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Great Drives: Wind River Range Loop, Wyoming

Great Drives: Wind River Range Loop, Wyoming

Features
By Jay Cowan
posted: 05/17/2000

Southeast of Jackson Hole, Wyo., out of the shadow of the better known Tetons, is an equally spectacular range with even bigger peaks, including the highest in the state, 13,804-foot Gannett Peak. The wild and wonderful Wind River Range, 100 miles long and 10 miles deep, may not land the publicity of its neighbor, but it stoops for no one.

To begin, strike south from Jackson on Highway 191 along the famous Snake River, host to spectacular rafting and fishing. After 13 miles, Highway 191 turns southeast up Hoback Canyon, to a high plain flanked by the 11,000-foot Gros Ventre Mountains, and then into the great gray eminence of the Wind Rivers. Pinedale makes a perfect first night's stop. Camped 10 miles from the base of the Winds, this Wild West town affords ideal views of the range and its fireworks of flame-shaped stone, crowned by the 13,000-foot troika of Downs Mountain and Gannett and Fremont peaks.

In Pinedale, buy the indigenous black jade at any gift shop, visit the Museum of the Mountain Man ($4, open daily) for lore on Jim Bridger and other pioneers, and have dinner at McGregor's Pub ("We have people drive a lot of miles to eat our peppered steak"). The next day head into the Winds for climbing and hiking. Or fly-fish at scores of gem-clear alpine lakes that teem with brookies, rainbows and even the rare golden trout. (Locals favor Island Lake.)

From Pinedale continue south almost to Eden (isn't it always the case?) before turning northeast at Farson on Highway 28 for the climb over 7,550-foot South Pass. This benign Continental Divide crossing, a gateway to the Rockies in the early 1800s, delivers you into Lander, a farming community that's also home to some of the country's best rock jocks. They frequent the sheer-walled Sinks Canyon area, where a short drive rewards you with bighorn sheep, petroglyphs and world-class bouldering, not to mention the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River, which disappears into a rumbling sinkhole and doesn't resurface for miles.

Leave Lander, heading northwest to Dubois, on Route 287 across the Shoshone Indian Reservation, the Winds and the timbered foothills unspooling to the west. Sleepy Dubois, fast on the banks of the trout-rich Wind River, is named for a Dutch trapper and pronounced "dew-boys." (Locals will appreciate you not rendering it in French.)

Stay at one of the area's historic dude ranches (the CM Ranch is gorgeous), check out Absaroka Western Design for local art, and explore the National Forests that surround the town. Try mountain biking on Union Pass, horseback riding in the lavender-fluted Pinnacles, kayaking the Wind River, blue-ribbon fly-fishing at Brooks Lake Lodge or maybe climbing up the glaciated heights of Gannett Peak.

The drive's last leg takes you over Togwotee Pass (9,658 feet) to the region's best view of the Tetons as you descend past Grand Teton National Park, across Antelope Flats and back into Jackson, completing a great circle that will have you planning a return trip for next summer.

Details

Drive Length 415 miles, excluding must-do side trips.
Drive Time From one long day to a never-long-enough lifetime.
Try To Avoid Speed traps around Pinedale. Besides, it's too scenic to just blaze through.
Don't Miss Some good cowboy golf on the fine little 9-hole Antelope Hills layout in Dubois, $11 for 9 holes.
Get Out Of Your Car On South Pass, smell the sage and the green breezes coming off the southern tip of the Wind Rivers, and explore the old mining ghost towns of South Pass City and Atlantic City, replete with cheerfully restored shops, saloons and boarding houses .
Contact: Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce http://www.jacksonholechamber.com "> www.jacksonholechamber.com ; (307) 733-3316.

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