FR17 Paintrock Road s(u)

FR17 is a kind of main back road to access many remote wilderness points in the Bighorn Mountains. It is also a high traverse below the gentle flowing ridge line, negotiating all the hills and dales in between in endless curves. But the most unusual part of this summit as profiled, is the lower section through the dessert of Red Gulch. While signs use the name Paintrock Rd. some maps also use the name "Battle Creek Rd" for the upper northern approach.

1.(mile00.0,4220ft)START-END WEST-1: Shell
2.(mile15.6,7460ft)profile turns right onto FR17
3.(mile20.8,8630ft)Snowshoe Pass(shp)
5.(mile29.5,8790ft)profile turns left onto Alkali Rd
6.(mile36.1,7170ft)profile turns left onto Red Gulch Rd
7.(mile56.4,4240ft)jct US14 - Red Gulch Rd, west of Shell
8.(mile61.9,4240ft)START-END WEST-2: Shell, same as point 1


From North.
The profile includes the lower most specatcular part of Shell Canyon, which is part of the Granite Pass approach. At 7460ft, unpaved FR17 takes off into a side valley and gives a new vantage point on the limestone canyon walls, located roughly at eye level..

After first traversing above this valley the road drops to the busy bottom with campgrounds and a national forest ranger station and other maintenance buildings. Here the road makes an abrupt right turn and climbs through dense forest the ridge to the west. On top is a nice open view of the flat bread loaf like crest of the Bighorn Mountains, and an official looking pass sign, saying "Snowshoe Pass". But the sign could just as well have been put up by the owner of the nearby real estate investment, in order to cutsify his property. In any case the road keeps on climbing. It finally reaches a tough climb on a straight road, over a matrix of embedded rock, between a herd of bewildered cows. The road levels out gradually towards the top, enters a clearing and presents a magnificent view at the summit. The steep climb visible across is not part of FR17.

From South. (described downwards) Instead this route branches off at a junction below not visible from the summit, and follows a roller coaster, curving in three dimensions at once through the hills, alternating between dense forest and open range land.

The profile finally turns off FR17 in order to get back to the valley at the signed junction with FR328. The feature the road is named after, Paintrock, is further north on FR17. The change in the character of the land on the profiled route ahead is about as complete as one can imagine. First a straight line of a road leads into open range land under state wildlife area management. The distant cliffs of Shell Canyon form a long straight line behind the sage. They contrast in form and color with the billowing white clouds against the blue sky.

After this not very steep rocky descent (no reason to worry about having to replace those expensive and fickle disk brake pads) the road finally reaches a desolate signed intersection with the Red Gulch/Alkali Scenic Byway. In order to get back close to the starting point, the profile takes the Red Gulch option on the right.

But Red Gulch is still some distance away. But gradually after many miles of riding, the view verifies a gradual change of direction to the north, with the cliffs of the Bighorn Mountains in the Shell area appearing ever more spectacular. There are short sandy sections, which make for a few tense moments going downhill, and would probably be a royal pain in the ... going uphill.

At one point after a particularly interesting view, with totally red buttes foregrounding the pastel cliffs below the billowing clouds, the road makes a steep descend in order to climb a steep gap between badland shales. There is strong temptation to maximize the speed through the dip below. Problem is, the dip is deep sand. I just barely managed to avoid a bad wipe out at full speed. But maybe the sand would have been safe enough to cushion the blow. It certainly seems deep enough.

After the danger of the sand comes the humiliation of deep gravel on the climb to the dip. But it is only a matter of minutes and in the scheme of the whole loop, not even worth mentioning. The road ends with the scenic climax at the bottom approach direction Shell. The dessert buttes in the foreground now have strips of various colors that underline the linear nature of this landscape. Road conditions are variable here, depending on what the road grader is doing currently. If there is time left there are also some dinosaur tracks to examine. The profile as well as the gradual intermittent downhill continue on paved US14 all the way into Shell, where the Road crosses Shell Creek.

Dayride with this summit as highest point:


( < FR10 Hunt Mountain Rd s(u) | Baldy Pass > )
FR17 Paintrock Road , Granite Pass x2 : near jct FR231 - US14, on east side of Granite Pass > US14 west > Granite Pass > FR17 Paintrock Rd south > FR17 Paintrock Rd s(u) > FR328 west > BLM1111 Alkali Rd west > BLM 1109 Red Gulch west > US14 east > Shell > US14 east > Granite Pass <> out and bach on US14 to turnaround point 330ft below summit >> back to starting point: 82.8miles with 8460ft of climbing in 8:09hrs (Garmin etrex30 m5:15.8.10)
Notes: it may seem strange to start the ride near the top, but it is so nice and cool up here in the middle of August.

Slideshow of Red Dessert part of this ride on lower South Side