint Rock Creek

Chad Hanson


The Choreography of Paint Rock Creek

I am heading west with a pack, a fly rod, and a pair of boots. My Subaru isn’t fast enough. Pickup trucks close in on my bumper. In the rearview mirror a man in a ball cap tosses his hands in the air. He complains to the passenger at his right. Then he rolls his eyes and risks his life by passing me on a section of highway that could hide an oncoming tractor-trailer.

The road cuts a line across the swells and troughs of the lonely prairie. The basin lies between the Big Horns and the Absaroka Range. With no trees to block the view, drivers fix their eyes on the horizon. This is not a scene that people dream about in eastern states. When visitors flip through racks of postcards in the rotisseries of truck-stops, they sort through pictures of moose, elk, spruce trees, and snow covered mountain peaks. But ridges and forests are the exceptions in Wyoming. Two thirds of the state is flat or rolling, and it is covered by a blanket of sagebrush. In the minds of most, it’s drive through country. Lifeless. Good-for-nothing plains.

We are elevation chauvinists. When we think of an ideal landscape we picture an alpine meadow circled by an aspen grove—rock and ice above tree line hung as a tapestry in the distance.