After a cold, but cozy night of camping at 9,705 feet, Bri and I awoke and started to plan our day and our way back to the Wyoming High Country Lodge. The last time I was in the Bighorn National Forest, I stopped at the nearby Shell Falls and wanted to share it with her. So, our plan was to visit the falls, grab some lunch and then head to the lodge.
Our first order of business was to get our camp packed up, and the Jeep out of the mountains and back on Hwy-14. Before getting on the 65 MPH, winding mountain highway, we needed to put some air in the tires. The prior afternoon, we had aired the tires down to about 18 psi when we left the road to search for a good campsite. A couple Christmases back, my Dad gave me a portable air compressor and this was my first opportunity to use it, since there were no gas stations nearby. The compressor (Viair 450P Automatic Function Portable Compressor) was super easy to setup and did its job. I was able to fill four Goodyear Wrangler MT/Rs (LT305/70R17, 34.1" diameter x 12.2" width) to nearly 40 psi without much trouble. It took longer than my compressor at home or at a gas station, but I'm pretty sure a cheapo 12V cigarette lighter compressor would not have survived the task.
After airing up the tires, we drove down to Shell Falls (Shell Falls brochure). It is a really nice attraction, with full bathrooms, running water, boardwalks and overlooks of the canyon and falls (these are uncommon conveniences in the Bighorns). They have a hummingbird feeder near the entrance that was pretty active and we read about how the restrooms recycle waste by running through multiple treatment tanks before being sprinkled on the rock face across the highway where it evaporates. The waterfall was beautiful and had a very powerful flow that morning, in spite of the mountains being very dry. After spending some time walking around the falls and disposing of some trash in the bins, we were headed back up into the mountains where we stopped at the Elk Lodge for some lunch.
From what I recall in my prior visit to the mountains, there were three main lodges with the same owner. In order, from most rundown/rustic to “nicest” (quotes used for ironic effect), Arrowhead Lodge (where I stayed), the Bear Lodge and the Elk Lodge. Even though the Elk Lodge was the nicest of the three, I wanted to take Bri to the Arrowhead Lodge since it was very rustic and I wanted to show her where I stayed before. Sadly, on the way there we were stopped by emergency crews who were removing some motorcycles from the road. Presumably the riders were on their way to the hospital. We pulled into the Arrowhead Lodge and walked into the bar to find that the kitchen was closed for remodeling. Bri seemed releaved as the bar reeked of cigarettes. So, we left and returned to the Elk Lodge, which we had just driven past a few minutes earlier.
Even though this was the nicest of the three lodges, you can apparently still smoke inside bars that serve food in Wyoming, and I could barely stand to walk into the lodge. It had one or two patrons when we arrived, but smelled like an ashtray. Fortunately, for us, they had outdoor seating, so we ate outside on the porch in the crisp mountain air. After we arrived they got much busier, and the single waitress/bartender had about 30 people to take care of. Bri and I were starving and pretty tired and weren't in a chatty mood. So, we just sat together, but didn't say much while we patiently waited for our food. While waiting, I did enjoy listening to a group that had recently left Sturgis talk about their trip amongst one another; however, they seemed disappointed in the rally this year, but were really enjoying the Bighorns.
After eating a greasy, but decent burger and fries we headed straight for the Wyoming High Country Lodge. The lodge is run by a couple of well-traveled biologists (marine biologists?) turned hospitality specialists. Jim and Emily made us feel like we grew up together and had finally arrived home. Jim has been blessed with the gift of gab and would probably talk all day if he wasn't one of only a few people running the lodge, and his partner Emily has a great eye for photography and fed us meals that were fit for kings. They were both incredibly nice and I've never felt so comfortable in a hotel setting. The lodge is beautiful and all meals are included with your stay. As I alluded to, the meals are amazing, home cooked masterpieces, and they also have complimentary fruits, pastries, snacks, coffee, tea, soda, water, etc. Anyone that knows me well understands how heavily good (and abundant) food plays factors into my mood and enjoyment of anything!
Not only was the food great, but the main lodge itself (where we stayed, they also have cabins) is incredibly nice. I love the wood floors and log construction throughout the cabin. It is simultaneously both very rustic and modern looking at the same time with its giant windows and views of the Bighorns. Our room was very clean and spacious, it was also well furnished and appropriately decorated.
When we arrived at the lodge, our initial plan was to do some hiking or take the Jeep on some trails, but that turned out to be an overly ambitious plan. Instead, we crashed on the bed and warmed up in the hot tub before getting cleaned up for dinner. At dinner we met a really nice couple, Dan and Cheri, who lived in nearby Sheridan. They were staying at the lodge that night, celebrating their 40th anniversary. Both were school teachers and Dan was also a girls basketball coach. Dan even invited us to visit next time we returned to the area so he could show us around the Bighorns. It's meeting people like Dan and Cheri, as well as Jim and Emily that really make these trips special.
After dinner I talked Bri into taking the Jeep out on a quest to find a bull moose. We drove down 14-A for awhile, spotting numerous free range cattle, rocks and cattle, but no moose. The light was quickly fading, but I turned to Bri and told her we were about to see a moose, I could feel it (and I thought this was our best chance, with the sun going down and based on the habitat that I knew was around the bend). About 15 seconds later we spotted one walking into the road from our left, making its way up and over the road. We had to slow down in order to avoid hitting her. She walked across the stream and into the thicket where she was chowing down. About a minute later she disappeared. Another moose sighting, but still no bull moose.
After seeing our moose, we drove back to the lodge for the best night of sleep we had since leaving home. What a great day!