Pine Haven, WY
With just a couple of days left in our stay in Buffalo, we decided to do one last hike in the Bighorn Mountains. We chose a little visited trail which was about 3.4 miles long (one way) that ends at Long Lake. Hans and Lisa (Metamorphosis Road) blogged about this hike during their visit to the area last year and we thought it looked interesting.
To get to the trailhead we drove about 13 from Buffalo on Rte. 16 and turned right at the sign for Hunter Creek. After turning off the highway we immediately turned left on to a dirt road called Schoolhouse Park Road, Forest Service Road 391. This two track unimproved road is a bit rough in spots but is easily driven with a high clearance vehicle. At a “Y” we kept to the left on to FS 396, which ends at the trailhead about 2.4 miles from the highway.
We could see the trail marker on the other side of Middle Clear Creek but couldn’t see how we could cross without getting wet (and cold) feet.
Fortunately, the nimble hiker spotted a narrow trail to our left that led a short distance to a crude but effective bridge over the creek.
The trail steadily gained elevation as we approached the lake. Total elevation gain on this trail is about a thousand feet.
When we reached Long Lake, we found the temperature at almost 9,000′ a bit chilly and, of course, the wind was very strong.
We did experience a strange discovery on this trail. About a mile from the trailhead, as we went through a flat meadow, we came across a can of bear spray (a strong pepper spray to repel a bear) in a case with a purple strap attached. We figured someone had dropped it on the trail by accident, so we just left it there. As we passed it on the return leg we decided to pick it up and either use it if it was still effective, or dispose of it back at the park.
But as we looked around we spotted a hiking pole lying in the grass just a few feet away. Hmm, how could someone drop a fully extended expensive pole and not realize it?
We then looked around the area and spotted a whistle attached to a strap.
Now we were really curious (and a bit spooked out!). We did a quick search of the area nearby but couldn’t find anything else that was out of place or unusual. So we marked the location, left the bear spray where we found it, and finished the hike. Since it was the holiday weekend the Forest Service Office in Buffalo was closed until Tuesday (our hike was on Sunday). But Tuesday morning we stopped at the office and reported our findings. They had no reports of anything unusual in the area but would note our report in the event something was reported later.
We spent the next couple of days cleaning the motorhome inside and out before our Wednesday departure. Leaving Buffalo mid-morning we drove about a hundred miles to the city of Gillette, where we parked in a Flying J Parking lot and walked about a quarter mile for a visit to one of those chain coffee shops. Then it was a drive of another 30 miles to Keyhole State Park, located about six miles north of I-90, where we had a two day reservation in the water/electric section.
While the campground is mainly used by families to enjoy the lake, we were there to visit nearby Devils Tower (the site follows a geographic naming standard whereby the apostrophe is eliminated), located about 35 miles to the north. As we approached the state park, we could see the tip of the tower in the distance.
While eating breakfast the next morning the sun was shining but we could see a dark line of clouds to our north. Radar showed a heavy band of storms over Devils Tower, but it looked as if it would pass in the next few hours. So we headed out, driving through a bit of rain on the trip. But as we approached the tower the storm passed and the sun came out.
Devils Tower is a butte composed of igneous rock rising 1,267′ above the nearby Belle Fourche River, standing 867′ from summit to base. Devils Tower was the first declared National Monument, established in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Devils Tower National Monument is a very popular spot for tourists traveling between the Black Hills of South Dakota and Yellowstone NP. The monument web site warns of crowds and recommends arriving before 11:00 or after 2:00 to avoid long lines at the entrance gate. We heeded the warning and when we arrived around 9:00 there was only one car in front of us. After checking out the small visitor center we set out to hike the three trails in the monument. The first trail, the Tower Trail, is a 1.3 mile paved route that goes around the base of the tower.
As you go around the tower there is a large rectangle where the rock has fallen down to the base. Native Americans believed this indentation was part of the story of how the tower was created.
According to the tribes of the Kiowa and Lakota, a group of girls went out to play and were spotted by several giant bears, who began to chase them. In an effort to escape the bears, the girls climbed atop a rock, fell to their knees, and prayed to the Great Spirit to save them. Hearing their prayers, the Great Spirit made the rock rise from the ground towards the heavens so that the bears could not reach the girls. The bears, in an effort to climb the rock, left deep claw marks in the sides, which had become too steep to climb. Those are the marks which appear today on the side of Devils Tower.
The stone that fell from that indentation sit along the trail. A young hiker sitting next to the base of one of the columns give an indication of the size of the columns.
After completing the Tower Trail we set out on the second of the three trails, the three mile Red Beds Trail. This unpaved trail circles the tower a bit further away than the Tower Trail and provides great views.
As we descended along the trail a beautiful buck kept an eye on us.
As we came around the tower we could see the entrance road below us. Apparently someone didn’t heed the warning on the web site, as the line to enter the monument was almost a mile long. With only one attendant at the gate (the red arrow), it will be a while before those at the end of the line (blue arrow) get in.
We passed through one section of the trail that gives the Red Bed Trail its name.
After passing the Red Beds we began to climb back up toward the visitor center.
Once back at the visitor center we got back in the Jeep and drove a short distance back down the road to a right turn on to a well-maintained dirt road. About a quarter mile up that road is a parking area for the Joyner Ridge Trail, a 1.5 mile loop trail. The first part of this trail provided what we feel is the best view of the tower.
Along the Joyner Ridge Trail we stopped often to view the tower. At one point we spotted some movement along one of the columns. A zoom photo revealed two rock climbers making their way up the side of the tower.
Along the trail we came upon a bench where we enjoyed a bit of lunch with an outstanding view of Devils Tower.
At the base of the tower along the entrance road is a really cool sculpture, The Circle of Sacred Smoke.
A nearby plaque explains the meaning of the sculpture.
As we neared the park exit, we stopped for a few minutes to watch the residents of a Prairie Dog Town next to the road.
That winds up our six week visit to the great state of Wyoming. Next up is a visit to the Black Hills of South Dakota.
More on that later . . .