US 191 Into Wyoming Overlooking Clay Basin


Once you leave Flaming Gorge behind, and continue north on US 191 back into Wyoming, the landscape continues to be fantastic.  I mean, seriously, look at that road.  Don’t you want to be there right now?

US 191 gains a lot of altitude as it slips through a couple of gaps in mountain ranges which, on a topographical map, look like backbones.  Then, the real treat begins.  The highway skirts the edge of 9,000+ foot Little Mountain, which rises steeply on the left side of the road.  Look to your right…

… and you see this.  Now, I realize you can’t possibly comprehend exactly what you’re looking at here, but I’ll try to explain it for you.  For a few miles, the road runs along the edge of a vast valley, which I believe is called Clay Basin.  You can see for miles and miles, over a landscape that completely fills your field of vision.  There are mountains in the distance, at least 20 or 30 miles away.  Everything in between is below your feet.

There are several good places to pull off.  I stopped at one such place, which you can locate by watching for a patch of very black pavement at the edge of the road.  That pavement ends immediately, but a dirt road takes you further out onto a perch that truly gives you that 180-degree viewpoint.  It’s the kind of place that makes you want to spin around with your hands in the air…

… which I did.

But, the simple joys of travel were soon about to end.  Just a mile or two further, I had to make a decision.  I had plotted a path across southern Wyoming, which would save me from driving all the way back up to Interstate 80.  If you’ve seen a map of Wyoming, you know, there are no roads that go where I wanted to go — at least, no paved roads.  Thankfully, I’ve never allowed common sense to stand in the way of a great road trip adventure.

I was hoping to find a series of roads which, when pieced together, would take me from US 191 to Wyoming Route 430.  Then, another, slightly more established dirt road would take me further east to Wyoming Route 789 and the town of Baggs.  I’ll spoil the ending of the story right now: I made it across, but I’m not exactly sure how I did it.

Just a mile or two after the view of Clay Basin disappeared, I spotted a dirt road turning off to the right of US 191.  I wasn’t completely certain if it was the right road or not.  Even now, looking at a map, I can’t quite figure out which road I took.  But, I did take good notes, so if you’re planning a similar excursion, maybe this will help.

At the turnoff from US 191 (2:35 p.m.), I reset the mileage to zero.  I think I took the picture above at the turnoff, but I’m not sure.  The blue sign says County Route 71, but the brown sign says County Route 27.  It may have also been signed as Salt Wells Road.

There was also a sign here saying a bridge was out, on the road that led to the tri-state area (Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah).  This wasn’t the direction I was headed, but I think that road would have likely cut through Clay Basin, and if so, it would have been quite a beautiful drive.

To add to the confusion, I took this picture of a Route 34 sign, just about a minute after the previous picture.  I can’t even begin to explain how there could be so many different routes, yet so little logic as to where they actually go.

At 6.1 miles (2:45 p.m.), I turned left, onto County Route 27.  The road became a bit narrower and rougher. Up until that point, it had been smooth, and safely passable at about 40 miles per hour.

At 9.5 miles (2:50 p.m.), I found a road that turned right and headed uphill.  There were no signs, but I knew I needed a road that went in this direction, so it felt like the right way to go.  Once again, it became a little rougher than the previous road.

That unmarked road led up and over a hill, and into another valley, where I could see the dirt road stretch out for at least a mile or two ahead.

At 15.9 miles (3:09 p.m.), I came to a signed intersection.  One sign pointed to Potter Mountain and Highway 430 (a left turn, even though the picture makes it look like a right turn) while the other (straight ahead) pointed to Pine Mountain.  I took the left turn, even though straight felt like the right way to go.

For the next few miles, the dirt road passed through some small hills.

At 23.2 miles (3:26 p.m.) I reached Route 430, just a few miles north of the Colorado/Wyoming line — remarkably, I was right where I had hoped I’d end up.

In this area, there were a few mountains in the distance, but most of the surrounding area was fairly flat.

The entire drive across the collection of dirt roads was an adventure, and it was somewhat scenic, but it certainly wasn’t awe-inspiring.  So, only give it a try if, like me, you’re trying to avoid that long drive back up to the interstate, and you’re willing to take a little risk.

I wouldn’t recommend attempting this route (or any dirt road, for that matter) if the road is wet.

When you reach Route 430, turn right, headed south.  You’ll be looking to make a left turn onto a road that’s just before the state line.  If you hit Colorado, you’ve gone too far.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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