This is the beginning of Chapter 3 in our summer sojourn out West:
a month in what is perhaps our second-favorite mountain range in the United
States, the Bighorn Mountains of northern Wyoming. (Our very favorite
is the San Juan Range in southwestern Colorado, which is the next
Bighorn Mountain scene: Jim relaxes among the wildflowers
on Horse Creek
above the Tongue
River Canyon (photo taken 6-5-06)
This morning we finished up some errands in Rapid City and
headed west on I-90 through the northern end of the Black Hills
in South Dakota and Wyoming. This was a rather short drive by
our standards, only 279 miles. I was pleasantly surprised by the
light traffic, considering this is Memorial Weekend. At one
point we were in a convoy of five RVs with no cars or trucks in sight in
either direction. There was a bit more traffic after
I-25 traffic merged with I-90 in Buffalo, WY.
We've been lucky this trip with not too terribly much road
construction going on to impede our progress. We did hit several
short construction zones today. Our little joke in mountainous and/or
northern states is, "Why can't they do this during the winter
when people aren't on vacation?" Yeah, right.
This may be the last time we see diesel prices in the $2.20/gallon
range for a while. We hear that prices are starting to go up
just in time for summer travel and we expect fuel will be higher in both
Sheridan, WY, and nearby Dayton, the little town that was
WHERE DID SUMMER GO?
The heat wave that brought very unseasonable 90-degree
temperatures to Wyoming and South Dakota this
week has been pushed east by a cool, wet front. Bright sunshine
turned to overcast skies by the time we approached Dayton early
this afternoon. Temperatures were 25-30 degrees cooler than a
day or two before.
It appeared to be raining and/or snowing in the
We were surprised to learn that Hwy. 14A from Burgess Junction
to Lovell, in the northernmost part of the Bighorn National
Forest, was just being opened today! Wow. That's at about 8,000
- 10,000 feet elevation. We were hoping to be able to do a
training run on the race course tomorrow from Dry Fork. The
forest service road to access Dry Fork begins at Burgess
Junction. We decided not only that a run from Dry Fork wasn't
realistic quite yet, but also that one from Porcupine Ranger Station, the
race's high point at about 9,100 feet, might not be possible for
several more days or weeks if there was that much snow still up
We'll have to check with locals involved with the
race to see which trails are passable.
Pretty apple blossoms on one of the Hoods'
trees at our campground
It still looks like early spring in Dayton, which lies at about
4,000 feet in elevation. The Tongue River is
flowing high and fast from the snow that has already melted in
the mountains. Everything is bright green, from grasses in yards
and rangelands to deciduous trees full of new leaves. Fruit
trees and flowerbeds are bright with perky spring blooms.
The lilacs are at their peak, most noticeably a long row along
Tongue Canyon Road near the end of the race course. They were
also just peaking in Los Alamos, NM during our recent visit.
Although we were much farther south then, we were 3,000 to 4,000
feet higher in elevation than Dayton. Interesting how that
Lilacs blooming near the river at the
Only the evergreens still seem stuck in winter here. It they haven't
begun putting out their new soft green growth tips down in Dayton, they truly
are still in winter at the
higher elevations in the nearby mountains. I'm curious to see how
many wildflowers are in bloom up there. They are almost always gorgeous
by race day in mid-June. Over the month that we are in this area
we should see a nice progression of flowers in bloom at the various
elevations from 4,000 to 10,000 feet.
THE FOOTHILLS CAMPGROUND
Our "home" until June 22 is the familiar
campground where we
have stayed half a dozen times (or more) when we've run one of
the Bighorn Mountain Wild & Scenic Trail Runs. When we lived two
hours away in Billings, MT we'd take the camper for only the
weekend, since Jim was still working. After he retired and we
moved to Virginia, we reserved our favorite spot for two weeks
to a month to take advantage of the campground's inexpensive
weekly or monthly rates.
If only we could find the amenities, space, and nearby
attractions (specifically, gorgeous mountains) for so little at
other private campgrounds! We don't need or want all the
amenities a fancy KOA-type campground has, and we aren't willing to pay
$40-50 or more each night to stay in such a place. When we stay
in a private campground (as opposed to a free site in a national
forest) we want some space for privacy, access to water and a
dump station, perhaps electricity, and sometimes a sewer
connection. If we get decent internet service (via our cell
phones or WiFi) and a couple TV stations, we're happy -- as long
as the price is reasonable. We often pay $15-20/night for
amenities like this in state or regional parks or military
How about getting a large, grassy, pull-through site (see above) under some
big old cottonwood trees, water, electricity, sewer, and WiFi in
the camper for only $275 a month?? Our month is 31 days, from
May 22 to June 22 (if it had been fewer days, we would have adjusted the dates on the
Do the math: that's only $8.87 a day for a site
that goes for $24/day if someone is staying less than a week!!
The only downside is lousy TV reception with our new digital
converter box, so Jim gladly agreed to pay an extra $1.50/day for
cable TV. When he'll find time to flip through 50-something
channels on the tube is beyond me, but he'll be a happy boy in
the evenings when I'm reading or on my computer.
I have nice views out my side windows, too
(rental cabins and such).
Foothills Campground is located adjacent to Scott Centennial
Park, where all four of the Bighorn races finish.
There's nothing better at the finish line of an ultra than being within a few
hundred feet of our camper!
The park is also the location of the 100-milers' pre-race
briefing and where runners in the 52-miler, 50K, and 30K races
catch their bus rides to the start of those point-to-point
races. Considering the early hours at which those buses leave
Dayton, that's almost as good as having easy access to our
camper after the race. (My bus leaves at 6AM on race day. The
52-milers leave at 4AM -- ugh. But if you're camped at
Foothills, or sleeping in your vehicle in the park, it's only a
two-minute walk to the buses.)
Not only is Dayton (and Foothills CG) doggone convenient for
those race activities, it is also a quiet little bedroom
community, the closest town to the trails used in the race, and
only about fifteen miles from other race activities and shopping
opportunities in the larger town of Sheridan.
A bighorn sheep sculpture graces the
attractive boulevard next to our campground
We were a little surprised when we rolled into the campground
today to find someone else in "our" back-in site (also
shown in one of the photos above). The campground owners,
Marshall and Lea Hood, had promised us our old spot for the month but a
train engineer who was living there in his camper when he wasn't
out driving trains to and fro unexpectedly needed to stay a
couple weeks longer. Lea asked us if we wanted him to move to
another spot or would we be OK two sites over in a long
We remembered that site was very nice but had flooded two years
ago during the June monsoon rains that Dayton sometimes
receives. Marshall and Lea assured us that they had filled in
the low place and we wouldn't find ourselves in a pond of water.
Being on the end of the row of sites was appealing,
as was the pull-through aspect. Our only concern was whether
we'd get the WiFi signal there OK. If not, we'd ask for our old
Dayton Mercantile dates back to 1882; note
the hitching post for horses on the right.
So far, so good. Jim's laptop has an internal WiFi card, and the
Linksys wireless USB adaptor we use on my computer works pretty
well here, too. Jim already suspended our broadband service with
Verizon until we need it again. That saves us $48/month.
Except for a dozen or so more "permanent" residents who spend
the season or year in their RVs on-site, and a couple families
in the rental cabins, we've pretty much got the large
short-term camping area to ourselves -- even on this holiday
weekend. We're happy in our new site and have discovered some
advantages over the old one. Win-win! It's gonna be great to not
have to move for 31 days.
Soon after settling in we took a long walk with Cody through the
campground, nearby Scott Park, and the main street through
The four Bighorn races all finish the same way: five
miles on Tongue Canyon Road, right over the bridge across the
river at the edge of Dayton, past the Foothills Campground, left
at the Crazy Woman Saloon (almost as good a name as the Mangy
Moose in Hill City, SD),
past the handsome elk sculpture on the boulevard,
left into Scott Park by the bell tower,
on a nice crushed granite path between the ball fields and the
back of Foothills CG,
and finishing at a shelter along the river.
We quickly noticed two new things in Scott Centennial Park since
we were last here two years ago: a new band shell going
up near the last bend in the race course, and a second shelter.
Will we have live music at the finish this year?
I like to watch buildings go up, so it will be fun to see the
progress on the band shell every time I go walking or running on
the paths through the park.
Here are a couple examples of unusual "yard art"
that caught my eye on our walk along Main Street in Dayton today:
Thought I'd amuse you with a little local humor. There's a lot
more of it in Dayton, WY.
Gosh, it's good to be back in the Bighorns! We've decided to do
our first training run tomorrow where we shouldn't run into too
much snow: from the nearby Tongue River Canyon trailhead
to Horse Creek Ridge, shown in the first photo of this entry.
Stay tuned for what I hope are some great photos.
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil