Taggart Lake Trail…


What I wanted was a break from my search locations in Montana and Colorado. I’d been on a fairly consuming search for eight straight days. Beating brush, poking into rock piles, crawling into small openings and wading across half a dozen trout streams. So here I was in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park headed up a trail I’d never heard of, just for the sheer pleasure of the walk. My goal was to ignore all things “treasure chest” for a few hours. Clear my head. Then start fresh.

IMG_9139The trail started across an open glacial moraine, flat, gravelly, hot. It was 92 degrees in the parking lot. But soon I was walking through a cool, boulder strewn, lodgepole forest, crossing rushing creeks and listening to the sounds of Tanagers and Ravens.

IMG_9249Wildflowers hedged the path making the walk seem like Dorothy’s yellow brick road. I could not help but admire a colony of Calypso Orchids, in perfect bloom, astonished at how something purple and yellow can blend into the green forest floor so well. There was also Bitterroot, Balsam Root, Bistort, Strawberry, Camas, Larkspur, Lupine, Paintbrush. Stunning!

At about the one mile point I decided to sit and watch the creek roar by. I pulled up a good sized, comfortable rock and stared at the icy whitewater rushing to somewhere important downhill. While I was admiring the cool, blue mountain freshet a long legged young woman dressed in brief pink shorts and a black, very edgy sports bra came up the hill running in a long sensual gate unconcerned about rocks and trenches in the trail. She was as graceful as an antelope. Not a bead of sweat on her anywhere I could see. I carefully observed her come and closely watched until she disappeared up the hill. I never once thought about the treasure chest. I waited, hoping she might be the leader of a bevy of inappropriately attired young women from a nearby resort. Disappointingly, none others came behind her.

IMG_9219Overall, the trail is not steep but it is stubborn about being an uphill trail all the way to the lake. It passes by several different landscapes so that every few hundred feet the scenery is completely different. At the top of the trail, Taggart Lake. A lovely subalpine body of water surrounded by young lodgepole pine. A fire in ’85 raised about a thousand acres of the old trees nearby. Those here now, at 25 years old are even growth and immature enough to permit a wonderful green frame for the brown and purple Teton peaks in the distance. A lone fisherman was staying dry by standing on one of the numerous flat boulders around the perimeter and casting out into the clear, still water. I couldn’t tell if there were any fish in his creel.

IMG_9165Ignoring me as I doddered up the trail was a well dressed fellow, sitting on a flat, tan boulder on the edge of the lake. I said “Hi.” as I approached. I guess he could tell my lungs were objecting to the minor uphill walk at 6,900 feet.

“It’s mostly downhill from here”, he said.

“That’ll help”, I responded and took a seat on an adjoining boulder.

His face was weathered by years in the sun. His eyes were squinty from staring into the bright sky most of his life. He had that “monied” look. I wasn’t sure we should be in the same National Park together. He was First Class to my Cattle Car Class. He had a large sketch pad and was using a yellow pencil to draw something out in front of him. He looked to be mid-seventies and dressed nicely in a maroon knit shirt and khaki trousers. The shirt looked perfect against his tanned arms and tight stomach. His feet were protected by spendy Pikolinos chukka boots and a well worn, grey Stetson was resting beside him. It had a low crown encircled by an intricately beaded, blue and green, narrow hatband. A small fuzzy dry fly was stuck in the crown. A brownish shirt/jacket with lots of pocket flaps was neatly folded under the hat.

“Are you from around here?”, I asked.

“Down near Wilson.”, he said. I could see a Flicker jumping from pine to pine behind him, probably looking for a trail of ants working the warm pine sap.

“I don’t think you’re from near here.”, he said as he shifted his position on the rock so he could see me better.

“I’m not.”, I said. “What gave me away?”

“You know, I can’t put my finger on it, but you just don’t look like a local.”, he said.

“Probably the dirty jeans and beater ice axe I’m carrying. But you’re right about that.”, I admitted. “I’m from around the San Juan Islands up in Washington State.”

He put his sketchpad and pencil down on the boulder and looked me in the eye for the first time.

“No kidding.” He said. “I know those islands. Had a great time there. I’ve been up in Friday Harbor, Lonesome Cove, Rosario and took a kayak over to Waldron Island once with my wife. Every time it gets to be about a hundred and ten around here I think fondly of those cool coastal waters.”

“Yeah, a hundred and ten is more warmth than a body needs.”, I agreed.

There was a token bit of silence while we both focused on the lone fisherman across the way as he jerked upward with his rod to quickly set the hook. All three of us watched to see what would happen next. Nothing happened. The fish had escaped.

“What do people catch here?” I asked.

“Most come after native Cutthroat. There are a few others in here too but the natives are the prize.”

A Raven came swooping down to the big boulder nearer the hat than either of us and squawked in our direction, feigned menicingly toward the hat then took off quickly. We both chuckled at his boldness.

“Counting coup.”, I said. “Are you an artist?” I asked, motioning at his sketch pad.

“I draw a thing or two around here.” He said and passed the pad to me for a look.

It was excellent, really beautiful. It was clear this fellow knew more about capturing a mountain landscape than I knew about anything. His work looked across the lake toward the Tetons. But it was different than my actual view. It was from a higher angle and there were old growth snags in the forrest below the mountain peaks. By comparison, my view across the lake included no old growth trees. The fire more than twenty-five years ago had erased them all. There was also more snow on the peaks in his vision than in mine. The focal point of the sketch was not the mountains though, but a fisherman in action, large in the foreground wearing a Stetson much like the artist’s. He was standing on the very rocks where we were sitting and was casting out into the placid lake. His line making a graceful arc behind him toward the viewer. A fly on the end of his line frozen on paper and drawn with loving detail just microseconds before it whipped out of the viewers sight. The scene evoked those gorgeous early railroad travel posters for Northern Pacific and Canadian Pacific. It was a rich, romantic stylization of Taggart Lake, beckoning me to come visit this marvelous western vista and relax with a rod and a cool mountain lake full of native trout. I could visualize the greens, browns, purples and blues that would eventually be added.

“It’s like a travel poster.”. I said

“Well good!.”, he said. “That’s what I have in mind. It’s an illustration for a magazine cover,”

“You’re Norman Rockwell.”, I said…and then laughed.

He laughed too and stuck out his hand and told me his name.

“Dal Neitzel.” I said. “It reminds me of those Art Deco travel posters from the first half of the twentieth century.”

“Perfect.”, he replied. “You seem to know a little about art. Do you own a gallery back in the San Juans?”

“Not at all.”, I said. “I’m lucky to own a pair of shoes.”

He laughed again. “How come you know those old travel posters?”, he asked.

“When I was growing up in Detroit those posters were still around in a lot of places. I remember being able to lock my little brain onto a poster of Banff National Park that hung on a wall where my mom worked. In about 5 minutes I could create a whole adventure there while I was fixated on the trees and mountains and river. They were wonderful.”

banffposter“That’s interesting.”, said the artist. “This is an image from when I was young. That’s my dad fishing. I’m watching from up in a tall tree that used to be back there. We came up here a lot. My mom, dad, sister and grandpa too. We would fish and picnic and swim and pick flowers and watch the animals and have a grand old time.”

“You were living the life I dreamed.”, I said.

“I was living the life I dreamed too.”, he replied. “This was our family’s secret place. My grandpa took dudes up here on horseback all through the first half of the century. He proposed to his wife up here in 1910. My dad proposed to my mom up here in 1933. Both my sister and myself were conceived up here. I proposed to my wife up here in 1956.”

“That’s pretty fun that you know where your life began.”, I said.

“Yeah..I loved my mom. She was a pretty down to earth woman. She revealed all that over a thanksgiving dinner one year. About a dozen relatives were enjoying their turkey and mom just blurted it out. Wide eyes all around. My dad couldn’t find a plate big enough to hide under but mom thought everybody should know. My sister ran to her room. I don’t think she spoke to mom for a month. I had no idea what she was talking about. I didn’t even know what ‘conceived’ meant.

We both laughed.

“I’ll tell you.”, he said. “This place is part of the fabric of my life but this is the first time I’ve been up here since the fire in ’85. That fire burned out this place. Killed it. My dad died from a heart attack trying to move his stock. My mom was so disturbed after dad died and the fire that she was just a shell of the wonderful, fun-loving lady she used to be. She just quit living a few months later. I couldn’t bring myself up here any more. The place I knew was simply gone, evaporated.”

I could see redness in his eyes.

“I’m sorry.”, I said. “What made you decide to come back now?”

He looked me in the eyes and took a kind of deep breath like he was trying to decide if he should tell me.

“When I was eight”, he began. “We were all up here goofing around. Right here. On this very rock. Mom was wading out there in the sandy bottom. Dad was fishing over there from the point. My sister and I were running around trying to get warm after playing in the cold water or we might be sitting on this rock playing old maid or go fish. We all loved it up here. I wish you could have seen it. Cool, tall old growth. Wildlife everywhere.

We came up just about every sunday while the weather was good. When it was time to leave I would often run ahead of everyone else. Sometimes my sister and I would see who could get back to the truck first. Sometimes I just ran ahead by myself for the sheer joy of it. That’s what I was doing that day. I was way down the trail ahead of everyone when I saw a bear cub just ahead of me on the trail. He saw me at just about the same moment and we locked eyes for about three seconds before he ran off the trail. He was just a cub so  I walked up to where he was and looked around. I didn’t see anything. I didn’t want to go looking too close in case his mama was around. I knew enough about bears at that age to know that where there was a cub there was a mom. This was a cub, and a young one at that. Smaller than me and I was only eight.  But mom had to be nearby and that scared the heck out of me. I knew running might attract her so I just tried to keep calm and walked  down toward the truck. When I looked back to see if anything was following me…frighteningly,  there was the cub again. That spooked me and I started yelling ‘mommy…daddy…help me” as loud as I was able and I couldn’t help myself…I just started running for the truck. When I ran, so did the cub. He was keeping about 30 feet behind me but I knew his mom was going to be after me too and she could run me down in a heartbeat.

Now my folks heard me yell and my dad thought it could be a bear because there are a lot of them around but they usually don’t bother anyone. He threw his pack on the trail and ran to help me. So off we all go. Me screaming my head off. The bears, both unseen mom and young cub close on my heels. My folks somewhere behind the bear chasing my screams. My sister petrified about finding a pile of bones with my shirt somewhere down the trail.

My dad follows my screams all the way to the truck. When he reaches the parking lot, there I am up on the roof of the cab still screaming and this cub..maybe just a few months old, patiently watching me from down on the ground. My dad looks around. No mama bear in sight. So he takes off his hat and walks toward the cub trying to shoo it away. But the cub won’t go. He moves a little to get away from the hat but he won’t leave the truck. Next comes my mom and sister. They see me on the roof and dad playing with a bear cub next to the truck. My dad swats at the bear and the bear swats at the hat but doesn’t really move. Mom and my sister start laughing. Partly because they know everyone is okay and partly because It’s the funniest thing they ever saw.

After awhile my dad tells me to get down on the opposite side and get into the truck. I do that. The bear follows me around and sit’s there watching up at me. Mom and sis come down and they pile into the truck on the side opposite of the bear. Then my dad gets in and starts the rig up and begins to pull out. The bear follows us. When dad speeds up the bear speeds up. When dad stops the bear stops and sits down and watches us.

We cannot figure out what’s going on in his fuzzy brown head.

Mom figures we have to do something or that poor little bear will get out on the road and some car will run him over. Dad can’t figure out why there isn’t a mama bear around.

Now dad was moving horses around to the ranch on saturday so the horse trailer is still behind the truck. Dad has an idea. He grabs an apple from the glove box and gets out of the truck and opens up the back of the horse trailer, puts the apple on the floor of the open trailer and walks away a little bit. That bear goes to the back and just climbs right in the trailer, grabs the apple and makes himself at home in some hay. So now we are the proud owners of a bear.

We take him home and put the back end of the trailer by the horse barn, open the trailer doors and that bear hops out of the trailer, strolls into the barn and makes himself at home in a horse stall. Just like he owns the place. It was the pivotal moment in my life.

That bear was my best buddy for 28 years. He lived in that horse barn and had the run of the ranch. His name was Dick. My mother named him. Enough said. But he was a great companion. It took awhile for the horses to get used to him. We made an insulated hut for him to hibernate in. Sometimes he’d use it. Sometimes he just slept a lot and stayed in the barn with the horses. A few years he’d disappear in spring. I figured he was out doing what bears do in the spring. He always came back. When we needed to go somewhere we piled him into the horse trailer or the back of the pick-up and took him along. He was even the Best Man at my wedding. I’m not kidding. My wife and I got married on the ranch. Mom made a tux for Dick. He was the darndest bear you ever saw. He loved the county fair. He liked the kids and it was pretty funny to watch him eat cotton candy. Dogs bothered him some. He didn’t like getting his feet wet so he wouldn’t fish. He didn’t like fish anyway unless I cooked it. His favorite food was Purina Horse Chow and watermelon. He never hurt anything or anybody…never.”

“Holy cow!”, was all that I could say.

“Dick died on this day in 1973, Forty years ago today, and I needed to be at this spot. So today I am celebrating two important things in my life…an important place and an important friend. I miss them both.”

There was more to the story of course. Like the first time Dick tasted ice cream and decided all of it was his and started raiding refrigerators at various dude ranches up and down the valley. Not everyone thought it was funny. When the artist turned twenty-one he celebrated by taking Dick to a bar in Jackson and both of them got pretty sloshed. The joke was that Dick was the the most sober so he had to drive home. For years there was a bar in Jackson called Dick’s Bar. Named after…you guessed it. Dick tried skiing one spring and up at Jackson Hole there used to be a bunny run named after him. He was legend.

It was dark with a decent full moon as I walked back toward the van that evening. I was more alert for bears than I had been on the way up. I was thinking about a young orphaned bear with amazing insight and a strong will to survive. How he understood what needed to be done in order to live on and how sometimes bears are smarter than me…

I was also thinking about where warm water’s halt….

Montana…here I come…


68 thoughts on “Taggart Lake Trail…

  1. Dal, You rascally, handsome, German,

    Did you still not get it? this clue “Where Warm waters Halt” is so simple, your grandkids could get this one! Fenn did not say Hot waters, Hot Spring, Hot Tub, no, he said “Where Warm Waters Halt”, You know like in the New Mexico Game and Fish Regulations;

    “Warm Waters Halt” and “Cold Waters Begin” in the canyon right in front of the Home of Brown, now lets talk about TOLEDO or perhaps another Ohio or NM city Like Cleveland? Can you hear me now?

    Hunt guide @

    • Tom-
      Ha!…Hold a clue for me. As soon as I have $99 I can’t think of anything better to do with…I may be on your front porch.. 🙂

    • you got it, I’am hopping the chest is still there when I get there.Thanks for the great story ,I enjoy reading your stories .

  2. Wow Dal! I don’t know what else to say. Between you and the gentleman you met… I was pretty well riveted through that story. And now I want to watch a movie called A Bear Named Dick – directed and produced by Dal Neitzel.
    Thank you for sharing!!

  3. Dal,
    I always enjoy reading your travel experiences and those pictures are beautiful. Keep them coming as we all feel better after reading them.

    The Wolf

  4. Wonderful, wonderfully written story of your adventure Dal and poignant too – reminded me of ff also. 🙂

    Loved your photography, especially the orchid – you should submit that to some magazine about wildflowers!

  5. Very nice story! Don’t forget the head waters of the Missouri are in Montana! Looks like rain on the water when the trout feed!

      • Great story Dal! Nice to “hear your voice” again, too! Missed ya, pal! You have to assemble them all into a book! I have so many favorites, especially the couple from CA who made the bet about digging in the graveyard! So funny!

        I’ve been looking at the Missouri River quite a bit lately, primarily due to it’s connection to Lewis & Clark and their grueling 6-week portage (18.5 miles in the hot summer sun) around the Great Falls in MT. Those boats and supplies were definitely “heavy loads” to lug around some “waters high”. The term “loads” is mentioned frequently in their journals during this portage.

        Also, it was this leg of the journey of the “Corps of Discovery” where they met Sacagawea and her fur trader husband at the Mandan village in N. Dakota and she accompanied them from there with her infant son as well. Nice tie-in to Forrest’s friend who designed the Sacagawea coin also.

        It’s a fun theory but probably a waste of time, though since Tom Gregory is discounting the 90% + portion of the Rockies that lie above the NM border. Anybody have $99 I can borrow? LOL

        • Peace-
          I liked that story too. So far I have not heard from them again. I guess I am hopeless in their eyes.

  6. Hi Tom Gregory, Stephan here.

    While I’m not quite sure what to think of your entrepreneurial spirit, I do like your line of reasoning with “warm waters”. But I think clues should be free, just like health care, being the unabashed liberal that I am. So try these “clues” on for size:

    Begin it at the bridge over the Pecos River south of Santa Fe on I25. NM Game and Fish stocks trout north of the bridge only where the water is “cold” (I know about trout, certainly not like Mr. Fenn, and trout like cold water)..Heading southwards, the water is too warm. So warm waters halt at the bridge.

    Take it in the canyon down, not far but too far to walk: this would be Burro Canyon , 50 miles from the bridge, located at the top end of Gallinas Canyon (Gallinas=chickens=”Those old biddies”) Calf Canyon is right next door (Bessie the Calf).

    Why Burro Canyon? Burros carry heavy loads like no one’s business. Miners in the Old West knew this well.

    Put in below the home of Brown: this is Las Vegas, once the home of Hoodoo Brown, aka Hyman Neil, the notorious leader of the Dalton Gang. As you head north from the bridge over the Pecos, there is only one exit south of Las Vegas, that for Highway 65, which leads directly into Gallinas Canyon. Put in below Las Vegas, take 65, and voila! You’ll even pass by the hots springs at Montezuma (a mini Yellowstone).

    As you head up Burro Canyon, you’ll see that it’s no place for the meek, as it is filled with aspens, the tree of brave heroes and reincarnation in Scottish mythology. The waters of the tiny creek, which you won’t need to paddle up because you can simply walk on the trail, are indeed high, at nearly 8,000 ft. in elevation. And as you go, look out for the old Chevy parked in the barn at the mouth of the canyon, “the canyon down”. “Down”, you see, is an adjective for “canyon” and not a directional for “take it”.

    You might find a blaze with FF, and then you can look down, but you won’t find the chest there, of course.

    Burro Canyon is not 8.25 miles north of Santa Fe.

    So, Stephan remains stumped. But one thing may be certain, that warm waters can only refer to trout. So before you go a-looking in any states north of NM, I’d do a wee bit of research on the warm waters fisheries. I’ll wager a pirate’s wages that you’ll find them few and far between.

      • Hi Dal,

        Please excuse a pirate’s obtuseness in not first complimenting a truly terrific story. Alas, your story is worth much, much more than my clues, which I value at about 9 x 99 cents….

    • Stephan,I do like your way of thinking! I too believe the treasure is a lot closer to f than many think.However your spot is not it!

  7. And a PS from Stephan: In my next installment I’ll tell you something fun about grizzly bears and Brown. Watch for it in “Stephan Returns to the Blaze.”

  8. I loved the part where you saw the different view from the artist. I’m still mystified too as to how you always seem to come across such interesting characters. Did you borrow Forrest’s 15%?


    • Stephanie-
      Love your new gravatar-avatar-iconatar or whatever it’s called and glad to see you back. The secret to finding interesting characters, I have found, is in crying and whining a lot so people feel sorry for me and come over to tell me about themselves 🙂

      • So that’s what that noise was in the woods when I was in Pilar the day after hanging out with you. I had thought you left town.

          • I actually stayed another two days there alone(Jeff went back without me) searching because I felt I said too much when we were together and if I didn’t go search this one area…I was going to lose it, because I KNEW you were going right there to find it.

          • Oh Dal…your too fun…..Come through Chicago on your next trip out “East” and pick me up. I’ll show you where to search.

          • Oh great…how much competition do I have? I need to hurry, before I go to seed…uh oh…(looking quickly down) too late.

          • Steph-
            Have you experienced any problems loading up this blog?
            I could not get in at all from home last night. I thought the site was down. I could not get in this morning either from home.
            Using public wifi at the ferry landing it loaded up just fine this morning. Works good from town.

            Trying to understand what’s going on…

          • I haven’t had any problems, but I’m guessing you need to clear your cache. I had that same problem with mine when I moved it. It was some how conflicting with the old site. I bet that will work.

          • I cleared the cache. Cleared the history. Tried a different browser. What I didn’t do was try a different computer at home. I’ll have to try that.

          • …and after you did all that….did you reboot and did you do the hokey pokey? I have on occasion had to resort to that to get things to work as they should.

          • Awww you beat me to it. I was going to just say two words “Put in” and that’s why we’ve been missing it, because we haven’t turned ourselves around. Hey maybe Forrest was a wedding singer on the side and that’s why his church in the mountains is so important…I feel we’re getting somewhere here.


        • Oh and thanks on the photo 😉 See, I got him to smile too. Now you need to *smile*

          By the way…come over to chasechat? We want to see your soon to be smiling face.

        • Stephanie-
          You and Dal are tops among the “Thrill” searchers. I would like to ask a question of you if you happen to know. Looking at the new photo you use that has Mr. Fenn in it, he has a lanyard around his neck. It appears to me to say, “GPAA”.
          I’m a lifetime member of the GPAA. Their most recent “Gold Prospectors” magazine has a good article about “The Thrill of the Chase.” (No new information but fairly factual and complete.) You and Dal are inspirational, thanks!

          • Hi Special K. Thanks for the compliment. Yes that was taken when Forrest was at the Gold Show in Albuquerque. We took a 4 hour detour from our search area just to see him. We were lucky to see a couple others in the search that we also have gotten to know. I heard about the article in the magazine, but don’t have a copy. They said that if anyone wanted a copy that you could send $5 and just get that one in case anyone’s interested.

  9. Dal, as usual your words rivet one’s eyes to every last syllable.The whole encounter was very well put.Your stories and meetings w/ characters will be remembered as long as this whole Chase is talked about.Thanks for sharing !

  10. Another great story and pictures Dal………you really should write a book.

    I was a little disappointed there wasn’t a picture of the antelope with pink shorts. 😆 But it’s still a great story.

  11. I cried after reading this “Dick died on this day in 1973, Forty years ago today, and I needed to be at this spot.”

    Thanks for the emotional journey! I wish I was outgoing enough to meet folks who have lived lives full of stories like this.

  12. it is always great when you find something you did not expect that makes the adventure even more memorable.

    • Mark-
      I think that’s what keeps bringing me out. I mean in addition to “solving the puzzle”. These trips are adventures and there is always something memorable about each and every one.

  13. Ok, Dal, That sounds like a little you and a little Forrest telling that tale!!! AM in Nm and have looked for 7 days, leaving Friday and am going out again today tomorrow and Friday. Great story do not beleve bear drove car but sounds plausable. Hve checked out three home of brown’s here and am sruck on one no one else has thougt of here in nm. Need not to have so many distractions,nor anxious family around. Still on the chase hope you or I or Jen. or Steplhanie find it. See you all in the funny papers.

    • Judy-
      Dick never actually drove…that was just the joke around town… I doubt Dick actually skied either..but the artist told me they made snow skies for him out of old, wide water skies. I don’t know if he skied on all fours or standing up…but since he didn’t like getting his feet wet I suppose skiing was not an event ol’ Dick looked forward too.

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