Days 86-89: Rawlins to South Pass City, ~113 miles, ~1,534 miles total
When people think of the CDT often the high mountains of Colorado are what come to mind. And indeed the trail follows the Divide along those beautiful ridges for hundreds of miles. But as I read about the trail, one of the landscapes that most intrigued and appealed to me was the Great Divide Basin.
Having lived all my life close to waters that flow to the Pacific, I was curious to explore a place where any water that flows above ground either evaporates or returns to the ground. A high desert world of sagebrush and pronghorn interspersed with sand dunes and oil fields. The Ferris Mountains in the distance, home to big horn sheep. And arid grasslands to the north where the Oregon Trail crosses the Divide.
Thinking more about it, the Great Divide Basin is one of those places I’d wanted to see since the fourth grade when I first learned of the wagon trains and pioneers who came West. The first time the concept of walking thousands of miles occurred to me. And the first time it resonated.
Hiking across the Great Divide Basin, the CDT crosses its northeastern corner. Not the heart of the basin, but logistically feasible. Water availability and public access dictate we travelis on the edge. Here water sources are never more than 15 miles apart. Some are cow tanks. Some springs.
Our maps warned to expect disgusting water with cattle standing (and pooping) in the water. Just what one wants when it’s hot, there is no shade cover, and they’ve just walked 15 miles to get to the only source of water. We mentally braced ourselves and carried more than enough water, just to be safe. We’d learned from our days in New Mexico.
In actuality, the water sources were good. Yes, it was cow poo water in places, but we’d had worse. More the challenges of the Basin were walking seemingly straight roads for miles at a time; with it sometimes hard to gauge progress as the landscape changed little. Other times it was watching out for ticks.
The Basin is full of wildlife. Always as we walked, the pronghorn would watch us. They’d see us in the distance then speed and bound away to watch us from afar. Ever watching, we made up stories about the antelope being mercenary spies. The wild horses would watch us curiously and only move if it looked like we were getting too close, they’d then move back to where they’d grazed after we’d passed. Sparrows and sage thrashers singing. Short horned lizards scurrying across the trail. Little sign of any meso carnivores, but we saw one fox and heard coyotes howl two nights in a row.
Bunch grass and sage lands a flower with paint brush, lupine, buckwheats and stonecrop. Limber pine in the distance than (and on one short section of the trail).
Desert walking is best in the morning before 10:00 and after 6:00 in the evening. Hot in between. We enjoyed the cool hours and good light of either end of the day. And when we could camp away from tick spring boards, we slept under the stars.
For all that I enjoyed the Basin, when the peaks of the Wind River Range became visible through the haze of the Methow Valley fire (the jet stream sends the smoke to Wyoming), it was time to leave the desert and return to the mountains.