This is the last photograph I took on my crossing Union Pass drive. I had constantly been in sight of the smoke coming from the Kendall Mountain and the Green wildfires, to the south in the Wind River Range, but now as I crossed the Continental Divide, I started to see the smoke of a large wildfire in the Absaroka Mountain Range to the north.
No doubt, that somewhere another fire fighting camp was set up somewhere in the area, with responsibility for fighting and managing this fire and others.
Union Pass, Wyoming & Green River/Horse Creek – Road Trip.
I had been suffering from what felt like "walking pneumonia" for a couple of weeks, and had just started feeling a little better. I decided what would do me a lot of good, would be get on a road trip.
I left my hiking and backpacking gear at home, and determined to just enjoy driving back roads and visit and travel a few historic and scenic places along the way. A "windows down", back road, take your time….road trip.
DAY ONE: I drove the freeway from my home in Eastern Washington to Pocatello, Idaho on day one. I got a good night’s sleep at a motel in Pocatello and started driving early the next morning, with back road routes on my mind.
DAY TWO: I headed south a short ways on I-15 then turned east on highway 30. I would travel in reverse a scenic back highway route, that I had driven for the first time a year ago. I drove through Lava Hot Springs; Soda Springs; Henry (a major city); and over to Freedom – – on the Idaho and Wyoming border.
From Freedom it was north to Alpine, Wyoming then highway 26 to Hoback Junction. The stretch of highway from Alpine to Hoback Junction was a "zoo". LOTS of people traveling to squeeze in that last vacation before school starts.
There were so many river rafters (commercial) carrying 12 to 16 "river tourists" like eggs in a double wide carton, on the Snake River, that you could walk across the river and up and down the river without getting your feet wet, jumping from overcrowded rubber raft to the next. All the support camps and transport buses added to the carnival like atmosphere. Though not for me, those on the commercial rafts seem to be having a great time, and that is what life is all about.
Most of the automobile traffic headed north towards Jackson, Wyoming at the Hoback Junction. I turned up the historic Hoback River road (hwy 189/191) and enjoyed less traffic and great scenery as I headed for Daniel Junction via Bondurant.
Before I reached Daniel Junction though irony and serendipity converged and I came upon a "wildfire fighting camp", just off the highway and spread out across a sage brush flat.
I had moved a photograph of the victims of Mann Gulch up to the front of my Flickr photostream page just before I left home. August 5th, 2013 was the 64th anniversary of the Mann Gulch fire fatalities, and it just seemed like something I wanted to do.
Also I had just finished reading the story of the 1994 fire fighting tragedy of Storm King Mountain in Colorado. I had also been exchanging a few emails with a person telling me they were friends with the sister of one of the Mann Gulch victims (David Navone).
So, as I left my home, it seemed as though "wildfire" stories were very much in my mind, including the most recent incident at Yarnell, Arizona ~ where 19 firefighters lost their lives.
There were no signs telling the public to keep out, so I drove in to see a wildfire fighting camp first hand. I drove slowly, and moved completely off the road when any "official" vehicle came the other way. I did not want to interfere in anyway with the job they were doing.
I drove to far end of the camp to the Helitack unit. I parked off in the sage brush and asked two firefighters if I could take some photos, if I stayed out of the way. Permission granted. Then I drove back on the dirt road, to the center of the operation. What a collection of agencies there were. I saw signs and personnel of the forest service; BLM; Homeland Security; and every fire fighting agency and group you could imagine.
Again, I approached some of the men appearing to be in charge, and asked if I could take some non-commercial photos if I stayed out of the way. Permission granted. My car was parked off the road in front of what appeared to be the mess tent.
I clicked away at the "mobile shower" unit; the chow line trailer; the mess hall tents; the "sleeping" camp tents, and so forth. I finally ended up at a yurt that appeared to be an "information center", with one fellow working on a computer and maps of the fire fighting activity around the inside.
When I asked if I could take some photos of the inside of the yurt, again permission was granted but a young lady asked if she could speak to me, after she finished up a conversation with one of the firefighting people.
Her name was "Holly". She said she was the public relations and public information "manager" for the operation. Though she said she was not an employee of the BLM or Forest Service or any other agency, she appeared to be "official" and recognized as such by all those in camp.
Holly told me she could escort me around and that I could probably take photos of most everywhere we went. I sheepishly admitted, I had already "toured the area", asking permission as I went, staying out of the way, but had taken LOTS of photos. She grinned.
Holly took me around the heart of the camp and gave me a lot of interesting information about the operation. I found out that the mess hall was being operated by "inmates", who had one guard with them and were being paid $200 a day for their work. Holly said all of them were polite and did everything they could not to do something to spoil being able to work outside and be able to see the stars in the night sky, when their work day was done.
I spent a lot more time at the fire camp than I had intended but it was so interesting, timely, and informative … that I had a hard time leaving (especially when I met the official camp dog, a large easy going loveable black Labrador Retriever).
I told Holly of my intentions to visit the Green River Rendezvous "exact site" on this trip and then drive up over historic Union Pass towards Dubois, Wyoming…a dirt road that would take me over the north end of the Wind River Range. She told me that there were a few active fires in the area, but didn’t think I would have trouble crossing the pass or camping in the area.
I left the fire camp and drove to Daniel Junction to get a bite to eat, gas up the RAV4, and see if I could find a road that would take me as close as I could get to where Horse Creek joined the Green River.
I had visited and photographed the Green River from Trappers’ Point Monument last year, but that was three miles down the Green River from where the center of the fur trappers’ rendezvous had taken place and I wanted to see the exact location as close as I could come to it.
The rendezvous system was unique. Supplies were brought in from St. Louis by wagon. Mountain men, Indians, missionaries, an artist or two, overland travelers – – all showed up. It was primarily a place and an event, to allow the Mountain Men to sell their beaver pelts, and buy up supplies for the next year of trapping (without the need to travel to and from St. Louis). It was also a time for them to spend much of their money earned on gambling and drinking. There were horse races, tall tales, and a celebratory atmosphere to the whole thing. A rendezvous might last three or four weeks. A good time was had by many and most.
The 1833, 1835, 1836, 1837, 1839, and the last rendezvous of 1840 – – all took place at the confluence of Horse Creek and the Green River. The lay of the land remains much like it was then but private ranches and farms now fill the entire area around the confluence.
I took the wrong turn and ended up visiting the Fort Bonneville site first. It has quite a history of its own as does Captain Bonneville (Spy, agent, military man, fur trader, or all of the above?).
Then I returned to Daniel Junction and took the correct turn to Daniel, Wyoming, where I parked my car and went into the small town post office at Daniel. I was armed with maps and questions. Fortunately I met another helpful type.
Holly had been of great help at the fire camp and now "Dee" was more than happy to give me exact, accurate, and precise information about the De Smet memorial, where I would have outstanding landscape views and be able to look down right at the confluence of Horse Creek and the Green River.
I hurried off and followed Dee’s instructions to the letter, and arrived at what she told me would be a place of outstanding views. I took photograph after photograph of this interesting site. A private ranch is at the end of the road. There is a cemetery. A tall water tank tower.
A stone monument where Father De Smet performed one of the first Catholic masses in the west. And then there was the incongruent boulder and plaque monument to: Pinckey W. Sublette. He was the youngest of the five Sublette brothers, several of whom were famous participants in the fur trading, trapping, and rendezvous activities.
I haven’t been able to find much information about Pinckey Sublette, but I will keep looking. This is what makes a road trip so much fun. Finds like this, that ask questions that demand attempts at answering them.
I returned to Daniel and took a cold can of soda and a few Pocatello, Idaho cinnamon rolls into Dee, and to thank he for helping me out with directions.
Now to Union Pass….or so I hoped. I had a bed made out in the back of my RAV4 and also had an inexpensive but functional "camp tent" with me. My thought was to camp up high near Union Pass and hopefully be out of mosquito territory, by being up high, where the nights should be cool (or so I of course hoped). I did note that one of the lakes I would travel by on my drive up over Union Pass, would be……Mosquito lake.
I had spotted a wild fire from the De Smet Monument, which I could see burning in the Wind River Range in the distance. I didn’t know it then, but what I was seeing was the Kendall Mountain fire, which was being allowed to burn, as long as it didn’t threaten the ranches and buildings to in the valley to the west. Seems aspen need a good fire to do well and this was part of the strategy of letting the Kendall fire to continue to burn within a perimeter agreed to by the fire fighting managers.
I drove toward Pinedale, Wyoming and then turned north on highway 352. This was the paved highway that would take me to the dirt, Union Pass road. I had never driving this highway and I had never crossed Union Pass. The pass had been on my "to do list" for a few years, and it felt great to be on my way.
I had made a note to check out the Kendall Dace, along the way. They are two inch long freshwater fish, that occur no other place in the world. They live in a hot springs creek where the water temperature stays at 84 degrees, all year round.
As it turned out, I got so caught up with the scenery, the wildfires,- – that I forgot to take the turn toward the Green River Lakes, and see the dace. A good excuse for a return to the area.
The Union Pass dirt road was fun to drive. Windows down but I had to roll them up from time to time, when ATV riders came by the other way. There were plenty of them and they all seemed to be having a great time despite all the dust they had to eat, from time to time, traveling the road.
I got on a long stretch of the dirt road with no ATVs in sight, and I saw a lone backpacker hiking north, the same direction I was heading, along the road. I slowed way down so I wouldn’t cover him in a cloud of dust as I passed him.
He was a young man (30s), in outstanding shape, tanned, carrying a large internal frame pack that was perfectly organized. He had a smile on his face that only a skilled, competent, motivated, and dedicated backpacker can have.
His name was Gary. He had, what to me was a strong English accent, but when I asked where he was from he said the Adirondacks. I smiled and said "then you know of the only black bear in North America, who has learned the trick to opening "bear proof" bear vaults." He laughed and in his nice English accent added "….and she has a cub now that has learned the trick as well".
I offered Gary an ice cold soda from my ice chest giving him a choice of Pepsi or caffeine thick Mt. Dew. He went for the can of Mt. Dew. He asked where I was headed and I told him Union Pass, but I half expected to run into a road block, due to all the fire activity I was seeing in the area.
He told me he was looking for the Gros Ventre trail head. I told him he had missed the best part of the Wind River Range by not hiking the Cirque of Towers and/or the Titcomb Basin area. Again he smiled, and said that he had started his hike at the south end of the Wind River Range, so he hadn’t "missed much". He told me he had got off the route due to the wildfires and was no planning to backpack to Jackson, Wyoming.
Gary spotted my Wyoming topo atlas on the seat and asked if he could have a look. It seems, when he had abandoned his original route due to the fires, he didn’t have any map at all for his proposed "detour" to Jackson. He fixed that by taking my topo map atlas and spreading across the hood of my car, and taking photos with his cell phone. Smart thinking.
I offered to move my stuff around so I could give him a ride to where he would leave the road for a trail, but he seemed happy and determined to "walk". I took his empty can of Mt. Dew and then gave him a large cold plastic bottle of Mt. Dew, which he gladly accepted, then we parted ways. Holly, Dee, and now Gary. You meet the nicest people on a road trip.
My drive over Union Pass (the historic route over the continental divide north of the Wind River Range) and dropped down to the highway north of Dubois. I now started for Lander, Wyoming with the thought of a motel room there OR keep driving and camp among the sage on South Pass (the historic wagon trail route over the Continental Divide, south of the Wind River Range).
I watched antelope and wildfire smoke on my drive toward Lander, Wyoming. The wind picked up and it seemed as though a storm might be on the way. Then serendipity struck once again on this road trip. A pow wow. Outstanding. I always love to attend a Native American pow wow. The beating of the drums, the chants, the dancing and most of all the fascinating costumes. And now, here was one going on in a small park in Lander, Wyoming on a week day (31 July 2013).
I grabbed a camera and headed for the dancing. What fun! Snap, snap, snap went my camera shutter. The Wind River reservation is home to both the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone. The Arapaho outnumber the Shoshone on the reservation two to one. Sacagawea was a member of the Lemhi Shoshone band of Northern Shoshone.
After many traditional dances, the MC invited spectators to dance and that the best would be given "Sacagawea" metals, with the Indians serving as judges. The tom toms started up and a lively and brave group of "tourists" did their best. I was standing by the tom tom and chanting group, when the biggest of the four, encouraged me to join the dancing and to hand him my camera and he would take photos. I convinced him that I would be an embarrassment to all present if I danced…so he let me off the hook.
Like the fire fighting operation between Bondurant and Daniel Junction, I had a hard time leaving the pow wow…though it seemed to be winding down to its conclusion. I didn’t want to get a motel and the wind was still picking up, so I decided to drive to South Pass. A few years ago I had parked my four wheel drive pickup among the sage and hiked the gentle saddle that is "South Pass".
I had always intended to return on day and spend the night at this historic crossing and this night seemed to be the "right night" to do so. I drove into the dark and remembering well the lay of the land at South Pass, drove to a prominent point among the sage and bedded down in the back of my RAV4 for the night. The Milky Way was bright at this high desert pass and I got a good night’s sleep. I had covered a lot of back roads and enjoyed many wonderful experiences on this second day of my road trip.
Looking at my map that night with the aid of my LED headlamp, I saw for the first time that the Continental Divide splits south of South Pass. It travels around the Great Divide Basin of Sweetwater county Wyoming. I hadn’t realized that such a basin exists. Water flowing off the continental divide almost always ends up in the Pacific or the Atlantic ocean but not here in Wyoming. Here the water flowing into the Great Divide Basin…goes nowhere, except the basin itself.
DAY THREE -SIX: Leaving South Pass early I headed for Salt Lake City. There I spent Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with my wife, kids, and granddaughter. On Sunday we took our 10 month old granddaughter to the Salt Lake City zoo. What a hoot…for her…and for all of us.
DAY SEVEN: I left Salt Lake City and drove the freeway to Ontario, Oregon. There was lots of smoke in the air all the way across Idaho. A dust storm came up outside of Boise, and strong winds continued all the way to Ontario, where I got motel room for the night.
DAY EIGHT: Looking over maps at a big chicken friend steak, gravy, hash browns, and eggs breakfast at Denny’s, I decided to take my time going on home and drive a couple of roads I had never driven before. So, I skipped the freeway and headed from Ontario to Vale and up over the Blue Mountains.
Oregon highway 26 from Vale through Brogan and Unity and on to Bates, Oregon – – was fun driving. Relaxed. I saw a black angus chasing a coyote across a pasture (too close to a calf). I checked out campgrounds for future reference and use all the way across the Blue Mountains, finding one I favored.
Then at Bates I took a road never before traveled. I drove the Middle Fork of the John Day River from Bates to highway 395. The canyon was pretty but the river seemed sad with all the cattle traffic it endured, more like a moving water trough and cattle toilet, than I fine clear country stream. White tail deer raced me along the road in several places and I enjoyed the blue heron, fishing along the river banks as I drove with my window rolled down.
Once on Oregon 395 I was on familiar road, as I drove north, but just to get in one more "new" section of back road, I took the Butter Creek Road to reach Hermiston, Oregon. That was fun and beautiful farm country. At Hermiston, I once again gassed up the car, ate too much fast food, and headed for home.
I hope you enjoy some of the photographs of the people and places, I took along the way on this short week long road trip.
OMT 14 August 2013
Tagged: , Union Pass , Mosquito Lake , elk , Abaroka Mountain Range , Backroad driving Wyoming , Wind River Range , dirt roads , Pinedale to Dubois , Bear Aware camping country