Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Great Sky Road

Columbines, Medicine Bow Mountain
Thirty miles west of Laramie, Wyoming (in the southeast corner of the state), the Rocky Mountain front rises abruptly from the plains as the Medicine Bow Mountains.  (Don't you love that name?)  These mountains are actually a northward continuation of the Snowy Range that includes the mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park.

While we were in northern Colorado two weeks ago, Kali and I crossed the state line into Wyoming for a two-day visit to southeast Wyoming, and driving to Snowy Pass in the Medicine Bow Mountains was one of our goals.  The Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest has developed the Snowy Range Scenic Byway - the second designated scenic byway in the national forest system - to acquaint drivers with the splendors of the Medicine Bow Mountains.
Medicine Bow Peak above Bellamy Lake
We set off from Laramie about 1 p.m. to explore the sub-alpine area at the top of the pass, and arrived at the summit (10,660 feet) about an hour later.  Because Kali had hurt her ankle a few days earlier, she elected to stay at the car to enjoy the scenery while I set off to walk a portion of the Lake Trail in the shadow of Medicine Bow Peak (12,013 feet).
Lake Trail heading northward above Mirror Lake; flank of Medicine Bow Peak left rear
The trail led along a bench on the east side of the mountain and followed the shoreline of Mirror Lake.  Alpine wildflowers were abundant everywhere, but as I rounded a bend in the trail I came across a rock outcrop that sported a particularly spectacular display of wildflowers, especially columbines.

Natural rock garden

A profusion of columbines
After photographing the natural rock garden, I ventured a bit further north along the trail.  After a half-mile or so, I decided to turn around because (1) thunder foreshadowed the imminent onset of summer mountain thunderstorms and (2) the trail began ascending rapidly and I was out of breath at 11,000 feet.  When I turned around and looked back along the way I had just hiked, I was struck by how clearly the topography had been influenced by glaciers.  Medicine Bow Peak and its neighbors formed the western wall of a cordilleran glacier during the last Ice Age.  The glacier flowed southward, grinding and polishing the mountain slopes and gouging out basins now filled by lakes.  With no matching set of peaks to the east to confine the glacier, the ice sprawled across the landscape, scraping a relatively level area today known as Libby Flats.
The glacial-carved eastern flank of the Medicine Bows in a view southward - the direction of glacial flow
Nearing the parking lot, I noticed low-growing wildflowers carpeting rocks alongside the trail.
Lichens and a cushion of wildflowers
A study in pink
I got back to the parking lot just as rain began to fall.  By the time we had turned the car eastward toward Laramie, the wipers could barely keep the windshield clear enough to drive.  What timing!  As we came out of the mountains and were cruising across the plains (where we saw a pronghorn on a ranch), the rain stopped.  Looking back toward Medicine Bow, though, we saw that the mountains remained shrouded in low, dark clouds and impenetrable curtains of rain. 


packrat said...

Spectacular photos, Scott! #2 is gorgeous. Don't you just love the West?

Mark P said...

I can feel the cool air when I look at these pictures. It sure would be nice to be out there right about now. I'll bet the rain from that thunderstorm would have been COLD if it had caught you before you reached the car.

robin andrea said...

Such beautiful photos of a magnificent place. I had forgotten how stunning the mountains are there. I lived in Colorado for four years and did some hiking around, but that was more than 30 years ago. It's nice to be reminded of these vistas.

Yes, Medicine Bow is a great name. Love it!

Scott said...

Packrat: Indeed, we DO love the West. However, Kali did remark, as she usually does when we're at such awe-inspiring locales, "This type of spectacular landscape is really nice to visit, but I wouldn't want a cabin here!" I gotta agree with her, but it's sure nice to visit.

Scott said...

Mark: Despite the elevation and the breeze (10,660'), I was warm and sweaty when I was hiking; it felt good when a cloud crossed overhead. Of course, it's all relative, isn't it? It wasn't like the 95 degrees & 95% humidity to which I returned in Philadelphia! And, yes, the torrential rain certainly would have been very cold.

Scott said...

Robin Andrea: Kali and I have a shorthand for a stimulus that evokes the West for us: western pine. On a hot, dry summer afternoon, even here in the humid Mid-Atlantic, we will occasionally pass near a conifer and be bathed in the hot, dry scent so reminiscent of arid western landscapes dominated by conifers. We're instantly "transported" to the West at that moment. It seems like the images evoked something like that for you.

Ercotravels said...

Hi, scott! indeed, a great series of cool and calm pictures which show super romantic atmosphere and happy natural beauty. such a beautiful place to visit.

robin andrea said...

Yes, Scott. It's true about those arid western scents. I've been going out in the early evening just to sniff the air. It's quite a beautiful thing.

Scott said...

Thanks, Ercotravels. I don't have a chance to visit such sublime landscapes as often as I would like to.

Ercotravels said...

Scott, you're welcome!

MastHoliday said...

Splendid post with beautiful picturesque. everyone scenery looking delightful and attracts to visit. thanks for sharing your trip memories through this amazing post.