GET OUT: Red hills and rain

By on June 9, 2015

Enjoying easy, stormy access to the Gros Ventre

Photo cutline: Kelly Warm Springs (above) heat up; the Gros Ventre’s iconic red hills (below).

Photo cutline: Kelly Warm Springs (above) heat up; the Gros Ventre’s iconic red hills (below).

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – It’s been a while since I’ve been up the Gros Ventre Road. I thought this would be a suitable time to explore given the seemingly dry ground and numerous opportunities for exploration at the ease of a parking pullout. I began by leaving the bustle of town, passing the bridge and eventually heading east at Gros Ventre Junction. Off the highway, the vibe began to mellow and I stopped for a coffee at Kelly on the Gros Ventre.

This discreet coffee shop is by far the best cup in the valley, offering a variety of choices from drip to espressos. While the selection is small, given the nature of the building, the choices of snacks are stacked with delicacies from the average candy bar to specialty sandwiches. The staff is extremely welcoming and it just makes you want to buy whatever goodness is available at the time.

Buzzing with caffeine, I continued my journey while large thunderstorms moved in from the south. I turned on the Gros Ventre road proper and decided to soak in some last bits of sun before the rain came. My sun basking spot was next to Kelly Warm Springs. A pristine outhouse and large interpretive sign marked the space. I had vague recollections of going to this place as a child on days when my parents agreed to forgo their gruesome ideas for a hike. The water was always warm and had weird creatures swimming in it, but I always enjoyed it. A trip to the warm springs meant not needing to walk at all that day, although the moss and strange growths on the side of the spring always provoked my skepticism of the cleanliness of the pool.

This time, I did not go swimming. Perhaps it was the cautionary sign that warned of high levels of E. Coli or the strange green foam lingering along the sides of the pond. I don’t remember ever getting sick as a child, but childhood memories are not reliable, so I decided to play it safe and take a look around. The informative sign told me that this feature was relatively new to the region, formed in 1927 after the big landslide that formed Slide Lake. Originally called Mud Springs, this feature provided much needed irrigation to land around the area. The leftover large ditches leading away from the springs are hard to miss as they meander out towards the flats.

Back in my truck, I continued my way up the road. Compared to the Tetons, it is a completely different world. The large red formation of hills led me to stop and take a stroll. Otherwise known as the red hills, this terrain boasts some vague trails on uniquely sandy red soil.

150610GetOut-2The specific trail I took had a small pullout on the west side of the road. A fence with a sign, “No Motorized Vehicles” led me to believe that it was, in fact, a trail. The forest used to allow dirt bikes to roam freely, but updates to its travel plan in recent years now prohibits them. Looking at the trail, I cannot imagine how a motorized vehicle could get up that thing, but I’m no professional. The trail was a bit crumbly in spots, but careful footing ensured safe travel. The landscape was different, a bit desert-like with cactus and other prickly things waiting to poke me. The trail petered out on top of the ridge and it was hard to distinguish an actual trail from an animal trail. I gave up in my search and watched the storm come in.

With imminent darkness and the threat of thunderstorms, I made my way back toward the road. About halfway down, the rain came fast. The dry soil turned to clay and everything became slippery. My easy hike quickly morphed into a game of mud glissading. Eventually, I was back safely to the car. This turned into another game of balancing four-wheel drive on a slick mud road. Upon my escape, the red hills seemed a darker hue of red and even more mysterious than before I explored them. Perhaps another day later in the summer there will be more time to thoroughly evaluate the unusual area.

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