Monday, November 11, 2019

Road trip, Day Six

We woke up this morning in Denver to a light snow, not nearly as bad as we feared. This is a view from our motel room around 7 am.

What we didn't know was the light dusting of snow covered quite a thick layer of ice. Older Daughter's car was fairly shellacked. To make things more fun, it was about 19F and Older Daughter couldn't find the windshield scraper. (She wanted to assure readers she has one; but it's literally buried in her truck under all her personal effects.) What followed was a comical attempt to un-shellack the vehicle, using a boot to scrape the snow and then assorted cards to scrape the ice. (My Costco card may never be the same.)

But we finally got everything free and the car warmed up. Then we hit the road and hit Starbucks, not necessarily in that order.

Heading out of Denver, we saw a weird sight from a distance which turned out to be a practice golf range with such an extraordinarily tall net (to confine flying golf balls) that I wondered how often birds collided with it.

The clouds started burning off and it turned into as nice a day for travel as we could hope for.

Out of Denver, we took Hwy. 25 north, then connected to Hwy. 287 until we hit Hwy. 80 west.

Hwy. 287 took us through what seemed to be a forgotten corner of Colorado, full of tilted escarpments and dramatic rock formations.

In many places, snow clung to rock surfaces.

Road cuttings had what looked like a thick layer of iron-rich clay.

See that red conical peak in the center left distance?

Here's what it looked like closer up.

Older Daughter and I decided it was a good thing Don wasn't driving during this leg of the trip, since the leading cause of death among geologists is driving off the road while look at rock formations. (Don used to be an engineering geologist.)

Out in the middle of nowhere we passed this pretty little white church.

Later we passed this ginormous lodge-like house, all by itself in the middle of nowhere.

As we approached Laramie, we saw this huge factory that looked eerily similar to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, complete with no identification on the outside.

The trek through southern Wyoming along Hwy. 80 was interesting since I've never been to this part of the country. It's clear this place sees a lot of snow. There were signs warning the entire highway can be shut down in adverse conditions, and everywhere we looked we saw snow fences.

And vista after vista -- again and again and again -- showed impossibly long ribbons of highway stretching before us.

There were vast -- absolutely enormous -- areas with no settlements or other human interference. It was a truly humbling reminder of how big America is.

Oddly, we passed the occasional smoking facility, both close to the road as well as very distant, and we have no idea what they were. Anyone know?

We also passed, at wide intervals, dozens of what looked like smaller concrete structures, by themselves out in the desert. Again, we were clueless what they might be.

Twice, we breached the Continental Divide -- once at 7000 feet, the other around 6980 or so. As we moved further west, the rock formations became more dramatic.

And once, it was simply easier to tunnel through the rock than to build the highway around it.

I've seldom seen so much geology on open display.

Several hours along Hwy 80, cross-eyed with monotony, we started passing dozens of billboards extolling the amenities of something called Little America.

When we finally arrived, in desperate need of de-cramping our muscles, it turned out to be a rest stop on steroids, providing everything long-haul drivers needed. It more than fulfilled its promise of squeaky-clean bathroom facilities, inexpensive ice cream cones, reasonably priced lodging, and a playground for kids. This Sinclair dinosaur brought me back to my childhood. I remember clambering all over one at a gas station.

Gradually it dawned on us we had been going downhill to a greater or lesser extent ever since hitting the Continental Divide several hours before. For the entire rest of our trip into Salt Lake City, we headed downhill.

As darkness fell and we approached Salt Lake City, the downhill slopes became even steeper. It was hard to see much of the scenery, but we were going around bends and curves, apparently through an extremely long (as in, miles and miles) canyon.

We were never so glad to see the lights of Salt Lake City, our home for the night.

I think, with luck, we should be home by Wednesday.


  1. Those were interesting pictures and commentaries. If you ever find out what those buildings are, I would like to know, too.

    1. The big ones are oil and gas refineries. The small clusters of concrete-looking tanks are actually steel tanks for storage at a well site.

  2. First photo in question is an oil refinery. Second is too dark, but may be another. Third looks like storage for oil (any derricks nearby)? The Sinclair company (family owned) is still in business. I know people who work for them.

    Thanks for sharing and safe travels!


  3. There is a limestone and a baking soda factory of that interstate. Others can not be identified.

  4. Wave at us if you're coming thru Fort Hall tomorrow.

  5. If you saw steam near Rawlins, WY it was Sinclairs oil refinery. Hubby works there occasionally-driving from Idaho's Treasure Valley. And, yes, Hwy 80 can be treacherous and will close.

  6. Awesome pictures! Think North.
    Montana Guy

  7. The facilities with the stacks of smoke were oil refineries. The concrete like structures were tank batteries that hold the oil temporarily at the well location. These tanks are actually steel. It also looks like there are some flare stacks so there should also be natural gas in that area.

  8. I now live in Greeley, Co..your entire trip from Denver thru Wyoming and to SLC I have traveled 100s of times--no exaggeration..the little Church is around Virginia Dale. getting into Wyoming on 287 at the peak is 8000ft. then thru Wyoming (my FAVORITE state) the scenery is gorgeous and can be treacherous. By taking 287 N from Ft. Collins you missed Vedauwoo (between cheyenne and Laramie) across Sherman Pass which is the highest point on I80 in the nation at 8200ft. Vedauwoo is an absolutely stunning area and I camp and hike there several times a year (since the late 60s) All the way thru Wyoming there are 100os of oil-gas wells and tank batteries and the Sinclair Refinery is just outside Rawlins, WY..the other "steamy" places you saw in the Little America area are Mines--lots of Mines such as Arm & Hammer..the BIG Little America (mother Ship) is in downtown SLC..GREAT place to stay. just west and north of SLC is the Great Salt Lake and headed west on I80 at times becomes eerily barren and beautiful. We usually get off I80 west of Evanston, WY and head north on 880 up to Idaho Falls, ID--another gorgeous drive then from Idaho Fslls to Jackson Hole Wy and up to Yellowstone--does not get much better tahn that. Lucky youse--Wyoming is an incredible state--my favorite...Shadowfaxhound

  9. Those big "factories" you saw in Wyoming are oil and natural gas (and a host of other gasses like helium) refineries, conversion and pump stations. Most of the natural gas used in the western US comes from Wyoming. They compress it into liquid and truck it to Huston and then ship it other places in the world.
    It's a good thing you weren't driving west through Colorado. Your geologist would have wrung his neck looking at our beautiful Rockies.

  10. Patrice, I have driven that stretch of road on 287 to Laramie. In the summer, it is very beautiful.