Away from the Grind

Vedauwoo Area Maps from “Just Trails”

by Roger Ludwig

“Just Trails” publishes new hiking maps for Vedauwoo and Snowy Range 

Al and Rebecca Walsh of Laramie have produced a new series of maps of the Snowy Range, Pole Mountain and Curt Gowdy trails. They did it the old fashioned way—by walking every step—and the high tech way—logging each of those steps by satellite to produce extremely accurate, up-to-date maps.

The maps are unique in format. Rather than another large, unwieldy, folded origami puzzle of paper they have created a deck of 24 cards, 3 ½” by 5 ½”, each water-proofed card printed front and back with maps of particular areas. So, with a destination in mind, you just grab one card, slip it in your shirt pocket and head out. When included, the trail distances are exact, printed within a tenth of a mile.

On each card is a Quick Response (QR) code, one of those square bar codes. When scanned by a tablet or smart phone it takes you to a webpage providing trail descriptions, photos and occasional videos. So in addition to being “Just Trails” these maps open to a massive guide book that is continually updated to note new conditions.

Revealing Vedauwoo Secrets

I’m frequently asked about trails around Vedauwoo. People who want to add a hike to their picnic and venture beyond the well-known Turtle Rock and Box Canyon trails want to know where else they can safely go. There are many trails leading to interesting sites but none are marked, and until now, none were mapped. I’ve never known what to reply. 

So with “Just Trails” card #7 (Vedauwoo & Blair) in hand I set off for an experiment. I took no other maps and no GPS. Just the card. And a cheap compass. Could I find my way into the Devils Playground and back without an exorcist?

Named long ago by those who honored the devil with any landscape stranger than rolling English countryside, I have always found the Devil’s Playground a devil to navigate. Could I find these trails, some new to me, trails that have no intersection markings of any kind?

I started well, joyfully walking down a broad beautiful valley, lush in the season’s tall grasses and flowers, following abandoned FS 700D. At the creek (our fair city’s water supply) I found the Devil’s Playground trail, marked “difficult” on my trusty card. At times the trail was little more than matted grass, used by climbers and mountain bikers. I found simple bridges spanning the creek.

Views were wonderful. Reynolds Hill towers like a cathedral of huge stone, painted in browns and oranges. Other rock formations surround. The perpetual waters of Middle Crow Creek support a healthy pine forest more resistant to the pine beetle scourge. I had only seen two other people the whole Saturday summer afternoon. This was bliss. Then the devil entered, stage right.

Trying to make a loop along Middle Crow I wasn’t where I thought I was. Several turns and a few miles later I realized I was where I didn’t know I wasn’t. In short, lost. In my own backyard.

Now hustling along trails to get to somewhere familiar before sundown I eventually stumbled upon into a place I knew, the meadow southeast of Twin Mountain. I was then able to carefully follow Card #7 a long way back to my car, being especially careful at each trail junction to study the map. Yet even then I made a wrong turn and had to backtrack a while.

What I learned by being lost

I’m glad I had my compass. But I wish I had taken an area map in addition. The Pole Mountain Travel Map or the USGS Sherman Mountains East Quadrangle would have been most welcome as support. While these traditional maps don’t show most of the trails that are so precisely identified by Just Trails, they do show intersecting dirt roads more clearly and their large scale would have allowed me to identify landmarks like rock towers or creeks, keeping track of where I was (and wasn’t) in the event of a moment of trail confusion.

In short what is good about these trail cards is what is bad: their small size. I should have taken advantage of all that Just Trails offers by printing out the somewhat larger maps from the QR code, or by carrying a tablet. But even then a more detailed traditional map would have probably saved me.

The trails and old roads of the Devils Playground are undoubtedly the most difficult navigation challenge of the region simply because there are so many intersections, such scant trails and zero signage. I found Just Trail’s difficulty rating to be just right. These are difficult routes, no so much physically but navigationally.

Now, if I had used a smart phone with a location app and Just Trails maps downloaded to it I would have been in great shape. The phone can show the map and your position on it by gps. To learn how, go to the JustTrails.com site, clicking the “store” tab.

On the other hand

Earlier in the day a friend and I tried out the loop trails above Blair picnic grounds, marked “moderate” by Just Trails. Relatively easy, they lead to a massive rock wall and a number of interesting pole constructions of mysterious origin. Fun. 

This Snowy Range & Pole Mountain Trail Deck with its accompanying web material opens up a lot of country for hikers, some of it never before mapped. They will also be invaluable to mountain bikers, cross country skiers, fisherman and hunters. It is up-to-date, more comprehensive and easier to tote than previous guides, such as Mark Smith’s classic Hiking Wyoming’s Medicine Bow National Forest. Just Trails covers areas Smith does not, such as the many new trails at Pole Mountain, Vedauwoo and Curt Gowdy. Smith covers some areas that Just Trails does not, the Sierra Madres and Laramie Range. 

The Snowy Range & Pole Mountain Trail Deck, at $24.95, a bargain, is available at Cross Country Connection in Laramie or online at www.JustTrails.com. They also publish Explore the Medicine Bow National Forest eBook and an app that allows maps to be downloaded to your smart phone.

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