Polecat Bench Review

Background of “The Bench”

First up in my series of reviewing outdoor recreation opportunities in Park County is Polecat Bench! The Bench is located just a few miles north/northwest of Powell. Making this spot one of the few quick drives from town (for me at least).

Polecat Bench is a raised terrace-like feature which does not quite tower over Powell but can be clearly seen from just about anywhere in town. The Bench stands out from a geologist perspective. I could not hope to understand as much as the experts to explain why, so here is some interesting information that can explain it much better than I can! My friend Mark Fisher, an expert in geology, created and maintains this website!

Getting There

I don’t even know where to start.

Going into these hikes, I approached them as a visitor. To find a place to park and access polecat bench I just googled “polecat bench” on maps. Which is how anyone not from here would try to find it.

This took me down 14A heading west from Powell. I turned right on 294 and drove for about 4 – 5 miles. Google wanted me to take a right but there was no road at all. There was just a barb wire fence. So, I doubled back and found a place to turn to access the bench. This took me down a dirt trail that eventually forked. My car was incapable of going left due to the conditions of the trail, so I went right. I followed this trail for about 2 miles and parked close to the slopes leading up to the bench.

There are no signs telling people where to go or a trailhead anywhere. This made getting where I wound up very confusing. The only reason I stopped was because there was nowhere else to go! My car was also not suited for driving on the trail that I went on. I was worried that when I stopped it would fall apart!

Overlooking my car from the top of Polecat Bench.

There are no entrance fees anywhere on polecat bench. In this way access was easy. However, various landowners have split the bench up into different sections. It is helpful to understand who owns the land you will be on but as I said you don’t have to pay for access. You just need to be respectful of the owners where it is privately owned.

The Hike

Man was this quite the adventure.

Polecat Bench was the first place I went after I arrived in Park County. I knew next to nothing about it going in, just that locals would use this place to dump trash in years past.

Let’s just say I can see why!

There was not much going on at The Bench. Once you get up on top of it there is just a sea of sage brush stretching as far as you can see in every direction. There are some tire tracks crisscrossing all over the top of it. I was also able to make out some interesting figures that were A LOT farther away than I thought when I first saw them. But I’ll get into that a little later.

The Bright Side

That’s not to say my experience was negative! I’ve been hard on Polecat Bench so far, but I had a lot of fun poking around and exploring the sides and the top. On the slopes leading up to the bench, there are rocks that look very out of place in such a desolate area. This is because the Shoshone River used to run through The Bench thousands of years ago. I kept thinking that the next rock I turned over would have an amazing fossil!

There is a rich, natural history here that I could not help but feel connected to while looking at the features of this old riverbed. I imagined what used to be a river running right where I was standing. My car and I would’ve been completely underwater! There were many rock formations I could not help but stare at as I was walking past. They took on so many shapes and sizes. I found myself wondering how they got to look as they do now!

How do you think these spaces in this rock were created? It looks so out of place here!

Saying that though once you’ve seen it there is not much value in going back to look at rocks realistically. Unless that is something important to you of course. It only takes a few minutes to scamper up and down the sides of the bench, and there is almost no variation in the landscape on the top.

I found myself wandering aimlessly while I was there. Nothing really attracted me and made me want to go explore.

Now let’s circle back to those figures in the distance…

I Got Super Lost

Yeah, apparently things on the horizon of a completely flat surface are a lot farther away than they look.

After looking around and hiking for a few hours I saw some shapes in the distance across polecat bench. Being the diligent outdoor recreation planner that I am, I decided it was my duty to find out what they are.

From where I was standing on the top, they looked maybe 2 or 3 miles away from where I was. I had plenty of light left in the day. So, I figured I’d go see what they were, then walk back to where I parked and go home.

Big mistake.

I walked for a good hour and these shapes looked just as far away from where I first started. I came across some sort of structure that I rested at for a minute then decided to throw in the towel and turn around.

Now to get to these shapes I had turned off the trail way back when I first started walking over. This is where I really messed up. For some reason, I thought I would be able to walk in a completely straight line and somehow keep track of the angle that I was walking at in my head so that I could get back to my car (??).

As I was walking back it became very obvious that I was in a completely different area of polecat bench. I couldn’t see where my car was because it was tucked into the slopes leading up to the bench. I ended up running around the top looking for anything recognizable. But when everything looks exactly the same that proved to be challenging.

It took me an extra 2 hours to finally find my car.

My car was tucked down in this area. From this different angle you can’t even tell it’s here!

What I Wish I Knew Going In

Obviously, I must start here with knowing the correct place to access polecat bench. There is a more common access point where people ride ORVs and mountain bikes, as well as hike. This point can be accessed from Powell by driving north on state highway 295. After about 7 miles turn right onto LP Oilfield Road. There is a place to park immediately after you turn off the highway right after the cattle guard.

Later I was told that rattlesnakes are known to settle around the bench. So, I definitely wish I hadn’t been stomping around the top for several hours off the trail!

It would’ve been great to know about the great mountain biking trail that is up there! I went back after this first experience and went mountain biking for the first time (I’ll talk about this in another post!).

Rating: 1/5

I hate to start off on a negative note here, but I owe my complete honesty to you. If I had to sum up my experience in one word it would be “confusing“.

While it was fun to explore, nothing at polecat bench really captured my interest or attention for very long. There are so many beautiful places in Park County that you can’t see anywhere else in the world, the bench is not one of those places.

Access was a total nightmare (if you don’t know where to go). As I was there I could not help but worry about anyone who might try to go the same way I did.

One positive the bench has going for it is how close it is to Powell. I mentioned this earlier, if you have a mountain bike or an ORV this is a great place to get a quick ride in. Polecat bench has potential in this aspect.

What’s Next?

For my next post, I’ll be talking about my experience at McCullough Peaks!

As always, you can find more from me here!

Meet Park County’s NEW Outdoor Recreation Planner!

Hello Park County!!

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Kiran Darai. I am the new outdoor recreation planner working for Powell Economic Partnership (PEP) coming to you from the Greater Boston area!

A Little About Me…

  • I love the outdoors. I try to spend as much time as I can outside, particularly on my bicycle. I also enjoy hiking, swimming, camping, and any other way to soak up some sun!
  • An optimist to a fault, I like to think that I focus on the good in most situations.
  • Making people laugh brings me joy. I still remember the exact joke I told my doctor over 2 years ago that made him chuckle just a little bit!
  • Family is everything to me, and that includes my close friends!
  • I use exclamation points a lot!!
Your outdoor recreation planner in the wild at the New England Aquarium back home in Boston

VISTA on the Move

Now I should probably let you all know why I’ve moved all this way… I’m here in beautiful Park County because I’ve joined the AmeriCorps VISTA program. To make a long story short: AmeriCorps is a federal program. People join so that they can be placed in a community in the U.S. to volunteer. VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America.

All you need to remember is that as a VISTA, I am here to lend a helping hand to PEP to expand their capacity to better serve the Park County community. This position started this past June and will conclude next June in 2023.

I joined because I’m passionate about community health. There is nothing more powerful than a community coming together to solve the problems that face that community. It’s about lifting the quality of life for the collective through solutions that come from within. After all, who is better to ask than those who live with the problems?

I’ll bet you’re wondering, “who is this guy, why should I care, and why did he come here?”.

Hopefully after I tell you about what I’m doing specifically you will see the value in my job and why you should read this blog!

Why do you Value Outdoor Recreation in Park County?

Goals for my Service Year

As the “Outdoor Recreation Planner” I have a few goals that I need to accomplish during the time I will be in Park County. The first of those (and most interesting) being that I must understand what the people of Park County value in outdoor recreation. I need to know what you all love about recreating, what would get you outside more, and what may be stopping you from being outdoors as much as you would like. I’m excited to learn the answers to these questions because I will be using your responses to create a recommendation for improving the outdoor recreation experience in the county.

I think it’s important for me to say that I will not be forcing any changes on you that are from me or the organizations I may be working with. Any recommendations I make will be completely informed by what YOU want. I am simply here to collect your opinions and organize them so that the people whose jobs it is to make any changes to outdoor recreation clearly know what you desire, if anything at all.

I need to understand the plans of agencies that own public land in Park County and how those plans affect what you all want when it comes to outdoor recreation. I’ll be collaborating with Bureau of Land Management, United States Dept. of Agriculture, Bureau of Reclamation, and other land owners!

Finally, I must “document the user experience” of outdoor recreation in Park County. It’s exactly what it sounds like! They’re making me hike, bike, kayak, camp, and spend time outside. Doesn’t that sound horrible??

But! That doesn’t quite explain why I’m writing this blog…

Inside Look on Outdoor Recreation from a New Resident

This blog will mainly contain my thoughts about all the adventures I will be going on in Park County. I will tell all of you where I went for the day, what I did, what I thought about it, what I wish I knew going in, and where I will be going next! I’m hoping you will get something out of reading about my travels and remember what it was like seeing the sights here for the first time again.

So! If you see me out and about (probably looking lost/confused) don’t be a stranger! Odds are I probably need some help anyways. Feel free to stop me and tell me what you’re thinking, I’d love to know!

""
What I usually look like while outdoors

You can find more from me here.

-Kiran