The Richest Hill on Earth – Butte, MT

Butte, MT

We left Helena and headed south on I-15 for a short drive of about 70 miles to the city of Butte.  There was nothing in particular that we wanted to see there, but since it was on our route, we thought it might merit a visit.  So we made a three night reservation at the Butte KOA and, once set up there, headed over to the visitor center next to the park to see what we might want to visit in the area.  It turns out Butte is a pretty interesting town, with plenty of history.

Downtown Butte, MT

Established in 1864 as a mining camp , Butte experienced rapid development in the late 1900’s, and was Montana’s first major industrial city.  In its heyday it was one of the largest copper boomtowns in the west.

Butte’s slogan is the “richest hill on earth.”  Over the course of its history, Butte’s mining operations generated an excess of $48 billion worth of gold, silver, and copper.  But the mining has also resulted in numerous environmental implications for the city and it is the site of the largest superfund effort in the U.S which include removing and cleaning the soil, as well as, adding many walking/biking trails throughout the town and hillsides.  Today the hill overlooking the city contains the remains (huge headframes or main above-ground structures) of numerous shafts mines with a three mile walking/biking loop that highlights each mine.

The Con – Mountain Con Mine

Butte’s elevation is over a mile high, the Con is a mile deep

As we drove around the mining hillside on the north side of the city we came upon a memorial to the 1917 Speculator Mine Disaster, the most deadly event in underground hard rock mining in U.S. history.  As part of a fire safety system, the mining company was installing an electric cable down into the Granite Mountain mine.  During installation the cable fell into an area approximately 2,500 feet below the surface and was damaged. When a foreman with a carbide lamp tried to inspect the damage, he accidentally ignited the oil-soaked cloth insulation on the cable. The fire quickly climbed the cable, and turned the shaft into a chimney, igniting the timbers in the shaft and consuming oxygen in the mines.

A total of 168 miners died in the ensuing blaze, most from asphyxia. Some of the miners did not die immediately, they survived for a day or two in the tunnels underground.  Some left notes written while they waited in hopes of rescue.  A few managed to barricade themselves behind bulkheads in the mine and were rescued after as long as 55 hours.

The Butte Chamber of Commerce offers a trolley car tour of the city leaving periodically each day from the visitor center next door to the RV park.  We purchased tickets in the morning and boarded the trolley for the noon tour.

The tour meandered through the city while the driver, a life long resident of Butte, gave an interesting running narration of the sights.  The trolley only makes one stop, a visit to the Berkeley Pit, a former open pit copper mine opened in 1955 and closed in 1982.

A young, energetic couple block the mine entrance

A tunnel leads through the surrounding wall of the pit to an observation deck.

Once everyone on the tour was on the observation deck our guide, Mark, gave a short talk explaining some interesting information about the mine and efforts to clean contaminated water seeping into it.

Our tour guide, Mark

When the pit was closed, the water pumps in an old nearby shaft mine, 3,800 feet below the surface, were turned off and groundwater from the surrounding aquifers began to slowly fill the pit, rising at about the rate of one foot a month.  Since its closure in 1982 the water level in the pit has risen to within 150 feet of the natural water table.

To prevent the mine water from entering the water table a new filter system pumps water out of the pit, removes impurities, and sends the water into a nearby creek.  The amount pumped out each day equals the amount seeping into the pit.  Since there is no way to prevent the water from entering the pit, this process will proceed far into the future.

After viewing the Berkeley Pit the group re-boarded the trolley and we headed into the city.  As with most mining towns, Butte had a very diverse population, and an equal number of vices.

Mai Wah Museum highlights Asian culture in Butte

The Dumas Brothel – in operation until 1982

As the trolley made its way through town our guide, Mark, pointed out an auto repair shop that he said at one time was owned by the father of a high school classmate of his named Bobby Knievel.  While Mark called him Bobby, the world knew him as Evel Knievel, the famous motorcycle daredevil.  We wrote of Evel Knievel in a 2017 post about a visit to Twin Falls, ID where he attempted to jump the Snake River Canyon on a rocket propelled vehicle.  We didn’t realize that Knievel was born, raised, and is buried in Butte.

Mark said he didn’t hang around with Knievel in high school as he was just too wild.  As an example, he said Knievel tried to ride a motorcycle up the stairs inside the county courthouse.  Later he worked for one of the mines where he drove a large earth mover. Knievel was fired when he made the earth mover do a motorcycle-type wheelie and drove it into Butte’s main power line, leaving the city without electricity for several hours.

About nine miles south of Butte is Thompson Park, a municipal recreation area with 25 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding or mountain biking.  A rail trail on the old path of the historic Milwaukee Railroad (Milwaukee Road) provides a gently sloped (trains don’t like steep grades and neither do we) path that goes through two tunnels and over a 600 foot trestle.  After a couple of days exploring Butte we needed to stretch our legs, so we drove down to hike that trail.

Sagebrush Flats – our access to the rail trail

The Milwaukee Road began operations in Montana by running the steam engines common at the time.  However, they soon began to believe that electric powered trains would be a better option.  With the low cost electricity from the Columbia River hydro power plants, company owners believed that electricity would be much cheaper than steam.   In 1915 the first section of the line switched to electricity and soon the entire line was electrified. The electric trains proved to be efficient and effective. They were dependable and operated well in the cold harsh conditions.

Reading the display panel in the photo above, John became more interested when he noticed the banner on the engine pictured in the insert.  It clearly noted that the electric engine had been constructed in his home town of Erie, PA, where they are still producing electrical railroad engines today.

As advertised, the trail is a well-maintained, level track through a pine forest with occasional views of the surrounding hills and mountains.

The trail goes through two tunnels.  The first is 550 feet long, an easy one to go through without a flashlight.

The other one, at 1,110 feet, is a bit more of a challenge, especially with the obstacle we encountered at its entrance.  As we approached the tunnel it appeared to have a layer of concrete at the entrance, standing about a foot above the trail surface.

As we approached the tunnel we discovered it was a thick layer of ice!

Unsure of how far into the tunnel the ice extended we took headlamps out of our pack and got out a set of hiking poles before heading in.  The ice was very smooth and firm but wet so we proceeded very slowly.

As we carefully proceeded into the dark tunnel we found the ice flow ended about a quarter of the way through and the surface turned to dry, firm dirt.

About a half mile from the second tunnel we approached a curve in the tracks.  In the distance we could see the long trestle, our turn around point.

The trestle is impressive at 600 feet in length, rising 130 feet above the valley floor. The trail ends just 100 yards from the 2,300 foot long Pipestone Pass tunnel, which is closed to the public.

Historic photo of construction of the bridge

Looking down at the road below the trestle

Can you spot Pam at the other end of the trestle?

After returning to the Jeep we drove the road that goes under the trestle to get a view of it from below.

Butte is home to Montana Tech, a small college formally known as the Montana School of Mines that is now part of the University of Montana system.  Years ago students at the school constructed a large “M” on the small butte above the campus.

A dirt road leads up to a spot just below the “M” where there is a great view of the city below.

View of the city from just below the “M”

Many towns and cities in the west (including our adopted home town of Boulder City) have a similar letter (or letters) above town.  But one of the things that make the “M” above Butte unique is that it is lit up a night.  Even more unique is that they can light up just the center portion of the “M” when the college has a significant athletic win, creating a “V” for victory.

We arrived in Butte with no expectation as to what we would find, but were pleasantly surprised at the interesting things we found.  The town has an unique story to tell, making a stop here worth the time.

We’ll now continue south for a three day visit to Idaho Falls, ID.  Again, we have no expectations for our visit, but it is a city of significant size and is on our route, so we’re curious as to what’s there.  We’ll let you know what we find . . .

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A Visit to Helena, MT

Helena, MT

When we began planning this trip, we determined that we would travel as far north as Helena before turning the motorhome to the south.  Why Helena?  Well, why not?  We wanted to explore southern Montana and, since Helena is the state capitol, we thought we needed to check it out.  So we left the little town of Big Timber and headed west on I-90 then north on US 287.  The weather forecast had spotty rain showers predicted, but we decided to see if we could dodge the rain as we headed down the highway.  It has always been our practice to avoid traveling on rainy days, but we decided to take a chance.  Oops, that didn’t work out so well.  While we managed to avoid a number of downpours along the interstate, our luck ran out as we headed north on US 287 where we ran into a short, but heavy shower.  Upon arrival at our site at Lincoln Road RV Park, just north of the city, we found the motorhome covered with dirt, and the Jeep so filthy we had to find a spray car wash as we had difficulty seeing out the windshield.  The dirty vehicles is a good reminder why we don’t travel in the rain!

One of the most popular things to do while visiting Helena is a boat tour on the nearby Missouri River into what is known as the Gates to the Mountains.  In July of 1805 the Lewis and Clark Expedition struggled to move upstream in this section of the Missouri.  Steep rock embankments made towing their boats from shore impossible, and the deep channel forced the men to row rather than pole their boats forward.  At each bend in the waterway, great stone walls seemed to block passage ahead of them, only to open like gentle giant gates as the expedition drew near.  In his journal, Meriwether Lewis wrote: “I shall call this place: “Gates of the Rocky Mountains.”

In 1918, when Holter Dam was built forming Holter Lake, the water level of the Missouri River in the Gates was raised about 14 feet, taming the current and allowing small tour boats to explore the canyon.

Holter Lake – entrance to the canyon is on the left side of the lake

Gates of the Mountains Tour Boats located north of Helena about three miles from I-15, offers tours through the Gates of the Mountains.  They have two tour boats and run on a varied schedule from May to September.

Our tour boat

Our very capable and knowledgeable tour guide/pilot, Brian

Entrance to the canyon

 

 

Heading north into the canyon

The boat tour is a nice, relaxing ride down the river a few miles while the guide describes various points of interest.

Bald Eagle Nest

Cap Mountain in the distance

At one point we passed Mann Gulch, the site of the raging forest fire that killed 13 smokejumpers in August of 1949.  This tragedy was the main subject matter of Norman Maclean’s book “Young Men and Fire.”

Mann Gulch

At the point where the boat turns around, we had the same view as Lewis and Clark.  Without the dam the river was lower and narrower and they were more to the left side of the photo below.

As they proceeded up the river it appeared that the water ended at a solid wall of rock.  But as the approached, it looked to them as if the wall opened up like a gate.  That’s why Meriwether Lewis called the area the “Gates of the Rocky Mountains.”  The photo sequence below shows the illusion he observed of the opening of the gates.

The next day we drove into Helena for a visit to the state capitol.  Helena was founded as a gold camp during the Montana gold rush, and was established in 1864. Over $3.6 billion of gold was extracted in the city limits over a duration of two decades, making it one of the wealthiest cities in the country by the late nineteenth century.  At the 2010 census Helena’s population was 28,190, making it the fifth least populous state capital in the U.S. and the sixth most populous city in Montana.

North (front) view of the capitol building

South view

As with most capitol buildings, there is a large rotunda area in the center surrounded by art work representative of main activities and people of the state.  In the photo below you see a statue of two people.  They are Mike and Maureen Mansfield.  Mansfield represented Montana in the U.S. House and Senate from 1943 to 1977 and Ambassador to Japan from 1977 to 1988.  In 1999, Missoula’s daily newspaper chose Mansfield as The Most Influential Montanan of the 20th Century (bet you didn’t know that).

At the top of the stairs pictured above is a statue of one of the least known but most influential women of the twentieth century, Jeannette Rankin.   When he taught American History, John always highlighted her as an example of a person with the courage of their convictions.  In 1914 Rankin was a leader in the movement to give women the right to vote in Montana.  She was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (the first woman) in 1916 and was there when Congress voted to declare war on Germany in 1917.  Rankin cast one of fifty votes in opposition. “I wish to stand for my country,” she said, “but I cannot vote for war.”

Rankin left the House in 1918 but returned in 1940, and was a member in December of 1941 during a vote to declare war on Japan soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  She was the only member of Congress to vote against the declaration.  Hisses could be heard in the gallery as she cast her vote; several colleagues asked her to change it to make the resolution unanimous—or at very least, to abstain—but she refused.  “As a woman I can’t go to war,” she said, “and I refuse to send anyone else.”  The vote ended Rankin’s political career.  One wonders if anyone in Congress today would be willing to take such a courageous stand!

The Montana Legislature is bicameral, and consists of the 50 member Senate and the 100 member House of Representatives.  The legislature meets in odd-numbered years for 90 days, beginning the first weekday of the year. Senators serve four year terms, while Representatives serve two year terms.  All members are limited to serving no more than eight years in a single 16 year period.

House Chambers

Senate Chambers

We stayed in Helena for three days before turning the front of the motorhome to the south.  Next up on our journey is a visit to the city of Butte.

More on that later . . .

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Visiting Friends Near Big Timber, MT

Big Timber, MT

We left Red Lodge on a sunny Thursday and headed to the northwest for a visit with friends Janna and Michael near Big Timber, MT.  The short (80 mile) trip is filled with great views of snow capped mountains and swiftly flowing rivers and creeks.

Mountains and meadows along MT 421

Crossing the Yellowstone River near Columbus, MT

The Crazy Mountains come into view along I-90

We exited the interstate just east of Big Timber (pop. 1,641) and drove through the town to the Spring Creek Campground and Trout Ranch, located just a couple of miles south of town.  The campground is right along the Boulder River and has two ponds stocked with fish.  We don’t fish but the ponds did provide a nice view from our site.

Swift current in the Boulder River along the campground

Once set up we contacted Janna to let her know that we were on our way to their house.  As we headed south we had a great view of more snowy mountains.

Janna provided us with clear, detailed directions to their house, as it is very isolated and not easily found using GPS.  In her directions she said, “You will think no one can possibly live up here, but we do!”  As we proceeded up the drive we  kept repeating that statement.

Just as she said, at the end of that drive we came to their beautiful home.

Our hosts – Janna, Michael, and Emmi

After a tour of the house we hopped in Janna’s car and headed back out to the main road for a visit to nearby Natural Bridge Falls.   This is a spot along Boulder River where the water has eroded a large hole in the limestone and the water disappears down into it.

The water disappears . . .

After a short distance the water re-emerges, shooting out a large hole before continuing a ways to only disappear again.  In times of heavy flow from snow melt, the amount of water in the river exceeds the capacity of the hole.  The water then flows over the rocks, creating an eighty foot water fall.

. . . then re-appears below the now dry falls . . .

. . . and continues down the canyon which is generally dry

Returning to their home, Janna treated us to a delicious meal.  This is the second time we have tasted her cooking and both meals were excellent!

It rained all the next day so we spent some time exploring the little town of Big Timber.  We especially enjoyed the Crazy Mountain Museum, located at the west end of town.  It contains numerous displays and artifacts depicting the history of the area.

The Crazy Mountain Museum

Cowboy gear display – a must for any decent Montana museum!

Local History

A sheep herder’s summer home

Next up is a visit to Helena, the capitol city of Montana.  More on that later . . .

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Three Short Hikes Complete our Red Lodge Visit

Red Lodge, MT

Afternoon thunderstorms were in the forecast for each of our last three days in Red Lodge so we limited our hiking to shorter trails south of town at the base of the mountains.   The first was a hike up a portion of the West Fork Rock Creek Trail.  To get to the trailhead we drove south of town on US 212 just a couple of miles and turned right (west) on to West Fork Road.  After 2.8 miles the road makes a switchback to the right and leads up to a ski facility.  At the switchback we turned to the left and continued west (still on West Fork Road) for 10 miles to where the road ends at the trailhead.  The road is paved for half of that 10 miles before turning to a well maintained dirt track.

End of the road

The trail heads up along the creek through forest destroyed in the Cascade Fire of 2008.

While the remains of burned trees gives the trail an eerie feeling, a large number of young ones are beginning to gain some height.  The lack of trees does allow for great vistas of the mountains around you.

Can you spot the young hiker standing next to the boulder?

The trail goes through a large boulder field

A calm spot between two areas of strong rapids

Evidence of extreme heat in one of the large boulders

As we gained elevation we began to encounter snow blocking the trail.

Beautiful waterfalls dotted the canyon walls to the north.

After two and a half miles the snow began to increase.  It was beginning to soften so we couldn’t walk on top, causing us to sink in over our knees.  It was time to turn around and head back down the trail.

On the return hike we stopped to enjoy lunch along a stretch of loud, violent rapids.

Lunch with a view

 

On the drive back to Red Lodge we stopped at an interesting little lake on the north side of West Fork Road.

Wild Bill Lake

The next day we drove about twelve miles south of Red Lodge on US 212 to a point just before the highway begins to climb up into the mountains.  We turned right (north) on to a road leading to the Parkside Campground.  The road leads up the valley past a number of camping areas, but we parked in the first lot for the Parkside Picnic Area.

The picnic area is the beginning of a short hike up to Greenough Lake.

Roaring stream going through the area

Colorful flowers brightened the trail

Open meadow along the trail

Greenough Lake is small but picturesque.  It is a very popular fishing spot for campers.

Our final hike in this area was on the Lake Fork Trail.  To get there we again drove south on US 212, this time for just under ten miles.  We turned right (north) on to Lake Fork Road and drove 1.8 miles to where the road ends at the trailhead.

Like all the streams right now, the Lake Fork Creek is rushing with snow melt.

About a mile and a half up the trail we had to cross a small stream just before it emptied into the Lake Fork Creek.

We crossed that with not much problem, but encountered a much stronger and wider stream a bit further up the trail.  Not feeling comfortable about that crossing, we turned around and headed back.  On the return hike we spotted a large waterfall above us.

Since we cut our hike short we decided to drive back up the Beartooth Highway to see what a couple days of warm weather did to the snow pack.  We were surprised how much had melted in the 72 hours since our first visit.

Snow on Sunday . . .

. . . versus snow on Wednesday

The views are still fantastic

As we drove along we noticed a sign that had been covered by snow during our first visit.  The sign identifies the feature that gives the mountain range its name: The Bear’s Tooth.

The small point designated by the arrow is the Bear’s Tooth

As we drove back north we came across a skier taking advantage of the snow and the wind at 10,000 feet.

That wraps up our visit to Red Lodge.  It is a neat little town surrounded by natural beauty.  Next up is a short stop to visit friends.

More on that later . . .

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Top of the World – The Beartooth Highway

Red Lodge, MT

The number one reason we wanted to do a return visit to Red Lodge was the opportunity to drive the Beartooth Highway, one of the most beautiful roads in the country.  We have driven the road twice before on motorcycles around the same time of year, but we wanted to see what this heavy snowfall this past winter looked like.

The Beartooth Highway is the section of U.S. Highway 212 between Red Lodge, Montana and Wyoming just north of the town of Cody.  It traces a series of steep zigzags and switchbacks, along the Montana-Wyoming border to the 10,947  foot high Beartooth Pass. The approximate elevation rise is from 5,200 to 8,000 feet in 12 miles in the most stunning of landscapes.  The late CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt called the road “the most beautiful drive in America.”  Most of this blog is made up of pictures, as words cannot describe the beauty of the Beartooth Mountains.

Heading south out of Red Lodge

Snow cover increasing with elevation gain

Looking down at the highway below

About half way across the 30 mile drive is the state line.  Crews on the Wyoming side just finished clearing the snow off the highway two days earlier.

The highest point on the road is in Wyoming, so the snow is deeper there.  We saw many spots where skiers were hiking up hillsides to enjoy a ride back down.

The dot on the left is a snow boarder heading up the hill

A zoom of the snowboarder

Cross country skiing across the meadow

Drifts are a bit high on the Wyoming side

A local poet in contemplation

There is a single tow line for skiers on the Wyoming side.  Since the road just opened, allowing travel to the tow line, it wasn’t operational yet but they were working on it.

Heading down the south side of the drive the snow decreased, but the scenery maintained its beauty.

We turned around and headed back north to re-cross the pass.  At one point we could see the road ahead zig-zagging in front of us in a series of switchbacks.

Friends Steve and MonaLiza (Lowes Travels) visited the pass a few years ago during  July.  We looked at their blog from that visit and found a very cool photo of the elevation sign at the high point on the highway.  MonaLiza gave us permission to include the photo for comparison.

The scenery we observed driving over the Beartooth was stunning!  The trip will undoubtedly be the highlight of our visit to Wyoming and Montana.

We’ll be in Red Lodge for a few more days and have a couple of hikes planned during that time.  More on those later . . .

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Three Hikes Near Lander, WY

Lander, WY

Between the frequent rain drops, we did manage three nice hikes during our week long stay in Lander.  Our first outing was a short but steep hike called the Lower Climbing Buttress  just inside Sinks Canyon State Park.  This trail starts across from Sawmill Campground and climbs to the top of the Tensleep sandstone cliffs on the south facing slope.   It’s a short (a bit over a mile round trip) and steep hike up the side of the canyon and back.

Our target for lunch with a view

Told you it was steep!

Looking south up Sink Canyon

As we approached our lunch spot we could hear footsteps behind us (over the noise of our breathing).  A single runner came bounding up the trail, said hello, and continued up the steep slope.  Soon he appeared along the ridge far above us.  The little dot on the ridge line indicated by the arrow is him.

After enjoying our lunch we began heading carefully back down the trail.  As we descended we spotted that runner going down a nearby alternate path.  We could soon see him in the parking area below us as he entered a vehicle, took a drink from a container, ran across the road to the rest room, and took off running back up the trail again.  We had initially thought we were quite the strong hikers when we got up to our lunch spot (after catching our breath) but this mountain goat quickly dispelled that feeling!

Lunch with a view

The next day we drove through the state park to a trail leading up to the PoPo Agie Falls (locals say “PoPo A Gee”, park info says “PoPo Shia”).  This is a beautiful hike up to a series of scenic water falls.  The road up through Sinks Canyon State Park runs for about three miles before entering Shoshone National Forest.  At that point  it takes a sharp turn and heads steeply up into the mountains.  But during our visit the road was closed due to heavy snow at the higher elevations.  We drove right to the gate closing the road and parked in what’s called Bruce’s Parking Area. We walked across the road and took the footbridge across the river to the trailhead kiosk.

Footbridge over the PoPo Agie River

From there it is 1.8 miles up to the falls.  For the first half of the hike the trail runs right along the river.

In some spots it leaves the river and goes through a cool boulder field.

Returning to the river, the trail went by a series of small falls.

About the half way point the trail begins to go up a bit more steeply.

As it went up, the views of the river below became more interesting.

After a bit we came to a fork in the road (and we took it, Yogi!).  Go left and the falls are about a quarter mile away.  Go right and you can hike for many, many miles into the national forest.  We turned left.

Just after crossing the little bridge the trail rose up and over an area of slick rock.  As we looked back we had a nice view of the trail behind us.

Interesting!

As we crested the slick rock the series of water falls came into view.

We continued down the trail, crossing a fairly new wooden bridge over a wet area, and came to the end of the trail at a nice bench with a great view of the lower falls.

Lunch with a view

Many colorful flowers brightened the trail as we hiked.

Our final hike in Lander was on a trail called The Bus Loop.  To get to the trailhead you go north on Main Street.  Just past the Safeway turn west on to Baldwin Creek Road.  Drive 4.2 miles and park in a small pull-off on the right side of the road.  The trail begins across the road from there.

The bus loop is a series of hiking/biking/riding trails on BLM land.  The trails are unmarked so you need to check your route on a map before you head out.  The trail is named for the remains of a small bus lying in a wash along one of the trails.  Who knows how that thing got to were it is.

Just a few yards from the bus is the remains of an old Dodge that provided someone with a good shooting target.

We hiked past the “junk yard” to a fork in the trail.  One of the paths lead up into some rocks that looked interesting, so we went that way.  We found that it lead up into a large area of slick rock.

We climbed up to the top of the rocks in hopes of getting a nice view of the valley below.

Lunch with a view and blue sky

While we sat eating our lunch and looking at the blue sky, we heard a rumble of thunder.   We then turned around to see the dark clouds forming over the mountains to our south.  The thunder and storm clouds made us reconsider our hike.  We quickly made our way back down the rocks and headed for the Jeep.

Time to head for home

Shelter in sight

Of course, no rain ever fell.  But the slick rock was the highlight of the trails, so we don’t think we missed much by cutting the hike short.

That concludes our stay in Lander.  Although the rain curtailed our activities all too often, we did get to complete the hikes at the top of our list.  Deep snow up in the high country also prevented us from some adventures, so a return visit may be in our future.  Next up is a visit to Red Lodge, MT.

More on that later . . .

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Traveling to Lander, WY

Lander, WY

Saturday morning dawned with bright sunshine lighting up the snow on the mountains overlooking Provo, UT.  We pulled out of Utah Lake State Park a bit after 9:00 heading north on I-15.  After just a few miles we exited the highway on to UT-52 and drove east for about 3.5 miles.  At that point UT-52 ends at the intersection with US-189.  We then headed north through the beautiful Provo Canyon and continued for 21 mile to Heber City.

Provo Canyon

Mountains along US-189

In Heber City we turned north (left) on to US-40 and continued for 18 miles to where it intersects with I-80.  We then headed east on I-80 into Wyoming.  It was about 150 miles on the interstate to Rock Springs, where we exited the highway on to US-191 north.

I-80 near Green River, WY

There is certainly a sharp contrast between driving on I-80, filled with truck traffic, and US-191.  Apparently not too many people were headed into central Wyoming on that day, as we saw very little traffic (or any other sign of life, for that matter except for cattle and pronghorn).

Traffic along US-191

After 40 miles we came to the tiny crossroads community of Farson, where we turned right (east) on to WY-28.  It was a 75 mile drive across the high prairie and over a high pass before descending into Lander, where we had a reservation at Sleeping Bear RV Park.  The first half of the drive on WY-28 was straight across open prairie, not too exciting.  But for the second half of the drive the road goes over South Pass (over 8,500 feet), where it is still winter!

We arrived at the Sleeping Bear RV park after a drive of over 300 miles (more than we like to do in a day) and settled into our site.  The park sits on a hill overlooking the town of Lander.  We pulled into our site nose first to give us a great view of the town and distant mountains.  The only down side is that the little dog area is right in front of us, allowing for a bit of foot travel around our site.  But the park isn’t that big so we think use of the area will be minimal.

View from the front seat of the motorhome

On our first day in Lander the weather report had the possibility of thunderstorms, so we didn’t want to stray too far from cover.  So we drove a few miles south of town for a visit to Sink Canyon State Park, one of the “must see” spots in the area.

The state park is named for a portion of the Popo Agie River where it flows into an underground limestone cavern, named the Sinks, and emerges a quarter-mile down the canyon in a pool named the Rise.   We began our tour at the small visitor center next to the Sinks.  From there you can walk a short distance to a point where you can see the water disappear, then take a short path down to the water.

The Popo Agie River just before the Sinks

The river heads into the Sinks

Just inside the alcove the water flows into a little pond and disappears.

During periods of heavy snow melt the volume of water in the river exceeds the capacity of the Sinks.  Water then overflows that spot and the excess spills over into a seasonal stream bed called the overflow channel.  The snow melt hasn’t begun in this area yet since it continues to snow even though it is the end of May.

The overflow channel

About a quarter mile down the canyon the river reappears in a large pool called the Rise.

The Rise

Note the water flowing out of the rocks

At one time no one was certain that the water emerging at the Rise was the same water disappearing at the Sinks.  But dye tests have shown that the water is the same and takes over two hours to make the 1/4 mile journey.  Geologists think that there are many winding underground passages the water has to work its way through before it bubbles back up at the Rise.  It is also likely the water underground mixes with water from other smaller sinks in the area, as the volume of water entering the Rise is greater than the volume entering the Sinks.

We then drove further up the canyon and came upon a series of rock walls high above us.

We were surprised at the number of vehicles parked along the road.  Where were all the people?  A closer look at the rock walls above us revealed a number of climbers hanging on ropes as they climbed the steep face of the walls.

The next two days have rain in the forecast so our outdoor adventures may be limited until later in the week.  But we always find something interesting to do to keep us busy.

More on that later . . .

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Cottonwood Trail Hike – Then On the Road North

Kanab, UT

For what turned out to be our last hike in Kanab we  headed just south of town to the Cottonwood  Trailhead.  To get there we drove south on US-89A less than a mile from the traffic light and turned right (west) on Kanab Creek Drive.  After two miles we turned right on to Stanfield Drive, which terminates at the trailhead just below a water tower.

The trail begins by going up the road towards the water tower.  Just a short distance before the tower follow the trail sign to the left.

The trail is easy to follow with some steep spots and a lot of ups and downs as it crosses several ravines and washes.

The Cottonwood Trail goes west for about four miles before ending.  We went two and half miles out before turning around and returning as the wind picked up and the clouds darkened.

We had one more hike planned but two days of rain put an end to that.  We had intended to stay in Kanab for a week before continuing north to Bryce Canyon.  But heavy snow in Bryce and rain all over southeast Utah forced us to stay put a bit longer than planned.  But we did enjoy ourselves the entire time, despite the spells of poor weather.

While in Kanab we stayed at J & J RV Park, a half mile east of the junction of US-89 and US-89A.  It is a basic commercial park with a wide paved road and gravel sites.  The park is fairly new so all the utilities are excellent.  We enjoyed the park and will stay there again if we visit Kanab in the future (a good possibility).

Finally, on Friday the weather cleared sufficiently for us to continue our journey.  We were up early and on the road headed north on US-89.

Good-bye Kanab Creek Bakery

As we said, we had planned a four day stay at Bryce Canyon, but snow and cold caused us to cancel that.  We also had an overnight planned at Jordanelle Lake State Park outside Park City, UT.  But the weather there had snow in the forecast so we booked a site for one night at Utah Lake State Park in Provo, located at a lower elevation.

Heading north on I-15

We have stayed in this park twice in past travels through the area so we knew they had nice pull over sites that would accommodate us, with great views of the mountains to the east.

The view from our window

Deep snow covers the peaks east of Provo

In the morning (Saturday) we will head northeast into Wyoming for a week-long visit in Lander, located in the Wind River Mountains.  The nimble hiker has been busy researching hikes in the area so we will certainly keep busy.

More on that later . . .

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North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Kanab, UT

With a cool, wet, windy day predicted for Kanab we decided to take a drive south to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, a drive of about 80 miles one way.  We left Kanab and headed south on US-89A.  The North Rim is over 8,000 feet of elevation (Kanab is about 5,000) so we anticipated seeing some fresh snow on the ground.  After only about 20 miles we began to climb up and came upon some fresh white stuff.

At Jacob’s Lake we turned right on US-89A and headed south on AZ-67.  As we drove along we passed through a section of the pine forest that had burned in a fire about 15 years ago.  We recall seeing the destruction  here when we rode through it on a motorcycle trip in 2006.  Recovery is a slow process, as the area looks pretty similar to what we saw back then.

As we continued south the temperature dropped.  We drove through a series of snow squalls that made us feel like we were back in Pennsylvania in January.

Once through a squall the sun would peak out and create a beautiful scene with the fresh covering of white.

Not something we anticipated seeing the third week of May! (at least the plow was up)

Arriving at the North Rim Visitor Center we were surprised to find the parking area very crowded, even though they had just opened the previous week and the cabins were still closed.

A young college student worked to keep the streets clear!

After enjoying the views of the canyon (photos to follow) we headed back north toward Kanab.  At times the wind blew hard, creating blizzard like conditions.

But the drive through the snow was definitely worth it.  The views of the canyon were impressive as the sun peaked through the clouds.  We’ll finish this post with a few pictures of the view from the lodge located on the edge of the canyon.

 

The weather for this week still has quite a bit of rain and wind in it, so we’ll delay our trek north (we’re headed for central Wyoming) for a few more days.  There are a couple more hikes on our to-do list we hope to complete during breaks in the rain.

More on those later . . .

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Mansard Petroglyphs Trail

Kanab, UT

Just a few miles east of Kanab is a nice hike to an interesting alcove containing a panel of ancient petroglyphs, called the Mansard Panel.  The hike is just under five miles out and back and presents a challenging gain in elevation (more than 1,000 feet).

To get to the trailhead we drove east on US-89 for six miles (just past mile marker 59) and turned left (north) on Vista Drive Road.  Looking north you can see the alcove in the distance.

View of the alcove from Vista Drive Road

A quick right turn on Grande Vermillion Ave. and then two left turns will lead you to the parking area.  Sounds tricky, but the route to the trail is clearly marked on the street signs.

Nice large parking area

Mansard Trailhead

The route begins with roughly a mile slope up a steep grade before arriving at the top of the Vermilion Cliffs.  Once at the top, you follow a sandy plateau to the base of the White Cliffs.

The saddle above us is the end of the steepest section of the trail

The most difficult section is an eight foot scramble up some rocks, but there are enough hand holds and steps to make this a pretty easy climb.  The trail is pet friendly but dogs may have a difficult time getting up this section.

Once up at the saddle there is a great view of the White Cliffs, where the petroglyphs are located.

The next half of the hike is a more gradual gain, at times through loose sand.

As you approach the base of the cliffs the path joins a Jeep road for a short time.

A short distance down the Jeep road leads to the end of the road, with the alcove just over a sandy ridge.

A marked path leads you down along the base of the cliff to the alcove.

Approaching the alcove

This site is unusual compared to most sites we have explored.  The drawings are not high up on a rock wall, but on a smooth, sloping sandstone rock at ground level.  Also, there are two long slides carved into the rock that are very unusual and not found at any other site.

John and Pam standing next to their motorcycle

Lunch with a view – the saddle is left center of the photo

The nimble hiker bounds down the rock scramble

Back down the steep section below the saddle

Colorful flowers grew all along the trail, especially the lower section.

Yellow Sego Lily

We planned to depart Kanab the next day (Sunday) but heavy rain is in the forecast, so we have extended our stay here a few days to let the weather clear.  There are a number of adventures we still have to do so the longer stay is not a problem.

More on those adventures later . . .

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