Wyoming Road Trip '07
So I had planned to start my summer by picking another western state to explore and going on a solo bike tour there. But I chickened out. I'd never been on a bike tour before and had never been to Wyoming before, so I decided to wait on the biking for Amy's and my trip and to take a road trip to Wyoming with my mom instead. She drove down from the lake in the Volvo to pick me up and our last stop in the cities (becoming a trend) was the Hub Bike Co-op, where I decided not to worry about any of my bike's varied problems, but Claire did manage to sell me my first set of bike gloves because Jason had told me a horror story about some girl who had ruined her circulation on a long bike tour.
I had my bike along because the plan was to get a ride out to New Hampshire with Amy and Tony in their van as they were moving from Portland, Oregon to Hinton, West Virginia via NH by way of Canada. So I planned to meet up with them somewhere from Wyoming.
David Markel at Hard Times goes to Wyoming all the time and had recommended that we take route 212 out across northern South Dakota, which we did. Having left quite late in the day, we only made it to the edge of Minnesota the first night, Ortonville, in fact, my dad's home town.
Here's what a typical Schaefer-Davis packed Volvo looks like. Food box with plenty of Frappucino for mom in the morning. And my travel space in the passenger seat.
Unfortunately all of this junk got shifted about a bit during the night when I decided I wanted to sleep in the car. No sooner had we settled down in the tent but we heard a loud "moo"ing noise getting closer and closer to the tent. Deciding that a cow in a state park was unlikely, the only other logical conclusion was that it was a black bear. Hence, the decision to sleep in the car. My bike braved the night outdoors.
The next morning a foresty guy doing the mowing told me that raccoons can make all sorts of sounds, including loud lowing-type ones. Oh well. Now I know. I keep meaning to study animal calls and scat, would save me a lot of woods anxiety.
We then headed into the plains of South Dakota.
All pretty flat until the Missouri River. We stopped for some wading and surprisingly both made friends with a dog that was hanging out there.
We made it to the Wyoming Black Hills and camped in the state forest there. I love the Black Hills, either side of the state line.
We actually decided to head out to Devil's Tower that night so we could see it under the stars. We had a solitary picnic at the base on a really clear night. The next morning back at our campsite I had to climb through a barbed wire fence to investigate what appeared to be the mysterious remains of a mountain goat. They weren't, but I'm still not sure what they were.
We went back to the Devil's Tower and explored a bit. Not nearly as nice with so many people around.
Leaving the Black Hills, it flattened out again until the Big Horns. We were headed to a campsite at West Tensleep Lake, recommended by David.
We were lucky to find a site, arriving pretty late in the day. The campground is at about 9,000 feet (most of Wyoming is a 5,000 foot plateau). Still plenty of mosquitoes, although it got cold at night. We met a really nice math teacher from Casper named Pete. He lent us a warm sleeping bag and some comfy chairs so we could camp in style.
The next day, despite reports of a mother and baby moose in the area, we headed off on one of the hikes David had recommended. Actually we were told that the moose didn't like it at the higher altitude where we were headed... moose only went down from Tensleep, not up. When we asked the camp host what to do if we did see a mother and baby moose, he said, "Well, there's not much you can do. Except get a tree between you and that moose, fast." In any case, off we went. The views were beautiful.
We heard this guy chittering at us from a tree next to the trail. He was making a whole bunch of noise. Pretty sure he's a pine marten. Really cute.
Needless to say, guess who's footprint that is? I titled this photo: Moose Tracks, not just for dessert anymore. So we kept going after we saw the print, as I'd used my expert tracking skills to determine that it was "not fresh". Were hiking along through some pretty dense woods with mom in front, when I spot the baby moose, about 7 feet from her, looking at her a bit confused. I start whispering harshly for her to stop and come slowly back towards me. She never even got a look at the moose. I immediately led us off the trail into the woods, looking to get some trees between us and the moose, ala advice from camp host. While trees lower down on the trail would have been great climbers, suddenly no trees were climbable. I was freaking out, imagining this raging mother moose coming after us any second. It never did, we never even saw the mom, but we did decide to cut our hike short at that point. Yes, I'm afraid of moose. I just don't think my mama would have been any match for it's mama.
The next day we continued on west out of the Bighorns on Highway 16 towards Worland, where we stopped and chatted with some cyclists. They were teenagers cycling across country and were doing 90 miles/day, including the Bighorn Mountains!
We then headed south to Thermopolis. Home of a big hot spring and freaky resort.
This begins my favorite part of the trip, landscape-wise. Taking 20 south from Thermopolis, we drove through the Wind River Canyon, through the Owl Creek Mountains. I'm definitely coming back here!
The canyon spilled us out at the reservoir, and then we hit the dusty town of Shoshoni, truly a relic out of another era, but it made me want to meet people there and learn its history... which I haven't done yet, of course. I'll post it here when I do. Or maybe I'll just go back there. So many of the restaurants in Wyoming and the Dakotas were built for a different era, when they needed multiple rooms to house community meetings... when their communities were a lot bigger then they are now. So you head off from your table in the front room to find the bathroom, and you end up wandering through this maze of a building. I really liked it. The Yellowstone Drugstore was one of these places.
This made me homesick for the Grease Pit.
From Shoshoni, we swung down through Riverton and then headed west on 26 through the Wind River Reservation towards the west entrance of Grand Teton National Park. This was more of my favorite scenery from Wyoming.
Coming out of the reservation, there were badlands near Dubois, and then we headed into the Tetons at dusk. I'd wanted to camp at a spot called Brooks Lake, but someone at a gas station told us that there had been two grizzly attacks there recently, so I changed my mind.
We spent the night at a fancy lodge on the outskirts of the park, where mom thinks she accidentally left her absolutely best pair of black polyester pants. We ended up doing all of the Tetons and Yellowstone National Park in one day, which is in my opinion how it should be done. In the past, I'd always skipped Yellowstone on my trips west and then felt guilty about it. It's so famous, there must be something worth seeing there, right? The hot springs and a couple canyons are pretty neat, but really overall the rest of Wyoming was much more beautiful. The government just decided to market Yellowstone and it worked... happily for us quieter tourists because it keeps the majority of the tourists well contained and out of the rest of Wyoming. I don't know how this is for Wyoming's economy, but that's another question entirely. ANYway...
We got an early start and got into the park. When we found this place with the "Bear Danger" sign, we thought it would be a perfect spot for a picnic breakfast. Notice we were on the correct side of the sign.
We were soon in Yellowstone Park, for free, thanks to my mom's Golden Age Pass. We drove all day to see as much as possible, and totally wore ourselves out. Ah, the difficult life of a tourist! We made the requisite stop at Old Faithful, where there was a veritable shopping mall of shit to buy. I did enjoy getting my bike out of the car and riding around the smaller geysers... and scowling at the rest of the tourists.
Mom kept up her wildflower photography, and we were intrigued by the way in which we somehow happened to see each type of wildlife native to Yellowstone exactly once, and right next to the road.
This made it necessary for a different and much more amusing kind of fauna to emerge and direct traffic.
I had images of these guys loading tame bears and elk into their little hybrid vehicles and unloading them at strategic points along the road to keep the tourists happy.
This is where we finally saw a small family of grizzlies loping along in the coming rain.
On our way out of the park to the north, the landscape became much more stark.
At the north end of the park is the "town" of Mammoth Hot Springs. It was quite pretty.
We spent the night in Livingston, Montana, which I also liked a lot... mostly because our hotel was right next to the railroad tracks and I could hear trains moving about all night. We found a good homey coffee shop for breakfast and upon finding a flyer I almost insisted we stop by a guy's house to look a bike parts, until I realized they were for that gas-powered type of bike.
We drove all day across Montana, having some great conversations about how to fix the world, and spent our last night in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. We had been there on our 2004 road trip. I looked around carefully for a campsite without bison tracks going through it, but there were none, so we just settled in and hoped for the best. You could hear them around (the ranger described the sound they make as being like a lion's roar, and it was a bit), but none came though our site.
The next morning, our binging Volvo problem came to a head. More and more of the electronics in the car had been making a binging noise as the week had progressed. That noise it makes when you open the door with the key in or the lights on. It had spread to opening the glove compartment or vanity mirror while driving, and finally on our last day, with a good 10 hours of driving to go, the binging simply would not stop. Mom was pretty upset, I first just put in my earplugs, but they didn't keep the binging out, so I got to work and discovered the blown fuse and impressed my mom with my amazing mechanical skills.
Coming home through North Dakota on 94 we were trying to eat only at small locally owned places, and this led us to the Medina Cafe, in Medina, ND. The lunch rush was already past by the time we got there, but we met some really nice people and had great food. I asked what the soup of the day was and was quickly told "knepfle" by the owner, and then she moved on to other things. I asked her to repeat it again... and again, at which point it occurred to her that I had never heard of knepfle soup. It was a local specialty of German origin, with dumplings and delicious.
We got back to the lake a few hours before Amy and Tony pulled in on their move from Portland. The next day we loaded up and took off for New Hampshire...