I rose fairly early and packed up my camp, taking one last look at the surrounding beauty of the upper Green River and the towering peaks with their nearly sheer cliffs. I slowly drove down the gravel road that led back past the Big Bend and slowly, over about ten miles, turned from north to south before coming to Wyoming State Highway 352 and the pavement. From there I followed that state highway south to U.S. 191 and then proceeded north along that two-lane ribbon past many mountains and wildernesses that I have not yet explored. So, as I drove by I attempted to get a feel for the land, but that is nearly impossible when traveling sixty-five miles and hour.
At some point between Pinedale and Hoback Junction, Wyoming, the road passes over a small divide that separates the Colorado River drainage from that of the Columbia River. While not quite as monumental as the Great Divide, this parting of the waters is still nonetheless significant, separating two great river systems. The road leads into the Hoback River drainage, which flows into the Snake River, and my understanding is that the name Hoback dates to the era of the mountain man, although I don’t know the story behind the naming beyond that it was most likely given, somehow, in honor of John Hoback.
I followed the Snake River downstream via U.S. 26 and stopped at Alpine, Wyoming, for breakfast before continuing on into Idaho. At Swan Valley, Idaho, I turned north on Idaho State Highway 31 and followed that narrow highway to Victor where I began to follow S.H. 33 and then S.H. 32 to Ashton, Idaho. At Ashton, I followed S.H. 47, which was old U.S. 20, along a scenic alternative. Eventually, the state ended its maintenance and the road continued on as a Forest Service road. The entirety of this day’s drive was scenic Rocky Mountain splendor; and I especially enjoyed seeing the western side of the Teton Mountains and passing by the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River; as this area was historically important in the fur trade and many tales from those days flooded back as I passed well known landmarks. My scenic alternative allowed some great sights of the Henry’s Fork passing through its canyon of basalt.
Following U.S. 20 east once the Forest Service road rejoined the main highway, I passed through numerous open meadows surrounded by coniferous forests in the vicinity of Island Park, Idaho. At S.H. 87 I turned north and passed over Raynolds Pass and into the drainage of the Missouri River. A few miles later, I made a junction with U.S. 287 and turned right, southbound but upstream, and passed Earthquake Lake, a natural lake formed recently, in 1959, when a large earthquake sent down a massive landslide that blocked and inundated the Madison River. When I made yet another junction with U.S. 191, I turned north and passed into Yellowstone National Park on its relatively seldom seen western side.
My immediate goal was to hike in the northwestern portion of the park, as, while it may not be the most strikingly scenic area, it does contain good wildlife habitat. Its low-elevation habitat, free from cattle and barbed-wire fences, are unusual as most such habitat has been converted to agricultural use throughout the Rocky Mountains. I found the Bacon Rind Trailhead and began to hike along Bacon Rind Creek Trail, which parallels the eponymous creek. As I expected, this creek passed through a large, continuous meadow with tall, lush grasses and forbs that cure well and make great feed for elk during winter. As yet, the elk and most other wildlife were still grazing up high in the snow-free mountains and I did not see much sign of them.
I followed the trail the two miles to the park boundary and then continued on into the Lee Metcalf Wilderness portion of the Gallatin National Forest. I eventually climbed a small ridge and found a great view of the headwaters of Bacon Rind Creek, thankful that this area was legislatively protected. All around there are distant peaks and I am hopeful that in the future I will be able to explore the area, and experience for myself the sub-alpine and alpine heights of Red Mountain, not too far to the west from my ultimate stopping point this day.
The forest covers many square miles here, filtering the air and cleansing it of carbon dioxide while simultaneously fortifying our atmosphere with oxygen. The air is clean, and it is with great pleasure that I fill my lungs. The water, also, is clean and tumbles over the rocks, clear and cool, providing habitat for cutthroat trout and other aquatic species. Sadly, it cannot be guaranteed that Bacon Rind Creek and other waterways are free of giardia. But, the insects are a good indicator that overall the health of this free-flowing creek is positive.
On the ridge, there was some old sign of elk grazing nearby, but at this time the elk were elsewhere. Nor did I see sign of wolves or grizzly bears. But I know that with fall coming on swiftly that the elk and other critters would be returning to this area soon. It was especially gratifying to hike through an area that was not fenced off for cattle and other livestock.
After returning to the trailhead, I drove a short distance north and passed out of the park. There are not Park Service campgrounds in the area, so I camped out at the Tepee Creek Trailhead, where the next day a fine hike and adventure would await me. I made a small campfire and enjoyed the starry sky. I saw a moose and her calf on the opposite shore of the Gallatin River before the sun set and was happy to know that I was in a wild and protected landscape.