The idea of a "most remote place in America" conjures a romantic notion. With all the development in our country over the last 200 years, does a "most remote" place still exist? The answer is yes. In terms of being in the center of a circle the farthest distance from any road anywhere in the continental United States, the most remote place is at the southeast corner of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. It's surrounded by the wilderness part of Yellowstone, and the Washakie and Teton Wilderness Areas. We had to experience it.
We planned an 80-mile, nine-day pack trip through this region with our two saddle horses and one pack horse. Why do we go alone into large wilderness areas? First, it's easier to manage fewer horses and people. But mostly it's the incredible spiritual connection we feel with nature and our horses. Day-to-day worries are forgotten. We live a minute-to-minute existence with nature, one another, and our horses. An amazing bond develops.
Cast of Characters
The horses we use for trips involving long days and possible strenuous situations must be in good physical condition. With only one pack horse, we're unable to take any horse feed, so they have to get all their nutrition from grazing. That means they need time well before the trip to adjust to green grass to lessen their chance of colicking. We bring horses that are tried-and-true veterans of wilderness pack trips; our lives could depend on it.
We always followed our experienced-horse rule - until this trip. The only wilderness veteran was Charlene's 8-year-old Missouri Fox Trotter, Scout. He'd already been on a number of wilderness pack trips in the West. My horse, Buddy, was a 5-year-old Missouri Fox Trotter who'd just been started the year before. I'd done quite a few day rides on him, but no pack trip. Luckily, he's a level-headed quick learner.
Another problem: We'd also just sold our pack horse, so we had to rent one. Normally, we'd never want to venture into the wilderness with an unknown horse, because he'd need time to develop a herd mentality with our saddle horses. This mentality is important so the horses will act as a well-behaved herd and not be argumentative in dangerous places, such as cliffs.
But fortunately, we had trusted friends in the rental-horse business - Kail and Rene Mantle of Montana Horses (888-685-3697, www.montanahorses.com). If you're ever in the West and need a horse for two weeks or the season, this is the place to go. The Mantle family has been renting horses to outfitters and dude ranches in the west for 50 years.
We told the Mantles exactly what we needed: a horse that could walk fast enough to keep up with our Fox Trotters, would be rock-bottom safe, and could be ridden as well as packed - just in case. They rented us Gator, a 19-year-old, good-natured Tennessee Walking Horse-Quarter Horse cross. We were ready. We had a seasoned horse, a youngster, and a rental pack horse.
The night before our trip, we camped at the Ishawooa trailhead on the South Fork of the Shoshone River, south of Cody, Wyoming, where we planned to leave our rig. That evening, we were filled with suspense and anticipation. The horses seemed to know that something was up. Charlene fed them their last night's grain. As the sun set and alpine glow painted the 12,000 foot peaks across the valley, we wondered what the next day would bring.
Bright and early the next morning, a local outfitter drove us around Cody and up the North Fork of the Shoshone River to the Eagle Creek trailhead, where we'd enter the wilderness. We'd spend the next nine days riding through the wilderness back to our rig. Normally, our pack trips form a loop. However, this one would be point-to-point, shaped like a half circle.