2008 Southwest Tour

Northern Utah and Wyoming

Wednesday, May 21: Provo to Lehi

We woke to heavy rain and cold temps Ė 40 degrees. That was a shock after months of sunshine and the recent heat wave. Jim had made an appointment at a local podiatrist, so after a breakfast biscuit and coffee, we went to see if he could do anything about Jimís foot. It was a very in-depth exam. The doctor confirmed that it was Mortonís Neuroma and recommended surgery, but agreed to try a shot in the nerve for now. Despite being given a local anaesthetic, the shot hurt.

Thanks to the nasty weather, we decided to just do laundry and find another motel to rest while Jim recovered. We slept badly yesterday, so a slow day was welcome. The rain cleared up but the mountains remained covered with clouds. We got glimpses of fresh snow on the peaks above us. It wasnít a good day to be camping.

Thursday, May 22: Timpanagos Cave to Evanston

Bighorn sheep The trail to the cave There's still snow It was a steep climb

Chocolate colored rock

When we were visiting all the caves last year (Carlsbad, Mammoth, Wind, Jewel, and Lehman Caves), someone recommended Timpanagos National Monument as another good cavern. He was right. We had a good time at Timpanagos, despite the weather. It started to drizzle as we approached American Canyon and continued to rain all afternoon. To visit the cave, you must first hike 1Ĺ miles up to the entrance, climbing 1100í up the mountain. As we climbed, the rain turned to sleet. We were heated from the climb, then froze while waiting for the tour to start. The ranger at the entrance offered us the use of the employee warm up room with an electric heater so we were able to dry off and get warm before going into the cool cave. Iíd have been in trouble otherwise. Because of the weather, there werenít a lot of tourists and they waited until there were enough people gathered to make it worth doing the tour. We had about a 30 minute wait until there was a group of nine gathered. The cave was worth it though.

Inside Timpanagos Timpanagos

Timpanagos isnít very large, only Ĺ mile long, but it has a lot of very diverse cave decorations: stalactites and stalagmites, flowstone, popcorn, cave bacon, lots of helictites, even a shield or two. Every room was filled with beauty. I liked the chocolate and caramel flowstone. It was a narrow and very wet cave. The drip of water was constant and there were several crystal clear pools Ė very pretty. Our guide was very enthusiastic. Her emphasis was on using your imagination. Do you see the camel, the heart of Timpanagos, the alligator? Some of the calcite was green with nickel, some brown or gold. Lovely.

The canyon is dramatic with steep rugged walls. In the early days visitors climbed straight up; now there is a paved trail that switchbacks steeply up the side wall. We could see other trails across the canyon, but Iím not sure they were still hikeable since they were partly engulfed in rockslides. One unexpected treat was seeing a herd of a dozen or so desert bighorns at the entrance to the canyon.

Flowstone Stalactites and stalagmites Stalactites

Friday, May 23: Drive to Lander

Fresh snow in Wyoming Lizard

The bad weather continues. We stayed at a motel again last night rather than deal with the cold and wet. Today was actually worse. We headed east to Rock Springs, Wyoming where we intended to visit a rock art site called White Mountain. It was white all right: white with snow. At noon the temperature was 34 degrees and snow was falling. The sagebrush hills were covered with a layer of fresh white snow. We decided against heading out on the dirt road to the site, given the conditions. Without 4WD, some of these back roads can be a real problem when wet. Unfortunately, all the roads in Wyoming are likely to be wet and muddy for the next several days, even if this low-pressure system moves on, which it may not do for a few days. So where does that leave us? Thereís not a lot we can do when itís sleeting except hole up somewhere. Weíve spent too much money on motels as it is, but this sure isnít good camping weather. Sometimes I wish we had an RV, then the weather wouldnít matter, but we wouldnít be able to drive to some of the places we go with a behemoth either.

Anyhow, we decided to skip White Mountain and head north. Weíll hole up somewhere and try again tomorrow. In the meantime, I can enjoy the snowy desert and continue spotting antelope, cattle and sheep grazing on the lusher than usual grasslands. The clouds are low. Poor Jim, he gets to deal with wet roads and near whiteout conditions. Heís not enjoying this drive. Iíve enjoyed all the wildlife today: well over 100 antelope, a couple of hawks and sandhill cranes by a pond. Nice.

Saturday, May 24: Legend Rock and Medicine Lodge

Legend Rock Petroglyphs Legend Rock Legend Rock Rabbit?

We spent last night in Lander and enjoyed the bookstores and a good dinner in town. The sun came out for a while, so we had beautiful views of snow-covered mountains all around. We woke to gray skies, but no rain or snow. Unfortunately, after three days of rain and snow, the desert is soaked. We drove to Moneta on good paved roads, then tried to head out on a gravel road to the Castle Garden site. Within half a mile we got into trouble in a patch of thick soft mud. It was deep and very wet. We slithered and slid through it, arriving safely on the other side thanks to some good driving on Jimís part as we spun almost out of control at one point. When Jim saw a pool of water completely covering the road a short distance ahead, he turned around. Since itís 19 or 28 miles to the rock art site (depending on which sign you believe) and weíd have to get back on the same road, we decided to leave. It was disappointing, but a smart decision, especially since there were black clouds dumping rain a few miles to the west.

Dinwoody style images

So on we went to Thermopolis, home of the best of Wyomingís public petroglyph sites, Legend Rock. The drive to Thermopolis through Wind River Canyon was pretty. Itís a narrow tall canyon with several different layers of colored rock and a rushing whitewater river. Heading north, the Owl Creek Mountains and the Absarokas beyond were blanketed with snow. The land is sage grassland, just turning green. There were antelope and deer beside the road. I saw my first ever ring necked pheasant Ė actually, we spotted four of them. That was fun. They are beautiful birds.

The Legend Rock site is actually about 26 miles from town, behind a locked gate, but we were able to obtain a key at the Chamber of Commerce. The road to Legend Rock is mostly paved; only the last 5 Ĺ miles were dirt and they werenít as waterlogged as the area near Castle Garden.

Images within images A very different style

When we reached the site we discovered that there were cliffs both to the left and to the right. Both had images. The rock art in the Bighorn and Wind River Basins is very different from anything weíve seen before. Itís called the Dinwoody style and, like the Barrier style in Utah, it includes large otherworldy anthropomorphs. They used a lot of bird images, and the anthropomophs have claws instead of feet and wings or an odd number of fingers and toes. Many have lined bodies (not just an outline, but not fully pecked either, more like stripes). Like the shamanic figures in Utah, they generally have horn-like headdresses. Most of the images are really odd. There were also animals: deer, elk, dogs, rabbits, turtles, birds and some odd ones that were hard to figure out. Age is unknown, but supposedly some go back to the archaic periods (2000 years or more) and some are modern. The site was a very good one with some really clear images, very odd and different. It almost made up for missing the other two sites.

Legend Rock images Legend Rock petroglyphs Very strange!

We ended up at Medicine Lodge Archaeological Site, a state park with camping and rock art. The images arenít like the Dinwoody petroglyphs. These are mostly shields and shield people. The entire rock face is densely carved with images. Some of the panels were really large: a large deer with two arrows in it, and a huge shield man with bear paws. There were pictographs as well, but most of those were either faded or covered with graffiti. The images were very hard to see, and especially to photograph, because the rock is a different kind of surface. Some of the images were chalked or outlined in blue. The images donít have enough contrast to show well. All in all, it was interesting, but not as exciting as Legend Rock.

Wyoming desert

We were lucky to get a good campsite, given that itís Memorial Day weekend. There were a lot of people, mostly in RVs with ATVs. We got one of the quieter corners. Lots of ATVs and dirt bikes passed by on the main road, but there was no loud music. One area had the music blasting out rock and roll. Itís a pretty area, an old farm in a green valley between red rock cliffs. There was a large herd of deer in the meadow next to our campsite. A busy stream runs though the campground. The fruit trees were in bloom and the trees were full of birds: bluebirds, robins and starlings, mostly.

Deer at the campground Medicine Lodge Petroglyphs Medicine Lodge Deer petroglyph

Sunday, May 25: Cody, Wyoming

Pheasant Marmot Shiprock Pictographs at Medicine Lodge Wind ruffled hawk

It rained during the night, waking us up, but otherwise we had a peaceful night. I slept late, snuggled in my warm bed in the back of the truck. We went back to the cliff face to see if they looked any different under the brighter morning light, then looked up at Shiprock to see if we could spot the pictographs high above the campground that we missed last night. We did.

We left Medicine Lodge around 10:30. It was cloudy, but dry. We were following a very slow car, so when we reached the turnoff to a scenic byway heading north, we decided to try it. It started out well, on a good hard graded dirt road. The country was beautiful: long red ridges covered in bright green grass with snowy blue mountains (the Bighorns) beyond. As we climbed, the road deteriorated, getting softer, wetter, rockier and more deeply rutted. We did a lot of slipping and sliding in the muck and mire. After about 12 miles, the road forked. Our branch looked very soft and wet and there were no fresh tracks. That was a big red flag, since it meant no one had driven up from the other side in the past two days Ė or longer. We walked forward and it didnít look too bad, but we decided not to risk it. We didnít want to get stuck 20 miles from the nearest paved road on a byway that no one uses. For all we knew, the road might be blocked or washed out ahead. So we turned around and headed back the way we had come. It was a pretty drive. The red ridges were gorgeous and we saw antelope, deer and an immature eagle or hawk sitting on a fence post.

We drove to Cody and decided to stay the night in town. It was cold and cloudy with occasional sprinkles so driving into the mountains didnít seem like a great idea. Besides, weíve never been to Cody and itís a nice tourist town with lots of shops, motels and restaurants. Sierra Trading Post has an outlet and there were a couple of other outdoor stores and some nice galleries. Most of the shops were closed, either because itís Sunday or because of the holiday weekend, but we enjoyed our wandering and a good burger at the Proud Cut Saloon. Itís strange to see so many vacant motels on a holiday weekend, but I suppose the weather has scared off a lot of tourists. It worked well for us. $42 isnít a bad price for a motel in a tourist town.

Red ridges in Wyoming The road north of Medicine Lodge

Monday, May 26: Memorial Day in Cody

Another rainy drizzly dreary day. We packed up and checked out of the motel, but were put off by the clouds covering the mountains and the continuous downpour, so after looking Ė in vain Ė for an open bookstore, we decided to visit the Buffalo Bill Heritage Center, a museum complex that includes a Museum of Natural History, a Firearms Museum (2700 guns!), a Museum of Western Art (Remington, Russell, Bierstadt, Catlin, Moran, Etc.) a Museum of the Plains Indian and, of course, a Buffalo Bill Museum. We didnít see it all, but we spent several hours exploring the exhibits. I liked the western art best, though some of the Indian artifacts, like the incredible beadwork, were really nice.

When we emerged around 3:30 it was still pouring, so we went back to the motel and got another room. Itís nicer than yesterday's Ė a suite with kitchen Ė for the same price. Evidently the rain has kept a lot of people in town who planned to go to Yellowstone. We enjoyed a mediocre Italian dinner before returning to the warmth of our room.

Tuesday, May 27: Yellowstone National Park, Tower CG (4 miles)

Deer Elk Elk herd Yellowstone antelope

We had a terrific day in Yellowstone. It was gray and cool, but we only saw occasional sprinkles, no real rain. On the drive between Cody and Cooke City, we drove into the clouds. For a while we saw nothing but white: clouds all around and snow on the road and on the hills beside the road. Eventually we descended a bit and lost the whiteout. The snow got deeper as we approached Cooke City. Most of the National Forest campgrounds were still closed. We took our time, taking photos and looking for wildlife. We saw three elk and four deer herds before we reached town. We ate lunch, for old times sake, at the Beartooth Cafe. We were surprised and sorry to learn that Pat, the owner who was so helpful to us last time we were there, died in an accident a week or two after we met him. He was a nice man.

The road to Yellowstone Snowy mountains near Cooke City

After lunch we headed into Yellowstone National Park. It looks quite different Ė very beautiful Ė streaked with snow. We started to see wildlife near the Lamar River and soon it was constant. There were hundreds of bison, pronghorns and elk in the open meadows along the river. Later we saw a couple of herds of bighorns. One crossed the road in front of us; the others were scattered on the hills across from Tower Falls. There were a couple of baby sheep.

We saw a horde of tourists with cameras and binoculars stopped by the road. It was a bear jam. We found a place to pull over and spotted three black bears: mama with two yearlings or two year old cubs. A little later we saw another black bear hiding behind a tree.

Snowy peaks bison

Up the road another mile was a big black sow (18 years old according to the ranger who was monitoring the situation) asleep on a log. Up a tree above her were two cubs that were only a few months old. We watched for a while, but nothing was moving, so we drove on to Tower Falls. Weíve seen it before, but we walked out to the overlook for a second view. Itís a nice waterfall. Afterward, we ate an ice cream at the cafť and headed up to the campground to see if they had space. We got lucky as we found one of the few flat spaces around. They have tent platforms, so the parking spots arenít necessarily flat. There were only about 20 sites. We were surprised to learn that nearby Roosevelt Lodge isnít open yet. Itís after Memorial Day after all. Several of the campgrounds are still closed.

black bear Sleeping bear

Since it was still early (4:30) I went for a walk up the road. The gate was locked since there was still too much snow on the highway. I hoped for some open vistas, but there are trees lining the road so I only got occasional glimpses though the trees of sage covered hills to the right and green meadows to the left. After 45 minutes or so I turned around and found that I had climbed enough to have nice views back to Specimen Ridge. There were bison on both sides: a few in the sage next to the road and a large herd on the green ridge. I was carrying binoculars, so I could see elk grazing in the middle of the bison herd. There were a couple of deer down by the creek below the road. When I was almost back at the campground I spotted more bighorns on the ridge above the cafť/store.

Bighorn sheep Cubs up a tree

Jim was tucked in in the back of the truck, but he was willing to drive back to where the mother bear with cubs had been to see if she had woken up from her nap yet. Sure enough, all were awake. We spent an hour watching them. Mama ate grass and flowers while the cubs (one brown and one black) either played or hid in the trees. We didnít get many pictures since they were a good distance away, but with binoculars we could watch them wrestling and climbing up and down the trees. It was a lot of fun. There was a ranger keeping an eye on things, moving the traffic along as best he could and making sure some idiot on foot didnít approach too close. Itís not easy because everyone wants to see the bears and they donít seem to understand that parking in the middle of the road isnít acceptable. The crowd of watchers with cameras was just as bad. The shoulder was narrow, so many just stood in the road, blocking traffic. We ended up sitting down in the grass so we could enjoy the show. The cubs really were adorable as they wrestled and scrambled up and down the trees. There were lots of oohs and ahs from the watching throngs.

Jim: This was a really mixed day for me. It started with the miserable driving over the mountains west of Cody. And then the news about Pat's death. That hit me hard. Partly because it was so unexpected. We left Cooke City on a Saturday in 2006 and he died a week later. He'd been talking about retiring and living in the Cooke City area. They had a nice home down by the river in Silver Gate. It was a reminder that life is short and unpredictable.

Finding out that the Roosevelt/Tower Lodge was closed was just more bad news. We've spent the last couple hundred miles drooling at the prospect of their rib dinner. When we were here in 2006 it was one of the highlights of the hike.

But the bears were a positive finish to the day. We got a few good photos and some bad video of them. But it was really fun watching them.

Wednesday, May 28: Yellowstone, Madison CG

Yellowstone Mountain goats Mama bear and cubs Bighorn sheep
Waterfall Petrified tree

We continued to play tourist in the park. The weather was variable, alternating blue skies and sunshine with thunderstorms and sprinkles.

We decided to revisit the Old Faithful area, stopping mostly in places we didnít visit when we hiked through the Park in 1999. We saw lots of bubbling hot springs and boiling glaciers. A few of the smaller ones erupted for us. We did see Old Faithful go off on schedule.

Most of our wildlife sightings were in the morning: bison, elk, bighorns, antelope as well as two new black bears, plus mama and the cubs near Tower, asleep again. We didnít get any more bear pictures since they were all half hidden by trees, but it was fun to see them. I love bears! The bison were everywhere, including the middle of the road. There were more people in this part of the park, including hordes of fishermen in the Firehole River, but it wasnít quite as insane as it gets in August. We watched a couple of ospreys circle the river, hover, and swoop down to the water. One did a funny mid-air shimmy to rid itself of water on its wings before it flew off.

White Dome Geyser Bubbling pool

The thermal areas were interesting, though we took few pictures. Too much steam and most of the colors werenít as brilliant as I remembered Ė more milky blue than sapphire. We yelled at one kid for stepping off the boardwalk in order to look at a pool of water. White Dome Geyser went off just as we were starting to leave the basin. That was fun. The steam rising from the boiling waters reminds me of early morning fog on a lake or river Ė pretty. Warm too. It was in the 40ís all day, so the warm wet steam actually felt good.

We reserved a space at Madison Campground when we drove past it on the way to Old Faithful, hoping that the bad weather wouldnít linger. Madison is a huge campground with 300 or so spaces, mostly flat.

Sapphire pool Old Faithful Basin

We ate dinner at Old Faithfulís cafeteria--a surprisingly decent lasagna, better than the one we ate in Cody anyway. It was raining at the time and it seemed like a good idea to eat early rather than wait until our usual dinnertime and cook dinner in the rain.

Yellowstone is recovering from the fires of 1988. The trees are definitely coming back in most areas of the park. The new growth is dense and getting tall. Each time we come back the difference is noticeable. In 1999 the trees were knee high. In 2006 shoulder high. On our last CDT thruhike we saw that there are still some places in the Scapegoat that havenít begun to grow back, but theyíre rare and they may actually be from later fires. It will take time for the forests to recover completely, but they will.

Goats or sheep? You're not mama! Another waterfall Lots of bison

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Created: 1 Jan 2009
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