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Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"It's not how fast you get there, but how long you stay."
- Patty Berg 

Driving west into the Bighorn Mountains on Hwy. 14 from Dayton, where we are camping, you gain about 4,000 feet in elevation in just a few miles. The views back down into the plains are impressive as you wind higher and higher:

That photo was taken at an overlook near the "Fallen City," a rock formation that has mostly fallen in huge chunks into the valley below. The jumble of house-sized boulders at the bottom reminded me of a tame version of the notorious Mahoosuc Notch on the Appalachian Trail in Maine. If there was a trail here, you could much more easily walk between or around the boulders, however.

The geological history of the Bighorns is as interesting as the cultural and economic history of the region. On the way up to the high meadows on Hwy. 14 are several signs dating the rock formations from 205 million years to 2.5 billion years.


That's billion with a "B." Older than me, Jim teased.

I didn't take a photo of those ancient rocks, though. I was more interested in the Lupine-filled meadow and nearby mountains when I took the photo of the sign. Just to the right is Steamboat Point (below), a large rock outcropping that can be seen from another angle on the Bighorn course.

Just below us, we had passed a local entrepreneur in a camper who was selling elk and buffalo jerky to passersby:

The drive up to the high meadows around Burgess Junction, where Highways 14 and 14A split, is similar to the Beartooth Highway a little farther west between Bozeman, Montana and Yellowstone National Park. There are interesting rock formations, deep canyons, patches of snow above 8,000 feet, aspen trees around 7,000 feet, dark green evergreens, wide meadows full of colorful wildflowers (the lupines are peaking), and blue sky that goes on and on. Nirvana!

This is a photo I took near Burgess Junction. The snow-capped mountains in the background are in the Cloud Peak Wilderness. Cloud Peak is the highest mountain in the Bighorns.

There are numerous places to camp free in the Bighorn National Forest. We passed by several campers the size of ours, boon-docking a couple hundred feet off the roads. There are also several nice park campgrounds with fees ranging from $9 to $15. The one we drove through had water pumps but no other services.

Shortly after the Burgess Junction Visitor Center we hung a right onto a dirt road for about ten miles through the high country, past the former site of the town of Burgess, over creeks, and through open meadows and patches of trees. We looked carefully for elk, moose, bears, antelope, and deer, but saw none.

Zero. Zilch. Mid-afternoon is NOT a good time to spot most wildlife.

Wanting to get in some heat training, we waited until 3 PM to get on the trail today. It was in the upper 80s at our campground down in Dayton (elev. just under 4,000 feet) and probably in the low 70s at Dry Fork Ridge (elev. about 7,500 feet), where we parked:

The hillsides were covered in a profusion of wildflowers, most notably beautiful blue Lupines, shown in the close-up below:

I believe the flowers to the right of the Lupines are Larkspur. There were many more flowers in this area than down in the Tongue River Canyon, and they weren't as wilted. The eastern slopes of the Bighorns are very dry. See the cracks in the dirt in the photo below of Western Spring Beauties?

Dry Fork Ridge is on Freeze Out Road, a forest service road that is fairly smooth. It is the site of a critical aid station during the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Runs. In the 100-miler, it comes at 13.4 miles outbound and 82.5 miles back (and about 33.5 miles into the 52-miler). The 50K and 30K races both begin at Dry Fork.

This is one of only three major aid stations that is easily accessible to vehicles. Translation: fully-stocked during the race, one of the few drop bag locations, and accessible to crews.

Most of our training runs will be from Dry Fork the next two weeks. It is a few miles closer than Porcupine Ranger Station (the turn-around for the 100-miler, and beginning of the 52-miler). We can go two directions from Dry Fork and the elevations are higher than running in from the Tongue River Canyon on the shorter runs we'll do as we taper for the race. Those are the only reasonable places for us to access the race course.


Since we planned to run just one or two hours, we took both Tater and Cody with us. Cody, our young Energizer Doggie, can run seemingly forever, but Tater's good for only two or three hours now. She's almost ten and has arthritis and hip dysplasia. She still acts like a puppy sometimes, though. Here she is following Jim on one of today's trails:

We decided we'd go pretty slowly. Jim and I weren't sure how we'd handle the elevation (our route went over 8,000 feet), it hasn't been that long since the Berryman race, and we plan to do a long run up here tomorrow. We both felt better than we expected, and were able to run quite a bit of the forest service roads and trails today.

After letting the dogs get water at a little creek on the side of the ridge, we headed up Freeze Out Road southeast toward the location of the Upper Sheep Creek aid station. We climbed the dirt road and a rutted field (much drier than usual) to dirt Forest Service Road 201. This view looks back down the mountain toward Dry Fork. That cattle grate is tough on the feet and will be an obstacle for us at 83+ miles.

We followed this very runnable road for about a mile . . .


. . . until the course veers off onto a rocky single-track trail above a little creek:

There were still some patches of rapidly-melting snow by the creek. Jim tossed icy snowballs to the dogs:

All four of us appreciated the cooler temps next to that shady creek.

The next photo shows Jim running down Freeze Out Road toward Dry Fork Ridge as we returned to our truck. Cody was waiting for "Mommy" (that would be me).

We estimate we ran about six miles today. It was great to be back in this area! We're really looking forward to a longer run tomorrow from Dry Fork, going the other direction on the course.

On the way back down to Dayton between 5 PM and 6 PM, we naturally spotted quite a few deer and antelope - it was dinnertime, and they were out foraging. Jim took this photo of two deer feeding near the road:

Next: 20-mile run with a new friend from Dry Fork Ridge to Stock Tank and back. The wildflowers are spectacular there!

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil