August 28, 2018.
Overnight, the rain stopped and the skies cleared - I assume - because we awoke to blue skies and sun in the morning.
As was becoming a trend, none of us were up early - with the exception of Devin who I only just noticed was up and out of camp by 6:00am or so, since she had to get to work. Pretty cool to show up for one night of camping if you ask me. I was the next one up around 8:00am and with some extra time and nice weather, I set about making a breakfast sandwich - sausage and eggs on an outdoor roll - delicious!
But then, disaster - halfway through scrambling the eggs, I ran out of propane. I was ultimately able to refill my bottle using Mike's @Digiratus 20lb tank, but not before the griddle cooled down and left the eggs "not quite right." Still, it was nice to have a warm breakfast, which I enjoyed as others in camp started to stir.
We all had our various tasks for the morning, but there were two that were standouts this morning. First, Dan @drr had been having some issues with his ARB air lockers leaking (due to a very cool custom manifold he'd fabbed), and so he set about fixing them so they'd work a bit better on the trail. This of course meant a bit of jerry-rigging - and ultimately a trip to the hardware store - but that's nothing new for our trips, and was sure to keep Dan's rig in top shape for the rest of the trip.
The other standout was a visit from the 3rd gen Tacoma owner who'd passed us on Beartooth Pass the night before. Seeing our trucks, he pulled into camp around 10:30am and was immediately greeted by our own "Mr. Hospitality," Monte @Blackdawg. This would happen several times over the course of the trip - Monte spending all sorts of time telling folks exactly how they should mod their Tacoma's to be as expo as possible.
That's pretty cool if you ask me (even though we gave Monte a hard time for it in the moment), to have the patience to talk to folks about the same thing over and over. Of course, not all of Monte's advice that morning was necessarily good advice - he did recommend Pelfrybuilt (which filed for Chpt 7 bankruptcy before our trip was over) as the best armor the guy could purchase. Oops.
It was nearly noon by the time we broke camp and headed into town to re-provision ice and a few miscellaneous supplies. And then, we followed a similar route as last year - through Bridger - to the base of the Pryor mountains, where we hit dirt and aired down. We were more than ready to hit some dirt under sunny skies!
And hit some dirt we did - the approach to the Pryor mountains long and flat, allowing for fast speeds and a great view of the surrounding area. The Chugwater Formation - offset by a field irrigated to a brilliant green - was especially extraordinary; the red color of the rocks produced by iron oxide contained within. This iron oxide is commonly found in tropical soils, and it's thought that the formations here migrated north from the equator some 500 million years ago.
Oh, and we also ran into these guys. They were not impressed - or at least, they weren't as impressed as we were; each of us stopping to take a photo of them as we passed.
45 minutes later, we finally started climbing up into the Pryors - Big Pryor to be precise. And, though we were winding our way up the same trail we'd been on nearly a year before, the situation couldn't have been more different. The sun was out, the sky was clear, and the views were vast - even the smoke from the last few days reduced by the recent precipitation.
It was so much nicer than the rain, snow and mud we'd dealt with on the last trip! We stopped and took it all in - the trail, the trucks, and a nearby canyon.
Now mid-afternoon, we continued up Big Pryor mountain, through gates and across grassy hillsides. We reveled in the beauty and the took in the views as we climbed, the white clouds and blue skies contrasting so nicely with the golden-green of the landscape. This truly was what we were hoping for on the Re-Tour.
Breaking up the grand views, we came upon the Bainbridge Homestead. Built in the 1920s, this cabin was nestled in the treeline and still in relatively good condition - aided I'm sure by the metal roof and respectful visitors.
We explored a bit and signed the guest book before continuing on - we weren't sure where we were going to camp, but we knew that it was either 5 minutes away or a few hours. Given the early time, we opted for a few hours, which meant we needed to keep moving... except when we'd stop to take photos - for us, a frequent occurrence.
Eventually though we made it to the top of Big Pryor Mountain, the views stretching in all directions. We lingered a bit longer here than normal - there was talk of a truck-swap, and everyone was working out their trades. Well, everyone that is except me - I'm still a bit chicken on that front, a fact the guys were nice enough to ignore for most of the trip.
Having played musical trucks, we all took off back down the mountain towards a set of switchbacks that Monte thought would save us a good couple hours of monotonous driving on our way to East Pryor. That sounded good to us, and the landscape surrounding the switchbacks was interesting to boot - a fire having passed through years before, leaving a forest of ghost trees in its wake.
After leaving Goose Lake, we'd all been talking about possibly running the Morrison Jeep Trail later in the trip, and these switchbacks reinforced for all of us our preferences of doing that... which - you can imagine - didn't help to build consensus amonst the group. But, we navigated all five of the switchbacks with only one close call (a detail that will stay on the trail), and popped back out into the open between Big Pryor and East Pryor at Gooseberry Hollow as evening was approaching and the sun's rays were getting longer.
It was here that a minor disaster struck. As I was coming down the last stretch of hill (to catch up) onto the main road, a fallen branch got flipped up into the air by my rear tire. It flew, parallel to the truck, all the way to my front driver fender, where it left a nice little dent. A momento of the trail I guess, but never an awesome feeling when it happens. Hopefully some dentless auto-repair will be able to make it "good as new."
Keen to find camp at this point, we all had our eyes peeled for spur roads that wound back into hills - often the perfect place to level out, find a fire ring in which to build a fire, and spend the night. But as is often the case, we were easily sidetracked by the steep canyon walls and we pulled over to take it all in - impossible really, with a place like this. While Mike, Dan and Zane chatted around the trucks, Monte and I bound down off the road and to the cliff's edge; our happy place.
Satisfied for only a moment, we were back on the road, driving further up the canyon into the afternoon sun.
Eventually we found a spur, and we took it to it's end a mile or two up the road. There, an opening in the trees, looking out across the Pryors - not totally level, but an old fire ring suggested that we weren't the first to camp in this spot. Zane @Speedytech7, Mike and I decided that we'd stay put while Monte and Dan continued on up the main road to explore.
Listening to them on the CB, it was clear that they were having a great time on their adventure, but we eventually decided that regardless of what they found, we weren't going anywhere and so we deployed our tents, collected wood, and built (but did not light) the fire.
Monte and Dan had quite the adventure it seemed, and finally returned an hour or so later, having nearly gotten stuck a couple of times looking for a better site. Happy to be back, they quickly got setup and we got the fire going, the local wood small, dry and barkless - perfect for a blazing hot fire, just as the sun was setting and the sky too was lighting up!
Of course, sunsets are to us like bright lights are to bugs, and there was no shortage of shutter clicking going on during this time. We'd clearly chosen a photogenic spot to stop for the night, and we were relieved to have weather that was finally cooperating!
Dinner and campfire ensued, as usual. We talked trip, we talked trucks, and I'm sure we talked about all matter of things late into the night - happy to do it with no threat of rain. It was, I think, our latest night of the trip - all of us hesitating to leave the warmth of the fire even past one in the morning. But eventually we all found ourselves yawning, and it was clear that our usual indicator of campfire completion - an empty wood pile - was impossible on this night, so we said our good-nights and headed for bed.
It had been another great day, and we were sure there were many more to come.