Riding the Salt River Range
12 July 2010

Contributed Photos

Prior to a trip to Wyoming in July of 2010, we decided to arrange guided day-long horseback rides in two of the mountain locations that were mentioned in the short story in order to get deep enough into the mountains to be able to see the differences in terrain, and learn what they might have had to offer as places for Jack and Ennis to spend some time together. [1]

Our first ride was with Jackson Hole Outfitters, of Alpine, WY, at the northern end of the Star Valley [McMurtry’s Brokeback area]. [2] This came on Day 3 of our ten-day trip. We had arranged our second ride to be out of Allen’s Diamond 4 Ranch in the Wind River Range on Day 9. [3] What we experienced on these two rides was as different as we had hoped it would be.

[1] “Years on years they worked their way through the high meadows and mountain drainages ... Salt River Range, into the Wind Rivers over and again ...” Brokeback Mountain - Story to Screenplay by Annie Proulx, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana (Scribner) ISBN-13: 978-0-7432-9416-4, page 17.
[2] See Entering Wyoming / Salt River Range.
[3] See Entering Wyoming / Wind River Range.


The Salt River Range

We met with Grant, camp manager of Jackson Hole Outfitters, at his office in Alpine the evening prior to our first ride, in order to sign releases and make our plans for the next day. We had chosen what they call their Extreme Ride, “for the horse person or adventurer,” so we also talked about our riding experience so that Grant could start thinking about what horse he would give each of us to ride.

The next morning we drove away from the 3 Rivers Motel and followed Grant for 14 miles into Bridger-Teton National Forest on a road that reminded us both very much of Canyon Creek in Alberta, Canada, where the scenes involving Sheep Procession #1, the Creek Crossing, and Campsite #1 were filmed. (See Chapter 2, 00 09 55, 00 10 10, and Chapter 4, 00 20 50.) Once we arrived at the jump-off—their camp, from which they have guided hunters for over 25 years—we filled our saddle bags with the food and drinks of our choice from the cook tent, loaded our horses—Spirit, Smiley, and Twist (!)—into a horse trailer, then drove with our guide, Tom, 7 miles back down the same road to where the Little Greys flows into the Greys River.

We unloaded our horses at the trailhead and then proceeded to ride “through the timber and out above the tree line into the great flowery meadows and the coursing, endless wind,” [4] spending most of the day on Middle Ridge, between the Salt River Range (W) and the Wyoming Range (E). The trails we rode formed a great loop covering some 18 miles (29 km) at elevations ranging from 6,000' to about 8,500' (1,800 m to 2,600 m).

The Salt River Range was very much the Brokeback Mountain of the two ranges. We were riding on Forest Service allotments and, in fact, came upon two Forest Service employees with a pack horse who were out doing trail maintenance by clearing low-hanging branches, and trees that had blown down.

We found large patches of white columbine (but, sadly, no ministering angel), and once Tom realized where our interests lay he started pointing out relevant sites that included three different sheep camps, all of which reminded us very much of Campsite #1. We also found the names and home countries of some of the sheepherders carved into the aspen trees, Chile among them, and a few other carvings that we won’t go into! [5] Tom also pointed out a view of the Grand Teton, 41 miles away across a wide gulf. At 13,775' (4,199 m), it is the highest point in the Teton Range and the second highest peak in Wyoming. [Gannett Peak, 13,804' (4,208 m), is the highest. It is in the Wind River Range, about 70 miles (112 km) southeast of Grand Teton.]

[4] Brokeback Mountain - Story to Screenplay by Annie Proulx, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana (Scribner) ISBN-13: 978-0-7432-9416-4, page 4.
[5] http://forestry.about.com/od/foresthistory1/a/arborglyph.htm


Tom referred to the sheep several times as “mountain maggots.” He guides hunters in the fall and winter (when he isn’t teaching people how to ski) and the sheep make his job harder by eating so much of the grass that it causes the antelope, deer, and yes, elk, to go higher still in order to find sufficient food, thus making it necessary for him and the other guides to ride higher into the mountains to find the game. Since the horses are carrying the dead game on the return trip to camp, the guides and hunters have to walk and lead their horses, and the walk can get quite long if they’ve just spent several days looking for game. Tom amazed both of us with his ability to spot game a long ways away. Several times we never did see what he was pointing at until they noticed us and started to move. We did see white-tailed deer and mule deer within a hundred yards of us on several occasions, but no domestic sheep; they hadn’t yet moved up as high as we were riding. We’d often wondered if sheep could really graze on a slope as steep as Jack Ascending (see Chapter 3, 00 13 20; also Jack Ascending in Albums), but, when we pointed out similar terrain during our ride, Tom assured us that the slopes were not steep enough to discourage the sheep.

A little further along the trail we passed a natural mineral “lick” that the herders supplement by adding vitamins and minerals of their own for the sheep, and then entered a very large high meadow that had several Fiberglas troughs (to replace the wooden ones that had rotted over the years) that provide a water source from melted snow and rain.

We had a couple of opportunities to end our ride sooner by heading down off the ridge on some shorter trails, but we didn’t want to leave the mountain so we kept riding, eventually looping back around and down so that we ended up returning to the camp on horseback. We were in no hurry to leave the camp but finally ran out of excuses to still be there, so we headed back to Alpine, to the grocery store for some food, and to our rooms and hot showers at the motel.


LG / 14 February 2011





  Revised 16 March 2011