Saturday, February 10, 2024

Paintrock Pilgrimage

On Kurt and my bucket list was to make the epic Big Horn trek from Deer Heaven to Burgess Junction. Due to the complexity of the trip and its extreme nature, we elevated it to the status of a pilgrimage. 

Every pilgrimage needs a destination. For us, it was Paintrock Lodge. Nestled half way from point A to point B on our 80 mile ride, this lodge was once owned and operated by my great aunt and uncle, Ione and Bill Craft. Never having been there, it would also mark the peak of difficulty on this trip. Once arrived, it would be down hill from there. 

So we blew out after work on Thursday and met in Buffalo and drove to Deer Heaven where we unloaded and rode into the cabin for the night. 

Do Drop Inn. 

Here, Mom and Dad welcomed us with a warm fire and the smell of hamburgers on the grill. 

That's what I'm talkin' about!

The next morning it was time to ranch. After celebrating Mass and eating breakfast, Mom sent us off with the motherly reminder to be careful. To which I reminded her that our policy is always safety first.

The dark blue trail was our baby, we started south and headed north. We are pretty familiar the first quarter section of this country. After that we would duck into no man's land where they don't groom or maintain the trail for about 12-15 miles. This would kick us out at Paintrock and the next 40 miles would still be new country, but the trails should be groomed.

This has been an extremely light snow year. In fact, there is little, to no, snowmobile activity in the Big Horns.

We weren't scared though. Cutting fresh tracks everywhere we went was pretty fun. 

We landed at Battle Park with no problems. From here, the trail ends and the ride begins. 

Finding this trail head took us forever. Kurt had a GPS guided map on his phone, but it didn't work right away. Thanks be to God it kicked into action. Without it we would have been lost. 

It was fun at first.

But then we started to hit down trees. 

Fortunately, Big John showed up to help us duck under sagging timbers. 

The next few miles in the trees wasn't too bad.

But when we came out the other side, we were in trouble. No snow. This was my greatest fear in tackling this trip with this dry year. Honestly, if I knew we would encounter this mess, I wouldn't have gone. Typical pilgrimage. 

So we set out, bucking mud and rocks, and riding on the grass when we could. Our biggest challenge was over heating. I finally took the side panels off my sled so the engine could breath better. Fortunately, being a good farmer, I brought some baling twine along and tied them on the back.

We were at the point of no return, there was only one way out. Go forward. 

After taking a break and praying the Rosary, it started to snow. It didn't make things much easier, but it did make us feel better as we bombed up dry hills and bounced over rocks. 

Eventually we climbed out of this lower elevation and started to get back into the trees, into ridable snow again. 

We still weren't back into civilization, though, and had to bushwhack our way on a trail that only exists on a map. 

Arrived. One thing about cowboys, they don't quit. As hard as it was, it was super fun.

To celebrate, we had lunch at the nearby warming shelter. It took us 6 hours to make this first 40 miles. 

Wanting to beat the dark, we set out once again. This time the trails were pretty good and we could cruse at a good clip. 

However, a lot of it was in whiteout conditions.

Mission accomplished. 2 hours and 40 miles later we made it to Burgess Junction on the North side of the mountain, where we loaded up and headed home.

Alls well that ends well. This trip probably ranks high on all Big Horn Mountain snowmobilers' bucket list. But, because of its nature and distance, it's hard to pull off. We however, had an ace in the hole, Mom and Dad. After we headed out on our snowmobiles, they shuttled our pickup and trailer to the other side of the mountain. Catholic Cowboys aren't afraid to ask for help. God promises to help us on our pilgrimage of life, if only we ask (John 16:23). The prerequisite on our part, is that we don't quit riding. Life is about the destination. But the beauty and the battle lie in the journey. Let's ranch! 


  1. Time to check the carbides!

  2. Replies
    1. That sounds like a fun adventure
      Score Dunker

  3. Great adventure, as I thought a young guys trip


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