Friday, July 31, 2015

Hiking the Bighorn Mountains: Seven Brothers Lakes

Continuing our month in Buffalo, WY we took another big hike in the Bighorn Mountain Range, this time to Seven Brothers Lakes. There are a couple of ways to reach this group of seven lakes, the most common being a 11.2 mile round trip. Another option cuts the hike down to about 6.5 miles but the road to the trailhead is very rough. We ended up doing the longer hike because we didn't want to take our only vehicle over the crazy rough road to save our legs a few miles, a Jeep would have no problem reaching the shorter trailhead.

The trail crosses a very long meadow then gradually climbs through a young lodgepole pine forest, recovering from the massive Lost Fire in 1988. The climb through the forest seems to go on forever with several false summits. Finally we reached the first of seven stunning subalpine lakes, and the views just kept coming as we continued on discovering each lake in the string. Though the trail is long and somewhat arduous, the payoff is worth it!

The beginning of the trail.
We must traverse the entire length of this long meadow.

Marmots were the critter of the day!

Flowers were plentiful.

Once we reached the end of the meadow the trail began to climb the foothills...becoming very rocky.
The lodgepole forest is young, coming back after the devastating Lost Fire of 1988,
it felt like we were climbing through a Christmas tree farm!

Reaching the lakes area was a wonderful relief!
The trail finally leveled out and the views were fantastic!

Check out the sheer walls of the 11,000+ foot peaks behind us.

Clouds were building, creating postcard-like views.

The marmots in these parts are huge!

And back through the meadow to the truck...another lovely day on the trail!

For more information on trail location and hike details do a search using keywords: Seven Brothers Lakes Hike and you'll get a link from the Cloud Peak Wilderness hiking book. This information is fairly old (1999) but will get you to the trail. You could also buy the book!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Hanging Out for a Month in Buffalo, WY

We're well in to our month long stay in Buffalo, WY. This charming small town sits on the edge of the Bighorn Mountain Range at an elevation of 4,646 and about 5,000 people call it home. Downtown boasts nicely restored buildings dating to the late 1800's with several beautiful murals depicting the Wyoming lifestyle gracing their walls.

The rolling green hills these horses are frolicking on spread for hundreds of miles to the East of town.

Bronze of an angry rancher...

...catching a sheep thief in action.

Longmire Weekend was celebrated our first weekend in town.
Craig Johnson, on the float, has written a series of novels set in the Buffalo area that has been made into a Netflix series.

Sheep ranching was big business in WY at the turn of the century and sheepherders wagons
like this one are seen all over town.


To add some variety to our daily exercise, Hans negotiated a very good deal for us on a one month membership at the local YMCA. We've been able to play pickleball again and take a few exercise classes on the days we don't feel like driving up to the mountains to hike.

Pickleball with the locals!

One of our favorite things about Buffalo is the Clear Creek Trail System. It's 17 miles long, much of it along beautiful Clear Creek (that lives up to its name), with several distinct sections. Trail maps are available at the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce.

There's the town section that is convenient and includes a bit of Main Street and the local City Park. There's the meadow/pasture section that has wide open views to the Bighorn Mountains as well as the sweet sounds of Clear Creek and opportunities for bird and wildlife watching. There's the forest section, our favorite, that runs for about four miles among ponderosa pine and cottonwood trees on natural trail surface. And there's the Heritage Park section that gives us a nice four mile round trip walk from our RV park with both prairie and wetlands views.

Clear Creek Trail: pastures on one side, Clear Creek on the other, Bighorn Mountain views to the West.

A unique looking bovine seen along the trail.

When we first started walking Clear Creek Trail these flowers were bursting in bloom everywhere!
I can't find them online...does anyone know what they are called?


The forested section of the trail is almost four miles long.

Built in 1914, this was Buffalo's second power plant.
H. P. Rothwell, a German immigrant who financed the plant, indulged his love of European architecture. 

Buffalo gets a lot of RV traffic being along highway 16, said to be the easiest and most direct route to Yellowstone from the East, so there are several RV parks to choose from. We are very happy with our choice, Deer Park RV Park, where we've got a nice big site and views of wildlife right from our yard.

We have a site in the long term section of the park, with lots of space between rigs. 

This is our view in the other direction.
Every day we see pronghorn, deer, turkey and horses in this meadow which separates us from I-90 by at least a quarter mile.

We see about 7 or 8 pronghorn every day in the meadow.

More to come from Buffalo, WY...stay tuned!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Hiking the Bighorn Mountains: Sherd Lake Loop

We're settled for a month in Buffalo, WY, just a few miles East of the Bighorn Mountain Range, allowing us to easily escape the summer heat and immerse ourselves in the wilderness. With temps in Buffalo hitting the high 80's and low 90's we intend to spend a good deal of time in these mountains!

The Bighorn Mountain Range is a spur from the Rocky Mountains and is about 200 miles in length with two peaks at just over 13,000 feet and a dozen more over 12,000 feet. Cloud Peak Wilderness protects the center of the range and is surrounded by the Bighorn National Forest, both of these areas provide miles of hiking and fishing opportunities.

Our first hike in the Wilderness was a doozy: 9.5 mile Sherd Lake Loop took us through dense, healthy lodgepole pine forest, past numerous lakes and glacial ponds, across several crystal clear creeks and offered up views of 11,000 foot peaks and a couple of moose to top off a wonderful day on the trail. We ended up hiking about 11.5 miles due to losing the trail at one point, so we were glad we had purchased the NatGeo Cloud Peak Wilderness trail map to get us back on track!

Our first good view of the Bighorn Range as we drove to our trailhead. These Wyoming cows have it made!
The peaks viewable from here top out at about 11,000 feet so there is very little snow left on them.

The first couple of miles of trail climbed gently through thick lodgepole forest
so we were happy to break out of the trees to this beautiful glacial pond with an active beaver lodge.

I think this was at Sherd Lake.

Peek-a-boo frog!

Yet another pretty lake...I don't think it's possible to get tired of pretty subalpine settings!

The ranger had told us to be prepared for stream crossings so we packed our Tevas,
but we were able to find a dry way across all four large stream crossings on this hike.

As the trail ascended, the sections of exposed glacial rock grew more frequent
giving us a break from the forest but adding rocks to the trail!

This scene was the highlight of our day.
We had a fabulous view of the peaks, fluffy clouds, a beautiful meadow and crystal clear Clear Creek
studded with boulders, AND a pair of moose...the two tiny brown specks on the left side of the meadow...

We were fortunate to watch this pair for several minutes before they ambled off into the forest.

Much of the hike was through lodgepole forest, with occasional openings for lakes and creeks.

We got off the trail just as the rain started, extremely important for avoiding lightning!
There are some sweet boondocking spots off highway 16 as it skirts the Bighorn Mountains.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Bear Lodge, aka Devil's Tower National Monument

Our first stop in Wyoming was a couple of nights at Keyhole State Park for the purpose of visiting Devils Tower National Monument. Just 23 miles due south of Devils Tower, Keyhole Lake is a worthy stopover itself. It's got 10 different campgrounds, all the water sports you could possibly want, plus wildlife and birding galore.

The cloud show our first evening was spectacular...and brought us a good inch of rain overnight.

Early the next morning we spotted a couple dozen pronghorns grazing in the meadow across from the campground.

We took the good dirt road North from Keyhole through beautiful Wyoming countryside.
Devil's Tower could be seen in the distance once we gained a tiny bit of elevation. 

Bear Lodge was one of many Native American names for the imposing tower of igneous rock (a laccolith, just like Bear Butte in my last post), but like many sites important to American Indians, a white man reported a different name to his superiors and that name stuck: Devils Tower.

About 50 million years ago molten magma was forced into sedimentary rock but then cooled under ground. As it cooled the magma contracted and fractured into columns. Over millions of years the sedimentary deposits eroded and exposed this amazing geological feature. The tower rises 867 feet from its base and the diameter of its base is 1,000 feet.

We started our visit by taking the paved 1.3 mile Tower Trail around the base.
Even the rubble field is impressive!

People have been climbing the tower since 1893.

Every angle of this imposing laccolith takes ones breath away.

The columnar fragments are striking too.


This little guy was busy gathering mouthfuls of grass and carrying them up a tree.

Back at the beginning of the paved trail we discovered dozens of people about to start the loop...making us really glad we had done the easy trail first (we started about 8:30 am)! Next we took the outer loop, Red Beds Trail, a 2.8 mile natural surface trail with a fair amount of ups and downs.

Lots of this going on, every single view of the tower is stunning!

This is why the trail is called Red Beds...
The Spearfish Formation, composed of dark red sandstone and maroon siltstone,
was laid down in a shallow sea 225 to 195 million years ago.
The Belle Fourche River winds past the dramatic red bluffs.

Leaving the main Monument parking lot we saw a little side road leading to the Joyner Ridge Trail. Though we did not hike the entire loop, we took advantage of a perfectly placed bench on the trail to enjoy lunch with a spectacular view.

View from Joyner Ridge.

The Monument from Joyner Ridge.

Keyhole State Park was a beautiful and peaceful place to stay away from the hordes of people who visit Devil's Tower. Only one of the 10 campgrounds in the park has hookups. Tatanka campground has electric and water hookups and the sites are nicely separated. Each site has a picnic table and fire pit. We had excellent Verizon signal. All sites in Tatanka are reservable.

The other nine campgrounds in the State Park have dry campsites, each with a picnic table and fire pit. Some are reservable, some are first come first serve. There are some really fabulous waterfront sites scattered throughout the dry campgrounds. All campgrounds have pit toilets. The private marina located in the park has showers.

Our site: #21 in Tatanka campground.
We only had a neighbor on one side, and that site was a decent distance away. 

One of the fabulous dry sites available in another campground at Keyhole State Park.