CODY, Wyoming -- I spend my weekends hiking and I'm a student of trail guides. And though the Internet has made them mostly obsolete, I still prefer a book to a computer screen.
The Cody Public Library has a shelf full of them. They are shiny, colorful paperbacks called "Falcon Guides," and are published by Globe Pequot Press of Guilford, Connecticut. The original imprimatur was Falcon Publishing of Helena, Montana, hence "Falcon Guide." If I ever get rich , I plan on acquiring complete sets of the University of Chicago "Great Books" and the "Library of America." Add to that mass of erudition three or four dozen of my favorite Falcon Guides and I'll be a happy man. Though I wonder if they'll let me haul all those books to the nursing home.
In the 25 years of their continuous publication, the now 800+ Falcon Guide titles have covered just about every aspect of outdoor recreation in America, and all those places where one recreates. Some 500 outdoor writers (including for my sport such backpacking legends as "Wild Bill" Schneider, Erik Molvar, Tom Wharton and Ron Adkison) have taken on everything from birding to surfing, camping to kayaking, and fishing to cross country skiing. Sixty thousand hiking trails, rivers, scenic highways, and rock and ice climbing routes are noted, and illustrated by 6,000 maps.
Want to go surfing in Southern California? Or hiking anywhere in Iowa (yes, even Iowa)? Want to go rafting down the Colorado River? Road biking along Colorado's Front Range or mountain biking in Utah? Rockhounding in Wyoming? How about birding in North Carolina (or any other state)? Sea kayaking in Alaska? Tours (by state) of natural hot springs spas? Don't forget your Falcon Guide. A new genre for Falcon are "Rails to Trails" guides, as states and municipalities promote the use of defunct railroad beds for hiking and biking.
There are Falcon Guides covering particular National Parks, National Forests and Wilderness areas, especially in the West. For me, I'd be lost (literally) without "Hiking the Beartooths," "Hiking Yellowstone National Park," "Hiking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness Areas," and the diminutive easily-fitting-in-your-pocket "Best Easy Day Hikes: Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness." Each trail is listed as part of a chapter devoted to all the trails found in a certain area. And these sub-listings outline the details of each trail, including degrees of difficulty: easy-moderate-strenuous.
How many creeks will you cross, and what are their exact mileage points along the trail? Are they hard to ford, especially during high runoff periods in the spring? What lakes (named or simply noted as small bodies of water) will the hiker pass, and what are the mileage points? Do grizzly bears frequent the area? What other species of large wildlife -- such as elk and moose -- are common? Is it rattlesnake country?
How many miles is the hike, and are there different loops or routes back to the trailhead? Is it wise to leave a vehicle at another trailhead in order to shuttle back to the first one? How high will you go? Each trail listing has a graph showing mileage and elevation gains. This last is helpful for folks who are, well, "out-of-shape," and not prepared for long hikes at high altitudes due to health and fitness problems.
Like a clear mountain creek there is a crisp, running narrative describing the landscape to be passed through. ("Lonesome Mountain looms to the northeast and Pilot and Index peaks mark the western view" or "After another mile or so, look for Lake Gertrude in a forested pocket off to the right.") They even start out by getting you to the trailhead ("To reach the trailhead from Cooke City, drive east on U.S. Highway 212 for 3.2 miles to a turnoff marked with a large Forest Service sign as the Goose Lake Jeep Road, just before the Colter Campground.")
I spend many a long winter evening with these books, and usually with a sense of longing. Now the mountains sleep under their thick mantle of snow, and the trails are drifted over. But there's always the promise of spring, which in that country arrives about the middle of June. Spring in June; summer in August. Tonight I'll curl up with a nice backpack trip into Colorado's Uncompaghre National Forest.
I've always wanted to make the trip.
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