Sunday, 8 September 2013

Farewell Road Trip (3): Bear baffling, gold and whiskey

View from top of Mt Zirkel - still lots of snow at 12,000ft
Our first backpack (overnight hike) was to the Mt Zirkel wilderness. It was a short afternoon hike across stunning wildflower meadows, surrounded by butterflies, to the base of the mountain where we made our camp next to a tarn.  We introduced Nicky to our plastic bear barrel (designed so bears cannot open it or take it away, just stare angrily at the food inside, (it occasionally baffled us too)) and the 'trowel and ziploc bag' approach to bathroom breaks. 

An alarm at 5.30am saw us climb Mt Zirkel (12,182ft/3713m) on another perfect morning with views into the utterly empty wilderness beyond.  On our return we heard howling and barking across the valley - a hiker later told us a pack of coyotes had brought down one of the young elk we'd seen at sunrise.

Miner's Inn Delight's very own bluebird...
A long drive through the Great Basin Desert (it felt a long way from the Vancouver rainforest) brought us to Atlantic City, Wyoming. Part of a trio of old Gold Rush towns (a big cause of settlement in the West), the first town, South Pass City (once the biggest town north of San Francisco) has been fully restored, complete with general store (operational) and brothel (not operational). 

Our town of Atlantic City was still lived in by 'real' people: its original mercantile was still operating in all its 19th century wooden-panelling-and-stuffed-animal glory; it had Wyoming's most essential small town retail outlet, the gun store, run by one 'Wild Bill'; and our B&B, the original 19th century saloon.  The final town, Miner's Delight, has been left to gently disappear into the sage brush; dilapidated wooden cabins with roof slats slapping in the wind and brush growing over the cemetery.

and it's very own whiskey selection...
All reason enough to visit, but as our B&B (Miner's Delight Inn) also had the best whiskey selection in the West and a nest of mountain bluebirds, it seemed only right to spend to stay two nights.  Our middle day was spent exploring the towns and the nearby Red Rock canyon.  On our way back on dirt roads, we pulled over to take a photo and when Mark turned the key, the car wouldn't start.  

It didn't take us long to consider our options: the only nearby deserted house had two barking guard dogs on duty and we had zero mobile phone reception, so I hitched a ride back to our B&B so we could call the AAA.  As the operator couldn't understand where we were (they only seem to know the highways) and we were 30 miles away from the nearest small town, I was sceptical when she said a mechanic would be with us in 15 minutes.  

and our very own miner's cabin
But sure enough, as we all sat downhearted by the car, fearing our road trip was over, a pick-up pulled up containing Wild Bill from the gun store, who doubled up as the town mechanic.  A litre of oil later (Subarus guzzle the stuff on steep roads) and we were on our way, now fully in love with small town Wyoming.  

Next stop: Grand Teton.
The sagebrush desert reclaims one of the miner's cabins

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