Well, it is that time of year again. Time to wrap up my summer of van life. This summer I spent six weeks on the road, most of it in Wyoming. I really love Wyoming. It is such a hidden gem. It’s hard to believe it has the lowest population of the 50 states. That’s probably why I like it because you get to enjoy the solitude of nature!
Small Towns in Wyoming
I spent the majority of my time in Buffalo, Lovell, and Jackson Hole with a short stint in Red Lodge, Montana, a few days in Cody and Ten Sleep, a day near Pinedale, and a day near Saratoga. I also enjoyed a brief bit in Denver seeing my family and friends. I drove nearly 5,00 miles, though probably only about half of that was in Wyoming.
I failed to snap my token state sign in costume, but that gives me a reason to go back. I already have some places for next year as a pit stop to and from Canada.
Of the small towns I visited in Wyoming, I preferred Buffalo. I loved its quaint downtown, colorful history, the size of the city, and the plethora of outdoor opportunities. It really stood out above all the other towns except Red Lodge, Montana, which I have previously visited.
And Lovell, Ten Sleep, Pinedale, and Saratoga were either too small or lacked a charming downtown. That said, I seek outdoor adventure, and all of the towns in Wyoming delivered excellent hiking opportunities when it wasn’t 90+ degrees. I know to my fellow Texans, 90+ degrees doesn’t sound hot, but when hanging out in a tin can with just a fan, I beg to differ.
Campsites in Wyoming
This time while camping in VANgo, I hardly looked for a good campsite, as when you find one, someone camps right next to you anyway. Additionally, many of the camping areas did not have cell service which makes it hard to blog.
Near Buffalo, I camped on some BLM land off Highway 16 and ultimately found a soggy, grass parking area just up the road. Both had a few bars of Verizon.
In Lovell, I spent a few nights in Yellowtail Wildlife Management Area. While I got to see some pronghorn and enjoy some solitude, the mosquitoes were outrageous. Even my bug screens couldn’t keep them out. Instead of the front bumper being a bug graveyard, the inside was a bloody mess!
I relented for a few nights at the city campground that had free water and showers, shade and camping by donation. Uniquely, I had found the place 12 years ago on my yearlong road trip across the USA, but remembered it being in Kansas!
It was extremely hot in Lovell, Cody, and Ten Sleep which may have been one reason why I liked Buffalo so much better! In addition, Buffalo was my first stop and my enthusiasm wanes over time. While the Ten Sleep Brewing Company has $3 showers and camping, it was so hot, that I paid for a shower, gave up cell service, and went to the mountains for something cooler.
It was worth going to the mountains and camping on West Ten Sleep Road. The road has designated spots. While many were taken, I easily found one mid-week which was close to one of the best hikes of my summer. Of course, the mosquitoes were atrocious, but a visiting moose made up for them. Annie has a good sense of smell and alerted me!
Another place to see moose was in the dirt parking area to Paradise Falls. While the lot sees a decent amount of traffic, it was worth a one-night stay to look out the window at two bull moose!
I spent another beautiful night in a small pullout off the road to Medicine Wheel, a fascinating Indian prayer landmark. The 270-degree sunset and wonderful wildflowers that filled the air with a pleasing scent made for a perfect evening. Annie liked it too, frolicking in the alpine meadow as she sniffed out marmots.
In Cody, I ended up in the Walmart parking lot for a few days. I needed to reprovision, and I wanted watch the Women’s World Cup.
North of Cody, on my way to Red Lodge, I parked at Bridal Veil Falls. If I hadn’t been in a canyon, I would have thought a tornado was coming! VANgo was rocking in the wind so much, I got up and turned the windshield into the wind, so I wouldn’t tip over in an unpredictable gust.
I found another place off Chief Joseph Highway on the iOverlander app. I would have never known I could enter the gate had I not seen this posted on the app. Likely most people didn’t know behind the gate was forest land, because it was rather quiet. While posted signs say not to leave the road, there are some places where the dirt ATV roads widen enough for a parking spot.
From Chief Joseph Highway, I trekked up to Red Lodge and stayed all over the place. I spent two nights at Harvest Host locations, Wild Bison Ranch and Sentinel Ranch Alpacas. I spent a night in the city picnic area just as you enter town, and I also spent a night at Palisades Campground. This campground is small, with only six spots. It is located down a bumpy dirt road and is first come, first served. There are many places off West Fork Road too. West Fork Road is a good place to camp if you want to hike to lakes in the area such as Basin Lakes Trail.
In Jackson, I stayed at a friend’s house and that was a treat. After about three weeks on the road, it is nice to enjoy some R&R. It was very hard to leave, but I did and made a stop in Pinedale and one in Saratoga.
My overnight in Pinedale was near Pole Creek Trail. I found a great boondocking site that I was really excited about. Additionally, I was actually looking forward to visiting Pinedale and a cousin’s brother and planned to stay longer. But I turned a little tight in the shade of the trees and promptly broke a quarter panel in my T-vent window. UGH! The constant rain made matters worse, so I decided it was time to call it quits.
On my way back to Texas, I made my final camping stop in Saratoga, where I spent the night at Bear Trailhead before hiking another one of my favorite hikes this summer, Lakes Trail. In all, I can’t say I had a base camp site, but I enjoyed a few views and some wildlife along the way, so I can’t complain!
Hikes in Wyoming
Of course, the biggest reason I go to the mountains for the summer is to hike. I got spoiled early on when I hiked to Mirror Lake and Lost Twin Lakes near Buffalo. When you see marmots, a mama and baby moose, wildflowers, and AMAZING lakes, the hike is hard to top. This hike was so magnificent, that I stopped blogging about mediocre trails!
Along with Mirror Lake and Lost Twin Lakes, a few other favorites were Lake Fork Trail, Pole Creek Trail, and Lakes Trail. I had the best encounter I’ve ever had with a black bear on Lake Fork Trail. He was young and busy looking for food. He hardly noticed me as he dug for grubs at the base of the trees.
Despite the deadfall, Pole Creek Trail was special because I saw seven lakes in 13.5 miles of easy terrain. That is a rare feat. The ascents to most lakes tend to be strenuous and seeing seven lakes up close is unusual.
Lakes Trail was simply beautiful with hillsides of blue columbines and several lakes. It’s always fun to spot the marmots too.
Places to Visit in Wyoming
While I spent much of my time hiking in Wyoming, I saw many cool places too. The Medicine Wheel continues to fascinate me. I visited twelve years ago, and always vowed to go back. I finally made it. I can’t imagine being the first settler to discover a giant rock wheel formation with 28 spokes at 10,000 feet!
I also enjoyed seeing the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustangs and the Heart Mountain National Historical Landmark. The mustangs eluded me during my first trip to Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, so I’m glad I gave it one more try to capture some photos!
I don’t know how to describe Heart Mountain National Historical Landmark. It is the site of a relocation center where the USA imprisoned Japanese Americans during World War II. While I’m in complete dismay of their treatment, I’m inspired by their resiliency. It’s a good example of love trumping fear.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Beartooth Highway. I’ve driven the highway four times, and it never disappoints. If only it weren’t so winding with limited guardrails! Glorious views of lakes, peaks, and alpine meadows encompass the road that goes above 10,000 feet where mountain goats claim their home.
Wildlife Sightings in Wyoming
Speaking of wildlife, do I sound spoiled if I say I didn’t see enough even though I saw a black bear, several moose, lots of mountain goats, wild horses, turkeys, marmots, pikas and other critters? I’m so pleased I got to see so much wildlife, but I am always yearning for more! I could almost live in Africa to be guaranteed wild animal sightings daily!
My Botswana safari, my Katmai grizzly bear experience in Alaska, my Antarctica Expedition and Arctic Expedition, and my Galapagos Cruise (pre-blogging) rank among my favorite trips. Perhaps I’ll study up for my next adventure and try to learn how to find more of these amazing creatures, as the grizzlies, bison, and the bighorn sheep escaped me on this Wyoming journey. I thought for sure I’d spot a bear or bison on my drive through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
Meals in Wyoming
With all my hiking and outdoor fun, I usually work up an appetite to report good meals. However, with my bout of pancreatitis and ongoing histamine intolerance, I was reluctant to try too many places. I will say that bison is not my most favorite, but the bison jerky from Wild Bison is fantastic! Of course, they are located in Montana, not Wyoming!
Trials and Tribulations
As with every road trip, I had plenty of trials and tribulations. Wyoming greeted me with two hail storms, but fortunately I did not have damage from that. I did, however, promptly get stuck in the mud. Fortunately, some cowboys drove by ten minutes later and pulled me out. It only took a second. But it explains why many of the roads near Buffalo were closed due to a soggy season. The rocks from the mud got caught in the wheels, so I had to go get an alignment. Fortunately, it was an easy fix.
A few days later, I suffered a moth infestation in VANgo. At first it was one moth. Then five at a time. I’d kill them and a week later another five would appear. It was very annoying, and I had to wash literally everything in the van and wipe down every surface.
Next, the mosquitoes took place of the moths. It was definitely a bug graveyard in VANgo during most of my journey.
Finally, during my last week in Wyoming, a tree in a campsite won the battle with a quarter panel in my window. Soon after it shattered, it rained for two days!! That was my sign to head home. I had to tape it up with a garbage bag and pull over a few times to retape it. At least I ended up with some roadside Texas peaches with one stop. I’m still waiting on the replacement glass. Oh well.
All of it could be worse, like the constant cancellations of plane flights. As I write this while on my way to Portugal, I’m facing another one. Fingers crossed I get out tomorrow!
Musings from the Road
1. I do wonder sometimes if I am the only one that can’t spot the dinosaur tracks in this picture. There are hundreds to thousands! I just see some indentions, but no defining tracks, despite the help of a map!
2. On a particularly windy hike, I wondered how wildflowers survive such harsh conditions. Freezing temperatures for an extended winter and then wicked winds in the summer. Much to my surprise, I stumbled across a wild flower sign just minutes after my hike at an overlook. I have a new found respect. The alpine sunflower just grows leaves for two to seven years before it blooms, and then the plant dies! And moss campion, one of my favorite flowers, only grows ½ inch in five years, and it is considered fast growing. Help the flowers out and stay on the trail!
3. I thought I was a decent driver, but VANgo is proving otherwise. I see all these Sprinters cruising by in mint condition, and after three years of being on the road for probably 1.5 years, I’ve got some dents to hide, all from off road mishaps! How are all these others so perfect?!?
4. And how do those guys in giant RV’s drive over mountain passes on winding roads?!? I white knuckle it in my van on Beartooth Highway. I saw a truck pulling a camper, pulling a boat?
5. And then cyclists?!? They must have a death wish riding a scenic drive with mostly tourists looking anywhere but the road. Of course, they probably think I have one standing 25 feet from a black bear and watching it forage.
6. I wonder if there is anything else in Sinclair, Wyoming aside from the Sinclair Refinery.
Other Fun Facts About Wyoming
- Wyoming was the first state to give voting rights to women
- Cody Wyoming is named after “Buffalo Bill”
- Wyoming has the lowest population of all 50 states.
- The official state motto of Wyoming is “equal rights.”
Every time I visit Wyoming, I want to return. Wyoming is definitely one of my most favorite states in the USA. I will return to Medicine Bow, Pinedale and perhaps add a day in Worland and Thermopolis and perhaps spend a few days in Driggs, Idaho the next time I visit Wyoming. Of course, I couldn’t forget Lander and Devils Tower, but I have visited there previously.