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Trail Mix – West – March 2013

Your region's go-now spring guide: Scramble to Salado Indian cliff dwellings in Arizona, spot bighorn sheep in Wyoming, and more.

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Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, Whiskey Mountain, WY
 
The Wind River Range is famous for its rugged peaks and out-there solitude, but from November to March, it’s home to another natural wonder: The Lower 48’s largest bighorn sheep herd gathers to winter along the flanks of 11,157-foot Whiskey Mountain. Thanks to south-facing slopes that remain largely snow-free, the sheep forage in the lower elevations by day and return to the stepped-cliff tundra at night.

To catch a glimpse, hike the out-and-back Whiskey Mountain Trail from the Trail Lake Ranch trailhead, just a few miles east of Dubois, Wyoming, on US 26. The strenuous, switchbacking (but also generally snow-free) path climbs roughly 3,800 vertical feet in four to five miles, depending on your route. You’ll follow markers for the first 3.5 miles; from there, pick your own line across the windswept, sedimentary slopes to the summit.

Although trail access is usually very good, stop at the ranger district office in Dubois to check current conditions, and visit the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center (888-209-2795; bighorn.org), also in Dubois, as it will have the latest details on the herd’s location. Tips: Tread softly during lambing season (starts in March) by staying quiet, giving the animals space, and leaving your dog at home. Also, this isn’t called the Wind River Range for nothing. Be prepared for subzero windchills and unpredictable weather. And finally, this is grizzly country, so don’t forget the bear spray.  Contact (307) 455-2466; fs.usda.gov/detail/shoshone

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