Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

Although I was traveling from South Dakota to Montana I actually did the majority of my driving today in Wyoming.  Once I got on the interstate this morning it wasn’t long before I was back in Wyoming.  I took I-90 west past Gillette and north towards Sheridan.

A short while after I passed Gillette I got my first glimpse of snow up in the mountains on the horizon ahead of me.  I thought I knew where it was but, as usual, I was wrong.  I’m going to have to study the map to try and figure out exactly which mountains they were.

In any event, once I got past Sheridan I got off the interstate and started heading due west on my trusty scenic roads.  The two roads I took (14 and 14A) cross over the Bighorn Mountains, west of Sheridan. After getting over the first mountain the road splits, with 14 heading southwest and 14A continuing west.  I decided to stay on 14 most of the way to Greybull before backtracking and taking 14A to Lovell.

While approaching the mountains from the east I was at about 4,500 feet and it was 84 degrees (at about noon, local time).  Once I reached the first mountain peak (Cutler Pass) I was up at 8,347 feet and the temperature had dropped to 60 degrees.  I continued down 14 towards the little town of Shell.  The photo above was taken about half way down the mountain.  I took some other photos which I had intended to post but I don’t think I like how they turned out.  They may make an appearance later.  Once in Shell I was back down at 4,474 feet and the temp was back up to 87.  As I doubled back on 14 I went through Granite Pass (9,033 ft, 69 degrees) and as I went west on 14A the highest point I reached was 9,565 feet, 64 degrees.  At that point there were several good sized patches of snow about 100 feet further up the hill on the side of the road.  That overlook was just called “Observation Point” so I’m not sure exactly which mountain peak it was.

After that it was a VERY steep descent (10 degree grade, which is fairly steep for truck traffic) and I was quickly down below 5,000 feet.  As I drove away from the mountain I noted that while approaching the Bighorns from the east they were a lush green color, almost completely covered with trees, and were very inviting.  Looking back from the west, on the other hand, they were rocky, barren and harsh in appearance.  Quite a contrast.

Once I got down off the mountain there was a stretch of road that went about 8 miles in a straight line towards a huge lake.  When I got there I found that it actually was a lake and not a mirage.  I was back down at 4,800 feet, in what was a more desert-like environment, and it was a toasty 93 degrees.

Didn’t see any critters (still no Bighorn Sheep, not even in the Bighorn Mountains).  Oh yeah, there was a big black cow that crossed the road in front of me up at about 8,000 feet.  She was walking away from me, parallel to the road.  I had already slowed down and when I saw her turn to the left I stopped completely as she meandered across the road without a care in the world.

Still thinking about that snow off in the distance…  I assumed it was on the Bighorns but was considerably more volume than what I saw up close.  There are some mountains south but they are about the same height as what I crossed.  And they were too close to be the Rockies.  Maybe IT was a mirage…..

Sanford Underground Laboratories

When I was in Lead, South Dakota yesterday I saw several signs for the above-mentioned facility.  When I got home last night I Googled it and was so intrigued I thought I’d better come back on my way out of Rapid City to get more information.

What you are looking at is the Visitor Center for the lab.  The lab itself is underground in the former Homestake Mine and is not open to the public.  Homestake was the largest and deepest gold mine in North America before closing in 2002.  Parts of the mine are up to 8,000 feet underground.

This facility is where up to 1,000 people per day, mostly scientists and technicians, work doing scientific research (duh).  They mainly study dark matter (although I’d think just about anything 8,000 feet underground would be pretty dark) and neutrino (which I’m not even going to attempt to explain.  Just Google it.).  Way over MY head!!  There are no tours of the facility itself but the Visitor Center did have lots of photos and graphics which attempted to explain exactly what it is they do, as well as giving information on the history and workings of the gold mine which preceded it.

After leaving the Center I drove through Deadwood (the next town over from Lead) again and discovered that I had only walked through the historic Main Street area yesterday, and there was quite a bit more of the town to see.  Then I headed out to the interstate and starting working my way towards Bozeman.


Devil’s Tower National Monument

I actually visited Devil’s Tower yesterday during my big scenic loop.  It is in extreme northeast Wyoming.  I was originally planning to stop here on my way to Bozeman today (if at all) but since I passed right by I thought I might as well stop and get a picture.

I say “if at all” because I was here many years ago and had been debating if it was worth the time spent to get here and basically say to myself, yup, it’s still here….

It is a very impressive quirk of nature, though, and it was nice to see it again.

Saw many signs during the day yesterday, both in Wyoming and South Dakota, warning of “Bighorn Sheep Crossing – Next xx Miles”.  Well I didn’t see any Bighorn Sheep, crossing or otherwise.