Camping, Hiking, United States, Waterfalls, Wyoming

Of Geysers & Waterfalls – Day 1: Popo Agie Falls

Day 1 – August 22, 2020

Ever wake up on the morning of a grand adventure, so darn excited?!

That was me. Though I didn’t need to get an early morning start, I was still filled with anticipation. My grand 2020 adventure would take me to corners of Wyoming I had not visited in 29 years an 8-day road trip and I was SO. DARN. EXCITED! Planning this trip was overwhelming at times, as I was really naive about what to see in Yellowstone, and it was topped with the original plan of racing Pierre’s Hole 100 mountain bike race being cancelled about a month out. However, the race cancellation meant I’d have more time to explore, so I put my knack of trip planning to work and set my itinerary.

Into the thick wildfire smoke I drove, which obscured the landscape. Hours and hours went by, and I grew antsy just to get to my destination. I decided to make a quick pit stop at Split Rock off of US Highway 287, as there are restrooms and nice views to take in while I stretched my legs.

Split Rock was a prominent landmark for emigrants on the Mormon and Oregon Trails, and is located about ten miles north of Muddy Gap. There is a BLM interpretive site, with some educational signs, and some nice bathrooms as I had mentioned. I also believe there are some picnic tables as well. Not a bad spot for a quick rest before continuing on!

Split Rock Interpretive Site in the Sweetwater Valley
Wildflowers at Split Rock

This terrain always amazes me, as I find it troublesome to cruise along at 70mph at times, so I cannot even begin to imagine walking around it all in a wagon train! Those pioneers were something else for sure!

Next up was my first waterfall chase of my adventure – Popo Agie Falls outside of Lander in Sinks Canyon State Park. I had visited here a few years back on a fall evening, but it’s a pleasant hike and gorgeous falls, so I didn’t mind a repeat visit!

Sinks Canyon State Park does not require an entry fee, and borders the Shoshone National Forest.

Popo Agie Falls are a series of cascades on the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River. It’s actually pretty impossible to see the entirety of the cascade, but you can get close to a couple portions, including one part that is used as a swimming hole and waterslide in the warmer months. The hike is roughly 3 miles, and does gain a good chunk of elevation, but I saw plenty of young kids doing it if that gives you an idea on ease of hiking it. The hike begins at Bruces Parking area in the Shoshone National Forest, and follows the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie Trail into the Popo Agie Wilderness. It’s well signed at the junction to split off.

By the way, Popo Agie is pronounced “Puh – Po Shuh,” which is nothing how it looks!

I strapped on my hiking boots and pack, and grabbed my camera and set out on the hike. Sadly it was quite hazy from the wildfire smoke, but that would just all be about making lemonade out of the whole western U.S. being on fire.

Early on in the hike you go through some forest alongside the river.
The middle fork of the Popo Agie River
Yay for outdoor adventuring!!
It was only August 22nd, but some leaves had started to change!
The junction of the Falls Trail and Middle Fork Trail is well marked. The Middle Fork Trail continues on into the backcountry.
Oh that Heidi, always chasing waterfalls, instead of sticking to the rivers that she’s use to 😉
Unique glacier erratic near the Popo Agie Falls
Popo Agie Falls! Waterfall #1 of the trip chased and captured!

I headed down to the spot I had visited back in 2017, and decided it was a good place to have a snack and just enjoy the spray from the falls. There’s a theory that waterfalls are good for you as the rushing water releases ozone… not sure about that theory, but either way, sitting next to a waterfall, with the loud roar in your ears, is just the best!

A lower cascade of Popo Agie Falls. It’s possible to carefully climb down and sit on the boulders near it.
Popo Agie Falls
Eating my snack, enjoying a beautiful waterfall!

I hadn’t gone any further up the trail during my last trip (was running out of daytime, and it is a wilderness area after all!), so I decided to head up to the swimming hole portion. It was quite crowded, so I didn’t grab any photos, but I imagine the water is a bit darker when the run off is higher in the earlier summer months.

Low, late summer water levels. I’m guessing earlier in the summer and during spring there is a lot more water!
Heading back down the trail. It is an out and back hike.
Geological features of Sinks Canyon
Taken from the footbridge over the Popo Agie River near Bruces Parking Area

I stopped briefly at the Sinks Canyon State Park Visitors Center, picking up one of the free Wyoming tourism decals, and checked out this year’s winners of the annual photo contest. Sinks Canyon gets its name from the mysterious feature “The Sinks,” which is where the Popo Agie River disappears underground for hours before appearing further down the canyon about a quarter of a mile at “The Rise.” It is still a mystery how this all happens, as dye tests only tell a bit of the story, as it shouldn’t theoretically take hours for the water to reappear at that distance. Definitely worth a stop to see, and there’s parking at both The Sinks and The Rise.

The Sinks Cave, where the Popo Agie disappears underground.

My exploring around Lander complete, I continued north through the Wind River Indian Reservation and onto Dubois. When looking for a place to stay before entering Yellowstone, I explored a lot of options, including going all the way into Idaho and Montana (such a longgggggg drive), but settled on Dubois as I could get reservable camping on short notice at the KOA, and I could do some day hiking in the Wind River Range. Last time I had been in Dubois was probably in young childhood, so once again so fun to explore something again as an adult! Dubois is a cute little town of about 970 residents, and serves as a gateway community for the Wind Rivers and Teton & Yellowstone National Parks. The geology around Dubois is fantastic, uniquely shaped by tectonic, volcanic, and glacial forces (I’ll always be a geology herd, pardon me!). Also, remember the TV show Lost? Matthew Fox lived here in childhood. Dubois is also home to the National Bighorn Sheep Center, but more on that in day 2!

The elk at the KOA showing proper mask usage! Always a reminder that I was traveling during a pandemic of a novel virus.
After I set up my camping spot, I whipped up some dinner – steak, rice, potatoes, and sweet peppers all fried together! Definitely a delicious camping meal that would go on to be one of my go-tos for camping adventures.
This rock is full of puns!
Dubois has an antler arch that is very much like the one found in Jackson, just minus the gazillion tourists all jockeying to take a photo with it!
Settling in with a book at my campsite, and enjoying the smoky sunset.

Stay tuned for Days 2-8!!

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