Monday, August 3, 2015

Day Trips From Buffalo, WY: Story and Dry Creek Petrified Trees

Just 20 miles North of our month-long home base in Buffalo, WY is the small hamlet of Story. Less than 1,000 people call Story home, and there are very few businesses but the beauty of the area is worth the drive. Along the way are historical sites such as Fort Phil Kearny, the Wagon Box Fight Site and the Fetterman Battlefield, details about these sites can be found here.

Not in the mood for war history on this day, we chose to visit the Story Fish Hatchery. Unlike the DC Booth Fish Hatchery we recently visited in Spearfish, SD, the Story Hatchery is currently a brood stock hatchery.

Originally built in 1909 to serve the needs of Northern Wyoming, in 2005 a group of fish was found to have a parasite that causes whirling disease, a disease known to affect wild trout. All the Story fish had to be destroyed and since the parasite cannot be transmitted to eggs, changes were made to the facilities to turn it into a brood stock only facility.

Today five different brood stocks are raised to egg bearing age and spawned for egg collection. Four to six million eggs are collected each year, serving Wyoming's hatchery needs first, then trading with other states for fish that cannot be raised in Wyoming, such as catfish, walleye and bass.

There is a small but informative visitor center at the hatchery and you can feed the fish in the brood stock pond.

Most of the buildings are off limits so you get to read interpretive signs instead.

About half a mile from the hatchery is the Story Penrose Trailhead. In the summer it is a popular ATV trail but we lucked out and never saw or heard a single ATV during our hike up three miles of the trail. It's a beautiful hike up into the mountains above Story and is known as a wildflower hot spot.

The trail is a steady but reasonable uphill that soon provides excellent views over Story below
and out to the rolling plains beyond.

Flower strewn hillsides dotted with colorful rock formations provided distraction from the continuous uphill walk.

About two miles up we came to a gorgeous meadow watched over by impressive rock spires.

Beebalm covered meadow with a view.

One of the benefits of our short-term Buffalo YMCA membership is learning of things to do in the area from the locals. To round out or day trip to Story we made the drive a loop and visited the Ucross Foundation. The Foundation occupies the historic Powder River Basin headquarters of the Pratt & Ferris Cattle Company built in 1882, presents conferences on conservation and other topics relevant to the region and provides facilities for an artist-in-residence program.

The drive to Ucross took us out into the rolling plains that stretch to the horizon to the East, quintessential Wyoming.

The Ucross Foundation sits at the confluence of three creeks and the grounds are stunning,
truly an inspiration for the artists who get to reside here temporarily.

The big red barn houses a conference center and gallery.

Another morning we took a short drive to the Dry Creek Petrified Tree site, about 13 miles southeast of Buffalo and in the plains. About 60 million years ago this sagebrush country was jungle-like, receiving about 50 inches of rain per year. Metasequoia trees stood 100 - 200 feet tall. Over time they were buried with very wet sand and mud, soaking the wood, and minerals settled into the trunks, then crystallized and hardened, turning the wood into rock.

Most of the Metasequoia trees are preserved as stumps and branchless trunks.
As erosion over the years uncovers more stumps it is possible there are many more underground in this area.

Here we can see some of the growth rings.
Some of these stumps were 800 - 1,000 years old when they were buried.

The Bighorn Mountains peak over the sage covered hills far to our West.

On the drive back to our RV park we took another road which brought us to a BLM site called Red Horse. Although it seems to be an area for seasonal hunting it gave us an opportunity to do a little more walking among these beautiful sage hills.

Hans stands next to some scoria...the red buttes in this area once had coal beds in them. As erosion exposes the coal beds to air, they burn. Heat from the underground fires changed the soft shale in the hillsides to scoria.

Under the green grass and sage is the red earth of scoria. The rocky tops of some of the hills are scoria.

Driving any distance through the hills in this area you are very likely to see pronghorn and/or deer.
This handsome pronghorn seemed to pose just for me!

Female and young pronghorn among scoria topped hills.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Hiking the Bighorn Mountains: Seven Brothers Lakes

Continuing our month in Buffalo, WY we took another big hike in the Bighorn Mountain Range, this time to Seven Brothers Lakes. There are a couple of ways to reach this group of seven lakes, the most common being a 11.2 mile round trip. Another option cuts the hike down to about 6.5 miles but the road to the trailhead is very rough. We ended up doing the longer hike because we didn't want to take our only vehicle over the crazy rough road to save our legs a few miles, a Jeep would have no problem reaching the shorter trailhead.

The trail crosses a very long meadow then gradually climbs through a young lodgepole pine forest, recovering from the massive Lost Fire in 1988. The climb through the forest seems to go on forever with several false summits. Finally we reached the first of seven stunning subalpine lakes, and the views just kept coming as we continued on discovering each lake in the string. Though the trail is long and somewhat arduous, the payoff is worth it!

The beginning of the trail.
We must traverse the entire length of this long meadow.

Marmots were the critter of the day!

Flowers were plentiful.

Once we reached the end of the meadow the trail began to climb the foothills...becoming very rocky.
The lodgepole forest is young, coming back after the devastating Lost Fire of 1988,
it felt like we were climbing through a Christmas tree farm!

Reaching the lakes area was a wonderful relief!
The trail finally leveled out and the views were fantastic!

Check out the sheer walls of the 11,000+ foot peaks behind us.

Clouds were building, creating postcard-like views.

The marmots in these parts are huge!

And back through the meadow to the truck...another lovely day on the trail!

For more information on trail location and hike details do a search using keywords: Seven Brothers Lakes Hike and you'll get a link from the Cloud Peak Wilderness hiking book. This information is fairly old (1999) but will get you to the trail. You could also buy the book!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Hanging Out for a Month in Buffalo, WY

We're well in to our month long stay in Buffalo, WY. This charming small town sits on the edge of the Bighorn Mountain Range at an elevation of 4,646 and about 5,000 people call it home. Downtown boasts nicely restored buildings dating to the late 1800's with several beautiful murals depicting the Wyoming lifestyle gracing their walls.

The rolling green hills these horses are frolicking on spread for hundreds of miles to the East of town.

Bronze of an angry rancher...

...catching a sheep thief in action.

Longmire Weekend was celebrated our first weekend in town.
Craig Johnson, on the float, has written a series of novels set in the Buffalo area that has been made into a Netflix series.

Sheep ranching was big business in WY at the turn of the century and sheepherders wagons
like this one are seen all over town.


To add some variety to our daily exercise, Hans negotiated a very good deal for us on a one month membership at the local YMCA. We've been able to play pickleball again and take a few exercise classes on the days we don't feel like driving up to the mountains to hike.

Pickleball with the locals!

One of our favorite things about Buffalo is the Clear Creek Trail System. It's 17 miles long, much of it along beautiful Clear Creek (that lives up to its name), with several distinct sections. Trail maps are available at the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce.

There's the town section that is convenient and includes a bit of Main Street and the local City Park. There's the meadow/pasture section that has wide open views to the Bighorn Mountains as well as the sweet sounds of Clear Creek and opportunities for bird and wildlife watching. There's the forest section, our favorite, that runs for about four miles among ponderosa pine and cottonwood trees on natural trail surface. And there's the Heritage Park section that gives us a nice four mile round trip walk from our RV park with both prairie and wetlands views.

Clear Creek Trail: pastures on one side, Clear Creek on the other, Bighorn Mountain views to the West.

A unique looking bovine seen along the trail.

When we first started walking Clear Creek Trail these flowers were bursting in bloom everywhere!
I can't find them online...does anyone know what they are called?


The forested section of the trail is almost four miles long.

Built in 1914, this was Buffalo's second power plant.
H. P. Rothwell, a German immigrant who financed the plant, indulged his love of European architecture. 

Buffalo gets a lot of RV traffic being along highway 16, said to be the easiest and most direct route to Yellowstone from the East, so there are several RV parks to choose from. We are very happy with our choice, Deer Park RV Park, where we've got a nice big site and views of wildlife right from our yard.

We have a site in the long term section of the park, with lots of space between rigs. 

This is our view in the other direction.
Every day we see pronghorn, deer, turkey and horses in this meadow which separates us from I-90 by at least a quarter mile.

We see about 7 or 8 pronghorn every day in the meadow.

More to come from Buffalo, WY...stay tuned!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Hiking the Bighorn Mountains: Sherd Lake Loop

We're settled for a month in Buffalo, WY, just a few miles East of the Bighorn Mountain Range, allowing us to easily escape the summer heat and immerse ourselves in the wilderness. With temps in Buffalo hitting the high 80's and low 90's we intend to spend a good deal of time in these mountains!

The Bighorn Mountain Range is a spur from the Rocky Mountains and is about 200 miles in length with two peaks at just over 13,000 feet and a dozen more over 12,000 feet. Cloud Peak Wilderness protects the center of the range and is surrounded by the Bighorn National Forest, both of these areas provide miles of hiking and fishing opportunities.

Our first hike in the Wilderness was a doozy: 9.5 mile Sherd Lake Loop took us through dense, healthy lodgepole pine forest, past numerous lakes and glacial ponds, across several crystal clear creeks and offered up views of 11,000 foot peaks and a couple of moose to top off a wonderful day on the trail. We ended up hiking about 11.5 miles due to losing the trail at one point, so we were glad we had purchased the NatGeo Cloud Peak Wilderness trail map to get us back on track!

Our first good view of the Bighorn Range as we drove to our trailhead. These Wyoming cows have it made!
The peaks viewable from here top out at about 11,000 feet so there is very little snow left on them.

The first couple of miles of trail climbed gently through thick lodgepole forest
so we were happy to break out of the trees to this beautiful glacial pond with an active beaver lodge.

I think this was at Sherd Lake.

Peek-a-boo frog!

Yet another pretty lake...I don't think it's possible to get tired of pretty subalpine settings!

The ranger had told us to be prepared for stream crossings so we packed our Tevas,
but we were able to find a dry way across all four large stream crossings on this hike.

As the trail ascended, the sections of exposed glacial rock grew more frequent
giving us a break from the forest but adding rocks to the trail!

This scene was the highlight of our day.
We had a fabulous view of the peaks, fluffy clouds, a beautiful meadow and crystal clear Clear Creek
studded with boulders, AND a pair of moose...the two tiny brown specks on the left side of the meadow...

We were fortunate to watch this pair for several minutes before they ambled off into the forest.

Much of the hike was through lodgepole forest, with occasional openings for lakes and creeks.

We got off the trail just as the rain started, extremely important for avoiding lightning!
There are some sweet boondocking spots off highway 16 as it skirts the Bighorn Mountains.