Friday, February 10, 2012

Pilot Butte

A view towards Black Butte from the top of Pilot Butte.

One of the places that I have probably visited more than any other place around Rock Springs is Pilot Butte. This flat topped butte up on top of White Mountain is a fun place to go because it is so close to town but when you are there you are all alone with nothing but the wild horses and the spectacular 360 view from the top of the butte. I have been there in the middle of July and in the middle of January and it’s always worth the small effort it takes to get there.

Pilot Butte is a formation that is visible for miles around, but it isn’t visible from the towns of Rock Springs and Green River. This is because of the way that it lays well past the rim of White Mountain. This lonesome butte was a marker on the Oregon, Mormon, and California pioneer trails that came through Wyoming. As these pioneers came over South Pass and descended into the Green River basin, they knew that once they could see pilot butte to the south they were almost to the Green River. Considering what a desolate place the Green river basin was, any land mark that showed progress was a welcome sight and once they crossed the Green River they were not far from Fort Bridger.
The area around Rock Springs isn't really flat but when you are up on
White Mountain it sure looks that way. That is Pilot Butte in the distance.

The best thing about Pilot Butte is the view that it affords visitors who are not afraid to climb it. To the east the ridges that make up the western edge of the continental divide basin are visible. To the south Aspen Mountain, Wilkins Peak, and the Uintah mountains are prominent. To the North, the Wind River Mountains are spectacular if the air is clear, which it usually is. To the west you can see all the way to the Bridger valley. I have been up on Pilot Butte in the winter time when the air was especially clear and with binoculars the towns of Farson and Eden were easy to see to the north about 30 miles away, and I think, although I can’t be sure, that I could even see the town of Pinedale about 90 miles to the North up against the Wind River Mountains.
East towards the continental divide.

The best route to Pilot Butte is to take the Gookin-White Mountain road to the top of White Mountain. Once you reach the top of the mountain the road will come to a T where you will turn right. Head down this road that follows the rim of White Mountain for about 3 miles. As you drive down this road Pilot Butte will be visible on the left. White Mountain is interesting when you are up on top because it is so flat and the only thing that breaks towards the sky is Pilot Butte. After 3 miles you will turn to the left where there is an information board that gives some facts about Pilot Butte and the surrounding area.

At this point the route becomes a bit more rough and difficult. This is the portion of the route where 4WD may be needed. This road can be deeply rutted and if you are there in the winter or spring, the ruts will be full of snow and ice. Also be advised that the Gookin-White Mountain road that climbs White Mountain is a smooth dirt road but it is very steep. If there is any snow and ice it’s better to stay off of this road.

After you turn off of the road at the info sign or board, follow the road the rest of the way to the butte, which you will easily see. The road splits at one point and you could go to the left or keep going straight. Both roads head to the butte and neither one is any smoother than the other.
The steep part of the climb. If Adventure Man's 60+ year old mom can make it anyone can.

Once you get to the butte park where ever you want. At this point you will have to start climbing and the first part of the climb is tough because it is steep. This steepness only goes on for about 500 ft. but it can be a tough climb. After this short steep climb you will be at the base of the cliffs that ring the top portion of the butte. In the past there was a steel ladder that someone had built to help you climb the rocks to the top but the ladder broke apart a few years ago. A small piece of it used to remain to help you a little but that piece was also gone the last time I was there in January of 2012. This spot is really not difficult to climb because there is a nook in the rocks that gives you good hand holds and foot holds. I almost always take the Adventure Kids with me when I go and even the 4 year old can climb it with some help.

Once on top you will see that you are at the lowest point of the top and if you walk straight to the west along the trail for about a 1000 ft. you will reach the highest point of Pilot Butte and the 360° views are incredible. Make sure to keep you own adventure kids near you because the cliffs on this end of the Butte are about 300 ft. high. Elevation at the top of Pilot Butte is 7,949 ft.

Wild horses on White Mountain.
Wildlife viewing is always possible; this is Wyoming after all. Keep an eye out for wild horses which are abundant on White Mountain. Sometime you might see 15 or 20 horses along the few miles from the top of the Gookin-White Mountain road to the base of Pilot Butte. I have seen plenty of mule deer and antelope as well. Elk is probably a possibility on White Mountain but I have never seen any up there. Once when I was up on the butte I saw a coyote up there on top with me. I don’t know how he got up there but he must have found a way down because once he saw us he soon disappeared. And of course sage hens can be seen roaming about as well.

Make sure to bring some water with you especially if you go in the summer time. The steep parts of the climb might require some liquid refreshment. As always, a hat and sunscreen would be good since there is absolutely no shade anywhere. Because Pilot Butte is so close to town and you can get there, see the place, and return so quickly, there isn’t much of anything else that you will need. Don’t forget your camera.

North from Pilot Butte to the Wind River Mountains.

Pilot Butte in the winter.

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