Sunday, June 2, 2024

Second honeymoon, Day 10

From Brush, Colorado, we briefly headed west on Hwy 76 to Fort Morgan, then took Rd. 52 north toward Wyoming. It was as flat a country as we'd ever seen.

It was a place where intersections were a Big Deal. (This is County Road 82.)

We connected east on Hwy 14 (remember, this whole side excursion was to avoid Denver), during which we passed through the sleepy little farming towns of New Raymer and Briggsdale. We started seeing the mighty Rockies over Denver.

At Pierce, we went north on Hwy 85. We passed another large cattle operation.

We also passed more ... pronghorn! Don pulled over so I could snap photos.

They didn't run away from the parked car, but they did move away. Interestingly, see how the rear white fur seems fluffed up in that one animal to make a dramatic heart shape?

Apparently this practice exposes glands that release an odor to alert other herd members of danger. Both the sight and scent communicate the concern.

Fascinating creatures, pronghorn.

Continuing on our way toward Cheyenne, we started seeing some scattered mesas.

Lots of alternative energy out here: Solar farms...

...and windmills.

We crossed into Wyoming near Cheyenne, then briefly traveled on Hwy 80 east. Some cool rock formations.

Right there on Hwy 80, we passed an historical marker located between the divided lanes. We pulled over and saw it was for the "Lonetree on the Laramie Range."

Specifically what we were looking at was Tree Rock, a tree that appeared to be growing out of solid rock.

The limber pine apparently managed to root itself through a crack in the rocks, and passing pioneers and railroad personnel were fond of it as far back as the mid-1800s. I like when little bits of history like this are commemorated.

But the real thrill for me? I saw my first prairie dog!

Those who live in prairie dog country are probably laughing their fool heads off at my enthusiasm; but hey, I've never seen one in the wild before.

Between snow fences and high mountain peaks, this little rest stop also had some spectacular scenery on one side.

On the other side, the impressive Sherman Mountains.

We continued down the highway, at one point passing this load of oversized tires. Ahem, way bigger than I ever used in our old tire garden.

In Laramie, I was just able to snatch a poor photograph of what we later learned was the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Monument.

We stopped for brunch at a truck stop in Laramie, then took Hwy 30 north out of town, which leads in a wide loop through Medicine Bow. Immediately we were out on the true prairie, with vast vistas.

In the distance we saw some beautiful peaks, the Shirley Mountains.

With the train passing in front, isn't this the most Wyoming-esque scene imaginable?

We planned to stop at a spot on our map called Como Bluff Famous Dinosaur Graveyard, but we found to our regret that it had long since closed. (That's what we get for using a 20-year-old road atlas.)

Here's a summary of its history.

(There was also another historical marker discussing some rather fascinating train robberies that happened in the vicinity.)

As with many abandoned buildings we've seen on this trip, I have the irrational urge to fix them up, y'know? There's something sad about seeing tattered curtains blowing in the wind through broken windows.

This is the cabin famously constructed of dinosaur bones, the "oldest building in the world."

Apparently this structure was in the process of being moved to the  town of Medicine Bow, about eight miles further up the road. The cabin was already up on beams. I gather it's a delicate and difficult process.

Just before leaving the site, I photographed the road we had just traveled. You can see the massive amount of traffic on this stretch.

We proceeded to the town of Medicine Bow. For such a small town (less than 300 people), it has two splendid attractions.

This is the Virginian Hotel. It was in beautiful shape.

The inside was gorgeous.

We both agreed it was a shame it was too early for a room for the night, because this would have been a great place to stay.

Across the road was the Medicine Bow Museum, focusing largely on railroad history. Sadly it wasn't open, so we contented ourselves with walking around the grounds.

This is a board showing cattle brands in the region.

It's funny. My initial impression of Medicine Bow, as we approached it from the east, wasn't favorable. That's because there was some junky debris scattered on the outskirts of town. (Bonus question: How far is Medicine Bow from the nearest landfill? Garbage service must be a challenge.)

But then Don and I drove through the back streets of the town, and I completely revised my opinion. It was a charming little place. Its streets were not paved (which I rather liked), the homes were all neat and cared for, and – what I liked best – there was clear evidence of active family life: Kids playing, people visiting each other, etc. In other words, the town was by no means a ghost town.

We came away impressed.

We got back on the road to complete the Hwy 30 loop back to Hwy 80. We passed many more windmills. When we saw a small access road, we pulled off, hoping to drive among them. However the road was marked as off-limits, so we contented ourselves with viewing them comparatively up close.

One of the reasons we wanted to get close, oddly, is because I'd never heard a windmill. Were they quiet? Noisy? Offensive? In the vast Wyoming prairie, here was our chance to hear them up close.

As you can imagine, with a machine that large, the sound was also large ... in a quiet sort of way. I hope that doesn't sound like a contradiction, but there was a sort of whooshing down accompanied by a soft "whomp" on every downstroke. For the few minutes we were there, it was rather pleasant. But constant and unending? I don't know.

We did see a large tractor, which looked like it was a maintenance worker keeping the bases of the windmills groomed. It's also a testament to the sheer size of these things.

And so we returned to the road.

We passed what we assumed was a natural gas facility.

A lonely shed with a mountainous backdrop.

We briefly touched on Hwy 80 again before getting off at Rawlins and heading north on Hwy 287. After a few miles we crossed the Continental Divide.

Actually we crossed it twice, but I didn't have my camera ready the first time.

With the mountains looming – I think this is the Rattlesnake Range, but I could be wrong – the land started looking more dramatic.

We noticed a lonely homestead way off by itself.

How about this escarpment with vegetation only growing along the fracture lines? Presumably there's water down there.

Our destination for the night was the town of Riverton, but we were early. Therefore at the junction of Muddy Gap, we turned right (instead of left) onto Hwy 220 to explore a couple things we saw on the map.

The first was something called Devil's Gate. We had no idea what it was or what to expect, but the rock formation immediately became apparent.

Devil's Gate had a museum and visitor's center documenting the trials of the early pioneers. According to a brochure we picked up, "While the migrant trails follow braided corridors through much of Wyoming, the emigrant corridor at Devil's Gate follows a single route. Virtually every emigrant freighter and soldier who headed west along this corridor passed through Rattlesnake Pass. Here the routes of the Oregon Trail, California Trail, Mormon Trail, and the Pony Express are located one on top of the other. Deep trail ruts are still visible south of the old highway just west of Devil's Gate."

The area behind the visitor's center had a splendid view of the rock feature.

Inside the museum was an even better photo, so I took a photo of the photo.

Along with several other visitors, we wandered deeper into the museum, which followed a twisting series of rooms going deeper into the sprawling old house in which it was located, while a docent – a sweet older woman – hovered nearby in case anyone had questions.

While I lingered over a display of a clever "pioneer odometer" ...

...Don moved further ahead and turned a corner into another room. Almost immediately he re-emerged, a comical expression of alarm and amusement on his face. "We're leaving now," he hissed. When he speaks in that tone of voice, I don't argue. I did an about-face and followed him out of the museum.

He was laughing as we emerged from the building. The final room, it seems, was dedicated to evangelical materials of the Mormon Church, with the sweet lady docent available to answer any and all questions.

The whole facility, as it turns out, is church-owned; and like almost everything the Mormon Church runs, it was splendid and scrupulously clean and beautifully documented, with knowledgeable docents on hand for any questions. A brochure we picked up had the following disclaimer: "The public access crosses Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints-owned land, leading to the public land leased from the BLM. Church volunteers are stationed along the trail on the leased public land to ensure the safety of visitors and to protect the historic site. These volunteers are not employees of any government agency, and any views they express are not those of the United States Government or any of its agencies."

We agreed the visitor's center and museum was an impressive collaboration between private and public entities, and the Devil's Gate facility is well worth visiting. Just be careful in that last room of the museum.

We proceeded a few miles further down the road to Independence Rock, so named because emigrants usually came to it in early July, where they celebrated Independence Day. It was noted for its pioneer inscriptions.

We parked and walked the quarter-mile or so along a paved walkway to the rock.

We saw faint remnants of pioneer inscriptions. At least we thought they were pioneer inscriptions.

The back side of the outcrop was fenced off, and I suspect that's where the real inscriptions were to be found.

Heading back to the parking lot, the path crossed a dry gulch. As it turns out, what we were crossing were ruts from the actual trails. How cool is that?

We retraced our way back to Muddy Gap, then continued on Hwy 287 toward Lander. At one point we stopped at a rest stop at a place called Sweetwater Station so Don could use the bathroom.

I lingered outside the car while he was in the facility. Comically, while I was waiting, a pickup truck raced in, jerked to a stop, and a cowboy-y looking young man left the engine running while he power-walked into the restroom. Hey, when you gotta go, you gotta go.

The rest stop was exceedingly nice. Both Don and I agreed Wyoming has excellent rest stops and historical markers throughout the state.

We couldn't help but noticed this huge house across the highway from the rest stop. It was all by itself and had to be, I dunno, eight or ten thousand square feet in size. Yowza.

Back on the road, we turned right at Lander onto Hwy 789 and crossed a low ridge into Riverton.

We pulled into the parking lot of a nice-looking motel complex and went inside the lobby to see if they had a room. It was here that we had a very interesting experience.

Apparently Riverton is the home of Central Wyoming College, and it was graduation week, which meant many accommodations were full. Ahead of us in line in the lobby was an older couple (probably grandparents) accompanied by four giggling teenage girls in skirts and modest tops (my guess, homeschooled). The family was having a lovely time, chattering and laughing among themselves as they completed the check-in process. I was smiling, thinking how nice it was to see such a happy extended family.

But there was another couple about our age in line, behind this family and ahead of us. Keep this in mind for a moment.

About this poinr, Don realized he may have parked in a restricted area, so he went outside to repark the car while I continued to wait in line. The woman ahead of me shifted impatiently from foot to foot while the family of giggling girls worked on their check-in. She made tut-tutting sounds and threw me a glance or two, as if inviting me to share in her impatience at the family's joyous attitude.

But I didn't mind the wait. I had all the time in the world, so I made no move to share in the killjoy's impatient attitude.

Finally the family moved off to locate their room, and the couple marched up to the desk. This is the point where I realized I was in the presence of a Real Live "Karen." I'd read stories about these creatures but never met one in real life.

Karen – clearly the dominant member of the couple – harangued the hotel clerk about their desire for a king-sized bed on the ground floor because they had specified this on some website ( or whatever) and that was that. The clerk, a middle-aged man with the patience of Job, explained that these travel websites do not have any idea of the number or availability of any particular room, such as those with king-sized beds on the ground floor. Besides, the motel was heavily booked due to the graduation in town.

Karen wasn't having any of it. No matter what reasonable alternatives the clerk offered, it wasn't good enough. She wanted a king-sized bed on the ground floor, and she wanted it now. Politely the clerk told her NO, since no such rooms were available. Finally she snapped, "I'm leaving before I say anything more," and stormed out of the lobby in a temper just about the time Don walked back in.

Don looked at me questioningly. "I'll tell you later," I whispered.

Meanwhile, Karen's husband – a far more polite man – gratefully took one of the alternative rooms the clerk was able to offer, received his keys, and slunk out of the lobby after his wife.

Don and I stepped up to the counter, cheerful and polite, and made sympathetic noises about Karen. The clerk rolled his eyes and grinned. "She's not the worst I've seen," he admitted.

We chatted while he found us a room. And, by golly, it seems he just happened to have a cancellation of a room on the ground floor with a king-sized bed, which he'd be happy to offer us for a slight discount.

Ironically Don and I don't care for king-sized beds. At home we sleep in a full-sized bed because we like to snuggle, and king-sized beds feel like we're acres apart. But we weren't about to decline the offer and ruin the clerk's obvious pleasure at offering it to us (not to mention"sticking" it to Karen).

The room was lovely, and actually had a back door which opened to a semi-private courtyard with the swimming pool. It was too early in the year for the pool to be in use, but it made for a cheerful bit of fresh air in the room.

Sorry, Karen. Honey and vinegar, dear.


  1. I'm loving, and laughing, at your adventures!

  2. Your travelogue brings back fond memories of reading Rinker Buck’s, The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey. Buck researches a piece of history and then attempts to live it. Very entertaining.

  3. Your travels remind me of what my dh and I saw in our road travels. It is wonderful to see those sites again, can't thank you enough for sharing them.

  4. Whew! That was a close one for Don! I'll bet there were a couple of Mormon Elders just a-waiting in that back room to fill up the font, tie him up and baptize him against his will! You probably escaped becoming a second or third wife to said Mormon Elders. Of course this is said entirely tongue-in-cheek. I got a good laugh out-a this. (Scary, SCARY Mormons).

  5. By the way, the Mormon Church does not and has never existed.
    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is it's name. I'm surprised with you living in Idaho you would know that