August 2016 Tour of NW Wyoming

b.stark

Forever Wandering
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Joined
Apr 8, 2015
Messages
730
I'm not really sure what to call this trip, or where to put it. I did a little solo travelling in August of 2016, intending to take a little tour of NW Wyoming. I don't like doing longer backpacking trips solo, so I planned (at least) two overnighters with some "hotel camping" between, with the option of playing tourist if I didn't want to backpack any more. Had three goals for the trip. First, make a stop at the Winds, because... Winds. Second, do an overnight trip in the Tetons. Had never been there (well, my parents say I've been there, but I was very young) and I really wanted to camp in them for a night. And the third goal was to see Yellowstone. I think the last time I was there was maybe 15 years ago. Had intentions of doing an overnight hike there also.

SO

One fine, steamy hot August morning, I began driving away from my home in the far eastern lands of Nebraska, bound for the equally steamy hot lands of far western Nebraska. I had packed my little Focus with all the equipment for car camping, day hiking, and backpacking, which left it rather full. I've never gone anywhere with so much crap piled in a vehicle.

Stopped at a couple sights in Nebraska that I haven't seen in years.

First was the Norden Notch on the Niobrara River. The previous time I was here, I was pulling an 18ft Lund boat behind a GMC pickup en route home from a fishing trip, and the bridge was an old trestle style bridge. That has been replaced with a fancy new concrete bridge. The roads, in typical sandhills fashion, are sometimes a bit sketchy. I spent a few minutes watching carp try to jump the falls.


Second was Smith Falls, tallest falls in Nebraska. I didn't spend much time here in an attempt to avoid the hordes of rafters on the Niobrara, who were wandering along the trail in various states of sobriety (or not).


Then on to my usual layover spot on drives west, Fort Robinson State Park. I really like this area, there's some varied landscapes and lots of open space. I took the time to take a walk around the fort grounds this time, and watched a large thunderstorm light up in the last few minutes of sunlight.


The next morning I got up early and headed for the Winds. I had decided to start off with an overnight hike to the upper Green River lake. A pretty relaxed hike, for sure, but that's what I wanted and it would help with acclimation. Started the drive very early, and stopped along the highway near the NE/WY border to snap a pic of the beautiful sunrise.


After stopping in Pinedale for lunch and to get a fishing permit, I headed up the long drive to the Green River Lakes. I'm not sure I'd recommend doing it in a Focus, but it sure works, though you do have to be patient. It seemed like a longer drive than I remembered, and less interesting, but I still liked it. Spent most of the drive looking for good fishing spots, thinking I might stop and fish a bit the next day.


After starting the hike, then hiking back to my car 2 or 3 times for forgotten items from 1/4mi down the trail, I was off. In 2009 I had hiked this trail, at the end of a 13.5 hour day that had started at a campsite on the divide near Sourdough Glacier. I don't really remember well the hike from Slide Lake out, we didn't stop for meals all day and I'm not sure we stopped for water from Slide Lake in, so I was dehydrated, starving, and exhausted. Once I got above the lower lake, I started looking for campsites. Ended up taking a somewhat meh site at the lower end of the upper lake, with several other groups in the area.


Slept well that night. There was a little drizzle through the night, nothing serious though. The mosquitoes weren't even very bad, though there were a few around.

I didn't bother waking up very early, and spent plenty of time lounging around and making breakfast in the morning. Even had a cup of tea (which is a rare thing for me to do while backpacking). Was trying to let my gear all dry out from the overnight drizzle, but eventually I got tired of waiting and packed up. Instead of taking the trail all the way, I fished along the shore for maybe half a mile, to no avail. Stopped for a good while at the cabin across the river from the trailhead and took many pictures, something I wanted to do since first seeing it.


After getting back to my car and unpacking my pack, I found a shady spot by the beach and watched the lake and all the kayakers on the lake. The wind was crazy, sometimes calm, and sometimes gusting and making whitecaps on the lake. After a while, the wind swung around just right and blew smoke in from one of the big fires in Wyoming.


The smoke all over the river valley killed my enthusiasm for stopping and fly fishing, so I just kept driving. Eventually I got far enough South to get a good look at the smoke plume. I forget what this fire was called, but it was somewhere in the area of Bondurant, I think. (Cliff Creek fire maybe, from my notes)


After spending the night in Pinedale, I got up super early and headed for the Tetons. Most of the hikes I had scoped out before were in the area of Jenny Lake, so I intended to get to the ranger station there and try to get a permit as early as possible.

The drive there was really nice


I got to the ranger station just after it opened, but I found myself already at the end of a small line. Most were getting permits for climbing, and one group backpacking. I finally got my turn and we started looking for permits. Seemed like every place we looked was booked, so the guy finally booked me for the horse camp in the south fork of the Cascade Canyon, saying "that's almost never booked, we'll just put you there." After getting my obligatory bear canister and packing up, I cheated and took the boat across Jenny Lake and started hiking.

The trails were pretty crowded, but I didn't really mind. As I said before, I really don't like backpacking solo all that much so I enjoyed talking to folks along the trail. Hiked along with a group for a while, and talked to many people. It was kind of surprising to me just how friendly people were. A lot of times, especially on crowded trails, folks seem to be interested in just getting away from each other fast as possible and don't stop to talk much. But people on this trail were in general very cool to talk to, which made the hike very nice. I kind of was getting bummed by the slog through trees, but kept pushing on. Finally I made it to my campsite, which I found less than stellar. Not bad, just not great. I was hoping for better views, but only really had a nice view of Table Mountain. And lots of flowers!

I set up camp and rested for a while, trying to figure out how to fill out the rest of the day. I was actually feeling pretty good, despite the rather long hike and healthy elevation gain. Sitting around camp was getting boring, and the swampy area was home to many pestering mosquitoes. So, spurred on by both boredom and the suggestion of many people I met on the trail, I started for Hurricane Pass, figuring I would make it however far I could then turn around to get back to camp before sunset.


Climbing higher and higher, I felt good, and was making very good time. Stopped to chat with a few people here and there, but mostly I made tracks for the pass. Wasn't entirely sure how far the pass was from camp, and I wanted to get there soon as possible to have plenty of time to get back. As I pushed farther up into the high basin, the trees thinned and the views got amazing.


I made it to a trail sign that said something like 1.2 or 1.4 miles to Hurricane Pass and I knew I had it in the bag. Pushed to the top and rested for a while, enjoying the incredible views. Thought about hiking further to get a look into the Alaska Basin, but decided to leave well enough alone. Awesome views of the Tetons from the pass, and not a bad look at Schoolroom Glacier and its turquoise lake as well.




After a good long rest, I started back down. On the way up I met tons of people asking about open campsites. On my hike up, most of the campsites were empty. On the way down, I noted most of the people I had talked to had claimed campsites along the way. Really wish I could have gotten one of the sites high up in the camping zone, much much better views up there!

The next day I got up reasonably early and packed up camp. It was a clear, calm, very dry night, and I didn't really have to wait at all for my tent to be dry enough to pack. I determined to make the hike out fast as possible, in hopes of finding a place to hotel camp for the night before going on to Yellowstone. On the hike out, an old knee injury ended up getting aggravated. It didn't bother me a ton until the last mile or two of the hike. Starting out, the trail was all mine, and I don't think I saw another person for the first two hours of hiking. Then started meeting the friendly crowds. Talked to a guy who had been to Yellowstone just before the Tetons, and he tipped me off to a spot in the Hayden valley where a grizzly bear had been hanging out lately. Saw a majestik moose. And talked to a couple people who had hiked in Glacier just previously and were going to loop over the Paintbrush Divide (I had really wanted to do that).

This moose did not bite my sister.


After getting back to the trailhead and taking the boat back across the lake, I turned in my bear canister and started planning the rest of the day. Started touring the area a bit by car and making calls to set up some hotel camping for the night (no reservations on a Friday in tourist season near Jackson and Yellowstone? Bad idea. Pinedale again, and a few hours of extra driving). Liked the area much more than I thought I would, it seems to have a much more relaxed atmosphere than Yellowstone or some of the other national parks/monuments I've been to.


I must digress... at the dam they have the old machine they used to use to move the gates. Being from a family of farmers, I was beside myself with laughter when I found out the thing was run with one of the famous old Wisconsin V-4 motors. Yea... just move along and let the farmboy have his fun.


Again, the next morning I left at some unspeakable hour of the morning (good thing I'm used to doing this for work) and headed up to Yellowstone. Since my knee was protesting so vehemently, I decided to play tourist for the next couple days. Much as I wanted to get in some hiking, I thought it would be nice to see some of the "big" sights this time around and maybe next time get off the beaten path a bit. First stop, of course, was Old Faithful. I pulled in the mostly empty parking lot very early in the morning to the sight of the geyser already putting on a show.


I saw no less than three different geysers erupt while spending the morning in the area. Hobbled around as best I could, and missed an eruption of I think Grand Geyser by a few minutes (it was like half an hour early). As the day wore on, I decided to move along toward my next hotel camping destination, Cooke City. I did not hurry, and took in some sights along the way, though I didn't stop and take many pictures. I tried to get into Norris Geyser Basin but the parking lot was... more than full. People were just circling round and round and round trying to find parking. So... onward I went. By that point it was getting on later in the day, so I kept driving. Since I had gotten up so early and had such a long day, I pushed on to the hotel campsite and turned in early, because I had a plan.

(Did I mention the Lamar valley was full of bison? It was full of bison. Many more than I recalled.)


The next morning I got up at an equally unspeakable hour. This would be a morning to beat crowds. Driving the Lamar in the dark is an exercise in avoiding bison on the road. Stopped once near Tower Falls to take a picture of a bank of fog hanging over the Yellowstone.


AND THEN I pushed on to Norris Geyser Basin. For a precious few minutes, I was the only person there. Before I got on the trail, two more people showed up, and that was it for a fair while. The clouds, steam, and morning light combined to make this a truly beautiful morning. Some of my best pictures from the trip came from this morning.




The colors were amazing, and an approaching storm made for a dramatic background. Not sure I got it to come across perfectly in the pictures, but it was cool. About this time a bus full of tourists showed up, kind of ruining the solitude of the spot, but I knew that was coming. Only had a few more minutes before lightning chased me back to my car.




Next stop was Midway Geyser Basin, to see the colors there. The cool morning meant the steam was pretty incredible.




After that, I drove on, thinking maybe West Thumb Geyser Basin. But I was tired, and already a bit tired of the crowds. Wanted to find a spot to stop and rest and enjoy a view. So after a while I pulled off at a spot along Yellowstone Lake, and to my delight found a black sandbar with nobody there to rest on. I watched distant storm clouds touch the mountains and dozed as the waves sang their song. For perhaps a bit over an hour I had a peaceful spot to myself. Eventually the wind picked up and it started spitting some drizzle, so I picked myself up and headed out. Just in time, as a family had pulled in to enjoy the beach as well. I waved (hoping I didn't look like too creepy) and left them to enjoy the beach as I had.


My next goal was the Hayden valley to spot some wildlife. Keeping in mind what a man a couple days before had said about a grizzly bear, I kept alert and watched for crowds. After a short drive into a valley, I spotted a pulloff with some guys with scopes. Surprisingly few people at that point. I pulled over and grabbed my binoculars, and in a few minutes found a bear--wait make that two, at least--feeding. There was an old bison carcass (very old according to a ranger I spoke to later) and they were browsing on what was left. I set up my binoculars on a tripod and let other folks who stopped have a look. The bear was far enough away that my 10x binoculars weren't the best for it, but at least people could get a look. It was a ton of fun letting people see the bear, especially kids. After a while it started raining, and I got in my car to wait it out. Eventually the rain passed and I set back up outside, but the bears left a short while later. All in all I spent probably over 2 hours there. After that I determined to get a good spotting scope just for situations like this (which I have done, and will take along next time I go). Spend some more time glassing around different spots in the valley and quizzing some of the volunteer spotters about what they see regularly, what kind of things they look for to find critters, etc. And wished for a good spotting scope. I considered staying until evening, but again with the super early morning I was pretty beat, and knew that tomorrow I would be heading back homeward. So I headed for my last hotel camp of the trip to get a good rest.


Best pic I got of the bear(turned out it was a sow and two cubs, as reported by guys with real spotting scopes)


The next day I got up and headed back to my layover spot at Fort Robinson, then home the next day. Of course, I couldn't resist a trip over the Beartooth Highway before truly heading home.


All in all, 9 days out, the longest I've ever travelled solo. Not a bad trip. I really wish I hadn't had to get up so early on so many days, it really wore me out and I think I missed some good sights in Yellowstone from being so beat in the afternoons. Really wanted to do some evening/night photos in a geyser basin somewhere, but never got it done. Next time I will have to plan ahead better for Yellowstone. The rest of the trip went very well, and the Tetons were the highlight of the trip. Going solo was OK. I don't really like it, but it didn't hurt this trip a whole lot. I really wish I had done more fishing!

Hoping to get back to Wyoming this year, but we'll see. I have a couple things in the works so we'll see which ones actually happen.
 

Pringles

Member
Joined
Nov 23, 2015
Messages
261
You commented about getting up early, and maybe missing some stuff in the afternoon because you were so tired... I relish parking by the Yellowstone River, with the windows mostly up, so bears don't visit, and napping. It's very, very refreshing. You might even end up with enough energy to be out kind of late. I carefully drove through Yellowstone one night last summer, and just below Dunraven Pass, stopped and looked at the stars. Geeze. The Milky Way is just as beautiful as I remembered it. And I saw a fox, a coyote and two weasels in the headlights. The coyote didn't seem bothered in the least, and changed lanes back and forth and finally moved off to the side of the road as we watched. I usually like to go home and "nest" at night, but that night taught me that amazing things are visible at night. At any rate, find a small pull off, rather than a big parking lot, and take a glorious nap! Then go see more stuff!

Oh yes, nice trip report. Thanks for posting!
 

Jackson

I like to go outside.
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Joined
May 31, 2015
Messages
2,264
Awesome trip. I haven't been to Yellowstone for a few years, and this makes me want to head back.

Also, it sounds like you're the cool guy that people like running into on the trail and in the parks. I appreciate friendly people out there like you.
 

Dave

Broadcaster, formerly "ashergrey"
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Joined
May 5, 2012
Messages
1,722
Great itinerary... the Winds, Tetons and Yellowstone all in one go!
 

Skiwi

Member
Joined
Oct 5, 2014
Messages
38
Great trip report of three areas I am always keen to spend time in.
 

Curt

Member
Joined
Feb 1, 2014
Messages
400
I enjoyed reading your report. I really liked the pictures from the geyser basin. But I'm probably the only person reading this that will have been the most interested in the northwest Nebraska portion. I have lived in this state almost 30 years and still have never been over there. I've been wanting to go and this is just whetting that desire.
 

WasatchWill

Ready For More
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Joined
Jul 23, 2013
Messages
1,502
What a road trip! Sorry about your knee, but that must have been excited to see some grizzly. I've yet to have that experience. Seeing one from that kind of distance though is exactly how I'd like to see one if I ever get to. Makes me want to start looking into a spotting scope as well.
 

DrNed

The mountains are calling and I must go
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Joined
Mar 31, 2013
Messages
1,014
I love the image of Flattop behind the lake.
 

JoanieBelle

Member
Joined
Mar 6, 2012
Messages
34
Thanks for the post. I am considering Green River Lakes for this summer. I always travel by myself, which works well for photography, however miss sharing the amazing views with others. But relish not being hurried. Yep, conflicted. However, traveling alone has forced me to meet new people and I have friends that I would never had met if I would have been traveling with others.
 
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