September 1, 2018.
Camped in a bit of a depression and surrounded by trees, there was no reason to get up extra early to catch the sunrise - something I took full advantage of as I slept in until 8:26am - I believe my latest of the trip! Still the first out of bed, I wondered around taking in the sights - the creek behind camp, the glassy lake a quarter mile up the road.
As I made my way back to our camp, I thought to myself how glad I was that we hadn't camped at the lake. September 1 is opening day of hunting season, and several hunters were "camped" nearby in their trailers and RV's...generators churning away. Definitely not the experience we were after.
As I returned, others in camp were up and about, and we set about making breakfast - a feast really, one that would hold us over until late in the afternoon. Dan @drr got to work on some hash browns, Mike @Digiratus on scrambled eggs and salsa, and I fired up the griddle for bacon and sausage. In no time, we'd gotten everything cooked and Monte @Blackdawg and Zane @Speedytech7 setup a table for us to lay everything out.
Everything was delicious. Our bellies full, we sat around for another hour or so just enjoying ourselves and the company. This morning we were in no rush, and it was nice. (Though, we'd be pulling into camp well after dark it turned out!) We finally pulled out of camp at 12:15pm and pointed ourselves down off the mountain through the Medicine Lodge Habitat area.
It was a dusty drive - as was much of the trip - for anyone not leading, as we descended.
Once again, as we had in the Pryors, we found ourselves on a road next to a canyon, water having carved it's way through hundreds (thousands?) of feet of mountain, leaving the vibrant red, yellow, and white stone exposed under the blue sky. Traffic behind us, we didn't stop much or for long, but there was no way we could pass this up completely.
For the most part we kept up a good pace however - behind us, two brothers in their Jeep, out for a Saturday morning drive, just checking out the mountains. But then, over the CB we heard Monte - "We've got an oncoming full-size SUV."
Normally that's not an issue, but the road we were on was a relatively narrow, single-lane road on the side of what I considered to be a relatively steep hill (after-all, there was a canyon to our downhill side). So when Monte came over the radio again to say, "Looks like there are a bunch of them." I think we all wondered what was going to happen next - especially given the six trucks headed down the mountain.
Well, this was clearly these guys backyard, and they were quick to pull off the road - in some relatively precarious positions if you ask me. And after pulling off, they all piled out of their vehicles - drinks and cigarettes in hand - eager to say hi and see what we were up to.
A bunch of our crowd popped out as well - happy to chat for a few minutes and get a closer look at their vehicles, which included a couple of really nice Toyota's that we naturally pointed out as being the best of their group!
But, being stopped on a single-lane road wasn't something either group wanted to maintain for an extended period of time, so we ultimately thanked them for pulling out of the way and continued down the hill towards Medicine Lodge - the views in front, behind, and to the side splendid all the way down.
In Medicine Lodge we pulled over. Or more appropriately, took over the parking lot. Monte had told us earlier that there were some cool petroglyphs here, and we definitely wanted to check those out. The rock art covers the face of a 750-foot long sandstone bluff, which shelters the area (and petroglyphs) at its base from wind and rain, preserving them over time. Archaeologists have found evidence of human habitation in the area stretching back nearly 10,000 years, and some of the drawings are over 2000 years old.
It was pretty cool to see these ancient drawings in the sandstone, knowing that since the time they were created, that much more elevation had eroded away next to the bluff (20 feet in some cases). It was no White Mountain Petroglyphs, with its ghostly hands, but it was cool nonetheless, as was the bluff itself.
Eventually our curiosity was mostly satisfied, and we returned to the trucks which were starting to attract attention in the parking lot, pointing them northwest toward our next rally point: the Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracks. The road from Medicine Lodge was well maintained at this point, allowing us to up our speeds and have some fun. As most of us spaced out a bit to reduce the dust and increase the visibility, our dust clouds spread across the landscape; quite a sight to behold - and extra-cool from above, I'm sure.
Of course, we didn't make it to the dinosaur tracks without a few stops to enjoy the landscape along the way. Bluffs and mesa's full of iron oxide stood tall and red across the landscape; fences stretched into the distance; trucks covered in mud and dirt looked right at home under the afternoon sun.
I got artsy as Monte did his best to capture the moment.
Even with our stops, our high speeds got us to the dinosaur tracks relatively quickly. As we got out to explore, Zane decided that this was a great place to take a "shower" and rinse some of the dust out of his hair. In retrospect, he was probably the smartest of us all; the tracks here being a bit "meh" compared to those we'd seen last year in Utah.
As we returned to the trucks, a BLM ranger pulled into the parking lot - the first any of us had ever seen. As he pulled around behind us, we knew this wasn't going to be a short conversation - the ranger clearly interested not only in what we were up to (not for any nefarious reasons - he really just wanted to know where we'd been, where we were going, etc.) and how it was that we all had "the same awesome rigs." Story of our lives I guess and we had Monte along to engage in all the necessary conversation - a good 20 minutes of it by the time he finally bode us well and headed out down the road.
We did the same and kept the pace a bit slower now - the ranger a half mile in front of us, unable to maintain the speeds we could when aired down and with better suspension. Naturally, it wasn't long before we came across another stopping point - a rainbow ridge in the distance. This thing was spectacular; photos don't do it justice. Multiple greens, yellows, oranges, reds, purples, and whites were laid down one on top of the other.
Nature at her finest.
Alas, it wasn't long after that we aired up and headed into town, Monte filling up in just over three minutes with his CO2, the rest of us laboring for 12 minutes or so with our compressors.
Town this afternoon would consist of Greybull for "lunch" around 4:30pm at A&W, and a quick hop over to Powell where we'd reprovision at the market and perform a few maintenance checks on Mike's truck - specifically checking out his alternator, which had been acting up a bit throughout the day...voltage jumping between 12v and 14v. Those things accomplished, the group split up: Monte headed to Red Lodge to pick up Devin @MissBlackdawg who would be re-joining us for the remainder of the trip, and the rest of us headed to the truck scales to do a little weigh-in.
I'm not sure how, but I somehow have absolutely no photos of this experience. The reality was that we had a great (if slightly depressing) time at the Powell, WY co-op comparing truck weights and making lewd remarks about those trucks that were, shall we say, "too big for their britches."
- Mike 6000lbs; rear axle: 3060lbs
- Dan (@drr) 5600lbs; rear axle: 2900lbs
- Dan (@turbodb): 5520lbs; rear axle: 2800lbs
- Zane 4900lbs; rear axle: 2300lbs
Mike having the heaviest truck - more than half a ton heavier than Zane - was quick to point out that this is why the RedHead was so slow up the grades - he just couldn't maintain speed carrying so much weight. And of course Zane, on the light end of the scale kept quiet and grinned the whole time; super-charged and all.
By now it was getting late - nearly 6:30pm - and we still had a ways to go, our destination for the evening over a pass and more than two hours away in Sunlight Basin - so we hit the freeway and pressed our accelerators.
Some of us accelerated faster than others, I'll leave it at that.
We arrived at Dead Indian Pass on the Chief Joseph Highway just as the sun was setting. A spectacular place any time of day, and in almost any weather, there was no way we were going to miss this stop on our way to camp. In fact, we stopped a couple of times. Our first stop was on the east side of the pass to catch the setting sun on Heart Mountain. At 8123 feet, it's top is composed of limestone and dolomite 500 to 350 million years old, but it's bottom is made of rocks only about 55 million years old. Thus, the rock on the summit is almost 300 million years older than the rocks at the base. Geologists still don't know how this occurred, though naturally one can only assume that a large explosion catapulted the older rock from it's original location.
Our second stop was at the top of the pass, looking west. The sun had just fallen behind the distant peaks, illuminating the sky a brilliant orange. What perfect timing to be in this special place, even if it meant getting to camp after dark.
With light scarce, we headed down toward Sunlight Basin - our plan to camp in the same location we'd camped the previous year. Alas, by the time we arrived - nearly 9:00pm - our spot was occupied by hunters, out for labor day weekend. Undeterred, we headed further up the basin, APRS on so that Monte and Devin would find us in Igor when they finally arrived. Splitting up to investigate spur roads, we finally found a spot with a fire ring and setup camp.
Then, about 10 minutes later and just as we got the fire going, a rumbling in the woods; and lights. The timing couldn't have been more perfect - Monte and Devin pulling up in Igor. We all welcomed Devin back and gathered around the fire - making our dinners, enjoying the company, and eating the remainder of the cookies.
Plenty of dry wood available, log after log went onto the fire. Tomorrow would be Dan's last day and we wanted this fire to last; with Monte solely in charge of fires from here on out, we weren't sure how raging they'd be...and we'd all gotten used to the vast amounts of heat that coal-rich fires radiated into the cool night air.
Conversation was lively and varied enough that Devin stayed up with the rest of us, and it was 1:00am before we called it a night, wondering what we'd see the next morning, the surroundings of our camp site still a mystery.