Spring has sprung and summer's around the bend. With that in mind, here are brief descriptions of a few of my favorite warm weather getaways in the Intermountain region.
Green River Lakes campground, Wyo.: Located 52 miles north of Pinedale in the Wind River Mountains, this is one of the most beautiful campgrounds in the state. It is near the lower of the two lakes, which, as you've probably guessed, are the source of the Green River. The upper lake and most of the lower lake are in Bridger Wilderness Area. To get to the campground, follow Highway 191 north out of Pinedale, turn right on Highway 352 and proceed to the national forest boundary where the pavement ends and Forest Road 160 begins. Twenty-two miles of dirt road later, you're at the campground. A word of caution: The road can get washboardy and rutted. Take your Winnebago or low-slung family sedan at your own risk. Even better, take a high-clearance vehicle. Most of the 38 campsites are available first-come, first-served. A few are available by reservation by calling 1-800-280-CAMP. It's $6 per site per night. The campground, which is open from June 10 through Labor Day, has vault toilets and water taps.
Other campgrounds in the Pinedale area include Whiskey Grove, located off Forest Road 160 about four miles beyond the end of the pavement. New Fork Lakes campground is about seven miles from Highway 352 via Forest Road 107. A sign on the highway shows you where to turn off. You can purchase a national forest map for $3 at the Pinedale Ranger District office, 210 W. Pine, in Pinedale or at sporting goods outlets.
Scenic drive: Union Pass Road takes off from Forest Road 160. It is the scenic route from Pinedale to Dubois (pronounced Dew-boys), two of my favorite Wyoming towns. Follow Forest Road 160 past Whiskey Grove campground and about one mile later, turn left across the bridge over the Green River. Here again, the road is dirt and might be rough in spots. A high-clearance vehicle is best, but you can make it in the family sedan, weather permitting. A few sharp turns could be difficult for a long RV. The drive takes 21/2 to three hours. The miles: approximately 70. A word of caution: THERE ARE NO SERVICES. The road is usually passable between mid-June and mid-October, depending on snowpack. Check with the local forest service or tourist information office to make sure it's open.
Wyoming Scenic Railroad: One of several excursion trains that operate in the West, it leaves from Wyoming Territorial Park in Laramie and makes a round trip to Lake Owen in the nearby Snowy Range. Departure time is10 a.m. The train returns to the park at 4 p.m. Coach fare is $32.95 adults; $17.95 children 2-12. The train also has first-class cars. Box lunches are served aboard the train, which operates from May 14-Oct. 21. This is a nonsmoking train, and coolers and hard-pack containers are not allowed. The rolling stock includes streamliner cars from the late '30s and early '40s. Make reservations by calling 1-800-582-RAIL (7245). The train does not run daily. Call ahead to check the schedule.
Highway 130 across the Snowy Range, Wyo.: This is a national scenic byway that takes you through rugged mountain vistas of southeastern Wyoming between Saratoga and Laramie. The road, which is closed during winter, traditionally opens Memorial Day weekend and closes in mid-October. There are more than 100 glacier-fed lakes in the Snowy Range. Three are accessible by car: Brooklyn Lake, Lewis Lake and Libby Lake. The area's three campgrounds are accessible from the highway: Brooklyn Lake, Sugarloaf and Nash Fork. Sites at Brooklyn and Sugarloaf must be reserved in advance by calling 1-800-280-CAMP. The fee is $8 a night per site. They open July 15. Sites at Nash Fork, which opens July 1, are first come, first served. Campgrounds have water taps and vault toilets. This is high mountain country, so be prepared for cool (if not cold) weather. Brooklyn Lake, 10,500 feet in elevation, and Sugarloaf, at 10,700 feet, are trailheads for backcountry trails. The hiking and fishing season in the Snowy Range is short. (The range is named "Snowy" for good reason.) Late July and early August are the prime time for backpacking. Wildflowers reach their peak in late June, early July. Libby Flats is a good place to view wildflowers as well as get a glimpse of the faraway peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.
For information, call (307) 745-2300 or write the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, 2468 Jackson St., Laramie, WY 82070. A forest service map of Medicine Bow National Forest costs $3 and is available from the forest service office. The driving distance from Laramie to Saratoga is approximately 80 miles.
Fish fossils in southwestern Wyoming: Fossil Butte National Monument is 15 miles west of Kemmerer off Highway 30. Fifty million years ago during the Eocene epoch, the area was covered by a large lake, now referred to as Fossil Lake. Fossilized fish found in the area's sedimentary layers are the monument's main attraction. The visitors center displays specimens found there, including a mass mortality. Three hundred fifty fish fossils are on one slab. The monument has two designated hiking trails and a picnic area. Guided hikes are offered on weekends. The visitors center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. until Memorial Day weekend, when it will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Labor Day.
You CANNOT dig for fossils at Fossil Butte, but you can at private quarries nearby.
Ulrich's Fossil Gallery, near the entrance to Fossil Butte, will take up to eight people per day. You must make reservations, guaranteed by a Visa or Mastercard, by calling (307) 877-6466. No children under 10. For $55 per person (teenagers may share a palette with a parent), you may fill a 27-inch wooden palette with fossils. That nets you 10 to 14 fossils. The price also includes transportation to the quarry, a guide for every two people, the use of tools and packing materials. Self-contained RVs may camp on Ulrich's property. The quarry operates from June 1 to Labor Day.
Warfield Springs Quarry is off U.S. 189, seven miles south of Kemmerer. Turn west at the sign and proceed on dirt road for about eight miles. In dry conditions, the family sedan is adequate. Facilities at the quarry include hot showers, camping spots (no hookups) and a gift shop. A day's dig costs $35 per person and includes the use of tools, a crash course on fossil digging and camping. The quarry will not issue tools to children under 12. Bring gloves and boxes in which to pack the fossils. For information, call (307) 883-2445. Warfield Springs operates from Memorial Day weekend through Aug. 31.
Nevada Northern Railroad in Ely: On Saturdays from May 27-Sept. 3, the Ghost Train of Old Ely chugs 14 miles to Keystone Junction and back. The trip takes 11/2 hours. Departure times are 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. Also on Saturdays, a diesel train leaves Ely and follows the Highline route toward McGill and back. It departs at 5:30 p.m. The trip takes about an hour and 45 minutes. Trains operate on Sundays on holiday weekends. Prices for the Keystone steam trains: $14 adults; $12 juniors (12-18) and seniors (65 and over). Prices for the diesel run: $10, adults; $8, juniors and seniors; $6, children 5-11. Combination tickets for the steam and diesel trains are available. To make reservations, call (702) 289-2085.
Forty-five-minute walking tours of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum, which includes a roundhouse, historic rolling stock and locomotives, are available every day at 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. The price is $2.50 per person. Children under 10 are admitted free.
The nearby East Ely Depot is also a museum.
Scenic drive: Success Loop is a dirt road along the top of the Shell Creek Range. Access the 33-mile loop from the Cave Lake Road six miles southeast of town off Highway 50, or 12 miles north of McGill on Highway 93. Camp at Cave Lake State Recreation Area, which has some of the best trout fishing in Nevada, or at Timber Creek, a forest service campground about eight miles north of Cave Lake on the Success Loop road. Timber Creek campsites have vault toilets and water taps. The fee is $4 per night. Ward Mountain campground, six miles southwest of Ely off Highway 6, has running water and flush toilets.
Success Loop is usually open by June 10 (but check with one of the locals before you go to make sure). The highest point is about 10,000 feet in elevation. Nevada's largest elk herd calls the Shell Creek Range home.
Holland Lake, Mont.: Highway 83 heads south from Bigfork through the Swan River Valley, a haven of relative solitude and beautiful scenery sandwiched between the Swan and Mission mountain ranges. Sights along the way include the Swan River National Wildlife Refuge, Swan Lake and Holland Lake. Even people who live in nearby Flathead Valley, itself an outdoor lover's paradise, consider the Swan a special place to commune with Mother Nature. Facilities at Holland Lake include a forest service campground, Holland Lake Lodge and an outfitter that takes people into the nearby Bob Marshall Wilderness Area on horseback. Accommodations at the lodge are rustic but comfortable. The view of the lake and the mountains beyond will linger in your mind. Lodge rooms are $56.16 per night; cabins (all but one have kitchenettes) are $72 to $114 per night. They sleep from four to nine people. Holland Lake Lodge: (406) 754-2282.Stanley Basin, Idaho: The Sawtooths are some of the most beautiful mountains in the West, and the Stanley Basin, which abuts them, remains uncluttered by civilization. Two tiny towns, Upper Stanley and Lower Stanley, offer accommodations and food. There are also accommodations at Red Fish Lake Lodge. Rates range from $90 to $132 for cabins, and $46 to $50 for lodge rooms (where the bathroom is down the hall). The lodge is open from Memorial Day weekend to Oct. 1. Red Fish Lake Lodge: (208) 774-3536.
Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch is a romantic retreat off Highway 75. Its season runs from June 9 through Sept. 16. Rates are $80 per person, per night, with a three-night minimum. Children under 6 are half-price. Rates include breakfast and dinner. The ranch still has vacancies in June and September. Call (208) 774-3544.
Campgrounds: Three campgrounds near Red Fish Lake are available first come, first served. Two Red Fish Lake campgrounds, Point and Glacier View, are available only by reservation by calling 1-800-280-2267. Other campgrounds in the area are at Alturis Lake, Pettit Lake and Stanley Lake. They are available first come, first served. Elk Creek, Trap Creek and Sheep Camp campgrounds off Highway 21 from Stanley to Boise are available by making reservations at the number listed above. Trailheads into the Sawtooth Wilderness are at many of the area's lakes. For campground information call (208) 774-3681.
To reach Stanley Basin, take Highway 75 north from Twin Falls, through Ketchum and over Galena Pass. Highway 21 from Boise is an equally scenic route.
Great Sand Dunes National Monument, Colo.: Nestled against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the east side of the vast San Luis Valley of south-central Colorado, this is a giant sand pile you'll never forget. Because it's a national monument, ATVs are not allowed. But you can drive along a four-wheel drive road on the monument's eastern perimeter. Children particularly enjoy climbing the mountains of sand. Youngsters and oldsters alike are content to soak their feet in the creek that runs along the base of the dunes in the spring. The 88-site campground has running water and flush toilets. Sites are available first come, first served. The price is $8 a night. For information, call (719) 378-2312.
Accommodations are available at nearby Great Sand Dunes Country Club and Inn (deluxe) or in the town of Alamosa, about 35 miles away. To reach the San Luis Valley, drive east from Durango on U.S. 160 or south from Leadville on U.S. 24, which connects to U.S. 285.