Even a flat tire couldn’t ruin our wonderful day in the Pryor Mountains

It’s not the sound you want to hear while driving on an isolated mountain road 20 miles into the Pryor Mountains north of Cowley.

“Ssssss….Ssssss….Ssssss” went the sound as the tire on the left rear of my pickup went round and round.

“Uh oh,” I said.

The tire wasn’t flat yet. Briefly, I thought we could race ahead and make it to the campground at the Big Ice Cave, where we might find a forest ranger. Stupid idea, I realized later, since the ice cave turned out to be about eight to 10 miles ahead.

Instead, we merely pulled over, figuring we could change the tire. We were on level ground, we had a good spare and we quickly found the jack under the rear passenger seat. It would be a snap to change this tire.

Wrong.

The dealer I purchased the truck from had not replaced the “tool bag” under the seat that contained the unique tool needed to lower the spare from its resting spot beneath the rear of the truck. We were stuck, and we had no cell service.

“So much for our day in the Pryors,” I grumped. I had been looking forward to taking cousin Nathan from St. Louis, sons Chris and Cody and daughter Lindsey to see the ice cave, the Dryhead Overlook and the wild mustangs.

Well, it’s time for a hike, I thought, and I climbed about 300 feet up a nearby mountainside in an attempt to find cell service. Voila! I got a good signal.

Calling my daughter, Danielle, I inquired, “Do you know anybody with a Silverado? I need to borrow their spare tire tool kit.” She checked with one friend, and then another. She soon informed me that classmate Kevin Hammond, who happens to work for Minchow’s Service but was off Saturday, would be happy to come rescue us.

Meanwhile, wife Susan called around to see if we could borrow a tire changing kit and found one at Midway Auto Sales. They were gracious to allow Kevin to stop by and borrow it on his way to the mountain.

With help coming, we relaxed, ate lunch and enjoyed the view on a rocky outcropping above the red grade Crooked Creek Road near the Red Waffle forest fire that burned the area several years ago. I called Kevin a couple of times to give him directions, and before long, he and friend Zach arrived to help us change the tire.

We were shortly on our way, but now we were about 2½ hours behind schedule and we had friends coming over for a picnic that evening.

“We have to see the ice cave,” I told Nathan, inviting Kevin and Zach along for the experience.

We made the short hike and saw the amazing cave in all its glory, its floor coated with ice, even on a hot day. We shivered inside after roasting in the July heat above ground and marveled at the ice pillars inside.

“Well, if we’re this far, we have to drive on over to the Dry Head Overlook,” I said, realizing that time was beginning to run short.

After taking in the incredible view to the east of the Dry Head area and the Big Horn Canyon, I said we couldn’t go this far without seeing the horses, so we quickly headed for the wild horse range, and when we arrived at Pen’s Meadows, we observed an awesome site: 126 mustangs (folks in another vehicle had counted them) grazing in lush meadows, spread out over the wide area with Horseshoe Bend and Lovell below to the south.

I have never seen a more beautiful sight atop the Pryors. We saw a variety of colors in the bands of horses, energetic foals and nervous stallions keeping watch over their families. We also saw fields of purple lupine.

We snapped photo after photo, but now time was really short. Friends were arriving at 7:30, a time pushed back from 7, and it was already 6:30 or so.

What should we do? Having already driven quite a way down the Mystery Cave Road north of Sykes Ridge, I made the decision to head down the rockiest of rocky roads in the Pryors.

Was it the most direct route off the mountain? Yes. Did it save us any time? Probably not — you can’t hurry down the ultimate jeep road. Was it a wise decision to travel down a road surface of sharp rocks, boulders and hairpin curves without ANY remaining spare tire? Nope. My passengers surely doubted my judgment.

But we pressed on, and what a glorious view we saw. The vistas from the Mystery Cave Road are too amazing to describe with words. One must experience the views to appreciate them – Big Horn Canyon twisting away below you, Devil’s Canyon running to the east into the Big Horn Mountains, the spires of Jake’s Teeth looming just off the road. The entire area was greener than I could ever remember it being in July.

The views are jaw-dropping stunning.

The Mystery Cave Road (Sykes Ridge Road to many) is my favorite road to the Pryors because of the views, but it is a rough, rugged road that is not for the faint of heart and is best traversed by ATV. I won’t even mention Dead Biologist’s Curve except to say that it is frightening, requiring a multi-point maneuver with a drop-off below.

Amazingly, we made it down just at dusk, creeping and bouncing and scraping our way off the face of the mountain, giving our Silverado proud new “Arizona racing stripes” thanks to close encounters with trees.

We eventually made it safely down the mountain, arriving an hour and a half late for our picnic, our guests surely disgusted with our late arrival. But you simply cannot hurry on the rockiest rugged road you’ll ever encounter around here.

During our amazing day, cousin Nathan turned to me and said, “Do you ever get used to the beauty of this area? Do you ever take it for granted?”

“I hope I don’t,” I said. “I love it here.”

“I wish we had 1/10th the natural wonders in St. Louis that you have here,” he replied.

It was an amazing day in an amazing part of the world.

David Peck

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