Over the Snowys: Centennial to South Brush Creek campground
Monday July 22, 2013, 31 miles (50 km) – Total so far: 3,077 miles (4,952 km)
The birds are still quiet. The 5-10 mph wind moves by with only the sound of a long sigh. There is nothing to disturb this peace at 5.05 am. Well, except the sound of a touring cyclist thumping through two fire exit doors and down two sets of stairs with all of her panniers and gear. Then the noise of her doing it a second time with the bike. Oh, I try to be quiet, but I feel like I make enough noise to wake the whole town. The crunch of my tires down the gravel driveway sounds like a whisper in comparison.
The climbing is immediate and pretty steep, lifting you off the valley floor and into the range. These are the Medicine Bow Mountains, though they are often called the Snowy Range. The air is chilly. The sun is just about to poke above the hill. I feel fine this morning. It’s a great day for a climb.
Just a couple miles outside of Centennial we pass by the ranger station. There is water available here. The road now heads west, taking us right into the range. The forest is dense at road level; it is interspersed with grassy or rocky slopes high above.
After a few minutes of climbing, the road dives down and around a curve. I pedal hard, knowing there will be a climb out of whatever drainage we are entering. We whoosh down and through another corner and then hit a very strong headwind funneling down a narrow valley lined with steep, rocky walls. Pedal hard. Keep the momentum. Speed going down 14 mph, 11 mph, 7 mph, then settling down to our normal uphill speed of 5.4 mph on gradients below 6 percent, and 4.7 on gradients above.
The forest still looks thick and unruly. I don’t want to wish it upon the locals, but man, the forest looks like it could use a good fire in places.
Somewhere about mile 4 or 5 I stop to take my inhaler. The dry, cool air and exertion act like a boa constrictor around my lungs. I take the break to drink down about 250 ml of water, too. From here on, the climbing is pretty continuous but my lungs never get any worse, thank goodness.
Just after the turn-off for the Brooklyn Lakes road, we change rock types. We’ve just crossed over the Mullen Creek – Nash Fork Shear Zone. This fault bisects the Sierra Madre, Medicine Bow and Laramie Ranges and then parallels the Hartville Uplift to the Black Hills. We already crossed over it between Guernsey and Ft Laramie last week.
This fault is the boundary between two pieces of continental crust that collided 1.6 to 1.7 billion years ago. Back then, the North American continent was being cobbled together through the accretion of pieces of continental crust. What this means for Wyoming is that rocks to the north and west of this zone are much older than rocks to the south and east which were on the other piece of crust. Rocks in the northern part of the Snowy Range are older than 2.6 billion-years-old and are overlain by rocks that are 2 billion-years-old. Cross to the southern part of the range and the rocks are only 1.4 billion-years-old.
So, the exposed rocks we see for the rest of the day are all quartzite, gneiss and schist. The pink, knobby granite we’ve just been riding through (and hiked through at Curt Gowdy) is about a billion years younger. We just crossed continent pieces! How cool is that!
Onward and upward we go. The silence is interrupted only by the melodious song of bird call on occasion. Even rarer is the sound and sight of a car. The forest grows in dense pockets interspersed with grassy meadows. Pine beetle kill is interlaced throughout. Every now and again, we turn the corner to see a lake occupying a shallow depression. The wildflowers are exquisite in colour and variety. I once knew all the names, but fifteen years have wiped my memory of most. I’m sure it’s like riding a bike, though. It’d all come back really quickly if I had an I.D. book or app on my iPod.
The headwind has been picking up all morning, and by the time we get within two miles of the pass summit, it is blowing quite well. Still, traffic is light, the sky is a brilliant blue, and I’m feeling pretty strong. The beauty in my surrounds makes me feel whole and alive. I can’t imagine a better place to be on earth right now.
About 13 miles from Centennial, we crest the pass. The views reach all the way down into Colorado and far to the southeast. Just below the summit, pine trees and grass meadows stretch into the distance. Outcrops of rock and deep blue lakes dot the glaciated landscape. There is little haze to obscure the view this morning. I feel so full of gratitude for all that has allowed me to be here right now. I feel so huge, so full of vitality, but yet so tiny in the time scales on display around me. It is humbling and invigorating. A chick could get hooked on this stuff.
We’d stick around longer, but after a while I’m tired of being battered by the wind. We cruise down the road just a bit to do a short interpretive hike at an overlook of Medicine Bow Peak.
Here I encounter my first humans (not in a car) for the day. It’s only about 8.00 am. I’m reading the sign board when the car comes in and screeches to a halt. I can hear the bickering going on inside before they even open the doors. Once they do, the noise tumbles out like an avalanche of sound. The man walks over and stands right on top of me to read the sign. He doesn’t even say hello. I nod. His eyes avert my glance. Sheesh. The mom and adult son can’t decide what the temperature is outside and what amount of clothing they should be wearing. I want to say, “just get back in your car, turn the heater on, and drive straight to Laramie. Get some food. You are all a very grumpy lot.”
Instead, I wander off down the interpretive trail. It is a mile or so long. I go left, since most Americans will go right when entering a museum exhibit or when faced with a fork in the trail. Ahh… the noise of the parking lot fades as I get further down the trail. I look at the old mine, the old mining cabin and some of the rocks along the trail. I can hear the family long before I see them. When they pass me going the opposite direction, they just keep arguing with each other as they go, they never even acknowledge me. I do smile and say Hi, but get no response. What a terrific vacation those folks are having!
I take off down the hill, flying through the forest with the cliffs and peaks of quartzite peeking over the trees. Yippee! This is so fun!
We stop at Mirror Lake Picnic Area and hide and lock the bike in a clump of trees near The Lakes trailhead. We hike up this trail through a short and sparse forest of Engelmann spruce and Limber pine. The trail passes two lakes before reaching a junction with the trail to the top of Medicine Bow Peak. It would be a perfect day for peak-bagging, as there is no threat of storms. However, I don’t feel comfortable leaving the bike unattended for that long, so we only stay out a couple hours. The views are fantastic and the wildflowers have turned the technicolour display full-on.
From the picnic area, there is a bit more climbing to do. While we’re wandering around on this plateau, we head down a few dirt roads to see if we find somewhere we want to camp for the night. We don’t see anything that grabs us though, so we start the long and fast descent down the west side of the Snowys. If not for the blasted headwind, we may have got the bike over 40 mph. I don’t do that very often. It’s all a blur of peaks, long vistas, pine beetle kill and thick stands of lodgepole.
I stop in the visitor information centre at Brush Creek to refill water and ask if the South Brush Creek campground has water. My plan is to ride up that road and either find a nice dispersed site or just camp in the campground itself. The campground does have water – the staff member assures me it has some of the best tasting water in this district. We head up the rocky, gravel road without finding anything very suitable, so we just camp in the campground. We spend the late afternoon in the cold spa of the creek, icing the calves and just feeling so happy to be on the road.
Dusk falls slowly. It’s a month past the solstice, but the days are still long. There is a light breeze, so I don’t bother putting the fly on the tent. I lie there in my sleeping bag listening to my iPod, watching the sky turn darker shades of blue as Venus rises in the sky. As dusk fades and the stars begin to emerge forth, I cuddle down in the bag, prop my head up and look for shooting stars and satellites. The Milky Way appears with total darkness, a pale white streak of fuzz slashing the clear, dark sky in half. I nod to the Big Dipper – don’t see much of you these days. The moon begins to rise from behind the hill and I tuck my head down in the bag to escape the light. It’s time for sleep anyway. A perfect ending to a pretty perfect day. More please.