We left the Denver area and went to another one of our favorite places, Sugarloaf campground in the Snowy Mountain range in southern Wyoming, just west of Laramie. The campground is at approximately 11,000 feet and the vegetation there is in the boreal forest to arctic tundra zone.
The area has a rugged beauty, with its small pines, colorful ground cover, granite rock and snow-melt lakes and ponds.
We knew we couldn’t stay here long with the first winter storm just a couple of days away. It was windy and cold, but clear, crisp and vibrant with colors. These are the places where the milky way is so huge and clear at night that you can really enjoy its beauty.
The next morning a very fast-moving fog bank, or clouds at this altitude, whipped across the peaks just above our heads, swirling and morphing in cloud shapes that were huge before dissipating on the mountain’s downslope to the east. At first, I thought the storm had arrived early and we were in for an interesting day, but as the sun rose further the cloud bank disappeared producing a clear blue-sky morning.
Pam and I went on a hike to explore the lakes and mountains in the area. There was still snow on the ground and in the mountains from last winter. The campground is typically under feet of snow until late July and then closes again at the end of September, so there is a short window of time each year to enjoy this magical place.
We saw three moose here the last time we stopped last year. We carried bear spray on our hike because they too are here. We did see a pika in the rocks that then came over to investigate the strangers to its territory. They are a cute tail-less, short-eared cousin of the rabbit that sounds like a squeak toy when they call.
We thought we hiked eight to ten miles, but afterwards we realized we had only covered about half of that distance where the altitude or lack of oxygen was causing most of the fatigue.
We joked that not only do we have favorite campgrounds we now have favorite spots within the campgrounds. It’s, “our spot is open”, or “someone is in our spot!”, when we roll into the campgrounds now – lol.
With a couple of days to kill until our next scheduled stop, we decided to head to Thermopolis, WY and warm up in the hot springs there. We camped at the Lower Wind River Campground in Boysen State Park at the mouth of the Wind River Gorge. The gorge is an optical illusion. You would swear that you are driving up a significant hill to Thermopolis until you look at the river beside the road and its flowing towards Thermopolis.
We enjoyed a couple of days warming our bones in the hot springs, doing a little laundry and sampling the beers at the One-Eyed Buffalo brewery in town.
While we were at the campground a lady pulled up in her car and asked, “Where are the animals?” I said that it’s Wyoming so they are everywhere. In fact, Pronghorn, or the American Antelope outnumber people in Wyoming. You always see small Pronghorn herds in the Wyoming fields. She clarified that, “No, the sign where I pulled in had a warning to look out for bighorn sheep.” About this time you realize the type of person you are dealing with and tell her they are all hiding – lol.
Last year Pam picked out a “birding” camera that has an amazing zoom capability. If you look at the picture below there is a golden colored field near the center of the picture in the mountain range beyond the more visible rock range next to the campsite. The field is about a mile away and after the wildlife lady left unsatisfied, I scanned the area for bighorn, but saw something else on the far mountain range.
The picture below is from the same spot as above, but now zoomed into the golden colored field on the far mountain. Pretty impressive, with magnification better than our binoculars. It zoomed in even further so I could count the points on the bull elk near the top of the field, but the view gets a little grainy at that point and it’s very difficult to hold on an image without a tripod.
The news made the advancing winter storm sound like the end of times so we decided to shorten the distance we would have to travel the next day (after the end of times – lol) to Burt and Leigh’s place. We stopped in Lander, WY to visit the Museum of the American West, which was very interesting. I was reading the book, “Journal of a Trapper” by Osborne Russell during the first part of our trip. The book was the actual journal he kept of his life as a beaver trapper in the west during the 1830s. It was a great book to read as we were covering the same area on our travels he was writing about, seeing the same places he described nearly two hundred years ago. Once a year between 1825 and 1840, the era of the beaver trade, the mountain men got together at “The Rendezvous”, and several of the gatherings were held in the Lander, WY area.
We left the museum and picked a new spot in the foothills outside of Lander we had driven by before but not camped at, Popo Agie Campground along the Popo Agie River. The Popo Agie River is interesting that it disappears into a crevasse in the rocks as it flows towards Lander and then reappears out of the ground about a mile away. There are some huge fish-hatchery-sized trout that swim up the stream and are stopped where it reappears out of the ground, but you are not allowed to fish there.
The clouds were descending and the storm about to start as we were getting settled into our site.
Pam then got a note from Leigh to see what time we would be there for dinner that night….. Apparently, we got our dates mixed up. We broke camp and drove the short distance to Crowheart, WY. As we made our way there, the front of the storm hit us, but it was clearly not an end of times storm.
Burt and Leigh have a great place along the Wind River. Their pet longhorns were out to greet us as we arrived.
Pam and Leigh had attended the same high school and two other alumni were guests there when we arrived. We had a great dinner and visit with everyone.
The storm was still drizzling the next day and the two visitors wanted to get on their way, but the washes on the drive to the highway were a concern due to the low clearance of their car. We loaded their car onto one of Burt’s trailers and he hitched it to his tractor.
While the Roamer had no issue with the road, I doubt their car would have made it across the two washes to get to the highway. It easily made it on the trailer being pulled by the tractor.
Burt saves a project that requires two folks for when I arrive, but due to the weather we couldn’t get to this year’s project. We did grind, pound and weld a piece on the trailer that needed fixing, so it wasn’t a total loss of a day in the rain.