It was evening, the campfire was blazing heartily, and our group crowded round, enjoying the comradery. It was a balmy and clear summer evening in 1978. Our camp was somewhere northwest of Shirley Basin near Bolten Creek. There’s no way I could find the location today, but it was near Chalk Mountain, somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
I recall it well, although my memory is just that — a recollection that is subject to fuzziness these many years later. I apologize in advance if my remembrance is slightly different from others who were there and recall it differently.
It was the final couple days of my last class to earn my Bachelor’s Degree in Wildlife Management from the University of Wyoming. It was the required field class where I experienced hands-on training for my future career in wildlife biology. Once completed, I graduated and continued on to get a Master’s degree.
Our instructor was Doug Crowe, one of the best, if not “the” best wildlife instructor I ever had. Doug passed away at the age of 81 on Thanksgiving Day. The news made me sad, but also made me smile because of the fond memories it stirred. His obituary outlines his many accomplishments for those interested in the details. I’ll just relay my memory of the man who, in just the short time I was around him, affected me greatly.
Doug wasn’t a UW professor, but was with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. I’m not sure his position at the time, but it might have been Assistant Director.
Still, Doug, or Dr. Crowe as I might have called him then, made a considerable impression. It wasn’t just because of his size — at 6 foot 2 he was a bear of a man — but also the way he made things so interesting. He could tell a story like no other, but teaching young college students at the dawn of their careers was an opportunity he took seriously. Speaking for myself, I had a lot to learn and was so green behind the ears I was like a sponge, taking it all in.
I was struck by two things about Doug. First, he explained things in such a way that had me enthralled, listening to his every word. And, second, he did it often with rather colorful – even irreverent—– language.
For the class we stayed at the UW camp immediately west of Centennial, at the base of the Medicine Bow Mountains. Sadly, the camp was torn down a few years ago when the needed repairs got to be too much to keep it going.
We spent most of our days commuting from camp to various locations up the mountain to learn and explore. The final outing took us away from our cushy cabins to camp out on the hard ground and beneath the open sky.
I can’t say for sure why Doug picked our camping location. It was the most mosquito-infested place I’d ever camped. A part of me wonders if he picked it to weed us out – to let us know that the Great Outdoors could also be really uncomfortable and inhospitable. It’s possible he wanted to let us know wildlife biologisting isn’t all fun and games; it’s also dirty, muddy and can be very, very buggy.
By campfire time the mosquitoes dissipated. Maybe they had their fill from all the budding biologists who offered their hides.
We had a special treat that evening. Doug’s wife, Timothea, or Timmy, and a couple of Doug’s colleagues from the Department, joined us. The pleasure from Timmy was her amazing ability to hambone. If you don’t know what that is, check it out on Google. She could carry a beat by slapping her thighs, her knees and her arms to create music. No kidding. It was the coolest thing.
The next day Doug took us for a hike — a tough hike; maybe to continue his effort to weed us out. North of Chalk Mountain is a steep jut of rock called Horse Peak. It rises about 600 feet in less than a quarter mile and we climbed to the summit.
Doug told us the formation’s name is Horse Peak on topo maps. Its real name, which couldn’t be put in print on maps, is an appendage on the underside of male horses. Doug said the word but I will not write it here — or I may blush. From a distance that is exactly what the little mountain resembles.
To this day, when I drive the north end of Shirley Basin where Horse Peak is clearly in view, I smile. I know its real name and, when seeing the peak, I remember Doug Crowe and the impression and encouragement he gave me on my way to becoming a wildlife biologist. Thank you, Dr. Crowe.