Friday, 6/15/01 - Into the Heart of Wyoming
The next morning, I noticed the corral and saddle horses on the edge of the KOA campground and decided to take a horseback ride. For $19, I joined a family of four and a guide along a steep hill, up to the summit, then winding down the back of it and around it to the the corral. My horse was called Smokey and since I hadn't been on a horse since I was a little girl - probably my total horse experiences could be counted on one hand - I decided to create a telepathic relationship with Smokey.
Not being keen on ESP, Smokey seemed to ignore my soothing mind-thoughts so I resorted to little quiet commands. "Go that way," "Don't eat the grass" and "Wait a minute, wait a minute," were some of the repeated refrains that I muttered as Smokey decided it was fun to test my novice skills.
After the horseback ride, I decided not to go into town even though I had planned to stop in to see the Buffalo Bill Museum. Instead, I opted to hit the road south to Casper.
The drive down Hwy 120 was a lonely, long, sun-faded ribbon of road through dusty, dry plains. Miles and miles of flat with occasional slopes of grassy land. Intermittently, I'd see a few cattle or a lone antelope, grazing in the hot sun.
When I got to Thermopolis, site of the largest natural mineral hot springs, I debated whether or not to go. The day was hot, the RV was hot, I was hot and the thought of dipping into a hot pool didn't really have an appeal.
Still, I pulled into the parking lot to think about it, noticing that I had less than half a tank of gas. One thing I've been obsessive about, besides checking the Apache's fluid and pressure levels constantly, is to make sure I'm not with less than half a tank as I drive through the West where long stretches of lonely road can drag on forever, not a gas station in sight.
I went into the hot springs office and asked for directions to the nearest gas station. When the desk clerk had to think a moment, I started to worry, but finally, he came up with a big Texaco station a few miles out of town in the direction I was heading to get onto Highway 26/20.
Luckily, Texaco now takes Shell cards, which I have, so I was able to charge the gas and fill it up. Then I was ready for some more high plains driving.
Eventually, after many more miles of virtually nothing, I was ready to stop for a bite, to eat, and to cool down the Apache. I looked at my map of Wyoming and found several towns between Cody and Casper, so I opted to stop at the next one.
As I approached the highway sign announcing the town of Hiland, an overwhelming feeling of space and emptiness washed over me. The sign said it all: Population 10. There was only a handful of houses scattered as far as I could see and nothing more. I kept driving.
The next town, Waltman, was equally as unnoticeable. Population: 10. I kept driving.
The town after? Population: 10.
I was beginning to get anxious and right before the next town, I didn't take any chances and pulled off into the first rest area I had seen for a long time. I walked the Berts as a tight, arid wind whipped around us. Then I made some lunch and laid down for a little while to rest.
When I drove through the next town, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a bustling, booming place at Population: 50. I continued on my way to Casper, arriving late in the evening, as the sun hung loosely in the Western sky, ready to fall below the horizon.
The Casper KOA was in an odd location, among some industrial buildings and nearly under an overpass to the interstate. Our campsite was gravel with a little patch of grass and a shade tree, and I set up camp quickly, then moseyed over to the campground canteen for a dinner of barbeque buffalo burger, beans, potato salad and lemonade.
Having food prepared for me after a long drive is a welcome relief. I chatted with some of the other RVers, mostly about the unexpected snows up north and my little adventure in Yellowstone. Then I headed back to the Apache, the sun still hanging stubbornly at half-mast, casting an shadowy glow on the campground.
Saturday, 6/16/01 - Arriving in Cheyenne
At five o'clock in the morning, I was awakened suddenly by what sounded like a train rushing toward my RV. I guess I hadn't noticed the train tracks right behind the campground. Good morning!
I showered, straightened up the RV a bit, had a quick bite of breakfast and headed out of Casper, getting right onto I-25 South and heading to Cheyenne. The further south I drove, the more the landscape began to come alive, with jagged rocks jutting up from the earth.
Eventually, the browns turned to greens and more trees appeared. In a way, I was somehow comforted by the change in scenery, or at the very least, the presence of scenery. I pulled into Cheyenne, heading first to the Barnes & Noble where I would be doing a book signing on Monday, to leave behind a poster featuring the cover of my book as a way for them to market my appearance.
The store was on the "busiest street of Cheyenne," according to the cashier on the phone who gave me directions. I turned onto Dell Range, expecting city chaos but instead found a rather calm boulevard leading through the main shopping stretch of town. I passed the Frontier Mall and noticed that "Tomb Raider" was playing at the movie theatre, making a mental note of something to do over the weekend.
After stopping at the Barnes & Noble, I picked up some groceries and ice at Albertsons. Then I got back onto the interstate and headed to the Cheyenne KOA. After driving away from town and getting on Highway 80 East and driving past exit after exit, I got the sense that the KOA was a bit away from where I wanted to be.
So I got off the highway, crossed over it, and got back on heading West toward the interstate again. Then I searched for signs of campgrounds, ending up back where I first exited the interstate. I looped back around, heading toward a sign I had seen for a state park, but once I exited, I realized it was miles outside of town.
Out of the corner of my eye, I had seen a cluster of RVs somewhere on the other side of the interstate and I headed in their direction, hoping to find a campground. Highland Park looked more like a half-deserted trailer park, and as I pulled into it, I noticed the sign that read "No Dogs." I parked the Apache for a moment to search through my Trailer Life campground directory.
A burly man hobbled over to the RV, saying hello.
"I'm looking for a campground," I explained, "I thought this was an RV park."
"Well it is like an RV park," he said through a partially-toothless mouth.
"But I have dogs," I said, gesturing to a growling Chewie.
"That would do it," he said, and then proceeded to rattle off several other campgrounds. When I told him that I was looking to be as close to town as possible, he said, "That would be AB Camping." He gave me directions and I was back on the interstate and on my way.
The campground seemed to be in a good location and the folks behind the counter were friendly, offering me a chocolate as they took down my information. I gave the woman, Kay, a copy of my book, and in return, they let me check out a few movies without having to make a deposit.
I settled into our campsite and soonafter, the campground filled up with RVs in all sizes, shapes and colors. Before I had arrived in Cheyenne, I had seen a local newscast on TV about an annual brewfest that evening, so I called a cab to pick me up from the campground and went to check it out.
The first beer I tried was called Flying Dog from Denver. It was great! I listened to the band play - a rocking duo like a boy version of the Indigo Girls - and later spoke to the musicians about their music and career.
The three of us went for a bite to eat nearby. The two of them - Ryan and Joe - led a full band called Mission 19 but were doing the duo thing for the brewfest. They were really nice and funny guys, not to mention talented musicians. Although they were playing another set, I opted to catch a cab back to the campground after trying two more beers - a lager from Snake River Valley Brewing Company and a lager from the Grand Teton Brewers. Had to get back to the Berts, walk them and feed them. Overall, it was a fun evening, my first in Cheyenne.