BIG HORN MOUNTAINS, WYOMING
Battle Park Trailhead

June 28 – July 28, 2013

by Redhorse

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GETTING THERE

Following weeks of planning, Misty Valdez & Redhorse (and their mules) headed to the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming, the Battle Park Trailhead, in particular, on June 28th. The original vacation destination of Jack's Creek, NM was eliminated due to wild fires, as was "Plans B & C" choices in Colorado. Thanks to Mike Anderson, via "Horse Trails & Camping Across America", for telling us about the Big Horn trails!

 

Our first overnight camp was at a KOA campground in Clayton, NM.  There were six (6) pens to pick from; two being covered.  Our hookups were close and water was at the pens. The temperature was over 100 degrees and we had driven 10 hours.  We took a walk through town and discovered a school reunion was just starting.  A couple enthusiastically told us about the reunion and how even the bus driver was coming to the event from across the street .  We strolled his way and met him at the curb with big hugs and how we remembered him as our bus driver!  After he tried to place us a couple of moments, we fessed up and all had a good laugh!

We pulled out at 5:00 a.m. NM time the next morning and drove 12 hours. We made a detour through Ft. Collins to pick up our certified weed-free hay. It was good, heavy bales and needed some healthy farm boys to get it loaded.  Misty and I just stayed back out of the way and drooled; I mean watched them!

 

We had a great overnight camp at Terry Bison Ranch just south of Cheyenne, WY.  This sprawling ranch was like a movie set with many western attractions.  There was a wedding in a grassy meadow just below the main house that Teddy Roosevelt had stayed at many times.  There was also a Renaissance Rendezvous going on with tents spread out over a couple of acres. There were a lot of bare chests trying to learn the art of throwing axes and spears. We lucked up and were given the main arena for our mules.  On one side was a small herd of camels and the other pastures held sizable herds of bison.

That evening, we invited ourselves to the wedding party following a dinner of salad & calf fries.  The Grandfather of the Bride was quite taken by the Texas women and spent more time with us than his family.  He was a frail, small man and proudly wore a genuine Boy Scout belt buckle.

 

 

The newest popular fashion among Wyoming women was skin tight, black leotard, ankle length pants. It was very apparent that some of the posteriors were trying in vain to escape the snug confines!  Welcome to the Wild West!

 

We drove through Cheyenne and it was nearly a Ghost Town.  It was still a couple of weeks before the BIG Cheyenne Frontier Days got into full swing.  Hoping to introduce Misty to the many, historic wheeled vehicles that several Texans drive annually with their teams, we visited with a man at the rodeo grounds.  The vehicles would not be taken out of storage yet, so we just toured the town.  Misty's expectations of Cheyenne were similar to what you find in Tombstone, AZ; the boardwalks in front of  saloons and general stores with hitching posts visible along main street.  She was disappointed to see this is just a midsized Wyoming town with a Wal-Mart that for two weeks celebrates it's rodeo days of a century ago.

The day we got to our camp was long and challenging.  The drive to Buffalo was only four (4) hours, but we hadn’t figured on the drive from there to camp being so grueling. We could see heavy storm clouds & lightening over the Big Horn Mountains, but didn’t realize they were exactly over the camp we were headed to.  They had an estimated 3” of rain and golf ball sized hail prior to our arrival. (A couple of awnings were now vented). That, of course, drastically affected the fifteen (15) miles of the NF#24 dirt road we faced; not to mention the 30 miles of STEEP Highway 16 we drove first.

 

After filling our water and fuel tanks and grabbing a bite to eat at Taco John’s in Buffalo, we headed in. It was a little unnerving when rural fire trucks flew by in the direction we were going. The weather change had the pavement steaming and the 7% grade warnings kept us alert for the Deer Haven exit.  Of course, we didn’t realize just how alert we were going to have to be on the dirt road ahead!!

 

The narrow one lane, slippery, rough rocky road was much like roller skating in a buffalo herd.  (I know you think this was just a TYPICAL dirt road with rocks  and washboards the size of watermelons, but it WAS NOT).  The two (2) times that we stopped by choice, was to discuss our plan; “stay in the middle” and the other when we topped out in a clearing and after we hugged each other, we sang “Amazing Grace”!

 

Misty was in the lead and the next two events were oncoming pickups. The first one she had clearance and asked the man how far to camp and he assured her five (5) miles.  I got the same information and we proceeded.  At this point, we both had white knuckles and at 3 mph, you don’t know what day you’ll arrive!  The next pickup had a couple of men in it, and the clearance was very tight.  Misty was apparently at her wits end, and said she just held her left hand over her mouth and kept driving; not even blinking as she sailed by that truck.

 

You will not believe what happened next!  Misty disappeared!  After she cleared that truck, she saw she was on better road (at least for a mile or two) and hauled ass; literally! It was four curves later that I looked across through the forest and saw her white rig and tail lights!

 

When we (“skidded into camp among the mud, the blood and the beer”; a little over dramatized!), we arrived at the Trailhead, Camp Host Bruce Wells came out to greet the “Texas gals” he’d been told were coming in by Mike Anderson.  There were several rigs there; on both sides of the main road.  On the south side were folks from Arizona (in what became known as Arizona Acres), and mostly Minnesota and some Missouri folks on the other side of the road.

 

Luck prevailed as we got our rigs parked and we had two of a 4 pen setup for our mules nearby.  (Frequently we watched elk and mule deer pass across the hillside beyond their pens.) After securing our antsy mules, we crashed in our rigs for some desperately needed rest.

 

WONDERFUL FOLKS & TRAILS

 

Hopefully, this map will help you follow our tracks through our Big Horn adventure. Please be sure to note that what NF#24 lacks in being straight, it makes up in being rough! (Note: some of the locations of landmarks may be extremely wrong.):

 

 

Not having time for real introductions the night we arrived, we decided to take a short loop ride out of camp the next day.  Our mules seemed to enjoy the outing as much as we did and before we headed home from our month long vacation, they covered an estimated 230-300 miles of mountainous trails; without shoes.  Not bad for some flatland Texans and their trusty mules!

 

Our first closest neighbors were Ted & Judy Chambers from Ozark, MO.  We enjoyed riding with them a few days exploring the Buck Creek Cow Camp (actually circled the camp 3 times via exploring trails), Bellyache Flats and Lake Solitude. Judy and I voted down riding through the rock slide along Solitude, but later I ventured it with Bill & Mary’s gang.

             

Within a couple of days of our arrival in camp, a mare penned behind Whiskey Girl, died from colic in the night.  We had noticed the horse wind sucking that evening while feeding.  Apparently the owner noticed the horse rolling in the night and walked her some time before her death.  This horse had been to Battle Park several times; one of the most memorable being when the owner raced this horse back to camp to alert authorities of a 17 year old young man who had broken his ankle on the trails.  The boy and his Mother, Wendy, (who arrived a few days after the horse died) were air lifted to a hospital on that occasion.

 

We shared campfires with anyone that had one going and soon met Kevin & Mary Jo and Harvey & Jayne Sik from Minnesota. They were a fun bunch and had been riding those trails for years. Misty rode with them to Lost Cabin and back through Bellyache Flats one day while I took a day off. Everyone that visited this cabin left an offering of “house warming” variety or a gift from the donor’s home state. The cabin furnishings and utensils made it ready for occupancy.  We left a Western Mule and Lone Star Horse Report magazines and a Redhorse pin from the last Big Bend Stillwell Ranch trailride and Texas pin with Linda Wells to place at the Lost Cabin.  It’s not uncommon for folks to overnight at the cabin; several did during our vacation.

We rode with some Iowan trailriders; Leo “Steve” & Sue Glienke from Greenville.  There were six (6) riders in their group. We made a couple of days riding with them to the Lost Lake, Grace Lake, the Paint Rock Canyon and to the Lake Solitude overlook.  Leo’s goal in life is to be a Wrangler on a working ranch and is working on his wife to warm up to the idea.

Some of the most endearing folks that camped near us was 10 yr. old McKenzie and her Grandfather, Dutch, from Illinois.  They and a friend, Todd, had made several trips to Battle Park, and were well seasoned riders and packers.  They all were big fishermen and how far they had to ride for a good catch was of little consequence.  They rode to Teepee Flats on one excursion for a mess of trout.  Of course, we happened into their campfire one evening while they were serving some fresh trout!  A couple of pieces I had were not much bigger than Texas bait, but very tasty!  As McKenzie’s group was pulling out the next day, nothing was but Misty and I had to see her pet Mongoose!  She led us to the rear of the rig, and inside there sat a sturdy wood box with mesh screen over part of the top.  Inside you could see an arched opening of the housing part and I could just make out something inside moving.  WAM! THE TOP SLAMMED OPEN AND OUT FLEW THIS CANTALOPE SIZED SPONGE!!  There wasn’t any bloodshed but the area cleared faster than a covey of quail! This was a fun group too!

While Bill Brazelton had to be in Powell tending to and fattening up his grandkids prize pigs before the upcoming Ag show, his wife Mary recruited the Texas Tornados to go shed hunting.  Mary and her sidekick, Annie, are well known for their tenacious desire for hunting elk sheds. Mary knows the hot spots for finding them. We wasted no time setting out for the hunt.  The first day out, we all hit pay dirt and came home with horns across our animals.  Mary and I found 5 pointers and Misty zeroed in on a nice 6 point.  I also found an old base of a big rack.  Mary also introduced us to the Bear Traps and the exciting trails to them along with a couple of her "secret passages!"

 

You’d have thought we were looking for gold!  The next day, I took the day off and Misty and Mary set out alone for the hunt.  While they were gone, a panic started brewing back in camp. About lunch time, a life flight chopper landed across the road from camp; just beyond the pens & fenced pasture.  Of course, it was clear there was an injured person somewhere and upon seeing the law enforcement trucks with emergency lights flashing, the situation allowed fear to grow.  By the time I walked to a group that gathered up towards Mary & Bill’s rig, my mind had jumped ahead to a scenario of horror for Misty or Mary.  Firmly and deliberately, Linda Wells brought me back to reality; that it was not either of my friends, but one of the two gals that had arrived late the prior evening that was injured.

 

Barb & Jo, from Iowa, had pulled in late the previous day and had parked down with the horse pens; not a designated parking area.  They moved to a good parking spot and Jo; the horses owner, rode bareback around camp well after it got dark.  (Interestingly, daylight came around 5:30 a.m. and dark didn’t come until about 10:00 p.m.)  Reports came in that while the girls had left camp around 9:00 a.m. that morning, they had made it to the Long Park area where a couple of directions signs were down. At that point, Jo had set her reins down and opened a map.  Her horse apparently bolted and she hit the ground hard on her right arm and shoulder.  First reports were that she may have punctured a lung and complained of severe back pains.  When released from the hospital in Casper several days later, she had some rods in her arm and plates and screws in her shoulder. After finding open and closed beer containers in the saddle bags, and when cleaning their camp, bags of empty beer cans were gathered up; alcohol was considered a factor in the accident.  It was also reported that the Ranger noticed the visible hay was not weed free certified and a violation was noted.

 

There was another incident a couple of days later.  A woman from Georgia, riding with a group, was on the bridge near the open area east of Lake Solitude.  For whatever reason, the horse she was riding backed off the bridge and losing its footing, dumped the rider into the rocky creek.  She was driven into Buffalo after returning to camp and spent the night.  She returned the next day with an extremely swollen face and wired jaws.  She and her husband left the next morning for a 3,000 mile journey home to see her dentist. Following these perilous accidents, this writer’s guts turned to jello.  Of course, Misty was still gung-ho for whatever challenge came her way. 

 

Our next ride, Bill took us to the Paint Rock Canyon and to see the beautiful Falls.  After securing the animals, the little hike Bill led us on to the falls proved interesting.  I was convinced that my leather boot souls were not made for mountain climbing but with Bill's help, we made it!  The noise of the rushing water was deafening but He heard my prayers!  We got perched on some boulders and watched in awe of Mother Nature at work.  When Bill went to assist Mary down, I decided to cut a trail on all four out of there; straight up.  The view from below was far from glamorous, but my desire not to slide down into the falls was stronger than the desire to shoot at Misty and her camera! Bill was quick to offer aide when he connected a few lead ropes and pitched the end to me.  My hero!

Thankfully, after a few more days of riding and encouragement from Mary, Bill, Bruce, Linda & Misty, I was ready for PUCKER PASS!  Bill led the way via the Hyatt Cow Camp and then on to the second of two waterfalls where we walked out for close up viewing.  Then we rode a few miles along the Paint Rock Creek and it was easy to know when we got to Pucker Pass. There was no fanfare and we just proceeded to climb along a narrow dirt hillside above the river and it gradually became a shale rocky trail.  Having a fabulous mule under me and focusing on the crupper on Misty’s mule ahead of me got me through it!!  Yippee!!! Then we crossed the Paint Rock Creek and headed back to camp.  They really should rename that pass; Pucker is so intimidating!

 

 

Continued ~~~ Click here for Part 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

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