Hiking The Odell Creek Trail

This summer I have been blessed to enjoy several 'new to me' excursions. From cattle drives to hiking new trails to (I hope) a fantastic finale, this has been a full summer. Full of fun. Full of adventure. And, hopefully, full of lots of great memories.

Part of what has opened the door of adventure for me - at least the 'hiking door' - is an employee who not only enjoys hiking as much as I do, but hikes at a similar pace. As a result, we have packed some pretty full hiking excursions into some pretty small time slots. One such adventure occurred in June this year.

With a few hours reprieve and an itch to explore, we headed off to check out the Odell Creek Trail. Although the trailhead is only about 25 minutes from the lodge (less than 15 miles), I had never attempted to check it out. I'd heard from other explorers that the trail traveled down a canyon - and, well, for one who likes mountain tops, it sounded a bit dull. Well - - - one should never underestimate the unknown.

Perhaps the reason I'd never felt the urge to explore this trail is its unasuming beginnings. Not only is the trailhead poorly marked - though not especially so if you compare it with other trails in the Centennials - it just doesn't look like one will find much adventure up that trail!

Of course the view looking east from the trailhead is gorgeous - but I have yet to find a bad view in the Centennial.

The lower end of the trail just didn't look inspired. Aspens. Evergreens. Green Grass. Abundant Wildflowers. Okay. Gorgeous combination. But these were abundant around every corner.

Inspiration didn't set in on the lower section of the trail, either. Even after we entered the trees and began our slow ascent, then descent then ascent, I wasn't getting excited. Granted, it was pretty. Granted, I was enjoying the walk. Granted, I was looking at trees I'd never seen before. But, then again, trees are trees! Where was the creek???? Finally we found water. Was this Odell Creek? No. However, we did enjoy the sight and sound of several small streams. Some small enough to jump across.

Some with their own natural bridges (like the large log in the foreground). I must admit, after a mile or so, I was beginning to wonder why this was called Odell Creek Trail. After all, the walk was pretty. The air fresh. The small creeks musical and refreshing. But. . .

And then, there it was. Odell Creek. And NO BRIDGE! Wouldn't you know it. Well, our plans weren't to be stymied by such a little thing as the lack of a bridge. But. . .wet feet didn't sound to fun either. There had to be a better way.

Just a few yards down stream we found a solution to our problem. Granted it was a bit bouncy. Granted it had a few 'hazards' to trip us up. But it was a bridge!

So we headed across. Slowly. Carefully. Not only did we not want to get wet - we did NOT want to find ourselves skewered on one of those lovely stobs.

Across the creek and up the far bank we jumped a pair of nice bull elk in velvet. Of course, from the nearby tracks we realized they weren't the only local residents.

The lower end of the creek was quite placid and beautiful. It tumbled and flowed in and around the rocks through tree lined meadows and patches of heavier timber.

The lower end of the trail was similar. An old road bed followed the creek through the meadow and up the slight incline into what, at this point, was a fairly mellow and open canyon. But what, I kept wondering, was around the corner? More adventure or more of the same?

Up until this point, the trail had few markers. Outside of a few signs to keep trekers off the private land which bordered the lower section of the trail, the area boasted few trail markers. No directional signs. No trailhead markers. Just a well-worn trail through the trees, across a creek, then along an old road bed. I should have known, when the first sign appeared, things were about to change.

From this point onward, they did. The sign was the first clue. The bridges the next. As you can see, these bridges have been recently rebuilt. However, remnants of the old bridges remain. (As an aside, our local outfitter said the worst 'horse wreck' he ever experienced occured on one of these bridges. Years ago a favorite old mare went through the rotting wood of one old bridge and ended up with her left hind leg and her right front foot stuck. She was up to her haunches and bleeding in the back. His story of how he managed to get her free - and the happy but unexpected outcome is worth the time it took to tell.)

Our pretty, burbling creek began to take on a deeper throated sound. As we continued up the trail, the sound grew louder and louder. While perhaps not as loud as Hell Roaring Creek, Odell Creek definitely picked up the volume.

While sections of the creek were strewn with boulders and down timber, other places had beautiful pools and pretty little waterfalls. Everywhere the clear water abounded - and, I suspect, if we'd had a pole and the inclination to fish, there were probably fish residing in those eddies.

The water was not the only thing worth noting. Life takes an obviously harsh turn as one heads deeper into the mountains. This twisted log speaks of the harsh growing conditions and, I suspect, sometimes gale-force winds the tree had to endure during its lifetime.

Yet when one spots a lone tree clinging precariously to what looks like a soil-less ledge, they can only wonder how on earth that downed tree grew to be so large before succumbing to the inevitable.

Rocks dominated this section of the trail. Tall pillars. Crevasses. Twisted shapes. Uninviting (or in some cases beckoning) rocks tumbled together or stood straight, tall, and seemingly impassible on both sides of the trail.

And, if one were a bit superstitious or had an extreme imagination, it might have seemed like the rocks were watching us! Certainly the dramatic sights and sounds on this section of the trail added a LOT to the adventure of the hike - and kept us going when we really should have been thinking about turning back.

Yet, it looked like the creek would be making that decision for us. Once again the trail crossed the water. Once again we were left without a bridge. Once again we were looking for a way across. This time there was none to be found. So? Wet feet? Turn back?

Some claim to have been saved by the bell. My adventure was saved by the sign! While the trail looked like nothing more than a dry creek bed (which it was for the first hundred feet or so), the sign let us know there was something up that direction. So, we turned and headed up the Spring Creek Trail.

For a trail which had, to this point, few signs, I was surprised not only by the beauty of the little valley we now followed, but by the abundant trail markers.

The first trail marker was on our left - notifying us the trail up Sheep Mountain started on that side (although, like the Spring Creek Trail, the first part - at least - didn't look much like a trail).

Then we came to the Twin Basin Trailhead on our right. I must admit, it was extremely tempting to take a right and see what we could see in the next 2 1/2 miles it said we'd have to traverse to reach the Continental Divide Trail. But, incoming guests, dinners to serve, and a few rumbles warning of a possible thunderstorm convinced us to turn back toward the car.

In the end, we decided the Odell Creek Trail is quite deceptive. It looks plain, even boring. Yet the further one goes, the wilder and more beautiful it becomes. How like the Centennial Valley!

Lady of the Lake


Cowboy Country

The Centennial Valley is not just home to a lot of wild animals. It is not just a spot of nearly unrivaled beauty. It is not just one of the few remaining places in the lower forty-eight where one can step back in time. At the heart of the Centennial survives yet another key element in America's backbone, the cowboy culture. From roughly fifteen large (thousands of acres each) ranches to grazing permits on the Wildlife Refuge (a bonus to both birds and cattle), cattle and cowboys play an important role in the Centennial.

Thanks to the cooperation between our local outfitter (who grew up in the valley and knows more people and more interesting facts than I'll ever garner) and a local rancher (whose family has ranched for years in the area), four of the 'Elk Lake Residents' experienced the Centennial Valley from a different perspective.

Thus, when offered a chance to help move some cattle from one pasture to another - even though it meant merely trailing behind a bunch of noisy cows and then rushing hom to care for our guests - we jumped at the chance. The day began before dawn with a trip to our local outfitter's home base. There we saddled our trusty mounts, put our lunches and water bottles in our saddlebags, loaded up and headed down the valley to the rancher's valley place.

The first leg of the journey found us moving the cattle down the road toward the rising sun. A cool morning, fresh cattle, and the spirit of adventure kept things moving along at a good pace. A few clumps of brush, a few herds of cattle across the fence, and a pair of bulls with 'superiority' complexes added a little spice to an otherwise easy job.

Of course, jogging along on a horse has a way of making the things one ate and drank before mounting up, enter new locations. In sagebrush and grass covered country, a outhouse can be a welcome site. Thus when our considerate outfitter pointed out an outhouse alongside a vacant house, the girls in our group were glad to take advantage of it!

After about four miles we turned north, heading cross country toward our destination. Down a gentle slope we found ourselves in an auto graveyard, invisible from the road.

Of course, cattle being cattle, the knee deep fresh grass was a great temptation. However, with a little encouragement, we were able to keep things moving.

This is where the extra riders came in handy. Not only to keep the cattle moving, but to keep them moving in the right direction.

And, in my opinion, this is where the 'cattle drive' became less like a slow, dusty ride down a gravel road and more like 'fun'.

Of course, those who have moved cattle know, this is no rush job. Cattle need time to move at their own pace - as long as they are moving. Thus there were plenty of opportunities to take a water or snack break or just shoot the breeze.

As we neared our destination for the day (about 8 miles from our starting point), the cattle had finally decided to line out nicely.

Our stopping point - for this day - was just across the lower structure at the west end of the Lower Red Rock Lake.

Now the patience-building part of the job began - waiting for the cows to pair up.

It is funny how a bunch of cows and calves who seem to be content to relax and eat their lunch can decide to head back the way they've come. Thus, we waited for the cows to find their calves and the calves to realize momma was here not back at the home place.

While we waited, we ate.

And watched the 'big boys' re-establish their territory.

After a little more than an hour, the rancher decided his animals had enjoyed enough babysitting. We left the herd, hopefully the 'content' herd, along the picturesque shores of lower lake.

We loaded up and headed back to our starting point.

Back to the 'home place', we learned one more job awaited us.

Would we be willing to ride to the far corner and help gather a couple of bulls who had gone through the fence during the night? Sure! What better way to enjoy a nice day than on a horse's back - sure, we were game!

All too soon, however, our quary was penned. This time we really did need to head back to the outfitter's base to return our trusty mounts, relieve them of their gear, and let them take a break.

Then it was back to the lodge for a quick nap before beginning our dinner preparations. Wow - what a place to live!

Lady of the Lake


Bear Attacks

Note: Photos courtesy of Gary Pumplin

In Memory of Kevin Kammer victim of the recent fatal Grizzly attack.

I have never done this before - allowed a post to be directed by a tragic event. However, it seems the appropriate thing to do. After all, those of us who live in bear country never leave the yard without at least the 'thought' of bears and wolves. I suppose it is similar to someone who lives in a less-than-ideal neighborhood thinking about their safety when they leave the house. However, I readily admit I'd rather face the bears and cats and wolves than the muggers and rapists and molesters which inhabit far too much of our world.

In response to Kevin's untimely death, I did a little research. After all, when you read about a man who leaves home for a fishing trip never to return to his wife and four children - because of an unprovoked attack in the middle of the night by a Grizzly sow and her three yearling cubs, it should make one stop and think. In addition, as a result of this event, those four bears are going to lose their lives. This is a no-win situation. It is tragic. It is heart rending. Could it have been avoided?

I will leave that question to others with more experience and greater knowledge to answer with certainty. However, I suspect the answer is, in part, 'Yes'. At the very least, after the 2008 mauling by a Grizzly in this same campground, it seems it would have been wise to limit the area to 'hard-sided' units. If this had been done, perhaps this tragic event would never have occured.

Yet, I believe there is more to it than that. When facing the aftermath of such things, it is not uncommon to hear someone say something like, "It's not the animal's fault. After all, we are encroaching on their territory." There is some truth in that. There is a territory issue going on here. But what I wonder is why no one ever says: "This could have been avoided if we had more accurately managed this top-of-the-chain predator's numbers."

Perhaps there are just too many animals for the wild space available. Perhaps the drive to 'protect' the animals has resulted in too many animals. After all, the Greater Yellowstone Area has not experience that much urban growth. Certainly we do not compare to the urban growth experience by even a mid-sized city. Furthermore, the Grizzly's are a proptected species. Thus there is no way to control their numbers (except by killing them when they do what they do naturally - kill). In addition, while I do not know 'why' these bears attacked these people, since the people were doing everything right, one has to wonder if, just maybe, the bears attacked for the most logical reason: food! After all, the 'ate' part of their victim.

Speculation. Pure speculation. But I do wish those in charge would begin to consider the well being of the animals from a slightly different perspective - the perspective used by the wise rancher when deciding how many animals to graze on his land. Perhaps there is more in common with an overgrazed pasture and an overpopulated wilderness than we are willing to admit!

My thoughts are pure speculation, however one thing is certain: As long as one lives and works and visits in bear country, it behooves us to know what to do to avoid bears and to do it! That does not always work, but then, there are more people killed by lightening (90) or by domestic dogs (15) per year, than are killed by bears (3). And, there are a lot more bears killed each year (average is about 20 since 2000), than there are people killed by bears.

So what should we do? I suggest, use your head, but by all means do not let this stop you from enjoying the gorgeous and wild country which remains in our country. I certainly won't!

Lady of the Lake