Friday, September 24, 2021

Crossing Union Pass. Part 2


The next day, we got up and packed our truck as we would be returning home that evening. Our usual breakfast place was closed and so we went to the other café in Dubois and after a short wait we drank several cups of coffee along with the usual bacon eggs and toast breakfast.

After breakfast we fueled up the truck, before driving to the Shoshone National Forest Service Office. After masking up, we were allowed in and greeted by the friendly forest service ranger lady. We told her of our desire to cross Union Pass, and after looking out to see our four-wheel drive truck she said we shouldn’t have any problem.

She said that the first part of the trip, up Union Pass Road, was quite good but things would get rougher after we crossed the continental divide. She cautioned us to be sure to have a full tank and then asked how long we had lived in Wyoming. After telling her we had lived here for forty-four years she smiled and said we shouldn’t have any problem.

She did mention that as we neared the Green River. We should take it easy and go slow as some people had broken their axles on that stretch of the road, hmmm. Now I had been taught how to drive four -wheel drive roads, and mud by several friends and so I envisioned rocks marked by metal scrapes from oil pans. Also, I had seen where people had left pieces of their taillights, so I expected the worse.


Leaving Dubois, it only took a few minutes to reach the Union Pass turn off and we drove up a steep but wide gravel road. We were treated to a great view, and we could eve see some of the Absarokas, including one mountain above Frontier Creek which was over thirty miles away.

The road was about as good as any Wyoming gravel road and as we neared the first plateau the road was lined with large and fancy log cabins. It was really beautiful, but we couldn’t imagine driving up that steep road in the winter. Soon we reached a huge plateau covered in grass, brush, and sage.

The cabins had disappeared and next we spotted a sign for the Union Pass historic site! Parking, we walked up a short hill where plaques had been affixed to boulders describing the pass and the surrounding mountains,

Fur trappers had been shown the pass by native Americans, the Astor expedition had used it in 1811, and it was given its name by the Captain William F Rayonlds during his expedition to Yellowstone, just before the Civil War, (the name referred to the pass being the divide for three major rivers). He was guided by Jim Bridger).

Ramshorn Mountain was to the north and to the southeast we could see the top of the Wind Rivers, with one of the huge glaciers there partially visible, already covered with fresh snow.

Next a large sign warned of grizzly bears and special regulations required while camping in the area. We passed quite a few hunting camps, and all had hoists where the hunters could tie up their kills and food above any grizzly bears reach.

It was a perfect time to cross Union Pass as the Aspen had turned golden yellow and orange which contrasted with the green pines and firs, (there weren’t any red colored foliage here).

Renita snapped image after image, while I concentrated on watching the road for any large rocks.

The plateau was relatively flat as we passed Lake of the Woods and Mosquito Lake. We only stopped for pictures and did not take the side road to see Lake of the Woods, (it was hidden by trees).

The road narrowed as we drove by large rocks that made me keep a vigilant eye as I had to carefully choose our path.

Heading down towards the Green River, it narrowed further, and the conditions worsened, requiring my full attention.

I slowed down and carefully missed all the rocks that might cause problems, but it really wasn’t a problem as our truck had high enough clearance and I went slow,(the road is not suitable for passenger cars).

We finally made it to the Green River Bridge at the intersection with the Green River Lakes Road, (highly recommended).

From there we headed to the Forty Rod Road and then headed down towards Hoback Junction.

We hadn’t seen any wildlife but as we drove down the highway a flock of Bighorn sheep threatened to cross the road and so we stopped for pictures.

Bighorn lambs were in the flock, and they were starting to grow their horns.

Sighting the Bighorns was the perfect end to a great trip into the mountains.

Clear skies


Ps, this year, we purchased the Onx Hunt app for our phone, and we strongly recommend it. It allowed us to track our passage and allowed us to know we were on the right forest service road. We get nothing from any purchase as this is a non-commercial blog






Monday, September 20, 2021

A trip Hunting agates on Wiggins Fork and crossing Union Pass, Part 1

Quite a few years ago, we had gone for a drive to the Green River Lakes, north of Pinedale, Wyoming. At one point our son had mentioned that a road that turned left from the lake road, took you to Dubois. Since then, I had always wanted to take that road over Union Pass.

This trip, along with a day agate hunting on the Wiggins Fork, was on the to do list for this summer. As my birthday neared Renita suggested that we should spend two nights in Dubois, Wyoming and take a day trip to Wiggins Fork, and a second day crossing Union Pass.

Now we had been to Wiggins Fork before and so we knew the way to the confluence of Wiggins Fork and Frontier Creek.

It starts out as a good, paved road and crosses Horse Creek turning into a forest service road. It is actually a pretty good road, as four-wheel drive roads in Wyoming go. It’s a beautiful drive along the east flank near Yellowstone National Park.

Arriving at the trail head we were greeted by the sight of numerous hunting camps and even got to watch as three stings of mules plodded by, laden with supplies for back country camps.

There were even other agate hunters searching for the petrified wood, some of which is agatized.

The wood was covered by a pyroclastic flow, (if you don’t know what a pyroclastic flow is, (look it up and think of what happened to the people of Pompeii) and formed a mold of the exterior. The organic material turned into gas from the heat leaving a hollow cavity which was than filled with silica rich water. It often formed silica lines but sometimes, formed prismatic agates.

When these are polished as thin sections, and held up to the sun, their beauty becomes apparent, (I had been given a slice of iris agate three years before and just got around to polishing it this summer. Our goal on this trip was to find some of this agate)!

We found a good spot to park, put on our waders, and crossed the first braided section of Frontier Creek. Renita and I have different rock hounding techniques, she slowly checks out every rock and I move along at a good clip looking for a rock with the telltale exterior.

I left her with bear spray, and I headed across the braided sections. At one point I had to pass through willow stands and finally reached a few pine trees. Being aware that grizzly bears inhabit the area, I moved out of the dense foliage and slowly walked downstream looking for petrified wood.

My high hopes were quickly dashed, and as I searched and searched, I finally found a few pieces of the replaced wood. Greeting Renita, she showed me a beautiful piece she had found soon after I had left. Hers was much better that anything I had picked up! Returning to the truck she decided to take a break and eat lunch while I headed back out.

There were three other agate hunters in the area and two of them had found their own agates. One of the agate hunters told us years ago, the agates had been plentiful! As usual at popular spots, its quite a bit harder now to find good specimens.

After taking with them and seeing their finds, we headed back to Dubois for a nap before dinner and planning the next days drive over Union Pass. Clear skies (end of Part 1)


Sunday, September 12, 2021

Too close for comfort, sometimes you get a surprise!

We told our friends about our six-bear day and so two days later they joined us when we returned to the park. Of course, we never saw a bear, but we did see a new bird for us, a green tailed towhee! We now have three hundred and fourteen birds on our life list, since we retired.

The smoke moved back in, and we stayed inside for the next four days, until a front moved in with rain. It was followed by clear skies, and we headed back to the park. Our friends couldn’t make it, so we hoped for another good day of bear watching.

Arriving at the park we took our favorite road and before long we ran into a bear jam. This time the bear was up a berry tree right next to the road! A Bear management team member was directing traffic and one lane of the road was closed. We drove by and then turned around hoping for a better view.

Sure enough, the third time was the charm and we got a good shot of the bear as it pulled down a branch full of berries, giving us a picture of its face. Passing the jamb, we decided to continue on and hike on a closed road where we have spotted bears before.

Starting the hike, we ram into three excited people who told us that they had spotted a sow with a cub. None of them had bear spray and we did mention to them that bear spray was a great idea. They returned to their car, and we continued on making stops on the edge of an overlook where we could see trees full of berries.

On the fourth peek over the edge, I noticed movement on my right side. It was a black bear boar, a big one that we had seen the week before. It had just topped the ridge next to me and I had no warning. It was so close that I yelled at Renita to stop and get her bear spray ready.

Slowly backing away from the bear, I stopped and watched as it took off running away, it had been way too close. It reached an opening, and I was able to get a couple of pictures. My camera's autofocus had failed and I had to manually focus for each shot.

The bear disappeared into some brush, and we headed back to the car talking about our close encounter. We still weren’t done there as a cow moose was feeding in the pond.

We also got to see its calf which made a quick appearance before going into hiding in some willows. It was lunch time and so we drove to a trailhead where Renita had spotted grizzly bear tracks.

After eating our lunch, we hiked up the trail looking for sign of bear but didn’t spot anything. Talking it over we decided to check out another spot before returning to the first road we had taken. As we drove down the road three members of the bear management team were watching a tree. It was also along the road and as we drove by, we could see leaves shaking.

One of the volunteers told us that there were three bears in the brush, but all could see were black spots and I couldn’t get a clear shot. It really didn’t matter; we had had another great day in the park and had encountered five black bears. Clear skies



Friday, September 3, 2021

Six Black Bears in a day at Grand Teton National Park, our personal best!


The smoke here has been really bad. The sun rose in a gross red parody of its yellow self and sets in a deep red, In the above image you see a paraglider near Teton Village, that Renita took through the windshield).  We usually stay inside but it was reported that the road in the park was closed because of grizzly and black bears and so we made a quick trip to the park.

Its berry time and that’s one of the best times to spot bears as they ignore people while they are feeding on berries, trying to put on fat for their winter hibernation. When we arrived at the park the road was closed but while we turned around the road closure sign had been moved and the road had just been opened!

Heading up the road we spotted three bears descending down the hill. It was a black bear sow and her two cubs, and they quickly reached the berry trees and started to feed, (the sow did anyway). The cubs were coys, cubs of the year and one climber a tree for safety while the other played on the ground.

Because of their small size they were hard to see, in the photo you only see three black spots, it was the best I could do of the bear family).

We decided to head further down the road, and we soon came upon two stopped cars. There were bushes moving and turning around we saw why. It was another black bear pulling down the bushes to feed on the hawthorn berries. It was hard to get a clear shot, but I managed to when we rolled down a back window.

Four bears in a day is a great day but we weren’t finished. Parking at the pond, we got out our bear spray and headed down a well-worn trial. At one spot a warning sign had been posted reminding people of the presence of bears and strongly recommended bear spray. We both had our own cans of bear spray and so we hiked along the trail looking both ways in the hopes of spotting another bear.

Not having any luck, we returned only to see a large crowd of people and a park interpreter looking towards us. There was a black bear boar feeding about thirty yards away! That is way too close for comfort, so we stopped got our bear spray handy and then slowly moved past the large male bear.

It was a good decision as the bear ignored us and then walked to the sign, we had just passed and started to eat berries. If you get too close to a bear, slowly move away, and don’t run! Most of the time the bear ignores you and even runs away. In a small percent of the time it will huff, stomp its feet, stand up, or even do a bluff charge. This bear wanted berries and didn’t care about us.

Returning to the car, we drove to Jackson Lake. As we passed the chapel a woman was peering into the trees and told us she had just seen a black bear. Parking past her, I got out and found a narrow opening in the trees. As we watched the opening a black bear suddenly ran across the opening. Something had frightened it. We hoped to see a wolf or grizzly bear but nothing else appeared and so we returned to the car.

It had been a great day with having sighted six black bears! It was by far the best black bear watching day we have ever had. Next year the park is going to rebuild the narrow road we had been on, and it will be closed all year. Clear skies and when in bear country always carry bear spray!