Friday, June 26, 2009

Waterfalls and Trails West in Casper, Wyoming

Of course it would not be a proper set of days off for Noelle and me without at least a little bit of rain. Sure enough we awoke to gray skies and some very light rain this morning. After breaking camp, our first order of business was to find Garden Creek Falls and Rotary Park. After a short drive around the southern end of town, we finally found the elusive falls.
They were quite pretty, but we could not find the trailhead for the 5 mile trail reputed to exist here. We walked a short path, got buzzed by some hummingbirds, and then got back on the road. It was probably just as well that we didn’t hike, as rain seemed eminent.

We headed up to the north side of town and the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center.
Wow! This place is really amazing. If you’re into Oregon Trail history like I am, this place is a must visit. The exhibits inside are really well done. There is a multimedia presentation that is top notch, and a simulated river crossing that is really cool. Noelle and I were both really impressed with the site. It was well worth the $6 we each paid for admission.

From the interpretive center we got some lunch and then hit the road heading east. Along the way we stopped at a few Historic Trail sites that were listed in the Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide that we picked up.
Our first stop was the grave of Ada Magill, a child who died while emigrating in 1864. From there we headed further east to the town of Glenrock. We scoured Rock in the Glen for carvings and found just a few.
We then headed over to the city park to look at some interpretive panels. After that we headed back home. It was another good weekend!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Medicine Bow National Forest: Laramie Peak

After work yesterday evening, Noelle and I loaded the camping gear into the Civic and headed into Hot Springs. We had a few chores to complete before we would head into Wyoming for our days off. First we went food shopping for some dinners, breakfasts, and a few snacks. We then went to the library to return some videos that we had borrowed. Finally, we got some dinner at Wooly’s. From there we pointed the Civic south, then west to Medicine Bow National Forest and a campsite at Friend Park Campground. It was a long drive over some rough roads, but we finally arrived in camp at around midnight.

After a good night’s sleep we awoke in the morning, grabbed a quick breakfast, and then hit the trail. Our destination would be the summit of 10,210 foot Laramie. The hiking was pleasant and easy up a multiple-use trail shared with ATVs. Luckily we didn’t see (or hear or smell) any of these on our ascent. The weather was the best we’ve had on any of our days off. We enjoyed clear, blue skies, and moderately warm temperatures.
Noelle Throwing a Snowball on the way up Laramie Peak
We reached the peak area by around noon and spent some time exploring.
The actual summit, I discovered, was actually on top of a large boulder. Getting up there would require some pretty exposed scrambling. I spent some time studying the boulder from different angles and determined that the easiest, least exposed route to the top consisted of chimneying up a large crack, then ascending a nearly vertical slap with the aid of a rusty, old chain. I was hesitant to proceed any further, but eventually got the guts to use the chain and attained the summit.

The summit itself was actually pretty interesting. Besides the USGS benchmark, there were some interesting old carvings in the granite up there. They were signatures from visitors in the early 1900s. After a few minutes gazing at the view and looking at the signatures, I knew it was time to brave a tricky descent. I hate down climbing. It seems so much more difficult than climbing up a rock. Many a time in the past have I scrambled up a vertical cliff face with no problem, only to freeze at a difficult section on the descent. This time, however, the down climbing was easier than I anticipated, and I was reunited with Noelle in no time at all. We then took some photos and began our descent.

The descent was largely routine, other than the sight of some ATVers whose vehicle was stuck at some large rocks about ¼ mile from the summit. They were trying to use a winch to pull one of them up and Noelle and I were forced to take a break and watch them. “How much further to the top”, one asked. We told them that it was not much further and one of them replied “what a shame”, as if their legs were incapable of propelling them to the top.

After getting back to the campground we packed up camp and hit the road. It was nice to see all the views we had missed the night before. After a long stretch of rough, dirt roads we were finally back to the pavement and the metropolis of Douglas, Wyoming. From there we hit I-25 north (even though the road actually goes west at this point) and stopped at Ayres Natural Bridge.
We had a pleasant visit there, and then headed further west to Casper, Wyoming and our campsite on Casper Mountain.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Back in the Saddle Again

After work this afternoon , I got home and decided to dust off the ol' bicycle. I inflated the tires and lubed the chain then hit the road for a pleasant after work ride. The beginning of the route was a bit brutal, especially considering I haven't ridden in about four months. I gained about 400 feet in elevation over the first two miles. Luckily most of that climbing was on paved road which made for some easier riding. From there, however, I turned off of Highway 385 and onto the dirt Rifle Pit road. The climbing wasn't too bad, but the road was bumpy and rutted which made for some slow going. It was fun though. From there I turned onto Beaver Creek Road which was well graveled and made it back into Wind Cave National Park at Highway 87. There were some bison at the junction of the two roads, but I had built up some speed and luckily they didn't seem too concerned with me.

The going on 87 was fast and easy; mostly downhill until I made it to the pigtail bridge. From there there was a bit of a climb and then some rolling ups and downs. it was fun to ride over the Beaver Creek Bridge and was quick riding until I got back to 385 and ran into a herd of about 100 bison. There were lots of cars pulled over to watch them. I was in no position to observe, since I wasn't protected by a sheath of metal known as a car. Therefore, I carefully rode through the herd which had luckily parted for a truck that I followed.

I made it home after about an hour of riding. It sure felt good! It made me miss Lexington, where I usually rode to work. I miss the daily rides and cruising past the backed up traffic on the heavy traffic days. The ride was just over 14 miles. I can't wait to do it again!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Eastern Wyoming

We awoke this morning to blue skies, but by the time we got out of our sleeping bags and packed up camp the sky was back to its customary gray color. We hit the road, driving north through the Bearlodge Mountains, then east into Aladdin, Wyoming population 15. We stopped at the Aladdin General Store for some sodas, and then headed over to the Aladdin Coal Tipple, a small historic site.
We hiked around the ruins there for a few minutes, and then headed south to Beulah and the Vore Bison Jump.

The bison jump was a very interesting site.
We were told an estimated 20 thousand bison were herded into a sinkhole here over the course of 300 years. Most of the bison broke legs, etc. plunging into the sinkhole, and were later butchered by Native Americans. They allow you to walk to the actual bone beds, and it was well worth the $4 we each paid for admission. They hope to raise enough funds to build a substantial visitor’s center there in the future.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Black Hills National Forest: The Bearlodge Mountains

Last night after work Noelle and I packed up our camping gear, some extra clothing, and toothbrushes for our first real road trip of the season. We weren’t headed too far, just across the Wyoming border into the Bearlodge Mountains portion of Black Hills National Forest. It felt good to be out on the road and we made it to our campsite in the Reuter Campground just before dark.
After setting up camp and crawling into the tent it started to rain. Seems like rain is all it’s done lately.

We woke up to some light rain, but soon it let up. We drove back into Sundance, Wyoming for some information at the Forest Service offices there. I wanted to get info about the trails at Cook Lake and Sundance. I also wanted to get some contact information about Inyan Kara Mountain. After that was done we drove back into the mountains and started our hike of Carson Draw. The hike followed what seemed like old ATV trails. The scenery and views were good,
but we soon got into some areas where logging was going on. That cut our hike short a bit.

Next we headed over to Warren Peak, the highest point in the Bearlodge Mountains, and site of a fire tower.
Warren Peak Lookout
It was cold and windy up there. It was also obvious that rain was in the forecast. From there we drove north through an amazing clone of aspens to Cook Lake, our campsite for the night, and home to some short hiking trails. We paid for our campsite, and then hit the trail. We hiked the Cliff Swallow Trail. It was a pretty walk especially the portion that paralleled Beaver Creek. Unfortunately, we got caught in a heavy downpour halfway through the hike. When we returned to the campground we set up camp, and then rested.

The best part of the day was the evening. The storms from earlier in the day had dissipated and the scene was beautiful. I made a small dinner, and then we went for a short hike along Cook Lake.
We took our time hiking and were rewarded by several wildlife views. We saw deer, a beaver, a muskrat, and several different interesting bird species including a merganser, a common yellowthroat, and some great blue herons. It was a great way to end the day. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wind Cave National Park: The Snake Pit Entrance

The constant rain is starting to get a bit depressing. Today it rained all day. Because of the rain we did not do much adventurous. Instead I got a haircut and went to the library. After that I headed home to read and listen to music. Meanwhile, Noelle took her turn driving to the library. After a few hours of reading I got antsy and headed out in the rain for a short hike. My goal was to visit the Snake Pit Entrance to Wind Cave. I started hiking past the Visitor Center, up a service road and then headed into drainage. It had been a long time since my last visit to the Snake Pit and, as a result, I had a difficult time locating it at first. After wandering around for a while, I realized my error and quickly found the entrance. I had gone quite a ways out of my way and gotten quite soaked in the process. However, I’m glad to have gotten outside, if only for a little while.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Black Hills Above 7,000

Eric on Odakota Mountain

Today Eric officially started his quest to stand on top of all seven peaks in the Black Hills that stand above 7,000 feet in elevation. Some of the peaks have already been achieved. The most recent ascent was May’s hike up 7,000 foot Sylvan Peak. Of course we have both hiked up the tallest peak in the Black Hills, Harney Peak, many times. Eric has also been up Bear Mountain which has a fire tower on top and is just a few miles outside of Custer. Today we made our way up Odakota Mountain. It was an easy ascent actually. We drove through Custer towards Crazy Horse, turned off on a county road that leads to the Boy Scout Camp. We drove past the scout camp and turned left onto Forest Road 301. From there we made a quick left onto a muddy Forest Road 693 where we parked just after crossing a cattle guard. From where we parked it was a short hike up an old logging road, then a bushwack through some trees and shrubs, over a fence, and to a small summit cairn. We added a few rocks to the cairn, got our pictures taken, and then headed back to the car. The official list of Black Hills 7,000 foot peaks is:
• Harney Peak: 7,242 ft.
• Odakota Mountain: 7, 200 ft.
• Bear Mountain: 7,166 ft.
• Crooks Tower: 7,137 ft.
• Terry Peak: 7,064 ft.
• Crow’s Nest Peak: 7, 048 ft.
• Sylvan Hill (Peak): 7,000 ft.
Four down, three to go!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Nebraska National Forest: Black Hills Overlook Trail

Today Noelle and I hit the road headed south into Nebraska and “the Good Life”, as the state slogan attests. Our first stop was Chadron State Park. There we drove through the park and into the Nebraska National Forest where we started our hike of the Black Hills Overlook Trail.
It was a nice hike, with some great views.
The views weren’t of the Black Hills though, they were views of the surrounding buttes and forests. After our hike we headed into Chadron for lunch at a nice Mexican restaurant.

After lunch we headed over to the Museum of the Fur Trade. I’d seen advertisements for this place on billboards and have always been intrigued by it. Today we finally paid it a visit.
The museum had a lot of interesting exhibits and the story of the fur trade was well interpreted. After our visit there we went grocery shopping, bought some beer, then headed north back into South Dakota.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Buffalo Gap National Grasslands: Fairburn Agate Beds

It was raining when Noelle and I woke up this morning. We weren’t sure just what to do with our day off. We knew that we had things to do in Rapid City and so I suggested that we drive north into Rapid on SD-79 and make a detour to see if we could find some Fairburn Agates. I’ve heard that the best time to look is just after a good rain. So we set off around 9:30, unsure of where exactly near Fairburn to look for agates. To tell the truth, neither of us knew exactly what agates even looked like.

We hit the road and made it into the “big city” of Fairburn, South Dakota by about 10:30. I had looked at a map of the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands when at the Information Desk at work and knew of a campground along County Road 18, east of Fairburn. In town we found a county road, but it wasn’t 18. We decided to follow it anyway. After driving east for about 6 miles we decided it wasn’t the right road, and so we turned around. When we got back into town we immediately found County 18 and soon thereafter saw a sign pointing the way to the French Creek Campground and Agate Beds. The ride was pretty. The National Grassland was not flat like I had imagined, but featured many small hills and canyons. Along the drive we saw some pronghorn, an owl, kestrels, larks, and many meadowlarks. As we headed farther east we started to see some badlands like buttes and formations.
Finally we arrived at the campground and Agate Beds.
fairburn agate beds pano
We parked at the campground and hiked along a muddy, rutted road to the beds.
It was fantastic scenery at the agate beds. It reminded me of the badlands one might find in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. They were multi-colored and banded. Some of the badlands formations were covered with pebbly stones.
Others were covered in the beautiful gumbo lilies.
We searched among the stones for what we thought might be agates and added a few to our collection that we just thought looked pretty. After about an hour of exploring we started to hike back to the car. The continuing rain made the clay-filled soil stick to our boots. We just might have to return to do some more exploring of this area in the future.