Wyoming Wildlife - July 2021

Thoughts from the Thorofare


The Thorofare


The remote Game and Fish cabin has been around since 1955


7/1/2021 12:00:00 AM

 

Among Wyoming’s vast outdoors there are many places that fit the term remote. But there is one that tops them all —  the Thorofare. This area in northwest Wyoming is nestled next to Yellowstone National Park and is  considered the most remote wilderness in the lower 48. What makes the Thorofare special —  and draws people to explore and work in the deepest recesses of the wild —  is the back-to-basics isolation and the wildlife. The trip isn’t for the inexperienced. It takes planning and effort to get to where you are going.  There’s no cell service and humans are scarce. But, there’s still plenty of company. Numerous streams and lakes are home to Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Birds of various sizes and colors abound, including eagles and sandhill cranes. The area also is home to a diverse collective of remarkable species such as bison, bighorn sheep, elk, moose, deer, grizzly bears and gray wolves.

Where there’s bountiful wildlife, there’s also plenty of field work for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s wardens and biologists. In need of a home-base for people to stay when on patrol or when surveying, the department built a cabin in the area in 1955. There are no roads to get to the modest structure, just trails to arrive on horse, foot and sometimes skis, depending on the time of year. Building materials and supplies were freighted by boat on Yellowstone Lake to the Trail Creek camp 20 miles away, then loaded on pack horses for the final trek to the cabin site. If only those walls could talk when it comes to the history of this cabin. Fortunately, many Game and Fish folks who have stayed there transcribed their thoughts and experiences in a journal. Grant Gerharter, south Cody Game Warden, converted nearly 20 years of journal entries into an electronic format. Wyoming Wildlife was able to look through entries from 2001-2020.

 

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Most people remember what they were doing and where they were when they learned of the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. Game Warden Tim Fagan was at the Thorofare cabin and had no idea what happened on the other side of the country. However, his journal log from this day showed that he — like most Americans — had a tough day.

Sept. 11, 2001 - This day started at about 12:30 a.m. with a grizzly bear pushing and pulling on the front door!! Luckily I had closed the outside shutter as just the screen door is on. After about a minute of him carrying on, I hollered and turned on the flashlight. I could see him from out the east window and then the front window as he walked back to the trail and headed west. Found my saddle horse dead tonight when I went to get him in for the night. Will walk out with the mules tomorrow. No good thoughts tonight. — Tim Fagan

 

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In 2005 the cabin turned 50, and in August several people gathered for a celebration. Here are two excerpts from that event.

 

Aug. 12, 2005- Was an experience that will not be topped. The cabin, friends and laughs are not to be topped. Thanks for keeping a time in history alive. — Ron Lovercheck, Wyoming Game and Fish Commission vice president in 2005, Commission president in 2006 and Commissioner member from 2003-09. Lovercheck, who is from LaGrange, passed away at age 74 on May 28 of this year.

 

Aug. 12, 2005- What a trip. Eight days and nowhere near long enough. Met the best people in Wyoming here for the 50th. The pride of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is very evident. Hope that it isn’t 15 more years before I get back.  — Bill Skelton, Riverton

 

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Most of the journal entries each year begin in the summer, and some later than others depending on weather and snow pack. In 2011, Fagan did not reach the cabin for the first time until Aug. 20. But in 2007, Fagan, Mark Bruscino (former game warden, trophy game conflict officer and large carnivore services supervisor for Game and Fish) and Doug McWhirter (current Game and Fish wildlife management coordinator in Jackson) used cross-country skis to traverse to the cabin in early March to re-run some forest carnivore surveys that were first done by Game and Fish nongame biologist Dan Stevenson. In 2007, the use of trail cameras was a relatively new addition to such work. The trio started on March 3, left the cabin March 15 and logged a total of 143 miles on their skis. Each journal entry documented how many miles they had covered to that point. Here are some entries from that trip:

 

March 6, 2007- Departed 9-mile trailhead on March 3 skiing the east shore of Yellowstone Lake. Observed one otter that had come up through a hole in the ice and was eating fish. Saw one bison wintering at Park Point and four more at the Delta. Camped the first night at Terrace Point in tents. Temperatures during the day started out around minus-15 degrees then warmed to about 25. The night stayed warm at about 20. Snow depths on shore were around three feet. On the morning of March 6 we packed up and left Cabin Creek at about 8:30 a.m. following the trail we broke yesterday. At Mountain Creek we had to wade the south channel while carrying our skis and sleds. It is a small channel that must have a warm-water feed because there was no snow bridge. We arrived at the Thorofare cabin at 5:40 p.m. after skiing the 15 miles from Cabin Creek. Another very warm day and poor snow conditions for skiing, but a great day to be in the country. Plenty of marten sign. Coyotes, red squirrels and possibly wolverine tracks just north of Beaver Dam Creek. No wolf tracks, no moose tracks, no elk tracks. (Trip total: 46 miles)

 

March 7, 2007- Settled into the cabin for our stay. Skied to County Line Meadows and set up one camera (motion sensing) where the meadow bottlenecks at the east end. Skied down Thorofare Creek and directly south of the cabin we observed one bison in very deep snow. He would take two or three lunges then rest for several minutes before doing it again. … We heard a wolf howl several times up Thorofare Creek from the cabin. (Day total: 4 miles; trip total: 50 miles)

 

March 8, 2007- Woke to light snow, breezy and overcast. … Checked the motion-sensing camera at County Line Meadows. It did not appear that it had been visited by any critters the previous night. We then skied to Hawk’s Rest and observed an otter sliding through the snow at Thorofare crossing. We deployed a camera at the edge of the timber at Yellowstone Meadows west-northwest of Hawk’s Rest. We then skied down the Yellowstone, around Bridger Lake along the south park boundary to Thorofare Creek. Observed lots of otter sign along the creek. Found a bull moose that had been dead for about a year on the bank of the creek. We deployed our third and last camera just south of the (Yellowstone National Park) boundary along the creek. (Day total: 6 miles; trip total: 56 miles)

 

March 9, 2007- We decided to ski up Thorofare Creek and move the camera from County Line Meadows to the beaver ponds on Thorofare Creek. Observed numerous tracks of snowshoe hares, red squirrels, grouse, coyotes and ermine. At the beaver ponds we saw two otters that captured a fish. There also was the skeleton of an old cow moose that the critters had dug up and chewed on. We found a freshly dead carcass of a bull bison that had four wolves and numerous coyotes feeding on it. We deployed a camera on the remains and skied to the east to Nate Vance’s old hunting camp below Open Creek. … Fagan and McWhirter hung the moose antlers we found yesterday on the center support beam of the cabin above the table. We hope they remain there forever as a gift from our trip. (Day total: 8 miles; trip total: 64 miles)

 

March 11, 2007- Fagan heard wolves howling at about 4 a.m. toward the Yellowstone. We ice fished Bridger Lake with no luck. Tried three locations but couldn’t catch a thing. Bad luck or maybe bad fishermen? (Day total: 10 miles; trip total: 83 miles)

 

March 13, 2007- We picked up the camera sets. No new pictures taken over the night. We got our gear ready to leave early in the morning. We hope it gets cold and stays cold so the snow is not soft on the journey out. (Day total: 10 miles; trip total: 109 miles, plus 34 miles out = 143 miles)

 

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Game and Fish personnel did other field work out of the Thorofare cabin. The following is an entry from Fagan and Bruscino from July 15, 2008. Also, it should be noted that although the cabin is isolated, those who stayed there often ate like kings.

 

July 15, 2008- Woke to another beautiful morning (37 degrees at 6 a.m.). After the horses were fed we decided to classify some bighorn sheep and elk. In honor of the 200-year anniversary of Colter’s Run from the Blackfeet in 1808, we decided to do the “Colter Climb” to the top of the Trident. It took us about three hours to get to the top. Plenty of bear tracks, 21 sheep including some good rams and 28 elk. There is a lot of drifted snow still on top of the Trident in places. Looked over into Escarpment Creek and Coyote Creek. Lots of alpine aster, Indian paintbrush and alpine buttercups on top. Also, arrowleaf balsamroot and American bistort. We had lunch in the alpine at 10,585 feet with a view up the Thorofare, a view of Yellowstone Lake and the Tetons. We had a fantastic dinner of baked ham and scalloped potatoes before an early night to bed. — Mark Bruscino and Tim Fagan

 

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In August of 2009, Gov. Dave Freudenthal and his wife, First Lady Nancy Freudenthal, spent a few days at the Thorofare cabin. They planned to be there in 2005 for the 50th anniversary celebration of the cabin but were not able to make it. This was the next opportunity where everyone’s schedules aligned. Fagan and Gary Brown (former Cody Region wildlife supervisor) were the guides and hosts, and also packed the Freudenthals in and out of the cabin. According to the journal, Freudenthal was the first governor to journey to the cabin. Freudenthal was governor from 2003-11. Here are some takes from the governor and first lady.

 

Aug. 10, 2009- The day started bright and beautiful (after an equally bright evening of stars … the most I have seen for many years). We were treated to a fine breakfast of biscuits, bacon and eggs by Tim (Fagan). I am hoping Dave doesn’t think all his breakfasts in Cheyenne will be so filling. Tim asked us to participate in some photos for a slide presentation next week in Montana. It was great fun pretending to find him honing his presentation, and then pretending to fall asleep while he practiced it on us. We toasted the cabin with him and smiled about how these pictures would ultimately be embellished. A (horseback) ride around Bridger Lake brought back memories of my childhood when I traveled into this marvelous country as a sullen junior high girl with my parents, sister and brothers. What a great chance to see the country through the eyes of an adult, and to experience the quiet and beauty again. We crossed Thorofare Creek twice with no incident. … Missing lunch, we dove into dinner of pork tenderloin, baby potatoes and salad like we hadn’t seen food in days. I have so enjoyed the beauty of this place and the laughter of our companions. It has been a long, overdue reminder of why we have chosen a path of public service and stewardship — to the people and the places of Wyoming. — Nancy Freudenthal

 

Aug. 21, 2009- We begin preparations for our return trip. This has been a remarkable adventure. Gary and Tim are amazing -- their skills with outfitters and other people suggest a great political future for both. The number of activities from trail repair, to cabin preparations for hunting season, etc. all seem impossible to count. This place does not lend itself to easy descriptions -- its beauty, its peace and its solitude calm the spirit and re-energize the soul. — Gov. Dave Freudenthal

 

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Game and Fish personnel who visit the cabin are there to work. They check the licenses of anglers and hunters and make sure wildlife laws are being obeyed. But maintaining the cabin is a never-ending job. Here is an excerpt from Brian Parker, Game and Fish habitat access supervisor in Lander, about his time at the cabin in August 2017.

 

Aug. 8, 2017- Gawd bless the Thorofare! Coming here has been on my to-do list for over 20 years. In addition to just visiting this place, got to do a bunch of good work on the cabin. Tunneled under the cabin to crib the center pole. The floor was bowing a bit under the king post so we jacked the joists to level it out. Great few days working with hand tools and helping keep things running out here. This week has used the skills I value the most: horse packing, hand tools, cooking on a wood stove, camping. Life is good. So appreciate being here. — Brian Parker, Lander Region habitat and access supervisor

 

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The Thorofare is special to Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik. His first trip was as the wildlife supervisor in the Cody Region, and has made several others since. Nesvik is passionate about this area and the employees he oversees who manage all of Wyoming’s wildlife. Nesvik wrote this recently about both. We have something no one else does. We have absolutely the finest cadre of dedicated professionals of any agency in the world, and the world-class wildlife to match. The two go hand-in-hand. Having this place and spending time working together to follow in the steps of those who have gone before, and those who will come after us, is something bigger than ourselves that we can contribute to.

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