Wyoming Trip 2002

Roaming Wind River Country

Smoky Rocky Mountains

This is a journal of our 10th Anniversary trip to the Wind River Range, in western Wyoming. We drove and hiked our way around the mountains' rugged beauty. The entries are in chronological order, starting with the first day at the top.

For accompanying photos, go to http://public.fotki.com/grinder/.

August 9, 2002 - Friday

It’s 1 a.m., and I should be in bed right now. I am getting excited, and it’s been hard to concentrate at work lately. We leave tomorrow morning for the Wind River Range in Wyoming, one of the most secluded sections of the Rocky Mountains.

Our decision on where to stay was solidified a few days ago. I got my packet from the Lander Area Chamber of Commerce, and it is packed full of great stuff. I e-mailed the Chamber, and they told me that Pinedale is about a 2-hour drive from Lander. That’s not a big deal, because one day in Pinedale should allow us to do what we want. Maybe we could camp there if we decide one day wasn’t enough. We will have all the stuff for it. Our motel room in Lander wouldn’t miss us too much for one night.

It’s about 8:50 p.m., and we got back about 45 minutes ago from dinner with friends. We found out that our new place is only a mile from the Missouri state line, and this great restaurant is right across the border. We’re in a packing frenzy, so I won’t have much time to write tonight. I’ll paste in something that I wrote a week ago.

Those who have been there affectionately call this section of the Bridger-Teton National Forest “the Winds.” It has the most glaciers of any range in the contiguous United States.

Even though I’m married to the most organized person I know, I did the planning for this trip. Some who know me probably cannot believe that, especially if they also know my wife. If you want something done that requires planning skills, she’s the one to call. Okay, enough of the shameless job reference. Time to get to the reason you came here. To hear about our trip to the Wind River Range.

At first, I thought we would stay in one place a few days, and then in the other for the rest of the time. There are just some great day hikes I wanted to hit near two different towns - and they are two hours apart. We figured it would be more relaxing if we could just unpack our things until time to go home. Noticed the “we” there, did you? Hey, I said I’m planning it - I didn’t say I’m doing it without input. There’s planning something yourself, and there’s planning something without ever asking your wife’s opinion. I think all married or divorced men know what I mean, and all men still married know the difference.

The area gets very busy in July and August so, being a cautious man, something I think I got from my father, I made sure we had reservations in both places until the last moment for cancellation without penalty. Smart, as long as I remember to cancel one of them. Have you learned anything about my personality?

August 10, 2002 - Saturday

I didn't get an Internet connection our first night in Lander, so sorry my first posting is so long. I'm trying to keep this mercifully brief from now on, but remember I'm a writer at heart and our drive out will be about 20 hours. Some of you may just want to see the pictures. That's fine. This journal is more for us than anyone else, but I try to keep it interesting. Most things I mention will have photos to go along with them. If you don't know that link, then click here.

We finally got out of Bella Vista at about 9 a.m., after stopping to get ice. Not much to write about. Joplin, Kansas City, eastern Kansas. Some nice rolling hills, but overall nothing unusual, and no wrong turns.

For the first few hours of the trip, we did some planning. Finally, Shannon really jumped in with both feet and made us look like we knew what we were doing. If I were you, I would keep reading this journal, and be sure to look at the pictures.

Lots of flat land and corn in Nebraska, and a lot of cows. We listened to a book on tape so I could stay awake, if that tells you anything. Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell. Pretty good, and I think that show CSI has read some of her novels.

Just short of Kearney, Nebraska, we saw something that went all the way across and above Interstate 80. It was the Great Platte River Archway Monument. We couldn't go in together because of Lexie, so we took turns looking around the lobby. It's hard to describe in words, because it is so unique. An escalator carries ticket holders from the lobby and through a movie screen showing old west scenes. A tunnel runs right through it and over I-80. My dad had told us about this after his trip to South Dakota. We were sorry we had to miss it, but glad we at least sneaked a peek.

Shannon loved what she called "flying grasshoppers." Looked just like the ones back home to me. I got a pic of one sitting on a barbed wire (a.k.a. "bob wahr") fence, just catchin' rays.

When we arrived at our Comfort Inn in North Platte, Nebraska, I was glad Shannon was driving. She had mentioned that a bubble bath would feel very good right about then. I hopped out and ran inside to check us in. Everything was set, according to Debbie at the front desk. She had put the flowers (which I had ordered off FTD.com) in the room, and had turned on the air conditioner. Shannon was first to go into the room, while I stayed behind and started robbing our trunk of our first-night bags (man, she is organized). She came out with a big smile on her face and said she hadn't felt like her birthday was a special day until then. Oh, and I forgot to mention. I also had upgraded the room to one with a Jacuzzi tub. She was thrilled. Are you guys listening?

There is a 20th-Century Veterans Memorial under construction just behind our motel, and we're going to take a look at it tomorrow morning after checkout.

I sit typing this as Shannon sleeps silently and Lexie snores lightly. My ladies are happy, and all is right with the world.

August 11, 2002 - Sunday

(Sorry if the order of days is confusing. I'm working on this. The goal is to get it so that the latest post is at the bottom.)

As I sit writing this, Shannon bustles about the room organizing and putting things away, making it just like home for the week.

Back to North Platte, Nebraska. Shannon found $6 in her pocket this morning that she didn't know she had. We're going to defy everything our parents told us, and spend it all in one place.

Not long after that, Shannon disappeared, and I couldn't find her. We were checking out the Veterans Memorial, and it's far enough along that we can tell it will have a lot of names. She wandered away from me to look at a closed Visitors Center housed in a railroad car. I heard her voice, but couldn't make out what she said. I stepped around a temporary construction office to hear her, and she was gone. "Shannon," I yelled out. I normally don't panic quickly, but as some of you know from the horse incident, it's a different story when I think something might have happened to Shannon.

Then, I saw the Johnny-on-the-Spot (port-a-john) rock to one side a bit, and heard Shannon's voice coming from inside. I laughed because I couldn't believe that she of all people had picked that place over our motel bathroom. She said she just had to go. I guess so.

We saw the highest point in Nebraska -- Panorama Point. It took some driving on dirt roads, but no hiking. It's not a peak, but just a wide-open space, with lots of Bison patties all around. We posed at the marker -- 5,424 feet. We signed the guest register and moved on. Shannon was excited about the seemingly endless crops of sunflowers beside the road, so I got a picture of her in the classic Shannon pose, the yellow sea stretching out for miles behind her.

We also crossed the highest point on Interstate 80. It was 8,640 feet, and marked by a bust of Abraham Lincoln atop a 40-foot tower of local rocks. Sorry, no picture. Shannon was willing to stop, but we went on.

The scenery only got better beyond that. Past Laramie, we started seeing mountains that seemed to have patches of snow on them, but we couldn't be sure from that distance. Now we're getting somewhere, we thought. Well, I don't know if she thought that, but I'm writing this. We passed amazing mountains that looked like someone had stacked boulders by hand. Trees trying to hold on in pure granite. Some of the hills and cliffs were a rusty red that made us realize Red Canyon would be a must-see. Pictures just don't do these places justice. To see them looming as you drive, and not seem to get any closer even at 75 miles per hour -- that's much better than a photograph.

An antelope crossed the road right in front of us, and we saw its two friends waiting on the other side. We finally were in the wild of Wyoming.

After checking in at the Holiday Lodge, we walked down Main Street to find some grub. The Wind River Range stabbed upward as a perfect backdrop to the little town. We saw immediately why people are inspired to move to places like this after just one visit.

We ate outdoors, which was good and bad for Shannon. Our food from the Gannett Grill was delicious, but we didn't sample the bird poop after it plopped on Shannon's shoulder. She was not happy about it, but she just rolled up her sleeve to hide it, and kept right on eating. That's why in the picture she has only one sleeve rolled up. An hour before the sun went down, the breeze was cool enough that we could have worn long pants and windbreakers. Try that in Arkansas in August.

We just ran outside to enjoy the sunset. The peaks were silhouetted against orange, red and pink swaths of clouds. Tomorrow, we start seeing the real sights. Can't wait.

August 12, 2002 - Monday

We woke up at about 6:15 today, determined to get out at a decent hour. Through our motel room window, we watched two mule deer bucks wander around near the river. Two jumbled hours later, and we were off. Don't ask. It included some fluffing up of wrinkled clothes and other boring details. The day was darkly overcast and very cool. We wore sweatshirts over our t-shirts, and long pants.

We first went to Sinks Canyon State Park, where rushing water from the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River goes into a hole in the earth, makes its way through cracks and fissures, then comes out in a long pool called the "rise." It was a great scene to start our sightseeing. We saw some birds we have never seen, like the Lazuli Bunting, and the Black-billed Magpie. Lexie enjoyed exploring with us, but the large rounded rocks were tough for her to navigate. She often got stuck between them, and had a hard time perching on them. I spent a lot of time taking film pictures, but all you get online are digital snapshots. Many large rainbow trout cruised lazily in the pool at the Rise, where no fishing is allowed.

There's something about Shannon and birds. She got pooped on again at the Rise. Good thing we had Wet Ones in the glove compartment.

Next we headed on out of the park and into Shoshone National Forest. A few miles later we ran out of paved road, and unwittingly got on the Loop Road. We had planned to do this drive at some point, but not on this cloudy day. Once we got started, though, we decided to scope it out. After all, clouds don't stay forever. We definitely know that in Arkansas.

The scenery was rugged and beautiful the first several, steep miles. Then we reached the level of the fog, and couldn't see much at all. A few deer and a fawn entertained us by eating a breakfast of wild berries right off the bushes. A couple of ground squirrels scampered around in the woods as we passed. The first few lakes were crawling away from their shores, but as we got higher, the water was more plentiful. Streams were roaring, and lakes were deep and cold. Shortly after we reached the highest point on the Loop Road - 9,576 feet -- we got out of the car where a camper was parked beside a lake. Fog floated across the water as the sun started trying to peak out. It soon burned off enough to give us a clear view of the granite peaks in the distance. Despite the sun, though, we were a little cold. The elevation really makes a difference.

We stopped only briefly at the next lake, because we knew we would have to come back to all these spots.

We left the dirt road for Highway 28 and headed to South Pass City. It is an old gold-mining town that has been restored. We were very hungry at this point, so we only stopped by for a minute. We bought a couple things from very nice teenage boy working at the Trading Post. He was one of the 17 inhabitants of the town.

The boy suggested Atlantic City as a place to eat, but we thought it looked a little scary. For some reason, the restaurant there reminded me of the place the innocent guy usually gets into his first bar brawl. We skipped it and headed back to Lander, having spent much more time in the car on our first day than we had hoped.

We ate and rested a while, then walked downtown to check out some stores. We only had about an hour until most of them closed, but we got in some good browsing. My mom's birthday present (we missed her birthday party, held the night before we left) will ride back to Arkansas with us. Rain fell on us for about five blocks of our walk, enough to rinse the dust off the streets.

After an exhausting trip to the grocery store, we headed back to the room. Tomorrow we'll do some hiking. Stay tuned for more scenic stuff. Meanwhile, check out the pics so far:
http://public.fotki.com/grinder/western_wyoming_2002/

August 13, 2002 - Tuesday

No birds pooped on Shannon today, but she got a much larger and longer-lasting stain. More on that in a minute.

Shannon pointed out a few things I forgot to mention in my previous entries. Only a few? Wow. I'm doing pretty well. On our second day of driving, we saw huge windmills near Rock River, Wyoming. We counted more than 30, but I just found out on the Internet that there are 50 of the 1-megawatt power generators there. Check out http://www.olsenbeal.com/acurrent.htm if you want to get an idea of the size of them. My picture (taken at 65 mph) does not show the scale.

On Monday, many towns in Wyoming experienced record-setting lows. Lander, where we're staying, only reached 68 degrees, and dropped to about 40. That's one reason you see Shannon wearing a sweatshirt and jeans on Lander's Main Street. Whom am I kidding? That's the only reason. The reason I used whom just then? I'm pretentious, so get over it.

Also on Monday (last thing before the Shannon stain story, I promise) -- The laptop I brought along didn't have a modem, and I was hurting to get my journal and pictures online. A guy at a local computer shop, which shall remain nameless until at least the end of this sentence, let me borrow one. Now, this has nothing to do with anything else I've written, but if you're ever in Lander and need to buy something computer-related, go to Little Wind Computers.

This morning, we headed out to Popo Agie falls. Shannon says the hike up almost killed her; I say she did great. It was about a mile and a half upward, with an elevation change of about 750 ft. There were some steep spots where I think the altitude had our hearts racing. It certainly only could have helped us to start out in better shape than we were, but we've been a little busy buying and settling into our new house.

Words to remember:
"Shannon, aren't you going to put on some sunscreen?" Mark asked as he slathered it on himself.
"No, I don't burn as easily as you do."
"Okay," Mark said, visions of aloe vera gel dancing in his head.

Only a few steps into the trail, a young man about our age stopped us and said he noticed our car was from Arkansas. Turns out he's from Camden, Arkansas, and is working at Lander Valley Medical Center. He is a surgical technician who travels around the United States working at various hospitals, representing several companies. About three months is his usual stay, he said. That wasn't all we would hear from Cooper.

To our left, the Popo Agie (poPOzsha) River babbled on about something as we headed up the trail. Looming to our right was a steep, barren mountainside topped by tan sandstone streaked black and red. Windblown aspen trees applauded as we walked by. The sky was what I call wild west blue. People have asked photographers of the west what kind of filters they used to make the sky that color. If they take credit for it, then don't believe them. No filters needed. Just add film (or some modern-day version of it).

The first falls we saw were far in the distance, and kind of a letdown after all the hype and the hike. The canyon to our left had been deeper than any in Arkansas, but we were expecting a waterfall. A few steps later and we got our payoff. Although the official falls were far away, others roared down another chute that fed into the Popo Agie River. We walked on to get up close.

The rocks under the water just above one of the falls were a striking blend of color. I tried to capture it digitally and on film. Then we bumped into Cooper from Camden again.

Oddly enough, he was very good friends with a guy Shannon knew. He started to just throw out names of people from Camden who attended our university, and scored a hit on the first one. I hate to use clichés, so I'll just come up with a way to express the feeling: it's a small world. Sadly, however, he told us that another young man they both knew had been killed in a car accident.

The hike down was much easier -- not steep enough to give us "jelly legs." We talked to Cooper all the way down, and didn't stop once. We decided, however, that "moderate" was about the toughest trail difficulty we should attempt.

We decided to go on the loop road again. Remember, the one that on Monday was plagued by fog? There was nothing clouding our vision today, so we got good views of the higher peaks. I'm pretty sure we saw snow on some of them, but it could have been glaciers. I am not enough of a mountain man to know the difference from that far away.

It was very cool at Lake Christina again. The fresh mountain air blowing over the cold water invigorated me. In fact, we ate in the car because Shannon was too cold without long pants to wear. Louis Lake, surrounded by rock pile mountains, was our favorite for scenery. A lone pole flew the American flag atop one of the surrounding mountains. Only our binoculars got us close enough to make out what it was.

We returned to Lander after that, where we posed with one of the many bronze statues in town. It was Lander Lil, a prairie dog that once lived where the current Post Office stands. Sorry, film pic only - will have to come later. A bronze foundry that makes some of the largest bronze statues in the world is right here in Lander. Some of its smaller works adorn the town. Well, not all of them really adorn it, but they are there. In fact, I think maybe the freebies Lander got were the rejects.

Shannon got quite roasted today, by the way. She has red thighs and knees, red arms and hands. The lovely white camera strap line across the back of her dark red neck finishes out the look nicely. If she doesn't burn as easily as I, then I never have been happier that I used sunscreen. We picked up some stuff to treat her at the nearest Wal-Mart -- 24 miles away in Riverton -- and grabbed a few more items we needed. Coming from Wal-Mart's headquarters, we found it refreshing to be in a town without one. The other side of that coin is that the discount and grocery stores here leave a lot to be desired. They just don't pass muster. Resistant to change, they seem stuck in the 80's, unaware that a rolling stone gathers no moss. clichés -- sometimes they just fit.

More fun comes tomorrow, with a planned trip to Crowheart Butte (insert "wow, ain't she a butte" joke here), Sacajawea's gravesite, Dubois (in the northeastern part of the Wind River Range), and other great places.

August 14, 2002 - Wednesday

Shannon rode a giant jackalope today.

As far as I could tell, no birds even thought about bombing Shannon today. I think she is going for a record. As for her other problem? She was in quite a bit of pain from her sunburn, and this time she slathered on the sunscreen. I like that word. Slather. Slather slather slather. I wore my trusty hat again, with a brim so wide it shades all the way down past the neckline of my shirts (depending where the sun is, of course).

We lit out for Crowheart Butte this morning. Our plan was to enjoy the scenery between Lander and Dubois, and then get an idea how far the Tetons are from there. Cooper convinced us that they weren't as far away as some people had said. By the way, a butte is merely an isolated hill or mountain with steep sides that usually taper up. Nods to Merriam-Webster.com. We also hoped to see the gravesite of Sacajawea, the Shoshone woman who helped guide Lewis and Clark during one year of their exploration. I hope nobody just wondered, "Now, who were Lewis and Clark?"

The road from here to Crowheart Butte is surrounded by desert-like landscape, with no trees until the mountains miles in the distance. As Shannon drove, we noticed that there were no speed limit signs for miles. In fact, we never saw one. Later, we figured out that they post one at each place a road meets another, and good luck to you if you didn't see it. Someone got pulled over just a few minutes after we complained that we had no idea how fast we should go.

Crowheart Butte is visible for miles. Native American tribes battled each other near the butte, and the victorious chief's name appears on various spots of the Wyoming map. I won't bore you with the details here, but it is an interesting story. If you can read this journal, then you can read about Crowheart Butte at this location: http://www.windrivercountry.com/windriverres/crowheartbuttebattle.html. As if to compensate for the bloody battle (and subsequent heart-eating) that occurred there, flowers upwind from us emitted a fragrance reminiscent of a fresh bouquet.

You may have noticed a lack of the classic clouds that appear in so many photos from out west. We just haven't seen any of them.

An area called the Badlands came next. I think every state in the Mountain Time zone has its own area called "the badlands." We wondered what exactly constituted a "badland." So, here is that definition: "a region marked by intricate erosional sculpturing, scanty vegetation, and fantastically formed hills -- usually used in plural." I cannot attest to how they were formed, but they certainly were fantastic. Red, orange, purple, tan -- and many shades of each. I tried to capture it in pictures, but it is not easy.

Dubois is a quaint hamlet (I know, pretentious) nestled amongst the Badlands. A local woman told us that the town looked authentic because the merchants had agreed to install uniform old-west facades. They did a great job without making it look forced. We noticed what looked like a mine entrance in a cliff wall. Our convenience store clerk/guide told us that it once served as cold storage for a meat processing plant. Later, it housed a bar, and then a pseudo museum run by an eclectic local shop owner. Now, it is nothing, she said. Rats. I really wanted to go in there.

After we ate lunch and checked out a few shops, Shannon rode a giant Jackalope. The odd amalgam of a jackrabbit and an antelope, while not alive, had a frisky look on its face. Nevertheless, Shannon reached for the saddle horn and climbed into the saddle. I consider it her first step, albeit a weird one, toward recovery from her horse incident. There will be no horse rides on this trip, though.

On the way back to Lander, we saw a small herd of pronghorn (called "antelope" by some). Pronghorn are more closely related to the gazelle in Africa than an antelope. There were about nine does, two fawns, and one buck. They ate from an irrigated hay field, a treat for which they must venture near roads. In that area, there is no green grass unless it is in a body of water or an irrigated field.

The Sacajawea Cemetery was about the tackiest graveyard ever, according to Shannon. Because there were no signs indicating the location of its namesake's grave, we had to wander around the cemetery a bit. We found a trail that led to it, and saw lots of colorful plastic items laid upon most of the graves. Besides silk flowers, Sacajawea's plot featured a faux leather Hewlett Packard calculator case. I didn't think she had used anything like that in her days of guiding white men, but I could be wrong. She definitely would have accepted nothing less than genuine cowhide.

We're going to the Tetons Thursday, the day of our 10th anniversary. Should be a day full of "Oh, wow."

August 15, 2002 - Thursday

What a great 10th Anniversary we had today! We drove to Grand Teton National Park, where we saw the type of granite peaks we could have seen in the Wind River Range, had we backpacked. The Wind River Range is largely unknown because it doesn't have tourist-friendly roads leading to the most scenic spots. It is secluded and very rugged -- more rugged than we are right now -- and sports the highest point in Wyoming. Our first hike here made us realize that we were not in the shape needed for high altitude hikes rated above easy. So, we needed jaw-dropping scenery accessible by car. The Tetons filled the bill without a terribly long drive.

We had left at 8 a.m., our earliest departure yet. Glacier-capped mountains appeared just north of Dubois, and trees instead of scrub brush surrounded the roadway. The scenery never stopped the remaining hour to the Tetons. As we drove, we expected to see them from very far away, and then watch as they gradually grew larger. Instead, it was an "Oh, wow" moment. We drove around a curve and up a bit, and there they were, stabbing the blue sky.

As in most places in the summer, the air was hazy. The Tetons appeared to be veiled, or maybe they were just one of those fake, painted backgrounds Hollywood uses in some movies. They just didn't seem real. The closer we got, however, the more clear they became, and we knew we had chosen the right side trip for our anniversary day.

Not long after we crossed the Continental Divide at 9,658 feet above sea level, we entered Grand Teton National Park. We stopped at an old range site and the Cunningham cabin. It was built in the 1880's by a rancher. On a whim, I pulled out my mobile phone. It had not found a strong signal during the entire trip, so I was not expecting much. "You won't believe this," I said to Shannon after I turned it on. "The signal indicator is full." I immediately thought of John and Jill, our good friends who own a store in Fayetteville. Number one, I knew for sure where John would be (at the store), and B., I knew he could take a personal call at work.

"Guess where I am?"
"Where?"
"Looking at the Grand Tetons!"
"Get out of the city! Oh, wait, you already did,"

It felt like a real-time journal entry. I wish I could have called everyone I knew, but that roaming charge hurts.

The next turnout was Snake River. It hairpins its way through the valley below the Tetons, and floats along it give spectacular views. I tried to get some great pictures with my Nikon, but I won't know until I have them processed. Those pics, especially those of the Sinks, are the ones I really want to see. There are things that my digital camera just won't quite do. I plan to scan them in and post them, too.

Several lakes lie along the Teton Park Road ($20 fee for 7 days there and/or in Yellowstone). Jenny Lake, the first we saw, was our favorite. Several impressive peaks loomed close on the opposite shore, including the Grand Teton. It reaches only a few feet short of the state's highest point. What before seemed to be white dots on the gray mountains now looked more textured. It was glacial ice, something we certainly never have seen in Arkansas, and hope we never do. Just as we were leaving, several cars and a tour bus pulled in. Whew! Just in time.

Next we stopped at Sacred Heart Chapel. Although neither of us is or ever has been Catholic, we generally look at their chapels on any trip. That might just be to see if they are as hideous as the one in Eureka Springs. I think it is an exception, because we've never seen anything quite that tacky since. We've learned that it probably was more a Eureka Springs thing than a Catholic thing. That eclectic little village was our first anniversary destination, by the way. But I digress.

The standout at the chapel was a bit sad. We had seen the chapel, and were headed out the back door, when we heard a loud buzzing sound above our heads. It had a cathedral ceiling (imagine that), and the source was not well lit. At first I thought it was a hornet, since everything else around there was bigger than back home. Then I saw that it was a hummingbird. Apparently he had flown into the back door, propped open with a rock, and could not find his way out. I used our mobile phone (still not believing my signal) to let the park authorities know. We had not been able to identify the bird, which would have been a treat. We get only one type of hummingbird in Arkansas, and we almost would have bet that was not it.

Jackson Lake, where we expected to be blown away by the combination of deep blue water and majestic peaks, was a bit of a disappointment. I think mostly it was due to the sun's position. It was about 1:45, and the sun was just to our left and almost directly above the Tetons. Sorry, I know the word "Tetons" gets annoying, but that's what they're called. This lighting situation made the mountains look especially flat and colorless. I burned a few frames of film and snapped some digital shots, but I didn't expect anything spectacular. One just can't expect to get calendar-style results on a schedule. Had we been there a few hours earlier, I think the light would have been perfect. Next trip, maybe (when we'll also do Yellowstone).

As I shot frustrating photos, Shannon spotted a group of white pelicans on the lake. They were too far away for a good look, even with binoculars, and no road led to their side of the lake. Nevertheless, we added them to our list of birds on this trip. We've seen many that we will not seen in Arkansas, but a few we will. Without boring the non-birders... oh what the heck, skip this list if you don't care... Lazuli Bunting, Black-Billed Magpie, Northern Three-Toed Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Peregrine Falcon, Common Nighthawk, Western Tanager, Western Meadowlark, and either the Calliope or Rufous Hummingbird (I know, that doesn't count.)

Wildlife were not abundant. That must be a time of day thing, or a time of year thing. Either way, we were a bit disappointed in that aspect of our trip.

Back in Lander, we exchanged anniversary gifts and ate at The Hitching Rack. Shannon took a picture of the gifts. She gave me a great Wyoming photo book and a unique turtle we had found in a local shop. Besides the ring, which she picked out, I gave her the DVD version of Little Man Tate -- the movie we saw on our first date. I couldn't convince Pizza Hut to make tonight Kids' Night, which would have completed the first-date re-creation. Oh, and we gave each other the Wyoming trip. The petite filet Shannon ordered was the best steak I've ever had (sorry, Dad). My fried jumbo shrimp were pretty good, but that steak was outstanding.

Friday is our last day before checkout, and we'll be trying another trail this time. We'll see what happens.

August 16, 2002 - Friday

We slept in a bit late, and then had trouble deciding what to do. We were facing predicted record highs and wind gusts up to 70 mph. Before that, though, I have a few things Shannon said I forgot to mention.

Wednesday, while I scrambled up and down main street looking for a certain type of film, Shannon was in a jewelry store looking at diamond anniversary rings. I thought it would be nice for us to get that for her while we were here, and told her I did not trust myself to get one that looked good with her set (because asking to borrow her set would have ruined the surprise, anyway). Finally I got the film and then headed back into the jewelry store. Shannon had a big smile on her face, and a pretty ring on her finger. It looks like X's and O's, the O's being the diamonds. The nice lady behind the counter said they would size it up for free, and that we could pick it up the next day, in time for our anniversary dinner. When we picked up the ring, she pointed out on the receipt that she had given us more than a 10% discount. I guess because she liked us. On this trip, people have been giving us things for no apparent reason. Speaking of which, I'm buying the modem cheap off the guy who let me borrow it.

I had made dinner reservations before we had left Arkansas. I was afraid by the looks of the place when we drove into town that it would be a poor choice. The owners of our motel, however, assured me that it had good food and a good atmosphere. They were right. We dined by candlelight. See yesterday's post for details.

Another addition... I didn't mention how pretty and rustic the Sacred Heart Chapel was. It was just up from the shore of Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park -- the one where the hummingbird got trapped. Shannon says it would have been cool if we could have renewed our vows there.

Back to the present. We got a late start because of our indecision. Part of the problem was the wind. It already had picked up, and gusts were expected to reach between 50 and 70 miles per hour. We threw two of the possible hikes out the window. Each involved hiking around a canyon rim, with some of it pretty close to the edge. It might sound strange to people back home to change plans due to wind, but it made sense in this case.

We finally decided to hike a nature trail near the Popo Agie campground, and to take Lexie with us. She has hiked with us before, and absolutely loves it. The trail is only one mile long, much shorter than the 4-mile hike we originally planned to take. The trail started with a long suspension footbridge, then headed up a fairly steep hill. We didn't enjoy it for about the first 1/4 mile or so.

It was a bit of a comedy of errors. Lexie knocked over a water bottle; Shannon had only one hand free because she had to keep her hat from blowing to Cheyenne; and I got a rock in my shoe. Shannon and I got in a silly argument over which rock we should pose on for a family photo. It just wasn't going well, perhaps partially because I was not happy about having to settle for a wimpy one-mile hike. We all calmed down a bit and then the trail helped change all that. We agreed that it was nice to see all that dry vegetation, barely hanging on for survival, and then glance upward at the hillside that shot 800 feet straight up, topped by colorful sedimentary rock. Well, Shannon and I agreed. Lexie didn't say much.

We went from sagebrush to stands of Douglas Fir and a type of pine I can't remember. Soon they gave way to aspen trees. If you've never seen aspen leaves in the wind, then you're missing something. They are almost round, smaller than the palm of your hand, and a different shade of green on the top from on the bottom. They sound just like water running over stones as they shimmer in the wind.

We saw Indian Paintbrush, Wyoming's state flower, and a few other flowers we never identified. Horse's tail and aspen trees surrounded us on the last 1/4 mile of the trail. Also in abundance was a bamboo-like plant that grew to only about 2 or 3 feet high. I saw the name of it at the Visitor's Center afterward, but all I remember is that it's a perennial plant. I also learned that those plants do well there because it is a riparian area. The water table is fairly high, and the land is near the Popo Agie River.

The fine gray dust on the trail got all over everything. Lexie was filthy up to the tops of her legs, while Shannon and I had gray dirt streaks from the knees down. Sunscreen was the magnet; trail dust was the iron filings. We cleaned up a bit with Wet Ones when we sat down for a picnic lunch. It was our first of the trip, even though we had eaten Shan-made lunchmeat sandwiches for every lunch. Most of the time, we had just scarfed them down in the car.

We headed back to the room to drop off the dog and leave for our next destination. We had wanted to visit South Pass City since first finding it on Monday. It is an old gold-mining town that features 32 restored buildings and more than 25,000 artifacts. Our route there took us past Red Canyon, which I still wanted to photograph. Knowing the light would be better later in the afternoon, I skipped it for then. That came back to bite me.

The wind blew like crazy in South Pass City. Its elevation is about 7,900 feet so, even though many surrounding towns hit the mid-90's, we felt fine. The price of admission was $1 for Wyoming residents and $2 for non-residents. We saw that fee structure -- double if you're not from Wyoming -- at campsites, too. Historic buildings on the South Pass City tour included a livery stable, general store, Wyoming's first jail, and a two-story hotel. Lucky for Shannon, the reading material in each was mercifully short. Plastic windows between us and the rooms made pictures very difficult.

We saw two things that probably had not changed a bit since the gold miners filled the small town. The first was an eye-catching bird called a Mountain Bluebird. It's whole body is blue, and it can hover over one spot as well as a hummingbird. Those guys were all over the place. The second thing we saw, on our way out, was a group of pronghorns. Three of them stood eating, but they ran away as soon as we stopped to try for a better look. Shannon got a good look with binoculars. I got a picture of three pronghorn butts (on film -- sorry).

On our way back from South Pass City, we saw smoke up ahead. It was the third time this week we had seen forest fire smoke. Soon the choking smell of it filled the car. As we drove by Red Canyon, we barely could see its distinctive red cliffs through the veil of gray. I would leave without an ideal shot at pictures of an amazing geological feature. We enjoyed two more pronghorn sightings on the drive back to Lander. We agreed that they have funny-looking faces.

We mailed my dad's birthday card -- just like we did 10 years ago on our honeymoon in Tennessee. Now we've sent him cards from the two most well-known mountain ranges in the United States -- the Rockies and the Smokies. In 10 years, I guess we'll be mailing it from the Swiss Alps.

To close the evening, we ate at the Gannett Grill, the restaurant of our first supper in Lander. The pizzas were great, but the atmosphere rubbed me the wrong way. As we waited to place our order, servers had to keep squeezing their way through the line of people. Kitchen workers periodically emerged with trays of food, yelling out ticket numbers. "Number 183 and number 191? Number 183 and 191?" When they called our number, I yelled out "Bingo," but the other patrons were either too engrossed to hear it or just didn't find it funny.

My pizza wasn't very filling. I needed dessert. We got out of the Gannett Grill, determined to find a place for sweets. We ended up at Judd's Grub, a place filled with what obviously were locals. I was more in the mood to be around locals that night, but we didn't expect quite such an immersive experience. In one way, it was decidedly different from the Gannett Grill. Instead of yelling out numbers, the woman behind the counter said, "Hey, Gail, this is your order here," as she handed a to-go bag across the counter. A Native American woman grabbed the bag, said thanks, and went on her way. Another guy standing alone waiting to order brought to mind this question: Is the fly half zipped or half unzipped? Outside, Shannon and I posed for pictures with our favorite Blues Brother. Sorry, that's on print film that might only appear in an old-fashioned photo album.

Now, we're packing for the trip home. I should say, Shannon is packing while I'm writing this. We plan to hit the highest point in Kansas on the way. I tried to post my pictures and journal, but the area is having phone line troubles due to the day's high winds. I hope "they" fix it soon.

August 17, 2002 - Saturday

NOTE: Thanks for reading and giving feedback! It's been fun.

We had a grueling 14-hour car trip today. There were high points, though. It was too late to make an entry when we arrived in Hays, Kansas, especially after we lost an hour crossing into the central time zone (no, that's not counted in the actual car time). I fell off the caffeine-free wagon last night. It was not pretty. (note: I provide links to selected pictures, but that doesn't mean they are the only pictures)

We started out the day leaving much later than we had hoped. Our original thought was, "Why should we leave so early that we get to our motel with an entire evening to burn?" That's what we get for thinking. Stops. You gotta factor in stops. Plus, neither of us remembered the 1-hour time loss until we walked out the door. We left at 9:45. Yikes.

About a half hour outside of Lander, we saw an old man standing outside a car peeing. It was a large luxury car parked on the shoulder of our lane. Problem was, he put himself between the door and us, instead of the other way around. We got a clear view of everything he was doing. A middle-aged man stood at the front of the car like some kind of lookout. I'm not making fun of the fact that the old guy couldn't wait. I just figured the younger guy could have reminded him where he should stand. Side note: we passed a rest stop 1/2 mile past the old guy and his homemade mud.

We drove past the windmills again. I made a mistake earlier in the journal. There were not 50 of them; there were at least 100. It was neat to see many of them cranking out what, as far as I know, ties solar as the cleanest form of energy. Hydroelectric is clean, too, but it has a major environmental impact.

Lots of pronghorn grazed in plain view today. They are fascinating to watch, mostly because they look like something I normally would see only on the Discovery channel.

Shannon had read a lot about the Wyoming state capitol building in Cheyenne. Although we already had a whopping 40-minute stop under our belt, we drove into Cheyenne to check it out. A nice girl at a convenience store gave me directions that helped me avoid a completely closed street. The capitol is very nice. Arkansas' is nice, but not very original. It is a 1/12th replica of the nation's capitol. Like many others, Cheyenne's owes some of its design to the one in DC, but it has some original flair. A statue of Esther Hobart Morris (the world's first female justice of the peace) stood at the bottom of the capitol steps. The breeze was cool, the sun was shining. Downtown looked like a fun place to walk. Instead, we took some pics and got out of there. 30 minute stop. Ouch.

Just south of Cheyenne, we saw smoke on the horizon. "Smoky as all get-out," Shannon said. As we got closer to it, a bizarre orange light fell across everything. It was much more intense than a normal sunset, and at 3:55 p.m. It seemed like we were on Mars. Roosevelt National Forest was to the west as we headed south on I-25.

Soon the traffic got pretty bad, still about 60 miles short of Denver. I looked up a different way on the map, and we found out that two-lane highways in Colorado are very nice. Maybe because they don't have many of them. Look at a roadmap of Arkansas, and then one of Wyoming or Colorado, and you'll see what I mean. We ended up on I-70, as originally planned, except we caught it quite a bit east of Denver. We were a little bummed, because the drive to Denver is scenic. The one we got was surrounded by cattle feed lots (makes chicken house stink seem like roses) and flat land as far as the eye could see.

We skipped the highest point in Kansas. If you really wanted a visual on that, just look at the page on the highest point in Nebraska. Should be pretty much the same.

It was too late to back out of our room without losing our money. Besides, none of the towns between us and Hays merited bold print on the map -- visions of Bates Motel danced in my head. Shannon was not up to relieving me at the wheel, so I stopped at a convenience store and prepared a large cup of hot, sweet, French vanilla elixir. It got me through that last two hours. Until then, I had been off regular coffee (and other caffeine drinks) for more than a year.

August 18, 2002 - Sunday

Final day and final thoughts, including tips if you ever want to keep a trip journal and/or an online photo album. I've had folks ask me how I've been doing it.

On our last day of travel, I drove for the first three and a half hours, and then Shannon finished out. I was just dog tired, mostly from staying up late preparing pictures and writing the journal every night. We had only an 8-hour drive today -- merely a tear in a salty sea compared to what we did yesterday.

We would do this trip over in a heartbeat. We might stay in Pinedale, to see the western side of the Wind River Range (which features several short hikes rated easy) and have a closer base for a day trip to Yellowstone. The landscape is so colorful and wild, the feeling in the air so invigorating (except when tinged with forest smoke), that it's my new favorite nature-loving destination. The area surrounding San Francisco comes in a very close second. (http://www.pbase.com/mallen/sf_2001). Don't get me wrong; Arkansas offers amazing scenery, too (http://www.pbase.com/image/1066235 and http://www.markwill.com/twosenses/pix/scenic.html), but I've grown somewhat accustomed to its face. I tend to take the mountains in Arkansas for granted, whereas in Wyoming I can take them for granite.

If we stay in Lander next time, we would choose the Holiday Lodge again. The only exception would be a place with our very own hot tub. It would help relax muscles used while hiking around, or while just sitting in the car for hours. Although we never saw anybody in the shared hot tub at Holiday Lodge, we just never felt like getting in it.

If I had the journal and pictures to do over again, I would do it, but differently. For one, I would use my album space at http://www.pbase.com/mallen/ because it is much easier to upload many pictures at once there. Go there to see our anniversary pics from last year, when we stayed at a cabin in Jasper, Arkansas and hiked in the Upper Buffalo Wilderness. We took that trip in the fall. Also, pics from our San Francisco trip are there, as well as other subjects. There are lots of free sites that allow you to create an online photo album. More and more of them are becoming fee-based, but I expect the largest sites will continue providing at least simple free services (to get some people to "upgrade now").

I also might do the journal differently. Web sites can change, and Blogger did since the first time I commented here. It was not nearly as customizable as it is now. At the time of the trip, I would have said that Blogger.com was not the site for me after all, but now I would use it again.

For those interested in doing any of this, you do not have to know any computer code or fancy program. All you need to know is how to use a Web browser. Smarts in photo sizes helps a lot, but is not necessary. If you have questions, and I know you, I'll be glad to help. If you are a stranger who just stumbled on this journal somehow, then you should ask someone you know.

Red Rock and Wind River

The pictures here are only samples from the 86 pics I have online here.