We just finished a week and a half up in the Bighorn Mountains at 9,000 feet, part of our plan to work our way east in preparation for our trek across the top of the country from the Rockies to the Maritimes to come down the east coast this fall. We had been up on the Beartooth Plateau for July and the first half of August, and just got out of there in time – they closed the Beartooth Highway because of snow a week or so after we left. You have to be on your toes up at 10,000 feet – summer can come to an abrupt end with very little notice.
The Bighorn Mountains are an isolated range, 75 miles east of the main course of the Rockies, and running from northwest to southeast across north-central Wyoming. There are no grizzlies in the Bighorns, but they have just about everything else – brown bears, mountain lions, mountain goats, moose, bighorn sheep of course, and coyotes, bobcats, lynx, etc all the way down the food chain. Fiona was most interested in the voles, because she could catch them. I rescued four from her during our stay. Fiona was like a fisherman when the fish are biting – she insisted on many, many walks, most of which consisted of me standing there while she stared intently at a clump of grass.
We had spent a few days up here back in 2015 when we came west around Labor Day and worked our way south as the weather got colder. Since we were a little earlier, the campgrounds were still open and staffed by camp hosts, plus they cost money, unlike the situation where they’re administratively closed but physically open, and you can just boondock in them.
For the modest sum of $8 a day with a Senior pass you get water, garbage collection, and bathroom access. There’s no running water, but there is wonderful mountain water from a hand pump you can pump into a container and fill your tanks with. There’s a centrally located Forest Service RV dump at Burgess Junction (with running fresh water in case you don’t want to pump your own at the campground), and a restaurant/lodge/gas station at the junction, where we bought giant cinnamon buns and a $5 half gallon of milk which were the only grocery items we needed, having stocked up in Cody before we headed up. Make sure you bring everything you need – there’s not a lot of shopping up here. The reason we finally came down was that we were running low on propane, and there’s nobody up here to sell any.
We spent all our time at Porcupine Campground on Highway 14A over by the Medicine Wheel, which is both an archeological site and a sacred place for the Plains tribes. it’s at about 9,000 feet, below the treeline, and I had to be picky to find a site open enough to shoot the satellites and get enough solar to stay charged up. The campground is surrounded by a rail fence to keep the cows out – ranchers lease the national forest for summer grazing. The cows like to jump the fence to lick the minerals out of the firepits, and I had to do a little fence repair to discourage unwanted morning visitors. The campground host’s dog was also helpful in encouraging the cows not to hang around inside the fence.
We had nice weather for our stay – it was sunny with highs around 60 and 40 or so in the morning, with a nice breeze that never got much above 25 mph. Toward the end of our stay some Pacific moisture found its way inland somehow, and Sharon got her wish – snow on her birthday, August 28th. It was only a couple of inches which fell overnight and melted by midafternoon, but it was a special treat for her, having grown up in Canada and spending decades in Florida, where we don’t do snow.
The Bighorns were a perfect place for us to extend our summer mountain adventures this year right up to Labor Day. We will definitely be back.