Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Powder River Pass, Crossing the Bighorns

A line of blue sky appeared and for the first time in days we could see the sun. As we drove to the top of a hill, just past Wild Horse Road, the Bighorns appeared in all their glory and my heart leapt. I told Renita and I could see her face brighten. We had so many memories.
She pointed out all the snow and it was pretty obvious that winter still held the mountains in its grip, and it shouldn’t have been any surprise. We both had been in the high country before and the lakes were still frozen at altitude.
Normally we wouldn’t have taken our fifth wheel across a mountain pass, when we could avoid it, but we have been on the road for three years and have crossed many passes. So, we decided to cross the Powder River Pass, and a flood of memories waited patiently for us.
I pointed out Bighorn and Darton Peaks, and remembered my climb of Darton, many years ago. That day one of our team came down with altitude sickness and we had to get him low before we could summit. A storm hit us unexpected and we felt the worms crawling in our hair. Luckily we were able to retreat from the summit before the lightning struck.
On the west side of Darton Peak was my daughters favorite place, Lost Twins Lakes. Jenny and I had back packed there on a father daughter trip and so it was one of my special places too. If you are ever in their cirque in August you can see the shadow of the bear, cast by a protruding truncated spur. I didn’t see it until Jenny pointed it out.
We stopped at the welcome to the Bighorn National Forest turnoff, and we pointed out Cloud and Bomber Peaks. I had climber Cloud Peak twice and Renita and I had day packed into the Cloud Peak Wilderness area, just after we had both retired.
Pole Creek hove into view and we both pointed out the many places we had skied in for our Christmas trees. Places and times filled with love and family and happiness. The North Fork of Crazy Women Creek looked as inviting as ever, but our fifth wheel was just too big for that campground.
We reached the Powder River Pass and stopped for a bit to relax and remember. Not too far away was the spot where we had sledded, insanely it turned out as there were hidden rocks. Our normal sledding hill had been bare that year and so we had driven high in search of snow. I hit a rock so hard I couldn’t sit on a chair for a month.
We headed down the west side , past Meadowlark Ski area and Willow Park. Willow Park was our favorite place to cross country ski. The snow was so much better on the west side of the Bighorns, as the windward side usually is.
Past Meadowlark we headed down Tensleep Canyon and I remembered the time I skied the old highway. It was amazing as you could ski for eleven miles and only had to pole twice. It was scary too as the old road had no guardrails and no way out once you had started down its trace.
I pulled over for others to pass, as we were in no hurry, life is about the journey after all. We passed Leigh Point where a British member of the royal family had fell while hunting. We wanted to stop and look for rocks, stromatolites this time, but the melting snow pack had raised the level of the creek to flood stage, and the rocks were all underwater.
We marveled at the mansions being built on the outskirts of Tensleep, progress I guess, or monuments to money. Why do people need so much space, when we are happy in so little, each unto his own. Worland came and went and it didn’t seem to have changed much. Kirby passed by and then Thermopolis neared as we saw signs for the dinosaur center.
The Wind River Canyon is always a treat and we saw the sign for the Wedding of the Waters. There the Wind River becomes the Bighorn. Early explorers had given two different names for the same river and neither name won out. We couldn’t see where a train had been derailed from a rock avalanche, earlier this spring.
Boysen Dam neared and as we passed through the third tunnel we left the reservation land and arrived at Boysen State Park, and our friends John and Flo Wheeler. It had taken longer to cross the mountains a lifetime of memories. We have been truly blessed. Clear skies

No comments: