One of many trip reports by Alan Silverstein.
Last update: June 9, 2008
The Fort Collins Rockhounds Club has led occasional field trips to Shirley Basin, a huge, remote area of gravel roads north of Laramie, for at least ten years. Last year I took ten people to several sites I'd found, and one that was shown to me a decade ago. We left town mid-Saturday and camped overnight. This year, Sheryl Remmels jumped in to lead a similar trip. But, to support folks wanting a day-only outing, we left Fort Collins a lot earlier on Saturday morning than we did last year.
We lucked into gorgeous weather. We had relatively calm conditions, creeks running high, but roads mostly dry. Antelope everywhere.
Seven vehicles departed the old meeting location at Knights of Columbus, near downtown Fort Collins, at about 6:30 am. (Groan... I think I woke up at about 7 am...) We had an uneventful drive to Laramie, where we met up with six more vehicles from the Cheyenne club. That made a very large caravan, 13 cars all together, and 20 people!
There being sufficient interest, we went first to a labradorite site -- with ilmenite, in anorthosite lenses. This was a 22-mile each-way side-trip off WY30 near Bosler, on the road through the mountains northeast to Wheatland. We had trouble recognizing the right road cut based on the mileage. A couple of miles further up the road, we pulled off (all 13 cars) to talk about it. One club member had researched a similar labradorite site on MinDat, whose GPS coordinates put it about nine miles away -- about 10 miles back down the road, and some more miles up a side road. We decided we'd head there.
But, on the way back, noting highway mile markers, suddenly it was obvious that a big gray road cut was the original destination. We stopped there, and sure enough there was grainy gray crystalline labradorite in whitish anorthosite, with some veins of dense purple-brown ilmenite. We didn't find much blue/green sheen, but enough to confirm the location.
People crawled all over the steep face of the cut. After a while everyone was satisfied. We decided to head straight for the ex-Anderson's Sheep Creek Ranch in Shirley Basin, many miles away, where we had permission from the new owners/leasors to hunt that day. Sheryl asked me to lead the group there, and one person requested a bathroom break first if possible.
It turned out that there was a general store open in Rock River along the way, about 30 minutes northwest. I pulled off, the other 12 cars followed, and we descended upon it like miller moths. Here, Sheryl learned that a couple of folks wanted to go straight to the "BLM site" and leave sooner. So she'd take them directly there, passing through the Ranch without stopping.
Somehow the word didn't get around, and instead of three cars, seven took off ahead with her. We didn't see the other group until later that afternoon or evening, but, "a good time was had by all."
That left me with six vehicles and about 10 people. We continued five miles west toward Medicine Bow, then turned north onto the gravel Marshall Road about ten miles short of town. Five miles up, we took a break on the crest of a hill for a little sightseeing, then some explanation from me about what lay ahead. No good rockhounding here, I thought, based on past scouting. Wrong! Jenny Leffler found gypsum or selenite in a dry channel by the road. We had to check that out before leaving.
Finally we crossed the cattle guard onto the Ranch, about 25 miles from the pavement, and parked a short distance beyond, at about 12:30. It was a cool, partly cloudy, breezy day, excellent for walking around outdoors, with wide-open views across green rolling plains to distant peaks. I invited people to drive short bits up the road as they desired, and walk west at different points down the bluffs toward Sheep Creek to hunt for alluvial agates and jaspers. After a few hours of leapfrogging, we were strung out over a few tenths of a mile, all having a good time.
There was copious material here, although somewhat smaller and with less banded jasper than further north. I had a GPS waypoint for the previous location, but I wasn't sure if it was at the "north fence" or a little further down the road where it crossed Sheep Creek. I did know it was nearly three miles away!
During the afternoon, some people headed on to the campsite (about ten miles distant), and some went back home. By about 5 pm, "Survivor, Sheep Creek Ranch" was down to two cars and three people. We drove north from our last foray location, and I discovered to my amazement that it was still 2.1 miles along the road to the north fence. In other words, two more miles of the embankment has never been hunted at all!
After this, I wanted to check out a possible side-trip I'd been told about by Dean Anderson last fall, before he sold the land (to our surprise). We followed his directions, as I'd gotten them by phone, and they kind of worked. We found a pond and a side-road, but never any "diggings" location... Also no good way to shortcut north to the road east to the campsite. We ended up driving nearly 6 miles in a loop on two-tracker trails down to Sheep Creek and back, returning to the Marshall road about 2.6 miles north of where we left it, just a bit south of the Boot Heel. But it was incredibly pretty with sage and yellow wildflowers -- golden banner, I think. And a rich fragrance was in the air.
Finally back on the main road, we continued north and east over to the site on BLM land that I discovered a few years ago, where we camped last year too. It was on a flat hilltop running east/west between forks of Sheep Creek. There were already five cars parked, and many tents up; we made seven, and 14 people, for the night.
It was breezy from the west, then it turned windy from the east, and overcast, before sunset. But it mostly calmed down by the time it got dark, everyone including me came back from collecting on the hillsides nearby, and we started a campfire. By Wyoming standards, it was utterly peaceful.
The last of the group finally broke off conversation and headed for bed at about 11 pm. Fuzzy stars were visible here and there. Also we saw what had to be the International Space Station cross to the north from west to east.
By morning it was completely calm, dewy, and only a little chilly. As soon as the sun came up it began to actually get hot! One car departed before sunrise, and others throughout the day. Me, well, I grabbed Major King and some of his gear after he got back from photographing an eagle nest. We left his despairing (well not really) wife and son behind to rock hunt and make their own way home, and took off in my car a little after 8 am.
We explored our way east toward Friend Park and Laramie Peak, including backing up about half a mile on one two-tracker "short cut" road that got into serious 4WD terrain. After about 25 total miles, including uphill on the winding, muddy, rutted Esterbrook road, we arrived at the trailhead. We had it all to ourselves, paid the $5 (ouch, two years ago it was $2), and took off on foot at 9:45 am.
The trailhead area at about 7700' was dry, and we saw little snow above on the 10,272' peak. What we didn't know was that it was hidden by the trees!
We started downhill to the main stream crossing at 7600', then back up. The creeks were running full and lovely. After more than an hour, high on the west slope of the mountain, deep in forest, we started seeing a little snow along the trail, then more, until we were climbing over it, or falling into it, postholing along. After a few tedious hundred yards, the ground was almost completely covered with "pillow snow blobs", and we could hardly follow the trail.
After sitting and snacking for a while, we had to give up the effort, which wasn't easy to accept. We were at about 9100', meaning we'd climbed 1600' total, and had about 1200' to go. It was just out of the question to try to get to the top through all those cold, wet marshmallows. Our boots were already soggy, and we were tired of repeatedly and unexpectedly plunging through to our knees or waists.
For some strange reason we decided to head straight down the hill rather than retracing our postholes along the trail. We ended up being "sucked into" a steep, overgrown, snowy gully full of downed timber. It was very difficult going, even downhill. I was impressed that Major did it all with one hand while carrying a bulky video camera tripod on his shoulder!
We missed the trail, which was out of the gully to our left, and didn't find it again until we'd dropped about 500'. After that, it was simply a stroll back down to the car at 3:15 pm. So we had a fine 5.5-hour walk in the woods, gorgeous scenery, a tiring workout, and a nice conversation -- but no summit.
After leaving Friend Park we turned south rather than north, aiming to take a direct route back to the WY 30 pavement near Bosler. Well that didn't happen either. About 6.5 miles south, we encountered a rushing torrent of a creek across the gravel road (no bridge), at least three feet deep... I waded out until the water nearly reached my pockets, and I still wasn't in the middle. Bummer! No way we were driving across that. Nor was the Forest Service truck, out on patrol, that we'd played tag with for a while, that showed up soon after we did.
It was a real downer. The day was getting late and we had a long(er) drive home. We had to turn around and return about 10 miles north to the Esterbrook road. At the junction, now 4:30, I decided to turn right to Glendo instead of left back to the Fetterman Road in Shirley Basin. In hindsight that was the right decision.
I think it was 30 or more miles to the pavement. We hit a lot more bumps and mud -- and a few miles out of Glendo, we had no choice but to cross our fingers and gun the car through another major pond on the road -- but we ended up on I25 and then in Cheyenne for a fast food dinner before 7 pm. I delivered Major and a few of his rocks to his home in Fort Collins before dark.