Is there anything more fun than that “Aha” moment of discovering something new and wonderful? My first walk along Red Grade Trail was just such a gift. I am a transplant from the hinterlands. St. Louis, to be exact. My idea of going for a walk with friends or my dog was tromping along a suburban lane, dotted with oak trees and forsythia bushes to be sure, but fraught with many an electrical or plumbing truck and lots of mommy vans. Red Grade Trail is a path of a different sort.
Driving the aptly named Red Grade Road up the mountain, a rough-hewn overhead frames the entrance to this particular Wyoming wonderland. Two new parking areas adjacent to the trailhead provide ample space to ditch your vehicle and get out into the wild. The wild? Just a mile out of Big Horn? This beautifully maintained dirt trail somehow does not intrude on the mountain side. The two miles of gorgeous flora and fauna form a figure eight that can be divided into one-mile segments that even a city slicker can manage. Hikers and bikers of all levels can leave daily life behind to make a half day trip into the glory that is at the foot of the Bighorn Mountain range.
Walk, trot, ride or run…halt! It is impossible to follow the trail non-stop! Off to the left is a thicket of delicate wild roses nestled into the undergrowth, the pink petals surrounding fuzzy bright yellow stamen. If you feel like you have to pet this beautiful posey, do not worry about the sparse thorns. They are surprisingly soft. If blue is more your color, further along you might find penstemon, a member of the snapdragon family. You will definitely come upon a few bright red spikey flowers, the Indian Paintbrush. Be careful not to pick this, though. It is the Wyoming state flower and is protected. On the other hand, keep a sharp eye out for the wild red raspberries. They demand that you pull the berries away from the shrub and pop them into your mouth, licking your fingers clean of the stain! In July and August they are ripe with just the proper tang.
After a close look at something wonderful underfoot, when you straighten up, the sun warms you even at the 4,500-foot altitude. Only joy can be read into the Rohrshoch patterns made by the soft light filtering through the overhead canopy. Pines provide a hint of that Christmas scent you have loved since your childhood and when you come to a stand of aspen trees, hope for a gentle breeze. The wavering leaves beckon you along a fairyland of sparkling gold motion. Mule deer wear the perfect camouflage to hide in this forest. Unfocus your eyes to look for movement rather than form if you want a sighting.
Other amazements along Red Grade Trail can make it almost hazardous…You might have to wave off a butterfly attack from a Cabbage White or smile as a Fritillary costumed in orange and black chevrons dances over some Baby Blue Eyes. You could trip over your own feet when you pull your eyes up to the sky to catch sight of the bird that called out a greeting to you. A song might be a grosbeak or a sparrow, a shriek might be a red-tailed hawk high overhead. In May or early June you would be very lucky to see the magical aerial ballet when hundreds of pink breasted finches perform their synchronized choreography.
No, if you want a workout without distraction, avoid Red Grade Trail at all cost.Sight and scent, touch and taste, all wrapped up in the friendly sounds of summer in the mountains, this is the sensory delight you are sure to enjoy along Red Grade Trail. If you want an unadulterated workout with open pasture around you and the mountains in the distance ahead of you, the Soldier Ridge Trail is for you. But that is a whole different story, worth another 1,000 words.
Kary Matthews is the Sheridan Community Land Trust development director.