Wyoming – We Hardly Knew You

Joy and I first visited Wyoming 32 years ago. We drove out to visit “Uncle Charlie” (a real-life uncle of one of Joy’s Tufts’ classmates) who owned a ranch just outside Meeteetse, Wyoming (population:300, official bars: 12). Six of us, including Charlie and an honest-to-god real Wyoming cowboy, spent the better part of a week on a horseback riding through the spectacular backcountry of the Grand Tetons. On our way home, Joy and I spent a few days in even more spectacular Yellowstone. Wyoming had truly impressed us with its natural beauty and we were very much looking forward to revisiting this part of the country during our cross country bicycle ride.

Because we spent so much time enjoying the National Parks in Utah and Colorado, we decided a few weeks ago to skip this part of Wyoming and instead skirt the eastern edge of Wyoming on our way to South Dakota. I’d always been mildly interested in visiting this part of Wyoming. The state did not disappoint. This section of Wyoming can accurately be described as mildly interesting.

wyoming welcome signEven entering Wyoming was subdued. Whenever we enter into a new state we stop to take a photo by the welcome sign. There was no such sign for Wyoming. In fact, we didn’t know we’d crossed into Wyoming until I spotted a small sign on fencing announcing the prairie field was part of the Wyoming Prairie preservation program. We initially thought that the lack of a sign was because we were traveling on a very small country road. Nope. When we crossed over into South Dakota, we saw the South Dakota welcome sign, but there was no equivalent sign for east-bound travelers entering Wyoming.

That is not to say that we didn’t see cool things and don’t have great memories of our four days in Wyoming (three cycling days and one rest day).

Traveling Entertainment

 

tornado
Sky before tornado

In Utah and Colorado, we spent a lot of time visiting National Parks and Monuments. In Wyoming some of our most memorable moments were when “excitement came to us”. Every day in Wyoming we were “entertained” via weather. Having grown up in California, I had a vague sense of weather. Including the few days we’ve now been South Dakota, I’ve now experienced 5 straight days of rain and thunderstorms, two consecutive days of “damn, those are big pieces of hail” storms, and a close-ish brush with a tornado. The tornado came within eight miles of where we were staying in Lusk, Wyoming. The clouds were both beautiful and frightening at the same time. Fortunately, we’d chosen that day as a rest day, so we were happily ensconced in a nice hotel and we were happy to learn that our room was only four doors down from the “Tornado safe room”.

Appreciating Wyoming’s Contributions

We saw a number of things that gave us a much better appreciation of Wyoming’s value to the US. A lot of our energy comes from Wyoming. We saw a lot of coal moving through Wyoming. Usually via long, long, long trains. We cycled past countless fracking sites (even less attractive than traditional oil setups.

We also cycled past a number of nuclear missile silo sites. They’re just right there along the side of the road – particularly if you’re taking small country roads. There’s really not that much to see above ground at these sites: gravel and some thin pipes sticking up and some solar equipment. They are, however, surrounded by tall cyclone fencing with mean-looking barbed wire. And there are very intimidating warning signs stating that deadly force is authorized for trespassing. Could be a private ranch in Texas.

Beautiful in a Quiet Way

prarie vs grazing
Grazed land vs protected prairie

The Wyoming plains were always beautiful with enough hills and periodic rock outcroppings to make them interesting. A few trees would be have been really awesome, though. Riding for hours through plains without any respite from the sun was taxing. Stopping for breaks (or lunch) along the side of the road meant picking a spot with a wide shoulder because there was no point in cycling until you found shade.

The sky was always beautiful with many layers of different kinds of clouds reflecting a complex blending of greys, whites, blacks, purples and sometimes greenish tinges.


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