(State #38/50) Right after I told her my Canoe 50 plans, Taylor claimed Wyoming. Visiting the Grand Tetons, as she explained, was on her bucket list. So was seeing a wild moose — something I assured her, with the utmost cockiness, that’d we’d accomplish without problem. Well, after our canoe to Lake Shoshone and five full days in the Northwest corner of Wyoming, I can say we accomplished exactly one half of my girlfriend’s goals…
We spent our first day exploring Yellowstone, traversing the thousands of spectators from the world over. We witnessed Old Faithful blow and stared at boiling thermal pools, exuding warm, sulfury breath. The best part, however, was talking to an older ranger, who told a terrifying story from last year — A man went to go hot-potting in an off limits thermal area. When testing the water with his foot, he was shocked by the extreme heat and fell into the scalding pool, dissolving in front of his sister. “All that was left,” she continued, “were his sandals.” Taylor and I stood with mouths wide, thinking about… and then trying not to think about it. I believe it’s true, but I have no interest in corroborating the tale with the grander internet; a story like that is just too horrible to ruin.
To my sincere delight, the rangers at the backcountry permit office were just as matter-of-fact and morbid when warning about the dangers of canoeing. “Wear your life jacket, so it will be easier to find you,” the ranger said, head tilted down, sizing me up from above his reading spectacles. “If not, I’ll have to get my sonar to look for you,” indicating he wouldn’t be searching for living versions of us. Then he explained how the wind and storms can whip up out of nowhere in the afternoon. “Stay along the shore and don’t take the short cuts across open water,” said the ranger. He looked at me a little longer, studying my dumb face and stupid grin, and then told Taylor she was in charge.
There are times and places — ballgames, fairs, concerts, public executions, etc. — where being amongst a massive crowd enhances the experience. For me, National Parks aren’t on that list. Therefore, I was thrilled to leave the swarming boardwalks and overflowing parking lots and show Taylor some true Yellowstone wilderness. And Lake Shoshone, the largest Lake in the lower 48 with no road access, was just the place. To get out there, you either hiked or paddled; either way, you’d leave 99% of the dawdling masses behind.
We set off onto Lewis Lake at noon. The day was sunny, warm and, technically, clear. But, forest fire smoke hung in the atmosphere and, along with the midday sun, washed out much of the color from the forests, lake and sky. The water was calm so, as the ranger suspected I’d do, I ignored his advice and paddled strait across, towards the inflow of the Shoshone River. For the first two miles, the river winds, lazy and translucent, between boulders, flowering meadow and piney hills. Then, with one mile to go, the swift water forces you out of your boat. It’s time to pull your boat upstream.
Looking for the channel of least resistance, I trudged up the cold Shoshone River, tugging on my canoe’s lead like an owner walking an unresponsive dog. Paralleling me, Taylor hiked along a semi-trail, over logs and through meadows. Ten minutes passed before I heard a slight squeal and turned to see Taylor standing in the midst of many blooms and their pollinators. Not a fan of bees, she stepped along, arms tucked in, fists clinched while making a series of unconscious, nervous squeaks. Half sympathetic, half amused, I told her to join me in the water. Though the walking was trickier, there was less chance of a bee attack or a bear dragging her away.
After over an hour of towing Rider, we reached the shores of Shoshone Lake and met a new challenge. The August air grew tumultuous and a few gray bottomed clouds blanketed portions of the lake with rain. The term flat water no longer applied to the lake as a bald eagle flew by and thunder cracked overhead. I kept Rider close to the steep, rocky lakeside and scanned the shoreline for spots to land and take cover if the lightning intensified. But, between the sheer rock cliffs and thick conifer trees, there were few places to pull up the canoe. This was why the ranger had told us to “get an early start.” Using partial common sense, we did follow one piece of advice and strapped on our life vests.
Continuing on the rough water, we watched the pop-up storms emerge from the smoke to the west. I strained my eyes to see light behind them, trying to determine if they were lone scouts or if they were just the foot soldiers preceding the cavalry. Either way, the shelling had begun. Flash! Boom! It was like the board game Battleship, but replace the red pegs and gray naval vessels with lightning bolts and a green canoe. Also, there wasn’t any way for us to fire back or cheat, so the game wasn’t much fun.
Despite the weather, Taylor kept cool and kept paddling. We bobbed on through rain and wind, trying to cut the larger white-capped waves, now rolling across the greater expanse of Lake Shoshone. Nearing the final cove, we canoed out into open water to avoid getting broadsided. Up and over with thuds and splashes, Taylor and I pressed on until spotting the small sign for our camp, sweet glorious camp! We reached land, threw up the tent and sheltered as the storm marched eastward.
Once the danger passed, we explored our little spit of land where the narrows separate the two larger ends of Shoshone. It was a charming little peninsula with a forested camp area, bear pole and our own section of gray lava rock and pumice beach. The evening light softened on the calming lake and the eight miles of canoeing, one mile of pulling and the gambling with the lightning gods felt worth it. We were now in what all of Yellowstone used to be — expansive, untouched nature without a single motorcycle, RV or fat kid in sight.
We sprayed down with mosquito repellent, made drinks and set up the tarp on the beach. Taylor and I gazed over the lake and discussed vital matters of life like the new season of Game of Thrones and whether Emily Blunt could pull off being Mary Poppins. By drink number three, we thought it an excellent idea to take turns singing songs. Taylor, knower of all things Disney, went straight to theme song of Hercules. I fell back on Sublime, a favorite from my youth. And yes, I do see the irony of finally finding a quiet, peaceful spot in the National Park, only to taint that silence with my off-key vocalizations. But, our singing had two important results: 1. We were thoroughly entertained and 2. We frightened off all possible grizzly bears within several miles.
The sun set between the pines and through the forest fire smoke, giving it that LA-orange glow. Originally, we discussed canoeing around the shores at twilight, searching for the illusive moose, but coziness and hunger had other plans. Night fell as we prepared one tasty Italian sausage pasta, which we devoured well after ten o’clock.
Slow to stir the next morning, we eventually got the bear bag down and made eggs, bacon and avocado burritos. We set out before noon and glided over the still lake towards the outlet. It was almost unfair how fast we navigated the section of river we had pulled the boat up. We floated over “rainbow rocks,” named because they bare the color of every craft, which scrapes over them. “You’re going the wrong way!” other groups joked as we flew by them, not the least bit envious of their toil.
Taylor and I spent the next several days exploring the parks and getting stuck in bison jams. Though we scoured the land and went to all the riparian hot spots, we never saw Taylor’s moose.
On our final day, we sat outside the Jackson Lake Lodge, sipping local beers while watching the evening settle into the vast, marshy valley below. The air was warm and pleasant. We talked, joked with our neighbors and stared out at the Tetons. Yes, even through the smoky haze, they were still grand, imposing and majestic mountain peaks. Now, maybe I’m just deflecting from my failure to deliver a moose, but I think checking one out of two items off Taylor’s bucket list ain’t too shabby. And, more importantly, neither one of us dissolved in a hyperthermic pool.
Lake Stats and Fun Facts:
- Shoshone Lake via Lewis Lake and the Shoshone River
- Dates Canoed: 8/5-6/2017
- Miles Canoed: 18
- Weather: Smokey, highs in the upper 70s to lows in the upper 50’s. Isolated thunderstorms in the evening.
- Elevation: 7795 Feet Above Sea Level
- Launch/takeout Point: Lewis Lake Boat Ramp (44.282618, -110.628789)
- Campsite: Site 8Q1, South Narrow Point on Lake Shoshone (44.363781, -110.718852)
- Songs Sung on River: Feel It Still and Number One by Portugal. The Man, Elephant Love Song from Moulin Rogue, Lovin’s What I got and Wrong Way by Sublime, and Taylor sang The Gospel Truth from Hercules (one of her top favorite Disney Songs of all time) and an Afro Man Song, I can’t recall it’s name, surely something suggestive.
- Thanks to all the helpful rangers at the backcountry office. Professional, but not without a good dry, morbid sense of humor, which I appreciate to an enormous degree. And I promise, I fully intended on following most of the advice they offered. It just didn’t work out that way.
- Special Thanks to Monica and Kelley with for letting me hang out and use the wifi at their Library in Kaycee, Wyoming. They were friendly, funny and great representatives for the. I still have the old card catalog Return of the King card, which they recycled by writing the wifi password on. As we decided, it will remind me to read that series.
- Wildlife Spotted:
- Birds: Bald Eagle, raven, seagull, loon merganser, ducks, and a variety of song birds
- Mammals: Chipmunk and Red Squirrel
- Reptiles/amphibians: Frog
- Noted Species: Grizzly Bear, Gray Wolf, Wolverine and Lynx
- Dominant Vegetation: Lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce, Subalpine fir and Whitebark pine,
- Ecoregion: Middle Rockies, (17j) Yellowstone Plateau
- Current Threats: I’m unaware of any specific threats. Comparatively limited human interface, protected buffer zone and good watershed. Threats facing Shoshone will be the common non-point source facing all global lakes, i.e. effects of climate change.
- Trash Collected: A few bits of trash at the launch, but nothing from the river or campsite!
- Fundraiser for American Rivers: Currently at $3041 of my $5000 goal. Please go to my Crowdrise link below to donate. American Rivers is a 40+ year old NGO working to clean up rivers, remove antiquated dams, restore riparian ecosystems and preserve Wild and Scenic Rivers among much else. If you find my trip remotely inspiring, please consider donating! As always, thanks to all that have already given! https://www.crowdrise.com/canoe-50-campaign