After a week of glorious, blue-sky warm weather, last Friday dawned grey and cold, the sky shrouded in smoke from wildfires in Montana. And although I assumed the haze would lift and the day get brighter, instead it just got damper and more bleak as the day progressed ... quite the anomaly during this glorious Wyoming summer.
So it probably wasn’t the best day to choose to go on an all-day adventure ride ... but the prospect of exploring deeper into the Big Horn National Forest with my home girl wrangler Leah and long-time guest Alex Lesko was too tempting to resist. Alex, who has been coming to Paradise for 20 years, loves to find new trails, and it’s her ambition “to find a trail from Paradise to China”. She can often be seen hiking or riding, map in hand, following coordinates and happily getting lost.
(Alex and Leah studying the map)
Our destination for the day was the evocatively named Cougar Canyon. This is one of the established all-day rides, but Alex wanted to try a different route, forging a new trail from the back of the Chuckwagon meadow, along a jeep trail, then down a rocky minor trail marked with pink ribbons before emerging in the canyon.
As we entered the pine forest at trail marker #42, the ambience just got spookier and spookier. There was an eerie, dim light in the silent forest, and it was at least 10 degrees cooler in there. As we picked our way down the trail, a grove of pines began to blow in a gusty breeze, creaking as if they were about to fall. It felt like a scene from a Japanese samurai movie; I half expected to see ninjas flying backwards through the treetops.
(spooky pine forest)
Emerging from the trees into the mouth of Cougar Canyon, our movie location shifted to medieval Scotland. The light was soft and grey, the hills shrouded in mist, and the jagged bluffs were stark against the broody sky. The canyon is indeed spectacular, red cliffs soaring above rolling green meadows cut by a creek - nearly as dramatic as Crazy Woman Canyon, only so unexpected.
(the mouth of Cougar Canyon)
I can’t wait to see this gorgeous location on a sunny day; it must rate as one of the wildest and coolest places I’ve come across in my riding adventures.
With the weather refusing to warm up, we decided to take a short cut back to the ranch, forging yet another unmarked trail up a mesa and back past the French Creek Cow Camp. This was my first time seeing this far up the creek, and I was blown away by how pretty it is.
With my time at the ranch rapidly drawing to a close, I’m hoping to squeeze in at least one more adventure ride - I just get can’t enough of this glorious location!
(riding through the aspens)