Wow, Day 1 was a 16-hour epic. Driving from KC to Ft. Collins, CO, directly would take about 9 hours, but we managed to nearly double that with our "mini tumbleweed tour". We arrived at our AirBnB about 10pm and dropped into bed. Because we were so late, our host, Mr. Miller, went to bed and left the front door unlocked for us. It was my first time at an AirBnB and creeping up the stairs made me feel a little weird, knowing the owner was asleep somewhere in the house. His wife was in Texas visiting family.
We met Mr. Miller in the morning over coffee and he kinda reminded of Tom Skerritt. Pepper and I now know his life story, his wife's life story, and quite a bit about his 6 children and grandchildren. As individuals, they've all had their struggles, but they have emerged stronger - as so many of us do. He was oozing with pride and love for his family. He would have talked with us all day, but when he began the garden tour, Pepper knew it was now or never - our chance to break away gracefully! So, after telling us about how troublesome the bunnies are, eating his produce as if he's Mr. McGreggor, we said our thank yous and promised to be repeat guests if ever in the area again. Truly, a hospitable and kind man.
SIDEBAR: Wish we'd had more time to explore Ft. Collins. Looks like a fun town!
Just outside of Ft. Collins is the Abby of St. Walburga. Pepper has stopped there before because it's a beautiful spot. They have a small herd of cattle and Pepper was hoping to buy some beef (she had a cooler ready to go and everything). The beef goes pretty fast, though, once word gets out that they have it, so we were outta luck. Still, a beautiful spot to stop for a bit. Click on the pics for more info! I bet the llama caption will surprise you!
We got back on the road and we were in Wyoming before we knew it.
Talk about a home on the range. Wonder if they're AirBnB hosts?
In Wyoming, they have clouds you swear you could touch.
Look closely, let your eyes find the horizon. where the foothills meet the mountains, way off in the distance. There are clouds over the mountains, a thin line of blue sky, with more clouds on top. That sliver of sky makes the clouds look like they're a mirror image. Nature's sleight of hand. Extraordinary.
Right on the side of Highway 187, Pepper pulled over so I could see the wagon wheel swales of the Oregon Trail. This being my first trip beyond the Rocky Mountains in a car (I've flown further west, but never driven this far), it seemed appropriate that I take a look and pay homage to the the nation's own westward expansion.
Earlier in the day, having spent 16 hours in the car the day before, I told Pepper we could skip the swales. But she assured me it was more like a brief pit stop on the side of the road, something I wouldn't want to miss. She was right (as usual).
Looking at those deep ruts, cast in the dirt more nearly 200 years ago, was more profound and heartening than I anticipated. Everyone knows that like a century and a half ago, life was brutal and hard. But that sentiment has become a platitude - it's lost its meaning. Looking at that harsh landscape - no trees, no relief from the sun - and following those lines to the horizon made me feel ... gratitude. I felt grateful. I felt my heart swell when I looked upon the swales!
My mother's parents were immigrants and I've always wondered if I have, somewhere deep in my DNA, even a strand of their courage. The courage it takes to leave the familiar, and all you know, for an uncertain future. The voyage my grandparents took on a boat across an ocean was far safer than the journey undertaken by the pioneers, but it required the same courage. It's a courage that only comes when the desire - the need - for a better life outweighs the danger and uncertainty.
I am so grateful for the generations that came before me, for those men and women who said, "I want more," and began an uncertain, arduous, dangerous journey knowing that nothing - not even their survival - was guaranteed.
We were there less than 10 minutes, but I was lost in a wave of profundity and sentiment that stirs within me still.
On the humorous side, this trail was the first federal road project west of the Mississippi. Insert joke [HERE] about "the more things change, the more they stay the same" vis-a-vis this trail and the 250-mile stretch of I-70 that runs through Missouri... it may be paved, but it's rutted as hell.
A little info about this very spot on a signpost.
I continued to be awestruck by the clouds in Wyoming. There were several small groupings of metal buildings, and a few larger outcroppings that had the look of refineries, maybe something to do with gas or oil (but no derricks or wells to speak of). None were marked with signs, but all could be described with this paradoxical four-word phrase: Official Anonymous Government Secret. No wonder the conspiracy theorists live out here. They were almost exclusively made of metal painted drab green or khaki, Pepper declared them "Haliburton Green" and "Dick Cheney Khaki". We're sending these names off to Pantone for consideration, as they're more descriptive than "drab".
At Rock Springs, WY, we stopped to see the wild horses, but there were none on site that day. Phooey. We continued northwest and were soon driving along the Hoback River which was gorgeous. This is also where my "City Girl" started showing. Looking at the wooded hillside, I was in awe. "I have never in my life seen trees like this! They're so interesting. They're so tall. And slim. And brown!"
"Yeah. They're dead," Pepper deadpanned.
She told me some had been burned by fire and others were dying from pine beetle infestation. I am happy to report that this City Girl can now identify pine beetle infestation from wildfire damage. Truly, an alarming, insidious parasite.
"I have never in my life seen trees like this! They're so interesting. So tall, and slim, and brown!"
Soon, we crossed into Idaho and shortly after that headed over the Teton Pass. We met Pepper's parents for dinner in Victor, ID, at a restaurant they only knew as "the place with the good burgers". I kind a love that. They're been coming out here for 20 years, but don't know the restaurant's name. Spoiler Alert: It's The Brakeman, and they are correct: BEST BURGERS. Although after our moment with the black-tipped calf the day before, I had the cajun chicken sandwich.
After dinner, the sun was saying its goodbyes for the day, darting behind clouds, playing hard to get. I felt so lucky to snap this shot because I was in a moving car. This last lines of an old hymn came to mind: It is well, it is well in my soul.
The Tetons, where every cloud has a silver lining and a heavenly soundtrack.... When peace, like a river attendeth my way When sorrows like sea billows roll Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say It is well, it is well with my soul.