This is the first post of two on the Smiths Fork/Grey’s River Road. I loved it so much, and took so many photos, I can’t get them all in one post. The first post covers the Smiths Fork Road to the Tri-Basin Divide when you turn north on the Grey’s River Road.
After I was done with the Beartooth Highway the heat wave that was covering the Pacific Northwest was in full swing and the 4th of July was coming up. I hate being on the road when it’s hot and I refuse to be traveling over major holidays like Independence Day. I checked with the Rangers and found out that the Smiths Fork and Grey’s River Loop was finally open and snow-free. That was further south and at higher elevation which meant it would be cooler, so that’s where I was going next. I’m so glad I did; the drive far exceeded my expectations and was truly beautiful. It’s just a stunningly gorgeous area!
One of the things I’ve learned by trying to travel the most fantastic drives in the Rockies is that the drives are so different in character you have to judge them in a different light. This drive is totally different than the Beartooth, but that doesn’t’ mean it isn’t just as extraordinary in a different way. The Beartooth is very intense and dramatic, almost forbidding in its beauty, while the Smiths Fork/Grey’s River Road is very inviting and comforting. You are thrilled by the starkness of the Beartooth; metaphorically it screams at you, “I’m the power and majesty of the earth!” but you don’t feel like you want to spend a lot of time there. The Smiths Fork/Grey’s River Road isn’t thrilling in the same way, but its beauty tugs at your heart and whispers, “Wouldn’t you love to set up camp, relax and spend some time here? l’ll renew your soul!” From the depth of my heart, my answer was “Yes!” I loved the drive and would have been very happy spending a summer exploring all its many different roads into the mountains on both sides, but without internet, I couldn’t.
You’ve heard the phrase, “A land flowing with milk and honey.” that’s exactly how I felt about this drive. One way I look it is that the Beartooth is natures way of teaching us humility, Smith’s Fork/Grey’s River teaches us we are loved and cared for–both are lessons every human needs to be reminded of often!
I drove south from Jackson to Alpine and enjoyed again the beautiful drive along the Snake River–it’s one of those drives you can’t take often enough because it’s both thrilling like the Beartooth, but comforting like the Smiths Fork/Grey’s River Road . You have the choice to either begin the drive at Alpine and end it south of Smoots on 89, or you can drive south on 89 to Smoots then drive north ending at Alpine. One thing I’ve learned is that I much prefer driving with the sun at my back because I’m not squinting into the sun all the time. But more importantly I can see the landscape in the best light so I can photograph it without the sun in it and in front of me. It’s become popular to shoot into the sun but I hate it and almost never do it. I want the sun behind me or at a side for the light that I find the most attractive. For that reason I decided to drive it as a loop from south to north which put the sun at my back.
The drive along the Smith Fork Road from Smoots was just as beautiful as I remembered from my first attempt to drive it. The valley is mostly wide and rolling with the beautiful Smith’s River alongside it. There is so much rain and then snow that the whole area is very green and lush. I got about 10 miles into it and it was getting late so I started looking for a place to camp for the night. Fortunately that’s easy to do because beautiful campsites are a dime a dozen the whole drive! We found a superb campsite and spent the night there amongst big trees, tall mountains and sparkling creeks. The next morning Cody and I took a very nice walk through the meadows near camp and walked up the hills–of course Cody had to play in each and every creek!
I was there in late June and that was the perfect time for wildflowers! There were huge fields of different kinds of purple and yellow flowers and even some fields with large amount of both which is unusual. I had to stop often and take pictures which is one of the ways I judge a drive. The longer it takes to drive it because I have to stop for pictures, the higher the rating!
The road itself is a wide, well-maintained dirt road that any vehicle can comfortably drive. There were a few patches where the road was wash-boarded and a few where the mud had dried in ruts, but they are minor problems and will just barely slow you down.
At the top of the Smiths Fork Road you reach LaBarge Meadow which is just stunning! It’s very wide and rolling with small mountains around it. It had huge fields of wildflowers in it when I was there but they won’t last the whole summer. It was very also very green and lush. From there you can either continue southeast to Landers or turn north toward Alpine along the Grey’s River Road. Of course I went north and in my next post I’ll tell you all about it.