Across wide Wyoming.
Much rested, and full of happy post-migraine endorphins, I left Cody behind. East into the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming, which are incredibly beautiful for being so little-known (at least to me):
Yes, the soil really was that bright a rust-orange.
I had come down to about 5000 feet in altitude at Cody, but Granite Pass east of Greybull is 9033 feet. Here’s some of the scenery I saw as Owl and I climbed up and up. And up:
Alas, I didn’t note the name of this peak
Shell Falls is the home of a nice Forest Service visitor center. You can tell by the jacket on the person on the platform that it was still pretty darned chilly in the middle of the morning.
Oh, and I just happened to be listening to the soundtrack for the movie The Theory of Flight, a wonderful movie, I highly recommend it, when what should I see soaring above my head but a tiny private airplane? A lovely bit of serendipity.
When I finally reached Granite Pass, I was back up in alpine meadows, amazingly enough still green and growing in mid-September. Then down, down, down I went, via umpteen switchbacks on the side of what looked like a cliff to me, to the old-westy town of Sheridan (false fronts downtown, and cattle guards on the road leading in), where I ate lunch.
Sheridan is where I picked up the Interstate again, but there isn’t much in the way of alternate routes, or of interest, for that matter, over the next stretch — northeastern Wyoming is pretty featureless with only a few exceptions, the most prominent of which I wanted to reach by the evening.
The last time I’d driven this stretch of highway, which was when I moved from Ohio to Montana in April, 1993, it was in a white-knuckle blizzard, nestled into a convoy of semis, all of us trundling through knee-deep snow at about 30 miles an hour. Back in Ohio, I had made plans to stop at Devil’s Tower, the first national monument, as designated by the 1906 Antiquities Act, but there was no way I could have gotten off the highway and onto the backroads it takes to reach it under those conditions. I’d regretted that ever since.
If this looks familiar:
It may be because of Steven Spielberg, who used it as his aliens’ landing marker in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. That movie came out the year I graduated high school, and I’d wanted to see the real place ever since. And now I finally was!
Devil’s Tower was more fascinating than even I’d expected, not least because the monument houses an enormous prairie dog town:
There were literally hundreds of them, popping up then back down into their holes. Very entertaining.
I walked the mile plus trail that circles the tower itself, and discovered two oddities. One is that although the photos don’t show it very well, the tower is actually greenish close up. Lichens, at a guess (you can’t get that close). The other is that it’s not square or round in cross-section, but more like a teardrop. From some angles it almost looks like a ship’s prow. I almost expected to see Kate Winslet up there with her arms flung out.
Devil’s Tower close-up.
Something else I noticed, too. I had reached the land of hardwoods, mixed in among the pines. I truly was getting pretty far east.
As I bedded down in the campground that night, I could just see the tower, its dark bulk black against the background of the Milky Way. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen in a very long time.