Home, James


 Colorado - Utah - Idaho - Wyoming

The ride to Nowhere
Brown's Park - Jarvie Homestead Circle
The Chinese in Rock Springs
The Three Corners Area: Wyoming, Utah, Idaho
Star Valley
Southern Jackson Hole loop ride
Northern Jackson Hole loop ride
I ride through an isloated area in Colorado with a rich history.
Utah is not only canyon country. In the North there's a geat lake to bike around.
Teton National Park has great biking. At least the Brits think so.


The ride to Nowhere

The route I wanted to follow has been described it to me as a "ride to nowhere". Usually that's not meant as a compliment. But it can be under certain conditions. My old biking buddy Bob had used this description due to the relatively  long distances between towns. From Loma (near Grand Junction, Colorado) the route stretches 78 miles over Douglas Pass to the Western slope town of Rangely, and then another 70 some miles onward to Maybell. However I wasn't planning to ride the route one way, but connect out and back, or circular rides together to form a through going route heading North, to somewhere far away North.

I used the same manner of touring with a bicycle and a VW van that I described in the previous narrative. The idea was to follow the good riding weather North and try out a sort of bicycle bum lifestyle. The concept of being a ski bum, and follow the best snow conditions around the country has a long respected history. So why not bicycling ? The idea was to spend little and bike a lot. In the process I wanted to ride at least a throughgoing route up to the Canadian border, with as many interesting connected offshoots from the route as was feasible, staying in good riding weather whenever possible, not too hot and not too cold. Along the way I wanted to see, whatever there was to see. If you read to the end, you'll see that I succeeded in some things, and failed in others. Since I had my own "home", a van, to come back to every night, it was easier to nourish myself the way I was accustomed. I didn't have to be dependent on tiny foodstores that preyed on tourists, selling  black ground meat from a mastodon killed during the last ice age. I didn't have to subsist on cellophane wrapped crackers and doodles, engineered by Kraft and other members of the industrial complex to maximize profit and minimize nourishment. I could stock up on oats,  rice, vegetables and whatever else my body is used to in large quantities in large towns. I had a styrofoam box, but no refrigerator. This RV motor vehicle also assured that I had it pretty easy setting up camp every night. I could get to quiet out of the way places and get lots of rest. I camped mostly on the greatest luxury this country has to offer, its public lands, BLM, National Forest, State, and other categories.

It was the first day of the Memorial Day weekend, and my planned "ride to nowhere" sounded pretty good. This is the time when the nation takes to the highway collectively, and spends its precious little time away from work, mostly with getting somewhere far away, where to do this. The traffic on Memorial Day weekend is terrible, and on a road to nowhere this situation is likely to be somewhat improved. A ride to nowhere sounded pretty good, compared to all the somewheres that people had to get to in a hurry, on that particular weekend.

As starting point to the ride to nowhere I picked the southern trailhead of the Kokopelli Trail, in Loma, which is near Grand Junction, Colorado. I unbungied my fully suspended Klein Mantra from my VW van, checked the air in tires, in the shocks, and headed out in the opposite direction of the Kokopelli trail, on smooth pavement, direction Douglas Pass. You may question my choice of bikes for this trip. I wanted to be free to ride anything that looked appealing, everything from Interstate, sandy road shoulders, dirt roads, or single tracks, and for that a mountain bike was the only logical choice. My other unsuspended mountain bike had sustained some serious injuries on the last tour during the spring, so it was time to try out the fully suspended but very stable Klein Mantra.

The ride headed into the East Tavaputs Plateau. But that name is as rarely heard as the area is visited. The area is better known by the name of its edges, the Book Cliffs. We know what we see, and we know the names of what we know. The Tavaputs Plateau is the remote juniper high country behind these impressive cliffs. They can be seen on the North side of Grand and Rabbit Valleys from Grand Junction, Colorado all the way west to Green River, Utah. Douglas pass climbs up the plateau in a long steady straight climb, cresting along the top with a couple of switchbacks climbing the last shelf to the top. Much to my surprise the pass did not linger along the wooded tops, but immediately found the decent into the Douglas Creek drainage.

The ride to nowhere turned out everything it promised to be. Traffic was light. But cars still passed with that extra push on the accelerator. Traffic was still more aggressive than on other weekends. This was after all the weekend of impatience, the weekend that had been planned for months at the office. Douglas Pass also seemed to be a favorite for motorcycle riders, not so much the for the packs of leather fringed Harley Hog noise makers. But I saw a lot of single "then came Bronson" type riders, nowadays neatly zipped in nylon instead of Easy Rider leather.

On the first day I rode to the top of the pass and headed into the maze of dirt tracks Northwest of the pass. These paths all gave signs of going somewhere. They showed signs of use. They climbed cliffs and crossed small canyons, in the attempt to get somewhere. Some of them were lined by pipes that also must be going somewhere. All of these somewheres turned out to be graveled, roughly circular areas on spectacular outcrops overlooking the Grand Valley.  A jumble of 6 inch thick tubes stuck from the ground at the centers of the gravel pads. A number of out house sized buildings also marked the scenic overlooks. The faint odor of gas hung in the air. These spots were gas drilling pads. The roads were cut by oil companies as access routes to the numerous gas wells in the area. I had tentatively planned a circle to head back down the pass along these dirt tracks, but kept ending up at new gurgling platforms, smelling of natural gas. It was obvious that mapping attempts here could not keep up with the oil companies eagerness to cut new roads. I believe a guide book to the most scenic drilling pads of the western slope is in order. It's a niche that still needs to be filled.  I enjoyed the view, even though it does take a little while to get used to the immediate industrial surroundings, the gurgling wells and the gas smells. And I wondered what would happen if I would light a match here. Next on my mind was the long way back down the valley, the same way I came up the valley. It just goes to show, one of the best methods of endurance training is just to ride to nowhere, and then figure out out to get back to somewhere. 84 miles with 7000 feet of climbing wasn't really what I had planned for the first day.

The following day I first had to deal with a headache from the heat of the previous day. I rested for a couple of extra hours, and then the prescription called for gaining altitude as quickly as possible to get away from the heat. I approached Douglas pass from the South side on a jeep trail that quickly climbed to the top of a ridge. From there the route descended to the top of Douglas pass. The BLM usage plan was quite different on the Southeast side of the pass. Little signs with green bicycles and arrows on them, told me not only that I was riding somewhere that had been ridden before. But this somewhere was also recognized as being worth riding to. I was following the bikeroute up Rope Canyon. Still, I never did see anybody else on a bicycle, on this popular bicycling weekend. I saw ATVers, but even they were rare enough so that a very friendly conversation was in order. A group of 3 ATVs caught me from the back, and we all stopped. "You must have the lungs of a stallion", greeted me the oldest one in the group with a heavy southern accent. With a greeting like that you are likely to be popular not only amongst your own kind, but also with people who may have different ways to enjoy this wilderness. A return compliment would have been in order, something like "you are such a good diplomat, you should be working for the UN to solve the middle east conflict". But somehow that didn't fit with this group of Texas ATVers.  "You know haw many mahles you come ?" asked me another one. "Yup - eleven". Again, they were very impressed.

Two days later I left the metropolis of Rangely, its single little grocery store with its dilapidated wooden porch, and its handful of bananas and shriveled up zucchini inside. During the next 100 mile roundtrip I passed through two other places that had earned a name on the map. First came Massapequa, a grandiose eastern sounding name evoking visions of Pennsylvania woods and large streams. The place did indeed consist of an acre or so of large planted trees, standing out in the otherwise remarkable barren low mesa landscape. This place had the capability to function as a campground when it's open. But today it displayed a closed sign. After the closed Massapequa came Elk Springs. This name conjures up images of bugeling elk drinking their fill at springs, surrounded by lush woods. It sounded very appealing in the brutal late May heat I was baking in. Far from it - I was only dreaming. On a bicycle you have more time and energy  to dream up images than in the semisedated condition behind a steering wheel. The reality looked like this. A half dozen plastic lined evaporation ponds next to the road were waiting to receive waste water that's trucked in. A dozen abandoned buildings were scattered around dirt lots in the area, dotted with cars. Some even looked driveable. Somebody could have been living here. Do these places deserve a name on the map ? I suppose if there is a lot of empty space and you want to fill it up with something. However, some more realistic names might be in order.

From here I followed a circle through Maybell and dirttracks following the Yampa river. Maybell was a real town. I had scaled down my definition of a town since the days I lived in Denver. It was large enough to support a gas station that also sold milk and canned goods, but no vegetables. The whole town was organized around a large magnificent tree lined square park, the size of a football field. On the dirt tracks paralleling the Yampa I saw the most rattle snakes I had ever seen in my life, four of them on a single day, around six more on the following two days. They were all apparently resting up in the middle of the road, before completing their dangerous crossing. They had nothing to worry about. I never did see a car on that dirt road around Cross Mountain. And I never did run over a snake. After the first time I saw one, I was quite careful not to.

The next day I passed another settlement that had earned itself a name on the map, Greystone. Greystone was a handful of trailers scattered over a 5 mile distance. You can just barely catch a glimpse of them from the road. They were hidden in a rare patch of high woods a quarter mile away from the road, behind various arrays of US, confederate and Oklahoma state flags, and behind more arrays of signs describing what will happen to you, should you decide to trespass to the trailers and attempt to say hello. It did not sound appealing, and the town does not get my vote for the friendliest US settlement. Town traffic consisted of the single car that I saw all day long.

From Maybell I had entered the valley of the Yampa, leading down to Brown's Park. That is, the valley lead to Brown's Park. The river had different ideas. By the time I aproached the settlement of Brown's Park, the low sandy sagebrush hills had given way to the rugged red cliffs of Douglas Mountain. The river in the valley was now called the Green. I was in an area that had been well known since the early 1800s, since the time that people first moved to the Colorado Front Range. Unlike the Colorado Front Range, not so much has changed here.

Brown's Park owes its early fame to three geographical facts. It is relatively low, and on the eastern edge of the Uintah mountains. This makes for warm winters, with the same mechanism that is at work east of the Front Range. Brown's Park also is at the corner of three states, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. This combination was an attraction to a certain kind of human being. First indians and trappers found a comfortable wintering spot. Then Texas ranchers started wintering cattle in the valley. The proximity of a different state also attracted outlaws, who could quickly escape whatever state's jurisdiction they were trying to get away from. This valley was a remote hideout in the 1800s, and I still had the feeling that I was hiding out from something around here.

The next day I moved my camp to the center of nowhere, the beautiful grove of cottonwood trees giving shade on the banks of the Green, also known as Brown's Park Wildlife Refuge. Due to the heat I took two days with only very light bicycling duties. On day one I rode to the only store in a 50 mile circumference, the Browns Park store. It's basically a trailer and a flagpole in a gravel lot at some distance from the road. Everything sold there has to have a shelflilfe of several years minimum. But it's also an excellent book store for books about the trappers and the local history. I picked up "the notorious history of Brown's Park", and spent the rest of the day reading it. It's easy to see how a grove like this attracted indians, trappers and ranchers through the last century, and I was in the perfect place to imagine all that was going on here. I could also picture the early explorer John Wesley Powell floating down the Green. His first exploration down the Colorado and the Green is a well known story. But he actually took two trips. The second time he knew what he was in for. When he came floating down the Green right about here, he tied his deck chair to the top of his bull boat in order to be able to enjoy the moment more fully. Then he recited a poem named "the last lay of the Minstrel" to his crew, as he was about to enter the gates of Lodore. I have no idea what this poem is about, but it sounds like it might have enhanced the moment.
picture here

Brown's Park - Jarvie Homestead Circle
Distance: Total Climbing: Surface: attraction:
61 miles with described extensions, the loop itself is 28 miles 5600 feet with extensions 100 % dirt, with a little pavement on one of the extensions Jarvie's homestead

I peaked my head out of my sleeping bag before the sun peaked over the horizon. This was my chance to beat the heat. I was planning to cross the Green on an obscure little hanging bridge and then ride an elongated circle along both shores of the Green as it runs into Colorado from Utah. My otherwise trusty DeLorme Gazeteer showed a jumble of roads in the area. It was clear there were roads to accomplish this feat. The question was which ones ?  I was on the road before 8 o'clock. At the Utah border the main Brown's Park road turned to sand and the traffic picked up. The obtuse angled contours of the Green were receding like an etched drawing into the haze. Crossing the Green was easy. A hanging bridge that looked like it would collapse from anything heavier than a VW bug was at the advertised spot. On the other side routefinding was a little more difficult. I rode like a yo yo up and back spurs trying to find Swallow canyon. Roads that look like they would go through ended at the river. The road that looked like it would dead end at a cliff, kept inventing new turns to climb up it. Go or no go ? That was here the question. The road kept climbing, and after half an hour I knew that it would at least deliver me to an interesting overlook high above the Green at about 7000 feet altitude. But the road did more than that. It lead me down the other side, much like I had actually envisioned the ride when first planning it the evening before. I was now in Utah, and the road delivered me straight to the doorsteps of the Jarvie homestead, a historically restored homestead on BLM property.

This was quite a pleasant surprise. Not only could I drink as much cold water as my stomach could hold. Not only did I have scenic picnic benches on which to decant my can of sardines. All three caretakers welcomed me personally and started telling me Jarvie stories, as if they had been waiting for a tourist all summer. I could see I was the only tourist there so far today.

John Jarvie was a popular early local settler. He built a dug out home and moved into it with his new bride. He dug a hole into the 6 foot high sandy river banks, just big enough for two eight by ten foot rectangular rooms, and then covered them with sod. The inside walls are finished in early American linen. The restoration included putting in a few wooden cabinets, a bedframe and kitchen utensils from the era. To me this was the most interesting structure of the entire homestead. It's representative of the first dwelling of many homesteaders in the area. Later he built a cabin with railroad ties that came floating down the Green, then a store that eventually functioned as a post office. Not that much has changed. Now there's still only one "store" in the valley, but no post office. The mail here arrives twice a week from the 70 mile distant post office of Maybell, in the next state over. Electricity came in 64. Jarvie also operated a ferry across the Green. Back then it was the most convenient place to cross it. Today a bridge at a close spot is the only place to cross it between here and Flaming Gorge.

Contrary to popular believe, life in the wilderness was not simple. The situations that arose in these conditions were often complicated. Sometimes, they were cruel, bizarre twists of fate. But today people find them entertaining, and like to laugh about them then as if they were a fictional TV show. The story behind the only stone building on the property falls in this category. It's by far the most permanent looking structure on the property, a small expertly constructed masonry building with a foot thick, perfectly rectangular walls, constructed with irregular natural stones. The other buildings really do look like a homestead, but this stone building looks more like something constructed by the Park Service. Today it houses the "educational" part of the exhibit, the video equipment, where you can sit down and be exposed to a narrated video, should you feel so inclined. The BLM or park service had no part in constructing this building. It helped reconstruct some of the other structures, but this one clearly didn't need any reconstruction. The little building has a bizarre history. It was built for Jarvie by a prisoner with masonry skills that he learned in prison. The man was later hanged. Today, to round out the exhibit, and much to the delight of the tour guides and visitors alike, the arch from which he was hanged is also displayed in the building.

Jarvie was a respected member of the valley. He frequently had guests like Butch Cassidy and other big names of the criminal scene at the time. These people have been role models to look up to for generations of criminals to come. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid still have many admirers today, due to Hollywood movies popularizing their life style. However John Jarvie hosted them and other outlaws seeking refuge, more out of a need to stay friends with everybody. Any representation of the law was several days away, in Vernal and in Rock Springs. His easy going diplomatic manner however did not save him in the end. Jarvie was later murdered and robbed by "visitors" from the town of Green River. His body was found 8 days later floating down the Green.

I needed the isolation of this valley to really appreciate a homestead like this. You often see old homesteads in the middle of modern villages, and it's impossible to form any idea what life (and death) was like there. Here you could feel the cool darkness of the dugout, walk under the sod, and see the remoteness. When Jarvie lived a real life here, the towns of Green River and Vernal were several days of riding away from here. And they were indeed several days of riding away for me too. Oh, I almost forgot. Brown's Park is not indicated on the Colorado State map. After all, this is the heart of Nowhere. It lies in the North Western corner of the state along route 318.

Before I started thinking about the ride several days from now, I first had to finish today's ride. Rather than finish the circle along the shortest route, I started the climb out of Brown's Park toward Green River along Jesse Ewing Canyon. The climb on excellent dirt road was still too steep to be accomplished without walking, a hefty 17%. The road surface of the main road back to the Colorado border resembles that of a river during a storm. Little waves of "dirt", hard as concrete, are frozen into place. My bike skimmed across these ripples like a boat, bopping from one wave crest to the next to a variety of thuds. The dust on this stretch was also legendary.

Later I found out that today's loop is actually written up in the Dinosaur mountain biking guide, a little pamphlet put out by the state of Utah. I always feel good when I find a just completed loop written up in a guide, but not as good as when I ride a really great loop, and have the suspicion that it has hardly ever been bicycled.

The Chinese in Rock Springs

From here my bike rides continued up over bare outliers of the Uintahs. From these grassy mountain shoulders I could never see the peaks. Instead I got beat up by the storms originating from them. The next circle ride started from a shallow canyon surrounded by rock formations that had the texture of massively large elephant skin. My goal for today was Rock Springs.

I rode into the crooked streets of Rock Springs looking for the city museum. Once you're used to the orderly grid layout of streets characteristic of western towns, it's amazing just how fast you get lost in these angular passageways. Which brings up the question. Why are these streets so crooked anyway ? Rock Springs was first founded as stage stop along the Overland Trail. But the city's reason for existence is something else. When the Union Pacific laid its tracks through here, it got the claim to the coal below the surface too. Coal is common through most of the surrounding area, but here it was closest to the surface, and easiest to get at for the UP. So now we had a Rock Springs, Union Pacific company coal mining town. The problem was, with coal seems being dug close to the surface, you had to lay the streets around them. Those old coal shafts are still causing problems now. Subsidence is causing foundations to sink into the ground.

I finally found the museum. Inside I was looking for the story of the Chinese massacre of Rock Springs. This is the story of a particularly nasty labor dispute between the Union Pacific and the coal miners. At one point in 1875, the UP tried to step up coal production while cutting wages, always a particularly diplomatic tactic. When the miners refused, the UP hired Chinese contract workers who were willing to work for less money. Consequently, white workers attacked Chinese, killing 28 of them in the initial conflict. As the conflict spread, the sheriff of Green River protected white workers, and did nothing to stop further killings of  Chinese workers.

The role of the Chinese in Rock Springs was summed up in the museum with the following paragraph : "The Chinese in Rock Springs suffered from anti Chinese sentiment that was sweeping the country in the 1880s". Somebody is suffering from something all right. There were a few archeological artifacts of Chinese life in the museum, broken bits of China, soup spoons, that sort of thing. Right next to it were old war posters and signs saying just how proud Rock Springs is of the Union Pacific railroad. It seems Rock Springs is still a company town.

But I wasn't done yet looking for Chinese things. I was also looking for a Chinese restaurant. According to the phone book, any number of them existed on the east side of town close to the Interstate. I checked out four of them. They were all American restaurants, offering an overpriced mini sized Chow Min and Lo Mein on the side. Maybe I should have known better. Looking for Chinese things in Rock Springs, Wyoming is not the most logical thing to do, sort of like attempting to take dessert railroad photos in the streets of San Francisco.

The next day I finally decided to do what was logical. A friendly man at the museum, was eager to promote Rock Springs as a kind of Moab of Wyoming. He told me of the wonderful first rate mountain biking available just north of town, on top of a bread loaf shaped mountain.  I had seen the contours stare at me from the topo map before. I didn't need any more prodding. The next morning I navigated my way through ramshackle trailer parks on the north side of town, circling around ferocious barking dogs, and trying to avoid the largest of the pieces of glass on the dirt. My goal was the mesa on which Pilot Butte is located, and then decent back down from the plateau into Green River.

After an exhilerating climb I saw Rock Springs from a new perspective, the aerial perspective. From up here, Green River also could be seen lying in a big amphitheater like bowl, really a very beautiful setting. I80 became a geometric design. Even the garbage next to the road didn't bother me any more. The road resembles a washboard at times, but all together I think that Rock Spring's position as a mountain biking capitol of the Central Wyoming dessert is safe. Now all we need to do is some more bicyclists up here. There is a bike store in town. But I didn't encounter anybody else practicing the activity.

The three corners area: Wyoming, Utah, Idaho

From Rock Springs I rode a number of circles stretching east, incorporating I80 and dirt roads. This area of dessert is not without its attractions, as peculiar as they might be. Where else can you stop your bicycle at a gas station that's marked on the state map, a very large gas station, called Little America. There you get the privilege of paying fifty cents for every banana consumed. Then I diverted from I80 and the landscape became more important. Sometimes there's a thin line between the monotonous and the spectacular. Wyoming turns into something frighteningly vast. Hills or contours near the horizon have the same flat contour as the low sloping mesas that surround the road. The far contours had patches of snow. But since it was hot where I was, the distance to the featureless heights seemed enormous. It's easy to loose perspective. But it may also be convenient to loose perspective. For rides like this I need my little cassette deck. There are still many interesting places to stop and wonder at. But for the stretches in between, it helps to be a music connosuier with a couple of hundred of your favorite selections along. Opal was a collection of trailers drowning in a collection of junked pickup trucks, strung out along the UP tracks.

When I reached the upper Bear Valley near the Utah border something curious happened. The monotony of the landscape turned into something curiously beautiful. The mountains started to take shape. Treeless long fault ridges lined a green valley. It looked like the wind swept the landscape clean. It looked dry. But on closer look, the valley bottom was one huge wetland. When I stopped, swallows gave alarm, and I was surrounded by a swarm of birds as thick as mosquitoes in Alaska; then a little climb, and then a thousand foot drop to Bear Lake.

Bear Lake is something of a geographical mystery. When you look at the 8 by 10 mile area straddling the Idaho border on the map, you can't find a river flowing into or out of the lake. It's name sake, Bear River seems to bypass it. A few tributaries from the Bear River Range feed it, and a marsh stream network runs into Bear River to the North, but that's unlikely to account for all this water in the semi dessert.

The fact is that Bear River used to flow through Bear Lake. These days the river bypasses the lake, to facilitate irrigation in the valley. Water is actually pumped into the lake during spring runoff season. Then they use the stored water for summer irrigation. Bear Lake is just the right size for a great one day ride all the way around its shores. The Bonneville Bicycle Touring Club of Salt Lake thinks so too. A logical starting point to describe the shore of this lake is Garden City, the closest connection to the populated Cache and Salt Lake Valleys. Garden City is the place where it's happening. A large plastic dragon shakes its tongue at the bypassing traffic. This is where you can consume large quantities of Raspberry Milkshakes. This is where the LDS temple parking lots are filled to capacity on the weekends. Condos are beginning to sprout out of the hillsides. In order to attract attention one development built a large light house in the Disneyland tradition. There's the lake and there's the light house, get it ? I don't. Since the days of first mormon settlement, this has been the seat of commercial tourist ventures. Ideal Beach they called it. Ideal  Beach they still call it. The tourist traffic seems heavy here compared to the rest of the lake, but it still seems to diffuse into the Hinterland like a smokering into the air. There's also a nice little bike path.

The southern shore was another favorite trapper rendez vous spot in the early fur trading days. The required, large, shadow spending trees, straight out of a romantic Bierstadt painting are not missing. Today it's a large state park as well as the largest barbecuing site on the lake. The rest of the shore is my favorite. On the eastern shore, a little steeper shoreline forces the road right next to the lake, and lets you cruise along on a splendid dirt road. Along the southern shore, marshes attract birds that look like they are mistaking this area for an ocean. Picturesque old wood framed houses are strewn along the lake in various stages of gray white ornamented decay. In Paris, two suit and tie attired Mormons sit in a little Fotomat booth, waiting for tourists to be taken on a tour of one of the oldest mormon temples in the area.

I have done this ride with the Bonneville Bicycle Touring Club many years ago. This time I rode the shore piecewise, connecting parts with an offshoot into a snowy Bear River Range. The weather was frighteningly weird. While several forest fires, including the largest in Colorado history was burning back in Colorado, I got snowed on overnight, and then rode in cold wet Netherlands-in-January-type weather.

Northeastern Utah was the first landscape I had a relationship with. During the time I had studied Geology there, I searched out every scenic mountain spot on foot or bike that I could think of. I couldn't do all that again in just a day or two. But during a ride through Logan Canyon reminded me just what I had loved so much about the landscape here. After Paris came Montpelier, and then Geneva. That's not France, Vermont and Switzerland, but all Idaho, potato state.

Star Valley

I crested a low pass. Sagebrush hills stretched out in gigantic wave forms all around me. From the right, the Lander cutoff of the Oregon trail descended from a 9000 foot pass in the Wyoming range to join the main road. Thousands of Oregon trail travelers have seen Star Valley from this angle. I was about to enter what state tourism publications called "Wyoming's little Switzerland". Rolling down Salt Creek Pass, I could see the similarities already. Off in the distance a magnificent church tower was piercing the sky in clean white. Snowcapped mountains along the west thrust skyward. Little cows started to pepper the landscape. They got bigger as I got closer. But they wore no bells, as Swiss cows do. Soon I rolled along wide Boulevard like streets, typical of towns laid out by the mormons. Then I coasted under a big arch constructed entirely of deer antlers. This was the heart of Afton. The main street's dominant features was a big neon cowboy sign advertising Colter's Cafe. And so I soon forgot the tourist propaganda alluding to Switzerland. Actually the area doesn't even resemble Colorado's "little Switzerland", (the tourist promotion name for the San Juans), very much. But to be fair, Colorado's little Switzerland is more like Wyoming's little Swizterland than the Swiss Switzerland. It's all very confusing, all those non Swiss Switzerlands.

On second look the impressive white church steeple in Afton turned out to be an equally impressive mormon temple steeple. The word "little Utah" really fits this valley much better than "little Switzerland". There are also fewer "little Utahs" (as a matter of fact I don't know of any), so confusion is less likely to arise. The first settlers of this dry valley were British, and arrived on the Lander road. But the valley really was settled when mormon apostles gave the decision to colonize the valley. The name "Star Valley" was introduced. It certainly sounded more inviting to move to "the star of all valleys", instead of the "Salt River Valley", especially to farmers. Here as in Brown's Park, the proximity of state borders played a role. In a way it's another outlaw valley, but for a different flavor of outlaws. Polygamism in the 1880s had been declared illegal in the US. But Wyoming needed workers and "extended" mormon families needed a place to live. And so the town of Freedom was born, freedom for and from you know what.

For three days, I covered valley sideroads connecting the many small settlements in the valley. The small towns of Freedom, Bedford and Auburn all feature a main street. You can tell it's the Main Street because the sign says so. As for businesses, an old false front building of what used to be a general store, now functions as a post office, next to a Kmart sized LDS temple. That's it. As for lunch possibilities, picnic tables provide ample opportunities, organized around a playground for numerous small children.  Instead of big box stores, like Kmart, WallMart, FoodMart and JunkMart, big box churches, well - temples, dominate the scene. Commercialism in the valley is limited to the Rte 89 corridor, tourist raceway between Utah and Yellowstone. There you can find modest supermarkets and gas stations selling everything and gas, but still no big box stores.

The southern part of the valley wears its scenic splendor with innocence. The post cards they sell here are still generic Wyoming postcards, featuring generic Wyoming images, usually Yellowstone or the Wind River Range. My favorite valley rides are the ones following the small roads on the west side of the valley. The views of the Salt Range are the most impressive from this vantage point during late afternoon. Every farmer waves hello. The cows roam around the fragrant grasses happier than in any feedlot.  But you can also feel a strong newer influence in the valley. Newer richer homes are adjacent to the rusty rustic old farms. Green manicured lawns feature rustic old farm equipment as artistic center piece. Meanwhile next door, similar equipment has been discarded next to a falling down barn, surrounded by wild daisies. This is the functioning farm with the no longer functioning equipment.  In some spots, signs of Californication are also discernible. "hair, nails, electrolysis" read a sign in the woods, leading to a house in the forest with elaborate garage complex attached.

I tried to get a visual handle on this majestic valley with two rides. They were supposed to lead to points that I had deduced to be grand scenic overviews of the valley. The first ride went west into the variety of ranges of the Caribou National Forest. Good dirt roads followed a roller coaster through the woods that lead me to suceedingly higher crests, 200 feet at a time, up 200 then down 150. By the time I had worked myself to treeline that way I was one tired puppy, and I was a far distance from the valley.  The second ride climbed the more impressive fault range, east of the valley. Here a grand scenic viewpoint was marked by a microwave reflector in the Salt River Range, towering above the valley like the last remnant of a medieval castle. But this isn't Switzerland. It's a microwave dish. Soon into the ride I was happily pushing my bike through snowdrifts, up a very steep grade. I was thinking once again that this was still the best way to get up here. However, I am going to have to wait for another time to make this point convincingly. Half an hour later, I was walking back downhill, this time wondering where I could find a carwash to remove the disfiguring layer of mud from my bike. This was the kind of ride where it was best to start out with old break pads. By the time I was done, the sharp silt in the snow would have worn down breakpads, new and old alike. This was June 14th. No matter how long I lived in the west, I still underestimated the spring snows.

I finished with a valley ride on the northern end. Here you could feel the influence of Jackson and its money. Alpine greeted me with a sign from the past, "population a few hundred" (I can't remember exactly how many hundred). From the same spot you could see more houses than the sign said there were people, and every inhabitant must have been driving three cars and one ATV simultaneously. From Alpine, only a dayride through the busy Hoback Canyon separated me from the town of Jackson.

Southern Jackson Hole loop ride
Distance Total Climbing Surface attraction
70 miles 2900 feet  95 % hard top, 5 % gravel National Museum of Wildlife Art

Housing prices in Jackson have become unreasonably high during the last years. Some of the workers in the tourist industry permanently camp out in the surrounding national forest land. Much of this land has already been closed to camping, due to the heavy use. But two areas remain open. I camped in one of these areas, on a partially wooded ridge facing the Teton range. As it turned out, the following day was one of those rare days where it rained on and off during most of the day, and this became a day of reading, with the rain beating a cozy rhythm on the sun roof. As the sun rose the next morning, I walked to the canyon overlook and saw the morning sun painting with the clouds. The sun usually likes to start the day with some strong saturated colors, if it's in a painting mood for the day. It was in the mood today. Dark clouds cast dramatic shadows. Snowy Peaks thrust skywards. The detail work for the foreground was done with a fine brush on the countless pizzicato trees lining the Snake river. Each tree was just far enough from the next one, so that the sun could go to work on each one individually. Yet there were enough trees in the scene that the amount of collective detail in the scene was overwhelming. Indians and trappers especially liked settings like this for their annual rendez-vous sites, and this place was just that, another glorious "Hole", as they referred to redez-vous sites.

After that day of rain, it turned out to be the most perfect day of biking yet, cool crisp air simulating autumn, clear blue light showing off the mountains in crisp detail. The ride started out with a parade of RVs on the main road heading to the enormous Yellowstone - Teton National Park complex megasite. Doesn't sound so great, right ? After only a few miles I turned East and was on a quiet little country lane, with surface so smooth it could have been in Northern Europe somewhere, so flat it could have been in Holland, so little traffic it could have been anywhere, but not inside the confines of Teton National Park, or so I would have thought up to now. If you're not right in the middle of them, the Tetons are appreciated best from a little distance in order get all the perspectives in order, and that's just where this road was taking me, to meadows of wild flowers on the Eastern edge of the Jackson Hole valley. Late morning light did the rest to complete the moment.

The little country lane in the big National Park lead me right to the town of Kelly on the edge of the park. Kelly is an eclectic collection of upscale log buildings, progressive yurts and a geodesic dome, in a patchwork of wild meadows and gravel. Horses graze between the wild flowers. The range of vehicles strewn between these structures covers the same range as the housing, an old Saab, rusting old trucks from the 50s, fintail locomotives from the golden age of chrome, and a slick new Intrepid on a new gravel driveway. This orderly clean gravel driveway was clearly prepared by a professional contractor, while the rest of the town has a do-it-yourself feel of self reliance to it.  A store sells film, showing that this town does have a visual conscience, and it does make a striking image against the distant wall of the Tetons. In Colorado terms, Kelly is to Jackson what Ward is to Boulder. People moved to Ward and Kelly to get away from Jackson and Boulder. Although Kelly itself is already displaying hints of wealth and mass production. The truly hip and original may want to get out of Kelly pretty soon and form another community on the outskirts. It's all in the tradition. After all, Boulderites used to be the ones that didn't want to live in Denver, before it was "discovered" by Californians. I'm using "Californians" in a generic sense here, for people with money to burn from anywhere. It's not meant as a regional derogative.

A mile North of Kelly, a detour on this circle lead me to the Gros Ventre slide area. I looked up to the wooded foothills of the Gros Ventre range and saw a gash in the earth that had a man made look to it. But this was a natural phenomenon. In the spring of 1925, the whole hill, 2000 foot wide and a mile long came sliding down the hill on a layer of shale, lubricated by spring melt. The slide formed a lake, but it lasted only two years before the natural dam broke, and wiped out the town of Kelly.

The circle returns on the west side of the valley via another route with very little traffic, virtually touching the Teton range. The last mile before this road enters Teton Village is the reason why this is a mountain bike ride. A mountain bike can still carry you. But you would have to walk a road bike on that last mile. The road suddenly turns to sandy rolling waves of gravel, mixed with clouds of dust from passing cars. It's a classic case of keeping a road a dirt road to control traffic. The stretch is very short, and you could even walk it with a road bike.

This loop offers the opportunity for a museum visit, the National Museum of Wildlife Art. The museum is true to its name. Famous artists who traveled the American frontier, like Bodmer and Bierstadt are represented with a painting or two, each one containing a deer, a moose or a boor. As you enter the museum you are faced by a gigantic brooding moose, water dripping onto the his antlers, like the last life giving water on earth. Other paintings have a sensibility that seems a bit strange today. Each one could carry titles such as "still life with dead bird and assorted rifles" or "still life of dismembered animal body parts in apartment". However, back in the 19th century people were not as divided into camps of hunters and artists. Artists often were hunters, and traveled with a hunting party to make their sketches. Also, photographs were not readily available. So for many artists, sketches of plants and dead birds were not only a form of personal expression, but also something new to be documented.

The 8$ entrance fee may seem a little steep. But in any case, land developers putting up yet another sculpture of an eagle, deer, or whatever, in front of a new development named Eagle Ranch or whatever, should make this a mandatory visit. I think we have all seen some wildlife statue at the entrance of a megalithic suburban development named Elk Meadow Ranch, or Highlands Ranch. The statue is supposed to evoke the image of living in the wild. But the development is the suburbs, and not a ranch. Wildlife refers to people having parties, not bugeling elk, and these bad wildlife statues backed by seas of houses look grotesque and ugly. Now it's true that rarely anybody gets out of the car to look at these "statues". They can only be seen as a blur on the other side of the wind shield on the way from and to work from the car. Still, wouldn't it be great if each one of these sculptures was as impressive as that fountain of the old elk at the entrance of this museum. People might be so impressed that they would actually stop and look at it.

Northern Jackson Hole Loop Ride
Distance Total Climbing Surface attraction
77 miles with described extensions 4300 feet with described extensions 15% dirt, 90 % pavement Colter Bay Indian Museum, Cunningham homestead

Together with the last circle, this ride covers the entire length of the Jackson Hole valley. An extension leads up to to Coulter Bay. The ride started on National Forest land adjacent to the park, Shadow mountain. This area is popular with Jackson Hole residents as a mountain biking area. I rode the route over Shadow mountain. The road climbed through loosely scattered woods and wildflowers. The best viewpoint of the Kelly slide area was from up here. Then the road swallowed me in a tunnel of lodgepole. After descending, instead of turning right back to my camping spot, I continue North up the valley, for the road bike portion of the ride. Where the dirt joined the hardtop was the first attraction to stop, the Cunningham cabin, a chance for an architectural lesson in Teton Park. The cabin is built in the dogtrot style. This description was used for certain Appalachian cabins built in this style, because they usually included a dog lounging on the veranda. The veranda is the middle part of the cabin. It's open, really a roof over the two cabin boxes on each side. If there were any dogs on this veranda, they could hang their tongues out at one heck of a view.

The northern most point of this loop is Moran Junction. Moran Junction is just what it says, a junction, not a town, even though the map leads you to believe it's a town. I rode an extension to this loop, reaching north to Colter Bay. Here the character of Teton Park changed. The wide open meadow was replaced by deep forest. While the park was free of charge so far, here three roads of traffic converge to a tollbooth, into a single road North. I had to pay 10 $ to share the busy road with RVs, who had to pay 20$ each. At this point, maybe I'll just skip any discussion concerning the relative fairness of these figures. North of here, the sarcastically talented could stay busy reading the names on all the RVs- Wilderness, Georgetown, Indruder, Prowler, Conquest, American Eagle, Travelmaster, Brave - and comment on their appropriateness relative to each other. Later I read three RV model names that could even be appropriate for my VW van, Residency, Regency, Park and Sleep.

At Coulter Bay, I combined lunch with a cultural experience, the third in just two days, which is the greatest cultural spot density on this tour. The Indian Museum at Colter Bay answered the question: "What role did Italy play in the life of the American West ?". - Not that I had been asking myself while reading Winnebagos. In this case, the question came after the answer. Italy made beads from glass, porcelain and crystal. American Indians used these to embellish sashes, saddlebags, hair ornaments for women, and moccasins, in intricate geometric patterns. Earlier ornamentation used porcupine quills and larger beads from Russia. The Italian beads are the little tiny ones, that can be lined up one after the other, to form a colorful pixel like display on your shoulders, chest and feet. 64 pairs of moccasins alone, are lined up in a glass box in this museum, enough for most foot fetishists. The route back to Shadow Mountain followed the west side of the Jackson Hole valley. Signal Mountain is an interesting side climb. Jackson took early photographs of the area from here. Tourists are doing it still, and if you ride the five miles up here you see why. The loop continues on a one way road along Jenny Lake, and finishes with more scenic pavement back to Shadow Mountain. Another version of this ride could skip the Shadow Mtn dirt part. This would be a great paved roads only ride.


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