Our area trails have been busy. So busy that people have had some difficulty practicing social distancing on the trail. Is it OK to get within the six foot zone if both parties hold their breath? “Excuse me, I’m about to come past on the left. Hold your breath please on the count of three. One, two….”
I think we need more open space.
So, in the interest of spreading out while getting out here’s one you’ve probably never heard of.
If I called it a “secret” but put it in the paper in wouldn’t be. So I’ll call it the “Formerly Secret Laramie County Open Space Known as Area 242.” It’s on Crystal Lake Road.
Area 242 has four nice attractions.
A lovely pond is cradled in a glen of aspens and alders with a sculptured granite backdrop. A secluded waterfall makes a crashing plunge each spring. There are Wyoming-broad views, tawny hills and dark pines with Crystal Lake twinkling like, um, crystal, in the distance. And my favorite: a challenging trail threading them all, a trail with some hide-and-seek adventure to it.
Its name? Well that is a mouthful. The only sign visible from the road reads “242,” the address. On closer inspection it is the “LCCC/LCSD #1 Public Walk in Area.” The full name is “LCCC Vedauwoo Natural History Site and LCSD #1 Outdoor Laboratory School Site.” So whatever it is called the schools and benefactors have been generous, allowing we, the on-foot people, to wander at will.
School kids have re-enacted the revolutionary war on these fields. Elementaries use it for field trip romps. So in the spirit of those cut-loose-from-class field trips enjoy one of your own.
In these pandemic days my cramped heart, like many, has found release in the spread of space. And it’s found solace in nature’s reassuring rhythms. The call of meadowlarks, a bluebird on the wing, a robin’s whistling “cheer up cheerily up.” They all signal “it’s going to be OK.”
Purple pasque flowers still push up the crust of soil. The pink blooms of the ball cactus open their yellow hearts to the sun. You’ll find all of these and more at Area 242.
How it works…
Take Happy Jack Road west from Cheyenne. Just past the Bunkhouse Bar turn left at the three crosses, Crystal Lake Road, County 210. Go 8 ½ miles, pass the turn off to Crystal Reservoir and through the eclectic eccentric enclave of Pine Grove. Just as you exit Pine Grove there is a small parking area on the right, yes, signed “242.”
Squeeze in through the walkers’ passage and stroll along the dirt road. Shortly the road forks. The left takes you to the pond, the right to the overlook. You probably want to see the pond first, so go left. The road forks again, and again the left fork is the shortest to the pond, the right the shortest to the waterfall. At the end of the left road take the trail down to the pond.
Enjoy the tranquility of these sparkling waters. Fish if you’d like. Catch and release only. Then follow the trail downstream. It leads to a small amphitheater and picnic area. From here you have a choice. Take the trail up and out leading back to the junction and to your car. A pleasant outing.
Or be adventurous and continue along the Advanced Trail (yes, that is its official name) to the waterfall and back.
You could go for epic and continue on following the trail along the creek, then making the steep climb out of the gorge to the Outdoor Education School and the dirt road heading back to your rig.
The Advanced Trail is well marked by 4×4 posts but has had so little use it often can’t be seen on the ground. Deadfalls have not been cleared in years. I found it a fun little challenge to go from post to post, under and over, crossing bridges, spying ahead. Be careful when leaving the creek bottom, not losing sight of the last post before you find the next one. You’ll be breathing hard by the time you crest the ravine rim.
Walk the road out from the Outdoor Education School to the trailhead. You’ll pass the All Access Trail (what committee was responsible for naming this place?) which is a short jaunt to a fine overlook of Crystal Reservoir.
While Area 242 is relatively small – it is a one mile square section with the southeast quarter taken out – the wildness of the canyon makes it feel much bigger.
When you go…
Entrance is free. There are several very dusty pit toilets at the end of each entrance road. No drinking water is available. Carry out all trash. Pets are allowed if under control. If you are there near dusk keep an eye out for deer. They are plentiful in the area and on the roads.
On the way in, and out…
While cruising into Pine Grove don’t miss the Crystal Castle, Laramie County’s most unique dwelling. It is made entirely of bottles, and not just any bottles. Embalming fluid bottles. 30,000 of them. Built by J.H. Widholm in the 1960’s, it took him ten years to collect all of the rectangular bottles from regional mortuaries. The house, privately owned, is on the right just off of Crystal Lake Road on Cotton Tail Drive. Look for a tidy grey building with round rooms forming turrets at each end.
On the way out you may want to return to Cheyenne by continuing west along Crystal Lake Road. It takes you past some interesting rock formations leading to the Buford exit of I-80.