Days 83-85: Battle Pass to Rawlins, WY, ~77 miles, ~1,421 miles total
From Battle Pass, we had one more opportunity to sit above 11,000 feet and we best figured to enjoy it. The CDT passes right by the summit of Bridger Peak (11,007) as it goes up steep trail and ambles gently graded jeep roads. The high point of the Sierra Madre, the peak is named for the storied trapper and mountain man Jim Bridger. From the summit we had our first views down to the foothills and the not so distant Great Divide Basin.
Leaving the high alpine country and rolling mountains, the trail took us down below 8,000 feet for the first time since northern New Mexico (~800 miles and 6 weeks ago). Back into the foothills zone, one of my favorite, for the mix of woodland and shrubsteppe plant communities. As the trail dropped we returned to a world of aspen groves and lodgepole thickets interspersed with wind swept slopes with scattered limber pine. Sagebrush and bunch grass covered slopes in full bloom. Flowers everywhere! (Gabriel, ever patient, began to wonder if I’d ever make it to Canada as I’d drop to my knees every few feet to admire new blooms.)
A few plants of note: sulpher buckwheat, lupine, penstemons, bistort, yellow stonecrop, showy daisies, paintbrush (WY’s state flower), locoweeds, sandwort, yarrow, harebells,wild onions, mariaposa lillies, and phlox. And especially of note: cactus (chicken and hen-I think) and bitterroot.
Roaming sagebrush hills often feels like coming home to me. My first job after college was in the shrubsteppe of central Washington and entailed trapping small mammals for a wildlife study. That field season in the high desert imprinted a fondness for an often under appreciated ecosystem (at least among hikers). And so I was exuberant about this leg of the CDT that turns back to road walking, tick monitoring, and a 30-mile water carry due to the alkaline salt flats from Bridger Pass on to Rawlins.
Land of pronghorn, mule deer, foxes, jackrabbits, short horned lizards, sage thrashers, swallows, sparrows, killdeer, and American avocets. And a return to the reign of cattle and their accoutrements. Sigh.
Our last evening out before Rawlins, we camped just east of Bridger Pass. Officially in the Great Divide Basin, the land where the Continental Divide splits and none of the water drains to the Pacific or Atlantic, an endorheic basin (closed from within). The land of salt flats, scrub vegetation and arid flats. After a 35+ mile day we sat in a relatively lush sagebrush meadow at dusk. To the west, we admired sunset colors over the hills of Atlantic Rim. To the east, we watched a distant lighting storm illuminate the clouds beyond the Sierra Madre foothills.