Thursday, March 05, 2009

Bighorn Mountains, WY

After spending the night at a lovely hotel in Greybull, Wyoming, a family-run place with low hanging eaves over the room doors separated by hundreds of flowers, it's back on the road and heading east. The previous day had been spent in Yellowstone, coming down out of the Park on Hwy. 14, the east entrance road, to Cody. It was still light, but I was tired, so I stopped for the night in Greybull, even though there were a few hours of light left. I hadn't slept well the night before and had been up before dawn, and making video and photographs all day. It was time to stop. Still, I decided to set out across the open plains and get as far as I got before wanting to stop. I got as far as Greybull.

The central plateau of Wyoming, in the northern part of the state, is full of long open vistas and rolling grassland. Low lines of distant mountains stand close to the horizon, blue in the distance, past the open plains. Occasional thrusts and scarps expose the naked rock underneath, and small rivers gouge small replicas of the Grand Canyon that the road passes over on its relentless journey. Lots of ranching here. The elevation hovers just under 4000 for most of the small towns here, and there are no big towns, except Cody, which isn't that big. You're on your own out here. You can drive 100 miles and see only antelope.

Now, in the morning heading east from Greybull, you're confronted with the solid wall of the Bighorn Mountains, a long line of peaks that range mostly north-south from here on up into Montana. You can go around the Bighorns, by dipping south towards Casper. Or you have the choice of two passes over the Mountains, each of which take you up to 9000 feet and more before depositing you on the other side, where there are more low round hills and open plains heading east towards South Dakota. I've taken Powder River Pass (9677 ft.) before, which goes up from Tensleep west of the Bighorns and comes down into Buffalo. So this trip I decided to stay on Hwy. 14 from Greybull, drive over to Shell and go over Granite Pass (9033 ft.) which comes down into Sheridan, just below the Montana state line.

The Granite Pass route takes you up a long set of canyons in which the geology is stark and beautiful, folds and thrusts exposed to naked eye across a mile of open air.

Shell River

You travel along the Shell River, switchbacking over the water, filled with falls and whitewater tumbling over ancient boulders.

Some formations are bright in the morning light, some dimmer but patterned against the skyscape.

There are a few public campsites along the Shell that look so inviting that on another trip I might stop there for a day and night, to listen to the river's voice, and take solace in the way the light moves along the canyon walls.

Upcanyon the walls open out into the Bighorn Basin, wide mountain shoulders over the river's slot canyon that climb up to rampart peaks, like pyramids stacked against the sky.

At their feet, game trails wind along relatively flat areas, moving gradually down towards the plains.

I brought home a piece of sharp-edged Precambrian pink granite above the Bighorn Basin area, a wide stretch of tall mountain shoulders grazed in summer before the herds come down in winter.

Granite Creek

Near the top of the pass is a scar of dead treelands left when a rare and violent tornado ripped the side of the mountain open at 10,000 ft., above Granite Creek.

At the top of the pass, the road takes you along through the BIghorn National Forest at high altitude for many miles.

There are even a couple of small towns up here, gathering points for the many vacation travelers that come here to fish, camp, explore. In a big storm, there's no way in or out; once you're on the mountain, you're here as long as the weather socks you in.

Coming down the eastern ridges, the road switchbacks between pine cascades and long tall boulder fields, roadcuts and outcrops standing like castles against the eastern sky.

And then at last there's the open bowl of the plains to the east, round hills rolling towards Gillette and the Black Hills beyond.

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Anonymous Rowena Manuel said...



We will show you some back roads.

1:53 PM  

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