South Wind River Range (Big Sandy, WY to Atlantic City, WY)

3 days and 48 miles. Cruisy walking. Atlas meets cows. Atlas doesn’t meet cayotes. Walking the cusp of the Wind River Range and Great Basin Divide. Bill Hoge gets best trail magic award. A glimpse at my next stretch of trail…

Day 9

Big Sandy Opening – a mile or so past Middle Fork Squaw Creek

12.7 miles

Atlas and I enjoyed our rest day at Big Sandy Lodge, but I was excited to get back on the trail and see the southern-end of the Wind River Range. I ate a big breakfast at the lodge and was hiking out by 9 a.m.

The sores under Atlas’ arms had healed up and so for the first time in a week, he got to carry his own pack. Having really studied it, I think that I’d fitted his pack too far forward at the beginning of our trip and so I was hopeful that with the new fit he’d be okay carrying his stuff again.

The first mile and a half was a dirt road from the lodge to the Big Sandy Opening Trailhead. I was surprised at how much car traffic there was, the parking lot was packed! Big Sandy is one of the most popular trailheads heading into the Winds due to its proximity to the Cirque of the Towers and other impressive places towards the southern-end of the range.

Happily, the CDT peeled off shortly after the trail started and headed south, while the rest of the trail traffic headed north or east. The trail wound its way through dense pine forests most of the day and while the scenery was unremarkable, the miles went by quickly.

The trail here is much lower in elevation, about 9,000 ft and so it was considerably hotter than the hike through the north-end of the range where I was mostly in the 10,000 – 12,500 ft range. Atlas really slows down in the heat and by early afternoon I noticed he was almost constantly hot and panting, despite the water sources every mile or so along the way. Wanting to help the little guy out, I decided just to carry his stuff for him again. He seemed to have more energy with it off, so I was happy with the decision. That dog has me wrapped around his little paws.

We arrived at the last water source I planned to cross for the day by about 4. Atlas splashed around in it to cool off again and I filled up a few liters of water. There was a flat spot to camp near to the stream and I was tempted to set up camp there for the night, Atlas sure would have approved. I really try not to camp too close to a water source or trail as it increases the likelihood of having unwanted animal encounters, and while there aren’t Grizzlies down this end of the range, there’s still plenty of other critters. That practice has kept me safe for a lot of miles and so I begrudgingly loaded up my pack with the water and started back on the trail.

After another half mile or so, we came across a clearing at the top of a hill with plenty of level ground for camping. The vegetation here being a hybrid of desert and forest, I was worried about Atlas stepping on a spiky plant of some sort, so we stepped carefully as we hunted for a good spot to camp. I found a good spot with softer ground-cover on the edge of the clearing under some Pine and Aspen trees. Atlas slept the whole time I setup camp. As soon as the tent was ready we both jumped in and settled down, despite it only being 5:30 p.m.

It was still hot and the sun hadn’t dipped down behind the trees yet and so it was pretty hot in the tent, despite having the storm doors fully open on both sides. To the rescue came my hiking umbrella, which I set up on the west end of the tent to shield the sun, and it did just the trick. Have I expressed how much I love that umbrella? It’s so versatile.

Matt, the cook, had packed me some ham and cheese sandwiches before I left the lodge and I ate those instead of cooking dinner tonight. A nice treat! I studied the next day’s maps and then retired for a very early night’s sleep.

As dusk set-in, a pack of cayotes started yipping in the valley below us. I was super happy not to be camped down where they were, had I been a little more lax with my choice of camp location, that’s exactly where we would have been camped. The yipping carried on for HOURS. Atlas was really unsettled at first, but eventually fell back asleep.

Day 10

Near Middle Fork Squaw Creek – a couple miles past Sweetwater Guard Station

15.5 miles

Despite the cayote sound-show, we both got a good, long, night’s sleep. I needed to get in about 14 miles today and wanted to get an early start before the heat set in and slowed Atlas’ progress. We hit the trail by about 7:30 and got in some quick miles.

The hiking was pretty cruisy, but for the heat that kicked in mid-afternoon. I met a few more CDT nobo’s today, enjoying the opportunity to talk trail again and introduce Atlas to more of his new trail family.

We also encountered Atlas’ first trail cows! He was very excited to see some big black 4-legged animals across the meadow, and so he took off towards them with excitement. The cows weren’t as excited to see him and so took off in the other direction. I called him back to me and thankfully he gave up the chase and returned. When he was a puppy, I’d taken him to Wheeler Park, a farm in Salt Lake City for tourists to see farm animals and such. I don’t know if it helped with his socialization in this situation, but he certainty wasn’t scared of them, which I guess is half the objective.

Towards late afternoon, the trail passed by the opposite-side of the creek from Sweetwater Guard Station and campground. Not passing up an opportunity to throw some trash out and use a real toilet (well, a Forest Service pit toilet at least, my standards are low), I waded across the river and headed into the campground.

I’d decided last night that I was just going to keep carrying Atlas’ stuff for him, given how hot it was along this stretch of trail. Not wanting to carry the weight of his empty pack, and realizing he’ll probably have grown out of it before next summer’s hiking adventures, I happily tossed it in the campground dumpster. Good riddens, pack! Hopefully Atlas has better luck with his next pack, and that I figure out how to fit the next one properly.

We crossed the Sweetwater River again and re-gained the trail. Shortly after, Atlas stopped on the trail and let out a bark then a growl. As I caught up to him I saw a giant bull moose standing on the bank of the river not very far from him, and now me. I stepped around Atlas and yelled sharply at him “Atlas, here, now!” and he thankfully broke the gaze of the big animal and trotted away with me down the trail. Happily, the moose trotted off the other way.

Shortly after that, Atlas stopped on the trail for a second time and let out another bark. What this time? I caught him to see a father and 2 kids perched uncomfortably on a log between the river and the trail. The eldest daughter expressing with relief “oh thank God, can you help us?”. “Sure”, I said, as Atlas jogged down to them to say hello, “what’s going on?”. The daughter blurting out “there’s a moose that way and a snake down that way and so we’re stuck here, and we don’t know how to get back to the campground? Do you know where the campground is? Can we follow you?”. I almost laughed at the absurdity of it, we were literally a 1 minute walk from where it’d crossed the river from the campground, how could they have gotten that disoriented in such a short distance? I caught myself, because clearly this young family wasn’t finding it was amusing, in fact they were definitely in panic-mode. I talked them up to the trail, talked them out of following Atlas and I, pointed them in the right direction and told them what to do if they saw the moose again. They hurried up the trail thanking me over and over as they went. I’m always happy to see people recreating in the wilderness, so good on them, but these guys sure do have a ways to go in developing their forest-smarts!

We found a great stop to camp for the night in a sage brush field. Talk about room with a view, we’re now down at the cusp between the mighty Wind River Mountain Range and the Great Basin Divide, ie. the cusp between forest and high-altitude sage-brush desert-plains. I cooked a delicious dinner of Ramen Noodles and dehydrated vegetables, and ate it watching the sun set over the desert plains below. It’s night’s like these! I just love my time out on the trail.

Day 11

A couple miles south of Sweetwater Guard Station to Highway 28 and Atlantic City!

18.5 miles

What a fantastic day!

We hit the trail at 7 a.m. I was concerned that today the trail would travel predominantly through sagebrush with little reprieve from the sun and that isn’t Atlas’ forte, so I was wanting to get as many miles in as possible before the afternoon heat set in. Happily the trail spent most of the day in forest with plenty of water and so we made great time.

I got a wonderful surprise at 10 a.m. when my friend and former boss, Bill Hoge, texted my GPS to say he’d be at his Atlantic City cabin that night. I was running a couple of days ahead of schedule and knew he was still in Salt Lake, so I was surprised, but really happy, to hear the news. The only catch was that we were going to need to put in some serious miles to get to Highway 28 by sunset, we’d done 7 miles already but still had 11 to go, and Atlas had been getting pretty tired at 14.

I looked at Atlas and told him if he could stick with me and bust out 18 miles today, that he could sleep on a real bed tonight, eat town food, and not walk a single mile tomorrow. I’m not sure he understood what was going on, but he did seem to appreciate we were on a mission to get somewhere more quickly than normal.

Atlas really rallied, I was so proud of him. We stopped for a long break at the edge of the forest because ahead of us lay 4 miles of dirt road walking devoid of tree coverage. It was 85 degrees and I knew Atlas would struggle, so wanted him to get a good rest in first. He sprawled out across the road and seemed to get a good rest in.

We hit the road again, and wow was it hot. I didn’t want the little guy overheating so I made him walk next to me and put my hiking umbrella up to create some shade for him. Umbrella to the rescue again!

These last 4 miles were really beautiful. We traveled down out of the very south end of the Wind River Mountains and onto the beginning of the Great Basin Divide. Sage brush desert stretched out in front of me as far as I could see. I find a real beauty in sage brush plains.

We made it to the road by about 5:30 p.m., and not a minute too soon as far as Atlas was concerned, he was hot and very tired. We crossed the highway and I unfolded Atlas’ mat for him to lay town on, he curled up on it and I held my umbrella above his head to keep him out of the sun. I was very proud of my little guy, what a lot of miles he’d walked since we left the car at the north-end of the mountain range, 138 to be precise!

It was great not to have to hitch into town, because Bill was coming to get me! I’d texted him a quarter of a mile back and so he would be along shortly. I always feel like such a bum waiting on the side of a highway in the middle of no-where, I watch as cars fly by and wonder what they think when they see a girl with a backpack just standing there, looking like she hasn’t seen a shower in way too long. Do they think i’m a homeless person, but why would a homeless person be on the side of a highway in the Red Desert? Do they think i’m a hitchhiker trying to get across the country, but why wouldn’t I be hitching near to a town? Do they think my car broke down and i’m trying to get to town, but where is my car? I doubt many would think I just hiked 130 miles through the wilderness to get here and was waiting for my friend to pick me up. I love this adventure called life that we’re all on, there’s no guessing what path a stranger is on.

The sight of Bill’s red Jeep pulled me out of my daydreaming and I waved excitedly at him as he sailed by at 60 miles/hr. The Jeep slowed, did a U turn and drove back towards me, it was Bill, yay!

Bill helped me get Atlas and all my stuff thrown into the back of the car then gave me a giant hug. Was so great to be picked up by a friend! I’ve never been picked up by a friend from the trail before, was so nice! As if that wasn’t great enough, Bill then revealed a cooler with ICED water and beer in it! OH YES PLEASE! It went down so well.

We drove along the highway for a few miles and then turned down a dirt road towards Atlantic City. Bill pointed out some historic mines, as well as some active ones along the way. Bill and his wife, Linda, have followed along my blog since the beginning; knowing my hiker hunger would be in full force, he took me directly to the local saloon, the Miner’s Grubstake. Good call, Bill!

Downtown Atlantic City looks like the set of a one-street town in a wild-west movie. The Miner’s Grubstake wasn’t hard to spot, it had a big teepee out the front and a full parking lot along the side.

The saloon was packed, every barstool and table taken. Everyone in south-central Wyoming must have been at this bar today. The owner knew Bill and stopped by to say hello and take our order. I ordered a beer and burger and awaited its arrival with anticipation. The saloon was an easy place to lose track of time because it could have doubled for the town’s museum, old mining memorabilia packed the walls and ceiling. I didn’t need a museum though, I had Bill and he knew all the history and local stories. I woofed down my food, it tasted so good! Bill introduced me to a couple of the town locals as we walked out past the bar.

Atlas spent the time tied up outside the saloon. Had we been there 100 years earlier he would have been hitched next to a horse, though I wouldn’t have been surprised to see one there that day, it’s that kind of town. He hadn’t been without me that long in a couple of weeks and I think it had made him a little anxious because he was overly excited to see me when I untied him from the front of the saloon. Re-integration to normal civil life was going to need to happen for me as well as for him.  We jumped back in the Jeep and drove to the other side of town to Bill’s cabin, which took all of a minute to do.

I was so excited to see Bill & Linda’s cabin because I’ve heard about it since they purchased it as a summer home 8 or so years ago. The cabin sat in a narrow valley with a little stream running through it.  Because of the stream, the valley was lush with vegetation, which sat in stark contrast to the desert sagebrush plains in every other direction. It’s easy to see why they choose to spend summer’s up here, the cabin was surrounded by Aspen forest and was only separated from the stream by some willow bushes. It was very quiet and peaceful, devoid of traffic noise, not because there were no roads nearby, but because there were no cars driving on the roads. Atlantic City had a population of 37 people last census.

The cabin was very lovely with a lounge room, dining table, kitchen and bathroom on the main level and 2 beds up in the loft. Bill lit a fire while I jumped in the shower and rid myself of my hiker sweat and grime. It always feels so good to shower and put on different clothes after being out on the trail.

We sat up chatting for a while then retired to the loft for an early night. True to my word, Atlas got to sleep on a real bed with me that night. He was a happy and tired boy.

Sightseeing in Atlantic City/South Pass City and Return to Salt Lake City

I slept like a log, as did Atlas, neither of us stirring even once. Have I expressed how much I appreciate beds and pillows? Such luxury.

Bill made me a coffee and a delicious breakfast of oatmeal and berries. Was nice to be off the trail and eating nice food again. After breakfast he loaded Atlas and I into the Jeep and gave us a tour of the local area.

If you thought Atlantic City sounded like a small town when I mentioned yesterday that it had a population of 37, then you’ll laugh-out-loud when I tell you that nearby South Pass City has a population of about 4 people, or as the town sign says “About 4 people. Roughly 3 cats. Approximately 3 dogs.”

The whole area has a rich mining history. South Pass was a stage and telegraph station along the Oregon Trail in the 1850s but found it’s peak as a mining town in the late 1860s. The gold rush hit and by 1869 it was the second largest town in Wyoming with a population of about 3,000. By the early 1870’s the boom was over and the miners had gone.

Today the South Pass City area is on the National Register of Historic Places and while the boom has gone, some miners still live in the area and continue their hunt for gold. In fact stop by for a visit and you might just find Bill & Linda panning for gold in their backyard stream.

Bill needed to head back to Salt Lake City in time for an evening soccer match and so we headed back to the cabin after the tour. I was totally stunned to learn that Bill had driven up just to pick me up, take me out for a nice meal and show me around town the next day. He’d driven 4.5 hours each way! Bill is officially the best trail angel I’ve experienced to-date; trail magic at its finest right there. Thank you, Bill!

Atlas I think was surprised to see my car parked at Bill’s cabin, but jumped in the second I opened it and curled up in the back. He was ready to go home. I’d organized for a local company from Pinedale to shuttle my car from the north-end of the mountain range where I started at Green River Lakes. If you’re looking to simplify logistics for a Wind River thru-hike then check out Great Outdoor Transportation Co. they can help you out with whatever crazy plan you concoct.

On my way out of town I drove a few miles out of town towards my next stretch of trail. The CDT from here crosses the Great Basin Divide, a high altitude endorheic basin. An endorheic basin is where there is no outflow of water. The continental divide splits here creating a series of basins and so rain that falls doesn’t leave the basin, rather evaporates or is contained in lakes or swamps. This stretch of the CDT is arid and remote, water is a challenge as what there is of it tends to be alkaline. That aside, I looked out across the vast sagebrush plains with a giant smile and an excited heart. I can’t wait to get back here and start on the next stretch of trail! Until next spring….. enjoy the winter, CDT, I’ll be back soon.

I took Bill’s advice and stopped in to the mercantile store in Farson for an ice-cream, it was good advice! Atlas slept the whole way home to Salt Lake City.

If you’re hiking the CDT, you may just see Bill & Linda out for a walk, or sitting in a stream panning gold, near Atlantic City. Be sure to say hello! Here’s a great picture of them that they sent me a couple of weeks later.

Thanks for reading.

-Elevated.

2 thoughts on “South Wind River Range (Big Sandy, WY to Atlantic City, WY)”

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