The spring brings the yearly return of many wonderful things to Signal. Besides longer days, greener surroundings, wildlife and their new offspring, Signal welcomes the arrival of returning staff and returning guests. This year the Clark family brought one of each of these to Signal. In late April Steele Clark, the son, returned to work at Signal for his second season, and two weeks later his father, also Steele, returned to the Signal Mountain Campground for his 16th year of spring camping. Every year since 1995, excluding one which he says to have made up for by camping here in the fall as well as the spring last year, the older Steele has been faithfully showing up for a few weeks of camping on or around Signal’s opening day in early May.
Steele Clark with Steele Clark
Camping in early May in Grand Teton National Park can be a gamble. Day time temperatures could be in the 60’s or 70’s with nights getting down into the low 40’s, or they could easily be in the 40’s or lower during the day and well below freezing at night, and snow is always a possibility. To many 80 year olds, as Steele now is (though one would never guess it), a few weeks of this type of camping sounds about as far from fun as one could get, but Steele loves it.
Steele’s love for Signal and the entire Grand Teton/Yellowstone area goes back much further than his 16 years of camping. He has visited the Yellowstone area 27 times. He first came to the area in 1949 to see if he could spend a summer working in Yellowstone. He hitch hiked out from his home state of Ohio and went from lodge to lodge inquiring about employment but had no luck. Despite lack of success in finding a summer job, he was anything but disheartened after seeing the landscape firsthand, and returned in 1951 this time with a job lined up at the Hamilton’s Store (now the General Store) in the Old Faithful area. Steele ended up working three seasons at the Hamilton’s Store and was offered a “winter keeper” position that he would have taken had he not been drafted in to the Army at the same time. Winters in Yellowstone were something quite different in those days. There was no coming out to civilization for a weekend by snowmobile, you were in for the winter and your only contact with society was a mail drop or two made by plane. Steele recounts the promise of these things with excitement and says he would still like to get in to Yellowstone in the winter for a stay at the lodge.
It’d be easy to imagine someone wanting that job would be anti-social or an odd duck, but Steele is quite the opposite, or at least not anti-social. He can be found most nights of the spring in Signal’s Deadman’s Bar chatting with his son, or any of the other returning staff or guests that he has become so familiar to. Steele “discovered” Deadman’s bar in 2004, “Until then I had never really been in it,” Steele explains, “I wasn’t avoiding it, I just ate else where. I came in at five minutes to 10 after a day of exploring and it was the only place staying open so I sat in there. Sean (Brokaw) was the bartender then and I asked him if I could still get any food, being late, even just some chips and he said ‘How about a bowl of soup?’ The bartenders are wonderful, Greg (Bosley) has been my best friend up here, he treats me like I’m 25.”
“The people at Signal, are the big reason,” for Steele when he chooses to come back to Signal each year that he returns to the Grand Teton/Yellowstone area. Steele found Signal while visiting friends who had a time share in Jackson, he told them he was heading up to Yellowstone to camp and they said, “No you don’t want to camp up there, you want to camp here.” He explains, “The NPS ran the campground then and the host was a man named Barry, a very kind man, he was a bit short and husky and with his uniform on he looked just like Smokey the Bear. When I heard the NPS was giving up the campground in 2004 I hoped it would be Signal Mountain Lodge taking over.” Steele continues, “I’m not sure what motivates a person to keep coming back to the area. For me it may be that Yellowstone was my introduction to the west. Why I keep coming to Signal is the people. Don’t change anything.”