Wyoming and the Bighorn National Forest are rich with history. The Bighorn Basin has eight historical markers within 2 miles. We have opportunities to visit and hike some of these sites, while others are great just to view.
The names of some of the markers can be intriguing. Besides historical information, many provide information as to how the forest operates. Some of these markers are named: “Hummingbirds – Natures Helicopters” (they can beat their wings 70 times per second in the shape of a figure eight), “Lifeblood of the West” (water), “Oasis in the Desert” (water in Shell Creek), “Wildfire” (from a wildfire in 1984 caused by careless use of fireworks) and “Shaping a Canyon” (how Shell Canyon was formed). One that is particularly interesting is called “The Beef Trail.” The inscription on this historical marker reads:
“The hillside below the cliffs is managed as a wildlife winter range. Elk and deer in the Big Horn Mountains live at high elevations during the summer, but move down to the lower areas during the winter. The Forest Service helps maintain this winter range by supervising use of domestic sheep and cattle, and by conducting periodic prescribed fires to encourage the growth of essential forage plants.
Look on the hillside for the thin line of the “Beef Trail,” a livestock drive trail. This has been used for many years by domestic cattle and sheep traveling from their winter range in Shell Valley to the summer pastures high in the Bighorn National Forest.
Erected by Bighorn National Forest.”
This trail begins at the end of FSR 264, which is located off of U.S. 14, near mile marker 27.6. Travel about 2 miles on this road and then the trail begins. This trail has been used throughout the years for driving cattle to summer pastures. It is about 5.9 miles one way, and it will end near mile marker 20 on U.S.14. Cedar Creek Trail also begins at this location, but turns north just after crossing Brindle Creek.
While hiking the Beef Trail you can see several other locations referred to by historical markers in the immediate area: Copman’s Tomb — a granite formation that rises from the ground to the north of the Beef Trail; Elephant Head Rock — which is named for its shape; and to the west, the cliffs of Pyramid Mountain and Sunlight Mesa.
This trail follows the opposite wall of Shell Canyon and provides spectacular views and scenery. There are several creek crossings, open areas filled with sagebrush and areas with juniper, Douglas fir and cottonwood trees. Toward the end of the trail there are some grassy flats along with cactus and other vegetation. This trail is home to mule deer, antelope and other animals, according to Erik Molvar.
Living in the Bighorns provides us so much opportunity to experience the outdoors, and to learn and see how early settlers lived. History is all around us and we only need to open our eyes to see it, and step outside to live and enjoy it.
Susan Guilford is a public affairs officer for the Bighorn National Forest.