Monday, June 3, 2013

Day 2: From Rifle, Colorado to Casper, Wyoming

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller

Fields of lush green grass filled with herds of Angus cattle, horses, and sheep mark our morning drive out of Rifle.  It's calving and lambing season still, and dozens of youngsters recline in the mild morning sun.  We are headed to Glenwood Springs, where Doc Holliday issued his last consumptive breath.  The Colorado River parallels the freeway through gorgeous gorges, accompanied by train tracks.  We are treated to a fly-by -- the first of many -- of Canadian geese.  Suddenly, a view of the snow-covered Rockies erupts through these gentler, greener slopes.  For a moment this stunning beauty makes me wonder why not everyone lives here; then, we find ourselves on Grand Avenue during Glenwood's morning rush, and I think, everyone does.

It is not a bad rush hour, to be fair; it's your typical small old-west town with narrow streets confined by historical buildings, and city planners who rightfully decide not to remove the old beauties to make more room for the sight-seers visiting in order to enjoy them.  Thank heavens many of the historical sights have been preserved and cherished.  We enjoy a quick stroll through town before breakfast, briefly stopping to read the historical plaque marking Doc Holliday's death site.  Once called the Glenwood Springs Hotel, Doc died alone and destitute in his room within.  Local gamblers and whores took up a collection to defray some of the costs of his burial; the county incurred the rest.

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
A Glenwood Springs Street Scene

The Glenwood Springs Hotel later burned to the ground, like so many of the gems of our old west history; that's why I did not photograph the site.  When making a destination of historical sites -- particularly such frontier buildings -- it's a good idea to do a little research first to ensure you'll be seeing the actual building, if that matters to you.  It is too often a recurring theme as you visit:  "The original structure burned to the ground, but was later rebuilt."  I favor the originals; re-creations and estimations don't do much for me on a visceral level.

The cemetery where Doc is buried is at top of a nearby hill.  The outgoing woman in the visitor's center says, "even we old folks can make the climb."  It is my 50th birthday vacation:  what is she trying to tell me?  Is she in cahoots with those AARP folks, who sent me my first membership card two days before we embarked?

We meander through the cemetery, Linwood Springs, which I am able to get to -- during the climb, I blame my shortness of breathon the altitude.  In addition to Doc's monument, we also visit Kid Curry's -- perhaps.  I will leave the details on the resting place of Doc and Kid Curry to an upcoming post; it's an interesting subject in its own right, and deserves special mention.

In the mountains that surround the town, paragliders ride the thermals above the greenery.  Just north, tourists ride the tramway to the mountaintop.  There is much to do in this pretty town.

We hit the road instead.  State highway 13, Meeker-bound, to be exact -- edged by expanses of livestock-dotted pasture.  We pass miles of picturesque ranches sporting log cabins and tumbledown barns and gathering pens with rustic cattle chutes.  The cattle are fat and happy, the scenes idyllic.  The Meeker area is famed for its hunting opportunities and deer and elk are in abundance.  We see many of the slower ones on the sides of the road, the victims of the inevitable collision with humankind.

Meeker is charming.  Dandelion-carpeted fields grazed by an assortment of cattle -- white-faced, black Angus, even Scottish Highland cattle with their distinctive shaggy fur.  Cattle trucks are all stopped in a line for inspection; we are in cattle country beyond a doubt.

As we enter Moffatt County, we enjoy beautiful rainfalls.  Narrow streams thread their way through neon-green fields, edged by cattails.  By the time we reach Hamilton, the streams are wider, more assertive, and have carved deep, steeply-banked serpentine channels.

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
Craig, Colorado

The town of Craig was a surprise:  a welcoming, pleasant cow town, and one I had heard little about - not enough to have an image in my head or any set expectations.  Among the humble older homes downtown are some astonishing examples of immaculately-preserved Victorian homes.  The gem of our visit, though, was the Northwestern Colorado Cowboy and Gunfighter Museum.  That, too, will merit separate mention in a future post.  It was a gem of a place with a worthy collection, and well-displayed to boot.

I tend to avoid tourist-type shopping when I travel.  I prefer to pick up functional things along the way rather than traditional souvenirs; perhaps a ball-cap I can wear for the remainder of the trip, or a sweatshirt.  It was in Craig that I realized Russ was planning to take my thin-blooded Arizona desert-rat self through Bear Tooth Pass on the way down from Montana.  It was in Craig that he told me that there would be snow and it would be in the 20's when we got there.  It was in the hundred-degree weather of Arizona two days before that my beloved had assured me I would not need a jacket, and that he was not taking one.  It was in Craig that he admitted that he had, in fact, packed one.  Thus, it was in Craig that I found a wonderful ranch-supply store -- the best kind, the ones that carry Carhartt products -- and guilted Russ into buying me a wonderful Carhartt jacket.

Authentic ranch supply stores are things of beauty.  You can buy livestock feed, shooting supplies, tractor parts, and socks.  There are clothes -- useful clothes -- and tack and dog toys.  Thankfully, we were in the Jeep.  I could have loaded up.  Murdoch's Ranch and Homes Supply, count me as a fan.  

From Craig to Baggs, we've just passed bunny hills dotted with countless white boulders ... boulders that, as we approach, sprout legs and newly-shorn wool.  Sheep, sheep everywhere -- blending in as sheep do.  In great contrast is the  herd of draft horses not far past them -- an impressive gang of flaxen-maned beauties and their solid-black counterparts, their legs feathers so full we see them from the highway.  They stand on a mound in all their grandeur, self-segregated from the light horse in a cluster nearby.

Then, the rain.  Big plashy drops smacking the windshield, temperature dropping from 74 to 60 in a moment's span.  With more dark clouds ahead, and me in my new Carhartt, we enter Wyoming.

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
You can see from the muted tones of the "welcome" sign that it is a gloomy, blustery day in May.

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
You can tell from the snow on the peaks ahead of us that I am thankful to have a new jacket.

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
Southern Wyoming is antelope and brown hills.  It is pouring by the time we reach Rawlins.  Here we admire the forbidding sandstone facade of the old Wyoming State penitentiary.  Here, Butch Cassidy served time when arrested for buying a stolen horse.  On its grounds is a small, austere cemetery.  Across the street is a more appealing plot of well-marked graves, a deer placidly graving on one of them.

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
Wyoming State Penitentiary

The rain continues with a determined constancy.  It's puzzling to see so much rainfall on such a brown land.  It's 51 degrees.  I am surprised, coming from Arizona, that it is 51 degrees anywhere in May.  We pass a sign marking the Sand Creek Massacre Trail.  The trail follows the path the Arapaho and Cheyenne took after the horrific travesty known now as the Sand Creek Massacre.  It was a dark moment in American history when U.S. troops, led by the brutal, Indian-hating Colonel Chivington, slaughtered the men, women, and children in a Cheyenne village headed by Black Kettle and -- poignantly -- flying the American flag.  The actual massacre site is in Colorado; the lengthy trail is run today by Arapaho youths who view the experience as catharsis.

Somewhere, amid the endless miles of drab scenery long before Casper, with rain blown against us on a quiet stretch of road, Russ manages to attract the attention of a state trooper.  Russ, ever the conservative driver (meaning that he drives far more slowly than I do), comments on how strong the tailwind is because the Jeep -- which is anything but a speed demon -- was finding it easier to pick up speed.  Not minutes later, the overheads and wigwags of a patrol vehicle light up ahead.  Having realized just the night before when we tried to check in at the motel that Russ had left his license at a recent doctor's appointment, he tells the trooper, "I don't have my license."  The officer drily replies, "Perfect."  It is so windy the deputy can't keep his Smokey hat on; he returns with the citation, saying, "It's cold, I'm freezing, here's your ticket."  

We make it to Casper without further felony, and struggle to find an appropriate motel.  As luck would have it, sleepy Casper is hosting the play-offs for a high-school athletic event.  We eventually land at the La Quinta.  We walk across the North Platte River, where Hispanic fishermen have their fishing poles dropped into the water from the banks, to a local steak-house for dinner.  It is chilly ... I'm glad to have that jacket.

Day's stats:  398 miles, and one ticket for 78 in a 65 zone.

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