Today’s date Friday, July 31, 2009 Bighorn National Forest to Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)
Hours in truck: 6
Places visited: Bighorn National Forest, Medicine Wheel, Cody, and Yellowstone National Park
Days since shower (although, remember, Sophie the dog and I swan twice): 6.
Where I am right now: in the tent at Grant campground, Yellowstone, time: 11 p.m.
Yesterday started with leaving the Black Hills National Forest and traveling through Lead, Deadwood, and Sturgis Harley Rally. Leaving Sturgis, Sophie and I hit the road (the truck is filthy, something I’ve not seen much of) at 4 p.m. and head West (sorry, I don’t have the Atlas) towards Bighorn National Forest. I’ve consulted my book, either This Land or Your Land. The author, whose name also escapes me but may be updated later (see day 0 or 1 for close-up photo), is a botanist, and has written 3 greatly detailed in volumes of “boots on the ground” experiences. My initial plan was to take the first exit available, as I was already tired and darkness was beginning to announce its plans to move back in. I had stopped at a visitors center
Nice sunflowers at campsite
You'd never see this at Sturgis!
to garner specific info about campgrounds. I got two sheets of paper, printed from the internet, that I was later discover was two copies of the Southern section.
A side note: I was chatting with two bikers, whom had been to Sturgis already and were planning on taking 3 months to ride around on their bikes. A man approached and started on this long spiel about getting kicked out of home in Cincinnati, Ohio and driving to Seattle with his girlfriend and 3 dogs (that later turned out to be wimpy Chihuihui. Being approached for money is certainly a common occurrence in Chicago, but to be experiencing it here, out in East Bumble was strange. I was up in the air, so I started at the biker, in full regalia and leaning against the back high bar of the “Easy Rider” style bikes. “I’m waiting to see what you’re gonna’ do,” I told him. He exhaled cigarette smoke, leaned further back, then dug into his pocket. I, too, pulled my wad out (and my money!) and found that I only had 20s and 2 singles, which I let go.
I burned it down the empty highway (the whole
Roger and Sophie
78 and still kickin' it!
route has been mysteriously absent of big rigs, good buddy and after the coffee, housed in my huge-ass Travel America gallon jug, settled in (which I got, by the way for free!), I was feeling pretty awake at that point, and, after consulting the aforementioned book, I high-tailed it to Sheridan, which offered a pass through the Northern route. The mountains were absolutely huge and located 10 miles off the highway and through 3-4 small towns (pop. 50-750, etc.) The drive was hairy and required much concentration, and after 20 miles of intense up and down driving and donning my glasses several times to re-read the author’s paragraphs, I ended up missing the turn when 14 and 14-A split. I was looking forward, and was still bathed in light enough to enjoy some of the campground (for once!) before darkness.
I passed the high point of about 10,000 feet, and there were several choice campgrounds, but I was psyched for Owens Creek, which promised both an old sawmill and hikes to some waterfalls, and I kept driving, picking up speed and (more) miles. I HAD to finally stop at Bald Mountain as darkness really moved in. There were
probably 18 spaces and 4 were occupied with trailers. Sophie and I quickly jumped into the tent and I commenced to writing last entry’s blog. It got fairly cold; my handy-dandy thermometer read 40 when I went to sleep at 1 a.m. I slept well, though, as a small creek chortled in the background, producing a variety of drum beats and bass lines (no voices, though, thankfully).
I had set the plan for the day to include Medicine Wheel, a site I’ll touch on later. But the author had devoted 3 whole pages to it, so, all in all, I was glad to have taken the route that we did. After all, I was just using the Forest for a “quick camp” while moving through to (bigger and better?) places. Also, a drive through Cody, Wyoming and finally meeting my friends Vik and Suzie, who travel and stay in a cabin, this year and 25 previous summers as well (always on the same 2 weeks in late July).
I had carved out some time to explore the campsite, which was in a small grove of trees, with huge expanses of mostly grass and rock, with tall trees
in the distance. Sophie and I walked for twenty minutes towards the tree line, finding interesting formations in the rocks. We spotted no wildlife (Big Horn sheep are common, thus the name of the park), so we headed back to the truck to leave.
Before this however, I had fired up the stove for some Trader Joe’s (there’s that name again) oatmeal (I’m not a big fan, but I figured that it was quick and easy) with some T.J.’s dried peaches. Still not impressed. I did have 16 ounces of coffee brewed, making all the difference. The sun quickly blew the clouds and cold away, and the frost on the picnic table, shrubs and grasses melted. I was simultaneously making breakfast (well, boiling the water) and decamping the tent, which I had laid on its side to dry out (one thing about tent camping, without a “footprint,” material that lays between the tent and the ground and currently do not possess, often times water seeps upwards, wetting the tent in any place that had made contact with the floor.
In any case, was standing in the sun getting toasty warm and chowing down on some hot food
when a truck drove into the campground. I walked out and flagged the man, as it was still a mystery as to the existence of Owens Creek campground and, more importantly, where was it? How had I missed it?! He’d not heard of the place, but did tell me that I had not yet passed the Medicine Wheel.
Compared to the (one) Sturgis chatter, this guy had it down. Roger, originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin revealed both facts and stories in a compact and enjoyable manner for the (perfect time amount of such meetings) next 45 minutes. During this time, he explained how he had been friends with Chuck Yeager, worked the lanai (Florida screened-in back porch) business for 6 years in Miami, served in the Marines in Korea and had shot people (“It’s like a bad car accident, you just can’t let yourself think about it.”), was friends and published through ports and Time magazine author Robert M. Jones, and had taught a hunting and gun safety course through a number of years (he liked working with teachers, and would seek advice as to how to improve his delivery).
Interesting lines from Roger, who was 78 by
the way, and still drove, hiked long distances, camped in the back of his truck, was very close with his son(s?), and liked to chat up campers and hikers (especially foreign tourists, which apparently, there are quite a few who make it to this remote part of Wyoming, probably in a rent a car driving to Yellowstone). In fact, he had awoken and driven 30 + miles, many of it uphill and around the same treacherous curves that I had driven (I drove them later, and yes, they were a chore, except the last stretch, which was 4-5 miles straight down the hills to a reservoir, the Lowell Recreation Area) just to see if there was anything going on. Anyway:
“In the military, stationed in Colorado, once I hit the west, I found my heart out here.”
“I’d like to see a woman President.”
“Obama’s showing his true colors” (I didn’t press further on this one, for fear of disappointment in this kind soul).
“I’ve lost faith in the Republican Party; I guess you could call me an Independent.”
“I don’t think Palin’s ready to be President…she’s too young, but she could mature in 20
“You can never go back.”
Many of the folks I’ve chatted with are retired…good for them for really taking advantage of their golden years…
The three mile drive up to the Medicine Wheel was only 5 minutes from the campsite. The hike, a 1.5 mile up a small gravel service road, offers excellent views of the mountains on both sides. At 9,500 feet, the weather was cloudy and drizzly. Snow was mentioned for that night’s forecast, the second time I had endured cold temperatures but missed the white stuff. Sophie, in very cool and relaxed National Park rules (there’s a small visitor cabin and were 3 Rangers on staff, one guarding the Medicine Wheel), was able to accompany on the walk. The attraction is the Medicine Wheel, which Robert Mohlenbrock (found his name) called the “American Stonehenge.” The circular wheel, constructed of rock, subtitely dominates the wide peak. It is estimated that the date on the object, produced by unknown groups or sources, dates between 1200 and 1700 A.D. Prayer flags are hung on, and placed in by Native Americans, the fences and sacred space. It was a nice a quiet space, and the
Ranger estimates that they get between 150- 300 visitors a day. The walk back down was also nice, with Sophie bounding about. I saw a nice Blue jay of some sort and viewed snow for the first time on the trip (it was left over from winter).
The ride down to Cody, Wy. Offered some great canyon views. In Cody, I went to the Sierra Trading Post Outlet store (we are bombarded with their catalogs and the store was fairly high-priced as well, with fancy, light rain jackets going for $150). I was able to purchase a variety pack on fancy dehydrated food (2 people, 3 nights); it was marked down because it was all vegetarian, and who the hell would be a vegetarian in cattle county?). I sat in the parking lot and upload the blog (both cell phone and internet service is quite surprising and extensive these days, with both in very, very small towns and in between as well. The catch: mountain/high service is non-existent). The computer’s battery ran out just as I quickly selected, almost at random the previous day’s photos.
The road to Yellowstone from Cody is surprising smooth, relatively flat,
and packed with great views. I was feeling antsy, as I didn’t have any camping reservations, and knew it could possibly be tight. The road follows a river much of the time, and for the first time, those fast moving, wide, gushing rivers so common in the West reveal themselves.
Sophie and I are having a good time and are looking forward to Jennifer meeting us in Salt Lake City on August 14th!
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