We left Colorado heading up Hwy 287 into Laramie. We turned west out of Laramie heading up to the Medicine Bow National Forest and the Snowy Mountain Range. As we started the slow climb into the mountains our truck engine temperature spiked. This was the second time in seven years our cooling hose back by the diesel water heater blew a hole and drained the engine coolant. The design does let you shut that extended coolant line out of the system with a set of valves so we refilled the coolant with water and headed back into Laramie and the Ford dealer to flush and refill our truck with coolant since we were expecting cooler temperatures in the future.
Luckily, the Ford dealer was able to fit us into their service schedule, and we were back on the road in a few hours. We arrived at the first-come, first-serve Sugarloaf CG a few hours after we intended but luckily found an open spot.
The Sugarloaf CG is located at 10,800 feet, and the Snowy Mountain Range peaks out at just under 13,000 feet. We like the area due to the gorgeous views and the many hiking trails. The campground does not open until 15 July due to snow from the previous winter and closes again by late September / early October when snow begins again.
The mountains, rocks, alpine vegetation, and lakes make for beautiful hikes.
Pam and I hiked a couple new trails this year. First, we hiked the 6-mile loop to Lost Lake passing many lakes on the way.
We had never been up there during a holiday weekend. Typically, we are there with about 20 or less people that we see the entire weekend over the 40 square miles, either in the campground or on the trails. However, the place was packed for the holiday weekend with cars parked for miles on both side of the road leading from the trailhead to the highway. Usually we carry bear spray when we hike there due to the local bear population and the fact that we are out there by ourselves. This weekend, there were a few hundred people, so we did not even worry about bears.
We did see a huge bull moose on our second hike up over the mountain saddle and towards Mirror Lake. A guy had a tripod set up and when I asked what he was shooting we saw the moose laying in a small pond. He got up when the sun got too much for him and made his way up the mountain into the shade of some trees.
Up on the saddle you could see many of the lakes that dot the area. Pam found another Pika to talk to along this trail.
As you drop down from the saddle towards Mirror Lake there are a series of ponds that keep the hike breathtaking.
The fires in northern Colorado shut down one of its largest camping areas along Hwy 14. With nowhere to go within Colorado, most of the folks headed to the Snowy Range, where a significant majority of the car plates were from Colorado.
Ben, Emily, and Tippet came up from Fort Collins on Sunday for a visit. We did an easy hike with Tippet due to her age, but they loved the place and I am sure they will be back. Ben mentioned that the weather forecast had changed, and snow was expected for much of Wyoming and Colorado starting the following evening. There is no cell service there (another nice thing about that area), so Pam and I hiked to a nearby overlook the next morning to get enough of a signal to see what was projected for Laramie and the Snowy Range.
Most of the folks had left the campground by Monday afternoon and when I talked with the Ranger driving through she said that about a foot of snow was expected that night. We had plans to visit with friends the following week in central Wyoming, so we packed up and left the Snowy Range.
Most of the western states were smokey due to the yearly forest fires. Wyoming was not too bad, but you could see the smoke prior to the storm rolling in. We could also see the temperature rapidly dropping as the storm front moved overhead.
We camped at Sinks Canyon CG in the hills above Lander, WY. When we got there is was starting to get cold, but we cooked dinner outside. The rain started when we went to bed. During the night, the rain turned to snow and dropped about 6 inches, drifting to well over a foot deep due to the wind.
About this time, I realized I did not have an ice scraper either (another thing you do not think about packing when it is 110 degrees outside). My O’Reillys Rewards card seemed appropriate to use until we made it to one of their stores to pick up a scraper.
We were toasty in our rig since it has a nice heater, but we decided to leave this winter wonderland and head to our friends place up towards Dubois, WY. The snow was covering slush on the roads and the campground was unplowed and hilly, but the Roamer made it out easily.
As we drove down the canyon we had to pull over to allow a couple of cowboys and their dogs to push a few wayward cows that did not want any part of the snowy weather back up the canyon to their grazing areas. The weather prediction was that this snow would melt within a day and return to more normal fall weather, so it was too early to leave the grazing area for winter.
We stopped in Lander to do laundry and restock with food and gas. The town was a wreck from the storm. The heavy, wet snow had caused hundreds of tree branches and even some trees to snap and fall. The houses and roads in town were littered with downed trees, with crews everywhere busy at work cleaning up the area.
As we left Lander, the landscape was nothing but white, except for the road. Unfortunately, the local birds were resting by the warmer road and would take flight as you approached, sometime too late to clear the rig. We had not hit a bird with our rig in seven years but ended up hitting three along this stretch of highway. Bert had one stuck in his truck grill when we arrived at their place, so it was not only us thinning out the local bird population.
Bert and Leigh have a beautiful place on the Wind River. It was even more picturesque when the sun broke out and the snow was still on the Wind River Mountain peaks.
They were having a small class reunion, so I helped Bert set up the place. We even cut up an old culvert and welded it together for a great reunion evening fire pit. Taco, their Blue Healer, was always ready to go when things needed to be done.
Near Dubois, Dan Starks has built the $100M, 14,000 square foot Museum of Military Vehicles. His private collection of military vehicles and weapons that is just impressive. They were just laying the building’s foundation last year when we drove by, but it opened this year. The finished section focuses on WWII where most of the vehicles have been refurbished to operating capability. Part of the recent deliveries were the manuals for all the vehicles so that they can be maintained.
The collection is so complete that you can see the evolution of the various designs from the late 1930s when WWII broke out, until 1945 when both the European and Pacific fighting ended. Each vehicle has its description and its production rate versus time to illustrate a staggering display of the manufacturing capability during the 1940s in the US.
As well as the amphibious and armed vehicles, the Red Ball Express logistic vehicles are on display and the incredible amount of material they moved through Europe during the later stages of the war.
An impress vault is also in the museum as a door to the display of guns.
The collection spans from the Revolutionary war to current times. The gun that fired the “shot heard around the world” to start the Revolutionary War at Bunker Hill is part of the collection. They know this because it was part of a family heirloom bought by Dan from the family of the person who did not wait until he saw the whites of their eyes. He was reprimanded for firing (that’s how they know it’s the gun), although he was a very good shot and hit his target.
Half of the museum is just open warehouse storage for the Korean and Vietnam era vehicles. This area is to be completed to the same display quality as the WWII section in the future.
Back at Bert and Leigh’s, Bert and I visited the NAPA Auto store in Riverton to pick up some super-duty coolant hose that I spliced into our rig. Hopefully, this will end the coolant line failure at the same point every few years. James, Bert, and I removed and painted his tractor hood that was flaking off the New Holland blue paint. It was definitely a three-person job to get the hood off and on again.
It was another nice visit with Bert and Leigh. They even had one of their prairie dogs at the exit to their place to say goodbye.
From there we headed north to Thermopolis, WY to enjoy the hot springs. The Wyoming State Bathhouse was still open for business. The changes due to COVID were limits on the number of people inside at any time (a number larger than we have ever seen there at any one time), no towels for rent (had to use our own), and a limit on how long you could be within the facility (soak limit of 20 minutes, total time in the facility 30 minutes). We had a nice soak and headed for a camping spot for the evening.
Like Colorado, the Wyoming campgrounds have gone to an online reservation system. However, our favorite campground, Lower Wind River CG, has no cell reception so you cannot make a reservation once you arrive. Because we had to drive back down the Wind River Canyon to Thermopolis to get cell reception, we just found an RV park in town to stay, the Eagle RV Park. It was the typical RV park where folks are packed in way too close, but she gave us a great deal on the price that made it lower than the campground back up the canyon where we intended to stay. Plus, it had its own laundry machines.
We headed north out of Thermopolis the next morning with clean clothes and into Wyoming’s cattle country. We climbed up Hwy 14 into the Bighorn Mountain Range. As you can see from the picture, it was a very steep climb, and the air quality was rather poor in the valley below due to the forest fire smoke from other western states.
At the top of the climb we stopped to visit the Medicine Wheel National Historic Site, a sacred Native-American site. You must hike the 1.5 miles from the parking lot to the site on top of the 9,600-foot plateau. Usually it is a gorgeous view out over the valley below, but visibility was greatly limited due to the smoke.
The last time we visited the site there was a prayer ceremony ongoing, so no pictures were allowed. This time is was unoccupied so we could take a picture of the site. This site dates back roughly 1,000 years, but other medicine wheels in the northwest and southern Canada date back 5,500 years. Archeological digs in the area date this region’s use by Native-Americans back 7,000 years, where some of the radial spokes of the medicine wheel align with stars.
The national forest campground we had stayed at previously near the medicine wheel was closed this late in the year. We drove to the eastern side of the range and found a spot open for two nights at Sibley Lake CG.
The campground had two loops: one for big campers with all the hook-ups and the other for tents or RVs that required no hook-ups. We were on the side with no hook-ups and had a nice spot. Sometime after we pulled in a 45-foot Class A RV parked in the spot next to us. Apparently, they wanted to stay there and the only spot open to reservations was next to us. They booked that with the hope that when they arrived a full hook-up site would be open. They were a nice couple from Minnesota that have been RVing for many years. I thought a rig like that would need hook-ups, but I was wrong. The second day they ran their generator, but it was quieter than other generators running near us.
On the other side of us was a couple setting up a tent for the very first time (right out of the box and plastic wrap). As I watched, eventually the Boy Scout in me kicked in and I had to give them some pointers to save then future agony in poor weather. They were heading to Yellowstone so hopefully they looked like experienced campers once they arrived there.
We hiked around the lake, but a more interesting hike was along the Nordic track surrounding the campground. There were several loops that are groomed in the winter that provide cross-country skiing through the forest near the campsite.
All three loops meet up at a common point in the forest at a warming hut, complete with two wood burning stoves and wood. I guess a complete enclosure is not required.
The trail we hiked was the Prune Creek Loop, which followed the crystal-clear Prune Creek from the warming hut to the campground. We saw what I originally thought was a black martin along the hike, but it looked more like a mink after some research. Pretty cool sighting. It was sleek and beautiful as it moved in and around the forest.
We dropped out of the Bighorn Mountains and into the smokey valley air as we said goodbye to Wyoming and headed into Montana.