Monday, July 7, 2014

The Loop, A Road Less Traveled, From The Salt Pass to Alpine

Large Engelmann spruce lay twisted and broken on both sides of the road. We drove over smaller pieces that hadn't yet been cleared and the smell of fresh cut pine was almost overwhelming. Renita realized what we were passing through, avalanche debris, and we stopped to look up the avalanche chute, imaging the force of the moving snow.
A few miles further we headed down the steep and narrow mountain road only to find that snow still buried half of the way. Stopping we measured the width of the road to make sure we could drive past the drift without falling over the steep side of the mountain. It was not a place for anyone acrophobic! Holding our breath we made it past the snow brushing hard against the packed and dirty neve.
We had wanted to drive the, "Loop", for the past two years. It's a ninety mile stretch of connected forest service roads starting at the Smith Fork Road, before connecting with the Greys River road which ends up at Alpine, Wyoming.
The Smith Fork section parallels the Lander Cutoff of the Oregon Trail and we passed miles of fields filled with mountain flowers. Arrowhead was in full bloom, along with lupine, paintbrush, phlox, death cammis, and wild rose. We enjoyed the field of flowers as we passed through the sunny glades and it made  us forget the rough road.
We reached the Tri Divide, and then turned down the Greys River Road. It was a narrow road that paralleled the start of the Greys river and I hoped that we would be able to stop and fish a bit, although the main purpose of the trip was to travel the entire loop.
We started to meet a few trucks and cars and by pulling to the side we were able to pass one another. Many places were to narrow for even that and I hoped the other drivers knew that the vehicle heading down the mountain has the right of way. Most of the traffic was off road vehicles and these passed by easily.
Stopping for lunch we walked along the swollen river and the force of the water was too much for me to try my fly rod nymph technique.
Renita took over driving and, as the road had widened, we were about forty five miles from Alpine. She wisely drove slow as the washboard gravel road tended to bounce the back wheels of the truck, causing it to lose control..
Deer grazed alongside the road and beaver dams were everywhere. The lodges seemed to be old and abandoned. We never saw any sheep, moose or bear but we certainly could have as browsed willows were everywhere. It didn't matter as we stopped and glassed the high mountain ridges, many still striped with remnants of snow cornices.
Tired, we drove past the fork where the Little Grey joins the Greys River and while we wanted to explore that stream today was not the day. Traffic increased as it seemed like everyone was enjoying the Greys road and the dust was almost too much. The road became paved as we entered Alpine and now it was a short drive home. We had driven the, "Loop"! Clear skies.

If you decide to drive the Loop be sure it has been dry for a while as the first part alternates from rock ridges to stretches of dirt that would quickly turn into deep mud. As it was dry we never had to use four wheel drive. Our truck is a single rear wheel and we never would have made it past the snow if we had a dually, at least without shoveling a wider path. Our trip was on the fourth of July weekend and there were plenty of people so help was there. Of course there was no cell service and we turned on the gps for laughs as it tried to tell us to turn around and go back. Never trust your gps in this part of the world., There is no gas or food or anything along the road, only forest and flowers and beautiful wild places, isn't that enough reason to drive the loop!