Lee’s Ferry

Here at Exploring Off the Beaten Path, our favorite activity is a road trip with no particular destination in mind. Roaming and exploring are the journey. We’ve stumbled upon lots of great places we didn’t know about. This is one of them – Lee’s Ferry, the river gateway to the Grand Canyon.

**AUTHOR’S NOTE: For our readers outside the United states, here’s a miles to kilometer converter. We Yanks don’t do metric very well.

Lee's Ferry

A beautiful downstream view of Lee’s Ferry. The 2,000 foot Vermilion Cliffs tower in the background. These flat, accessible banks are the result of three canyons and two rivers coming together. Marble Canyon, Glen Canyon and the Grand Canyon converge in this area. The Colorado joins with the Paria River, which flows out of Marble Canyon from the north. That accident of geology created a river bottom with access to both banks. This is the official geological start of the Grand Canyon – Mile 0. Click on the following link for a bigger and more gorgeous photo.

The Grand Canyon needs no introduction. One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, it’s a source of awe and beauty for millions of people every year. The canyon, which can easily be seen from space, is around 270 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and averages over a mile in depth.

Imbedded in the culture, history and geology of the Grand Canyon is the Colorado River. From its source at La Poudre Lake, 40 miles west of Fort Collins, CO, it flows 1,450 miles to the Gulf of Baja in Mexico. It runs the entire length of the Grand Canyon. Fifteen miles upstream northeast of the Grand Canyon is Glen Canyon, which is also the name of the dam that was built there across the Colorado River from 1956 to 1966. Behind it is Lake Powell, which turns the Colorado River into a 200 mile long reservoir.

There’s no way to cross the Grand Canyon unless you include walking from one rim all the way to the bottom and up to the other rim, a minimum of 20 miles along steep narrow trails. Otherwise, you have to go around it. That geographical fact of life affected anybody who ever moved through the region and continues to this day. No matter which route you take, at some point, you have to cross the Colorado River

Crossing of the Fathers in 1949

From the Utah Historical Society, a photo of the Crossing of the Fathers in 1949. The view is looking downstream, with Lee’s Ferry about 20 miles away. The jeep and observers were with the National Geographic Society. The yellow line shows the actual crossing site. This entire area is now under several hundred feet of water in the Padre Bay region of Lake Powell. The lake formed behind the Glen Canyon Dam. The dam was built between 1956 and 1966. Lake Powell wasn’t considered “filled” until 1980.

If you hike rim to rim, you’ll walk across the 440 foot Black Suspension Bridge. If you go around, you can drive on Highway 89 across the Navajo Bridge. Prior to 1928, you had to float across. For 300 miles both upstream and downstream, there’s only one place where you can do that – Lee’s Ferry.

** HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: Prior to the mid-1950’s, there was one other crossing – the Crossing of the Fathers – about 20 miles upstream. It was named after two Franciscan priests who explored the area around the time of the American Revolution. Native Americans used it for centuries and called it the Ute Crossing. Shifting sandbars formed during periods of low water allowing foot traffic and livestock to pick their way across. With steep stony banks, it wasn’t suitable for wagons and commerce. It was also seasonal and weather dependent. The crossing became untenable when the water was high. **

During the centuries that the Ute Crossing was used, the site that would become Lee’s Ferry was just sitting there. The Indians certainly knew about it. They just had no use for it. The water here is deeper and the currents treacherous. You can’t walk across it at any time. You have to float and they never developed that capability. So the future ferry site waited for somebody to come along who recognized its unique potential and found a way to utilize it.

Leer's Ferry in its heyday

The upper crossing site in its heyday around 1910. Note the cable system, which was installed in 1899. The vantage point of this photo is the same as the color photo at the top of the post. Click on the link for a bigger and clearer photo. It’s awesome.

That somebody was a remarkable man named Jacob Hamblin. He was a devout Mormon, one of the original pioneers who migrated to Utah in 1846-47. He was part scout, part explorer and part missionary. Hamblin was Brigham Young’s chief emissary to the Native American tribes and was quite successful. He spoke their languages and the Indians trusted him. When there was trouble or unrest, he got the call. For 30 years – from the late 1840’s to the late 1870’s – Jacob Hamblin roamed the rugged areas of southern Utah and northern Arizona on both sides of the Grand Canyon. He was a key figure in the opening and settlement of those areas. Several of his journeys took him south of the Colorado River into Navajo and Hopi territory. To get there, they used the Ute Crossing.

The Great Mormon Migration is part of the history of the West. Between 1846 and 1870, almost 70,000 Mormons headed to the Salt Lake Valley. The Mormons made no secret of their plans to expand their new home land. They were always looking for land, trade partners, converts and routes to get to them. Jacob Hamblin figured prominently in those efforts. The original migration route came in from Fort Bridger, Wyoming in the north and expansion moved south. A southern corridor was needed to more easily approach the land north and south of the Grand Canyon. The Ute Crossing was only suitable for foot traffic. Additionally, it was a tough 40 mile hike to get there. As a commerce and settlement route, it held little potential. Sooner or later, the Colorado River would have to be dealt with.

** HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: In 1978, the National Park Service established the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail to preserve the route taken by the Mormon migration.**

Historic stone buildings at Lee's Ferry.

Two of the several buildings you’ll see on the walking tour. On the left is the office of Charles Spencer’s American Placer Co. This gold mining venture constructed eight buildings total, including a dining hall and three bunkhouses. One of the bunkhouses is still standing. On the right is Lee’s Ferry fort, built in 1874 to defend against Indian attacks which never happened. Later, it was used as a trading post, school and dining hall. The Echo Cliffs, from which Jacob Hamblin first saw this site, are in the background.

Jacob Hamblin got his first view of the ferry site in 1858 on a mission to the Hopi nation south of the river. He saw it from the top of the Echo Cliffs 1,000 feet above the site on the trail to the Ute Crossing. Its potential was immediately obvious to him. This was the north-south link they had been looking for. He visited several more times in the next few years, including at least one aborted crossing attempt. Finally, in October 1864, he crossed the river with men, horses and equipment on a raft, then turned around and came back. It became known as the Mormon Crossing. The site was a reality, but not ready for prime time just yet. There was work to do.

The ferry site needed a lot of development. The river banks had to be graded and stabilized to allow traffic to roll on and roll off the ferries. Roads were needed on both sides for wagons to access the site along with solid boats big enough to carry them across. Ferry boat operators had to be trained. Wharfs had to be built. The Colorado River was relentless and unpredictable. For the entire operational life of the ferry, boats capsized, material was lost and people drowned. There were times when the ferry was closed for weeks. That work would have to wait, though. The year after Hamblin’s first crossing, a brutal Indian war broke out pitting Mormons against the Navajo and Utes.

Trail to the upper crossing site

The trail to the upper crossing site on the walking tour. Total distance one way is about .8 miles. This is the same trail used by crossers to get to/from the boat ramp and is quite rugged in several places. The buildings in the above photo are behind you right here and the wreck of the Spencer is to your right. If you’re feeling adventurous, the Spencer Trail, which takes you to the top of Echo Cliffs, veers off to the left just ahead. It’s steep and treacherous and not maintained by the NPS.

From 1865 to 1872, hostilities with the Indians turned the Mormon settlements inside out. Over 150 skirmishes and battles were recorded. Dozens of Mormons were killed. The northern Arizona frontier was abandoned and the isolated ferry site became too dangerous. Activity at the ferry during those years was intermittent and unorganized. The Mormon Church laid claim to the crossing site. They knew it could open up northern Arizona to settlers, trade and exploration in both directions. When it was safe to do so, it needed a full-time ferry master to live on site and get it running. In 1872, the man who would put the Lee in Lee’s Ferry reluctantly took charge of the operation – John Doyle Lee.

Lee was a study in contrasts. He was fanatical in his Mormon faith but was excommunicated from the church. He had 19 wives over the course of his life. He was still married to five of them when he took the ferry posting. Two of them came to the ferry with him. He first saw the site in 1870 with Brigham Young and said he would never live or bring a family there. He was friends with some of the key people of his time, including Brigham Young, Jacob Hamblin and river runner John Wesley Powell. With manpower from the church, he built/carved approach routes (called dugways) on both sides of the river. One of them – Lee’s Backbone – was so narrow, steep and treacherous that it was as dangerous as the river crossing.

Wagons on Lee's Backbone

Wagons on Lee’s Backbone circa 1910. This treacherous dugway was the only way in or out of the upper crossing site and was one of the main reasons why the lower site was established in 1899.

He was also a fugitive from justice. The federal government charged him with murder for his part in the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre and had been pursuing him ever since. The Utah Territory was a good place to hide, but when the army started closing in on him, Brigham Young suggested he reconsider the ferry site posting. Lee took it and extended his freedom by a few more years. During that time, he developed it into a major transportation hub. Even though the site was called Mormon Crossing, he dubbed it Lee’s Ferry. The name stuck.

** HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: The name Lee’s Ferry stuck but the man named Lee didn’t. He was arrested in 1875 while visiting family in Panguitch, UT, tried and executed by firing squad in 1877. His name lives on though. His 19 wives bore him 56 children, who in turn prolifically continued the bloodline. To this day, many prominent people in Utah are direct descendants of John Doyle, including U.S. Senator Mike Lee.**

A photo of Charles Spencer’s mining operation. Water was piped from the river and a steam boiler forced it out like a water cannon to carve away at the surrounding cliffs. There was gold in those hills but it was so fine that it went right through the sifter. It was a mammoth undertaking to get set up here, but it didn’t last long. After two solid years of failure, the operation folded.

The operation continued and grew after Lee’s death. His wife Emma ran the operation until 1879. Lee’s Ferry got its own post office, a trading post and a stone blockhouse for defense against possible Indian attacks. For 54 years – from 1873 to 1927 – a succession of operators and variety of boats transported settlers, missionaries, miners, outlaws, traders and Indians across the river at Lee’s Ferry. Improvements were made constantly, including an alternate crossing just downstream from today’s NPS boat ramp. It was shorter and more easily accessible, avoiding Lee’s Backbone. At first, the ferry boats were rowed. Later, cables were strung and anchored on both sides for pulling the boats across with the current doing most of the work. During its service life the ferry went from Indian raids to transporting tourists in them there newfangled automobiles. During that time, a wide variety of characters and scoundrels passed through Lee’s Ferry. Then, in 1889, gold was discovered in the Colorado Basin. Lee’s Ferry became a vital and busy link on the road to riches.

**HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: The ferry ride wasn’t free. This was a money making operation for the Mormon church. John Doyle Lee’s first ferry customer was on April 22, 1873 – two wagons and 33 horses. He charged three dollars per wagon and 75 cents per horse. People and luggage were free. It took two days. When the ferry was busy and the river cooperated, operations went around the clock. Fares were often negotiated and depended on a variety of factors. The amount of material, number of people, river state, boat type and more all figured into the final cost. Most ferry crossings were paid, at least in part, in goods and services. This helped the ferry operators subsist in this isolated, spartan environment. There wasn’t much cash involved. In 1886, the crossing took in $354 for the whole year. $118 went to the church. **

The “Charles H. Spencer” was brought here to haul coal from upstream to the mining operation. It was a good sized boat measuring 70 feet long and 21 feet abeam. The paddlewheel was 12 feet wide and added 15 feet to the total length. The crew of 5 was a pickup team from willing landlubbers working the mine site. When the operation went bust, Spencer walked away leaving everything, including the boat. As the years went by, it was stripped for wood, battered by floods, rotted and eventually settled to the river bottom in about three feet of water. It’s on the walking tour.

Gold brings out dreamers and promoters. One of them was Charles H. Spencer. Spencer was not a carnival barker looking for a quick buck. He was a talented guy who loved challenges, hard work and the outdoors. In 1910, he formed the American Placer Co. and staked a claim right on the ferry site. The plan was to erode the soft sandstone cliffs with high pressure water and sift through the sludge for gold dust. It was a mammoth undertaking with enormous engineering and logistical challenges. To make a long story short, he got everything up and running, but never got any gold. By 1913, it was all over and he walked away, abandoning all equipment and structures. You can still see some of it as part of the walking tour.

One of the more interesting tales from Lee’s Ferry is the shipwreck located here. Spencer’s operation needed coal to run the boilers – and lots of it. The nearest coal was 30 miles upstream at Warm Creek Canyon. Mule teams going back and forth cross country on the Spencer Trail weren’t enough, so Spencer brought in a paddlewheel steamboat. Built in San Francisco, it was disassembled, brought overland to Lee’s Ferry and re-assembled on the river at Warm Creek Canyon. He named it [drum roll] the “Charles H. Spencer”. The plan was to have it push an empty barge upriver and push it back full of coal. This type of paddleboat was designed and built for use on the placid rivers of the San Francisco delta. It turned out to be woefully inadequate to buck the upstream current of the Colorado. The number of round trips it made is not known but was certainly in the single digits.

**HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: Charles H. Spencer died in 1968 at age of 96. He was a living history book on Lee’s Ferry and provided input to early works and records of the site.**

The underwater remains of the Charles H. Spencer

The wreck site of the “Charles H. Spencer”.

Lee’s Ferry started its final act in 1927. The Navajo Bridge was built to cross the Colorado River across Glen Canyon six miles downstream from the ferry site. Lee’s Ferry was used to transport men, equipment and materials during the construction. Its last run on June 7, 1927 was a disaster. With the bridge nearing completion, three men were crossing on the ferry with some bridge materials. The water was high and swift. It upended the boat and snapped the guide cable. The three men, their material and the ferry boat were lost. Lee’s Ferry was never used again. The construction company instead utilized an 800 mile drive through Needles, CA to end up on the other side of the bridge 834 feet away.

An annotated Google Earth overhead shot of Lee's Ferry

An annotated Google Earth overhead shot of Lee’s Ferry. Click on the following link for a much larger view. The GPS coordinates of the boat ramp are N36.8653 W111.5867. Click on those coordinates for an interactive Google map.

Today, Lee’s Ferry is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreational Area. The ferry site and the Lonely Dell Ranch are National Historic Sites. It’s easy to get to, but not too crowded. If you’re a fan of fishing, rafting, history, exploring, hiking or photography, there is something here for you. If you’re a treasure hunter like us, there are several geocaches at the ferry site and a couple of benchmarks along the river. They are both found in abundance throughout the Glen Canyon area along with a few dozen NPS Passport Stamps. We’ve explored both sides of the Colorado in northern Arizona. Lee’s Ferry was our favorite place. It’s a real hidden gem tucked away in the towering cliffs on the banks of the Colorado and Paria Rivers and definitely off the beaten path.

You might also want to check out our post on Pipe Spring National Monument. It’s about 90 miles away on the road to Zion NP and shares a lot of history with Lee’s Ferry.

Hope you learned something. We sure did.

Cheers … Boris and Natasha

The Old Meeker Ranch

We’ve geocached in 40 states. The only areas we haven’t explored are New England and the Pacific Northwest. But out of all that, our favorite geocaching destination is the Black Hills of South Dakota. The Black Hills have it all – scenery, open spaces, mines, ghost towns, trails and more places to explore than you can do in one trip. And there are geocaches everywhere. You could geocache and explore there for the rest of your life and never get bored. They have everything from drive ups to day long quests. One of those quests took us to an abandoned homestead nestled deep in the hills. Locals call it the Old Meeker Ranch.

First look on the road in

First look

You can drive to within a mile on a forest service road with a locked gate. Then you walk in. This is the first view you get when you come over the rise. The pictures simply don’t do it justice. It is a breathtaking scene.

Natasha with the cache

Natasha with the ammo can find. The geocache was called “The Old Meeker Ranch”, GC1CTMH. Unbeknownst to us, the owner had deactivated it the day we found it. It might still be there, but we’ve got the last entry in the cache log.

The 278 acre ranch area was homesteaded in 1882 by Frank Meeker, who was a rider for the Pony Express in his younger days. He named his spread Willow Creek and that is still the name of the year round stream that flows through the middle of it.

The front door and barn

The front door and the barn. The barn is relatively new, built by the last owners in the 1950’s.

** HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE – The Pony Express carried mail to/from St. Joseph, MO and Sacramento,CA. Letters cost $10 an ounce. The 120 riders covered the 1,900 mi (3,100 km) route in 10 days. Most of the riders were teenagers, some as young as 14. They rode legs of 75-100 miles, going at breakneck speed day and night. Switching horses at way stations that were about 10 miles apart, the riders kept to the timetable despite weather, terrain, outlaws, hostile Indians and numbing fatigue. Although successful, the Pony Express was only in operation from April 1860 to October 1861. It was replaced by the transcontinental telegraph. We don’t know what Frank Meeker did in the 21 years between the Pony Express and the Willow Creek homestead, but he must have been one tough hombre.**

These are original buildings from the late 1880’s. Although preserved and open to the public, the ranch has been bedeviled by vandalism in recent years. So far, it’s been broken windows and torn exterior clapboard, which have been fixed by workers. In fact, the day we were there, a BLM crew came out to inspect the place and do any needed repairs.

The ranch changed hands numerous times, ending up with the Davis family in 1952. They built the new barn and worked the spread until 1974. After they left, the ranch spent 30 years in limbo and disrepair before becoming part of the Black Hills National Forest in 2004.

The dilapidated kitchen

We’re explorers. Locked doors and “No Entry” signs drive us nuts. One of the great things about the ranch is that you can go inside the buildings, including the house. When the last family moved on, they left behind a treasure trove of artifacts – cans, jars, newspapers and more – on shelves and in closets. These aren’t props put there by someone. They’re the real deal. Use caution, of course. The upper floors aren’t safe. Watch out for weak spots in the structures and be alert for an occasional rattlesnake. Also keep in mind that this is wild country with black bears and mountain lions. If you have pets or small children, keep them close.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) took over in 2004 and scheduled the property for demolition in 2006. A grass roots effort led by local artist Jon Crane and the Black Hills Historic Preservation Trust saved the ranch. They also raised funds for preservation work, an effort that is ongoing as we write this. A dedicated corps of volunteers working alongside the BLM and spearheaded by Historicorps keeps the ranch in a state of “arrested decay” for the public to visit.

Going out the way we came in

Looking at the way back. If you’re a photographer, this place should be on your bucket list. Here are some great photos taken on the Old Meeker Ranch.

For your GPS. N43.8042º W109.5554º. These coordinates will put you right at the center of the ranch. Click on them for a Google map.

The Old Meeker Ranch is a unique historical treasure. It is one of the few ranch homesteads in the country that is maintained, open to the public and freely accessible. Concerned citizens, historians, artists, archaeologists, businesses, trusts and government agencies work hard to keep it that way. Please enjoy it responsibly and safely.

Cheers …. Boris and Natasha

Featured

Welcome to our blog…

**NOTE TO READERS: Here’s a few items to guide you on our blog.**

My most recent posts are on the sidebar. One of the challenges of running a blog is how to quickly show or access older posts. I’ve done it the MENU function. There’s a menu bar on top. The titles are self-explanatory. Each one has a drop down list of related topics, which are also self-explanatory. You can surf the entire blog by mousing over the titles. How cool is that? We have a lot more stuff to add.

Also on the bar, you’ll see a link called “The Teacher Files”. It also has a drop down menu with links to topics related to my teaching career. I taught for 15 years after 20 years in the Marines. Teaching was one of my true passions in life. I started out with a separate blog, but when I found out how to create menus, I brought it all over here. It’s good stuff – too good to leave laying around in boxes. I’ll add things as fast as I can get them in HTML/CSS format.

Cheers … Boris and Natasha

Hi and welcome to our newly updated blog. Designed as a companion to our website – Exploring Off the Beaten Path. We use it for shorter pages than we typically put on the site plus any other material we find interesting.

We affectionately refer to each other as Boris and Natasha (usually with “dahlink” at the end) – retirees, snowbirds, explorers, geocachers, munzee and benchmark hunters, history lovers, sometime photographers, freelance writers and lifelong learners who can show up almost anywhere.

KidsRN in action

Natasha is relentless in her quest for geocaches. Here, she gives it her all in the Black Hills. Mt. Rushmore is in the upper left hand corner.

Our vision for More Exploring Off The Beaten Path is a family friendly blog that promotes interest in outdoor activities, curiosity about the world around us and lifelong learning. One of our main vehicles for that is geocaching and related activities, plus all that goes with them.

You would be hard-pressed to find another activity which is more fun, positive, educational and family friendly than geocaching and its siblings. My 88 year old mother has been out with us. Our grandkids (now 8 and 6) went out with us in their strollers. They really love hunting munzees and can both handle a smart phone like you wouldn’t believe. Some of the best times I ever had as a Dad were with my youngest son hunting down geocaches in the wilds of Montana and Wyoming. When I was teaching school, I used it in my math classes to teach all kinds of things.

One thing you can be sure of – the pages of this blog and our website will show you things and take you places you would have never known about otherwise.  Our adventures have taken us to ghost towns, caves, mountain tops, waterfalls and more out of the way places than we can recall. We’ve operated in all kinds of terrain and weather and dodged a few critters along the way. It’s been a hoot.  We’ve geocached in 38 states and have a plan in place to finish all 50 by the end of 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 (or thereabouts).

You never know what you might find here. We love forts, battlefields, ghost towns,old cemeteries, abandoned mines, one of a kind diners, cheeseburgers, skin-on French fries, anything to do with National Parks and anything else that’s off the beaten path. The tougher, longer, higher, creepier or more calorie-laden it is, the better we like it. We’ll mix things up to keep it interesting.

 

KidsRN at Mt. Rushmore cache site.

Mission accomplished safe and sound. No humans were injured in the production of this blog.

This is an open blog for families, adventurers, explorers, educators, vagabonds and anybody else who might share our passions.  There’s no arm chair traveling here and we don’t cut and paste Wikipedia.  We’ve been to all the places and/or done all the things we blog about. The writing is mine. So are most of the pictures.

We hope you find something interesting here. Feedback – good or bad – is always welcome. All comments are moderated and public, so please keep it civil.

See you in the blogosphere. …Boris and Natasha

Our Top 10 Geocaches – #1

Well this is it.  After 3,000 geocaches in 40 states over the last six years, we have winnowed it down to the Top 10 – and this is Numero Uno.

Here’s what we have so far.

#10 – Easy to Overlook geocache, Tucson, AZ

#9 – Nuke on a Mountain geocache, Sundance, WY

#8 – The Caves of the Door Bluff Headlands geocache, Door County, WI

#7 – Spooky Tunnel Cache, Kuhntown, PA

#6 – Trolls geocache, Livingston, MT

#5 – Dragoon Springs geocache, Dragoon, AZ

#4 – Civil War Entrenchments geocache, Snake Springs, PA

#3 – Big Springs geocache, Guttenberg, IA

#2 – Rays Hill Tunnel geocache, Breezewood, PA

#1

Trying to nail down the Top 10 is a moving target because as we travel around, we run into a lot of potential Top 10’s. To make the list, there has to be something extraordinary or unique about the geocache under consideration. It might be distance, difficulty, terrain, location, history or just the surroundings. Our #1 cache had them all- and then some. From September 2008 – the OTO Ranch cache near Gardiner, Montana.

In the fall of 2008, we were newly married and newly retired. For our fall road trip, we went back to Yellowstone. A year earlier, I had proposed to Natasha at Old Faithful. So back we went, staying at the Mammoth Hot Springs Lodge near the northern entrance to the park. Just outside the gate is the town of Gardiner, Montana. A search of geocaching(dot)com led us to this cache. It hadn’t been found for almost a year. Usually that’s a red flag, but we went for it. It turned out to be our crown jewel.

OTO Ranch corral

First view of the ranch – the old corral area. If it looks familiar, it should. It’s the background photo for our blog. The restored part is down in the trees on the upper right. The geocache is down by the barn. The ranch sits at about 6,000 feet elevation in the Gallatin National Forest. The round trip hike is around five miles. The mountains in the background are the Absaroka Range, one of the wildest areas in America.

The 3,200 acre OTO ranch was founded in 1898 by Dick and Nora Randall. Dick had been a stagecoach driver in Yellowstone Park for 10 years but realized the potential of outfitting back country trips for wealthy city folk and foreign aristocrats, all of whom were coming to Yellowstone anyway. It soon became a full-fledged “dude” ranch, the first one in Montana. Wealthy city folk began to send their children to work on the ranch for the summer. It wasn’t long before the Randalls had more business than they could accommodate and they began expanding.

The construction was solid and rustic. From 1912 to 1934, guests including Teddy Roosevelt enjoyed hiking, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, wrangling, great food and cowboy music in the beauty of the surrounding Absaroka Range. The Randalls retired in 1934. The operation was taken over by a former client who had no idea how to run a ranch. That, combined with the Great Depression and gathering war clouds, forced it to close in 1939, never to re-open.

The OTO Ranch lodge

The main lodge building. Built in 1921 and abandoned for 50 years, it is as sturdy as ever.

The ranch lay in disrepair for over 50 years. The Forest Service bought the land in 1991 and volunteers began restoring it, an effort which continues to this day. It was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.

The entire ranch is open to all who make their way there. No cars – walk, horseback, mountain bikes only. There is some serious exploring to be done once you get here. We could have spent all day poking around but we started late and had to get back. Still, we spent over an hour looking around. We found, among other things, a concrete bunker with heavy wooden blast doors built into a hillside near the lodge. We figured it was a bear-proof ice house for food storage in the days before refrigerators.

If you do go exploring, keep in mind that this is real back country. There are bears, mountain lions, wolves, coyotes and big rattlesnakes. If you are tromping through the tall grass (and you’ll have to if you want the cache) make sure you have your stick to check the area around you. If you stay overnight or just go have lunch there, be Bear Aware.

Natasha at OTO Ranch

The always lovely Natasha exploring the ranch.

This was the ultimate geocache. Grizzly bear and rattlesnake warning signs at the trailhead, a moderate hike at high altitude, a killer climb for the first half mile, picture post card mountain scenery, a unique history, lots of buildings to explore and a geocache waiting patiently to be found. So even though we found it over five years ago, it remains our #1.

The GPS coordinates for the center of the ranch are N45.147426, W110.784125. You can click on the coordinates for a Google map. BTW, the cache is still there and still active. It’s had less than 30 visits since we logged it.

Cheers …. Boris and Natasha