Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"The 50K course begins at the HEAD OF THE DRY FORK aid station (7,650 feet) and proceeds north and to your left climbing about 500 feet up the 4-wheel drive road. Panoramic views in all directions will greet you as you follow the ridge to Riley Point. If you look down to your left you are viewing the Dry Fork Drainage where later you will be joining the 50 mile course for the remainder of the race.
- from the Bighorn Mountain Wild & Scenic Trail Run website


Here we are back in the Bighorn Mountain area, one of our favorite vacation spots (in the summer, that is).

After completing Colorado Trail Segment 4 east of Denver on Monday, Jim and I headed north with the dogs and camper to the little town of Dayton, Wyoming. We arrived at the Foothills Campground Tuesday afternoon, happy to be back in our "usual" site under a huge 150-year-old narrow-leafed cottonwood tree, shown below (it's at least six feet in diameter; we measured the circumference at 18 feet). There are lots of cottonwoods in this town, so when the fluffy stuff is flying through the air it looks almost as if it's snowing.

Foothills Campground, run by Lea and Marshall Hood, is adjacent to the city park that is the site of the finish of all four of the Bighorn Mountain Wild & Scenic Trail Runs. Runners in three of the four races also catch buses from the park to the start locations up in the mountains. About six hundred runners are competing against themselves, each other, and the rugged courses on June 15-16. This marks the sixth year for the hundred-miler. The 52-miler, 50K, and 30K runs have been going on longer. They are popular races that close out quickly.

There are good reasons for that. This is one of the best-organized and most scenic races in which we've participated around the country. Other than the Hardrock course in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, this race ranks #2 on my list for the scenery (Miwok 100K is third).

The photo below that I took last year is a view near Horse Creek Ridge, looking down toward the Tongue River Canyon. The views are fantastic as runners in all four races descend into the valley. We don't plan to run up that canyon in training this year, however. If you wonder why, read the June 6 entry in our 2006 journal! (Hmmm . . . exactly one year ago.)

Elevations in the Bighorn races range from about 4,000 feet near the finish in Dayton, up to about 9,100 feet near the Porcupine Ranger Station, location of the 100-mile turnaround and the 52-mile start. The two shorter races get up to about 8,100 feet in three locations, offering wonderful views into the valleys and canyons below. Runners see snow-topped mountains (and may get to RUN through some snow), colorful rock formations, deep green pine forests, light green aspen leaves, gorgeous flowers in a palette of colors (like Horse Creek Ridge, above), rushing streams, and a variety of large and small wildlife.

It doesn't get much better than that.

And did I mention the organization was terrific? Race officials make each runner feel welcome and do everything they can to make the course as safe and fun as possible. The aid stations are well-stocked and (wo)manned with wonderful volunteers, the course is well-marked, the pre- and post-race food is delicious, the race goodies are some of my favorites ever, like the fleece vests and pullovers from recent years. Michelle Powers Maneval, her mom (Karen Powers), Cheryl Sinclair, and the other race officials are to be commended for their high standards of excellence.

So we're more than happy to be back in this area. We like to come early so we can get out on the course to train and acclimate just a bit, since we're coming from only 1,000 feet. We can't do much mileage this year because we're tapering for the races in less than two weeks, but we can mentally focus by seeing parts of the course that are accessible -- accessible, but a  good haul to reach.

There are only four aid station locations that can be reached by car for training purposes. The one at the Tongue River Canyon trail head is off-limits to crews during the race. Footbridge (I took the photo above last year from the bridge) is a long drive out of Wyoming, into Montana, and back into Wyoming on a rough, narrow road the last few miles. It's no picnic on race day, so crews are encouraged not to go there, either.

That leaves the Head of the Dry Fork and the Porcupine Ranger Station, both very busy aid stations on race day. It's about a 36-mile drive to Dry Fork from our campground and about 43 miles one way to Porcupine from here. Both aid stations are located back dirt roads that are accessible with 2WD unless there has been a lot or rain or snow.


We decided to do our first training run this morning in the vicinity of Dry Fork Ridge. It was already cloudy, with some serious rainfall predicted for later in the day, but we took our chances anyway.

Our first stop was about a mile west of Dayton on Hwy. 14. Last year we found a dirt road where we could park and get Verizon service so we can get online on our laptop. (In Dayton and nearby Ranchester, it's extended network and we can't connect.) I took the next photo looking toward the Bighorns while Jim downloaded our e-mail:

We wound up the switchbacks on paved Hwy. 14 to the rock formation called "Fallen City." This view is east toward the valley:

Hey! There's the Jerky Guy!! For the past few years a fella has set up a camper each summer day in a pull-off below Steamboat Point, another rock formation. His large yellow sign advertises elk and beef jerky. This time we stopped to buy some of it. Yum! Expensive, but more tender and tasty than what we get at Wal-Mart or grocery stores.

There's a good view just beyond here down into the Tongue River Canyon. You can see the "steamboat" formation from the trail below.

We drove on up to the Head of the Dry Fork (elev. about 7,600 feet). We'll both be visiting the aid station on this ridge twice on race day. Jim will go through it outbound in the 100-miler at 13.4 miles and on the return at 82.5 miles. I will begin the 50K there, do a 13-mile loop, and return through Dry Fork about 14 miles later. Runners can see the aid station on the ridge for a good while coming from either direction; it's always a relief to finally get there.

We kept driving another mile up Freeze Out Road to the top of Camp Creek Ridge (elev. about 8,100 feet). We saw the first dirty snowdrifts in shaded areas of the woods around 7,800 feet. We parked the truck in a meadow at the intersection of the jeep road runners take to get to the Sheep Creek part of the course.

The view from Camp Creek Ridge toward the lower Dry Fork Ridge is scenic, even on an overcast day:

We crossed the upper part of Freeze Out Road and began our run down the Camp Creek drainage area on the wet, rocky trail (shown above) that is used in all four Bighorn races. The trail intersects Freeze Out Road again in about half a mile, then it's another third or half mile down to the Dry Fork aid station on the dirt road.

This view through the sage along the trail is a little further down:


The trail through the lower part of this drainage area is always pretty wet. Today was probably the wettest and muddiest we've ever seen it because of an excess of spring run-off this year. And guess what? More heavy rain is predicted over the next twenty-four hours! Oh, boy.

Cody, Tater, and I started about fifteen minutes before Jim. I putzed around taking photos of flowers through the drainage area before going partway back up to meet Jim.



There aren't as many flowers as last year (they bloomed earlier than normal last spring) but they are still very pretty. I can't wait to see the profusion of flowers along other parts of the trail this year. The photos below are from this year. You can see even more in the Bighorn entries in our 2006 journal (link at the left).

Alpine Sunflowers:


Alpine Shooting Star:


Blue Phlox:

Mountain Avens:


Medley of wildflowers:

Mountain Bluebells:

The moral of the story is this: your trip up or down through the Camp Creek drainage will be a lot more enjoyable if you focus more on the beautiful wildflowers than on the puddles, rocks, and mud!


We turned onto Freeze Out Road and headed down to the Head of the Dry Fork, a three-way intersection at the site of the busiest aid station used during the race. This is a view of Camp Creek off to the side of the road:

Instead of going down the rough 4WD road through the Dry Fork drainage as we often do . . .

. . . we hiked UP the even rougher jeep road that takes 50K runners to their first ridge (Riley) at about 8,100 feet.

It's been several years since I last did the 50K and I wanted to check it out. I love the views down into the Dry Fork drainage from here:

Looking further up the jeep road, which is more of a hike than a run for many of the 50K runners right at the beginning of the race:

We turned around before topping out at Riley Point when we heard thunder. I took this perspective of Freeze Out Road on the way back down to Dry Fork Ridge:

Runners in all four races have to go up this road (that is, if 100-milers make it back to Dry Fork on the return).

We stayed on Freeze Out Road  all the way back to the truck. Even though it's twice as far as going back up the Camp Creek drainage (wimps!), we thought we'd get there faster on the road. There was a lot of water running in the ditch along the road. Both dogs loved running through it, and Cody did his goofy rolling-around-in-the-snowdrift thing as we got closer to the truck on Camp Creek Ridge.

Clouds were starting to blanket the ridge as we neared the truck. We just made it! It began raining as we drove back down to the campground in Dayton, about 5,000 feet lower in elevation. Runners have quite a drop to the finish.


(Sorry. That's a modification of the famous Appalachian Trail thru-hiker motto of "No rain, no pain, no Maine.")

Rain in moderation is good. Much of the western United States has had several years of drought, so the land can really use it. But we're concerned about the prediction for HEAVY rain, flooding, and snow at the higher elevations the next twenty-four hours -- and not just because of the race. We're living in our fifth wheel camper on flat land about 200 feet from the already-high Tongue River . . . and right under that huge tree shown in the first photo above!

Paranoia sets in,

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

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil