It's hard to believe this is the middle of November in Wyoming. Our trip to show off Unimogs to the University of Wyoming observatory staff couldn't have taken place on a nicer day. Two mogs showed - Robert and Charlie Christensen in their 416 Doka and me in my 404 hardcab/Swiss pritche. Robert and Charlie had been out cutting firewood in the morning and were already at the base of the mountain having lunch with their friends the Homan's, John Sr. and Jr., when I arrived about 12:30. Dana Stickley (406 tug) and his friend Shawn Dovey came out to see what was going on, but didn't bring his mog, as the bed is being powder coated and he didn't want to bring it without the bed installed. The University was represented by Jim Weger (in charge of the observatory operation) and his son, Chet, and by Rich Coley (maintenance chief for the observatory) and his daughter, Misty.
When lunch was finished, everyone climbed into the two mogs and we headed up the mountain. Jim Weger and son Chet in the cab with me, and Charlie Christensen standing up in the bed holding onto the open hatch. Everyone else was riding in comfort in the Doka. Dana Stickley and Shawn Dovey had to get back to Dana's cabin, so they weren't available join us on the trip up the mountain.
This trip is a little different than the Mt. Evans ascent. The road is 5.9 miles long and is basically a very steep rock and dirt track. The observatory has two Tucker Sno-Cats, but the dirt and rock surface of the road is a killer to the tracks and drive trains of these machines. Most of the winter there are only a few places where the tracked vehicles are needed, which means they spend a lot of the trip up the mountain on dry ground. On the other hand, there are places with snow where conventional 4WD vehicles just can't make it.
There are a few spots on the road where the observatory can be seen, seemingly way up in the sky above, but the steepness of the road brings you high on the mountain very quickly. On the way up, Jim pointed out the difficult spots where snow drifts, or the road becomes very slick as a result of thawing and freezing. There were several places where Jim wanted to see if the mogs could "go around." They've gained permission from the BLM to go off the road if necessary, but the routes are steep and somewhat rocky so they wanted to see if the mogs could handle it. These spots were noted on the way up, so we could try them on the way down.
The top of Jelm Mountain isn't very large. Just about enough room for the observatory dome, a living quarters and fairly large parking lot. It's nearly straight down on any side. The view was incredible, and the weather was perfect. At 9,600 feet (pretty high for being in the middle of the Laramie Basin) we could see forever in any direction. There wasn't a cloud in the sky anywhere and the air was absolutely clear and calm. Rich Coley told us there are times when the wind blows well in excess of 100 mph up there. Hard to believe it was November 14th.
Jim Weger opened up the observatory and gave us a tour. We were greeted by the resident cat, Mu Boots, who had to get some affection from everyone and kind of led the tour. Rich pointed out that a packrat had been eating holes in the big wind curtain that protects the dome when the sliding doors are open. He had a rat trap set and there was the carcass of a packrat in it, so maybe the culprit has been dispatched. The packrat was about as big as the cat, so I don't blame Mu Boots for not wanting to take it on.
On the way down Rich Coley and Misty rode with me, and Tim and Chet switched over to the 416. The first detour was a narrow cut that hadn't been maintained for quite a while, so there were some sizeable trees growing in the path of a trail that was just barely wide enough for the mogs making it necessary to skirt pretty close to the edge to get around them. Other than having a steep drop off on the driver's side and being a steep road down the side of the hill, it wasn't bad. There was about a 5' embankment which dropped back onto the main track, but the 100% approach/departure angles of the mogs handled it just fine.
We took a couple other detours, one of which was down an exposed ridge. Rich tried to tell me there had been a road there once upon a time, but I sure didn't see any evidence. Nothing but a steep decent and lots of sharp rocks, probably left from some of the mining operations up there in years past. I was the only one with a camera, and it was hard to be driver and photographer at the same time, so I only got a few shots. (pictures to follow)
Once at the bottom, we were thanked by Jim and Rich for our time and invited to come back when there's snow on the ground. For those of you who didn't make this trip, there'll be another chance :-)
1963 Hardcab /w Swiss pritsche