My new wife & I decided to take our first family “vacation” (a 3-day weekend) to visit some friends in Laramie, WY. Pete & Cindy Vasek (parents of one of my groomsmen, Nate) enjoy hunting & 4-wheeling in the Snowy Range, which is only 30 minutes west of their home in Laramie, Wyoming. This was also the first time my wife had done any real wheeling with me.
We drove all night Thursday, 3 July, to get there. We then spent Friday & Saturday wheeling, and drove back to Lincoln Sunday evening. I don’t recall my knee & shoulders ever being so sore as they were after spending 35 hours behind the wheel in those 3 days. I’ve also decided that I don’t want to lift my ’95 YJ until we move within a couple hours of the mountains. It can barely make 75 mph now, and any kind of cross wind, which is common along I-80 in Nebraska, makes steering pretty interesting.
Friday, 4 Jul 97
We started the day with some sight seeing up along Hwy 130 at Lake Marie and the Libby Flats lookout. The scenery in that area is just incredible.
The Vaseks weren’t able to go wheeling with us due to other obligations that weekend, but Pete gave us a couple maps & pointed us in the direction of some areas he recommended. On Friday, he suggested a trail that he’d never seen, but that his neighbor had taken (road 553, southwest of Albany, for those that know the area). Now, there’s still lots of snow in the Snowy Range in July, and there are lots of seasonal streams created by the runoff of melting snow. When Pete described this trail, he said it started by dropping off the main road into a meadow. I should have realized that melting snow + meadow = mud, but for some reason, I didn’t.
The trail started out fine. A 2-track trail through 100 yards of trees, then an open meadow with a couple 6-inch water crossings. No problem. Then we hit another batch of trees. The trail was pretty wide here. On one side was dry ground; on the other, muddy ruts. The center of the path between the ruts was wet, but reasonably solid. The ruts themselves looked pretty gooey, but only about 6 inches deep. I headed for the ruts, of course. Bad move. The ruts that looked 6 inches deep were actually at least 16 inches deep. I got all four wheels into the goo and then came to a dead stop. Both differentials & both skid plates were high centered between the ruts, and all four tires were spinning freely in the slop. My front left hub was completely submersed in the mud.
When we got out, Stacy asked, “Well, now what do we do?” to which I responded, “First, we take a picture!”
I tried in vain to winch myself out with a snatch strap and a 4-ton come-along, but the mud was just too sticky. Fortunately, some guys with an F150 were camped not 100 feet from there, and they were kind enough to yank us out.
From then on, we avoided mud holes at all costs. Unfortunately, as we continued along the trail, the mud holes got larger & more frequent. At one point, just after leaving the second batch of trees, the tracks through the field split up into a dozen or so deep ruts, most too deep for my stock YJ to follow. Apparently, some big trucks had been through when the field was pure slop. I had to pick a path through by straddling the ruts. At the end of that field, the ground turned into one huge bog, so at two miles into the 7-mile trail, we decided to turn around and head back. My stock Goodyear Wranglers and the lack of a buddy vehicle were the deciding factors. I’ve done more enjoyable trails. It was too bad Stacy’s first exposure to wheeling had to come on that trail.
On the trip home, we witnessed the most spectacular sunset I’ve ever seen. It seems like every July 4th we get an incredible lightning storm or a brilliant sunset or something. It’s as if God is saying, “So you think you can put on light shows, huh? Ha! I’ll show you a light show!” The fireworks display at the UW stadium later that evening was cool, but paled in comparison.
Saturday, 5 Jul 97
We slept til 10am Saturday. After only getting a couple hours of sleep Friday morning, it felt good to catch up. We then headed up to the French Creek area of the Snowy Range for some more sight seeing and wheeling.
The miner’s cabin foot trail, on Hwy 130 between the Libby Flats lookout & Lake Marie, provided several gorgeous photo opportunities, despite requiring us to climb over several snow drifts that still covered the path. The entire countryside out there is covered with wild flowers, which had Stacy longing for a flower garden (an impossibility in our apartment).
We then turned south on the Upper French Creek road (I forget the number), and decided to take the first 4×4 road we saw (#260). There was some cool scenery here, but since it’s primarily a logging road, it was fairly good quality, and didn’t provide any challenge. It basically just weaved its sway up the mountainside, then weaved back down again with multiple branches that eventually ended at a clear-cut area. We did follow one little, unmarked side trail for about 1/4 mile, but that was the only time we had to use 4-low. In retrospect, I wish we’d gone to the next road south of 260, which looked a bit more challenging. The first 50 feet or so, which was all we could see from the main road, looked less like a logging road and more like a two track.
We then took the main road down toward French Creek Camp Ground, from which we followed 4×4 road 3424 (aka 502) down to the North Platte River. There’s a scenic overlook en route to the camp ground that provides a great view of the valley below. Road 3424 is a 6.5 mile two track trail that mainly weaves its way around and through cow pastures, wooded areas, and several barbed-wire gates that must be closed behind you. As is typical on the west side of the Snowy Range, the scenery was great. There are a couple unmarked forks in the trail–always follow the most heavily traveled route. The wooded areas that we drove through looked like enchanted forests, and you fully expected to see woodland fairies dancing through the trees. The rolling hills closer to the Platte looked like something straight out of a fairy tale illustration. The last mile or so of the trail required 4-low, as there were several steep sections covered with loose dirt or rocks. Nothing too challenging in good weather, but I wouldn’t want to attempt them in the rain.
The timing of those two runs was perfect, as we made it back to pavement right at dark. Had we been 45 minutes later, the Pete & Cindy would have sent the sheriff out looking for us.
Sunday, 6 Jul 97
Church and packing didn’t afford us much time for wheeling on Sunday. We stopped briefly at Vedauwoo State Rec Area, between Laramie and Cheyenne, so I could show Stacy where some friends and I had camped the year before. Vedauwoo is covered by rough two tracks, but most are just short off-shoots that lead to camp sites. It’s a cool area, though, and anyone interested in rock climbing should definitely spend a couple days there sometime.
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