Chasing the Ghost of Jim Bridger – Three Great Wyoming Century Bike Rides

0
767

By David Collins — Candidates for the most legendary mountain man of the 19th century surely include Jedidiah Smith, John C. Fremont, and Kit Carson. But scholars of the American West often top the list with Jim Bridger and although he died nearly 150 years ago, his ghost still roams the mountains, valleys, and endless canyons of Wyoming.

These three century rides crisscross some of Jim’s favorite stomping grounds. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself thirsty, a little calorie deprived and looking twice over your shoulder because the first time you looked, you could have sworn you saw the old mountain man galloping by your side with a bunch of prime beaver pelts lashed to his saddlebags.

Excursions and explorations are part of the fun of unsupported bicycle touring at your own pace. Mileage estimates are approximate and may vary depending on your tracking system and whims of the ride. Be sure to tell someone your plans and allow them to track your location using a smartphone or other device.

Solo or unsupported distance cycling often presents potentially dangerous situations related to terrain, weather, equipment, traffic, navigation, and mental awareness. Even experienced cyclists must plan carefully and use wise judgment to successfully mitigate inherent risks of the sport or end a ride before it turns injurious or deadly. If you are new to the sport or have never ridden a bicycle more than 100 miles in a single day, learn the ropes with a seasoned buddy or local cycling club before strapping on these rides.

Make sure to check maps, plan your route and check local road conditions before you go. As with any ride, be aware of your surroundings and of roadway traffic.

Ready to ride? Not quite yet. First, learn more about Bridger by reading one of his biographies; I recommend J. Cecil Alter’s Jim Bridger or Jerry Enzler’s Jim Bridger: Trailblazer of the American West.

Now, it’s finally time to fill water bottles, stuff gear bags, click in and start pedaling through some of Jim Bridger’s Wyoming.

Riverton to Basin

Route:

North on Hwy 26 to Shoshoni, east on Hwy 20 through Thermopolis, then north on Hwy 433 in Worland. At the dead-end of Hwy 433, turn west on Hwy 789 to Basin. 115 Miles.

Terrain:

All paved. Bighorn River pathway, Wind River Canyon, steady rolling climbs and dips and extended flats.

Riverton to Basin ride. Photo by David Collins
What to See:

Historic Riverton, site of 1830s trapper rendezvous. Ghosts of Jim Bridger, Kit Carson and Moses “Black” Harris still ride the town breezeways (every summer Riverton hosts a re-enactment the annual gathering); Wind River Indian Reservation lands; Boysen Reservoir; Wind River Scenic Byway with the striking red and yellow rock of the Owl Creek Mountains, often speckled with mountain sheep; layers of rock marked with interpretive geological era signage; the world’s largest mineral hot spring (according to Thermopolis signs); Wyoming Dinosaur Center; remote rural farms and ranches, small townships and historic markers related to other Jim Bridger rendezvous points.

From Riverton to Basin ride. Photo by David Collins
Selfies and Photo Ops:

Scenic Wind River Canyon is loaded with dramatic backdrops of cliffs, riversides and winding road shots; signs of geological interest throughout the Wind River Canyon; Thermopolis sites including: Smoking Waters buffalo sign, hot springs banks and river sites, Teepee Fountains, distinctive hill/plateau thumb sticking out of the valley (turn around to see it as you exit Thermopolis and climb the first ridgeline). Trail of the Whispering Giants Indian Brave statue near the turn in Worland; Welcome to Basin rock and timber sign; Big Horn County courthouse.

Wildlife:

Big horn sheep, elk, deer, mountain lions, bobcats, black bears, golden eagles, osprey and other raptures, lizards, snakes, foxes, coyotes, porcupines, and possums.

Best Post-Ride Eats:

Copper Corner Cafe. Good home cooking served on a flashy copper bar. A bowl of Copper Chili is hard to beat on a cold day, but if it’s warm outside and you are sundrenched from the day’s ride, tuck into a Rebel Burger and some Cloud Peak Nachos chased by a butterscotch or huckleberry milkshake and finished off with a homemade slice of pie. When there are few eateries to choose from in town, it can turn out to be a bad day. That’s not the case in Basin thanks to The Copper Corner Cafe.

Still Have Legs, Lungs, and Sunlight?

Pull your sandals out of your saddlebag and hike Quarry Trail in Thermopolis. The one-mile loop begins and ends at Smoky Row Cemetery*, located in the Buffalo Pasture. It’s a short but challenging hike (beware of buffalo).

*According to the town’s visitor guide, Smoky Row Cemetery dates “back to the 1890s. Seated in a gulch east of Star Plunge, Smoky Row was living quarters for the hot springs’ earliest western visitors. Among those buried there are: Mollie Koshear, who slipped over the falls into

the river; Augernose Jane; Jack Berry, an old soldier who dove into the first swimming pool and was killed; and a nameless woman, described as very large.”

Two Park Centuries Back-to-Back

Yellowstone National Park officially turns 150 years old this year. Decades before that, the region hosted Jim Bridger and other mountain men who spread stories of its abundant wildlife, amazing mud pots, geysers, falls and other wonders. In 1929, Grand Teton National Park was created to protect the Teton Range and the lakes on the east side of the mountains. Bridger first visited Jackson Hole and the broader region of the Tetons more than 100 years earlier. These two rides flow through the area with grace and a little vigor at times, treating cyclists to some of the same sights and smells of JB’s yesteryear.

1. Alpine Junction to Flagg Ranch Resort

Route:

Ride east out of Alpine Junction, on Hwy 26 to Jackson Hole, stay on Hwy 26 headed north out of Jackson, then turn north on Hwy 89 at Moran to Flagg Ranch Resort. 97 Miles.

Terrain:

All paved. Skirts the Snake River up the canyon on winding roads through Jackson Hole traffic over many climbs (total day’s elevation gain of 3,913 ft.) and through flats and forests.

From the Alpine Junction to Flagg Ranch Resort ride. Photo by David Collins
What to See:

Snake River with seasonal anglers, rafters, kayakers and wildlife cavorting in its chilly waters; banks of evergreen trees on sunlit slopes; stark cliff sides (cutaways to make room for the road); Jackson Square; National Elk Refuge just north of Jackson Hole; National Museum of Wildlife Art (even if you don’t stop to go inside, briefly detour up the short access road to the building – it’s worth the view of the elk refuge across the street below); stunning views of the Grand Tetons from more angles than you can imagine including distant majestic panoramas and close-ups from the shoreline of Jackson Lake.

Cyclist on Alpine Junction to Flagg Ranch Resort ride. Photo by David Collins
Selfies and Photo Ops:

As you slip up the canyon from Alpine Junction, turn around and see the Snake River flowing down the canyon; dozens of other river backdrops from high above or down in the river bottoms next to the banks; Welcome to Jackson signs; the famous four corners of Jackson square adorned with huge walk-through arches made out of elk horns; Million Dollar Cowboy Bar on the square; National Museum of Wildlife Art statues and signs; giant lodge pole sign marking the entrance to Grand Teton National Park; Be Bear Aware signs and of course the Grand Tetons. There are so many Teton related photo ops it’s a little ridiculous but don’t get so spoiled with them along the way that you forget to snap a few.

Wildlife:

Grizzly bears, black bear, moose, elk, deer, mountain lions, otters, beaver, mink, bobcats, golden eagles, osprey and other raptures, trophy fish, lizards, snakes, wolves, foxes, coyotes, porcupines, and possums.

Best Post-Ride Eats:

Sheffield’s Restaurant at Headwaters Lodge. It’s a great breakfast joint to get you on your way for tomorrow morning’s ride to Old Faithful. More about that ride later, but for now, let Elk medallions with huckleberry sauce or grilled salmon with miso ginger glaze and mango pico de gallo decorate your supper table. Foodie’s food served in a casual lodge atmosphere without the snootiness you may expect when you see items like that on the menu. Needless to say, they serve quality proteins in suitable quantities for your recovery efforts from the long day in the saddle. Earlier in the day, you’ll also get to choose from dozens of tasty nosh options in Jackson Hole to help fuel the rest of the ride.

Still Have Legs, Lungs, and Sunlight?

Pedal over to Teton Village just 13 miles east of Jackson; the views along the way are worth the detour and the resort area features a few easy stops for snacks, goodies, and keepsakes. Make a note to ride the tram up the mountain when you have some extra time (where you can eat tasty homemade waffles at the little alpine hut on the mountain top).

Notes:
  • There are multiple bike paths over several miles of the ride. They may be helpful but sometimes the grade makes them less desirable than staying on the highway.
  • Use extra care for a few miles just north of Hoback Junction due to narrow road conditions with little or no shoulders.

2. Flagg Ranch Resort to Old Faithful Inn (around the big loop)

Route:

Ride north on Hwy 89 to West Thumb, turn east on Grand Loop Road and ride up and around the fat part of the loop until you reach Old Faithful Inn (with a required short detour to see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone). 109 miles. 4,991 ft total elevation gain.

Terrain:

All paved. Several noteworthy climbs and crossings of the Continental Divide, lakeshore flats and broad meadow crossings.

Cyclist on Flagg Ranch Resort to Old Faithful Inn ride. Photo by David Collins
What to See:

West Thumb Geyser Basin; Otter Creek; Potts Hot Spring Basin; Yellowstone Lake shoreline; Bridge Bay; Lake Village; Lake Junction; Fishing Bridge; Hayden Valley; Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River; Artist Point; Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone; Canyon Village; Virginia Meadows; Norris Museum; Gibbon River Rapids; Chocolate Pots; Gibbon Geyser Basin; Beryl Spring; Iron Spring; Madison Junction; Cascades of the Firehole; Firehole Canyon; Fountain Paint Pot; Excelsior; Grand Prismatic Spring; Upper Geyser Basin; Old Faithful Geyser; Morning Glory – found at the end of a short walk on the boardwalks at Old Faithful.

Selfies and Photo Ops:

Welcome to Yellowstone signs; Continental Divide signs throughout the ride and every point mentioned in the What to See section above feature great photo backgrounds; in addition, pay close attention, because traveling at bicycle speed, you will find little gem photo ops missed by fellow park visitors traveling in cars and RVs. Perhaps you’ll see otters in the creek (maybe even in Otter Creek), wildlife peeking out from the edge of the forest line of trees or fish swimming right up to the shoreline in the clear waters. And if you stop for a minute at Hayden Valley and pull out the monocular from your gear bag, you might spot a wolf or a bear or two across the valley. In any event, the valley offers unbeatable photo backdrops. There are so many other photo ops in the park, you might have to ration yourself so you can enjoy the ride in real time too.

Wildlife:

Grizzly bears, black bear, moose, elk, deer, mountain lions, otters, beaver, mink, bobcats, golden eagles, osprey and other raptors, trophy fish, lizards, snakes, wolves, foxes, coyotes, porcupines, and possums.

Best Post-Ride Eats:

The Old Faithful Inn Dining Room. Yes, the food is good but look up! The inside timber is impressive and the whole place gives off unforgettable vibes. Back to the restaurant; be sure to get reservations (they are only available to overnight in-park lodging and campground guests and can be made up to 60 days prior to arrival). The menu changes often and you usually have to visit the restaurant to see it. Their claim to provide good eats for “most any taste and budget” is true. They put out quality meats, sweet desserts, and other broad selections of delicious food. It’s a casual meal in an unforgettable lodge with the world’s most iconic geyser right outside.

Still Have Legs, lungs, and Sunlight?

Turn north at Norris Junction and ride about six miles to Roaring Mountain. It’s a large thermal area that has many fumaroles on the western slope that hiss and pop. It can be seen and sometimes heard from the road.

Notes:
  • Be bear aware throughout the ride.
  • Check road status before you go since some sections of the ride are closed in shoulder seasons and winter.

Bridger Bonus

Hungry for more saddle miles in Jim Bridger country? Checkout the Bridger Valley Historic Byway in SW Wyoming. It’s a 20-mile loop that includes Fort Bridger, Urie, Mountain View and Lyman. Plan to spend extra time at Fort Bridger. They have museums, markers and buildings that tell important stories about Bridger’s life and influence related to historic trails that converge nearby including the California/Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, the Pony Express Route, the Transcontinental Railroad, and the Lincoln Highway.

 

(Visited 187 times, 1 visits today)

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here