Greetings, my fellow port swillers! A rainy Saturday morning at Port Swiller Manor allows me to duck mowing the lawn and instead bore those two or three who still gather over the decanter with my first impressions of the great state of Wyoming, or at least of its south-easternmost parts. (Ol’ Robbo was taken camping in Yellowstone as a toddler, but that hardly counts.)
This area is pure High Prairie, the westernmost part of teh Great Plains lapping up against the Rockies, and resembles, in large part, nothing so much as the Ocean. George Armstrong Custer puts it rayther well in the early part of his “My Life on the Plains”:
Starting from almost any point near the central portion of the Plains, and moving in any direction, one seems to encounter a series of undulations at a more or less remote distance from each other, but constantly in view. Comparing the surface of the country to that of the ocean, a comparison often indulged in by those who have seen both, it does not require a very great stretch of the imagination, when viewing this boundless ocean of beautiful living verdure, to picture these successive undulations as gigantic waves, not wildly chasing each other to or from the shore, but standing silent and immovable, and by their silent immobility adding to the impressive grandeur of the scene. These undulations, varying in height from fifty to five hundred feet, are sometimes formed of a light, sandy soil, but often of different varieties of rock, producing at a distance the most picturesque effect.
The constant recurrence of these waves, if they may be so termed, is quite puzzling to the inexperienced plainsman. He imagines, and very naturally, too, judging from appearances, that when he ascends to the crest he can overlook the surrounding country. After a weary walk or ride of perhaps several miles, which appeared at starting not more than one or two, he finds himself at the desired point, but discovers that directly beyond in the direction he desires to go rises a second wave, but slightly higher than the first, and from the crest of which he must certainly be able to scan the country as far as the eye can reach. Thither he pursues his course, and after a ride of from five to ten miles, although the distance did not seem half so great before starting, he finds himself on the crest, or, as it is invariably termed, the “divide”, but again only to discover that another and apparently higher divide rises in his front, and at about the same distance. Hundreds, yes, thousands of miles may be journeyed over, and this same effect witnessed every few hours.
In fact, thanks to modern speed (80 mph speed limit, baybee!), these “gigantic waves” do seem to chase each other wildly. I’ve been on the Plains before, mostly in Illinois and Iowa. I’ve driven between Omaha and Lincoln. Because I flew in and out of Denver on this trip, I got a chunk of Northern Colorado, too. But it was only once I got into Wyoming, especially north of Cheyenne, that I really got the full effect, most of these other areas being either urbanized or else thoroughly tamed farmland. It was absolutely humbling – wave after wave after wave of land, all under an enormous sky. However, it was not all plain sailing, because these hills are also broken up by a succession of creeks and rivers.
These creeks and rivers – The Laramie, the Chugwater, the Platte and their tributaries, have all worn their way through the sandstone/claystone which dominates this country, producing very pretty cliffs, bluffs and buttes.
Virtually all the trees – and all the towns – are tucked down in these valleys, which gives you some indication of what winter must be like in these parts. In fact, the interstates and highways ol’ Robbo traveled each had elaborate systems of barricades at strategic points with signs to the effect of “Road Closed Next 28 Miles – Go Back Where You Came From”, in addition to large snow-brakes constructed out of planks or hedges of fir. I should note here that most of Cheyenne itself is tucked into the folds in this way. However, the city is at the north end of what is called the Front Range Urban Corridor. Evidently, some money is rolling into the place, as, so far as Cheyenne can be said to have any suburbs, there seem to be a number of new McMansions on the north side of town, several of which stand right on the crests of hills. Something tells me this is a very bad idea.
Ol’ Robbo’s biznay took him over quite a bit of country – I logged almost 700 miles on the rental car for the week – so I thought I would try and do a little historickal sight-seeing while I was in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, while my first day of travel was clear and sunny, Ma Nature had other things in store for me on the second. That day involved a great right-handed circle. Starting out from Cheyenne, I drove north on I-25 to State Highway 26 north of Wheatland. (The bluffs where I-26 passes through the Chugwater Valley are particularly nice, but alas, I couldn’t stop to get a pic because the rest area there was closed.) As I passed through Wheatland, I couldn’t help noticing that the sky to the west was beginning to look ominous, despite the fact that the forecast did not call for much of a chance of rain. Soon enough, I found myself caught in a thunderstorm. (And I’m here to tell you, friends, that a VW Jetta handles like soggy cardboard in a downpour.) In the middle of the deluge, I got to Highway 26 and turned east. About five miles down the road, I eventually outran the storm and pulled up on a height to look back.
Cruising on down Hwy 26,which runs down the North Platte River valley, I eventually fetched up in the little town of Guernsey, which holds two historickal sites that I wanted to see. The first is the old Oregon Trail Ruts, a spot along the valley’s side where the remains of the trail can still be seen where it scooted over the bottom of the bluff. (Why the trail hugged the cliff instead of coming closer to the river, I don’t know. Shifting bed, I imagine.) Alas, I only got as far as the parking lot. To get to the ruts, you have to walk down a path for a bit. The storm had by then nearly caught up with me and the air was already heavy with thunder and lightning. I didn’t care to get that far away from the car in such conditions.
Giving up, I jigged a bit further down the valley and came to Register Cliff, a large claystone bluff which served as a key checkpoint on the Oregon Trail and on which pioneers scratched their names. Although I again did not get to explore anywhere near as much as I could have wished, here teh parking lot was right next to the cliff and I was able to dash out for about 90 seconds or so and get a pic of the place. (That dark band you can see in the middle is, in fact, a large colony of swallows.) Perhaps I should have got closer and found a suitable pioneer’s name to photograph, but just after I took this there was a large clap of thunder just overhead. Ol’ Robbo beat a hasty retreat back to his car and resumed his journey.
Both these sites, by the way, are very clean and well kept.
Heading farther down Hwy. 26, I hoped also to stop off at Fort Laramie, one of the earliest and most important frontier forts in the area, but alas, by then the same storm had caught up with me again and it wasn’t worth bothering to get off the highway. This morning I looked out my copy of Francis Parkman’s “The Oregon Trail”. He spent considerable time at Ft. Laramie when he and his friends traveled the Trail, but I’m confused by his repeated references to the nearby “Black Hills”. The Black Hills are hundreds of miles north of the Platte, so either he was out of his reckoning or else the name was used for more than one range.
That was about it. Proceeding on down the valley of the North Platte, I picked up Highway 85 at the little town of Torrington and cut back southwest toward Cheyenne. (Bear and Horse Creeks, pictured above, cut across Highway 85 and merge somewhere near that outcrop. I had been on this road the day before when it was sunny.) The storm still wasn’t through with me, as I ran into its backside on the way back to the city. Alas, the one thing I hoped for and didn’t get was Robbo’s First Tornado. Considering how the storm kyboshed my historickal tourist activities, that was the least it could have done in return. Ah, well, never mind.
Anyhoo, as I say, that was about it. My last day was spent in meetings in Cheyenne itself.
Nonetheless, a thoroughly enjoyable snapshot of new territory, territory that seems very, very far away from ol’ Robbo’s normal haunts. Also, having been there I was inspired this morning to pick up the journal of John C. Fremont’s original exploration of the Oregon Trail, a work sponsored by Congress with the express intent of convincing pioneers of the ease with which the Trail could be used to get to the fat country in the Pacific Northwest. It proved a highly effective piece of real estate promotion.
By the way, I took these pics with an iPhone 6 wished on me at work and somehow managed to email them, download them on my home computer and paste them here all by myself. This constitutes the extreme limit of ol’ Robbo’s electronic expertise. Not bad for an old Luddite, eh?
UPDATE: Teh Middle Gel tells me I don’t have an iPhone 6 because it’s big and what I have is small. Whatever the number, I remember the techie saying it was a a generation or two out of date already when I got it.