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Story ID:271
Written by:Kathe M. Campbell (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Travel
Location:Yellowstones Montana USA
Person:Kathe & 26 Explorers
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Whadoya mean, "Would I like to be the nations first lady Boy Scout Executive?" I gasped in utter astonishment, but upon a second glance at the Boy Scouts of America boss, I could see he was serious. I was a former Girl Scout and leader, wife of a scout master, mother of an Eagle Scout, and generator of Cub Scout programs. The idea wasn't as outlandish as it first sounded. It would offer a chance to develop one of the nation's first co-ed high school age Explorer Posts. And as the boss said, "The pay is small, but the job is huge, and you're going to have the time of your life." I could hardly wait to tell my family.

Well now, I mused, what to do with co-ed teens? Maybe I should first take a gander at this long-haired hippy type bunch. Our first meeting acquainted all, including parents, with the Explorer program. These fine looking kids turned out to be just what I expected. Class leaders, good students, physically fit, experienced in wilderness jaunts with their families, or in boy and girl scout troops. None had made miles of Montana's rugged mountains and rivers their home for more than a few days. I hoped our two weeks would entrench priceless knowledge, valued friendships and resplendent life-long memories.

My first lecture was short and sweet. We would awake and retire with group prayer. And speaking of retiring, no hanky-panky allowed. Boys to the left and girls to the right of the four adult leaders when settling down for the night. Lines of demarcation became a regular source of humor, but happily followed to the letter. Those not willing to do their share or follow directions, were excused at the outset..

We old time scouters trotted out our first-aid and navigation skills, taught conservation, and demonstrated the art of proper fifty pound backpacks. Forbidden candy, makeup kits, or rollers were not going to scare bears away. The gang became proficient in preparing nourishing dried foods, and above all, never drinking mountain water. Glacier-fed creeks look inviting, but carry toxic giardia, so cooking up plenty of canteen water would became a daily chore. We also spent mandatory spring weekends weighing in on boy/girl diversities, canoeing, fly fishing, and safely navigating white water.

After 35 years, memories recharged as I pored over yellowed newspaper accounts by the writer/photographer who joined us to record the journey. Living under Montana's big sky and sleeping beneath a ceiling of stars had been an unparalleled experience for most of us. For others, it left a deep-rooted lifestyle that most of our youngsters ingrained into their own families, years later.

In late June, an evenly divided 26 eager BSA Explorers headquartered at Red Rock Lakes Sanctuary near the Yellowstones. The Montana Fish and Game airboats allowed us to visit endangered nested whooping cranes and trumpeter swans. We sloshed through islands of mud and reeds, scaring mothers off their nests for a tally of the embryonic and hatched eggs. Some of us finished the day sporting purple and red badges of courage from head to foot. Mrs. Trumpeter hadn't taken our quest too kindly, drubbing us with ferocious wings. Nonetheless, the bird biologists liked our spunk and invited us back for the next season's count.

Boarding a dozen canoes to float and fish Montana's blue ribbon Madison River, stirred up mixed anticipation. We rendezvoused at Quake Lake, the site of the devastating Yellowstone earthquake in '59. It was eerie maneuvering amongst blackish dead trees standing in murky water created by landslides. Curious white headed eaglets peered precariously over their big bulky twigged nests, watching us drift out of sight. Portaging around the falls, we paddled hard to conquer rapids of mass destruction, the canyon walls fairly shuddering as our howling banshees navigated the swift torrents.

Gradually, long stretches of silent drifting allowed time to photograph elk and their calves feeding along the river banks. Towering snow-capped mountain ranges held us captive while cawing raptors swooped low, threatening our catches. The fly fishermen yielded enough rainbow and cut throat trout to fill all our gullets. Perfectly prepared over glowing coals, the meal was pure culinary splendor. Indian flat bread, honey butter, seasoned rice, dried fruit and lemonade rounded out typical river fare.

World famous speakers and authors in the biological environs of Yellowstone Park, welcomed us as hands-on students in their bear world. After a mesmerizing talk and brisk questions and answers, we were guided into no-man's country to photograph and observe. No youth group had ever been permitted this daunting chance at up-close bear watching. Bruin families fished and played for two hilarious days while teasing the eyes of our long lenses. And on the distaff side, the chilling moonlight howls of coyotes and wolves were finally pretty cool.

Upon our return to headquarters, two pesky black bears had been darted and captured. We took turns affixing ear tags, formatting tracking collars, and recording vitals on these camp marauders. Wake-up time found us secure behind a fence watching the two drunks staggering toward the cover of woods. About this time most of our eager-beaver scouts were
contemplating wildlife biology as a career.

With each day's highly organized pursuits, the happy campers hankered for the final unique days into the high Rocky Mountains. Trail blazing skills found us cramming over maps, scouting out a pristine mountain peak one day, and topping it the next. Though we Montanans may seem blasť when encountering wildlife, this remote trek put us next to curl horns, one lynx, bloodcurdling cougar screams, and even the birth of a new moose. Standing awestruck and frozen in our hikers would make for thrilling tales told to those who only dream.

Five miles up at 12,000 feet, we encountered a small and barren crystal blue lake shimmering in a rocky bowl. Several families of grazing mountain goats ogled us while their kids scampered amongst sparse brush. We had wearily entered an unfamiliar, and almost sinister snowcapped world. Gratefully, nary a soul suffered blisters, shin splints, or pulled ham strings to mar our miles of exploration. Instead of our lengthy daily swim, none of us could stay more than a few minutes in the frigid waters. In the end, settling down so near to God seemed a fitting spiritual close.

Whether hiking our happy trails, floating river stretches, or enjoying blazing campfires, little ditties were sung to Jew's harps and harmonicas. The rest of us hummed along on toilet paper combs over the two weeks. We even allowed that our musician and aspiring minister, could edify with slightly off-color lyrics to familiar tunes. She also jumped in to ward off one small case of home sickness and another with hurt feelings. Par for the course.

Some of us are gone now, some are famous in their own way, but whether as parents or in fine careers, all are celebrated lovingly in this lady's scouting memories. It was the time of my life, and I could go on and on with further reflections, but I guess you get the drift!