Chasing the ghosts of cattle thieves and bank robbers through the wilds of Montana I did find a real snake in the road.
Researching trails where adventure was defined as risky and dangerous, the shadowy 3000-mile Outlaw Trail offered what the motorcycle tour companies had overlooked and where RVs were absent. The north-south route between Canada and Mexico that outlaws used 120-150 years earlier to run and hide from authorities posed on and off-pavement motorcycling challenges as well as a test in simply finding some of the secret locations.
Unlike the Trans-America and Continental Divide Trails, there were no published motorcycle-friendly maps or tour guides to follow. The early horse thieves, cattle rustlers, murderers, train and bank robbers had some safe havens along the route where they could spend time which provided touch points. Some were well-known, like The Hole-in-The-Wall. Others were general areas, such as the Browns Hole, or Robbers Roost.
One version of The Outlaw Trail started in Climax, Canada, wandered through Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico to exit the USA somewhere west of El Paso, Texas. The route became elusive when searching for the many feeder trails or tracks into hiding places, like the route from Belle Fourche, South Dakota to The Hole-In-The-Wall near Kaycee, Wyoming.
The Butte County Bank in Belle Fourche, South Dakota was the site of an attempted robbery June 28, 1897. The unsuccessful outlaws left one of their gang to be captured in Belle Fourche while the others made a run for The Hole-In-The-Wall hideout.
On June 28, 1897 a group of bank robbers attempted to rob the Butte County Bank in Belle Fourche, South Dakota. The gang included Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, who, when he was younger, spent 18 months in jail in the town of Sundance, Wyoming. He was known as the Kid from Sundance, or The Sundance Kid, and his bank robbing buddies were called The Wild Bunch from the gang of pals from their hideout known as The Hole-In-The-Wall.
The bank robbery failed and one of the members, Tom O’Day was left behind as the gang fled town. Unfortunate O’Day was found hiding in the sewage of an outhouse in town after it was knocked over while looking for him. The route taken by The Sundance Kid to The Hole-In-The-Wall hideout is often referred to as part of The Outlaw Trail, although it was well off the main north-south trail.
The Hole-In-The-Wall location still existed, although it was far away from the paved highway. It was on private property, part of the 57,000 acre Willow Creek Ranch. My first attempt to reach The Hole-In-The-Wall was halted when my loaded Kawasaki KLR650 and I decided the 40 miles of wet, sloppy Wyoming dirt road was impassable after a rain storm. I returned six months later with a much lighter and more manageable KLX250S, and the now dry roads and tracks made it easy to find and explore The Hole-In-The-Wall.
One of the original cabins from The Hole-In-The-Wall had been re-located to Old Trail Town and Museum in Cody, Wyoming.
Little remained of the famous outlaw hide out. A later side trip to Cody, Wyoming found one of the original cabins restored at the Old Trail Town and Museum of the Old West.
Back on the pavement in Wyoming the KLR650 followed The Outlaw Trail to Lander, then Rock Springs and for an evening into the next safe haven for the outlaws, Browns Park, where the pavement stopped. Here the gravel road was dry and easily covered by the KLR650. Too late in the day to reach a town and motels, I dry camped alongside the Green River in Browns Park.
Another day’s ride south through the town of Green River, Utah and further pavement riding into the area known as Robbers Roost found any attempt to go far off road with the KLR650 a serious challenge. The tracks were either deep, soft red dust or washed out stream beds that the outlaws used to reach their hideouts in the canyons of the area. My two wheel motorcycle was no match for the four legged horses the outlaws used and I had to turn back after several attempts to reach certain hideouts.
To drive into some of the areas known as Robbers Roost tested not only the ability of the motorcycle but the drivers as well, like through this deep sand where the heavily laden motorcycle wanted to flop and rest on its side.
The next section south was a mix of pavement and gravel roads into Tuba City, Arizona. More pavement riding from there through St. Johns, and to Silver City, New Mexico was easy work for the KLR650. The final leg to the border with Mexico was again pavement.
There was no defined exit point from the USA to Mexico that the outlaws used, merely the area between El Paso Texas and Columbus, New Mexico. The WS Ranch, near Alma, New Mexico, was known as the southern part of The Outlaw Trail, a ranch where Wild Bunch member Robert Leroy Parker worked as a ranch hand. Parker, who went by the moniker Butch Cassidy, was known at the ranch as Jim Lowe, but the name change did not fool the locals.
Nearly all of The Outlaw Trail was paved. The unpaved sections, like the 40 miles off Interstate 25 to The Hole-In-The-Wall, varied from high-speed gravel to impassable, depending on weather conditions. Unpaved sections into hiding areas in canyons known as Robbers Roost were extremely challenging for the loaded KLR650, better done on a lighter and more dirt-oriented motorcycle, and became impassable when wet.
An optional 4-wheel drive track along the west side of the Green River in Browns Park may have been an interesting look at some of the more secluded areas, but I opted not to explore that track.
If caught in remote areas on The Outlaw Trail near dark, rather than risk a crash by driving onwards in the dark I would camp for the night.
Food and Sleeping
Focusing the mileage each day on bed and breakfast could find restaurant food and motel sleeping at night. Because I chose to explore some side tracks and trails, I occasionally camped with a tent and sleeping bag I carried in case of unknown delays, like a flat tire or too much time spent exploring.
My average daily cost was $120, which included gas, food and sleeping. My number of days, including side trips to places like Cody, Wyoming, Belle Fourche and Deadwood, South Dakota, and Winslow, Arizona took me 15 days for a total of $1800 That figure did not include motorcycle preparation or any wear and tear.
The Hole-In-The-Wall gang and location were made famous by Hollywood films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman. ?Along with several books about the pair, some facts had morphed into fiction and some tales had become
taller. Out of the dust along the trail came some theories, one of which had both Cassidy and The Sundance Kid surviving the movie ending shootout in Bolivia to live to ripe old ages in the United States.
Mine was a wild adventure where I was nearly knocked off my motorcycle by an errant antelope, broke my leg in some deep sugar sand on the Navajo Indian Reservation, and found unfriendly signs threatening fines or imprisonment if I ventured further along remote roads and track. Going solo without support vehicles or wingmen meant carrying all my own repair equipment, like the tire repair kit and air pump for the flat tire I experienced 100 miles from the nearest town. Solo also meant that I was on my own adventure and could take the time I wanted to spend exploring, photographing and talking with locals about trails and tales.
About the time I was feeling I had accomplished a unique connecting of the dots from Canada to Mexico, riding The Outlaw Trail, I learned of a serious English horseman, Roger Pocock, who, in 1899-1900, rode a horse from Fort MacLeod, Canada to Mexico City, looking for The Outlaw Trail and some of the outlaws like Butch Cassidy. His well-documented 3600-mile adventure took 147 days and earned him the recognition he deserved as a real “long rider.”
The last 9.5 miles to The Hole-In-The-Wall was impassable when wet, tough going when dry. The sign warned that any travel was very risky, a key element in adventure.
I could not follow the Pocock’s route because much of the original Outlaw Trail to places like Hole-In-The-Wall crossed closed areas or were on private lands. In other instances I would have to secure permissions or by a surreptitious route walk or drive the motorcycle to some of the secret hide outs along the Trail.
Riding and camping alone over The Outlaw Trail gave me a chance to imagine what running from the law had been like in the last 30 years of the 1800s. Names like Kid Curry, George “Flat Nose” Curry, “Black Jack” Ketchum and Jessie James often wafted in the wind. Some were killed while others dodged the law and bullets long enough to die of old age.
A planned future adventure is to ride The Outlaw Trail in the reverse direction, from the WS Ranch near Alma, New Mexico to Landusky, Montana. Harvey Logan, the acknowledged killer in the Wild Bunch, and later known as Kid Curry, lived on his ranch in Landusky when not stealing cattle, killing lawmen, robbing banks and trains or on the run. Near Curry’s ranch, in Hideaway Coulee, was a hideout with a cabin owned by Curry but often used by Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. I will consider the poorly marked historic site the end of The Outlaw Trail.
It will be a grand adventure on a motorcycle and one I have not seen done, and unless some adventurous motorcyclist does it before me, I might claim it for bragging rights. Or maybe after I have completed it I will secret away the route and let another adventure motorcyclist who thrives on solitude and chasing outlaw ghosts write about it.