[cdt-l] Waterless Wyoming
Jim and/or Ginny Owen
spiriteagle99 at hotmail.com
Sun Aug 6 12:25:57 CDT 2006
We had a good hike across the Great Basin, but there were a few surprises
which we thought might be of interest, especially to those hiking south in
the next few weeks.
We were told by numerous people that this has been a very hot and dry summer
in Wyoming. They were right. Having hiked the desert seven years ago, we
thought we knew a little about what to expect - we were wrong. This is a
VERY dry year. It looked a lot like New Mexico this spring - brown all
over. Water sources that we used last time were not an option this time.
We got lucky, but it might have been a really difficult trek without a
little magic and some really nice cool weather that made the days bearable.
Last week was a different story with 110 degrees plus. We had clouds every
day, a couple of rains, and a constant breeze that kept us cool.
Leaving Rawlins, we were unable to get any reliable information about the
first spring out of town - Fish Pond Spring. We remembered it as a meadow
six inches deep in water, with a culvert pipe that was full. So we didn't
worry too much. We decided to leave town in the afternoon, take our time,
and camp somewhere after the spring, about 11 miles out of town. We had a
couple of interesting encounters along the way - first with the BLM, then a
couple of Continental Divide Bike riders, and then Bruce and Paula Ward,
heading north. When we finally arrived at the spring, it was a surprise to
find it dry as a bone. No water in the pipe, and the meadow and stock pond
were completely dry. The next water was 21 miles ahead. We figured we
could hitch back to Rawlins and pick up water, hitch back in the morning and
do that next stretch with a full load. (We hadn't wanted to start from town
with water for 32 miles on top of six days of food if the spring was good,
which is why we took the chance with the spring.) Turns out that no one
would pick up two hitchhikers standing out in the rain on that highway. We
tried for about an hour, then walked back to Nine Mile Campsite (at the ten
mile mark out of town, next to the highway) where we could shelter in some
trees. Someone at the BLM office had suggested trying to get water out of
the big plastic tanks that they use to water the saplings planted there as a
natural snow fence. The opening in the tank is only about four inches in
diameter, and the water was low, but Jim managed to get the water filter
hose down to the water and pump out enough to get us to Bull Spring the next
day. That was a relief.
Our second day was much better. Bull Spring was a pleasant surprise. It
used to be a terrible source - nothing but a wet meadow, complete with dead
cows bleeding toxins into the water - and a rabid coyote (at least when we
were there) - but the State has put in a solar well and fenced the area off
- there's great water now.
The solar well six miles north of Bull Spring was working and had a water
cache that wasn't necessary with several gallons of water for when the well
isn't pumping - total overkill, but it should make southbounders happy. We
met Bill Webster, a section hiker, between the two. He was the only hiker
we met all week, though we saw footprints that indicate that some other
hikers were out there recently.
A&M Reservoir is now an oasis. Amoco is filling it again, so it is a big
lake, stocked with fish. No trees, but it is still a nice place to camp or
The faucet near Crooks Gap Rd was turned on when we got there - beautiful
water coming out of the pipe. That was the last of the good water for a
while. We went on to Brenton Springs which is nearly dry - but has a small
flow. Jim dug out a hole so we could get water out with a cup, otherwise
you get to use the puddle out in front of the exclosure that the wildlife
and cows all drink from. Yumm!
North of there nothing was really useable until Lower Coyote Gulch - 25
miles ahead. The stock reservoirs (Haypress and Bison Basin) are almost dry
and beyond disgusting. We had planned on Bison Basin as our water source
for the night. Arriving there after a 20 mile day and finding it so
depleted was not happiness. Reluctantly, we planned to go five more miles -
but here's where the magic began. A white government truck pulled up on the
jeep road we were following. Turned out to be a BLM agent, checking
grasses. She had water, fresh blueberries (most delicious thing I've eaten
in weeks) and granola bars for us. An unexpected trail angel, just at the
moment we needed her.
Arapaho Creek had a couple of small puddles - but you'd have to be really
desperate. The pools in Lower Coyote varied from really bad to useable if
you don't mind the taste of pond water (after filtering). We saw water at
the upper Coyote Gulch spring but didn't descend into the canyon to check it
out since we didn't need any at that point - we were holding out for Weasel
Spring. That one turned out to be a good source - fenced and in a culvert.
However, the water level was really low. If your arm isn't long enough to
reach the water at the bottom, there is a metal trough about 1/4 mile south
(on the south side of the exclosure) that had water piped from the spring.
Next water source was Mormon Spring - which was incredibly dry. I remember
a huge wet meadow. In the past we've laughed at hikers who got water out of
the puddles between the grassy tussocks, thinking that was the spring. No
one would make that mistake this year. The whole meadow is dry. However,
there is water in a couple of very clear pools in the rocks on the back side
of the ridge out in the middle of the meadow. Takes some searching, but
they are there.
After that water is not a problem - Harris Slough had water where the creek
crosses the road. The Sweetwater River was an oasis - green and lush, with
ducks and antelope galore. Good camping too - my first bath in a long long
time! We spotted water in Rock Creek a couple of miles north of there as we
headed to Atlantic City for lunch at the Mercantile. I don't know about the
trail route - but be aware, South Pass has no potable water. The State shut
down their water - though the Creek was running. And it's only four miles
to Atlantic City with restaurants, a little store in the bar, and a couple
Highlights of the Great Basin: constant sightings of antelope (one herd of
over 40 made a 90 plus animal day) and wild horses (we saw a herd of 30-40
that came over to check us out - they were so beautiful running in formation
the way they do.) We saw a rare Great Basin elk up on Crooks Mountain.
There were some beautiful sunsets - and a thunderstorm that hit as we were
crossing an open desert area where we were the tallest things for a half
mile - interesting. No snakes, but lots of horny toads, coyotes, and jack
All in all, it was a good week. We're taking a day off in Lander to
resupply and get some calories in Jim. We started with a half gallon of ice
cream - and went on from there. We're looking forward to the Wind River
Range, our next stretch.
Jim and Ginny
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