Jim and I are so happy to be back in this area! Yellowstone
National Park and the Tetons in western Wyoming are spectacular, but we prefer the solitude of the Bighorn
Mountain Range in
the northeastern part of the state. The scenery and wildflowers are just as stunning, the mountains nearly as
high (up to 13,165 feet on Cloud Peak), and the chance to see wildlife even better
with fewer tourists around.
We love it here!
"Here" is adjacent to the Bighorn National Forest, a large,
rugged area encompassing over a million square miles of public property with
nearly unlimited opportunities for recreation, sightseeing, history, and
adventure. We are settled for the next month at the Foothills Campground in
little Dayton, Wyoming, a twenty-mile drive north and west of Sheridan.
Yesterday we could see the beautiful snow-covered peaks of
the Bighorns from many miles away in the flatter rangelands of eastern Wyoming.
It's always a thrill coming from the east to get the first glimpses of the
Rockies as they rise abruptly from the plain. My heart quickens in anticipation.
I love the mountains and never tire of them. I get the same feeling when I see
the Front Range in Colorado.
This view of the Bighorns from Highway 14 near the freeway exit at Ranchester shows the snow-capped Cloud Peak Wilderness, the highest
part of the range:
You get similar views along I-90 all the way from Buffalo
to the Montana border as the freeway heads mostly north/south for sixty miles
through the valley.
I took this shot of the Bighorns closer to the town of Dayton, which you
can see in the foreground:
The Bighorns are full of deep canyons, steep rock cliffs
and other rock formations, beautiful gently-sloped alpine meadows, lush
grasslands, cool evergreen forests, pristine lakes, and rushing streams.
Elevations range from 4,600 feet to over 13,000 feet. The national forest is 80
miles long and 30 miles wide, plenty of room to find solitude if you get off the
Numerous large and small game
animals call the Bighorns home. This is paradise for wildlife, people who like
to view wildlife, and anglers and hunters. There are large
herds of the namesake bighorn sheep, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, elk, moose,
and some black bears. Smaller species include waterfowl and upland game birds,
yellow-bellied marmots, and fish.
Ranchers also pay the government to graze their cattle and
sheep in the high meadows during the spring and summer. All over Wyoming you'll
see signs warning of "open grazing," meaning you better watch for large critters
on the road as they wander the unfenced rangeland.
You don't see that too often on the eastern
seaboard, do you?
PLAY ALL DAY - OR ALL
Three paved highways carry visitors over and through the
Bighorn Range: Routes 14, 14A, and 16. Each road offers scenic canyon
entryways leading to sky-high meadows and forests. Some folks are content to
just drive through on their way to Yellowstone, maybe stopping at some of the scenic overlooks to take
photos (such as Steamboat Point, below) or go to the visitor's center.
Others spend days or weeks exploring the region on foot,
horseback, bicycle, ATV, or vehicles. There are hundreds of miles of dirt roads
We are here primarily for the trails - and the Bighorn
Mountain Scenic Trail 100-Mile Race that begins on June 16, only a couple weeks
from now. Yikes!
There are many opportunities for outdoor recreation all
year long in the Bighorns, including snow mobiling and cross-country and
downhill skiing in the winter when the mountains are blanketed in several feet
of snow. Popular warm-weather activities include camping, hiking, running,
mountain climbing, cycling, horseback riding, taking a pack trip, swimming,
boating, fishing, sight-seeing, photography, viewing wildlife, identifying
numerous wildflowers, birds, and trees, learning about the history of the
region, and studying the geology.
While we are here we'll describe the areas we visit, mostly
on training runs and trips to historical or scenic areas.
This journal will be part running log and part travelogue. You'll see lots of
gorgeous scenery, colorful wildflowers, and as many animals as we can capture
well on, um, pixels. (Doesn't sound the same as "film," does it?)
The Bighorns are full of interesting canyons
with roaring rivers, including the Bighorn (duh!), Little Bighorn, and
Tongue Rivers in the northern part of the national forest near where we are
staying. Our race begins and ends through the Tongue River Canyon and dips into
the Little Bighorn River Canyon to the Footbridge Aid Station twice on the
out-and-back 100-mile course (once in the 50-miler).
This afternoon we decided to do some heat
training in the nearby Tongue River Canyon. Although it was a brisk 43 degrees
this morning (we wanted cooler weather, right?), it was in the 80s at the campground
and probably hotter in the canyon with the sun radiating off the rocks. We
started off at about 4,200 feet at the trail head. It was hot even at about
5,000 feet where we turned around.
The 100-mile race starts on the dirt Tongue River Road
four miles from our campground in Dayton. We will run about a mile on the road
along the river, below, to the trailhead parking lot where we take a
single-track trail for a couple of miles through one of the most beautiful canyons you
This is a view of "The Needle" rock formation
that runners will see from the road:
Today Jim, Cody, Tater, and I started our
out-and-back run at the trailhead. The rocky path undulates through the canyon,
towering cliffs on either side. The trail rises steadily above the thundering
river, which is high with snowmelt, but follows it closely for over a mile.
Following are several photos I took while we
ran and walked through the canyon.
I took this shot of The Needle from the trail,
After a couple miles into our training run (which
is about three miles into
the 100-mile race), we came to our first meadow. Note the rock cairn:
There aren't very many cairns on the Bighorn race course,
but they are common elsewhere in the Rockies.
Tater and Cody followed Jim through the meadow and up the
Jim kept saying, "Let's just go to the top of the next
hill." You know what that can mean - no end in sight! We were just
running/hiking as we felt, with no clear turn-around. Both of us are the
adventuresome type that is curious about what's around the next bend, or over
the next hill. So on we went . . .
. . . to a second meadow, where we decided to turn around.
Our legs felt pretty good because we hadn't run in several days since the
Berryman races, but we were huffing and puffing up the hills because we're
basically flatlanders, living at about 1,000 feet.
On the way back to the trailhead, I took another shot of
The Needle. I hope Jim and I get to see this view around Mile 94 in the race in
a couple weeks; half of the runners will probably be out of the race well
There are actually four Bighorn races the weekend of
June 16-17. The 100-mile race begins at 11AM on Friday four miles out the Tongue
River Road from Dayton. The 50-miler (really 52 miles long), 50K, and 30K races
all begin on Saturday morning at various times and from various places up in the
mountains. Finish time for all four races
is 9 PM Saturday night.
The 100-miler goes out 48 miles and back 52 miles. The
three shorter races are all point-to-point.
The high point on the 50-mile and 100-mile courses is near
the Porcupine Ranger Station (9,100 feet). All four races end at the park in
Dayton, adjacent to the campground where we are staying. Elevation there is
about 4,200 feet, making for a significant elevation loss for the three
point-to-point races. (That in no way implies those courses are easy;
The 100-milers begin at about 4,200 feet, go UP to a high
point of 9,100 feet (with many other significant ups and downs in between), then
come back "down." It sounds delightful until you understand there is a total
elevation gain and loss over one hundred rugged miles - at altitude - of about 36,000
And that's why so many folks have DNF'd this race.
Meanwhile, the finishers in all four races have to
run the relatively flat five-mile dirt Tongue River Canyon Road into Dayton at the end of
How hard can that be?? The footing is much better
than much of the single-track trails or jeep roads we're on during the race,
we're running near the river, and we should be able to "smell the barn" by then.
Not. There is no shade. Most runners finish in the heat of
the day or early evening. Everyone is tired, no matter how far they've run. And
it's flat, requiring the repetitive use of the same beaten-up muscles and
(Man, I better watch these graphic ultra running
descriptions or EVERYbody is gonna want to run this race!)
Again, I hope Jim and I have the opportunity to run this
final five mile stretch because it will mean a major ultra accomplishment. This
is only the fifth year for the 100-miler (the other races are older) and there
just haven't been that many finishers yet. I don't believe any women my age (57)
have finished the 100-miler yet.
Wouldn't it be nice to have that distinction for a little
As they say in these parts, "You betcha!"
Next: a taste of local Western culture and history,
and a return visit to Billings, Montana after moving away two+ years ago.
Happily playing in the mountains again,