Montana Wildfires

I know I am behind on posting photos, having just finished posting photos from Flaming Gorge NRA taken on Sunday, June 6. Let me jump ahead to two days ago, Tuesday, June 15 when I drove up to Cody, Wyoming to attend my first rodeo. As I drove north, past the little town of Meeteetse, I spotted something off in the distance and stopped to take a photo of it. It doesn’t show up very well in the first photo but would soon become hard to miss.

If you look really close, directly above the white line on the right edge of the road at the top of the first “hump,” you will see a small column of white smoke (it was more noticeable with my sunglasses on). The photo above was taken at 1144am Tuesday. I was afraid it might be a wildfire on the back of the dark mountain and soon my fears were realized. This was the early stages of the Robertson Draw fire, which started Sunday 12 miles south of Red Lodge, Montana – not far from the Wyoming border, and about 35 miles “as the crow flies” north of Cody. The fire isn’t anywhere near the dark mountain, it was just in my line of sight. At this point I believe the fire covered between 200 and 2,000 acres.

Once I got into town the smoke had grown more intense:

That was at 222pm.

At 420pm this was the view from a set of railroad tracks between Cody and where I would be spending the night in Powell, WY.

And at 717pm this was the view from the rodeo arena, on the west side of Cody:

As of Wednesday afternoon the fire had grown tenfold again, consuming over 20,000 acres and is now over 24,000 acres as I write this Thursday morning. And as the TV ads used to say – “but wait, there’s more!”.

As I was seated in the grandstand waiting for rodeo to start at 8pm I spotted another column of smoke forming northeast of Cody, to my right:

Just to the left of the lightpole is a vertical column of smoke which I later learned was the start of the Crooked Creek fire, which started earlier Tuesday afternoon in the Pryor Mountains of Montana, roughly due north of the town of Lovell, Wyoming and beyond where I would be spending the night in Powell.

The photo above was taken at 719pm. The photo below was taken at 847pm:

As I write this on Thursday morning this fire has already consumed over 5,000 acres in a day and a half.

Conditions were hot (100+ degrees in Cody mid-afternoon) and dry, and there was a stiff wind where I was, not a good combination for wildfires. The northern state’s fire websites don’t update as frequently as CalFire did when I was in California but it appears that both of these fires are off to a strong start, with little or no containment.

My friend Max is currently down near the Grand Canyon in Arizona and has already been near two wildfires down there, one near the South Rim, which prevented him from taking the most direct route to the South Rim Visitor Center from Flagstaff (because the fire was straddling that road), and he saw the smoke from a wildfire southwest of Grand Junction, Colorado when he drove up to the southeast entrance of Canyonlands National Park in southeast Utah last weekend.

I will have more updates about wildfires which occurred in Colorado late last year when I get caught up to my trip to Fort Collins, Colorado last week. I am in my final week of “family time” here in Lander (and am still accumulating photos from my almost daily road trips from my base here) so hopefully I will get caught up when I get back on the road next week. From Lander I will be heading west into southern Idaho, then south through Utah and Arizona.

Stay tuned!

Flaming Gorge – Unnamed Overlook and on home

A volunteer working for the Forest Service at the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area Visitor Center suggested that we stop at a small overlook not far up the road from where we were as a small platform had been constructed out overlooking the reservoir making it easy to get some great photos. This shows the view from a slightly different angle.

The photo below is looking northwest, further into Utah, at the snow-covered Wasatch Mountain range:

My sister-in-law heard this bird chirping high up in a tree above us:

We drove further east, crossing the dam which creates this huge reservoir, and stopped at a small store in the town of Dutch John. We then proceeded north in Highway 191 and back into Wyoming. We stopped a few more places along the way to enjoy the scenic views:

After crossing Interstate 80 and continuing north towards Lander we stopping in the little crossroads town of Farson for some ice cream at the Mercantile:

I had huckleberry and it was outstanding. Jen had cautioned me about their huge portions so she and I only got 1/2 of a “baby scoop” each (and we opted for it in a cup) as we also stopped at a fantastic barbeque place to buy enough food to feed us for a few days.

Heading home to Lander we stopped for another photo of Red Canyon, just south of Lander, as the afternoon sun was hitting it just right to highlight the “wall”. I learned after reading some travel literature that this land is now owned by The Nature Conservancy and is a working cattle ranch. It is also on a huge migration path for elk and other animals so sightings at certain times of the year are numerous.

Flaming Gorge – Visitor Center

Our second stop Sunday was at the Visitor Center, in Utah, on the south end of the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, part of the Flaming Gorge National Recreation area. As we were driving in I FINALLY saw two bighorn sheep! I reported a few years ago that I thought maybe they were extinct because I saw warning signs everywhere but never actually saw any. Well here were two standing not far off the road in the shade:

The Visitor Center is called “Red Canyon Visitor Center” even though this is nowhere near the Red Canyon south of Lander. Because of the red rocks in this part of the country I see signs for places called Red Canyon all over the place as I drive around the state.

Outside the Visitor Center there was a low fence to keep people away from the edge as we were very close to a steep drop off, but the views were incredible. My sister-in-law got another shot of your hero JohnBoy at work:

Here are some photos without the “clutter”

As my sister-in-law, Jen, and I were wandering around taking photos my brother spoke to one of the Forest Service members who was outside the Visitor Center controlling the number of people which were allowed inside at any given moment. Turns out he lives about a mile and a half of where I do in Durham NC!! He and his partner are both volunteering to work for the Forest Service in exchange for lodging. What a deal!

And while were driving further up the road to an unnamed overlook the man from Durham told us about, Jen reminded me of a phrase she had uttered earlier in the day based on their previous trip to this place – “Flaming Gorgeous!”