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 18½
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
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
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.
THE JOURNEY TO DRY FORK
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:
DRY FORK IS ANYTHING BUT DRY!
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 Shooting Star:
Medley of wildflowers:
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
TRAIL TO RILEY POINT (50K COURSE)
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
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.
NO RAIN, NO PAIN, NO BIGHORN
(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
© 2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil