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8,000 MILES OF DIRT: A Backroad Travel Guide to Wyoming

 

8,000 Miles of Dirt

 

Copyright © 1988, 1992, 2011, 2017
by Dan Lewis.

Photographs Copyright 1992, 2017
by Dan Lewis.

Maps Copyright 1992, 2017
by Dan Lewis

ISBN: 978-1-936870-01-1

 

First Edition printing – 1988

Second Edition printing – 1992

Revised for Print on Demand – 2011

Revised for Online Edition – 2017

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without permission in writing by the author.

 

Published by the Wyoming Naturalist
Douglas, Wyoming, 82633.

 


NOTICE

LET THE TRAVELER BEWARE

This book is not a permit to trespass. Considerable time and effort has been expended in an attempt to describe only public access road. However, due to the breadth and depth of this guide, the possibility of error exists. Furthermore, back country roads are in a state of change: new roads are being made and older roads are being discontinued.

Therefore, the author assumes no responsibility regarding the public accessibility of the roads described in this guide. When in doubt, ask for permission. In addition, some of the roads described in this guide travel through hazardous areas: mine sites, oil field areas, creek crossings, sharp curves, steep hills. Furthermore, the conditions of the roads described in this guide are in a state of flux: precipitation may render the roads hazardous or untravelable, snow fields may cover some roads until mid-summer, and road surfaces may contain large rocks, ruts, and holes. Therefore, the author assumes no responsibility regarding the conditions or travelability of the roads described in this guide. Check local conditions before traveling.

Furthermore, the author assumes no responsibility regarding: becoming lost, vehicle damage, personal damage or discomfort, loss of time or monies. You travel the roads described in this guide at your own risk.


PREFACE

This guide was written in the spirit of living, the excitement of adventure, and awe of wonderment. Although I had wandered through Wyoming's back country for many years previous to this venture, I had not done so with the intensity and passion that consumed me during this endeavor. The feelings, awareness, emotion, and love of this state resulting from this journey are inside of me. You will not find them in the words on the pages of the text. That is personal for me. What I sensed is hard to share.

What you will find in this guide and what I can share with you are the routes I followed. My intent is simple and honest: To present an alternate path through Wyoming with the vision of imparting a greater appreciation and respect for what lies within her boundaries.

From my heart, I sincerely hope that you will take time to sense the raw beauty of the land you travel across. Truly look at the life that is here and put some of it inside. Kindle a love of understanding, humility, awareness, respect, and compassion. Let your passage along these routes be special. Let your passage along these routes change you and not the land.

Below are some passages from my diary to present my mood:

Tue. 5-10 camped at Fort LaClede

…just finished supper and brushing Smeagle. It sure is strange here at the fort. Pitch black with zillions of stars. Quiet! So quiet that your ears have to make noise just for something to do. It's unbelievable what I see every minute of every day. My body is continually being hammered by the outside world and the living that I do there. I wonder how much more I can take and I'm terribly scared that I'll wake up and find that it has only been some kind of fairy-tale dream. My private world is so choked full of amazement and awe that I can barely stand it: wild horses running across alkali flats and leaving a dusty trail behind, muskrats flipping in the murky water at Bean Springs, a Ferruginous Hawk flashing its white tail, and the pink/white highlights and deep shadows in the eroded hill sides of Delaney Rim at sunset. My head is spinning from the countless events that force their way into my brain. I'm happy. I now prepare to snuggle in my lair for the night.

Wed. 6-28 camped at Oregon Buttes

…later in the day I crossed a desolate depression at Chain Lake Flat. One particular spot, near a rusty well, held power. I remember seeing it from a long way off and the two-track road passed within a quarter mile of it. As I walked over I felt that there was something here. I heard the crunch that my boots made with each step I took. I looked down and saw my soles break through the dried layer of dirt on top and sink into the parched earth below. That crunch told a story about this place. It was a dry and brittle land. What little living that took place here was hard. The dwarf greasewood and saltbush that waited to drink were spaced evenly apart from each other. A space just large enough to latch on to what little water fell from the sky and steal from the desiccated earth. Smeagle saw a cottontail and began to chase it. There were holes in the immediate area for the rabbit to duck into, but it chose not to. It ran in circles, 30 feet across, and then stopped under some weathered wood to catch its breath and feel the excitement. It would then dart out and the chase would continue. After this happened three times, a feeling came over me. It was as though this rabbit was thriving on the game. It was as though it had not encountered another living creature in such a long time that it was long past due for some interaction.

No date

…it's 11 pm and it's dark and raining and I'm lost. The Barrel Springs/ Willow Creek Rim area is giving me fits. Today I followed a beautiful rim and went past domes, gullies, rimrock, buttes, and mud slides. At the end of one of the two-track roads is a BLM wild horse corral and loading ramp. Nearby, I found a Prairie Falcon nest. The Indian Paintbrush is just out down here and it's more fantastic than I remember (deep rich colors). It started raining as I crossed a big draw (the road was washed out) and it has been raining ever since. The road was so bad with clay-mud that I just jumped a ditch to park for the night (or week). It sure is snug in the back of Black Irene tonight. (Smeagle is up front, wet and covered with mud!)

Fri. 7-1 a note on the Powder River Road

…and I see two antelope lying on a nearby hill side. How often do I see such a similar thing with no affect. This time is different. This time I see. This time I feel. My eyes mist over and my heart rises to my throat and I stop and look and stare. I see a creature. To name it "antelope" is to label it and dismiss it. To see it as a creature is to live with that impression for the rest of my life. Why has it taken me so long to get here and where will I go next?

Mon. 7-11 cold peach break near the Outlaw Cave Trail

…it was warm with my damp clothes sticking to me and the sun was heating everything around me like a toaster oven. I say it was warm and not hot or insufferable because it wasn't. It was warm enough to make me uncomfortable. That degree of unpleasantness was enough to make me feel alive. To feel the sticky sweat, the wrap and cling of material around my body, the heaviness of my boots, the tightness of the skin around my squinting eyes, the pestering sound Smeagle makes as he pants in the heat, and the cotton spit in my mouth as I think about cool water waiting for me back at Black Irene. (I can see why people go crazy during sensory deprivation.) I do not believe this to be some type of masochistic behavior that I exhibit. I think of it as finding the experience of living to be so great.

 

This book is dedicated to:

SMEAGLE – MY COMPANION AND THE LUCKIEST DOG IN THE WORLD
BLACK IRENE – MY TRUSTWORTHY TRUCK

and in memory of:

GRANDMA MANNING
PAPPY
GRANDMA DURBIN
POP

I thank my family for their support. They kept my spirit high, the belly full, and helped with the financing to complete this book. I also thank my good friends. They sheltered me from storms, provided me a place to rest, and encouraged me on. Thanks also to Rick Darnell for his valuable help and great improvements in the redesigning of the general layout.


Table of Contents

Wyoming Section Map

Introduction

Section 1

The Southeast

Section 2

The Laramie Range

Section 3

The Snowy Range

Section 4

The South-central

Section 5

The North Red Desert

Section 6

The South Red Desert

Section 7

The Southwest

Section 8

The West

Section 9

The Northwest

Section 10

The Big Horns

Section 11

The Powder River Basin

Section 12

The Northeast

Index


INTRODUCTION

The materials and methods

I drove all of the main roads that are described in this guide at least twice, once in 1988 and again in 1992. In addition, I drove the majority of the side roads outlined in the text (and numerous others that are not mentioned). During the course of these travels, I covered over 40,000 miles. The vehicle I used was Black Irene (small sized, two-wheel drive pickup) and my co-pilot was Smeagle #3 (male golden retriever). I logged the routes as I went along and after returning from short excursions (lasting from five to ten days), I wrote the trips up before leaving for new places. During the rewrite stages, I checked the trips for accuracy by retracing them on my maps. Approximately 7,000 miles of dirt road trips are detailed in this guide. In addition, an estimated 1,000 miles of side roads are outlined and another 1,000 miles of Wyoming secondary highways are described.

The maps I used were purchased from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Department of Agriculture (National Forest Service, NF). In addition, supplemental county maps were purchased (or were donated) from county seats across the state. These maps were used during the preliminary planning stages (in house) and during the actual travels.

Identification of landmarks (buttes, creeks, mountains, etc.) were determined from compass bearings, adjacent landmarks, and the help of locals along the way. The names of these landmarks were taken from the BLM maps (Wyoming Quadrangles, topographic 1:100,000 series, produced by the U. S. Geological Survey, 1974-82). In addition, NF maps (forest visitor type) and local information was used.

The criteria I used to select routes varied according to the situation. Primary consideration was given to public accessibility and road surface type (eg. automobile versus four-wheel drive). Other pertinent considerations included: scenic country, opportunity for optional routes, water courses (rivers and streams), less confusing junctions, and networking with other highways and towns.

The guidelines

I do not intend to scare someone off, nor do I wish to lead someone on. The trips described in this guide travel through some of Wyoming's fantastic country. They also travel through some of Wyoming's treacherous country. This is the "Yin and Yang" of it.

I am not a bridge builder, road engineer, designer of automobiles, or forecaster of events to come. I do not know the road clearance of your vehicle, the driving skills that you have, nor do I know the amount of common sense that you possess. I have written this guide to describe some of what you might see along the way. It is you who must judge and make the decision to travel a route or turn back.

A considerable amount of Wyoming's land falls under Public Domain. A considerable amount does not! This guide is not a permit to trespass. I have made an honest attempt to describe only public access roads. The possibility of error is real. Do not assume too much and when in doubt Ask First!

The following is my list of minimum essentials:

  • full tank of gas
  • blanket
  • first aid kit
  • good spare tire
  • water and food
  • flashlight
  • a jack that works
  • assortment of tools
  • extra quart of oil

 

 

 

The following is my list of supplements for additional safety, comfort, and fun:

  • field guides
  • field glasses
  • jumper cables
  • thermos
  • hat/rain gear
  • notebook/diary
  • bug repellent
  • day pack
  • tolerance
  • curiosity
  • CB radio
  • shovel
  • camera/film
  • cooler
  • extra clothing
  • swim suit
  • sun screen
  • more film
  • joy of living
  • passion
  • compass
  • tow rope
  • more film
  • sunglasses
  • hiking boots
  • additional tools
  • camping gear
  • more food and water
  • time to stop
  • time to play

 

The nuts and bolts

The guide is organized so that you can use it several different ways. First you can look at the state map on page 9. I have divided Wyoming into 12 sections that are bordered by highways. (Section eight and nine are separated by an imaginary divide line and section six and seven by the Green River.) Therefore, most trips will begin and end from towns or commonly traveled highways. You need to find the section of the state that you are interested in exploring and locate the corresponding section map in the text.

The section map(s) will show the trips that are described in the text (as well as other small side roads). You then pick a particular trip (identified by trip number) and turn to the text pages describing the particular route.

For example, you want to travel through the area south of I-80, between Wamsutter and Rock Springs. Look at the maps for section six. Trip Eight looks good, so you turn to page 96 and read the description for the Fort LaClede Road. You then drive to the appropriate starting point and you're off. (It is a bit more difficult to follow the trip in reverse but I have tried to write it the best way for both directions.)

A second method is to pick a town in the state and look it up in the index. The index will indicate what pages in the text reference that particular town. You can then skim through the written descriptions to find various ways that you can enter or exit the town.

For example, you are at Wamsutter and wish to know what roads are available from this town. Look Wamsutter up in the index and you find that it is referenced on several different pages. The next step is to skim these pages and find a trip that satisfies your needs (eg. time, direction, or interest).

A third method is to combine or arrange the various routes according to your individual needs. At each major junction, the text identifies alternate roads and refers you to the appropriate section and trip number.

For example, you are traveling the Great Basin Road (Section Five, Trip Three) and you come to the junction just past Chalk Butte. Instead of continuing west to Rock Springs on Trip Three, the text refers you to the Oregon Buttes Road (Section Five, Trip Five). On this route, you can go north to South Pass (W-28) or south to Table Rock (I-80).

The jargon

I have tried to keep the text clean and simple: What you see at a particular spot or stretch of road, how far to the next landmark or junction, and starting/ending points. There are a few points I would like to clarify.

Landmarks (streams, buttes, etc.) are used for interest as well as providing direction of travel information. If the text says you should have crossed Sage Creek in two miles and you've traveled five miles without crossing the creek STOP. Check things out and backtrack if necessary to properly locate where you are.

There are numerous roads that are not described or mentioned in the text. I have generally mentioned only major roads or roads that may provide possible points for a wrong turn. (Pay close attention to where you are going when traveling through oil field areas.)

There are numerous small "towns" that are named in the guide. Some of them do not exist as towns, but are rather locations where there may be a community mail box or a stop along a railroad. I would not plan on finding comfort in one of these places.

The following is a list of some definitions:

Finally, on a few roads I have indicated that the route may not be suitable for car travel and that a high clearance vehicle is recommended. This was a difficult choice for me to make and its presence OR absence should be used only as a guide check for local conditions.


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Let the trips begin!