The problem was that I had gotten a late start in the day because of getting stuck, plus, it was hot so I knew I couldn’t make it all the way down to Laramie in the remaining daylight. Because of the heat I wanted to get up out of the high plains and into a National Forest somewhere along the way to camp in. The only National Forest between Spearfish and Laramie was the northern section of the Medicine Bow NF just north and west of Wheatland, Wyoming on Interstate 25. That was my goal for the day.
When I need to find a camp along my travel route, the first thing I do is get out my most important tools, my Benchmark Recreation Atlas and Delorme Atlas and Gazetteer. They are large books of maps with each state broken down by page with a fairly large scale map of each section. It always shows the National Forests along my route and generally shows BLM land. They have enough detail to show me the larger Forest or BLM Roads and almost without exception I can find a dispersed campsite along one of them. Get the Benchmark from Amazon Here: Benchmark Atlas From Amazon.com and the Delorme from Amazon Her: Delorme Atlas and Gazetteer . I’ll show you how to use them in another post soon.
I left Spearfish headed due west on Interstate 90 and drove straight through to Gillett, Wyoming where I stopped for lunch and then turned south on State Route 59. It wasn’t a pretty drive. Most of the way it’s high plains with sagebrush, and part of the way you drive through Thunder Basin National Grasslands which is just what it says, a grassland. It’s probably what the plains looked like before Europeans got here and did everything they could to destroy it. It’s just flat and boring, but you can make some serious time and distance. I took it all the way to Douglas, Wyoming where I got on Interstate 25 and continued south.
At Exit 94 I got off and turned due west and followed a small, paved country road until it became an even smaller unpaved county road which eventually turned into a dirt Forest Road in the National Forest. It was a fairly steep, winding road and as soon as we climbed up into the trees it became very obvious that there had been a forest fire here recently and there weren’t many trees left, it was almost entirely charred remains and stumps of trees. The openness of the forest gave a great view down and across the plains so it was actually pretty in a way
It was late and almost dark so as soon I was sure I was in the National Forest and found a decent campsite I set up camp there. I was closer to the road than I liked but it was steep and winding so there wasn’t much traffic and what little there was moved slowly enough I wasn’t worried about Cody getting run over. On our daily walks Cody and I would walk up above the fire and into green trees and it was a very pretty forest. If we hadn’t been so late in the day and I hadn’t been so tired when we got here, we could have gone on and found a green campsite–but then we would have missed the great views and the owls.
I’d heard that fires were actually good for the land and apparently it must be true because this place had more rabbits than I had ever seen–they were everywhere! Unfortunately they were cottontails. The reason that’s bad is they are the slowest, dumbest rabbits I’ve ever seen. Cody has no problem out-running and out-maneuvering them so if I don’t control him, he’d catch and kill a whole bunch of them. When there is dense brush, they can stay safe and hide from him, but after the fire it was wide-open and they were easy targets. Most of the time I could keep him close on our walks with voice commands, but sometimes he just couldn’t resist chasing the rabbits and ran them down. That’s when he had to go for a walk on a leash.
Because of the huge rabbit population there were numerous birds of prey in the area, including two very large owls. Our first night there I was sitting looking out the side door of the van at dusk, watching rabbits run around (Cody was leashed inside the van). Super quickly the pair of owls swooped in and one caught a rabbit and took off and the other landed and watched for a while. We saw them briefly several times after that. It was a very cool experience I’ll always treasure!
I had good internet there so we stayed for two days to rest and relax and then continued our journey on to Laramie and over to the Snowy River Range Scenic Byway. I had never even herd of it before, but it turned out to be one of the best most beautiful parts of Wyoming; I came with many great photos. We’ll cover that in my next travel post.