As we zipped past the towering peaks of the Tetons, hail pelted us with a devious force. We were cold and under normal circumstances we’d have been miserable. Not today. The Tetons rose before us, and we were awestruck by their beauty.
Finally, here were the views we’d been expecting from Great Divide Route. The mighty Rockies in all their splendor.
The official Great Divide Route darts out of the Tetons fairly quickly and leads riders up Union Pass. Wildfires had been raging in this part of Wyoming and conflicting information was bouncing around. Some sources claimed the pass was closed and wouldn’t re-open for several weeks. Others insisted the fire had already jumped across Union Pass road and travel in the area was now safe.
Not being able to nail down concrete road closure info (and pleased at the thought of spending more time in the Tetons) we opted for an alternate route passing through the popular resort town of Jackson. It was August, so naturally Grand Teton National Park was overrun with visitors. Busloads of camera-toting tourists disembarked at all the scenic spots and jostled for space, snapping selfies posed in front of majestic mountains and pristine lakes. Luckily we could trundle by on our bikes and steer clear of the hoards.
In the pleasant town of Pinedale, we rested up for a few days and prepared for the Big Empty. So far on The Great Divide route, stocking up on water and provisions had been fairly straightforward. We’d stumble into towns with grocery stores every couple of days. Fast flowing streams were plentiful and with the help of our Sawyer filter, we’d have clean drinking water within minutes.
Outside of Pinedale, lay Wyoming’s Red Desert. On the entire GDMBR, this section is one of the driest and most sparsely inhabited. Careful planning is essential.
This 6 million acre region of southwestern Wyoming is the largest unfenced area left in the Lower 48. I’m pretty sure The Red Desert is larger than at least a couple of countries we’ve biked (Swaziland, Lesotho).
The unforgiving land is inhabited by herds of wild horses, 50,000 pronghorn and very few humans. Energy companies in search of oil, natural gas, uranium and coal have recently started exploiting the desert’s riches. Oil wells, drilling machinery and worker camps now blight the bleak and barren landscape.
The area has been compared to the steppes of Mongolia. For us, the Red Desert conjured up parts of Oman. After mountains, deserts are our favorite terrain. We love the quality of the light and the endless vistas. The biggest challenges of desert riding are water and wind.
Since the GDMBR is such a popular route, info on water is readily available. The longest stretch without water is the 60 miles (100 kilometers) between Diagnus Well and A&M Reservoir. Luckily for us, weather was cloudy and we didn’t drink much. Winds in the Red Desert can be ferocious, but we were mostly spared their force.