Sunsets are some of the most awe-inspiring moments in our lives. Plunging down beneath the horizon, there is something un-mistakingly soul-nourishing about them. In the most depressed days of my life, I always found a sunset in nature to be one of the most rewarding parts of my day and I am sure I am not alone. While many sunsets blend together, we all have a handful of moments, before darkness takes over, that stay with us forever. For me, one of those sunsets was found along a remote canyon in Southeastern Montana. Before I saw this sunset, I had no idea the location existed, but now the sights are forever etched in my mind’s eye.
It started while scrolling through Instagram, then became a Google search and ended up a jaw-dropping side adventure to an already incredible road trip. It was Thanksgiving week of 2016 and I had decided to drive to Devil’s Tower National Monument. The weather was crisp and cold and as I stood less than a mile from Devil’s Tower, taking pictures of the night sky, I knew this quick trip would be special. For an hour or so, I took pictures of the constellations rotating in the heavens above, trying to capture the sense of smallness and wonder I was feeling. I watched as the Pleiades rose above the impressive rock structure, reliving the origin tale from the Kiowa peoples of how Devil’s Tower came into existence. I witness shooting stars and satellites racing across the sky and was nearly brought to tears at the expansiveness of the universe. Moved beyond words, I did what anyone my age would do- I took a picture of myself.
Once I was frozen to the core, after an hour or so in the elements taking pictures, I returned to my cheap hotel in Hulett, Wyoming and jumped on my laptop. I was heading home the next morning and wanted a side trip that would continue to feed my wanderlust spirit. I should have been editing pictures, but instead I scrolled through social media, finding what needed to be my next destination. I found a place, in both Wyoming and Montana called the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. The Instagram pictures looked amazing and when I searched for it on Google, I realized it was a few hour detour from my planned drive and totally worth the extra miles. Bighorn Canyon had me antsy for sunrise and that night. I barely slept.
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is one of those places of which you probably have never heard. Located 65 miles northeast of Cody, Wyoming, through farm land and oil drilling fields, only the truly dedicated seem to find themselves exploring this gorgeous public land. With just 17 miles of trails and a remote location, few looking for the amenities of the more popular public lands find themselves at Bighorn Canyon. Seeing a little more than a quarter of a million people each year, the 120,000 acre swath of land is as nearly as rugged and remote as it was when Jim Bridger floated down the river in 1825.
I left Hulett later than I had hoped, mainly because I felt I needed a few more pictures of the prairie dog colonies at the base of the rock. I wasn’t worried, though. My plan was to drive through the Bighorn Scenic Byway in Bighorn National Forest, do some quick hikes and then, hopefully, hit Bighorn Canyon a few hours before sunset. The drive along Highway 14A turned out to be far more gorgeous than I thought. It is one of the more gorgeous highways in America and I got to see it after a fresh coat of snow. I stopped at so many pull offs, I swear bike riders were passing me. By the time I reached the town of Lovell, a short drive from the Canyon, the sun was preparing to set. My goal was to reach the Devil’s Canyon overlook, 19 miles northeast from the town of Lovell. This had been where I saw the pictures on Instagram, so I raced to the lookout area as fast as I could legally drive. The drive took me about 25 minutes, as I had to stop and take a few pictures of the wild horses running the hillside in the dwindling daylight hours.
As I reached the parking area, I was relieved that the canyon viewpoint was just a few hundred feet away. There wasn’t another car in the parking lot, so I parked wherever I felt like it, jumped out of the Jeep and started snapping pictures. The sun was already almost dipping behind the mountains in the west, perfectly illuminating the canyon walls. Shadows danced and crept in the deep, eroded cliffs, highlighting the colors and definition of the spectacular region. After grabbing a few shots, I sat down in silence, watching the last rays of the sun vanish.
I had this entire canyon to myself, with only my eyes to witnessing what I consider to be one of my most memorable sunsets. It could have been more spectacular. It could have been prettier, but for me in that moment, it was exactly what my soul desired. The sunset bonded me to this canyon and to this overlooked public land, allowing me to share my story with all of you in hopes that you can have a moment like mine.
This post was written in one hour for the first #NatureWritingChallenge.