An old-timer told me about a forest service cabin down at Sparhawk Lake which J.K. Rollinson had stayed in. “His cowboy boots are still sitting there.”
That I doubted.
J.K. Rollinson is well-known in our little valley. He was one of the first rangers in Sunlight and wrote a book that included his time here in the early 1900s. His book, Pony Trails of Wyoming, describes trips to this Beartooth cabin, peppered with stories about dangerous lightening storms in the high country and leading scientists to collect grasshoppers in Grasshopper Glacier.
I wanted to see if the cabin still existed so I drove to the dirt pullout to Sawtooth Lake across from the Island Lake turnout. The road is excellent for the first 1.5 miles, then turns to a rocky mess. I parked and walked the final 2.5 miles to Sawtooth Lake.
It just so happened that the Northwest Wyoming ORV club had arranged an outing with the Shoshone Forest Service last Thursday to look at a possible loop trail extension from Sawtooth over to the Morrison Jeep Trail. The Forest Service, in their 20 year plan, has promised three new ATV loop trails. I couldn’t go on that trip and I wanted to see the road conditions for myself, so I included it in my walk-through. The Forest Service and ORVer’s had driven the road (of course). I feel you can see much more if you are on foot.
The day was lovely and there was no one on the road–not one ATV or hiker. As I approached Sawtooth, I saw a parked car above the lake. At the lake I heard gunshots. People were target practicing on a beach at the lake. I hoped they weren’t shooting in my direction. I headed opposite from them, in the direction of the adjacent Sparhawk Lake.
The road ends at Sawtooth in a large turnout, but I found an illegal ATV use trail that was headed around the lake perimeter towards my destination. I followed it until the thick trees around Sparhawk prevented the ATVer from going further.
Heading through the trees, I quickly came to the cabin, at least what remained of it. And the Forest Service had placed a nice plaque there. No cowboy boots though.
I wondered why they didn’t build the cabin at the adjacent, and very large, Sawtooth Lake. Here’s a photo of pretty little Sparhawk Lake.
I made my way back to Sawtooth and began the return walk. Less than 1/4 mile from the lake, by a small meadow surrounded by trees, I heard a very strange sound. A deep and sonorous honking was repeatedly coming from the forest. I stopped, hoping to glimpse what was making these strange noises. Suddenly a big grizzly was running along the forest edge followed by a cub of the year. Seconds later another cub, and after a minute another cub! Something had spooked them to run down towards the lake. I was far enough away, with the wind in my face, that I wasn’t worried. Here’s a link to a black bear cub making a similar noise. Hearing this, I assumed the sound I heard was from the last little cub who became separated from mom.
This area where the ORV club wants a loop trail is in the PCA (Protected Conservation Area for grizzly bears) and with my sighting, it’s obviously a critical area for these bears. What’s proven is that traffic, especially these loud machines, is very disruptive for bears. A loop trail will bring more traffic here. As of now, people are camping right next to the lake creating fire rings. There are no bear boxes to store food in, and car/ATV campers invariably bring more trash in and tend to not pack it all out (or throw it in their campfire rings).
This year we’ve already had several bears destroyed because they were food adapted. There have been stories of restaurants next to, or even in the Park, dumping their grease outside. Bears that find any food rewards graduate to problem bears which become dead bears.
I’m not necessarily against this area looping with the Morrison Jeep road. By Sawtooth Lake, it’s only less than 1/4 mile to loop the two roads. But as ATV’s become more prevalent, their riders need to take responsibility for self-policing illegal off-shoots and keeping a clean camp. The intense noise factor needs to be considered. In addition, taking your vehicle into the back country and shooting off guns should be made illegal unless it’s hunting season.