Summary of a Visit to Thermopolis, Wyoming, Including Sundry Explorations of the Vicinity as well as a Description of the Journey to and from Gunnison, Colorado: Day 6, Cottonwood Campground to Encampment River Campground– October 23, 2017

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Looking at the Granite Mountains from the northern face of Green Mountain, the Sweetwater River intervenes

The dawn arrived gray and chilled, and only with a herculean effort was I able to exit the warmth of my sleeping bag so as to begin my day.  I hastily donned my clothing and packed up my camp.  Starting my car I gave a silent prayer of thanks for this campground, although it was damp and cold, situated as it is on the north face of Green Mountain in Wyoming.  Operated by the Bureau of Land Management out of the Lander Field Office, the Cottonwood Campground would offer excellent opportunities to escape the Summer’s heat.  However, in the midst of Autumnal chilling, escaping the heat was not my concern.  I took a look at the aspen and conifer, and then I drove off on BLM Road 2411 continuing uphill instead of returning back the way I had come the previous evening.

Reaching the summit of the mountain I found a large flat sagebrush steppe surrounded by forest.  I pulled over at a location that allowed me to look south over the Great Divide Basin, where I could see far out over dozens of miles. The wind blew steadily and I retained some of the chill from my hasty departure so I continued driving on.  The road slowly turned from southbound to westbound and then to northbound when it began to descend.  I pulled over at a picnic and campground that seems to have been created by a cooperative agreement between Fremont County, the State of Wyoming and the Department of Interior.  This place is called Green Mountain Campground or Picnic Ground, and there seems to be some confusion about its exact designation.  The maps show either, and on the ground it seems to be permissible, according to the signage, to stay the night.  Regardless, nobody else occupied the area when I appropriated a picnic table and made myself a quick oatmeal breakfast and concomitant cup of coffee.

Continuing down the road I was greeted by a fine view of the Granite Mountains across the valley below.  I drove down to U.S. 287 and turned to the right.  Driving a short distance I soon turned to the left on the Agate Flats Road, which carries a dual designation of Fremont County Road 268 and Bureau of Land Management Road 2404.  This is the same road that I took earlier in the week to visit the Granite Mountains Wilderness Study Area near Lankin Dome.  However, this time I stopped on the south side of the Sweetwater River near the northern boundary of the BLM property and walked around the weathered granite outcroppings.  I found this area to be fairly peaceful and low key.  Studded with limber pine, I enjoyed scrambling over the various pieces of rock that rise above the sagebrush steppe.

My trek took me on a circle starting across the road south of Jamerman Rock, an alcove of sorts if one considers the sagebrush steppe to be a sea of sage.  Crossing to the west side of Jamerman Rock I found a nifty little meadow that sat above it all, ringed with rock, where I could see out across Agate Flats to the north and the westward extension of the granite outcroppings adjacent to the Sweetwater River.  The wind whipped by, blowing inexorably from west to east, and I stood fast, looking out with my eyes but soaring with my soul.  The big sky and open country seem to go on to infinity.  Walking across some flats southwest from Jamerman Rock I saw a herd of pronghorn grazing away.  The barbed wire that the livestock industry strings out across the landscape has hindered these animals movements especially, and they seem to be generally mistreated.  Nonetheless, this country looks much the same as it must have since the end of the last ice age, excepting for the absence of much of the megafauna.

I returned to the car and then back to U.S. 287-Wyoming 789 were I turned to the east and followed the Sweetwater River along its meandering course, past additional ramparts of the Granite Mountains.  I kept on following the highway as it departed from the Sweetwater River drainage, the Ferris Mountains to the east rising up into a mighty bulwark that intrigues me.  I decided that I would have to once again pass on by these granitic masses and continue on through Muddy Gap and into the Great Divide Basin, another area that I should explore more of.  The miles slipped away swiftly as I cruised along at seventy miles an hour, crossing Separation Flats and then rising again to exit the basin.  Reaching Rawlins, Wyoming, I stopped to have lunch at a Thai restaurant and found the food delicious.  I then left town on Intestate 80 eastbound, co-signed here with U.S. 30 and part of the old Lincoln Highway.  I kept on going until I reached the exit for Wyoming 130-230 and turned southward again.  Happiness overcame me at the leaving behind the heavy truck traffic.  The very northern end of the Medicine Bow Mountains could be seen eastward to my left, rising up from the rolling flat sagebrush expanse.  Elk Mountain is the name of the eminence that delineates the mountainous terminus, and as I drove along the steppe, parallel to the North Platte River, the tall peak slid on past until I reached the town of Saratoga.

The citizenry of Saratoga, Wyoming, has generously endowed the public with access to a hot springs.  Called Hobo Hot Springs by some, there is a large pool with pleasantly hot waters.  I slid into the waters and could walk or swim across to points where the water was nearly unbearable.  The bottom was sandy and I enjoyed heating my toes and soles of my feet in the hot grains.  What a fine stop to make during my long drive!  Driving again, I passed the junction of the two state highways and continued south on Wyoming 230 to the town of Encampment, Wyoming.  I drove a short distance out of town on Wyoming 70 and turned onto a short series of dirt road that leads down a tight gully ending in a sharp curve where the road abuts against the Encampment River.  Here I found the Encampment River Campground, managed by the Bureau of Land Management’s Rawlins Field Office.  I chose a site and swiftly set up camp, noting to myself that the winds so common in Wyoming seem to have abated here.  The situation was salubrious and I eagerly anticipated my final exploration of the day.

Adjacent to the campground is the river for which it is named.  There is a designated trailhead here and the trail crosses a large bridge.  From the said bridge’s far abutment the trail turns right and follows the river upstream in a deep, narrow v-shaped canyon.  In many ways this area constitutes the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in these parts.  In the river bottom grow cottonwoods and some spruce.  On the slopes above grow sagebrush and some other conifers on the northern faces.  I hiked up a couple of miles or so and found a place to sit and watch the waters slip by.  The evening came on as I rested until I made up my mind to finish the day.  I hiked back along the trail I had just ascended and recrossed the bridge back to the campground.

Just as I arrived at my site the dusk settled into the country and the clouds above took on a hue of dull rose.  The Moon shone as well but the alpenglow filled the little valley with pervasive color.  The chill also set in as the Sun set and the fire I had started warmed and cheered me considerably.  No wind and dry wood made for a strong blaze and I whiled away another couple of hours watching the flames jut up into the darkness, the flickering light casting odd shadows among the cottonwood.  The stars came out, at least the ones bright enough to shine through the thin layer of wispy clouds.  I heated a can of soup and supped near the warmth.  After the flames died down into embers I began to contemplate sleep.  I eventually wandered over to the tent and slipped into my portable den, made comfortable with a wealth of heavy blankets.  It had been a good day, full of adventure, and I slid off into slumber at peace with the world.

Summary of a Visit to Thermopolis, Wyoming, Including Sundry Explorations of the Vicinity as well as a Description of the Journey to and from Gunnison, Colorado: Day 5, Thermopolis to Cottonwood Campground – October 22, 2017

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Armored placoderm at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center

I woke with the dawn and decided that another fine morning awaited, so I hiked back up to Monument Hill to observe the sunrise.  The only difference I made in my trek was to walk counter-clockwise instead of the opposite.  The clouds caught the early shafts of light and lit up in a vibrant neon orange.  My final day in Thermopolis thus began in dazzling color.  Once again I met one of my party up on the summit.  Some people are morning people, and we talked and pointed to the various features of the landscape including what appeared to be additional extant and extinct hot springs.  We could also see the small herd of buffalo kept by the state.  I walked back down and strolled around the various thermal pools that the hot springs have created.  There is a lightweight suspension bridge named the Swinging Bridge that crosses the Bighorn River and I will testify that its name is accurate.  The tufa bluffs that the springs form are well seen from the western side of the bridge.  I meandered around for a while and then moseyed back to the hotel for a final dip in the hot pool.  I let the hot waters soothe me until I realized that the time had come to depart.

After a light breakfast I packed up my belongings and said my farewells to my fellow voyagers, a melancholy codicil on our gathering, before making my way to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.  There may not be much floor space in this museum when compared to some big-city counterparts but the displays are world class and include some unique specimens.  There are a number of nearly complete skeletons of large dinosaurs and also a well-crafted time-line that traces the history of life.  Two of my friends decided to visit as well before they headed back home.  Even people only moderately interested in dinosaurs and such would find this a good visit.  The group visited this place last year and I had a fine visit but truncated, so this year I resolved to spend a bit more time studying the exhibit.  Again, I loved the trilobites and ammonites, and was startled to see how often mass extinctions obliterated all living species of entire families of life.  Of course, I was also enthralled with the large dinosaurs such as triceratops, the large carnivores and the huge sauropods.  The Wyoming Dinosaur Center also conducts paleontological research on-site and offers hands-on opportunities for participation.

In the parking lot of the dinosaur center I said good-bye to my friends and payed my salutations to Thermopolis.  I drove a short distance out of town, southbound on U.S. 20-Wyoming 789, and stopped at a state historical marker relative to the Wedding of the Waters.  Here the Wind River exits the Wind River Canyon, flows past the otherwise insignificant Red Canyon Creek and become the Bighorn River whence it flows north to the Yellowstone River.  I stood on the bank and imagined this area as it appeared in the time before settlement.  A certain sense of awe overcame me when I take in the whole, and I let my mind wander.  Continuing upstream, I drove south into the canyon itself where I pulled over once more to gander at the towering rock walls, remembering the story of one of the fur traders attempt at floating down through this narrow passage.  Both the railroad and highway need tunnels in order to navigate their way through this slot.

The day began to slip away so I hopped back into the car and drove on to the town of Shoshoni.  I continued south on Wyoming 789, now co-signed with U.S. 26 west, to the city of Riverton.  I stopped briefly at the site of the Eighteen Thirty-Eight rendezvous, but found it on the edge of an industrial area and didn’t stay long.  The rendezvous was a meeting of trappers and traders, a huge Summer fair where goods where exchanged and feats of daring were made.  Drunken brawls were a regular occurrence.  A colorful history, some of the accounts from those by-gone days still enthrall modern reenactors.  I retraced my route now, following Wyoming 135 south over the Beaver Divide.  I didn’t stop at the overlook but merely paid my respects to the Wind River and environs.  I drove down into the drainage of the Sweetwater River, making the transit from the Yellowstone watershed to that of the North Platte.

Turning left onto co-aligned U.S. 287-Wyoming 789, I drove down the broad valley of the Sweetwater River.  At one point I left the main road to explore an old alignment, now relegated to the status of county road.  Rolling over the grassy ridges and knolls, I thought to myself about the history of this part of the country.  The Native Americans were here first, then arrived the fur traders and trappers who ventured into the country to exploit the wildlife.  Concomitant with that latter group were explorers, naturalists and the first settlers.  Once proven that wagons could make the trek across the continent then settlers from points east came by the thousands along this very route headed to Oregon, California and Utah.  Slowly the gaps were filled and eventually this land, at least the most productive parts, was withdrawn from the public domain.  In the interim the Native Americans had been forced to submit to a sedentary lifestyle on reservation land and most of the wildlife destroyed.  Barbed wire was strung across the landscape and eventually roads were codified and then paved or bladed.  Now here I am, my passing barely denoted by more than the air I send into spinning eddies.  There is a certain sadness in me that our lifestyle doesn’t align itself with a bit more thoughtfulness and respect for other beings.  Yet, I remain optimistic when I think about the land as a whole, that the potential for ecological restoration is strong and that righting injustices of the past without creating any further is possible as well.

I passed through Jeffrey City and found about six or seven miles beyond Bureau of Land Management Road 2411, also known as the Green Mountain Road.  I drove south, up another distance about the same on the graveled route before encountering a fork in the road.  I took the left fork and drove on a few miles more until I encountered the Cottonwood Campground.  Here I would spend a night, paying a modest six dollar fee for the use of a site.  On the north side of Green Mountain, this area was damp from the most recent snowfall but a bit protected from the wind.  I took out my gear and then went for a short exploration of a small drainage.  I more or less just bushwhacked a short distance and then found an old road of sorts and walked up it until darkness began to settle on the thick forest.

Returning to my camp, I set everything up to my liking and then started a warming fire.  I heated a single can of soup and sat back to watch the fading sky as dusk turned to night.  I could see some stars through the canopy above, although many were blotted out by the clouds sailing by.  A dark and chilly night, I didn’t stay too long beside the fire, although I did enjoy the quiet time beside the embers.  The smoke was a bit noisome at the end due to the swirling gusts that whipped through the lodgepole pine.  I missed my companions from the last few nights, but also enjoyed the solitude of the campground.  Nobody else was making use of it.  Certainly, this would be a nice place in the heat of the Summer and I will probably make use of that knowledge in the future.  I headed off to my tent and soon slept, having had another fine day of exploration and wonder in the State of Wyoming.

 

Summary of a Visit to Thermopolis, Wyoming, Including Sundry Explorations of the Vicinity as well as a Description of the Journey to and from Gunnison, Colorado: Day 4, Thermopolis, Gooseberry Creek Badlands and Legend Rock – October 21, 2017

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Voyagers at Gooseberry Creek Badlands

I started the day off, here in Thermopolis, Wyoming, with a brisk hike up to Monument Hill, an eminence of red sandstone that rises above the Bighorn River.  On the western flank of this hill reads a large message, spelled out in whitewashed stone, proclaiming the springs to be “the largest in the world”.  The eastern sky had just begun to lighten when I left the hotel, and I made the short stroll up the hill in fairly quick time.  This morning found the air much more chilled than yesterday and I was glad to have brought my gloves, coat and cap.  From the summit I could espy the small city of Thermopolis in the vale below, steam rising from the springs and all else idle excepting a few passing vehicles below on U.S. 20.  The Bighorn River flows placidly but inexorably onward towards the Yellowstone, carrying the mountainous deluge in a never ceasing torrent.

I admire the view from here, as I can also see the Owl Creek Mountains to my south and a bit of the Absoraka Mountains to the distant west.  The Bighorn River flows towards the basin of the same name, which stretches out to the north.  The eastern horizon is only a few miles away, a low ridge than nonetheless is the backdrop for the rising Sun.  One of my group, out for his morning run, makes the summit as well and we chat it up a bit, admiring the day.  He departs to the north, via the staircase that we both ascended but I decide to move off down the declivity to the south.  Monument Hill is especially red when I turn to look at it’s east face later in the shafts of light, streaking at a low angle across a small basin.  So vivid for an earth tone that I stop to stare before I walk back to the hotel and change into my swimming trunks for a quick dip into the hot pool.  I float, dunk and thrash about mildly, enjoying the hot water.  Well heated, I sit on the rampart of the pool and let my legs dangle in the water while the rest of me cools off.  Then I immerse myself again and heat up until nearly drowsy before I make my way clad in bathrobe to the breakfast bar where I create another waffle masterpiece.

Our motley crew gathered together afterwards for another departure and further adventure through the southern portion of the Bighorn Basin.  We drove northwest from Thermopolis on Wyoming 120 to the lonely junction with Wyoming 431, a road that leads east towards Worland.  This is a world of rolling sagebrush steppe, grassy expanses and the jagged skyline of the Absaroka Mountains to the west.  The American West is a place were one can feel lonely, and this part of the state seemed especially so on this breezy day.  Despite our group of fourteen, the vastness of the open expanses seemed to swallow us up.  Not many people were in our vicinity despite the proximity of a state highway.  Clouds gathered over the high snow-clad ridges in the Absarokas and below us lay the Gooseberry Creek Badlands Scenic Area.  The Worland Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management oversees much of this vast landscape, and here they have built a mile and a half long trail through the tortured geology.

Nobody else was at the parking lot, again adding to the paradoxical nature of the cloistered affectation I felt upon my soul in this wide open swathe of distant horizons.  The small packets of energy known as children ran off ahead, so alive that it could only bring a smile of those who see them.  More contemplative, but perhaps not really wiser, the adults lagged behind, studying the oddities in our midst.  The badlands are a belt of eroded sand-, mud- and siltstones, or so I would guess, banded in alternating strata of reds, tans and whites.  There are the ubiquitous hoodoos of hardened rock sitting precariously atop swiftly eroding pedestals, but what caught me attention was the manner of erosion.  In some places I could almost see, with my imagination viewing the occurrence over centuries, the rock being melted, as if made from candle wax.  Looking over the topographical map, its possible that these badlands are actually in the South Fork Fifteen Mile Creek drainage, just over the divide from the main stem of Gooseberry Creek.  Thus their name is something of a misnomer.

We wandered around the trail, moseying along at a slow pace, as the young people scampered about with the unbridled energy children are known for.  The trail wound around down a small drainage before climbing up some stairs to the harder sandstone above.  Clouds sailed by overhead, spewed forth from the great mass hanging over the mountains west of us.  Gaining some height, the Bighorn Mountains appeared off to the east, dramatizing the vastness of the basin.  Clad in snow, their white summits were easy to discern from the browns of the land below.  I note that adjacent to this area lies a large tract of BLM lands that offer a wealth of exploration opportunity.  If there are badlands here then it would not surprise me to find others, perhaps located off in some overlooked corner of the public domain.  A picnic lunch was had at this site, and gave time for more contemplation and conversation.

We drive back out the way we came, except that when headed southbound on Wyoming 120 we take a right on a road that leads to a place called Legend Rock.  The young people and some adults head back to Thermopolis so that they can immerse themselves in the Star Plunge, a commercial recreation area that uses the hot springs to fill numerous pools, water slides and a vapor room.  The youngsters especially enjoy this place, so I recall from the previous year.  However, I am interested more in seeing the petroglyphs.  Dating back nearly ten thousand years, I found this a place of immense spiritual energy and was amazed at what I saw.  Representations of various fauna and various strange anthropomorphic shapes are displayed on the sandstone walls.  The signage suggests possible meanings but also offers that the anthropologists don’t really know.  Anybody can speculate, and I do, but interpretation is in the mind of the beholder.  I do wonder if the nearby tribes have any thoughts about this art, as I understand they consider this place sacred, and if anyone has bothered to ask for their connotation.  Some of these images I felt strongly towards, and could only look on with awe.  Not only the design or artwork itself, but the ancientness that I could feel looking at how the sandstone varnish had reclaimed the surface of some pieces.  Those people may have very well seen mammoths and other extinct megafauna, and that connection to the past made me feel heady.  At times I could only stare and shake my head.  This place is sacred and I feel a reverence towards those who came before.

Returning to Thermopolis, I made time for a quick dunk in the hot pool before we headed over to Royal Thai for another dinner.  We decided to visit the restaurant itself, in place of take-out, and a better feast could not be had.  Once again, I enjoyed a dish with deep-fried duck, only instead of curry I chose the dish with basin in its name.  Some folks drove back to the hotel but a contingent of us walked back through the dark quiet streets.  A soaking party ensued and was the perfect finisher to the repast just consumed.  It had been another fantastic day, playing the role of tourist at a leisurely pace.  I felt especially blessed to be here in good company, and knew that I would sleep well this night.  In the quietude of my room I looked over the snapshots that I had made and once again marveled at what it might represent.  I meditated on our strange world, and at the incongruous nature of the human species and our current times.  I watched some television but not for long before I drifted off, eagerly anticipating the next day.

Summary of a Visit to Thermopolis, Wyoming, Including Sundry Explorations of the Vicinity as well as a Description of the Journey to and from Gunnison, Colorado: Day 3, Thermopolis, Medicine Lodge and Castle Garden – October 20, 2017

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Petroglyphs at Legend Rock in Wyoming, perhaps grizzly bear tracks

I arose with the dawn, finding the peaceful equanimity of the early morning the perfect time for a quick dip into the hot pool, where I could stare up at the brightening sky and admire the glowing sunrise as the stars blinked out.  Supine, I floated about as the soothing waters carried my woes away.  My comfort level could hardly be enhanced further and I gave thanks to the forces, such as they are, that created this salubrious environment.  My next act was to scurry over to the breakfast bar and build a humongous waffle replete with various toppings, an outrageous edifice dedicated to my appetite.  This has become something of a morning repast tradition carried on from the previous year, and, fortified with an essentially bottomless cup of coffee, I did indeed discover that my comfort level could be brought to a higher state.

Our group had decided to visit Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site located some hour and a half drive to the northeast, up against the base of the Bighorn Mountains on the east side of the eponymous basin.  After our somewhat languorous departure, we sped northward on U.S. 20 -Wyoming 789 to Worland, stopping for snacks and caffeinated beverages.  Passing through the Bighorn Basin, I thought of the history of the area as I looked out the car window.  Lewis and Clark did not pass through here, but John Colter did soon after his discharge from that intrepid organization.  At least, he passed through the Bighorn Basin near Cody.  We zip by in half an hour what must have taken all day to traverse.  I love it here, the huge expanse ringed with mountains, the Bighorn River surging north downstream to the Yellowstone, the cottonwood denuded of leaves and the fields all amber and shorn.  The great interior west moves my heart and soul, and now we were moving on to examine the remains of peoples whose love of land runs deeper than mine.

We left Worland northward on the same highway, now co-signed with U.S. 16 as well.  At the confluence of the Nowood River lies that town of Manderson, and here we crossed the railroad tracks belonging to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe system.  This same line runs through Thermopolis not too far from the hotel.  The trains are noticeable from my room but the traffic is light and I didn’t find it bothersome.  Originally belonging to the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, this branch opened in 1914 so as to provide the most direct route between Seattle and the Gulf Coast.  Routed via Denver, this line provided an advantage in cost versus shipping by rail all the way to the East Coast.  However, the profits never materialized as expected because in that same year the Panama Canal provided an even cheaper alternative.  Of mice and men…

Heading east now on Wyoming 31, we began to approach the bulwark of the Bighorn Mountains.  Created during the great mountain building event of the Laramide orogeny, when most of the Rocky Mountains were uplifted, these mountains are separated from the Absoraka Mountains to the west by the Bighorn Basin.  The mountains contains thousands of feet of sedimentary strata pushed up by a precambrian core of basement rock.  Perhaps this is a laccolith but I don’t know.  The basin to the west had reportedly been filled with some twenty thousand feet of sedimentary rock that has been eroded from the nearby mountains over the eons, suggesting that the basin is part of a large block fault, although again this is speculation.  What I do know is that the older sedimentary layers have been pushed up and tilted at odd angles, something that whenever I contemplate it always awes me into submission and respect for the forces at work.  We enter the foothills of the mountains, and the red sandstone is especially striking.  This landscape inspires and I feel blessed to be here.

Reaching Medicine Lodge, we, the occupants of the two vehicles, all gratefully exit the vehicles to begin our examinations of the local history.  There is a campground here, and it is mostly full.  Hunting season is occurring at this time, and the archaeological site is adjacent to a larger wildlife habitat management area that is home to a large elk herd.  There is a small museum, a restored log cabin, that provides information on the petroglyphs and pictographs found on the nearby sandstone outcropping.  Travelling alone most of the time I forget how dynamic a large group can be.  The adults are fascinated with the natural and cultural history of the area while the young people run amok on the grass lawn, tossing a football and expending energy at a prodigious rate.

Most of the history of this area begins with the fur trade in the early Nineteenth Century and continues with ranching.  We tend to forget, if we even knew in the first place, that peoples lived here for millennia prior to the arrival of our European ancestors.  Their stories were passed generally in an oral tradition and thus not much written has been preserved.  However, throughout the United States are remnants of the various tribes whose ancestors’ symbiotic relationship with the land have been inscribed on these walls and others.

In some ways I feel awkward to take snapshots and stroll about a place that may be held with sacred awe by contemporary people, even if they are few in number.  Still, I am held in sway by the ancient symbols and can only guess at their meaning.  I especially admire the representations of fauna, in particular the tracks of what I suppose are grizzly bears.  Some of the humanoid pieces cause me to pause and wonder.  Some of them could be considered mind expanding.  There are also dates and inscriptions from early settlers of the area, old enough to be considered appropriate for conservation.  In general, vandalism of these sites is always a concern,and it pains me to see any type of defacement.  Much has been preserved, however, and I believe that is for the better.

A nature trail winds around Medicine Lodge Creek and leads to two more small restored cabins, both of which contain displays of the natural history of the area.  After looking through all that the group meandered around a bit until we returned to the parking lot.  Appropriating the day use area, we had a picnic under the cottonwood, blue skies blessing us with fine weather if a bit breezy.  The day slid by in the salubrious locale.  We had seen what we had come to see and now the time for our departure came to.  We drove up a few miles towards Painted Canyon where we had hoped to hike but found the access to be seasonally closed.  The decision was made to visit a place called Castle Garden to our south, and thus started another portion of our day’s road trip.

From Hyattville we drove south on some graveled roads to Ten Sleep on U.S. 16.  I hadn’t seen this country since Nineteen Eighty-Two and now, as an adult, I found it much to my heart’s liking.  Deep but broad canyons exposing numerous bands of sedimentary rock rise up towards the mountains beyond and invite exploration.  Located on Bureau of Land Management property, and overseen by the Worland Field Office, this Castle Gardens is distinct from that located east of Riverton to our distant south.  At the other site, which I visited last year, are located sandstone outcroppings with petroglyphs etched into their faces.  This Castle Gardens is so named for the strange geology formed here, hoodoos rising from the otherwise flat plains.

Within this garden are numerous so-called toadstools and mushroom caps, formed when resistant pockets of cemented sandstone have less resistant material eroded from around them.  The power of the Earth never ceases to amaze me, and strange places like this tickle my imagination.  We climbed about the various ridges and scampered around, examining in close detail the white sandstone.  An additional benefit from our ridge top exploration are the distant views of the Bighorn Mountains to the east, capped in snow.  Supposedly this white distinctive sandstone is part of the Teapot member of the Mesaverde Formation, part of an alternating sequence of sea-level regressions and progressions.  For a fine overview of the regional geology I would suggest finding the Geology of Wyoming website, located at http://www.geowyo.com where an abundance of technical information can be found.

Clouds began to build on the various horizons although no storms were forecast.  It seemed that the time to leave had arrived with the gusts of wind and we soon drove back out to U.S. 16 and headed back westward towards Worland, the distant Absaroka Mountains forming a jagged horizon.  Although we hadn’t hiked much, everyone was worn out from the travels.  I went up to my room and changed, then immediately set my body in the hot pool to soak up the good waters.  Afterwards we had dinner at the local Mexican restaurant.  We commanded a room to ourselves and the service and food satisfied one and all.  The dinner was made more momentous by the surprise arrival of another set of friends who had previously been assumed to not been able to make the journey.  A joyous occasion had now been elevated to one of exuberant camaraderie.

The evening ended with desert at the hotel, as they set out a plate of chocolate chip cookies every night.  More soaking in the hot pool ensued along with conversation and adult beverages.  Equanimity soothed my soul and I appreciated that Thermopolis seemed quiet this night, excepting our party, whose gleeful energy could be felt by one and all.  I think we may have intimidated some of the other guests with the sheer bulk of our numbers, but it was all in good humor.  Satiated, I wandered back up to my room to watch a bit of tube before I drifted off to a relaxing sleep, giving thanks first for the fulfilling day shared with good company.

 

Summary of a Visit to Thermopolis, Wyoming, Including Sundry Explorations of the Vicinity as well as a Description of the Journey to and from Gunnison, Colorado: Day 2, Dinosaur National Monument to Thermopolis – October 19, 2017

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The sunrise striking the sandstone above the Yampa River at the point where it enters its canyon within Dinosaur National Monument

One of the benefits of car camping is the ability to bring along a bit more gear than I would be willing to haul on my back during a trek into the woods.  Thus, I had a heavy sleeping bag and a nice blanket to keep me warm during the night.  As it turned out, the overnight temperatures had dropped to surprisingly low digits and after I had dressed I found the water to be frozen an inch thick on my fire pail.  A cold dawn awaited me and only with a supreme effort did I exit the warmth of my downy cocoon.  Madly and in haste I slipped on all my hiking gear and drove over to a nearby trailhead.  Thus did begin the second day of my journey to Thermopolis, Wyoming, still chill air scented with cottonwood leaves; orange eastern horizon spangled with clouds; and remnant stars winking out one by one until only a bright planet remains visible.

Originally, my itinerary had called for me to make this hike during the previous day’s evening.  However, the spillover, coworkers thoughtlessly enjoining me to finish their shift, from the day before yesterday continued to hamper my short vacation.  I considered leaving the campground immediately but had really wanted to make this short hike.  I’m glad that I did, for it gave me a taste of the desert on the eastern end of Dinosaur National Monument.  This part of the monument isn’t known for the extensive fossils found across the state line in Utah but rather a tapestry of folded sedimentary rock all bent out of shape when pushed up by the heaving of tectonic forces.  I stood at the eastern entrance to the canyon and walked out to stand on the placid Yampa River’s sandy banks.  The dawn color dazzled and the sandstone lit up in rosy hues so that I felt as if I were looking through rose colored glasses sans the actual glasses.  I strolled around for a while, admiring the tranquil scene and then wandered over to the unmarked trailhead that leads to an unmarked trail.  Off I went, feet cold from the damp chill, crossing over sandstone known as The Steps.  This name, I would assume, is derived from the step-like ascension of the various beds of sandstone.

The sky lightened as I trekked along until I reached Disappointment Draw and a large grove of cottonwoods.  On the opposite bank rising up to the north lies the Vale of Tears, and one must wonder at the reason for such names.  I investigate an old homesteader’s cabin, or what seems to be one, and ponder if it is somehow associated to the woeful names.  The trail turns to go up the draw but I wander over to the far side of the draw, where tan sandstone rises up into a fierce rampart that truly suggest the start of the canyon.  On both banks the rock comes down to the river’s edge and precludes further travel excepting by flotation.  I look it over, sitting on a perch of stone, and admire the general atmosphere of the place.  I don’t linger long for I still have hours of driving before me and I am thinking of not much more than soaking in the hot mineral springs.

I return sans haste, making a circuitous route back to the steps.  The draw has some fairly large sagebrush, probably Artemisia tridentata, and I pause to admire the treelike nature of the large shrub.  Nature always grabs my attention and I didn’t really mind the slow pace I made back to the trailhead.  Returning to the campground I made a quick oatmeal breakfast as I packed up my gear and readied myself for the next phase.  All loaded up, I took a few minutes to wander around the open cottonwood forest that Deerlodge Park Campground encompasses.  A thoroughly peaceful place, I almost hated to leave and immediately started plotting on how to include this place on a future perambulation.  But for the moment I experienced a gleeful exultation and burst forth with a short laughing yell as I began the day’s travels.  Mostly, all I could think of was how nice it would be to see familiar people and enjoy the hot waters.

I drove up the access road that follows the Yampa River through Lily Park and then pulled over again as I did the previous evening, to admire the exit of the river from Cross Mountain Canyon.  I can only speculate that the river became trapped in this incongruous sandstone rampart as the latter was uplifted and once so trapped the river could not alternate its course.  I then finished the drive up to U.S. 40 as the access road parallels Twelvemile Draw.  I turned left into the morning Sun and drove across the vast plains of grass and sagebrush.  Beautiful country mostly given over to cattle and fossil fuel extraction but possibly yet ecologically productive.  Reaching the small city of Craig, I turned to the north on Colorado 13 towards Wyoming, for the moment following Fortification Creek upstream.  I stopped to admire a fin of intrusive rock that sticks out of the surrounding plain like a fin.  Called Fortification Rocks I read the historical sign located at a pullout.  To my east, across the road, lies the Elkhead Mountains, a place that I am wholly unfamiliar with.  Some other time, I think to myself, wondering if and when that other time will occur.  We cross a divide, barely perceptible, and begin to descend Timberlake Creek, a name that I can’t understand as there can’t be a lake much less one with timber on it for miles around.

I cross the state line just south of Baggs, Wyoming, a small town on the Little Snake River.  The road morphs into Wyoming 789 and the terrain changes not much as I keep on driving northwards towards my destination.  After crossing the river, the map suggests that I am moving upstream along Muddy Creek.  I try to emulate my prior trek when I had my two shepherds with me, stopping every hundred miles or so, but without the pups I soon forget about that program and keep on hurtling on until I reach Interstate 80.  However, before reaching Crescent Junction, home of a defunct gas station and a dilapidated fireworks stand, I cross over a branch of the Continental Divide.  This may sound odd, and it is, but between the two branches lies the Great Divide Basin, a closed basin that retains all water that enters it.  The area is also well known as the Red Desert and is ecologically rich despite its appellation.  I drive up the on-ramp to join the river of traffic.  Trucks predominate on the fast moving four lanes and I speed along eastbound towards Rawlins.

At Rawlins I do not stop although I am tempted to do so for a lunch.  Instead, I munch on snacks, mostly carrots and Fritos, and swill cheap convenience store coffee.  I leave town via U.S. 287, a road that is technically co-signed with Wyoming 789 as was Interstate 80.  West of Rawlins I crossed over the eastern ridge of the Great Divide but am now about to recross it again.  I do so and re-enter the Great Divide Basin via a large flat called Separation Flats.  I can see the Ferris Mountains to my right, a huge granite monolith that rears up out of the surrounding flat lands.  Practically straight ahead I can see the small ridge that is a part of the same divide.  The sagebrush and amber grasses stretch out in all directions as I whiz by.  Traffic is light and I enjoy the perks of off-season travel.  When I cross over the divide, for the fourth time in the last two hours, I enter the upper reaches of another Muddy Creek, wholly unrelated to that which I drove up earlier north of Baggs.  I pass down through Muddy Gap and can now see the Sweetwater River, site of so much history.  The route of Native Americans for millennia, pioneers on the Oregon Trail, fur traders with luminous names, and for eons wild game going about their migrations, this area seems near mythical to me.  Ahead, and later to my right, lie the Granite Mountains.  Well eroded blobs of red granite rise up over the plains, more hills rather than mountains, but still fascinating and beautiful.  According to my information there is a Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Study Area that I can access.  Thus I do, crossing over the Sweetwater River on Fremont County Road 286 which also carries the sobriquet of Agate Flats Road.  I believe that there is a BLM designation as well but I don’t know it off the top of my head.

Another two miles or so past the river I pull over on the side of the road.  The Lankin Dome Wilderness Study Area is off to my right, eastwards, and from what I can tell begins immediately beyond the road’s right of way.  There are no designated trails in the area, so whatever I want to see I must do so by creating my own route.  I head for a clump of granite subsidiary to Bill’s Peak and march along a game or cattle trail, until I come close enough for me to satiate my curiosity.  This area calls to me and I look forward to the time when I can more fully explore it, but I am feeling the pressures of time partly due to my late start and am anxious to make my rendezvous, so I stop and take a gander at all the open space and marvel that so much has happened in this vicinity.  Time speaks to me, and I revel in the wildness of this area, although much has been given over to agriculture.

Returning to the car, I drive back out to U.S. 287-Wyoming 789 and continue westward through Jeffrey City and on to Sweetwater Station, driving upstream and parallel to the river.  The river’s route is denoted by willow, but otherwise only a few trees grow in the protected nooks of granite outcroppings that are scattered about.  At the station there is a well appointed rest area but not much else excepting a museum dedicated to the Mormon experience.  I turn right on Wyoming 135 and drive north towards the Beaver Divide.  So much open space here, and much public land, all accessible to whomever would like to get out and explore.  I regret that time is so limiting.  As near as I can tell, the drainages are all minor and limited in water.  The names that I pass include Government Meadows Draw, Dishpan Butte, Devil’s Gap and Cedar Rim.  There is a designated scenic view at the summit of Beaver Creek, and although the road to get to the view is a bit rough I pull over to take it all in.  The wind is howling but somehow that does not diminish my experience but rather enhances it.  The land feel alive, and I stare out into the terrain ahead of me.  I can see so much.  The Absaroka Ranges, the Bighorn Mountains, the Wind River Range and much of Bighorn Basin, a vast expanse that measures dozens of miles along any axis.  Imagine being on horseback, or afoot, with no civilization anywhere about.  That is how I learned of this country, via the stories of yesteryear, and now here I am, living the dream so to speak.

Joy springs to my hear.  I love to see fresh country, and am happy to be spending the next three nights in this realm.  I drive out to the highway and continue north and down into Sand Draw and follow the road along higher tablelands until we descend down to the Wind River itself.  Here, at the city of Riverton, is the confluence of that river, the Little Wind River and Beaver Creek.  Site of the 1838 Rendezvous and current home of Wind River Indian Reservation, this area seems full of majesty of Nature as well as the human experience and tragedy due to the conflict of cultures.  Similar conflicting emotions well up in me as I attempt to weld beauty and injustice, wondering when, or if, a solution can be found.  I resolve to do my part to make this world a better place but am wary of unintentional consequences.  I wish I could visit more in this realm, but keep on moving, once again rejoining with Wyoming 789 and soon afterwards U.S. 26.

I cross a part of Boysen Reservoir and enter the town of Shoshoni, turning left to follow U.S. 20 westbound and Wyoming 789 northbound.  The reservoir plugs the river just before it enters the Wind River Canyon.  A major figure in the fur trade attempted to float a number of furs through the canyon at one point.  I don’t remember his name nor if he was successful or not, but it must have been a harrowing task.  Narrow and swift, there is hardly enough room for the highway, railroad and river itself to share the space.  The canyon walls rise up nearly sheer, intermittently cut by side drainages, and although not deep on the order of other better known canyons I still marvel at this place.

At the canyons exit is a place called the Wedding of the Waters.  I enter the Bighorn Basin at this place, and marvel at the red sandstone as I am wont wherever I might encounter that rock.  This place also denotes a topographic change of designation, as the Wind River ceases to have that name applied and the river is now called Bighorn.  I drive into Thermopolis and find the Best Western that I will be staying at.  Located in an old brick two-story hotel that dates back nearly one hundred years, the hotel is well appointed and the hot tub is filled with waters from the nearby hot springs.  Supposedly the largest in the world by volume, they have been well known since the beginning.  I unpack the car and am soon soaking in the soothing waters.  Other companions arrive and there is much rejoicing.  Dinner is takeout from a local restaurant, Bangkok Thai, that serves excellent fare.  An fine repast, I enjoyed duck curry.  The duck portion was ample and deep fried, something that I am extremely fond of.  We were all tired so I turned in early as did the others, but not before a good thorough soaking resplendent with engaging conversation.  I felt satiated, in body and soul, and somewhat blessed to have made this return visit to this place.  Wandering up to bed, I gave a prayer of thanks as I drifted off to sleep.

Summary of a Visit to Thermopolis, Wyoming, Including Sundry Explorations of the Vicinity as well as a Description of the Journey to and from Gunnison, Colorado: Day 1, Gunnison to Dinosaur National Monument – October 18, 2017

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Looking south from Douglas Pass on Colorado 139, the highway seen below also in Trail Canyon

As much as I love Summer with its vibrant greens and colorful flowers, blue skies dotted with lazy white puffy clouds, there are so many people congesting Colorado that I find it a relief when the cold Autumn nights begin to drive folks back to their respective homes.  I fully realize that this somewhat hypocritical view is further damning when it is considered that Yours Truly makes his income from serving those same tourists, none of whom can be blamed for wanting to imbibe the mountainous glory that is the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  Still, with the onset of the so-called “shoulder season”, formerly known as off-season, the time was ripe for me to get out of town for a bit, playing the role of tourist and modern day explorer myself.

The dogs kenneled, I packed my traveling gear into the old Subaru Outback and left my home in Gunnison, Colorado, headed north towards Wyoming in general and specifically Thermopolis where I would rendezvous with numerous friends where we could enjoy our mutual company and soak in mineral hot springs, all the while making further explorations of the nearby countryside.  In days gone by, I would drive as rapidly as permissible sans stopping excepting for the most basic necessities.  Lately, I have realized that this mode of travel causes me to miss some truly fascinating sights and I have now an appreciation for at least pulling over to the side of the road and investigating some small patch of land that the general public generally overlooks in their rush to their destination.

This journey of mine began less than auspiciously, as the previous day my coworkers kind of screwed me out of leaving my shift on time, thus causing delays in that day’s packing and readying of myself for the travels ahead.  There is no need to go into details but by the time I got home the previous evening I was too tired and demoralized to do much more than a few peremptory chores.  That delay spilled over into today so that I found myself not departing until early afternoon rather than the late morning as I had originally envisaged.  Well, as the saying goes, The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men…  Still, in my rush to depart, I managed to leave behind three or four items that, while not critical, would have made my trip a bit more fulfilling.  Well, at least I got a couple of hours extra on my time card.

I left home on U. S. 50 westbound towards Montrose and the Uncompahgre Valley.  I thought about crossing directly through the mountains but remembered the horrid experience I had had in Glenwood Springs in August when a bridge project had caused me to experience one of the most exasperating traffic delays possible.  Therefore, I chose the lesser of the two evils, so to speak, and suffered through the relatively benign series of construction projects stopping up traffic between Gunnison and Montrose. Following U.S. 50 to Grand Junction, I passed by many places familiar to my wanderings but all of them so close to home that I did not feel compelled to stop and investigate.  Still, the Uncompahgre Plateau, Grand Mesa and Book Cliffs all beckoned to me and only through sheer determination could I pass them all by without venturing into their wide-open welcome.  Once at that large Western Slope city I joined the mainstream of American commerce that is the Interstate Highway System and followed Interstate 70 westward for a short distance until I reached the exit for Colorado 139.  Traveling north now towards the Book Cliffs I made my first official stop.  Well, second, I would suppose in true confessional style.  I had stopped in Delta to indulge and satiate my appetite at Don Jalisco’s, a Mexican fast food restaurant.  I might have also paid a visit to the nearby Dairy Queen, but never mind about that, since I now stopped the car along the lightly traveled road and stepped out into the warm sunshine.

I could smell the sagebrush, the odor wafting up into my nostrils, and stood quietly enjoying the vistas.  This patch of Bureau of Land Management lands appeals mostly to locals who like to participate in various motorized recreational pursuits, but for the most part most people just drive by without pause.  This stop I didn’t hike or really explore, but mostly shook off the burdens of my everyday life and changed into modes more suited for travel.  I soon found myself back on the road, heading into the band of cliffs that rise up from the Grand Valley and reach an apex at Douglas Pass.  I can’t find a name for this small chain of mountains and suppose that they don’t have one, but I stopped here to admire my sudden emergence into a world of conifer and aspen.  Gaping out from my vista, I could look south into Trail Canyon from where I had come as well as to the north into West Douglas Creek where I would soon be headed.  Descending from the pass, I began to feel that I was leaving my home province behind.  Everything to my south was relatively accessible from my home, places to visit and things to do during a day trip.  Now, I entered a realm that takes a bit more effort for me to visit.  I do especially enjoy this drive as eighty miles separate the interstate from Rangely, the first town to the north.  The only sad part to me is seeing the extent of fossil fuel development in the region.  It is an industrialized area with all the concomitant scars created by our insatiable demand for oil and gas.  Nonetheless, I try to look beyond the obvious and see the Natural world for its own beauty.

Along this drainage, below the confluence with East Douglas Creek where the twain forks combine their waters into one, lies the Canyon Pintado National Historic District.  Here are a number of pictographs and petroglyphs created by the First Peoples.  I stop at the Waving Hands site and find the said hands on a panel of varnished sandstone along with numerous other relics from another era.  While I applaud the BLM for protecting these relics I am concerned about the noise, odor and sight of the oil industry so prominent.  Sadly, what is worse than the oilfield developments are the wanton acts of deliberate vandalism inflicted upon these cultural sites, many of which remain sacred to the descendants of the ancient creators.  I let my mind ruminate on the meaning of it all.  I am glad that the accompanying signage doesn’t try to conjecture an explicit meaning about these symbols but rather admits a mystery.  I let my mind wander over the eons but am too conscious of time to make a true escape, so I return to the car and drive on towards Colorado 64 where I turn west again and pass through Rangely before driving north on a county road towards Blue Mountain on U.S. 40.

Heading eastbound I pass through a country resplendent with vast expanses of sagebrush, pinyon pine and juniper.  Wide open, the views stimulate my heart and capture the imagination of the geologist in me.  Anticlines rise out of the earth, telling a dramatic story of upheaval and erosion, of time practically limitless.  I drive on, noting some of the names: Skull Creek Basin, Elk Springs Draw, Baking Powder Ridge… Most people find this stretch of road boring at best and generally interminable.  I am entranced by the open highway but not so much as to eclipse my glee at seeing so much habitat.  For the animals, or lack thereof in some cases, define the country that I am in.  I think of all the elk that would graze here, especially during Winter, sharing their lives with their predators.  However, the predators have gone missing, an extirpation caused by Man’s need for domination of the land and this saddens me.  But there is hope for the future, and I know that should wolves enter the state from Wyoming they would probably find this area to their liking excepting for the presence of certain humans who would attempt to exterminate them.

At a lonely junction along the road I made a left turn and descended a tidy National Park Service road along Twelvemile Gulch.  I reach the Yampa River and pulled over to take in the scenery.  Along the way I had passed a forest burned so recently that ash remained white and scorch marks scared the pavement.  Here, though, I could sit and marvel at the placid river emerging from Cross Mountain Canyon.  The Sun sat low above the western horizon and I didn’t stay long so that I could find a place to camp.  My goal for the night I had determined would be to camp at the Deerlodge Park Campground on the eastern edge of Dinosaur National Monument.  Set in a grove of Cottonwood adjacent to the still placid Yampa, I knew that I had found a special place.

The Sun set just prior to my arrival and I had to scurry so as to set up camp, but since I was basically using my familiar backcountry set up I had it all put together in a jiffy.  My only real addition to the gear was for the fire pit, and soon enough a blazing fire was sending its licks of flame to the heavens while I warmed a can of soup.  My hearty but light meal I consumed by the warmth of the flames, and I thought of the simultaneous need and fear of fire that people have faced throughout time.  My parents had been evacuated along with many thousands of others during the recent destructive fires in northern California and this I contrasted to the cheerful flames that provided me with comfort at this moment as I stared up at the heavens above.  The rarefied atmosphere of the desert allowed me to feel that I could reach up and pluck each shining star from the sky.

I knew that I wanted to rise early so I didn’t add too much wood to the fire and let the flames die down into a pile of coals.  After these too died down I took one last look at the stars that had captivated me during the past hour before lying down for the night.  I had identified Polaris, the northern star, and numerous of the constellations, but wished that I had remembered to bring my star chart so that I could familiarize myself with more celestial objects than the half a dozen or so that I can readily pick out.

I tucked myself in for the night, lying part way out of the tent so to keep in view the galaxy, and thought back on my busy day.  All the running around and turmoil associated with my leaving I had shed with the miles passed and whatever other qualms remained had been sent away with the flames and smoke of the fire.  Now, this peaceful location amid the quintessential riparian habitat of the desert American west beckoned me to slumber.  I nodded off and then quickly woke up, knowing that the time had arrived when I should retreat fulling into the tent to await the morrow’s dawn.  I drifted off into the sleep of one who enjoys travels, giving thanks for the heady first day, most my cares now laid to rest.

North Red Creek in the Wet Mountains of Colorado – March 05, 2017

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Sunrise in the Gunnison Country

A certain feeling of melancholy had crept into my being, due primarily to a severe attack of gout that waylaid my outdoor activities.  This I had found especially galling because I had finally found a groove wherein I could enjoy my Winter activities.  After two weeks, an interminable time so I thought, of protracted suffering and recuperation I had mended to the point where a bit of exercise and hiking seemed appealing.  However, the mental anguish that had resulted as part of the untoward debilitation caused in me a certain recalcitrance because I had subsequently lost faith in my seemingly stalwart physical attributes.  Therefore, I made a vow to myself that I should hike some three or four miles only and not over exert my damaged toe.

I had also decided, in an attempt to lift my spirits, that I should get out of the Gunnison Country where I make my home in the City of Gunnison.  On my mind, a sort of list of things to do, was an obscure portion of the San Isabel National Forest located on the eastern slopes of the Wet Mountains of Colorado.  When I had lived in the region I had always driven past this place and noted it with curiosity.  So, I chose this place so as to satisfy my curiosity and I also suspected that this area might be snow free, thus allowing me to hike in a mountainous setting in late Winter.  I could have gone west to the Colorado Plateau and found a good place to hike in the desert setting, but I was craving the hills and canyons found in the mid-elevation range.  Not truly fancying a long drive, I nonetheless relished the chance to change my setting for the day and made the resolve to sally forth with good cheer.

I loaded up my two hiking companions, Draco and Leah, redoubtable German shepherds both, and fired up the old Subaru and piloted the car out to U.S. 50 whence I faced east and the open road to Monarch Pass.  Along the way, and for the life of me I can’t remember where, I stopped to take a picture of the sunrise, a spectacular palette of neon oranges splashed on clouds.  Behind the clouds and above the jagged horizon glowed the morning sky, a yellowing bluish firmament that heralded the new day and stirred my heart.  We stop also at Monarch Pass where I let the pups out of the car so that they can piddle and stretch, activities that I similarly imitate before driving onward down the eastern slope of the pass.  We pass through Salida and then down into Bighorn Sheep Canyon.  This is one of my favorite drives, as the two-lane blacktop winds its way down parallel along the Arkansas River.  The red granite here is well eroded and never fails to capture my attention.  I’m in no hurry and enjoy every mile.

Exiting the canyon just above the Royal Gorge, we pass through Canon City and are soon disgorged onto the Great Plains.  This area is an intrusion of the plains into the mountains carved, I would suppose, by the Arkansas River, and to my north lies Pike’s Peak while to my south rear up the Wet Mountains.  I continue to drive towards Pueblo where I will stop and have a quick breakfast after which I drive back west on Colorado 96 to the small hamlet of Wetmore.  Continuing on we climb a bit until I find San Isabel National Forest Road 388.  Initially, this is Custer County Road 388 and once past the private property I park the car.  I could have driven on but decide to start here knowing that about a mile of hiking awaits me until I reach the official trailhead.

This area had been burned by a forest fire sometime in the last decade and many blackened boles stood forlornly on the hillsides.  The vegetation has obviously recovered as evidenced by the undergrowth that has returned but at this time of year it has faded into dull tans and grays.  Combined with the hazy clouds overhead my feeling was somewhat glum.  I had hoped for a sunny day for no other reason than to cheer me up but I could settle for this, as I almost always enjoy a day outside.

Colorado 96 follows Hardscrabble Creek up into the Wet Mountains and  San Isabel National Forest Road 388 rises up a small unnamed side drainage a short distance before crossing a summit and descending into North Red Creek.  At the pass I could see this upper basin quite well.  Continuing on I let my thoughts wander to the time when I lived on this side of the mountains, meaning on the eastern side of the Great Divide as opposed to the western where now is located my abode.  Drier in clime and warmer, the vegetation here is somewhat more sparse and has a character all its own.  A different forest smell from the one I am now accustomed to awakened in me reminiscences of bygone times when I knew not of the Western Slope and made my home at the interface of the plains and mountains.  I miss those days and always relish a chance to visit this area.  Although the natural lighting today made for a certain gloomy feel I soon began to appreciate that the cloudy sunblock made for pleasant hiking conditions, a consequence of which my mood rose positively.

Strolling easily downhill, we passed from the open grassy slopes into the creek bottom where grow cottonwoods and conifers.  At this lower boundary with private property lies this obscure trailhead that I had sought.  Two different trails lead from this point, both of which appear to be limited to non-motorized recreation.  While this is not a wilderness area it still retains a wild nature.  Today I would see but one vehicle and that would be someone driving past and on into the private land.  I walked a short distance up San Isabel National Forest Trail 1363 passing the junction with Trail 1364.  I went but a short distance, just enough for me to peer up Mason Gulch and espy the summit of Bears Head, a granite eminence rising up to seventy-seven hundred and fifty-five feet in elevation.  Here, among the chokecherry, Gambel oak and ponderosa pine, I found a nice place to sit for a spell.

I munched on a few snacks and fed the shepherds some kibble.  They had already had a nice hike, gamboling about with near abandon as is their canine wont.  None too many rodents had been out but the few that did make an appearance caught the dogs attention.  Some bunnies also scampered about the dense undergrowth and fascinated the shepherds.  Now, though, all was peace.  I felt a certain glee the rebirth of the forest as I saw that a new forest of ponderosa seedlings grew with health and vigor.  Despite all the positives of the day, I couldn’t but yet feel a bit melancholy, and let myself work over my problems while reposed in the woods.   Nature soothed my frayed nerves and I noted with pleasure the lack of pain in my foot.  Now inactive, I soon cooled off and donned a jacket so as to retain my warmth.

Still in the testing phase regarding my injured foot, I climbed back out of North Red Creek at a fairly modest pace.  I knew that I wouldn’t hike very far today so I had no worry about making time.  As I hiked along I made a few notes about what a future visit to this area might entail.  There are a couple of camping spots here and there, and I would also like to explore more of both trails.  I wonder if a summit hike to Bears Head would be possible.  Probably so, but challenging as a hike.  The only topographic map for this area that I am aware of are the United States Geographic Survey maps.  I need to get the quad before my return, and, yes, I do love maps!

After our return to the car, we continued west on Colorado 96 to the divide between Hardscrabble and Oak Creeks and soon afterwards crossed over into the Wet Mountain Valley.  At this high park exists a fine view of the Sangre de Cristo Range, a glorious sight.  I drove through Silver Cliff and Westcliffe, continuing north on Colorado 69 and down into Bighorn Sheep Canyon.  At Cotopaxi I turned westbound onto U.S. 50 and towards home.  It had been a fairly good day, despite my despondent outlook, and all along the drive through and out the canyon, past Salida and on up to Monarch Pass and finally down along Tomichi Creek, I felt blessed to not let despair set too heavily upon my bearing, casting off the woe with a fine day of exploration and appreciation of the natural world.