Bighorn Canyon is one of the less visited parks in Wyoming, often overlooked with many peoples focus towards the big ticket items of Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons...they don't know what they are missing!
May 27, 2018 - After our two day exploration of Cody and its Museums we took some time out to visit the Buffalo Bill Dam.
With the authorization of the Shoshone Project in 1904, Buffalo Bill Dam became one of the earliest projects of the new Bureau of Reclamation. The ambitious project involved the construction of one of the first high concrete dams in the United States. The chosen contractor, Prendergast & Clarkson of Chicago, started work in September 1905, building a camp for workers and starting on a diversion dam, which was to divert the river into a wooden flume, through a tunnel and out through another flume to rejoin the river bed. Two men were killed in the construction of the tunnel. A June 1906 flood destroyed the flume. Little work was done then until March 1907, but another flood in July damaged the diversion dam again. Working conditions were very harsh, leading to the first strike in Wyoming's history in November 1907, in which workers demanded and eventually received... three dollars a day! The construction continued with two further contractors being appointed and despite further floods the final concrete was poured in January 1910. Seven construction workers lost their lives on the project. When finished it was the tallest curved concrete dam in the world at 325 feet...overtaken eventually by the famous Hoover Dam.
View from the top...
The Blonde insisted that we should go to the foot of the damn wall to take more photos...especially as the Spring flood had made it necessary to release excess water through the flumes. Way down at river level was the old road that took travellers to Yellowstone through tunnels cut through the rocks. We parked up and walked along the old road to get a view of the dam wall from below. "Well you wouldn’t want to miss it out really would you?!"...said The Blonde.
The Old Yellowstone Road from Cody...now a service road to the foot of Buffalo Bill Dam.
My back is very, very wet!!
The Bear - we could not take Little Henrietta down what was the old road to Yellowstone to the foot of the dam as it was for authorised vehicles only...so we had to walk about a mile and half to the nearest point we could get before a very large fence stopped our progress.
The Old Yellowstone Highway would have been quite a drive....
The noise of the water cascading down was what we first noticed and then the spray funneling through the canyon. It was quite an "awesome" sight. Trying to take photos without either ourselves or our cameras getting wet was nigh impossible, so we did the best we could before retreating.
The Blonde Photographer trying to get that "Dam Rainbow" shot...
The Blonde & The Ball Plug - used to halt the flow of water through the 42" power outlets..the ball plug that is.
We head north and east out from Cody to Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Leaving the dam behind and then checking with the information center in Cody we determined that Beartooth Pass which would take us over the Rockies into Yellowstone was still closed on the Wyoming side. This was due to late snow and high winds causing 15ft snow drifts....it was anticipated the pass would open in 3 to 4 days time...we were determined not to miss out after our failure to cross in 2014, so what to do? A little research and we decided to make a small detour back to the east from Cody out to Bighorn Canyon. And were we glad that we did.
The Blonde - As we drove through this plains area on our way to Bighorn National Recreation Area we passed fields and farms, silos and canals. Sadly I just woke up as we passed one silo in Powell with the sign for "The All American Town" and the Sidon Canal just in front. I daren’t ask to go back! I haven’t worked out whether Little Henrietta has a reverse gear yet! We'll get it on the way back from Bighorn. At Lovell we turned north into Bighorn. This is wild horse country - mustangs. Oh yeah, and a pretty awesome gorge too with deep red outcrops and toothy topped mountains. We’re going to spend a few days here walking and photographing those horses.
We get a good start after visiting the information center and discovering there is now no entry fee to the park. Then we give the Horseshoe Bend campground the flick, too busy, and head to the more remote camp at Barry’s Landing. And....just as we round a bend there are two mustangs fighting just on the side of the road......cameras out!!
We watch for half an hour or more and chat to two other photographers from Spokane, MT. They had seen twenty one mustangs today just by cruising the road! Tomorrow they’re taking the Pryor Mountain Day Tour which guarantees plenty of wild horse encounters at $195 per head. Let’s see what we get first! We follow these two mustangs for a couple of miles before eventually they disappear.
The Blonde - The Pryor Mountain Mustang is descended from the original Colonial Spanish Horses brought to the Americas by... the Spanish would you believe! They are now the only Mustang herd remaining in Montana. Protected by the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 and managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the herd number has been set at around 120 animals. Genetic studies have shown that the herd has a high degree of genetic diversity and a low degree of inbreeding. The Pryor Mountain Mustangs are relatively small horses, have a natural ambling gait, and those that are domesticated are known for their strength, sure-footedness and stamina.
The management of the herd by BLM has given the horses additional access to water, numerous roundups that have resulted in the removal and adoption of hundreds of horses to private individuals, and in 2015, a plan was approved to gather 6-12 one and two year old horses annually until the contraceptive vaccine the mares are given can lower birth rates more.
The Pryor Mountain Mustang has a very specific conformation type. The breed generally stands 13 to 15 hands (52 to 60 inches, 132 to 152 cm) high and weigh 700 to 800 pounds (320 to 360 kg) on the range, and more if raised in captivity. They exhibit a wide range of solid colors, including bay, black, chestnut, dun, grullo, and blue or red roan. So there you are, you are now the full bottle on the Pryor Mountain Mustangs.
"Go on then take my photo...got my best smile going here!"
The Bear - eventually we end up at Barry’s Landing. It’s a beautiful spot on a bend in the Bighorn River with the red cliffs of the gorge to the south of us and a beautiful mountain range to the west. There’s a boat ramp but only 4 campsites so I don’t think we’ll be crowded out somehow and at present we are the only ones here. We sit and chill and plan our hikes from the excellent information we managed to get from the visitors center. We make a campfire and thenwatch the full moon rising into a clear blue sky. Magic!
Campfire, moonrise and a star studded sky.....we got lucky today! But that’s the EarthRoamers for ya!
Our lonely campsite @ Barry's Landing
The Blonde - we need to walk! There’s a footpath right out of the campground and it would seem rude not to explore it! It takes us all around the river through meadows of wildflowers and gives us a view down the canyon of the muddy yellow Bighorn River.
Time to hike....
The Blonde Hiker on the Barry's Island Trail
It’s a colorful hike and as the cool morning temperatures fade away into a nice warm day, we take time to eat our sandwiches gazing at the lazy river. Cameras as always at the ready...where are these Bighorn sheep?
For The Bear a sandwich is just not enough!
Nice picnic spot....and great place to sit and chill for an hour...or so.
There’s birdsong all around and only a couple of power boats go down the river, to disturb the peace. They are heading upstream apparently to a well known fishing area, near the Yellowtail Dam. Apart from them we see no other signs of life.
Hiking back to our campsite...still no signs of life!
The two men from Montana who camped near us last night have take their boat up the river to the dam and will camp there tonight. We said we’d keep and eye on their camper for the next 2 nights. Tomorrow we’ll do a bit more exploring back up the canyon and look for more horses. The four wheel drive track that connects the north and south ends of the park, is closed at present, but that's ok, there looks to be plenty of opportunities for us to hike off the main road to see more of the canyon.
After a big hike...you need a big reward...G & T and a blazing campfire....bliss!
Thursday May 31st - The Blonde - today we are going to explore all the lookouts over the Canyon. We are lucky to see Turkey Vultures, wildflowers, young Bighorn sheep with new horns and awesome views deep into the Canyon.
Turkey vulture soaring overhead....
Young Bighorn Sheep....very startled by our presence!
We walked the State Line Trail near the beginning of the Canyon as well as Devil’s Overlook and another overlook at Horseshoe Bend. The views were so good that it took us ages to drag ourselves away.
The Bear being very brave on the canyon rim.
The Canyon straddles Wyoming and Montana and is accessed only part way up from Lovell - the rest has to be accessed from Montana. About one third of the park unit is located on the Crow Indian Reservation.
Horseshoe Bend & The Blonde
At the Sullivan Knob's Trail we found one of the national recreation area's more unusual claims to fame. When I stood on the canyon rim and shouted across the canyon I got a "triple echo" in reply.The Bear gets me in three’s. I’m sure he’s fascinated by that possibility! Its been a good day but no more sightings of the mustangs...but hey you can't have everything!
The Bear - as we get back to camp we notice storm clouds brewing up in the west....then we see another storm brewing to the south...it looks like they are both tracking straight towards us. We have another nice campfire and watch the clouds build, hoping that they veer off in another direction. But by the time it is dark and we are ready to go in and shut out the night, the wind is starting to build and the temperature has really dropped.
Two storms coming!!
The Blonde - Last night’s storm was just incredible! The biggest storm I think we’ve ever experienced (maybe with the exception of Cyclone Hollanda when we lived in Mauritius). In fact we were caught in the middle of two storms, according to the Ranger at the Visitor Centre when we called in this morning. He had been driving back from the south and saw the storms circling the Canyon. The noise was terrific...especially when the hail came. The thunder and lightening was... very, very frightening...as per Bohemian Rhapsody. And the wind nearly blew us off our perch on top of the canyon. It went on and on. Thank goodness Little Henrietta had big rubber boots on and good brakes!
...and the next day it was if nothing had happened.
The Bear - hmmmm....one thing is for certain, the storm gave Little Henrietta a really good going over...no damage from the hailstones and no leaks, I am very pleased to say. There were probably two thunderclaps like I have never heard before...it sounded like an enormous canon going off right over our heads. Surprisingly in the morning the skies had cleared and we launched into another bright blue sky day.
Time to say adios to Bighorn Canyon and head back west to make our crossing from Red Lodge in Montana into Wyoming over Beartooth Pass...thank you Bighorn, even with the storm we don't regret at all coming out of our way to visit you....as it says on the sign..."An Undiscovered Treasure".