Riding the Wind River Range
18 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 Wind River Range

We spent the night in Lander, a little south and west of Riverton, but we still had an hour-and-a-half drive ahead of us to reach the Diamond 4 Ranch up in Dickinson Park the next morning. [“Park” is the term used for “meadow” in WY.] We had purchased the tribal fishing licenses that are required of anyone crossing the Wind River Indian Reservation on the road to Dickinson Park when we arrived in town the previous day, so at 7 a.m. we headed northwest on US-287 until we found Hines General Store, then turned left on Trout Creek Road and followed it until the pavement ended. From there we traveled on a dirt road that wound up two different groups of switchbacks, gaining 4,000' (1,219 m) in elevation in 15 miles. We couldn’t help wondering how the horse trailers were able to make these tight turns when they moved the horses down out of the mountains for the winter. We continued another 20 miles across the Reservation and into the Shoshone National Forest as the sun rose in the sky; the views down onto the plains in the early morning light were spectacular. It struck us that no matter where we travelled in Wyoming we saw scenery that reminded us of scenes / shooting locations in Alberta, and the ride up to the Diamond 4 was no exception.

When we arrived at the Ranch, having seen only one other vehicle since leaving US-287, we were greeted warmly by the Allen family. There was a bit of activity as final preparations were being made for a three-day pack trip involving five people and 11 horses that was just about to head out. The ranch is actually a destination ranch, but after a series of emails Jim and Mary graciously invited us to come up and ride just for the one day.

Barry had shipped his own saddle out to Alpine before leaving home and after our ride in the Salt River Range we carried it with us the rest of the time. As his saddle was being fitted to his horse we were given a few instructions about how to handle the horses that we would be riding. Lindsey, our guide for the day, pointed to a rocky mountaintop off in the distance and told us it would be our destination—the Bears Ears, on Bears Ears Mountain. Our first thought was, “You can do that”?! It turns out that yes, you can, if you are riding the mountain-savvy horses that they raise out there in Wyoming.

Once we started to ride we spent the first couple of hours on switchbacks among huge boulders and pine trees as we worked our way higher and higher through the Shoshone National Forest. We stopped at one point and took refuge under the trees for several minutes as a snow and hail squall passed through. [We were riding on July 18!] Eventually we broke out of the trees and spent the next several hours riding over ledge and loose rock as we continued to climb, eventually ending up at around 11,000' (3,353 m) in elevation. We met several groups of hikers during this part of the ride—a man and his son who were on their way down after 5 days of camping, a couple with a dog, a single hiker, and a group of 3. We saw a tent on the opposite side of a small wet meadow, but there was no one around that we could see.


We were caught out in the open by another sudden episode of blackening skies and rain and hail being blown almost horizontal by strong winds, but the horses just turned their backs to the wind and we waited for a few minutes until Lindsey asked us if we wanted to wait or keep riding. We decided we couldn’t get much colder and decided to ride instead of wait, and in about 10 minutes the sun returned and the sky was a deep blue again. (We had noticed black skies above the mountains the previous day as we were heading southwest from Shoshoni and Riverton toward Lander. Perhaps these sudden storms are a common occurrence in this mountain range. It was the only place that we saw any indication of rain on our whole trip.) We looked down on several small lakes, including one with a small log cabin just off the lake on Ranger Creek, crossed moving water on several occasions, and used a narrow plank “walkway” to cross an area of standing water from snow melt, none of which fazed our horses in the slightest. Bear Ears Lake, which turned out to be our ultimate destination, is a lovely lake with a shoreline of rocks and ledge dotted with evergreens. To have climbed as high as we did and then find something so beautiful tucked away within the mountains was especially rewarding.

Shadows were getting long by the time we worked our way back to the ranch. The other horses were restlessly waiting for us to return, knowing that once we did they would all be turned loose for the night to wander and graze. Several of the more dominant horses (the “leaders” of the herd) had cowbells hanging from straps around their necks. We found out that the reason for this was because it made it easier to find them all in the morning. Apparently they sometimes stand just far enough back in the trees that they can’t be seen, but with the bells their slightest movement gives away their location.

Once the horses were run out of camp the quiet closed in. Lindsey went inside the main house to have some supper and get ready for an overnight trip that she was guiding the next day, up to the Cirque of the Towers, [4] and we started our drive back to Lander wondering whether we would be able to survive a night in a tent in order to go to the Cirque ourselves.

The terrain was so very different than what we had experienced in the Salt River Range. There we were riding, for the most part, on ridge lines and through flowered meadows—sheep country, and much gentler—with other mountain ridges piled up one after another eventually opening into long vistas of distant mountain peaks. Today it seemed that we were so high into the mountains ourselves that there weren’t other peaks above us, just long views out onto the plains far below, and there was nothing gentle about the terrain.

Out of all the websites we had visited while planning this trip, and all the phone calls we made and emails we sent in order to get our questions answered, we were both thrilled that we had managed to end up with two such totally different riding experiences and such top-notch outfits with which to ride.

[4] http://www.mountainmancountry.com/attractions/destinations/cirque-of-the-towers.html


LG / 16 March 2011





  Revised 16 March 2011