Welcome to Part 2 of 7 (maybe 6, maybe 8) of our Oregon Trail 2017 series. Check back every Friday for the latest installment
Here’s something that isn’t enjoyable at all when camping: being cold. Being cold sucks! Stumbling out of a tent at the crack of dawn, dirty and smelling of smoke is probably my least favorite part of camping. Being completely unprepared for 30 degree temps on top of that is something I would not recommend.
I can make this recommendation because this is precisely what I remember from our first morning. On most camping trips, I like to wake up early and get things somewhat organized to roll out of camp in a couple of hours, as well as find a place to wash up a bit, so that I don’t feel dirty all day. On this morning, I was quickly in Dudley, ripping through my bag, finding all the layers I possibly could.
Payton woke up not too long after me, and it was nice to see him alive after he slept through most of the previous evening. We had made the mistake of burning all of our firewood the night before, so the cold was just something we would have to deal with.
Breakfast for the morning was sausage and potatoes, cooked over our camp stove. Or, for Payton, just potatoes, since he’s vegetarian. Camp cooking is something we all like to think we’re better at than we actually are, and the sausage was burned on the outside, while cool on the inside. The potatoes seemed barely even cooked. Cold potatoes for breakfast suck!
Our destination for the day would be the Cottonwood Lake campground in Wyoming. Nestled in the mountains just south of the Tetons, we didn’t really have any clue on what to expect from this campground. What we did know however, was it was nearly 500 miles away, which meant we had another full day ahead of us.
After making a quick stop to change the ice in our coolers, and to pick up some stickers, we said goodbye to Grand Lake, and headed north. Our drive on Highway 125 through Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest would have been beautiful, if it had not been for the fact that Kael had taken his first turn at the wheel for the trip.
To just say Kael is a bad driver is not completely fair. Yes, Kael is a bad driver. Not for the reasons you would usually guess however. He doesn’t speed, he doesn’t get on his phone, he isn’t distracted. Kael, as I mentioned in Part 1, is a very smart man. Probably too smart for his own good. He overthinks driving to a fault. Constantly considering every possible bend or incline in the road, the speed limit, other traffic. He may sound like a perfectly responsible driver! It can be excruciating as a passenger though. Watching Kael slow down to 10 below the speed limit, to go around turns that didn’t require a change in speed at all is enough to drive me mad.
After not too long, we were out of the mountains. Into the high desert that would become the backdrop for the day ahead. We made a quick stop at an interesting little shop in what clearly used to be someone’s house not too far past the Colorado/Wyoming state line, before pressing even further north.
Wyoming, at first, was an extremely cool place for all of us. None of us had ever been anywhere like it. The vast, never ending landscape was capturing, and it’s hard to explain this unless you’ve seen it. There’s nothing there, at all! Yet it’s so cool to just, look at. Heading north towards Saratoga, we began to notice trails off the highway that led to the edges of cliffs that appeared to have amazing views. We found one on the map that looked legit, and hit some dirt for the first time on the trip.
I’m still not sure if the trail we pulled off on was a county road or a private ranch road. It was open range, and driving within a few feet of someone else’s cattle is a bit unnerving. We found a spur that took a steep path up the side of a hill, and parked Dudley to get to the top by foot.
We were not disappointed by the views at all. The pictures however, are slightly disappointing. They don’t capture just how huge this ranch land was.
Small adventures like these are really what make a trip like this. Did we have any clue where we were really? No! Were we trespassing on someone’s land? Probably! Was this a super cool, non touristy place? Yeah!
We’d hit I-80 soon after we got back on the highway. We would be very familiar with I-80 by the end of our trip it turned out. We set off west, with the empty Wyoming landscape becoming a bit less interesting.
Our plan had been to hit Rawlins just in time to enjoy some lunch and pick up some groceries for the next couple of days. On all of our maps, Rawlins looked like a pretty major city! We missed it the first time by on the interstate. It’s not a small town by any means, but you would expect it to be bigger since there’s nothing else around.
After picking up our groceries, the debate on where to eat our lunch began. We had the stuff for deli sandwiches that day, but it quickly became apparent that Rawlins may not have many options for us to enjoy a picnic lunch and stretch our legs.
Another fun thing about Rawlins, the cell phone service sucks! By that I mean, there is no cell phone service! I’m actually fairly convinced that there isn’t any cell service anywhere in all of Wyoming. We saw a lot of Wyoming. This made a simple task, like finding a park, slightly more challenging. Eventually we found something resembling such, with a picnic structure.
After enjoying our very windy picnic and topping off the tank, we were back on the interstate. The interstate in Wyoming, sucks. The speed limit is 80! This was new to us, and actually did not suck! The wind however, sucked a lot. It was loud. I’m thankful now that Dudley wasn’t lifted and on all terrain tires for this trip, because this section of interstate would have been nearly undrivable. The road work was excruciating. Stretches of 20 mile long two lane interstate are straight out of hell.
This was how we spent most of our day. Payton and I taking turns driving and napping. The only thing keeping us at attention were these wonderful billboards we followed for well over a hundred miles, advertising a place called “Little America”. Little America, on a map, appears to be a town. Little America is not a town. Little America is quite possibly the most extra rest stop anywhere in the country. Maybe the world.
After enjoying some 99 cent ice cream cones inside and admiring the endless souvenirs, we briefly returned to the interstate before turning off on Highway 30, finally heading north again. We were still close to two hours away, and I was getting worried about how much daylight we’d have by the time we got to camp.
Despite this, I couldn’t pass up a chance for another cancellation in my National Parks Passport at the Fossil Butte National Monument, and Payton couldn’t miss a chance to nerd out, so we made a quick stop. Fossil Butte is actually a pretty neat place, if you’re into like, rocks and stuff!
The day had definitely exhausted us, and the hour and a half ahead of us felt like ages. Real mountains finally returning to view definitely helped, as did knowing that we were camping deep in them tonight.
I don’t completely remember how I came across the Cottonwood Lake Campground. It was one of the only campgrounds I could find near The Grand Tetons/Yellowstone that had any availability and could be reserved online, so we jumped at it.
The road in was rough and tight, but this seemed like a good sign. As did the amount of traffic leaving for the night it seemed. We arrived at the entrance of the campground and were greeted by a big map, which was nice! What was not nice was the lack of information we had on the site we reserved, and it didn’t appear there were any hosts available. We found the group site loop, which had five or six sites, and only one was occupied. None of them seemed to be reserved under our name though, so we picked our favorite and set up camp.
We gathered loads of dead fall to build our fire with for the night, but as hungry as we were, we wanted to get some exploring in before we ran out of sunlight. This was not a mistake.
When people ask me the coolest place that I’ve ever been, like in my entire life, Cottonwood Lake is my answer. I've been a lot of cool places! Why you ask? Look at this.
This seemingly little known or used campground is absolutely breathtaking. There are loads of creeks and trails surrounding the lake, weaving between the campsites, which are all secluded from one another. It was hard to be too salty about the $30 we had paid for our site, when we could have just showed up and camped there anyways.
Eventually though, we did run out of sunlight, and gathered around the fire to cook our dinner as the cool mountain air set in for yet another night. This night, would be a realization of something I could only dream of the last couple of years.
Here I was, with my best friends, in the middle of the mountains in Wyoming. We didn’t really know where we were. No one else had any clue at all where we were. We were at an amazing, secluded lake. No people around. No sounds. Just our fire, the trees, the mountains, and plenty of stars.
Wyoming sucked. It would suck even more the next day. This part though, it didn’t suck at all.