Stough Creek Basin, Wyoming

Location: Popo Agie Wildneress, Shoshone National Forest, Wind River Range, Wyoming
Trail: Moderately strenuous, 8.7 miles, elevation gain 1700'
Maps: USGS 7.5' quads: Cony Mt, Sweetwater Gap
Fees: None
Access: From Lander, take Sinks Canyon Rd west 13 miles to the end of pavement, where it becomes Louis Lake Road (FR 300). After 2 miles, turn right onto FR 302 towards the Fremont County Youth Camp. Go 4.5 miles to the end of FR302 and park. 
Trailhead: NAD83 z12 669401e 4729582n  Elevation: 8850'
Dogs: Leash control
Webcam: 10 miles south at South Pass
Weather: Current Conditions    Local Forecast

July 4, 2002         
         We had entered the Shoshone National Forest shortly before, laboriously cruising up a dozen or so switchbacks on a dirt road to get to the trailhead. I parked the car next to a row of horse trailers and we loaded our packs with what turned out to be tons more food than we’d ever need on a four day trip. At around 2PM, we were off, Makenzie noisily wheezing through her self-constricted collar (by virtue of strong leash tugging) and Frank nosing along the ground set to point and then dart at small game hiding in the undergrowth of the forest. The day was bright, sunny and clear. Fair weather cumulus clouds sat on an invisible glass plate in the sky, like dollops of fat-free whipped topping. I signed in the register and read the names and origins of other hikers we would meet on the trail. I noticed quite a few from Colorado, but the majority hailed from nearby. Andra impatiently waited until I took the clue and we set off up the trail.

          Within moments we entered the Popo Agie Wilderness (prounounced Popo’zsha). The path here was wide and we loped along the flat trail side by side, dogs in front. We passed four packers going out and a group of 4 anglers, also going out. In no time we reached Roaring Fork Lake, and were so enamored by the stream that led out of it that we stopped and played for awhile. The stream was about 20 feet wide, 3-4 feet deep and very slow moving. It meandered through a thickly-grassed meadow surrounded by thin, dark pines. We shed our packs and shoes and waded into the cool water. Frank jumped right in, but Makenzie was hesitant. It took quite a lot of coaxing to get her to take the plunge. Once she did, we discovered that she was actually a pretty fair swimmer, for a 3-month old. She glided through the water with the ease of a pro, with only her little brown head above water. When picked up out of the water she would keep her little legs churning as if she were still swimming, just like Frank did at Lake Maconaughy several years back. We entertained ourselves by throwing objects into the stream and watching the dogs charge in after them. Frank was especially anxious for us to toss in more floating sticks as these appeared to offer the most sport. A group of anglers approached and then passed, heading downstream for those elusive trout. Andra lobbied for camping right next to the stream, but the angler traffic and the fact we had only hiked 1 mile from the car out of a possible 6-7 to our final destination goaded my sense of anxious urgency to suggest we continue on a little ways. I find it is always hard for me to stop and wait when there is so much to see up ahead. I would be more pleased, overall, if I could simply find the first pleasant spot and occupy it without whim or fancy of moving on. But this is just not in me. Where I should be relaxed, I get ancy, and feel that to sit still another second will certainly kill me. Therefore, we moved on across the stream as the map suggested and promptly got tangled up in thick woods and heavy mosquitoes. By a stroke of navigation and geography that I still can’t understand, we tried to follow the stream back up on the far bank with the goal of intercepting the trail that surely had to be found somewhere. We hiked over what seemed like level terrain for quite some time, then, fearing I had gone too far, began to hike back towards the creek which we had lost in the thick woods and tributaries. This was the strange part because we ended up walking down a very long steep hill to get to the stream only about a hundred yards from where we crossed. Very strange. I don’t know how we got uphill to begin with. At any rate, once we found the trail we cruised quickly through the warm summer afternoon.

        The trail followed a steep contour course up into a hanging valley and very soon we crossed a stream in the trail that had been my initial choice for camp #1. Here I had to search for a good 20 minutes before finding a flat spot of real estate big enough to squeeze most of our tent onto. This being done, we shed our packs and sat by the nearby creek and filtered water and cooled off. Our camp was just under the forest canopy near the edge of a sweeping meadow of tussock grass and rivulets of clear, cold water stretching to the base of a nearby mound of granite.

         We cooked dinner several dozen yards from our tentsite and took extra care to hang the food out of reach of bears. A coworker had warned me that his hiking-partner’s food had been snagged by a black bear in this very area last year. It was at dinner then, that we first noted the severity of the mosquito problem. We both applied gobs of bug repellant (after several bites, of course) and then felt the need to lather up the dogs after clouds of the little buggers coated their coats. We also noticed with shock that some other type of fly had bitten the dogs profusely on their bellies where the fur is almost non-existent to create bright red blotches. These looked much more serious than mosquito bites, and we applied extra repellent in those areas. These bites, in fact, resembled bites Andra and I would also receive and be scratching at for more than a month. I still do not know what kind of insect makes those bites.  At the time, we assumed that the mosquito concentration was linked to the proximity of the boggy meadow. This, ultimately, had little bearing on the situation.
The trail into Stough Creek Basin
       We were both pretty tired from the long drive and short hike so we went to bed before dark (not hard when the days are 16 hours long) and slept well. I was particularly cozy most of the night. Makenzie was sure to wake us at around 5 by frantically pawing and fumbling around our crowded tent. Tent and sleeping bag nylon has a way of being extremely loud when a clumsy dog is sliding about all over in the dead of the morning. Andra and I woke up grudgingly, and once awakened, got up and started the day. Frank had to be dragged out of bed, although, once up and about, had great fun stalking who knows what in the raspberry thickets.

        After a leisurely breakfast, we took our time packing up camp. Once we got started it was quite warm, and we started uphill almost immediately. The trail was steep and contained about twenty switchbacks up and over a high pass. The rock slopes we passed and the high craggy peaks were very cool. We passed water only once, and failed to take advantage of it. The result was that we were bone dry by the time we reached a stream on the downside of the pass, and we were very thankful to see it by then. At the top of the pass we were presented with an amazing view of the Wind River Range trailing up to the north, sparkling with snow under the mid summer sky. The moment would have been so much nicer had we not been constantly swatting at biting flies and mosquitoes. At the pass there was also another bug present that didn’t necessarily bite, but swarmed and caused itching merely by skin contact. Anyway, we moved on quickly so as to get away from the pesky swarms and as long as we were moving, we were fine. But everywhere we stopped to get water or rest, the bugs were on us in an instant. Where were all the spiders? With arthropod populations like this you’d think the forest could be one giant web. The afternoon brought clouds and as we reached the final leg of the trail, I fretted about rain. The bugs and heat had conspired against us and we were both approaching a less than zen-like state on the matters of the day. The final frustration was when we hiked almost an hour over what should have been only ½ mile of trail. This was the second geographical mystery of the trip. Somehow, between the time this map was printed and the time we hiked the printed route, the mountain had stretched more than a mile!
        We finally made it to the first of the many lakes in Stough Basin and I spent about 20 minutes once again locating a flat piece of ground with the criteria of flatness, tent-sized and in this case, not directly near someone else’s camp.  I finally located a place and we set up camp quickly under a brutal torpedoing of mosquitoes and black flies. I had contracted a pretty severe headache by then, and the heat was oppressive. There was no wind, and although it was cloudy, the sun just seemed then to be coming from everywhere at once. We brushed the bugs off the dogs and threw them in the tent, then hopped in ourselves and napped a hot, sweaty hour away. I woke up as the sun peaked from behind the clouds and shone in my face. I felt much better and determined that it was time to fish. We exited the tent into a cloud of mosquitos, and quickly applied more bug repellent, oiling our skin and feeling quite disgusting. I assembled my fly rod and we trotted out of the trees and downhill to the lake. I immediately spotted several trout gliding along just below the surface, so I started whipping my fly out there, a clever mosquito imitation, and slowly dragging it back in. The fish completely ignored it. Many, many times I watched fish in the clear water approach my facsimile and turn their noses up and dart off. I walked the whole edge of the lake, and tried numerous flies, with similar results. Andra had brought her book down to the shore and sat trying to read but quickly gave it up because of the necessity to continuously swat the dang mosquitoes. I also found it hard to fish, as I had to brush my face and neck every 2 or 3 seconds. I had applied bug spray to what I believed to be every patch of exposed skin, however, the mosquitoes quickly audited the work and showed me where I had missed. Additionally, they bit my lips! Andra and I walked up to the next lake but they were just as bad there. The entire area between lakes was a swamp, a giant pete bog of soft, floating mats and a million tiny streams of water. The mosquitoes were unreal. We retreated back to the tent and huddled inside while we planned our next move. It had become clear that meaningful, out-of-tent activity would not occur. We had little hope of finding fewer bugs elsewhere, but at least we’d be closer to the car when one of us finally required a blood transfusion.

      So we packed up camp without ever having camped there, and in half an hour, were back on the trail heading down. The clouds had steadily built back up during this time and once again, I fretted we would get drenched before we pitched the tent. We found a place that wasvisually much more interesting than our previous spot and apparently had fewer bugs.  This latter observation turned out to be incorrect, as we believe it only took time for sufficient brigades of bugs to be alerted to our arrival. Once they had our coordinates, they zeroed in for the kill. The site itself was under lodgepole pines, with an understory of bright green forbs, located near a clearing where the face of an immense granite boulder peaked out for twenty or thirty feet. Andra stayed near the tent while I once again tried fishing in the nearby stream that had backed up into a nice pond. The mosquitoes were worse than ever, but the fact that I actually caught something made me think less of them. I had great luck overall, catching 11 small trout. I cleaned and cooked several, but the bug swarms made even this task difficult and miserable, and I can’t say I really enjoyed them. It was about this time that our bug spray ran out. We were only too happy to get back into the tent and sleep once dusk came.

      The next morning was beautiful and cool and Andra discovered a gorgeous lookout of bare rock up through the trees from camp. We walked up there and spent awhile enjoying the view, with only marginal interruption from bugs (less than 100 on you at a time). I went fishing again and caught 5 more trout, and put them all back safe and sound. I wrestled with the agony of leaving a place so soon without any exploration, but could not seriously visualize taking the clouds of mosquitoes another day. Thus, we packed up camp and headed down, my weeks-in-planning trip ended before it ever really began. Never before, and I hope never again, will bugs be such an influential factor in a camping trip. You would have to have been there to believe it. The amazing thing was that when I had camped nearby at Leg Lake only two weeks before, I had not encountered a single mosquito. We must’ve just hit the worst part of a breeding cycle or something.
          A pleasant sun-filled morning filled us with good cheer along the first leg of our hike, but even before 11, clouds rolled in, blackened the sky, and started throwing water down on us. This was more than just a shower, unfortunately, and soon we were pelted by ice-cold drops as big as marbles and later, small hail. We donned our raingear, but still got soaked. The dogs shivered pathetically in the cold. Andra in Stough Creek BasinWe had tentatively planned on camping near the creek where the dogs had swam and we had not noticed bugs, but when we got there we were soaked, the sky was one shade of pale grey from horizon to horizon and the meadow looked damp, boggy and cold. So, we walked another mile back to the car and drove towards home.
          The sun came out and our spirits rose and we had a nice time in the car while heading south. I studied the map and we decided to try to find a spot in the Medicine Bow NF outside of Laramie to camp. This we did, next to a small creek whose name escapes me. It was a pleasant camp with very few mosquitoes and a cheery atmosphere. Large spruce lined the creek and an old cabin foundation rested nearby. We had not arrived until late afternoon so by the time we got dinner made and camp set up it was dark. In the darkness, Frank ate part of a deer leg he had found. At 5AM, I awoke to Andra trying to unzip the tent before Frank puked. She didn’t make it, and dijon-colored deer-leg vomit sprayed onto her legs and sleeping bag. Terrible, awful way to start the morning. She cleaned her legs with the alcohol wipes we brought for cleaning hands and wiped it off the sleeping bag as best as can be done in the woods. We cooked breakfast, and then Andra napped under a spruce tree for a couple of hours while I read my book and packed up camp. I took another short few moments to fish the creek and caught one very small rainbow. Then we headed on. We stopped for a half hour at the Snowy Range area and I hiked up a bit and took a few photos. Again, the lack of bugs was conspicuous. We rolled into Laramie long past lunchtime and had a crappy burger at Hardee’s before driving the last hour home.

I was very much looking forward to the trip to this area, but I had never, ever counted on mosquitoes and flies as having the potential to turn beautiful scenery into a hellish existence. At least it was a trip we could improvise on and ultimately abandon when it just turned out to be no fun at all. Also, it taught me the importance of having plenty of bug spray on hand.

Prints and Digital Imagery from this trip location, and others, are available for sale in the Wyoming album at

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Page created July 23, 2002