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Location Temptation
Dubois, Wyoming and the Big Horn Sheep Center
by Bob Dean

In west central Wyoming lies the former logging town of Dubois. This small community is in the home range of the largest herd of bighorn sheep in the lower 48 states and is the site of the National Bighorn Sheep Center.

The Center's mission is one of public education about the habitat and the conservation needs of the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. This educational experience is enhanced by the proximity of the Whiskey Basin Wildlife Habitat Area, located less than five miles east of the Center.

The best way to enjoy this area is to first visit the interpretive center in Dubois and then to tour the big horn habitat in the Whiskey Basin area. Dubois is located about 50 miles southeast of Grand Teton National Park, by way of the dramatic Togwotee Pass. The Bighorn Center is about one half-mile northwest of town on U.S. highway 26/287.

The Center's facility houses exhibits and displays dealing with various aspects of sheep ecology including habitat, biology and behavior. The center is more than a static display dedicated to sheep; it is an active part of the community. The gift shop displays the work of many local artists and the staff provides a source of cultural as well as scientific information to local people as well as visitors.

Summer hours run from Memorial Day through Labor Day (9:00 A.M. to 8 P.M.) and winter hours, like the Wyoming weather, are variable. Winter activities center on wildlife viewing tours in the Whiskey Basin Area. Information on hours and tours is available by calling or writing the Center. The address is PO Box 1435, Dubois, WY 82513 and the phone number is (888) 209-2795 or (307) 455-3429.

After visiting the Sheep Center proceed to the sheep viewing area. The sheep population in Whiskey Basin normally numbers about 900 although recent outbreaks of lungworm and pneumonia have reduced the herd somewhat. This area is a good winter habitat because the famous (infamous?) Wyoming wind keeps the slopes free of snow and exposes the bluebunch wheatgrass and Idaho fescue that make up the normal diet of the sheep. Sagebrush and other shrubs are also present and provide an additional food source when the grasses are covered by snow.

To reach the viewing area drive east from the center on Highway 26/287 for 4.5 miles. At the sign for Jaley' Fish Hatchery and Whiskey Basin Wildlife Habitat Area turn on to the side road and start climbing toward the mountains. As you go along you will see a panoramic view of the ridges and meadows that are the winter home to the bighorn herd. The best time to visit this area is during the breeding seasons from late November through the end of December. The large rams challenge one another for breeding rights and can be observed and photographed relatively easily.

There are several stops along the tour road that are worth the time. About two miles up the Trail Lake Road is a kiosk with a detailed map and information on the area. Please read and take to heart the section on ethical viewing. These animals need all of their energy to survive the harsh winters and any additional stress from humans can be very detrimental. One additional word of caution, the road does go through some sections of private land, please respect those areas and continue through without stopping.

As you continue up the road there are several places you may want to stop. There are no signs so watch your odometer for mileage. At mile 1.0 there is a cattle guard. From this spot you can see a treeless slope on the right. Bighorns as well as elk and mule deer frequent this meadow but bighorns can be seen at any place in this region. You can see several lakes from this vantagepoint. On the left are two small lakes that attract waterfowl during migration seasons, if you are fortunate you may see trumpeter swans. The string of three larger lakes, further up the valley, includes Torrey, Ring and Trail Lakes. As you pass these lakes, watch for osprey. There is an osprey nest near the head of Torrey Lake. The nest is on private land so don't stop.

At mile 3.9, between Ring and Trail Lakes, you will see a bank on the right side of the road. This is a natural mineral lick for bighorns, especially in the winter. If you do see sheep here, photograph them from a distance and wait until they leave before moving through. About ¾ of a mile up the road (mile 4.6) Torrey Creek comes very near the road. The willows in this area are a food and shelter source for moose. Beavers are a fairly common sight here as well, particularly around dawn and dusk.

At mile 6.6 is the trailhead into the Fitzpatrick Wilderness. This trail affords an opportunity to see dramatic waterfalls, soaring golden eagles, rugged granite formations and a few miles up, a spectacular alpine lake.

When you plan your trip to this part of Wyoming, remember to dress for the weather. The temperature can change quickly and precipitation in the form of either snow or rain can move in without warning. Dress in layers and bring water repellent gear for you and your camera. Also bring food, water and basic survival equipment.

More information and maps are available from the Bighorn Sheep Center. Food, gas and lodging are available in Dubois.