Photographer's Point

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I love hiking and the chance to get away from the mundane, the stress and the petty problems of everyday life has taken me to many wilderness locations. I enjoy solitude and hiking to Photographer's Point Overlook in Wyoming was just what I was looking for.  The day was bright and sunny in September of last year, a beautiful day for hiking. I started out from the little town of Pinedale, Wyoming, driving along Fremont Lake Road for a few miles.

Pinedale is the last vestige of civilization before you enter the Wind River Mountains. It's the last place to get supplies that you forgot and a good breakfast. It's also the first place to stop for food and a soda on the way back. With a population of about 1500, it has a friendly, small town flavor. It's also a busy little town, serving as the county seat for Sublette County. A large natural gas field was discovered nearby, called the Jonah field, and the village is something of a boom town.

After driving down the shore road past Fremont Lake for three miles, I turned right onto the Forest Service Roads. I was tempted to take the road that runs along Fremont Lake, but it doesn't go to Elkhart Park.

Fremont Lake is Wyoming's second largest lake. It was gouged out of the mountainous terrain by a glacier thousands of years ago, creating one of the country's deepest lakes. A terminal moraine, which is a mound of rock and debris that the glacier left, forms a natural dam at the southern end. The lake was named for John C. Fremont who surveyed the lake while developing maps of the Oregon Trail. Fremont Peak is also named for him. He climbed it during his expedition.

From Pinedale to Elkhart Park is 14 miles and takes about half an hour. The road climbs about 2,200 feet and gets windy and steep in places. The elevation at Pinedale is 7100'. By the time you reach the Pole Creek Trailhead, you're at 9300'. There are two parking lots for the trailheads, one for the campground and the Pine Creek Trailhead. The other is for the Pole Creek Trailhead.

Toilets are available. Thank Heavens. A Visitor Center provides information and maps of the trails. Trail's End Campground offers primitive RV sites that are available on a first come-first served basis at $12 a night. Picnic tables, fire sites, and toilets comprise the amenities. Corrals are available for horses, mules, and llamas.  Several trails lead out from this area. Pine Creek Trail leads to Long Lake and points beyond. Scenic, with multiple viewpoints that will take your breath away, the hiking trail is rated as difficult and not appropriate for horses. Two legs can sometimes handle trails that four legs can't.

The Pole Creek Trail is normally pretty busy, leading to several destinations. It is the usual trail for backpackers heading for Island Lake as well as being the route to Photographer's Point Overlook. The trail continues on into the magnificent Wind River Range beyond Photographer's Point, but I just wanted a relatively easy hike that day.

Despite its popularity, I only saw about ten fellow hikers on my trek. The trail to the point is 4.5 or 4.7 miles long, depending on which website you look at. The first three miles take you up a gentle incline through forests and meadows. You can only get glimpses of the incredible Wyoming vista beyond.  Yet the trail is pleasant and sightings of deer and elk are common.  I didn't see any bears, but bear spray is advised in this area.  Speaking of spray, I wore insect repellent, but I didn't notice any bugs. Maybe too late in the season for them.

The trail is also wonderful for bird watching. I spotted sage grouse in the meadows. And the brilliant cobalt blue of the mountain blue birds was a thrill. It's not unusual to see bald eagles floating high above. I saw another bird that I thought was a horned lark but couldn't be sure.

After a little over three miles, the terrain changes to mainly meadows with boulders strewn throughout. The boulders and granite outcrops increase as you climb higher. This is probably gorgeous in the spring with wildflowers all around.

Finally at somewhere between 4.5 and 4.7 miles, the hiking trail opens up to the most incredible scene. Ridge upon ridge, peak upon peak, the mountains march into the distance. Craggy peaks stand guard over the valleys and basins below. Bow Mountain and Mt. Woodrow Wilson, Mt Helen and American Legion Peak, Mount Sacagawea, Jackson Peak, and Fremont Peak can all be seen from this point. Most of them reach above a towering 13,000 feet. Below my feet lay Titcomb Basin, Indian Basin, and the Upper Fremont Valley. The Fremont Valley was carved by Fremont Creek. That man got his name on everything!
The crests of the peaks are part of the Continental Divide. The Divide is a mountainous area which separates the water drainage of a continent. On one side of the Wind River Range, the water flows east. On the other, it flows west. The North American Continental Divide runs from Alaska down to Mexico. The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail runs from the Mexican border all the way to the Canadian border.

After a long rest, some food, and a session of photography, I started back. The way back is no different, of course, but you are seeing it from a different perspective. So you see things you overlooked before. I noticed that about a mile and a half from the Point, I could see through and over the trees to a glimpse of the spectacle farther down the path.

As I walked back down the trail, I promised myself that next time I would go farther into the Wind River Range. This is the largest and highest range of mountains in Wyoming. The Pole Creek Trail is 17.9 miles long, an out and back trail. Photographer's Point Overlook is just the first of many scenic overlooks. The trail connects with Seneca Lake Trail and then Indian Pass trail to lead on to Titcomb Lakes and Titcomb Basin, which adds up to almost thirty miles out from the Elkhart Park trailheads. Backpacking territory.

The Wind River Range is all wilderness, all 2.25 million acres of it. There are more than forty peaks over 13,000 feet. Wyoming's highest mountain at 13,804 feet is Gannett Peak in the Wind Rivers. There are several large glaciers in the mountains, including one that is the largest in the Rocky Mountains. There are over 2300 lakes, 1300 of which have been named. A portion of the Wind Rivers was designated as the Bridger Wilderness in 1964, named after the famous mountain man, Jim Bridger. The 420,000 plus acres are situated on the western slope of the Wind River Range. Six hundred miles of trails crisscross the mountains and valleys, but you must take a good map. Not all trails are well marked. This is not a good place to get lost.

Within this wilderness, snow doesn't disappear until mid-June if at all. A blizzard can come howling down from the peaks in the middle of the summer. Sub-freezing temperatures occur not infrequently in the high country. You need to be prepared if you head into this wilderness. The District Ranger office in Pinedale can help you prepare or make sure you are prepared for your trip. There are also outfitters and guides, professionals who know the Wind Rivers and make their living taking the inexperienced into the wild. And bringing them back safely.

Deer and elk and moose graze the high meadows. Black and grizzly bears are often seen. Wolves and mountain lions prowl the forests and crags. We need to stay alert for danger, and we need to leave no trace of our journeys into the wild. The ecosystem is sensitive. We must not leave trash behind or leave fires burning. I always feel like I am visiting someone else's home when I hike. Being careful to take out all the trash with me is just being courteous and rational.

I think that what I took home with me after this hike, besides a lot of beautiful photos, was the sense of peace, solitude, and healing I felt as I sat at Photographer's Point Overlook. Staring out at the magnificent scene, I was awed by the beauty of Nature, of our earth. Maybe there are habitable planets around other stars in the galaxy, but I doubt any could be more soul inspiring than the Wind River Range on a sunny day in September.