I come back to the Bighorn Mountains because the other places I am considering expect rain. For my last outing, I entered the Bighorms from Sheridan (Hwy 14), this time, from Buffalo (Hwy 16). I drove up on the the Cloud Peak Scenic Byway, into a more southerly section of the mountains. The terrain appears to be largely the same, with gentle, almost rolling, mountainsides that are dotted with large stands of Lodgepole pine.  In contrast, the Colorado front range mountains are mostly covered with rock formations and evenly blanketed with scraggly Ponderosa pine, now half dead from the pine bark beetle infestation. The slopes of the Bighorns are open and covered with short grass, and other low-growing plants. The thick Lodgepole stands seem to randomly grow on  these gentle slopes, some here, some over there. Colonies of Aspen are interspersed, although none are changing color yet.

classic BighornsClassic Bighorn terrain, Aspens in foreground to the right, peaks of the Cloud Peak Wilderness in background

I drive through a few campgrounds that did not appeal at first glance. I know that dispersed camping is allowed in some areas nearby, so I am  looking for a back country road. Bingo, I find a promising road and sure enough, lots of dispersed (free) camping. I find an expansive grassy meadow that is rimmed with Lodgepoles and settle in along the upper edge of the meadow.

view from camp (2)                                 View to the south, from camper                                        

into the forestEnchanted forest in front of the camper

As I hoped, at dusk the deer wander out of the trees and roam around nibbling the low plants. I know before I see them that something is around, because Tango starts sniffing the air. I grab the binoculars but the deer are so close I don’t really need them.

deer 2Zoomed in just a bit for this photo

lip smacking goodLip-smacking good!

Attention! Attention! We now interrupt this peaceful setting to bring you Monday Night Football on satellite radio. Yes, I build a campfire, angle the van close by, and turn on the game. Being an Eagles fan, I am happy with the outcome. I do not know how the wildlife react to RG3s loss or Vick’s win. 

At bedtime, the temperature in the camper is 50 degrees, comfortable for now, but this tells me that I am in for cold night. I pull out my second sleeping bag and two pairs of wool socks. I make up the bed using my secret system. I unzip the mummy bag and lay it down like a blanket. The bottom does not unzip, but that forms the pocket for my feet. I then layer on my unzipped zero-degree sleeping bag, a heavy regular sleeping bag designed for cold winter cabins. Then I layer a Mylar emergency blanket over the top of everything, which helps in cold weather. Every single bit of body heat—both human and dog—is  trapped all night. Even when outside temps are below freezing, a Mylar blanket makes for relatively pleasant sleeping, although condensation builds underneath sometimes.  Before crawling into this nest, I open up a couple of hand warmers, but I do not really need them. I am toasty all night.

view from campFirst night, from the campsite


The morning is another story. The thermometer inside the camper registers 40 degrees, and I can see my breath when exhaling. Time for the heater. I turn up the thermostat, and there is heat immediately—ta dahhhh. I let the propane-fired heater run for about 15 minutes then turn it off. About an hour later I run it again for 15 minutes. By now, I am so warm, I take off my outer fleece layer. As the sun climbs in the sky and warms the day, I sit in Half Moon, looking out the windows and drinking coffee.

After a relaxing morning, I decide to take off in the van to explore. I drive further west and find a little resort with cabins and a small restaurant. I drive over to a small lake, where Tango and I walk.

lake and vanSmall lake, van

After this stop, I drive down more of the Forest Service Roads, looking for future camping spots, up and down the back country roads. I feast on the beautiful scenery: 13,000 foot peaks in the distance, Lodgepole forests and Aspen colonies in the foreground.

stop...no kiddingI got the message: STOP and take a long look at the Cloud Peak Wilderness

I notice yesterday,  on the way up here, a BLM and Forest Service office, on the edge of the small town of Buffalo. I decide to go back (12 miles) and ask for maps. I come out with a heap of information to read later. For now, I explore Buffalo, gas up, then head back to the campsite.

camperBack of camper

4 thoughts on “Back to the Bighorns

  1. Wool socks are key! Don’t go anywhere without mine. Sure we will be fighting some cold temps soon this winter…hopeful the Almanac is wrong this year. You sure captured some beauty up there!

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