Gros Ventre Area
Gros Ventre Road leads east from the Kelly area, passing Kelly Warm Spring on the right. Its shallow and warm waters are a favorite place for local kayakers to practice their rolls or for families to wade and hunt for frogs on a summer afternoon.
A short distance up the road and off to the north (left) are the collapsing remains of the Shane cabin, where a scene from the classic 1951 Western was filmed. Beyond this point, the road enters Bridger-Teton National Forest and the Slide Lake area, where there is a Forest Service campground.
Gros Ventre Slide
One of the most extraordinary geologic events in recent Wyoming history took place in the Gros Ventre (pronounced GROW-vont, “Big Belly” in French trapper lingo) Canyon, named for the Gros Ventre Indians of this area. Sheep Mountain, on the south side of the canyon, consists of sandstone underlain by a layer of shale that becomes slippery when wet.
Melting snow and heavy rains in the spring of 1925 lubricated this layer of shale, and on June 23 the entire north end of the mountain—a section 2,000 feet wide and one mile long—suddenly slid 1.5 miles downslope, instantly damming the river below and creating Slide Lake.
A rancher in the valley, Guil Huff, watched in amazement as the mountain began to move, but he managed to gallop his horse out of the way as the slide roared within 30 feet. Huff’s ranch floated away on the new lake several days later.
For two years folks kept a wary eye on the makeshift dam of rock and mud. Then, on May 18, 1927, the dam suddenly gave way, pushing an enormous wall of water through the downstream town of Kelly. Six people perished in the flood, and when the water reached Snake River Canyon nine hours later it filled the canyon to the rim with boiling water, trees, houses, and debris.
Today a smaller Slide Lake still exists, and the massive landslide that created it more than 75 years ago remains an exposed gouge visible for miles around. Geologists say that, under the right conditions, more of Sheep Mountain could slide. Dead trees still stand in the upper end of Slide Lake. The Forest Service has a Gros Ventre Geological Trail 10 miles up Gros Ventre Road. This 0.25-mile path leads to an incredible viewpoint overlooking the slide and is marked with interpretive signs.
Gros Ventre Valley
A drive through Gros Ventre River Valley provides some fine views across to the Tetons. Gros Ventre Road turns to gravel above Slide Lake, becoming quite rutted in places. Surprising scenery makes the sometimes bone-jarring route easier to take. The landscape here is far different from that of the Tetons, with brilliant red-orange badland hills rising sharply above the Gros Ventre River. Two more Forest Service campgrounds (Red Hills and Crystal Creek) are four miles above Slide Lake, or you can camp in dispersed sites off the road. Grizzly Lake Trail starts at the Red Hills Campground and continues for 3.5 miles to this small mountain lake. There are wonderful vistas of the Red Hills and Gros Ventre River Valley below.
The road continues another 15 beautiful miles along the river above the lake, getting rougher at the upper end. Several remote guest ranches are up here. Beyond Cow Creek Trailhead (29 miles from Kelly), the route is virtually impassable unless you have a high-clearance 4WD and are ready to get stuck. Hard-core mountain bikers sometimes continue up this road/trail and then drop into the Green River watershed north of Pinedale. Cow Creek Trail and other paths lead into the Gros Ventre Wilderness, which borders the south side of the road.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Yellowstone & Grand Teton, 5th Edition