GET OUT: Rock Creek one of 28

By on March 19, 2013

I’ve been into Rock Creek quite a few times – a-horseback, on a mountain bike, and walking – but to see it, or any other familiar trail, out-of-season always makes it a fresh experience. Most folks would be hard-pressed to say where exactly Rock Creek was. If not for the fire here last year that threatened to evacuate Red Top Meadows, I bet nobody could find it on a map.

Top of ridge shows burned section from last summer's wildfire.

Top of ridge shows burned section from last summer’s wildfire.

Speaking of maps, there are no less than 28 “Rock Creeks” on my map of Wyoming. There’s even a town called Rock Creek 50 miles west of Wheatland that was abandoned in the early 1900s after the Union Pacific detoured that section of track for an easier grade to the southeast.

At any rate, the Rock Creek I’m talking about is off Fall Creek Road just south of Red Top. It links into the Munger Mountain trail system which is newly-developed enough that many of its trails do not appear on older quads. Check the Forest Service’s “Munger Mountain Single-Track Motorcycle System” for an online map.

When I walked into Rock Creek last week, not a tenth of a mile in, I saw scavengers everywhere. First, I noticed several crows and ravens circling overhead; then a majestic bald eagle. I have respect for the few that stick it out in Jackson Hole for the winter. Most migrate at least a little south for warmer, less-snowier climes. I knew there was a winter kill around somewhere. I put the field glasses to my eyes and immediately spotted a small coyote slinking away up a burned out ridgetop. She was looking over her shoulder with an expression that seemed to say, “I was done eating for now anyway but I will be back when you leave.”

The activity seemed to center around a little rill to my left, running north-to-south. Not 100 yards in I saw her. Dead. I fully expected to come across a muley or elk though there are not too many elk in here anymore. In fact, Game and Fish recently noted the localized Red Top herd has thinned significantly and may reduce tags issued in this area. I have run across a few decent mule deer racks in here though.

What I found, however, took me aback for a moment. It was a dog. A golden retriever-mix maybe. She was big and blonde and not terribly old. She had not been dead long. Scavengers had opened up one side of her and plucked the eyeballs but had yet to polish off all the organs. I carefully scanned the situation. How had she died?

rock ck dog

There was no sign of struggle or a fight. The ground around her was undisturbed except for the paw prints of the coyote and bird droppings. I checked the dog’s teeth, nose, and ears. They were not damaged in any way that would indicate she fought for her life. She was not caught in any trap.

 

The spot the dog was lying in was idyllic and she seemed to be lying very peacefully on her side. I have seen animals with an apparent awareness or sense that they are dying often seek out such places – often under a tree or by a brook. This was both. Nearby snowmachine tracks had me finally concluding that her owner may have brought her there after she died to feed the wildlife. It is near impossible this time of year to break ground for a burial and some naturalists don’t mind the notion of allowing nature’s life cycle to occur with a little help. This time of year, coming out of winter, is especially hard on wildlife.

After that episode (I will now reflexively call that unnamed little rill “Dead Dog Creek” – there is only one of those in the state in the Greys River), I continued on to Squaw Creek by hanging a left 1.25 miles in. A right here sends you up Munger Mountain. I headed up Squaw where the trail soon lost its hardpack from snowmobile use. I eventually hooked into a trail called Wally World (or it might have been Tusky Ridge – it was impossible to tell with the snow) and popped out on Fall Creek again north of Red Top on the Poison Creek trail.

It was about a five-mile loop. Doable without snowshoes but I would bring them, or skis.

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About Jake Nichols

Jake is a work in progress.

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