Location is integral to Laura Bell's memoir; not only does the land around her serve as a subtle metaphor for her emotions, but it also gives her a complex and compelling backdrop for her narrative. Though Bell's memoir stretches across the state of Wyoming, the majority of her story is concentrated in and around the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in northern Wyoming, adjacent to Yellowstone National Park.
The Beartooth and Absaroka mountain ranges are often thought of as similar in appearance, but both ranges have a distinct aesthetic that Bell explores in Claiming Ground. The Beartooths, which are slightly higher in elevation than the Absarokas and contain Montana's highest peak, are dominated by craggy granite cliffs, lakes, and small glaciers. The Absarokas, named for the Crow Indian tribes, are comprised of volcanic and metamorphic rock, lush vegetation, and a rich alpine ecosystem. Both ranges are marked by very unpredictable weather, expansive views, and abundant quantities of Bighorn sheep, mountain goats, elk, moose, coyotes, and other wildlife that is similar to that which is found in Yellowstone.
For visitors to the region, the Beartooth Highway that stretches from Red Lodge, Montana, to Cody, Wyoming, is one of the best ways to experience the wilderness of regions like Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons without the crowds. The road, a National Scenic Byway, crosses one of the highest regions in the lower 48, with 20 peaks reaching over 12,000 feet in elevation. It also intersects over 700 miles of hiking trails that were historically developed by the large amount of outfitters in the area. Today, they're ideal for day hikes and, for the more adventurous, long backcountry expeditions.
Image above: Beartooth Butte Peak
This article was originally published in April 2010, and has been updated for the
April 2011 paperback release.
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