Bighorn Basin and Lowlands

The last week of our Spring 2021 trip were spent in and around the Bighorn Mountains of north-central Wyoming. It turned out to not be nearly enough time: I was instantly smitten with the dramatic canyons leading into the high country, not to mention the extensive meadows, forested slopes, and alpine tundra above, and was already preparing a return trip before we left.

Though the drive to our camp at the western base of the Bighorn Range was a fairly short one we decided to take an extra day and see a bit of the basin, specifically the mammoth Bighorn Reservoir that stretches the length of the 72-mile canyon. It’s incredible length meant we of course only scratched the surface in our explorations of the national recreation area that day but we had the opportunity to see multiple vantage points of the canyon from hundreds of feet above as well as get down to the water level at a couple places. And, perhaps most memorable, was the chance to see a roadside bighorn sheep who happily posed while I snapped pictures out the window.

Our home for the next 6 nights was a campground in the tiny town of Shell poised at the mouth of one of the aforementioned canyons that accessed the high country above. Shell is fairly low in elevation and it was quite hot while we were staying there but since we spent most of the daylight hours prowling the mountains, it was bearable for the few warm hours we were there in the evenings — provided that Abby could lounge in the cool manicured grass adjacent to our RV spot. She and I took a few short strolls along the creek running along the back of the property after dinnertime but overall she was much more interested in napping in the grass below the leafy trees as long as the sun was up.

Because of the relentless heat the three of us did a minimum of lower elevation explorations during our days there but our walk along Shell Creek just uphill from camp was one of nicest, allowing us to see up close some of the massive basement granite canyon walls. This bedrock, exposed by the downcutting of the creek, is as old as 2.5 billion years. The newly leafed out cottonwoods and greened-up banks were an additional bonus. But all this was just a taste of the beauty that lay above in the high meadows and forest.