Bighorn Canyon Boat Trip

Today was probably the highlight of the summer travels for Connie…because there was a boat involved…and we all know that she luvs boats…any kind of boat, any kind of water, just about any kind of weather except frigid…she’s down for it. In fact…the only boat trip she has refused to go on was when Neil offered to take a cruise with her…he’s adamantly opposed to paying money and going on a boat out in the ocean for fun after a career of taking the submarine to sea…but he did offer to go with her on a cruise…but the only one he is interested in is the one in Norway during the winter. Yeah…it’s cold…but other than the time spent outside photographing the Northern Lights…he would spend the rest of the time in the warm bar, hot tub, wheel house, and honeymoon suite. She turned him down though…I can’t imagine why.

Anyways…boat trip.

We headed out about 0815 for the 75 minute drive up to the Horseshoe Bend Marina at the extreme southwest end of Bighorn Lake which was formed in the 1960s when the Yellowtail Dam was finished near Fort Smith MT. The dam was built for irrigation, flood control, and generation of hydroelectric power. Prior to the dam…the entire 55 mile length of the Bighorn Canyon was white water but today the river is a lake in the bottom of the canyon ranging from 35 to more than 400 feet deep. 

We arrived at the marina and about 1015 got underway for our 1000 boat trip…nothing like starting things on time. The trip is about 2 hours and goes down lake about 12 or 13 miles from the marina with the turnaround just past the Devil’s Canyon Overlook we were on top of the other day.

Our guide/boat captain was Michelle…she’s been doing this tour for 14 years and she gave us a brief safety lecture before we departed…how to put on a life jacket and how to use the satellite phone to call for help if anything happened to her. We would actually probably have just driven back towards the marina rather than calling for help…but as it turned out we didn’t need to. When we set out…it was about 60 degrees and a bit windy but once we turned around at 1120 to head back the wind was at our back and the temperature had warmed to a pleasant mid 70s so we were able to shed our hoodies.

On to the photos…those that need a caption for a little explanation will be so captioned.

Our boat the “Belle”…took this while we were waiting for the 1000 boat trip to start.

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Looking across to the rust colored limestone ridge across the lake…this one actually was the first shot of the day rather than the Belle shot above.

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Underway on diesel power…

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Just 55 miles to the Yellowtail Dam. And there’s uranium in them thar rocks…in the wild uranium is found almost exclusively as uranium oxide…also known as yellow cake for it’s distinctive color…the yellow below and right from the mile marker is the uranium oxide. Michelle claimed that if we had a Geiger counter it would have gone off…but she’s wrong. In the wild…uranium is 99.3% uranium 238…which is the non radioactive isotope which is useless for either a reactor or a bomb. For that…you need uranium 235 which is obtained from its naturally occurring 0.7% ratio through the enrichment that you’ve heard all the hullabaloo about on the news. Basically…you take the uranium oxide and convert it to a gaseous form and then put it through a centrifuge, The slightly heavier uranium 238 gas goes to the outside of the centrifuge drum and the useful 235 isotope gathers on top of that. Then you…without stopping the centrifuge…siphon off the useless 238 based stuff. There is some inefficiency in the process so after doing it you end up with uranium that is now 0.8% of the good stuff…235. Repeat ad nauseam thousands of time and eventually you get up to the 90ish% you need for a naval reactor, 60ish% used for a commercial reactor, or 98ish% needed for a fission based bomb.

The only thing that the 238 variety is useful for is that if placed inside an operating reactor…what is typically called a breeder reactor…the uranium 238 over a long time absorbs a neutron and becomes plutonium 239…which is absolutely useless as fuel for a reactor but is essential for making a bomb that actually produces a significant amount of bang…plutonium is much, much better for that purpose than uranium is. One of the 2 bombs used in WWII was uranium based and one was plutonium based. Unfortunately, plutonium 239 doesn’t naturally occur…at least I don’t think it does…but since it is so much better for making things that go bang the early nuclear scientists were very interested in making it. Long explanation of why Michelle was wrong I know…but as a recovering engineer Neil just couldn’t help himself telling me what to write here.

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One of the dozens of caves that were occupied by humans dating back up to 10,000 years ago. Many have been excavated by archeologists and there are dozens awaiting analysis.

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We ran into 4 or 5 groups of bighorn sheep…depending on whether you believe we saw one of the bands twice. That one was a mile or two away from where it was an hour previous if it was the same one…but it did have a lamb with it…but then there are many lambs down here this time of year. Ewes come down in the spring to give birth and stay here through the summer. Rams don’t come down until the mating season. Just in case you’re confused about which is a ram and which is a ewe…here’s a ram…it’s the one with the curly horns. This shot I got from the intwerwebs…although Neil has some in his photo catalog it was easier to let google fine one for me than hunting.

All of the closeups are Neil’s shots since Connie isn’t interested in the weight of a longer lens.


This is the ewe…note the much shorter and not nearly as curly horns. And these are actually horns like a cow or pronghorn has and not antlers like a deer, moose, or elk has that are shed yearly…horns continue to grow throughout the animal’s lifetime.

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I think this is a mother and her lamb…note the lack of horns on the smaller one. They stayed very close together.

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You can see here that some of the ewes have longer horns…that means they’re older.

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The red ridge edge just left of center is Devil’s Canyon Overlook…you’ll recall the photos from up there the other day. Here’s what it looks like from 1,500 feet lower at lake level.

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Second band of bighorn ewes…you can see the large horn size difference between these two specimens. I could not tell whether there is another horn behind the visible one on the right side ewe or if it had been knocked off.

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This one has an expression like “what are you looking at”.

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Aha…there is a second horn on the one laying down.

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This is a shot Connie took…you can see both the steepness of the canyon side here as well as get an appreciation for how close they were…her lens maxes out at 55mm…or slightly shorter in focal length and magnification than a typical portrait studio lens. Still was able to get a decent shot though…these are maybe 50 yards away.

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Closer view of the Devil’s Canyon Overlook.

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Distant view of a feature called the “eye of the needle”…where wind, water, and freeze/thaw cycles have opened up an opening in the edge of the canyon wall…just below center on the left side wall. It’s about a half mile or more away though…so it is actually probably big enough to drive a semi through.

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One of the erosion features on the canyon wall…an amphitheater-like feature named “The Concert Hall.”

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Devil’s Canyon Overlook again…the red rock left of center and the second one away coming in from the left.

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Closeup of the eye of the needle.

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This hoodoo has been formed via erosion and the freeze/thaw cycle…it will fall down sometime in the next 250,000 years or so.

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Head on view of Devil’s Canyon overlook…looking astern as we rounded the bend past Devil’s Canyon itself. Unfortunately…getting a worthwhile shot of Devil’s Canyon from the river was nigh on impossible.

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An area called Cave City…3 large caves that you can see along with another one to the left that you can’t see from this angle.

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The large cave to the left in Cave City.

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Distant shot of Cave City…you can see the 3 caves from the closeup above just to the right of the lowest portion of the blue sky on the left.

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All 4 caves up in Cave City.

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More sheep.

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This is the “Bat Cave” Da-da-da-da-dah! Dracula type bats, not Batman type bats.

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This is the Cathedral…it was scoured out in the round form by white water millions of years ago when it was at water level…today it is most of 1,000 feet up to it.

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Right before we exited the canyon on the way back we spotted more sheep way up on the canyon rim. These are about 1,200 feet above the river and something outside of a mile away. 

Three different treatments of the same photo here. First is the fully processed one, next is what it actually looked like with your eye, and the third close in silhouette is because Neil thought it would make a neat photo.

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She was wandering around having lunch.

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And was joined by her posse of lady friends…there must be a bighorn sheep bathroom up there since females always go there in a pack.

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With that…our boat trip was done. We got back to the dock, tipped Michelle for her commentary and excellent “nothing happened to me” performance and headed home. We stopped in Powell for lunch…Subway before heading home for the afternoon and dinner.

Interesting stuff found on the net.

Shortest underwater tunnel ever constructed.


Important advice from Bill Gates…too bad millennials don’t pay attention to it.









About Gunther

The full time RV travels and experiences of Gunther the Bear and Kara the Dog…along with their human staff neil and Connie.
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