We left Steamboat Springs and retraced our route, in part. We drove by the Rabbit Ears. We stopped in Walden and had lunch in the camper next to the county courthouse. Then it was across North Park, a high-elevation plain surrounded by mountains. Actually, Steamboat Springs is due south of Encampment, a mere 65 miles or so. But a lot of that would have been on dirt road, so we took the longer, more prudent route, circling around mountains and driving 112 miles.
We’re nestled in some big trees at Lazy Acres RV right on the Encampment River. Normally the river would be ripping. Now you could wade across it with the water getting up to maybe mid-shin. Last year this time it was overflowing its banks quite a bit.
One morning we went north and Chris fished the North Platte River, which the Encampment flows into. It is regarded as being the “premier Blue Ribbon Wild Trout Stream” in Wyoming. But this year it was tough fishing because the water levels are so low and the water temperatures are so high. The fish hunker down in the deepest place they can find. After no luck on the river we headed into Saratoga for breakfast on an outdoor patio next to the river. Delightful.
After breakfast Chris lined up a guided fishing trip for Sunday and then we headed to the Saratoga National Fish Hatchery. Its been around since 1911, mostly producing eggs! Interestingly, the government took Lake Trout from the great lakes and stocked some of the lakes in Yellowstone. Now the lake trout are infected with some sort of invasive species in the Great Lakes, so they take Lake Trout from Lewis Lake in Yellowstone, bring them here and then ship the eggs to someplace north to grow until they can be released into the great lakes. They also, and we had never heard of this, raise and breed Wyoming Toads, which are endangered, for release. Weird.
We stocked up on supplies at the Saratoga IGA. It is crammed with stuffed heads and animals. They have a huge bear as you enter the store. Quite an unusual place. If you cannot find it here you won’t find it for 60 miles or so. No Wal-Mart, and not a very extensive inventory. But a neat place.
We checked out the visitor center on the way into the Snowy Range. and talked to a volunteer. There is a paved road over to Laramie which is closed every winter. With snow plows starting at each end of the highway, it usually takes three weeks to get it opened due to all of the snow. Last year (the year of heavy winter snows) the road wasn’t cleared until June 12th. This year it took three hours to clear before Memorial Day arrived. Just goes to show how dry it is out here. Also, we have a fire ban due to the lack of moisture. No camp fires, not even charcoal.
We hung around Saratoga and had an early dinner at Bella’s Italian Restaurant. As good an Italian meal as we have had in Italy. And this, a town of less than 2,000. The chef supposedly trained in Italy. We started on the patio, but were chased inside when a rain shower cropped up.
The Encampment River runs north, like the North Platte River. There is a trail that runs next to it for 15 miles as it cuts through a remote canyon. On the lower stretch there are some vacation homes. We noticed a rather unique one that had trees growing out of its roof. Following its course, we hiked up a couple of miles through some interesting landscape. Chris tried his skill at a promising-looking stretch where there was a deep hole. He saw the trout, but they didn’t seem to like what he was showing. So it goes.
Later that day we drove west of town into the Sierra Madre Mountains. The Continental Divide cuts through the pass, and it was there that we turned off onto a forest road to find better fishing spots. (Hope truly does spring eternal). We passed a campground that would have been a wonderful place to camp before the pine beetle. Judging by the number of stumps we observed, the campground would have been nestled in a very thick forest not that long ago. Fortunately, the forest service is re-planting. In most areas they are marking the small shoots of pine trees with colored flags. In this campground, they have them protected with plastic tubing. You can see from the photo how many are being planted. Hopefully it will pay off someday.
Oh, we did make it down to the huge reservoir. . . About an hour’s drive, where Chris once again tried his luck in the tailwaters. Eventually he managed to hook what he considered the smallest trout in the state. Melinda wasn’t available for the picture-taking, even if it would have shown up.
We drove home with the fading afternoon light behind us. From the heights of the pass, the valley where we are camped was clearly in view. If you look closely you’ll see our next destination on the horizon–the Snowy Mountains. We’ll be at over 10,000 feet of elevation (and that’s just the campground), with no services to help out. You’ll hear from us when we leave the other side.
Until then, from the banks of the Encampment River,
Chris and Melinda