We decided to take a run up the south end of the Big Horns to have a look at the mountain flowers and see what prospects were for a little camping trip. Some of the clan will be headed up for the annual July 4 celebration and we were scouting road conditions and snow banks. The first leg of the journey was interesting, as we timed it just right for spring time branding of the Angus calves gathered for the occasion. It appears there are more cowpokes than calves, but everyone was having a good time (except the calves)!
Moving a small herd of sheep with a big dog and ORV. Nothing to be done but try to get around them . . . . carefully.
This herder probably had a few choice epithets for our disturbance of a peaceful trip along the road. Animals have the right-of-way and the area along the road is open range strewn with rocky outcroppings that can be a real ride on an ORV. Better get a horse!
These perfect little replicas of adult antelope are born ready to run and can keep up with adults on day one. We saw numerous antelope throughout the day, not only in these sagebrush foothills, but on top of the mountain.
Leaving the sagebrush prairie, we next enter an amazingly beautiful red rock canyon that carves its way along the base of the mountain, stretching through Wyoming into Colorado. Known simply as the “Red Wall,” this canyon became a notorious hideout for a variety of outlaws, miscreants and misfits in the past century.
The contrasting colors of green grass on the slopes of the red wall canyon makes for a breathtakingly beautiful sight. I did not do it justice photographically as bright sunlight washed out the colors and I was snapping a few shots from the window of the jeep. Made myself a promise I would do it justice sometime soon. . . .
From this vantage point, the road looks like a piece of cake. Lots of rain left puddles and muddy tracks, but no sweat.
By now we are midway up the mountain. Wild flowers are in bloom in such profusion it is difficult to decide what vista to try to capture. Lots of winter snows, good spring rain, and the mountain is a magic carpet of beautiful colors. We can still see snowbanks in places back in the timber, and every dip in the road is running a stream that has to be crossed.
Should not have tired to snap a stream as we were crossing. Bumpy road and soggy bottom makes for an out-of-focus shot. Ah well.
The only commercial enterprise on the south end of the Big Horns is the Lodge at Willard Springs. Tucked back in the timber, it sits on one of the finest springs on the mountain. Formerly our family cow camp, we have fond memories of the annual cattle drive up the mountain and good times enjoyed on the banks of Willard Spring. Area ranchers have been driving herds of cattle and sheep up onto mountain meadows to graze in summer for 100 years to preserve the range land down below for winter forage.
This beautiful Angus cow was apparently struck by lightning, which can be fierce on the mountain in summer. It could mean the loss of not only a valuable cow, but her calf as well. Just one of many hazards of summering in the mountains.
“Here lies the S.O.B. who didn’t close the gate!” We took heed and closed the gate. This is the first of three gates to my brother’s property and the necessity of closing gates cannot be stressed enough. Trying to sort out cattle that have strayed into someone else’s pasture can be a real chore under the best of circumstances, but back in the timber and in mountainous ravines, it can be hell. ‘Nuff said.
We are nearing the divide from where you can see west toward the Ten Sleep country or east down on the Red Wall. I should probably try to describe the road from the Lodge at Willard Springs on up to this point, as I didn’t try to photograph it. It was all I could do to keep from being bounced out of the jeep and losing all my camera equipment. Actually, there is no “road” really, just a string of cow trails and ancient ruts in the mud that meander around boulders, over washouts and wherever you are willing to try your luck. The only road “maintenance” if you could call it that, is whatever is done by the property owners in order to access a sparse sprinkling of cabins and the cows in summer.
Guess who has been opening the gates – this makes number three, but who’s counting? We find our neighbor’s gate quite amusing. The road on the other side was anything but. There is no road–it was washed away in spring runoff. A rock-filled chasm awaits for anyone with enough nerve and vehicle to negotiate it. The Jeep did the job, but not without a little maneuvering and a great deal of hesitation.
This antelope snorts and peers down at us from the very top of the divide. One would expect to see a deer or an elk up this high in elevation (somewhere between eight and nine thousand feet), but antelope have made it their home.
Looking west down the divide toward Ten Sleep country in Washakie County, this vista is incredibly beautiful and is where my brother is planning his front porch. We cannot wait to join him for a visit and will throw in a couple rocking chairs for the occasion. Two beautiful little springs flow down the drainage here and it is peaceful and remote. A rough ride, but worth it.