Buffalo to the Bighorns

Tuesday, July 20. We had breakfast in Buffalo, WY, at a great little diner and then headed toward the Bighorn Mountains. David has camped and hiked here one time before—five years ago with his nephew from England. He remembered that there were lots of free campsites along the road that leads to the trailhead for Cloud Peak. David hiked Cloud Peal with his nephew, and after the disaster that South Dakota was, being here in these beautiful mountains is heaven. The weather has been perfect all day. It’s cool—probably about 70 degrees—and it’s been sprinkling off and on.

Our campsite from the road.

We walked down the road to the lake, just a one-mile jaunt. Before we left we had made some margaritas and put them in my two Otterbox insulated cups. We sat on a log next to the lake and had our drinks. Pure bliss.

The trail to Ten Sleep Lake. If you continue on this trail, you’ll reach the wilderness area and can continue on to Cloud Peak. It’s a popular hike.
Ten Sleep Lake

The road is quiet except for cars driving down to the trailhead and campground about 1/4 mile from us. At night it’s wonderfully silent. The campground has water and an extremely clean pit toilet. We can use those facilities even though we’re in a free site. It’s perfect.

The paid sites are fabulous. With my senior discount, I could stay there for $8.75 a night. But we figured our spot is better, since it’s so private. And the walk to the toilet is only about 10 minutes. I have my porta potty, but David has been making the walk.

One of the HUGE paid campsites with the lake in the background.

Wednesday, July 21. We had a peaceful night. I’m boiling potatoes right now and reconstituting the dried green chile. After breakfast, we’re going for a hike. Tomorrow David will do a three-day hike up to the top of Cloud Peak while I stay here in camp and paint rocks. Ain’t life grand?

We’ve had a visitor to our site several times today. A beautiful doe. At first she kept her distance and peered at us between the trees. But each time she returned, she came a little closer. It’s wonderful to watch her bound off through the woods. I wasn’t really prepared to take her picture each time she visited, but tomorrow I’ll have my phone at hand to try to capture her up close.

Our visitor. She visited us three times the first day, then we never saw her again.

Thursday, July 22. After another breakfast of fried potatoes, green chile, and eggs (and mimosas!), David set off to hike Cloud Peak. It’s a challenging hike, which is why I didn’t go with him. I’m not in great shape. The advantage of this area, though, is that there are trails all over. I can hike several times a day while maintaining the campsite. It’s so nice not to have to break down camp and move every day like I would have had to if we’d done one of the through hikes. We’re both so pleased that David thought of this. It’s beautiful here, and the weather is absolutely perfect.

I’ve been using my Garmin InReach Explorer. It’s not perfect, but it allows me to send messages to my family and, more importantly, to David. There’s no signal whatsoever here, and we would have had no way to communicate with the outside world without the devices. Plus, I’d be worried about David up on the mountain, not knowing whether he was OK. I’ve sent my location to my family back home, too. I’m also tracking my hikes, along with using my Apple Watch to record distances.

Tonight will be my first night alone since I left home. I enjoy David’s company immensely, but it will also be nice to be on my own for a few days. I’ll be happy to see him come back to camp, though.

Friday, July 23. I had a quiet night in the van without a single worry. I haven’t closed the curtains once because this site is so private. Meanwhile, David was roughing it at the lake he hiked up to. Interestingly, it was hotter up there at night than it’s been down here. We’re at 9,000 feet, and David camped at 11,500 feet, and it wasn’t as cold.

I spent the morning working on charging my two Jackery power stations. I have two solar panels. One is a 60W panel that folds up and has to be suspended from something. The other is my newest purchase—a Jackery 100W solid panel that folds in half and has a built-in handle. It has little easel-like extensions that open so you can tilt it toward the sun. I set up both of them to charge both Jackerys. It was a challenge during the morning because this site has so many trees. I had to keep moving everything from one patch of sunlight to another until finally the parking area was in full sunlight; then I left them in one spot. The new 300W power station I bought right before this trip charged pretty quickly with the big panel, but the little folding panel was basically shit. I’m going to get rid of it. I can use one panel to take turns charging both Jackerys.

Charging my Jackery devices. I had to hang the small panel from David’s car because my van was in the shade.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the Jackerys. I got the second one (and the panel) because Jackery was having its annual sale. Now I’m glad I did.

David came back from his hike a day earlier than expected because he had forgotten a few vital items. I was happy to see him walk into camp. He said the trail was incredibly busy. He must have seen at least 100 people and he had some interesting discussions with people on the way up to the lake.

The hike consists of three segments. Day one you hike up to a lake, where you make a base camp. The following day you hike up to Cloud Peak and back down to the lake again, where you’ve left your tent. Then it’s back home again. So David didn’t do the segment up to the peak, but he still had a great time. At this point, he’s debating doing that hike again, but this time paring down his pack so it’s much lighter. He took a lot of cold-weather clothing he found he didn’t need.

Since he was back early, we decided to drive into Ten Sleep to get a few supplies. Ten Sleep is a tiny town. It doesn’t have a real supermarket, just a tiny market where we picked up a few items, and we bought our beer and liquor at a smoky bar full of bikers. That was fun. I chatted with a couple of them. We also stopped at the Ten Sleep Brewery. Then it was back to our lovely campsite, where it was at least 20 degrees cooler.

Ten Sleep Brewery.

I made us a burrito dinner from dried refried beans with my dried green chile in them, fried potatoes, and chipotle sauce from a packet that turned out to be really good. We watched Popeye, which I had downloaded to my tablet, before turning in. Another wonderful day.

Tuesday, July 27. I’m a few days behind because we’ve been busy. On Sunday we decided to go back to Buffalo and spend the night there. We wanted to be able to take showers, sleep in regular beds for a night, have some meals that someone else prepared, do our laundry, etc. We got back yesterday but I was too lazy to update my blog.

When David and his nephew Henry visited this area five years ago, they found a great Mexican restaurant in Buffalo. David wanted to go back there. But the original restaurant wasn’t there any longer. People told us there was another Mexican restaurant in town that was owned by the same family, so we wanted to try it. But the restaurant hours are crazy. Closed some days. Open on the days they *are* open from 11-2 and 5-8. We missed them last time we were in Buffalo, and we wanted to try again on this visit. But they’re closed on Sunday—naturally, so we went to the same restaurant we visited last time. Both times we sat at the bar and chewed the fat with the bartender and whatever poor sod happened to be sitting next to us. So we had a nice, leisurely dinner and watched the Olympics on the bar TVs.

The next morning we wanted to wait until 11 to try the Mexican restaurant again. But the check-out at our motel was 10. We were hungry so we decided to just go back to the diner and get breakfast. The diner was closed. Argh! Closed on a Monday morning. I don’t understand the logic behind that decision. But there was another diner across the street that was open so we went over there.

Worst service I’ve ever had. We went in and sat down and waited and waited. Finally, one of the servers noticed us and asked if we wanted coffee. We did. We waited and waited. She never came back with the coffee. After about 15 minutes we got her attention (which wasn’t easy), and we finally got our coffee. The breakfast was good, but our server either needs to find another line of work or (I’ll give her the benefit of a doubt) get more training. Three men came in and sat next to us, and she did the same thing. She finally got their orders, but she delivered their food and they still didn’t have coffee and water. Yikes. We left there and decided to go see if the Mexican restaurant was open. It was. But we had just eaten. So we ordered margaritas. If you know David, you know that this is just the kind of thing he would do. LOL We also got a tamale dinner to go, and last night we warmed that in a skillet. It was good. So we never had the full restaurant experience we had hoped for, but that’s OK.

Today we want to find some other trails in this area we can hike. It’s difficult to find them. I had prepared for South Dakota and had a Benchmark recreation map for that state. But I had no idea we’d be in Wyoming, so we don’t have any maps that show trails, and we’re in the middle of nowhere, so we don’t have access to our phones’ Google maps. It’s been lovely not having any contact with the outside world, but there are times it’s really handy to be able to use your phone.

Wednesday, July 28. Yesterday David and I took a four-mile hike around the lake up to the point where you ford the stream and enter into the wilderness area (where he hiked last week). It was an easy, pleasant hike. I walked into the stream (I was wearing my hiking Tevas), and it felt so good. I’ve had one knee replaced, and the other has quite a bit of arthritis in it. But I’m happy with how well I’m doing. As long as I have my trekking poles, I believe I can hike just about anything. I would have trouble if the trail was just rocks (although I can scramble with the poles if I have to). But I’m stronger than I thought I was. I didn’t train for hiking before this trip, but I did do a lot of walking. Apparently, that worked.

On the way up, we ran into a wilderness ranger. His job is to hike the huge loop around the lake, over and over. He looks for trail-maintenance issues, polices unruly/messy hikers, educates hikers, etc. He was really nice. We also met a couple from Pennsylvania at the stream. They had the biggest packs I’ve ever seen. We were impressed that they could hike with them! They were grandparents, so no spring chickens. They come west every year to hike and visit the National Parks.

Last night we watched some episodes of Flack that I downloaded to my tablet. What a great show! Very witty and funny. Whenever I go on a camping trip, I download videos before I leave home. The nights in the van (or a tent, in David’s case) can get long, and it’s nice to have something to do other than read before you go to sleep.

I’m covered in mosquito bites (and some fly bites), even though I’ve been slathering repellant all over myself. David has a neat trick of spraying your hat with repellant. It keeps them off your face, and you don’t have to put the repellant on your skin. Works great!

Thursday, July 29. What a night! We went into David’s tent to watch a movie. Since it was getting cold, I pulled my two blankets from the van into the tent. It was a clear night—the first night we could actually see the stars (the moon had been too bright the previous nights). Then, suddenly, we heard thunder and lightning and heavy rain began to fall. It didn’t seem to be coming into the tent, and we were enjoying it. So David didn’t zip up the rain fly. Big mistake!

We heard the thunder move around from the left of us to the distance, and we thought the storm was over. Wrong! It then moved around to our right. It poured all night long. I didn’t exit the tent, even to go to the bathroom, because I knew it would be a muddy mess out there.

A couple of hours after the rain started, I noticed that my feet were wet. The rain HAD been coming in, although you couldn’t tell by putting your hand on the window. We zipped up the rain fly but it was a little too late by that point. In the morning, we pulled soggy blankets out of the tent and then faced the mess that was our campsite. It rained so hard that mud splashed up on everything that was outside. I tried to wipe things on the wet grass to clean them but it was pretty impossible to get anything clean. We could tell it was going to continue raining, so we decided to break camp and try to go to Deadwood early.

How do you clean stuff like this? 🙂

We worked in a drizzle and in the mud, trying to separate everything. My van had been beautiful organized when I left home. Not any longer. I just threw everything in, and many of the items, like my blankets, were dripping wet. What a mess!

We were sad to leave our peaceful campsite early, but we also didn’t want to camp in the rain and mud. So we reluctantly headed to Buffalo, where I could get a phone signal to call the motel in Deadwood.

Fortunately, the motel let me move my reservation up to that night, so we headed to Deadwood.

Friday, July 30. We arrived at the Deadwood motel, and I was embarrassed to go to the desk because I was a filthy, muddy mess. It was so great to be able to shower!

Deadwood has a trolley that carries people around town. It came to the front door of our motel, so we took it downtown to walk around and get some dinner. I couldn’t believe how many people were in town. I knew we were getting close to Sturgis bike week, but it was still surprising to see the streets full of tourists. Then we realized that it was the annual Days of ‘76 event. We walked through downtown so I could show David some of the famous sites, such as the saloon where Wild Bill Hickok was killed.

The site where Hickok’s murderer, Jack McCall, was captured.
The site of Hickok’s murder.
Seth Bullock’s hotel.

We walked to the south end of town to a nice restaurant and had a lovely dinner. Almost every bar, hotel, and restaurant in Deadwood now has a casino, which I found disappointing. But it is what it is. As David was paying the check, the waiter told us we got $10 vouchers to play in the casino, so we went and collected our “credit cards” and played a couple of slot machines. David immediately lost his money, and although I did lose a bit, I also won several times. I cashed out when I had $10.50. Winner! 🙂

Saturday, July 31. We didn’t want to go back into town because there was a parade and rodeo that day, so we decided to go up to the cemetery and then drive through Spearfish Canyon.

I went to Mount Moriah cemetery when I visited Deadwood two years ago, and I wanted David to see it. Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are buried there, as well as Seth Bullock and other early Deadwood settlers. It’s a beautiful site—up on the hill above the town.

In front of the graves.
Someone left a few drinks for Jane.
The cemetery is hilly!

We then drove through Spearfish Canyon, a beautiful, short drive from Deadwood. To get there, we drove through the town of Lead, site of the Sanford Underground Laboratory, where they research neutrinos and dark matter—right up David’s alley. We had no idea the lab was there, even though David has a friend who works there. The lab is in an old mine, and being deep underground is necessary for neutrino research. If we’d had more time, we would have gone to the visitor center and maybe toured the old mine. Next time.

Our view from the restaurant we stopped at for lunch.

And then, suddenly, our trip was over and it was time for me to return to Colorado and David to Utah. What a strange but wonderful trip. Our original plan for David to hike the Colorado Trail morphed into a through hike of the Centennial Trail, which morphed into a week and a half of camping in the beautiful Bighorn Mountains. It wasn’t what we had planned, but we still had a wonderful time.

David got to do some hiking, as did I. We also spent a lot of time just sitting around the campsite, yakking and cooking. The past year has been so horrible for me, and I needed the weeks of peace and calm. But all good things must end.

We traveled together until we reached the tiny town of Lusk, Wyoming. We had a final breakfast there together and then went our separate ways. We decided to go back to South Dakota in the late spring or early fall so David can hike the Centennial Trail. The Black Hills are beautiful, but they need to be hiked when it’s not so hot. We’ll be back!

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