A Weekend With Friends in Medicine Bow National Forest

Lately, all I’ve been posting have been giant photo bomb posts of the mountains, but I’m finding our forays into the wilderness around us so breathtaking that it’s hard not to share.  We planned four camping trips this summer, one per month June through September; two of the trips were for our family alone and two were planned camping trips with friends.  Last weekend was one of our camping with friends trips.  We spent the weekend in a perfect spot in Medicine Bow National Forest, just east of Laramie, Wyoming.

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Our family was the first up there Friday afternoon, so we had the pleasure of driving through the park and choosing the spot.  For this trip we were not camping at an actual campground, but were “dispersed camping” in a spot of our choosing a ways off the road.  When we originally planned this trip with our friends from Fort Collins Families, someone suggested camping outside of Vedauwoo Campground which is at the southern edge of the park near highway 80, because of all the fun rocks to climb on.  After driving around scoping out the options, we ended up a good deal north of there because Chris and I really wanted more trees and to be further away from other people.

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This spot was near a trail head and in a nicely wooded area set back from the road, but still had plenty of room to accommodate the five tents we were expecting, so we made an executive decision that, luckily, everyone else seemed happy with.

Friday was mostly spent setting up camp, building the fire pit, and poking around in the underbrush for wood to burn.  We went on a short hike and had eaten dinner when the first of our friends arrived at dusk, and we helped them get all set up quickly before darkness settled in.

Saturday after breakfast cooked on our stove, we packed a day pack and set out on our long hike of the day.  We started out with some of others but when their kids got tired, they turned back and we pushed on just with our family.  Chris and I have visions in a few years of taking the girls backpacking instead of car camping, so we are working on getting them used to walking long distances now.

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The hike Saturday morning probably ended up being about 6-7 miles (based upon what my fitbit said).  Nora walked the entire distance and Zara alternated between walking and riding on my back in our Toula.  While we walk, we’ve been pointing out tracks and droppings to the girls, and working to teach them about hiking and surviving in the wild, talking about plants and animals.

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When we decided to veer off onto a less traveled trail and then turned at a T-junction, Nora got her first lesson in trail marking.

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The landscape was so beautiful.  It was amazing how different this part of southern Wyoming is from the dense forests we were hiking in not too much further south on our last trip.  The trees and wildflowers looked completely different, and we actually saw more animals (deer, chipmunks, mice) and insects than we saw at State Forest State Park, which we attributed to the fact that Medicine Bow is US Forest Service land which does not allow motorized vehicles on the trails, whereas Colorado State Parks allow ATVs.

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This northern edge of the mountain range was closer to the beginning of the vast prairies that we associate with Wyoming after our time in flat and tree-less Gillette, and there is a definite difference in the density of the growth as it melts into meadows and prairie.  It was fun to point out the differences to Nora and Zara, especially because Nora is starting to understand about ecosystems and how the natural world works.

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Aside from all the wildlife, our favorite part of the hike was all the interesting granite formations.

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And, let’s not forget the view once we reached the top.

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Miss Nora is turning out to be quite the amazing hiker and rock climber.  With minimal complaining, she marched herself 3.5 miles to the top of Pole Mountain, then excitedly scrambled up the rocks with Chris to get the best view.  (The mama in me was maybe a little less excited about her climbing rocks on the top of a mountain, but I managed to hold it all in and find some pleasure in her fearlessness.)

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After stopping for a snack and water break overlooking the entire north side of the park, we hiked back into camp to find that the rest of our friends had arrived.

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Then we all, Pip included, took a much needed break.

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One of the best things about these parks is that there’s no leash law – dogs just have to be under voice control – so Pip was able to run free the entire trip.  With how much scouting ahead and running back he did, I wouldn’t be surprised if he walked double the distance that we walked.  He pretty much slept in the sun for a good three hours, before jumping up to join us on another, shorter hike before dinner.

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We had planned to collaborate on our Saturday night dinner, so the two Chrises teamed up to cook spaghetti for our crazy crew of 10 adults and 10 kids.

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It took six burners and three camp stoves, but everyone was fed and happy.

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Then, somehow, miraculously, we got all the kids to bed relatively early (Zara was our one party crasher for a bit), and the adults got to sit around the campfire playing a game of Taboo/Charades followed by Cards Against Humanity.  Adult time around the campfire was enough to make me want to to take friends camping every weekend.

Sunday morning, after packing up camp, we headed back down to climb the rocks near the Vedauwoo Campground before heading home.

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There were caves to crawl through and rocks to climb up before sliding down, in what looked like rock piles built by a giant toddler.  And, of course, everything is more fun with friends.

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After some climbing and a short hike, most of the others headed back to their cars and Fort Collins, but we weren’t ready to say goodbye to our wonderful weekend yet, so we did another longer hike, looping around and over one of the biggest rock formations.

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That last hike finished, we stopped in Laramie for lunch with just one of the other families, then headed back home to reality, already dreaming of our next camping adventure, and maybe – just a little bit – thinking that we’re going to miss all our friends when we go do it.

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