(There’s lots of pictures in this post! Beware! 🙂 )
While it’s always fun to travel back to places you’ve been before, Colton and I decided to take a weekend trip somewhere we’d never been. After little research and basically pointing our fingers to the map of some mountains, we decided on the Wind River Range in Wyoming. Googling some pictures of the area convinced us this was our place, the pictures seemed absolutely beautiful. This would be our first camping trip as a married couple, and we were super excited for our first adventure!
First stop was Devil’s Slide. This is a natural rock formation located in the Weber Canyon of Utah. As a kid, seeing Devil’s Slide always marked that we were far enough away from home for things to stop looking familiar. It always meant that I was headed somewhere fun.
We went up the first weekend the Narrows Campground was open for the summer season. Naturally, we expected it to be a bit chilly, but it was nothing a jacket didn’t take care of. It was amazingly beautiful the entire time. Before we’d even pulled into the canyon where the lake and campground were located, the scenery was stunning.
We were delighted to find that our campsite backed up to the New Forks Lake. There were rather steep trails leading down to the lake, but from our height we could see much of the lake.
As we were one of a few people at the campsite, it was a rather confusing ‘check-in’ because there wasn’t an actual main office, just the trailer of people who lived there seasonally. Next door to our campsite were a retired couple and their two dogs and solar-powered trailer. They came up here every year to fish. Apparently New Forks Lake and the other nearby lakes are nationally famous for their fishing, and we had no idea! Sounds like the type of retirement I want! Since there wasn’t a visitor’s center at the campsite (there were places in the nearby town of Pinedale, but we drove straight through in our hurry to set up camp before nightfall) we drove around the first morning in search of a good hike. We found one that appeared to be a cow trail, but forked off to follow right along the New Forks Lake. Warning, there ARE cows on the trail, and they might look like bears at first, giving you a good scare…) There were flowers everywhere, the water was a beautiful blue, and there were birds and butterflies galore.
We’d been warned of several bear sightings in the area recently, and with no bear spray yet (which I would NOT recommend), we didn’t want to go traipsing through the forest. Luckily the lake trail was completely in the open. We kept expecting to see moose around the lake because we saw tracks all over.
The next day we went to the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale. Pinedale is an adorable historic town founded in 1904, but fur traders and Native Americans occupied the area long before. The two groups would have rendezvous in the 1830s to trade along the river. The rendezvous was a big enough deal that the town still celebrates it every August with week-long festivities. The museum was fascinating (if you like that sort of stuff, which we both do). There were relics, stories about mountain men, and paintings from the first person to travel to the area with a mountain man. He painted the area where we’d been driving through, but filled with hundreds of Native Americans. I can’t remember his name, but it was a beautiful painting! http://museumofthemountainman.com
Outside of Pinedale a little ways, we saw a random pull-off, so decided to drive up the dirt road. There was a sign and map of the area, pointing out trading areas of the Mountain Men and Native Americans. There were no buildings or anything modern around, and it was amazing to imagine what life would have been like in the 1830s, living in this perpetually windy but beautiful valley.
After the museum, all I could think about in my romantically-oriented imagination were the Native Americans’ lives, their encounters with the first fur traders, and the extreme lives of the Mountain Men. And also, on the less-romantic spectrum, how tragic the story of the Native Americans is. What a terrible thing that the Europeans did to a culture that was so rich and so old. The Wind River Native Americans were actually from Utah originally. They would have been found in the Bear Lake and Logan Canyon region of Utah. But white settlers took over the area and made a treaty with the Native Americans that sent them to the Wind Rivers.
Before going on more hikes, we purchased bear spray at the visitor’s center and obtained a map of the area. We decided on a hike around Fremont Lake, which took our car quite a ways above the town before depositing us on a hike that we thought for sure was filled with mountain lions. It just seemed like such a place.
We happened to be there during the full moon, which rose directly across the lake from us. It was a still night, watching the moon rise slowly. It was so bright that we even had moon shadows. On our way home, we accidentally took a longer detour, but we met this little guy on the way!
Our first vacation together was a complete success, and one we will be returning to, I’m sure.
Tips for Traveling to the Wind River Range
- Dress in layers, our camp was 7,800 ft in elevation. The winds can and will be cold, and the weather can change quickly
- This is bear country. BRING BEAR SPRAY. Keep your food in your car or in a bear container.
- If you like fishing, this is the place for it! Bring all your gear.
- The particular campground we stayed in had a few water spigots and porta-potties. There was no running water for showering and washing dishes (which you can’t do anyways because of bears.) Be prepared for that, or stay at a different campground or hotel in Pinedale.
- Bring good hiking shoes and sunscreen and a camera.
- There is a good-sized grocery store in Pinedale if you need it.
- Bring a good map of the area and your thirst for history!