The Great American Eclipse of 2017, so named for the course the Moon-shrouded Sun scored across the contiguous Lower Forty-Eight, had been prophesied, divined or otherwise predicted by the scientific body for who knows how many decades, or centuries. The real planning, however, by the common masses, the body of which I am a proud member, began about two or three years prior. Millions had entered the path of totality from one coast to the other; blocks of hotel rooms had been booked for years; preparations made, foodstuff stored, fuel accumulated, land managers prepared for the crowds – and I had sworn off the whole thing until at the relatively last moment I had decided three weeks in advance that, yes, I would like to see this once-in-a-lifetime event a mere eight hours journey by car to the north of my home in Gunnison, Colorado.
I had endured opprobrium from my coworkers for leaving during the busy season, a massive traffic jam in Glenwood Springs and general anxiety due to the uncertain reality that I would find upon reaching my chosen spot in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. I had been prepared to be turned back or somehow rebuffed up until I reached the trailhead. Once I started hiking I knew that success would then depend not upon the guiding hand of the government in the guise of the Bridger-Teton National Forest but rather upon the chance of weather and the desire within my own heart. Success had indeed ensued and I now found myself indulgently enjoying a moment of enforced indolence in the morning sunlight. Warmth and golden shafts of light greeted my emergence from the tent and I knew that my decision to spend an extra night had just then returned fine dividends. The folks who had been camping in myriad localities the previous night had mostly disappeared leaving me and a few others the peaceful solitude of the backcountry.
This fifth day of my adventure to see the eclipse found me fairly tired and exhausted. This morning I had decided to sleep in, having no reason to rush off anywhere. Three nights in the Roaring Fork Basin above the Green River had left me feeling a profound appreciation for my immediate vicinity. After greeting the day the dogs and I wandered over to the food cache where I had hung it such as to prevent incursion by bears and other food-seeking critters. A small outcropping served as breakfast nook and as the water boiled I cast my gaze out over the nearby forest. What a fantastic trip I had had, I thought to myself, and I looked forward to its conclusion with a hint of regret at its ending.
Returning to camp I packed up my gear and stowed away all the accouterments that make my backpacking treks possible. I took one last around at the campsite that had so ably served me. Draco and Leah, my two German shepherds who often accompany me on my hikes, lay in repose upon their oval depressions in the grass. I called them and they stretched, rose up, stretched again and, wagging tails, wandered over to where I had their panniers waiting for them. These I loaded upon the dogs and then strapped. Hoisting my pack to my shoulders I felt exalted to begin the hike out to the Green River Lakes Trailhead via the Bridger-Teton National Forest Trail No. 94. Walking away from camp I turned to look one last time and happily noted the indented grass where the tent had left an imprint. No trash had been left behind and except for the grass which would soon recover I had not marred the natural beauty of the forest. I walked slowly towards the trail, taking it all in.
We followed the trail to the south and began to climb up to the divide between the Roaring Fork and the Green River. Once we emerged from a small, shallow gully the views opened up and a fine presentation of the Green River curving from its initial northward flow to one more westward lay out before and below me. The dogs cared not one wit about this interesting piece of topography and showed more interest in the resident rodent population. I paused to admire the Wind River Range about the Green River Lakes. The smoke that had created the hazy skies had dissipated and I could make out the Gros Ventre Range clearly, the large patches of snow especially visible.
The trail at this point makes a three mile descent to the river itself, utilizing a gentle grade. Fairly exposed to the strong Sun, there are enough water holes to keep the pups hydrated. Slowly yet inexorably we hiked down until we finally reached the pack bridge that crosses the Green River at the outlet of the lower of the eponymous lakes. Upon reaching the parking lot I found a scene of what felt like desolation. Only about twenty-five percent of the vehicles remained compared to when I began my outbound journey. It would appear that most of the horde had left the day before, and, again, I was happy that I delayed my own departure by a day. Reaching the car, I found it parked in an awkward position that had made sense when I had to jostle for a place but now seemed as if I had just “slobbishly” left it in some random locale.
Driving back down Bridger-Teton National Forest Road 650 I noted the abundance of dispersed campsites now readily available. It suddenly seemed like any other normal day in the mountains. There were still many people about but the area wasn’t stuffed to capacity and then some. I drove along the gravel road slowly to preserve my fragile tires but also so that I could admire the scenery. At Dollar Lake I paused and let the dogs out of the car so that they could enjoy a dip in the water. I found an interesting fish swimming in the shallows and am still not sure exactly what it is, although I don’t believe its a trout. Not wanting to disturb the fish I moved to another location, but the dogs weren’t really interested in swimming anyhow, so we continued our drive out to Wyoming 352 and the junction with U.S. 191.
Turning towards the west on northbound U.S. 191 I then drove a few miles to U.S. 189, where I turned south. Traffic was minimal, and I had the road mostly to myself. Listening to the radio most of the news was related to the massive amounts of record-setting traffic counts seen the previous day throughout the State of Wyoming, especially on the Interstate 25 corridor. Yet again, staying the extra night had proven to be a boon. However, I must admit to being surprised by the lack of traffic on U.S. 189. Off to the east I could see the ragged ridgeline of the Wind River Range nearly forty miles distant. In between stretched out the vast sagebrush steppe so familiar to travelers in the interior western United States. Much of the native wildlife has been displaced recently by the energy boom, and sometimes a smoggy haze lingers over the valley. To the west rose the Wyoming Range, where efforts to keep the drillers at bay may have been successful.
The dogs rested contentedly in the back of the station wagon as I drove southbound past Marbleton and Big Piney, and then through La Barge. South of that last town the Sublette Cutoff of the Oregon Trail crosses both the Green River and the modern highway. I stopped at Names Hill, where travelers along the trail left their names inscribed in the rock. Jim Bridger’s name is prominently displayed, but as he was illiterate, or thought to be so, the inscription is either a fraud or had been done for him. Still, an interesting sight and site, and I dwelt on the history suggested by these names. A handful of other cars had pulled off, as well, and most folks wore something commemorating the recent eclipse. We where all smiles talking to one another about what we had seen. The sagebrush suggested a near desert climate and we soon stopped at a boat ramp on the Fontenelle Reservoir where I let the dogs out to romp in the water. This time they did swim, eagerly splashing about the cool liquid.
Returning to the car, we again set the wheels humming upon the pavement as we slid southwards towards the junction with Wyoming 240. We followed that highway to its southern terminus with U.S. 30 and drove east to Interstate 80. Eschewing the mainstream, and all its concomitant tractor-trailer traffic, I shortly exited the four-lanes and used the alternate Wyoming 374. That latter highway is old U.S. 30 and parallels the interstate, and now serves as a feeder route for the industrial extraction of fossil-fuels and minerals. This road I followed all the way to the city of Green River, Wyoming, where it became the business loop for the freeway. I stopped to get a snack and then left town southbound again on Wyoming 530. I’ll say this about Green River – someone has a sense of humor. To wit: the local airport is named the “Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport”.
Continuing south, I began to realize that the day had turned towards evening and that I need to find a place to sleep. I made one last stop to observe the lonely mesas and towering clouds, while also letting the dogs stretch their legs and piddle. I had hoped to make a short foray up into the High Uintas but decided that I was about an hour behind to make that realization happen. Perusing the map, I espied a campground on the southern end of the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, within the eponymous National Recreation Area. Just shy of the Wyoming-Utah state line I turned off the main highway and onto Ashley National Forest Road 146. Named for the valley it flooded, I stayed the night at Lucerne Valley Campground. Mostly suited to folks towing trailers and boating on the reservoir, I still appreciated the hot showers and wide open spaces.
The dogs and I made one short evening hike over to the nearby waters before settling down at our campsite. There is something salubrious about being next to water in the desert, and I enjoyed the breeze that fluttered the leaves of the nearby cottonwood. I had noted on the map that just prior to arriving at the campground we had passed into Utah. An interpretive sign nearby told about he school district that had existed prior to the inundating of the nearby lowlands. Apparently, this school had sat nearly on the sate line, and was supposedly the only school district in the country to exist in two states. Thus, the school had to meet standards for both Wyoming and Utah. I cooked dinner and fed the dogs and ate my food while watching the Sun set. Another fine day had been had by us all, and I felt grateful that I had been able to do what I set out to do.