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Lander Dubois




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If you're into mountains, Dubois is the greatest small town in America. It sits in a beautiful red rock valley between two of the most spectacular mountain ranges on the continent, the Wind Rivers to the South and Absarokas to the North. The town is at 7000 feet altitude, so the climate is great for hiking and backpacking. You can hike right from town, following the trail to Windy Mountain and the entire Wind River Wilderness. Dubois remains a ranching center with mostly log buildings and a business district of one long main street. It is not a tourist trap and has no national chain motels, restaurants or stores. It has adapted to the 21st Century with wireless internet and cable TV, but is as close to an authentic Old Western community as you can still find. The nation's largest herd of bighorn sheep graze just above town on the slopes of Whiskey Mountain. Elk bugle from the hillsides, Eagles soar from the peaks, and Antelope race across the valleys. Cutthroat trout attract fishermen and big game hunters come every Fall. Museums here contain artifacts from early trappers, from homesteaders and tie hackers, and from famous outlaws like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Remember that 7000 feet altitude. It affects you in various ways. If you step out of the car and head up the trail you may experience headaches, tiredness or sore muscles. You need a day to adjust after arrival while your blood increases its hemoglobin and your heart adjusts its electron cascade. The air is thinner up here and oxygen loading needs to step up, which takes about 36-40 hours. But that's OK because it gives you an excuse to explore the town and soak up some of its history, meet some of its people, and have a steak or rainbow trout in one or two of its restaurants. Charming as the place is today, it has a wild and colorful history. Because this valley was shielded by the high mountains from the worst snows, it became a Winter camp for the mountain men who trapped for beaver when the mountains were passable. The ranches here were homesteaded between 1870-80. The Union Pacific Railroad established a tie hack camp here because of the tall, straight lodgepole pine, which they used for ties. For 30 years, Dubois was the supplier of 70% of all the railroad ties in America (Maine was the other source). It continued to be a timbering center until 1980 and is now famous for big game hunting.
Architecturally, Dubois retains the Old West style of false fronts, porched entries and plank walkways. These are not recreations. Most of these buildings have been here since the 1800s. The main street has been paved and widened, the watering troughs and hitching posts removed, and street lights added. Otherwise, you can squint your eyes and imagine this business district the way it looked before the coming of the automobile. The famous Dubois Mercantile (1913-2010) is closed, but Welty's General Store and Wind River Gear still offer great buys on outdoor and Western wear, plus camping equipment.
One thing you could do with your adjustment day is go fishing. Dubois is the greatest trout fishing center in North America. You can catch several different kinds of trout here, but the most famous, the one for which fishermen come from all over to go after, is the Cut Throat Trout (shown at left). They're named for the red slash appearing just above their lungs. In fact, this is an indicator of the heavy hemoglobin needed to absorb enough oxygen at this high altitude. You can either bring your own fishing gear and just walk down to the Wind River (which runs along the town's Southern border) or drive to one of the popular spots a mile or so out. Or you can contact one of the local outfitters, who will supply your gear and take you to one of their favorite spots for half a day or full day fishing. If you've never tried fly fishing, this is the place to learn. If you're an experienced fly fisher, this will be one of the high points of your life. And thanks to the cold, fast flowing water, the fish when fixed for dinner taste better than trout from anywhere else.
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