2009 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  BACK IN THE BIGHORN MOUNTAINS OF WYOMING

FRIDAY, MAY 22

 
"This majestic mountain range offers unsurpassed beauty. The Bighorn National Forest
is one of America's oldest national forests and includes Cloud Peak Wilderness Area
where peaks rise to 13,165 feet and [you will find] numerous lakes and streams.
Opportunities for hiking, climbing, fishing, photography."
 
- Foothills Motel & Campground brochure, Dayton, WY
 
 
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 "chapter.")

 
Quintessential Bighorn Mountain scene:  Jim relaxes among the wildflowers
on Horse Creek Ridge 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 today's destination.

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 nearby Bighorns:

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 there.

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 works!

 
Lilacs blooming near the river at the Foothills Campground

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 bases/posts.

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 front end).

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 pull-through site?

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 site back.


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.

CABIN FEVER

Soon after settling in we took a long walk with Cody through the campground, nearby Scott Park, and the main street through Dayton.

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.

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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