2008 WYOMING ROAD TRIP: MEDICINE BOW PEAK (12,013'), ESTES CONE (11,006'), FLAGSTAFF MOUNTAIN (6,950'), LARAMIE PEAK TRAIL, INDEPENDENCE ROCK, FOSSIL BUTTE NATIONAL MONUMENT, AND MORE August 25-September 1, 2008
Believing then I would not do this road trip, I stayed hopeful enough to be watching the Net weather forecasts. The price of fuel had come down a bit, to 3.799 locally, then I saw a good Wyoming and northern Colorado forecast for several days. With the prospect of higher fuel costs next summer, and that I was losing weight and so, starting to feel pretty good about doing this trip, it looked fine for taking off.
I made some motel reservations Sunday night, and then packed up my gear. Nothing to take but my day climbing pack and camera gear, extra clothes, personal items, and cash. I brought along two sleeping bags to test a new, rectangular, $40 summer one, for possible double-up. I didn't expect hot or warm weather, but maybe some cold nights, too.
Zooming east on Interstate 80, Monday, my car was running fine. I began to worry about my aging tires and my then 89,000 miles, and so checked my tire pressure, oil, and fan belt. Making a few stops, getting some organic cotton T shirts, and shorts, at my favorite enviro outdoor clothing store, and doing a short hill hike about Reno, NV, I whizzed along at my standard 75 mph across the Great Basin, with a few stretches of road work to slow me down.
The most painful thing that I suffered on this trip was the sudden urge to use a rest area. It was nice to know when there was one, and also to know some fast food restaurants to get a cold drink, too. I made a photo stop for the Ruby Mountains, and was pleased to have such a low rate for my motel in Wendover, UT. I enjoyed a first great sunset (top), and rested well that night.
Passing through Utah quickly, I made a short stop in Evanston, WY, for a stroll and a bowl of soup. As many of these towns, Evanston had changed enough to merit a few photos as additional record. I took another stop in Rock Springs, WY, with an historic section to walk. I was informed of a historic site just off the Interstate in Superior, WY. It was only 9 miles on good paved road, each way, to a collection of old buildings, with people still living there.
Then, it was to Rawlins, WY, to look for a place to stay. The first place that I stopped asked $80 for a night, so I went on. Taking WY 130 south, I came to Saratoga, WY, the logical place to stay before my hike of Medicine Bow Peak. I found a nice enough place with a reasonable rate. There was a nice sunset from just out of town. Having a nice dinner, I looked forward to my first peak, an easy one, but the highest one that I was to climb.
Wednesday, then, my third day out, I got up early and motored up the WY 130 highway to the Lake Marie West trailhead. I had information and maps by the Internet, and the directions were O.K. The alpine scene was so nice.
I hiked up the trail in a good wind. I put on my parka and started to snap photos. The view got better as I climbed up, and I felt pretty good. I had some problems with altitude this year, as I haven't done much high peak climbing. Staying at some slight elevation for two nights, that appeared to help.
Shooting so many photos of the trail and views, I followed the trail briefly downward as it rounded ridges. Good to have a map to know this. Some hikers might head straight up, as there are a few false summits. I stuck to the well marked trail with aged wood posts embedded in big rock cairns. Coming to trail signs, I discerned the peak highpoint, and made my final push to the top.
Topping out in a good wind, I settled down for a summit stay. It wasn't a good idea to have a carbonated drink, as I had to take time to let it fizzle out slowly without losing it all. I started to take pictures, as it did all look like images that I'd seen on the Net. I'd then have some really good ones with my 7 megapixel camera. I shot also with my back-up cameras, and after 40 minutes, took a loop trail down. A post helped with finding the pathway, and it leads to the Lewis Lake trailhead, at another spot along the highway. I had noted another peak, Sugarloaf Mountain (11,398'), and figured to climb it, too.
Descending the Lewis Lake trail, I stopped for pictures of the older wildflowers. Some were still fresh for photos. Another hiker came up, and I simply said it was windy on top.
Back to a saddle and trail junction, I started up the second peak to climb. It looked to be short class 2 talus and scree. Then, 100 feet up, a strong wind gust hit me. It tossed me about a bit with my big day climbing pack and extra jacket hanging from it, and I wondered what to do. Thinking a bit, I turned around and hiked back to the trail. A loss of balance on rocks could be dangerous. This small peak wasn't really worth it.
So, it was back to the Lake Marie West trailhead, a few miles away, with this blowing wind and a gorgeous hike, through a lake basin and the sight of the impressive rock walls of the peak ridge. I shot many more photos, and see this area may be accessible for a winter trip. It would have an easy ski along the highway.
Back to my car, I stopped at Libby Flats Observation Point for more photos of the area. It was then down northeastward to Laramie, WY. I got some drink in the tiny town of Centennial, WY, and motored into town. After rest, more drink, and food, I took U.S. 287 southeast to Fort Collins, CO, where I had a reservation for two nights. I had seen most of this upscale town back in 2005, so got a light meal and went to bed.
Waking up comparatively later in the morning, I headed for Estes Park, CO, and Rocky Mountain National Park. I already had walked much of Estes Park, too, a nice tourist town, so then took CO 7 south to the Longs Peak trailhead. They didn't charge for park entry, here, being a peripheral section of the national park, saving me $25, there.
Too late to try Longs Peak (14,255'), I opted for an easy hike to Estes Cone. A trail leads to the top, here, with a good view. Taking my time, I liked doing this kind of traveling, with peaks to do. I had wondered about two more peaks today, with Twin Sisters Peaks (11,413' and 11,428'), but it took too long for my first one. The trail is signed, and I topped out after about two hours.
There was some smoke in the distance, but I snapped many photos of the views. I like the crags above distant Estes Park, and did many panorama sequences. I had lots of time. Most hikers took the Longs Peak trail, with Chasm Lake or the Keyhole as stated destination in the trail register. The ranger said some 50 climbers, that day, took the challenge and 5,000 feet of gain for Longs Peak. The sky was clear, with no thunderheads building up. Perfect weather. I surmised someday, I'd find a game climber and fly to Denver and rent a car to do Longs Peak on a multi-peak excursion. There's other Colorado peaks to bag to make the flight worthwhile enough.
Having the Cone to myself, I shortly headed back down the same way, with a slight class 2 scramble, and a steep trail back down to Storm Pass. Some other hikers were going up. I shot more wildflower photos, and shortly came back to the trailhead and my car.
Twin Sisters Peaks aren't a very good highpoint, despite the trail to its tops. A peak further along the ridge was higher. There did look to be a drop in between, but with the 2,400' gain, and being in the afternoon, I decided to see more of this nice area via the highways marked scenic on my AAA map. There seemed to be a road to the top of a Flagstaff Mountain with a good view of Boulder, CO, a town I haven't visited. I would count this near drive-up, being so exotic and remote enough for me, in my style, lately.
Taking the highways south to Nederland, CO, the vistas weren't so scenic, being hazy and backlighted, with no high peaks to see, except for maybe Mt. Meeker (13,911').
Motoring east on CO 119, a big surprise was Boulder Canyon and Boulder Falls. Very scenic! There were even rock climbers above the highway. I now had more time than I figured, and soon came into Boulder. I took a street south for the drive-up peak, passing through the college campus. So many students! This is a town for pedestrians, with flashing bright lights to mark crosswalks. Lots of cyclists, too.
Coming to the mountain park, I stopped at the Panorama Point parking area to pay the $3 self-service fee. I snapped many photos of the town below. Finding that the local highpoint of the highway isn't the highpoint of the peak, I had to backtrack and head for the signed, "summit" area. There are no trails or anything to mark the true highpoint, insignificant by the nature center volunteer. I had to hike cross country a couple hundred yards to determine the actual highpoint, with perhaps clumps of rocks to mark the three possible choices. It was in a forest, on a large flat area, so with no views. Other adjacent peaks rise higher above this one, so Flagstaff Mountain isn't much of a worthy peak. But, I was glad that I had bagged it.
I walked out along the other trails and roads to look for better views, but the best ones of the town were back at the lower viewing area.
So, it was time to head back for my motel. I didn't have time to walk about Boulder, not knowing the town well. I wanted to watch the TV broadcast of the Presidential nominations, with a convention in nearby Denver. I could follow this from my motel TVs, with each night being viewed. I took CO 7 north, then to CO 66 east, and then to Interstate 25. All new highways for me to drive.
Friday the 29th, it was up, for me, so early for the long day. I had to make good time, driving and hiking. It turned out to be over 65 miles of gravel or dirt road, by my route, to access the Laramie Peak Trailhead and then get back to the Interstate. The Laramie Peak trail had the most gain, 3,000 feet, of any peak on this trip.
Motoring in mostly the early morning and dawn to Glendo, WY, I took the road out to Esterbrook, WY, following my Net directions. This is some remote territory, with worsening road to negotiate. It was further than the map suggested, and I began to worry about the time. Stopping for cows, and pictures of some pronghorns, I liked the scenery. But, with my early start, I began my hike at about 10 a.m. There is a $5 trail fee. Laramie Peak (10,274') is the highest of the local Laramie Mountains, and has a fair trail going to high on the summit area.
I made great time, and shortly, after about two hours, was approaching the top. The information I had said that the short chimney to climb to the true highpoint was class 3, but finding it, I'd rate it a class 5. There is a thin chain looped about a high rock to assist, but I don't do things like that. It could have been rusted, and might give way. I looked at this rock pitch again and again, and yanked on the chain. It is an awkward start, and I had to get back down, too. A break or fall wouldn't be very nice. Well, I had seen most of the views, and enjoyed my diet cola drink about the communication facilities on the summit area. There is a rickety looking helicopter pad on some rocks to the north, but that is not the true top, as said on the Net. Bad information, although the picture of the chimney was right.
For only then the 25-30 feet, I would not
count this as an ascent. So disappointing! I hiked the trail back
down, then with a total round trip time of 5:22. At least it was
good exercise, with a weak, name-only, falls (about a foot high)
along the way.
The order of business was to leave the area without any car problems. I had to drive slowly, and watch the road. I snapped a few pictures of the scenery again on the way out, and got some cold drink at the country store. I spent a lot of cash for chilled drinks, mostly Starbucks Frappuccino and Diet Coke, for this trip.
Taking a road north, I came finally to Douglas, WY, and the Interstate. It was now the Friday evening of a holiday weekend. I paid the highest rate, over $74, that I ever have for a nice motel room, and had some soup and rest.
The next morning, I motored to Ayers Park and a natural bridge. This is about 4 miles off the freeway on paved road. These made for about 15 minutes to see and photograph, then it was back to Interstate 25 north. I stopped in Casper, WY, for a photo walk through the downtown area, deserted on a holiday weekend.
Getting lots of gas, I took WY 220 westward. This highway is marked scenic. There isn't that much to see, but Independence Rock made for a history stop. The early pioneers made their marks on the rock, being along the Oregon Trail. I looped around the main rock, and then hiked to the top. Lots of names and dates to see.
Then, it was northwest on U.S. 287 to Lander, WY, for another short visit. I liked the vistas of the distant Wind River Mountains, seen from about 60 miles away. Opting not to see Sinks Canyon State Park, with its underground river, I headed back south, then west, on WY 28 for South Pass. A scenic vista point along the way made for a nice few photos. Seeing Atlantic City, another pioneer town, I parted with a non-resident $2 fee to walk about to see South Pass City, as well.
The open spaces and clouds made for many of my photos, and I stopped at more viewpoints along the way. Then, it was to U.S. 191 and north to Pinedale, WY. I tried to look for lodging, but the rates were far too high for me. I had a nice dinner, and went to nearby Fremont Lake to camp. I slept for a few hours in my car, not needing my sleeping bags. There were no mosquitoes to bother me, although many other bugs flitted about. I never got bit on this trip, although I saw some skeeters on the Estes Cone trail and elsewhere. No ticks, either. I never applied repellant.
Raining during that night, I worried that my next peak, Wyoming Peak (11,378'), would be a wash. Up at 4:30 a.m., I drove back into Pinedale and got a nice breakfast. It looked to be cloudy. Motoring west on U.S. 191 over to U.S. 189, some red sky seen over the Wind River Mountains had me take note, and then I came to Big Piney, WY. Dark clouds to the north and east. I stopped to see what would happen, and saw some clearing to the west. I thought that I might more easily come back another time, as this was on the western side of the State.
After about an hour, I called it. No big clearing. I'd visit Fossil Butte National Monument, my alternate plan. South on U.S. 189 to Kemmerer, WY, I went west on U.S. 30 to see this park. It has a nice visitor center, and I took a dirt road up and north to gain some views.
Headed south again on U.S. 189, I finally came back to Interstate 80. I'd head home. With more food, drink, and gas, I stopped in Salt Lake City, UT, for a look at the State Capitol and more, again. Wanting a nice meal to top off my trip, I couldn't find much good open, downtown, on this Sunday afternoon.
Motoring west on Interstate 80 again, there were high wind warnings past the Great Salt Lake, and I stopped at a closed rest area to gaze at the Bonneville Salt Flats. I saw lightning ahead, and for the low room rate, opted to lodge again in Wendover. I hiked along the main street to see a nice sunset (left). The TV showed green on Doppler over back where I would have been, and even announced a severe weather alert over southwestern Wyoming. Snow was forecast down to 8,000 feet.
Up Monday the holiday, at 3:30 a.m., I zoomed westward on I-80, and passed through the Nevada towns quickly. Still clouds over Elko, so no peak hike in the Rubies. I had a $3.99 ham and eggs breakfast at a Winnemucca casino, and, betting two or three coins, even won 25 quarters at slots!
Again at the Reno, NV, outdoor clothing store by about noon, I hiked the nearby hill, with warm sun, and bought a cap. Traffic was so slow back to California, and it took me 5 hours to do a 2 hour drive. Everyone was returning home. All was about the same at my place, and I got to my photos right away.
I had hiked about 30 miles with 7,000' gain. I drove almost 3,000 miles. Using about 69 gallons of fuel, my fuel efficiency was then a nice 42 mpg. Spending about $500 in cash, I charged up some $225 for five nights lodging. I spent about $256 for gas, paying from 3.699 to 4.799/gal. Shooting nearly 2,850 digital images and movie clips, that used about 4 GB of memory. I backed up my photo work by using a roll of Kodachrome, too.
Wearing mainly my T shirt and shorts, with a second light top layer at times, I used a heavy jacket with parka, pants, and more Capilene underwear on Medicine Bow Peak, only. Light hiking boots were fine. I used sunblock and chapstick, getting reddish faced anyway.
I now have so many more peaks to go back for. This might be years from now, or maybe, never. I figured on wrapping up most of my current, gasoline-powered, travels shortly, in the interests of stopping global warming, and for conservation in general. I may do another few road trips if I get a travel companion who shares fuel costs, and likes to climb peaks. My plan now is to walk about everywhere in town, and save my current automobile till about 2012, when I can get a hydrogen fuel cell car, if affordable, or maybe a 70-100 mpg gas car.
Utah this fall sounds pretty nice, but I have little new to have to see, now, and it runs more CO2 emissions. Maybe I'll see about a shorter trip to the Southwest this winter, to use my car, but there's lots happening in town and on the Net to occupy me.
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