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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Scouting for the Eclipse

We are staying in Dubois, Wyoming and will be here during the solar eclipse on August 21.  Our friends Jane and Kim, from England, have flown in and will be meeting us when they arrive at Togwatee Lodge, where they will be staying for a couple days.  Since we are here several days ahead of time, we offered to scout several possible locations where they can photograph the eclipse.

The requirements for a good eclipse photography site are not the easiest to meet.  For example, the site needs a good view across an expanse to the northwest so that it is possible to photograph the moonshadow as it races across the country.  The site also needs a good view across an expanse to the southeast to facilitate photos of the shadow as it races away.  And it needs a clear sky where the sun will be at eclipse time.  Finally, to really make the site special, it should be dramatic.  For example, Jane and Kim are hoping to get photos of the Grand Tetons as they hunt the sun.

We tried to focus on sites near Togwatee Pass, where Kim and Jane will be staying, and Dubois, where we are.  We visited three ranger offices - two for the Shoshone National Forest, which administers forest lands east of the Continental Divide where we are on U.S. Highway 26, and one for the Bridger-Teton National Forest, which administers forest lands to the west of the Continental Divide.  We also chatted with locals in Dubois as we shopped for coffee, breakfast and meats.

This gave us a list of TEN different locations, in addition to the one Kim and Jane were originally considering.  Their choice was Snow King Mountain, just southeast of Jackson, which has an absolutely breathtaking view of the southern Grand Tetons. Another possibility mentioned by one of the forest rangers is Signal Mountain, which is in Grand Teton National Park and would present even more dramatic views of the northern Tetons than the view from Jackson.  Because Jane and Kim are familiar with these locations, we concentrated on other spots.

We started with locations in the Bridger-Teton National Forest and either side of the Continental Divide near Togwatee Pass.  Our first spot was at Four Mile Meadow, not so far from Moran, Wyoming.  The location is up a four-mile dirt road, on a promontory that offered dramatic views of the Tetons.  While it also had a grand view of land below to the northwest, views to the southeast would be limited:

Our second spot was Togwatee Lookout, which is just below the summit of Togwatee Pass on U.S. 26.  This seemed to meet all of our criteria, but its view of the Tetons is not as dramatic as Four Mile Meadow.  Neverthess, it has a much wider panorama both to the northwest and southeast, which would maximize opportunities to view the moving moonshadow:

Our third site was the most unique of the selections - Brooks Lake.  Standing on the shore, we had dramatic views of The Pinnacles to the southeast --

-- and the front of mountains at the Continental Divide to the northwest.  However, sweeping views of the moonshadow sweeping across landscapes might not be available.  This might be offset by very unusual views of the shadow on the mountains on either side.

Next, we moved east to the Fremont National Forest, near Dubois.  Our first stop was Union Pass, which Jim Bridger and other mountain men and guides used to cross the Rockies before South Pass was discovered and became more popular for travelers on the Oregon Trail.  Union Pass presented us with grand panoramas in both directions, but without dramatic mountain views:

Near Union Pass, the forest rangers also recommended a location with a good view of Union Peak to the southeast, the direction in which the shadow would recede from us.  Again, however, this location lacks dramatic mountain views.

Another unusual lake view is presented at Ring Lake, in the Whiskey Basin Wildlife Management Area adjoining the Fitzpatrick Wilderness and a dramatic entry point for hikes and backpacks into the Wind River Range.  However, the site doesn't offer sweeping open space where the path of the shadow can be photographed.

Exhausted, but pleased with the variety of choices we found, we returned to our RV to digest what we found.  We'll present these to Kim and Jane when we see them tomorrow.  They will pick their favorite, but we think our favorite was Togwatee Lookout.  That being said, Brooks Lake is simply awesome, so here is a video that will give you a sense of the drama of Brooks Lake:


We'll report next week on Jane and Kim's ultimate choice, as well as the whole epic eclipse-chasing adventure once it's happened.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Wind River Range - Louis Lake and Red Canyon

Hi Blog!

On Monday, August 14, 2017, we decided to take a drive up to Louis Lake located in the southeast part of the Wind River Range. Though we brought the kayaks, this would not be an ordinary paddle. This was our first attempt to combine kayaking with fly fishing. We've been on a number of lakes recently where the fish were just popping -- if only we had our fishing rods with us. Well, today was the day.

With fly rod safely stowed in her kayak, Kathy began paddling out into Louis Lake:

We couldn't have asked for a more picturesque location. This high mountain lake is surrounded by the Shoshone National Forest.

We started in a small bay by the lake outflow. The wind was blowing right at us making casting a bit tricky. However, the wind was also blowing food up against the right bank. We discovered a rocky ledge about 10 to 15 feet from the bank where the trout were cruising up and back. We cast our flies and then allowed the wind to blow us and the fly right into the feeding lane - fish on!

After several casts, we would paddle back out and allow the wind to push us in again. Kathy discovered she could "troll" the fly from the front of her kayak by paddling backwards. This trolling method caught three more trout.

As morning turned to afternoon, the wind ramped up and swells became white caps. The clouds began building and we decided to reel in our lines. Not counting the hits and slips, Kathy netted five trout, while Dave landed six. Dave also gets kudos for landing the largest - a 12 inch native cutthroat.

Since we still had part of our afternoon left, we decided to take the scenic route back to Lander by following Red Canyon Road. Dusty looks good in red.

The uplift of the Wind River Range 60 million years ago exposed sedimentary rocks that were eroded by streams. The canyon exposes a number of geologic formations. Oxidized iron deposits in the rocks give the canyon its name.

The closer we got, the more we could see the layer upon layer of red sandstone. The canyon slopes were littered with large red boulders which broke off and tumbled down.

There is evidence of over 10,000 years of human presence in the canyon, including the Shoshone and Washakie tribes which used it as a transportation corridor between South Pass and the Wind River Basin.

White settlers arrived during the 1870s and established farms on the floor of the canyon which provided fresh fruit and grains for nearby miners at South Pass City and Atlantic City.

Today, much of the canyon floor is owned by the Nature Conservancy which maintains the land as a working ranch. The canyon is listed as a National Natural Landmark.

Gold prospecting in Wyoming gets surprisingly little attention in comparison to some of its neighbors. At the end of Red Canyon Road, we noticed these old abandoned mines.

The first reports of gold in Wyoming were as early as 1842, by westward travelers along the old emigrant trail at the Sweetwater River. Indian hostilities made prospecting efforts difficult for several decades, which could explain why this mine looks more like a jail cell.

We soon left the wild west behind and made our way back to Lander. Tomorrow we move to Dubois and prepare ourselves for the solar eclipse.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Wind River Range - Christina Lake Trail

Today is Sunday, August 13, 2017, and we're back in Lander, Wyoming, with a chance to get out into the Wind River Range again!

We were here before in 2013, and we posted a blog entry about our hike to Upper Silas Lake.  That was in June, so it was colder and there was more snow on the ground.  It was warmer today and, while we started our hike with jackets --

-- we quickly shed them.  The first 1.5 miles of our hike was the same as in 2013.  We passed the southern end of Fiddler's Lake --

-- and we crossed one or two small streams:

However, our trail to Christina lake split from the trail to Upper Silas Lake, and we soon trekked across numerous meadows with open views and mountains in the background:

The meadows, wetlands and ponds were so pristine, we expected to spot a moose at any time.  We found signs of moose and elk, but never saw any.

Kathy remembered that the fir trees in this area had suffered from a blight that caused them to fester and grow large burls on their trunks.  We found one that represents the many burls we saw.  No, Laird, we did not spot Burl Ives.

After 1.5 miles, we came to our trail junction:

Soon after we had two or three tricky stream crossings.  Here, Dave demonstrates how to cross a log bridge:

Most of our trail was rocky, and in places, it traversed large boulder fields.  Kathy gloried in her rocky friends, and recalled that she had made a snowman at one of these boulder fields four years ago:

Each meadow was prettier than the last, and they gave us great views of the peaks to the west:.  This was beautiful little Gustav Lake:

Another mile and we reached Christina Lake.  David boulder-hopped across the dam at the bottom of the lake to get a photo of the mountains that circled Christina Lake:

The far shore has beautiful sandy beaches:

Hopping back across the dam, Dave heard Kathy yelling, looked up, and spotted her waving from the far shore:

We ate our lunch, gazed at the beauties of Christina Lake, then returned along the rocky trail by which we had come:

Working our way back along the trail, we caught a beautiful view of the peaks of the Wind River Range behind this bucolic stream:

Our hike was 10.5 miles, which is relatively long for us.  We drove back to Lander across the top of the plateau in the mountains, along Louis Lake Road, enjoyed driving down the steep switchbacks of the road to Sinks Canyon, and then worked our way through the state park, back to Lander and our campground.

This only whetted our appetite for this beautiful country!  Tomorrow we plan to try our hand at kayaking and fishing Louis Lake.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Diggin' Fossils in Kemmerer Wyoming

Hi Blog!

Today is Thursday, August 10, 2017.  Yesterday, we visited Fossil Butte National Monument near Kemmerer, Wyoming. This entire area was once part of the ancient Fossil Lake. Long gone, Fossil Lake left behind a wealth of fossils in lake sediments that turned into the rocks known as the Green River Formation, made up of laminated limestone, mudstone and volcanic ash. The fossils are among the world's most perfectly preserved remains of ancient plant and animal life.

The Monument only preserves a small portion of the ancient lake bed. Just in the Kemmerer area alone, there are six private fossil quarries. We learned that these quarries will allow you to dig for fossils for a small fee. However, the rules vary from quarry to quarry. We found one quarry, American Fossil, that allows you to keep whatever you discover no matter what the value.

Here are some of our finds:

Today, we decided to try our hand at fossil hunting. Neither of us have ever dug for fossils before, so we were sure it would be a grand adventure. The 30 minute drive out into the Wyoming outback was worth the price of admission. For the most part, the gravel roads were well graded. We only ran into wet ruts about a 1/4 mile from the quarry. We followed the direction signs and soon descended from the top of the butte down to the quarry site.  This is how the dig site appeared as we pulled up and parked:

After checking in with the site manager, Sherie, we received our hammer and chisel. Sherie's husband Val took us to the dig site and explained the different sediment layers and where we were most likely to find fossils.

The backhoe is used to remove overburden and pull out the fossil bearing rocks to make it easier for guests to locate fossils:

There were at least a half dozen fossil hunters already working the dig site. Val explained that several sections of the quarry are roped off for fossil hunters who lease sites for extended periods of 10 days or longer. Apparently, fossil hunting is big business.

Val grabbed a rock and showed us the various layers. He said to start in the middle and tap, tap, tap and your rock will split. If you are lucky, you will find a fossil. Otherwise, you will probably only see fish poop, which is the only thing that was laid down and fossilized more frequently than the fish!

We picked up likely specimens and began our dissection. Kathy started in the kneeling position --

-- while Dave found the sitting position to be much more comfortable.

Fossil hunting is a lot like fly fishing for trout. You try to figure out where the fish are hiding and then go after them. Hunting fishy fossils, you try and figure out the likely layer and expose it without destroying the little fishy.  Here, Kathy has successfully exposed a little feller:

After finding a fossil, we took it over to a metal shelf with our name on it. This way, we could keep finding fossils and not worry about what they are until we were done exploring.  Here's another cute fellow we found:

After swinging our hammers for two hours, we found a bit of shade to enjoy our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The dig site is on the top of a butte, with steep cliffs down to the valley below.  The scenery went on as far as we could see:

The two hours after lunch went by in a flash. Dave created quite a stir by discovering a stingray. The going rate for a complete stingray is about $5,000. While Dave's may be missing a bit here or there, it was still the find of the day.  It will required some fine chisel and brush work to bring it out, and the quarry workers showed us how to glue part of the fossil back onto the main rock in order to preserve parts that separated when we split the rock.  Once we finish preparing the sting ray, we'll post a photo of it for your enjoyment.

Terry, one of the quarry workers, was kind enough to cut down our finds into manageable "RV sized" specimens. In exchange, we left Terry with two of our larger plant fossils. They were great finds, but just too big for the rig.

We honestly didn't expect to find so many fossils. We kept the best specimens, along with a couple incomplete fossils so that we can practice cleaning them before attempting to clean up the good ones. We took the rest of our fossils and placed them on the shelf of two sisters from California who brought their kids here for an adventure, just in case they didn't find enough to go around.

The fossils are extremely fragile when you find them, because the inside of the rocks is damp limestone.  We have to let the fossils dry for ten days before we do anything with them.  For this reason, we were very careful with our finds as we moved them to the Jeep.  Here, Kathy carefully packs ups up the keepers in a cardboard box supplied by the quarry workers:

After the rocks dry completely, we can clear away any excess sediment to fully expose the fossils.  After that, we have to decide how to mount, preserve and display our favorite speciments.  We will definitely do a follow up blog, once the specimens have been cleaned and made more presentable.

Until then, stay thirsty, my friends.

Stags in Motion - Kemmerer, Wyoming

On Ham's Fork River, just behind our RV park, Kathy spotted three stags browsing the bush across the stream.  We started snapping away as they moved along the river.