Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Traveling the "Sweet" 16

The Big Horn Mountain range in northern Wyoming forms a northwest-trending spur from the Rocky Mountains extending approximately 200 miles on the Great Plains.

There are 14 peaks above 12,000 feet in this range, providing many opportu-nities for sightseeing. There are 3 major highways traversing the Big Horns in an east-west direction with each offering its own distinct and memorable scenery.

Recently, we took one of these routes, the Cloud Peak Skyway, west from Buffalo, Wyoming. Also, called Sweet 16 by some, the Skyway, or US Hwy 16, traverses the southern Big Horn Mountains and offers vistas of distant snowcapped peaks along its 45 mile length.

This route connects the towns of Buffalo and Ten Sleep, Wyoming. It takes its time climbing the Big Horns, following water courses and ridges until it reaches the mountain summit at 9,666 foot Powder River Pass.

Throughout this journey, we were aware of the towering country of the Cloud Peak Wilderness (200,000 acres) to the north and west.

Informed that we could expect "abundant sightings" of elk and moose, we were disappointed that our sightings were limited to the more common deer (mule deer?).

Along the highway, there were signs of the toll taken on some buildings by time and weather.

Along Highway 16, we had a number of views of Tensleep Creek. Literature we found on white water rafting noted: "If you've been whitewater rafting and kayaking outside this state you might find the rivers here a bit more challenging, so don't forget that the rivers in this state are less manageable."

There is a section of Tensleep Creek in Wyoming that is rated by American Whitewater as a class V+ section.

Rounding a curve near the end of our 45-mile drive, we encountered a highway-blocking, but seemingly self-directed, cattle drive. Only at the end of the three-quarters of a mile stretch of highway did we see any cowboys directing the herd.

Dude ranches can be found in the area, offering opportu-nities for trail rides, cattle work, and off-trail adventure rides and game spotting.

But when the travelers stay in luxurious accommodations that have a private hot tub, steam shower, a fireplace, satellite TV, wireless Internet access, direct phone line and are stocked with snacks, beverages, and breakfast foods, it seems that the term "Guest Ranch" more accurately describes the life on the ranch.

Our destination--Ten Sleep, Wyoming--lay just ahead.