HIKING at VEDAUWOO
There are a surprising number of trails that thread throughout the Greater Vedauwoo Area
(as well as the adjacent Pole Mountain Area).
While many trails are frequently traveled, there are others that remain in various primitive states and lead to some spectacular terrain. During 2009, I became a full time USFS trail consultant and volunteer. My first major assignment was to define each and every trail from Pole Mountain (the Summit) southwards to USFS Road 700 which, of course, included all of Greater Vedauwoo. To get a general idea of the area we covered (and more), check out this link xxxxxxx. We also worked many interesting trails to the east of Happy Jack Road. Our 3 person unit was tasked with obtaining various parameters including continuous GPS coordinates for every trail as well as recording the nature and type of foot bed, forestation the trails passed through, the approximate difficulty of travel, need for repair, hazards, amount of use, overuse or abuse, exceptional vistas embellishing the area and the general surrounding environment at any given point. This was a summer long escapade of carrying about 20 pounds of GPS equipment and specialized electronics as well as our own gear everywhere we went. We walked, hiked, plodded and puzzled over an estimated 450 miles of trails of all sorts all combined (see images below for examples of the project). Of course we had to do repeat hikes if the data was insufficient or if more detail was needed. We did put on the mileage and wore out 2-3 pairs of footwear in the process.
I do have the original maps that were generated by the US Forest Service from this data (image to right), and it is my lofty, however improbable goal to reproduce maps of all these trails including of course, all ski trails at Pole Mountain which transition into hiking (and biking) trails in the summer months. Besides well known trails, there are footpaths winding through lesser known locations which lead into more obscure resplendent beauty such as in Blair, Brown’s Landing and the Twin Mountain Areas. The shots shown immediately below are only a sampling of our work…..and there are more to come.
In the meantime, we begin with two
well-known, very popular trails in Central Vedauwoo, namely
the Turtle Rock Trail (TRT) and The’Old’ Nature Trail (NT).
THE TURTLE ROCK TRAIL (TRT)
Get a sampling of all that Vedauwoo has to offer by taking a couple of hours (possibly three if you decide to stop off for a brief respite or to explore around) and treat yourself to an easy, informative hike around the Turtle Rock Trail.
Historical Comment: I remember when the USFS decided to put this trail in during 1997. In prior times it was only used by climbers to access remote climbing areas and by other occasional adventurous souls. It consisted mostly of animal trails that were very loosely chained together by common use over the years. However, as the number of visitors increased, it was decided to put in a permanent trail that circumnavigated the entire ‘Central Massif’ loosely called ‘Turtle Rock’.
There are two principal trail heads, either east or west. The west trail head, undoubtedly the most popular, is at the Lower Parking Lot below Walt’s Wall (aka the Holy Saturday trailhead). Look at the diagram below (as seen from above). It shows how the TRT encircles the entire massif, a total distance of about 3.3 miles. Today it is quite user friendly for people of all ages, mostly forested, replete with reflective beaver ponds, bewildering rock formations amidst concentrated forestation, a multitude of wildflowers, occasional deer and moose as well as an overload of attractive vistas. Entire families make the journey with little problem, just bringing water, an energy bar, camera and light rain gear just in case an unexpected storm pops up in the summer months. Much of the trail is forested and the gravel and dirt footbed is mostly obstacle free with modest exceptions here or there. Here’s a map you may find useful, and remember, biking is allowed on the TRT, so be aware. Also, dogs/pets must be leashed.
Beginning at the ‘Holy Saturday’ trail head, one passes westward through a gate (please keep it chained shut) and wanders through a fine aspen grove. About half way through the grove you will pass a rocky outcropping called ‘Chinatown’ on your right where one of the hardest climbs in Vedauwoo is found (named ‘Yasha Hi’) on the overhanging roof high above (Figure 1). Continue a few hundred yards and the Holy Saturday Formation (HS on the schematic and map) is encountered. There is a substantial beaver pond on your left that has been in continuous use for decades (see Figure 2). The trail continues through scenic flora and overgrowth and from here onwards it is quite well forested (Figure 3). At a point where the trail abruptly turns right and uphill (very near #4) is another interesting spot. There is a very large beaver pond on your left, the dam of which forms the principal ‘trail’ to a large formation in the valley beyond to the north called the ‘Valley Massif’, another large, aesthetic rock structure. This dam is usually negotiable although it might not be depending on several variables. You can always see Central Vedauwoo by looking right and up. You are approximately near Glen Dome (GD on the schematic and map) at this point, again shown in Figure 4 (taken from the north side of the beaver pond looking directly southward towards Central Vedauwoo. Both the north faces of Glen Dome (GD) and Turtle Rock.(TR) are seen as is the TRT turning decidedly up and right at the arrow. Moving along the trail will become rather flattened out and if you look to the east you will see The Reynold’s Formation, a complex of beautiful rock towers across the valley (shown somewhat closer in Figure 5). The trail then takes to occasional bedrock for a distance and rounds a corner where there it intersects with another trail coming in from the east. Past this there is an enjoyable glade including lush pine and aspen forestation as well as a small stream with a miniature waterfall. Shortly thereafter, you will cross through another chained gate which is near a convenient privy. Keep to the trail at this point, not the paved road. The trail then wanders through a boggy area next to another sizable beaver pond in which one usually finds a wide variety of flowering plants enclosed within a pleasant aspen glade. As you proceed, another formidable rock structure comes into view named ‘Holdout’ near position #6 on the trail map. The trail continues wandering through well-forested terrain, passing Holdout and intersecting with Road #702. Crossing the road, one begins the final downward trail ending in the parking lot near the ‘Holy Saturday Trailhead’ from where you began your journey.
THE ‘OLD’ NATURE TRAIL (NT)
There is some colorful history associated with the Nature Trail, a one-of-a-kind trail with beginnings long before 1900. As with other hidden corners of Vedauwoo, this place was most probably either occupied or used in some form or fashion by the local Indians of the time. We do know that as tiehacks denuded most of vedauwoo for railroad ties in the 1860’s, they seemed to leave much of the ‘old growth’ forest intact here. Some mention was made of contacts with ‘inhabitants’ of the ‘hideout’ called ‘Robber’s Roost’ at that time. Did this refer to the Box Canyon? ‘Hiwaymen’ were definitely known to roam this area. Whatever the case, there was certainly a trail leading into this more remote part of the area when the original namesake play called ‘Vedauwoo’ was performed on the natural rock ‘stage’ immediately south of the Fall Wall area in 1924. During the next decade, the Civilian Conservation Corps was tasked with revival and renovation of the Vedauwoo area and it was decided to make the Box Canyon more accessible and attractive for visitors. It was meant to display many of the ‘natural wonders’ present here. A dirt road was plowed from the main ‘Vedauwoo Glen’ parking area up into the heart of the canyon (see BCT on Fig. 1, a schematic diagram). Picnic sites were scattered along the way. At it’s terminus, a small parking lot was leveled out and a privy and fresh water supply were installed. From here, a winding trail was constructed with great difficulty up the southern flank of Glen Dome,
Figure 1 below is a generalized topographic view of this effort where the road is marked BCT, a bridge and parking area is indicated (red dot) and NT is the approximate course of the Nature Trail. The bridge (Figure 2), built over a deep drainage gully, is a much more recent addition to the area and it essentially marks the beginning of the Nature trail today. Originally, handrails were installed along the trail, paths were carved through obstacles (Figure 3), and footbridges and wooden stairs were built up and over difficult areas (Figures 4, 5), Metal underlayment stabilized the trail in places (Figure 6) and flat rocks formed stairways (Figure 7). At the top near the west flank of Glen Dome, there was an ‘observation area’ surrounded by handrails from which a vast area of Greater Vedauwoo and Pole Mountain came into view. Figure 8 shows terrain stretching as far north as The Summit of I-80, much of the Pole Mountain terrain and Blair is seen. Figure 8a, a more westerly view, indicates Jurassic Park (a popular climbing area) in the foreground valley and Poland Hill near the horizon.
AND SO THE NATURE TRAIL CAME TO LIFE.
(numbers correspond to figures above)
Historical comment. While many of the features described above still exist and are useable today, it should be noted for historical purposes that wanton vandalism and destructive mischief took a toll on the area during the later eighties. The privy was literally blown off its foundation with explosives, the fresh water pump was dragged off it’s cement moorings, handrails were torn out and picnic tables were burned by persons unknown. (This illegal mischief took place throughout Greater Vedauwoo to one degree or another.) Unfortunately, efforts to curtail this destructive behavior were not effective and the facilities were finally left unrepaired after several attempts by the USFS to deal with the problem. The refuse was removed and the road was closed off for several years.
Ratchet forwards in time and what one finds today is a newly paved, handicapped accessible ‘loop-pathway’ leading part way up the canyon from the main parking area (Fig 1 and 2 below) complete with new picnic sites (Fig 3) and a gravel trail (Fig 4) continues up into the old parking lot, now overgrown and returning to it’s natural state. It is here that the new bridge is encountered and the ‘old’ Nature Trail begins as described above.
Of additional interest, especially for climbers looking for access to the ‘Land of the Rising Moon’, is that shortly after the footbridge seen in figure 4 above, the trail takes a decidedly sharp left turn. At this spot, one can bushwhack up a drainage gully directly northwards which eventually leads to this rather remote climbing area. This is illustrated by the broken yellow line on the large map above.