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Exploring Wyoming

Monday, October 16, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jeff Hower #145848

I've traveled through the least populous state, Wyoming, several times, but never really made an effort to do any real exploring. I hit the tourist locations of Yellowstone, Jackson Hole, Cody and the other big (if you can call them that) cities. This time I've plotted out several of the scenic byways and several remote gravel roads in the Big Horn Mountain region of North Central Wyoming to investigate what is or isn't there.

I'm headed west in western Nebraska on Highway 32, just passing Chimney Rock National Historic Site just as the pioneers did on their western migration. Then it's on down the road to Scotts Bluff National Monument, another prominent landmark travelers used to find their way west. This is a must-see scenic section of road that might be missed if one stayed on Highway 26 through Scotts Bluff. Thirty minutes later I break into Wyoming, leaving the lowlands that have been following the North Platte River and soon I'm taking a side detour to visit Fort Laramie National Historic Site, which was established as a private fur trading fort in 1834.

A few miles later I head north on Highway 270 at Guemsey, and am happy to do so because of the ominous clouds and lightning I see to the west. My bad luck holds as the storm soon overtakes me. The side wind is causing me to lean far to the left just to stay on the road and get some use out of the sidewalls on my tires. The heavy downpour, with drops so big they are stinging my shoulder through my heavy riding jacket, is causing some of the car traffic to pull over to the side of the road. I decide to keep making forward progress until I come upon a rest stop. Once inside I form a small lake around the bench while a trucker next to me says he pulled in because he thought his semi was going to get blown over. As most storms out west go, it passed in about an hour, but the temperature dropped from around 70 degrees Fahrenheit to 54 degrees. Cold and wet, I decided that tonight I'd spring for a room instead of my tent in Newcastle.

I ruined my leather gloves while trying to dry them out in the oven set on warm, so I'm off the next morning to find a new pair in town. The third store I tried finally had some that would fit my oversized paws. I gassed up and headed for the Grand Canyon. Not the one down south in Arizona and Utah. This one is a curvy groomed gravel road that runs about 50 miles from the South Dakota/Wyoming boarder up to Beulah, Wyoming, on Interstate 90. It's a nice, remote road that finally give me a chance to make use of the TKC-80 knobbies I installed for this trip. It has great scenery, including a few deer. Then it is west on I-90 for a few miles to Sundance where Maw & Paw's Barr-B-Q served up a tender, succulent smoked brisket sandwich.

With puffy clouds and near-perfect 70-80 degree temperatures, I head back south on Moskee Road, another gravel road, catching the refreshing fragrance of the pine forests. Following a mountain stream, I soon encounter one of the reasons for that pine smell. A huge pine tree has fallen and is blocking the road. It leaves just enough room for me to carefully paddle my way through the limbs and a steep 15-foot drop-off into the creek. Obviously this is a seldom traveled road. Every so often out here I run into a cattle guard across the road and more often than not, a "No Trespassing." I ignore these signs only to find out later that it is common practice for the ranchers to put these signs up to discourage travelers. While the roads are public, the ground on either side is usually private and I respect their rights.

I come to a big gate blocking the road with huge no trespassing signs and I assume this probably leads to a ranch, so I take a side road. The side road gets more remote, turns from gravel to two-track, then to grass. It drops down a steep slope that gives me some pucker factor on my heavily loaded GSA. It finally ends at a locked gate with no signs of a road beyond. I'm not sure if I can make it back up the precipitous incline, but on my return I find a side path that looks more like it used to be a road.

It soon comes to where the roadway has washed out and isn't wide enough for four-wheel-drive vehicles to pass. Luckily there is just enough room that with a little momentum I can skirt the side and get by. After more dead ends, I make it back to the pavement on Highway 595 and back to Sundance. At this point I've had enough back roads for the day and take panoramic Highway 14 to Gillette. I take a quick detour to pay my respects to the sacred American Indian site of Devils Tower. After a few miles west on I-90 I arrive in Gillette and set up camp at the Crazy Woman Campground, where a quick stop for some beer and a couple slices of leftover pizza make for a relaxing end for the day's 245-mile adventure.

I'm up and on my way to Sheridan about 7:15 in the morning with sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s. The temperature remains cool as I pass through the mountains at around 8,000 feet with some dirty snow along the shoulders in places. I decided to stay on Highway 14 to Burgess Junction, where I take Forest Road 15, another one of Wyoming's well-groomed gravel byways. It comes back out on 14a where the not-to-be-missed Old Highway 14a/Five Springs Campground Road is located. The map and Google Earth both show this to be a side loop, but in reality, it just goes up to a locked gate and back down but the vertigo of this steep narrow paved road should not be missed.

Then it's on to the Yellowtail Reservoir which shows as a huge lake on my GPS, but all I could see was a small lazy river. Continuing to Lovell, where I turn south to Greybull. A stop at a grocery store netted some country ribs, a can of beans and a small bag of charcoal for supper. After a couple of erroneous path selections and a huge unexpected gust of wind that almost blew me off the road, I finally found the Medicine Lodge Archaeological Site near Hyattville. They have some great campsites next to a clear mountain stream. I feasted on my beans and ribs while sipping some of the finest box wine money can buy after a long day and 316 miles in the saddle.

Medicine Lodge Archeological Site has hundreds of petroglyphs and pictographs dating back more than 10,000 years and is worth a look. I talked to the ranger there and one of my proposed escape routes leaving there wouldn't be open until July 1. The other was still blocked by snow just a week prior, so I did some route planning and took the gravel road out of Hyattville southeast to Ten Sleep. Ten Sleep gets its name because it took ten sleeps for the Indians to get from Casper to here. Ten Sleep also has a microbrewery which supplied a growler for the upcoming evenings dinner. Leaving Ten Sleep I come upon a cattle drive that is taking place on the highway with hundreds of cows being herded up the highway by a half dozen cowboys on horses. Now, I know for sure I'm out west.

Highway 16 takes me east to the short, gravel, 12 miles long (but interesting) Crazy Woman Road, which follows a canyon and stream. It drops 2,850 feet before coming out on Highway 196 that runs north to Buffalo. I make a loop through Buffalo then back west and south on Highway 16, where I pick up the breathtaking 50-mile-long gravel Slip Road to Kaycee. While taking a break at the gas station in Kaycee, another group of critters are being herded up the highway. This time it is a flock of sheep probably numbering near a thousand being kept in line by border collies and guys on four-wheelers.

I ask the attendant about any nearby campgrounds and she says there is a great place not far called the Hole in the Wall where the road forks. Well I found a big rock proclaiming this is the campground, but there is no campground I can see. I went down the roads in both directions only to find nothing. I stopped a rancher and he said it was right there where the road forks. After I got home I looked on Google Earth and the only thing there is the rock. Anyway, it was worth the drive because the red rock cliffs highlighted by the setting evening sun were magnificent. Back to Kaycee where I ate in the local restaurant and got a cabin at the local RV park. All those sheep were still there all over the road and the shoulders and there to spend the night.

Talking to a lady from the RV Park who came over the next morning suggested a route to take to get south to Highway 20. She said just head south out of town and cross under the bridge. Well one thing I've learned is that "out here just down the road" might be 100 yards or 10 miles. Anyway, Lone Bear Road and CR105 took me to the Red Wall Back Country Byway, which was on my list of places to visit and was well worth the low average speed and near misses with antelope for 40 miles to get there. Once on Highway 20 it was pretty much pavement to Kirby, where the Wyoming Whiskey Distillery is located. They make a fine whiskey. On to the Cody Wyoming KOA for the night, just missing a huge storm that could be seen for miles but yielded a fantastic rainbow that signaled the end to the exploring and adventure part of the trip. It was just highway miles on to my final destination in Bend, Oregon.


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