August 17- 20, 2006
by Jeanne Worthy
It was a long drive to Cooke City for the three day club trip in mid August. The fastest way from the Missoula area is to enter the north end of Yellowstone Park and travel to the east entrance of the park and then to Cooke City, elevation 7570. To say the town of Cooke City is unique is an understatement. Its a true wild west town with the closest law enforcement in Lewistown some 2 1/2 hours away. Summer population is around 300 and in the winter its down to less than 70. School is held in a one room schoolhouse. Gold, silver, and lead were the reason for the towns existence and lots of mining remains can be found. Unfortunately, the early miners were not good land stewards, which is why now a lot of history is being lost in name of reclamation work. These were the Lower and Middle Tredennick mines, and also the Old World Mine.
We made the Antlers Lodge our headquarters and took day trips from there. Joining us were some friends from Cheyenne, WY, in a modified Grand Cherokee and a TJ as well as Ron and Donnas son in his (to say the least) highly modified Pathfinder.
The four wheeling was good but with few hard challenges. Yes indeed, four wheel drive, ground clearance and some decent size tires were needed in several spots. If you can crawl under your vehicle, you can run all these trails fairly easily.
(click on images for larger versions; photos open new windows)
In places, steep drop offs and elevations in the 10,000 foot range kept the drivers eyes on the trail and not on the magnificent vistas. And, boy, were there ever some great views! If you dont like cliffs, some of these trails arent going to be your favorites. It would be easy to get off the side and tumble a long, long ways to the bottom. In fact this very thing happened to some locals the following weekend with the loss of their lives.
One of our destinations was Goose Lake, which is an in and out trail, with several stream crossings and other small lakes along the way.
We took a break at very picturesque Round Lake, where there is a Forest Service one room rental cabin, with dishes, cots, chairs, table, woodstove (and wood!), and usable outhouse. Locals snowmobile in and use it during the winter.
You reach the wilderness boundary at 9802 foot elevation, and then its a 1/3 mile hike to Goose Lake, uphill at first, but quickly flattens out, and well worth taking the time to do. Be sure to look at Star Lake on your way out, as youll see why it got its name.
The scenery and wildflowers in the area were absolutely spectacular, with huge, very dramatic granitic rock flows. Any of the exposed rocks you see, in creek beds or dry lakes, are whats right under the thin layer of soilunbelievable that anything grows. There were large areas thick with purple lupine, others where purple aster and unidentified yellow sunflower-like plants were blooming. In addition, there were pink monkey flowers, pearly everlasting, red and magenta paintbrush, yellow columbine, yarrow, fireweed, purple larkspur, and yellow biscuitroot.
In late summer be sure to look for berries, as there are huckleberries and the tasty very small grouse whortleberries. How many of them would it take to fill up a hungry bear?
On Sunday, Willie and Jeanne did more exploring in the area on their own, and just before the turnoff for the Goose Lake Jeep trail, there is road to the right. We followed it ½ mile or so to lots of mining remains, including a smelter with huge furnace, but only the foundation left, the stack is missing, some coke still on ground. There are remains of a large burnt building, ore crusher, big hopper, and giant air compressor. On up the road is a log building that looks usable, and then parking area for the Lady of the Lake Trail #31, one mile into the lake.
We continued along Lulu Pass Road, and found many collapsed wooden buildings, as well as a huge wooden ore collection hopper. The ore came down from the upper hopper high on the mountain in big buckets, and then was cable trammed in smaller buckets to the smelter near the Goose Lake Jeep trail sign. Its all part of the reclamation area, thus it makes it hard to figure out what was where and what it was used for. Even five years ago or so, this would have been great to see. Why can Forest Service destroy history, stating reclamation, where in other places Antiquities Act protects it?
Over all it was a great trip but the four wheeling area is small and is surrounded by wilderness and National Park lands which prohibit off highway travel and limit the amount of trails available. Most likely the immediate area does not merit another trip back.
Numerous motels and lodges are available to stay in at Cooke City. There is a small Forest Service campground, Soda Butte, one mile east of Cooke City on Highway 212, with 26 sites, one pull through, five long enough for trailers, with pit toilets and water.