GRMA: Final Reflections
My annual fit of wanderlust has been satisfied again after nearly six weeks on the road, most of which was spent traveling through some of the greatest scenery North America has to offer. The Great Rocky Mountain Adventure, as everyone who followed this blog knows, succeeded in circumnavigating the most prominent and best known mountain range in North America. I am the Magellan of the Mountains (but better since he was killed by island natives halfway through his 1519 trip).
I hiked, I kayaked, I fished, I ate pie, I met kind and caring people, I saw and photographed gorgeous scenes and amazing wildlife, and I rode my motorcycle. Yes, by any definition, this was a good trip.
Nearly everything went my way on this trip. Although I donned rain gear on the first day, the last day, and several days in between, the weather mostly cooperated, allowing me to see and experience the mountains in all their grandeur. No serious mechanical motorcycle issues marred the ride, and I stayed healthy the entire trip (except for the time I battled The Ferocious Giant Trout and smacked my head on the rocks in Wyoming). Even the economy was on my side as gas prices were lower than expected and the U.S./Canadian exchange rate extended my spending power in the land of Loonies and Toonies.
Did I learn anything on this Great Adventure? When I first started planning this trip I thought I would use it to learn about the geology of the mountains. I certainly returned with more geological knowledge than I started with, though somewhere along the road the trip morphed from a journey though a geology classroom into a scenic and wildlife photographic adventure, including some useful tips and instructions from a fine amateur wildlife photographer who happened to share the same shooting spot with me in Hyder, Alaska.
I find on these trips–Alaska, Newfoundland, the Rockies–that I always meet friendly, interesting people who, added to the sights and scenery, make the sum of the Adventure greater than its parts. These are not people I expect to meet again or with whom I will develop life-long friendships, yet their brief appearance in my life makes it better, fuller, richer. Maybe that’s one of the primary reasons I go on these Adventures. The unplanned, unscripted, unscheduled chance encounters make the most lasting memories that I turn to when I pull stories of these trips from my cache of travel tales.
These yearly extended excursions also afford me an opportunity to do something I like to do though I claim no expertise in its art: Write. I’ve written academic articles, journalistic tripe, various marketing and business plans, and web site text for several sites. But nothing has given me greater pleasure than writing this blog and sharing my travel experiences with friends, family and fellow travelers (the latter in the literal sense, not the political sense). The feedback I get–verbally and in written comments–is unfailingly kind and uncritical. Thanks for that. I’m fortunate, I know, to be able to travel to semi-exotic places and meet uniquely interesting people, the uncommon common man. I’m also fortunate to have the time and the resources and the support that allow me to do what many others dream about and envy me for doing. And I plan on taking full advantage of my good fortune, as long as it lasts.
When I came of age in the 1960s this cultural mantra was the rage: “If it feels good, do it.” Well, what I do every year on a motorcycle feels good, really good. And I’m going to continue to do it. And I’m going to continue to urge others to do it as well. Find something that feels good and do it. (Hint: It’s usually not spelled w-o-r-k.)
With all sincerity, I hope blog readers and their friends join me again next year, either on the road or online. Until then, be safe and be happy.
GRMA Day 40: End of the Ride
After 40 days and 11,023 miles, I’m back where I started in Maggie Valley, looking out my cabin window as a bright sunset paints the clouds a pale orange and heightens the contrasting greens on the mountains. It’s good to be back.
Staying off the Interstate for the final 300 miles was also good. I rode several hours across the Cumberland Plateau until I came to its eastern edge and could see the wide valleys opening up before me and separating the plateau from the Appalachian Mountains to the east. I crossed a valley which featured a large lake and found myself at the Tennessee end of the Tail of the Dragon. I made a run of those “318 curves in 11 miles” at a more sedate pace than 40 days ago when this adventure began, perhaps because I was trying to extend the ride by a few minutes more. As I leaned into the curves, the bike seemed to kiss the mountain road as the chrome floorboards caressed the rough asphalt below me. Each time the floorboards scraped the road, I said a heartfelt thanks to all the magnificent mountains that made this ride so special.
The Tail of the Dragon was busy this Saturday as bikes and cars of all sorts made their runs back and forth over the mountain and the drivers paused at Deals Gap to compare notes and talk about how reckless the OTHER riders were. It’s a great road and I like to ride it, but I’ve been on the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado, the Beartooth Highway in Montana and Wyoming, and the Icefields Parkway in Alberta. I’m spoiled.
As I finished the Dragon and headed to Maggie Valley, the clouds which had been hovering above me all day grew darker and heavier and the rain gear came out of the saddlebags for a final time on this trip. For the last 40 miles of the ride I was pelted by moderate rains that kept the roads slick and the face shield difficult to see through. But the road was familiar and I probably could have ridden that final 40 miles with my eyes closed.
As I rode into our cabin community, several neighbors were on their porches to wish me Welcome Home, just as they had been 40 days ago to wish me Bon Voyage. It’s good to be back among friends. A Welcome Home sign on our front porch was the perfect finishing touch for the ride.
All that was left was to unpack the bike, put gear away to be used again on another ride, and perform the ritual Trimmin’ Of The Beard. Eight months of hair-growing effort was wacked off in a matter of minutes, transforming a grizzled old biker into——well, a less grizzled old biker with a handful of grey beard.
Tomorrow I’ll write one final post for this Adventure and summarize the ride and reflect on why I love to spend weeks on the road.
GRMA Day 39: Long Asphalt Ribbon
I noted on yesterday’s blog (which, apologies, didn’t get posted until this morning) that my plan was to ride Interstate 40 all day today and then reward myself with another trip through the Cumberland Plateau and the Smokey Mountains tomorrow. That’s still the plan since today I spent nine boring and somewhat wet hours on the long asphalt ribbon. More than 500 miles on cruise control at 70 miles per hour when the “road construction” sign weren’t commanding me to slow down. Blah!
I did, however, have plenty of time to think about future rides, something I usually do at the end of each Great Adventure. Next year’s ride is pretty much set. I’m going back to Alaska. The trip two years ago only covered a part of that awesome 49th state and there are several new places I want to go there. When I went to Hyder, Alaska, this year looking for bears, I mentioned that I met a couple from Grand Cache, Alberta. I heard from them a couple days ago via email and they had a great time in Haines, Alaska, where Jennifer, the photographer of the pair, got some really great shots of a mama griz and two cubs at a river. I definitely want to go to Haines and Valdez next year and do some fishing and maybe some flying too.
Beyond the Alaska trip, I’m thinking very strongly about a cross-Canada trip from St. Johns, Newfoundland, to Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. I’m obviously drawn to Canada for motorcycle riding. The Trans-Canada Highway trip would probably be another six-to-eight week adventure. I’ve also mentioned several times an interest in the Lewis & Clark Historic Trail from St. Louis to the Oregon Coast and back. I thought about that again today and I think that history-based ride is definitely in my future. It would be shorter, probably only five weeks unless I find a way to stretch it out a little. If I did it in the winter like they did, that would certainly stretch it out. Nah. I’ll stick with the summer months.
I met three guys in Watson Lake, Yukon Territory, who were in the middle of a five-month, 49-state tour. While I’ve ridden in all 49 states in North America, I haven’t done them all in a single ride (though I did all the states east of the Mississippi River plus seven more during a four-week ride in 2005), so a 49-state ride looms as another potential adventure.
I have a quote on my “business” card and the blog that says: “So much asphalt, so little time.” I’m going to do the best I can to cover as much of that asphalt (especially the non-interstate kind) before my time is up. If anyone can think of an Adventure that would keep me occupied for several months, let me know.
Tomorrow is the final ride of the 2015 Great Rocky Mountain Adventure and I’m going to finish it the way I began it with a run on the Tail of the Dragon between Tennessee and North Carolina before heading home. I’ll write another short blog tomorrow night then Sunday will post a longer, final blog for this year that will wrap up the GRMA. Thanks again to everyone for coming along for the ride.
GRMA Day 38: Out of Kansas and into the Ozarks
My short family visit ended this morning as I left Wichita and headed into a blinding sun across eastern Kansas. Brother Jon extended my family time a little by riding along for about an hour and a half before turning back at a coffee break in Fredonia, Kansas. Nice to have him with me, at least for a while. He talked about joining me for a trip in the future even if he’s not able to make it for the entire 4-6 weeks I like to be on the road.
Jon, as I mentioned yesterday, is still riding my 2007 Ultra Classic, which I sold to him in 2011. He’s not able to put a lot of miles on it, but he and his wife Ulla ride it when they can, even if its just in Kansas.
The first three hours of today’s ride was through Sunflower State, so it was pretty unremarkable, except for the early morning smells that always remind me how much we miss riding in cars with the windows up. Huge fields of growing things have a fresh smell like nothing else that awaken the senses with every deep breath.
The real fun today began when Jon left after I rolled into Missouri and worked my way through the Ozarks’ rollercoaster hills and valleys and lakes. This county doesn’t have the incredible scenery of the Rockies (am I spoiled?) but it has a beauty of its own. I think I spent as much time on the sides of my tires as I did on the centers once I started working my way south and east into Arkansas. The back roads here have very road cuts; they just spread two lanes of asphalt on whatevery terrain happens to be there, a condition that makes it difficult to see what may be coming at you or, worse, parked in your lane.
Occasionally I could see the taller peaks of the Boston Mountains through the dense trees blanketing the hillsides in dark green, but most of the time, especially in the Ozark National Forest, my view extended only to the edge of the road where the trees began. It made for a great ride, though, and I decided not to compete photographically with the Rockies and kept the camera in its bag. Rather, I focussed on challenging the many twists and turns 10-20 mph above the speed recommended by the Missouri and Arkansas highway engineers. Once I separated myself from the tourists in the bigger towns like Eureka Springs, the near absence of traffic on the roads meant I could pickup the pace a notch or two and put my new front tire to good use. The only wildlife I saw was a lone doe in the national forest who seemed confused as to which side of the road she preferred; her indecision brought me nearly to a halt before she finally moved off the road to my left and bounded into the trees.
I didn’t even mind the “road closed” detour that added about 30 miles to my ride on a road I had thought about taking and, initially, had rejected. I think it was a better motorcycle road than the one that would have taken me to the Interstate 30 minutes faster.
With my orange “low fuel” light glaring at me from the gauge cluster, I finally ended the ride in Russellville, found a motorcycle friendly motel that charged me even less than my AARP discount would have provided, and parked the bike for the night. I’ve decided to make an Interstate only run tomorrow that will be boring but will bring me a little closer to home for the final push. I’ll be rewarded for tomorrow’s Interstate ride with a shorter final day that will allow me to take a celebratory spin through the Smokies before the Adventure ends at the cabin in Maggie Valley.
GRMA Day 37: Why Harley-Davidson?
As I sit in the customer lounge of Alef’s Harley-Davidson in Wichita waiting for a new front tire and front brakes to be installed on my Ultra Classic and with nothing particularly important to write about relative to my travels, I thought it might be appropriate for the traveler who writes hdriderblog.com to write about the hd part.
Why Harley-Davidson? Other bikes cruising the highways and byways go faster, ride smoother, last longer and have great reputations. So why do I ride a Harley? Riding a motorcycle isn’t just about speed (well, not all the time, anyway) or about comfort or about durability. It is about those things, of course, but it’s more than that. Those elements are part of a package that make up the total riding experience.
My Harley goes fast enough for me (more than 100 miles per hour according to my Zumo GPS and the bike’s speedometer). The Ultra’s saddle and suspension are comfortable enough to roll down roads that are in various states of repair and disrepair for 10-12 hours a day when I need to. Durable? I put 100,000 miles on my last Ultra-Classic and then sold it to my brother who’s going to join me for a few hours tomorrow as I head east toward home on my bike that has 62,000 miles on it. In the past 10 years I’ve ridden nearly 250,000 miles on Harley-Davidsons with no major mechanical problems and I’ve never been stranded on the road.
But in addition to evaluating a motorcycle on these criteria–speed, comfort, durability–riding a Harley makes me part of a very big family of riders, many of whom have been astride nothing but Harleys for 30, 40, 50 years and more. Harleys are everywhere, and so too are Harley riders. Wealthy riders and financially struggling riders. Working class riders and professionals of all stripes. 1%ers and Bikers for Jesus. Republicans and Democrats and probably a whole lot of Independents. Men and women. Young and old. Even some BMW and Honda riders are also Harley riders. We’re all attracted to Harley-Davidsons for different reasons and yet ultimately the same basic reason.
There’s a mystic about this 112 year-old American union-made iron horse, this icon of American industry, that keeps riders coming back year after year, bike after bike. Is it the sound of the flathead, the panhead, the knucklehead, the shovelhead, the evolution V-Twin engines? Is it the feel of a powerful bike hugging the corners, leaning into the twisties and flying down the straights? Is it the opportunity to ride with like-minded riders and then stop for coffee to talk endlessly about Harleys? Is it the ability to customize a bike in a thousand different ways so it is unlike any other but still a Harley at heart? Is it a history big enough to fill a state-of-the-art museum in Milwaukee? Is it the unique and clearly identifiable styling other brands try to copy but never can. Is it the looks of admiration and envy drivers in passing cars throw your way? Is it the 50 t-shirts from various Harley dealers and rallies hanging in the closet giving sartorial choices for a year’s worth of riding? Is it the ubiquitous bar and shield logo stamped in, sewn on or attached to just about everything Harley riders touch? Yes, it is. It’s all of these. They’re all part of the package.
Sometimes I think about buying a faster, smoother, longer-lasting bike when it comes time to replace my 2013 Ultra Classic. And I probably will. Because my next Harley Davidson will be faster, smoother and longer lasting than the one that’s taken me to Alaska and back, to Newfoundland and Labrador and back, to the Rocky Mountains (all of them) and back.
Why ride a Harley-Davidson? Because it’s a Harley. And because I couldn’t write hdriderblog.com if I rode anything else. Besides, even my mother rolls (walks?) with a Harley-Davidson.
GRMA Day 36: A Visual Review
Assuming that most people don’t want to hear about me doing my laundry or taking my mother to the store, I won’t spend any time describing my day. Instead, I’ll take the time to pick out some images from the 1,200 or so that I’ve taken so far that reflect the Great Rocky Mountain Adventure. I’ll write more in the coming days.
GRMA Day 35: The Mountains in My Rear View Mirror
Several county music songs make reference to some town “in my rear view mirror,” usually with a sense of being happy to put something unpleasant behind the balladeer. This morning as I left Pueblo I could see the Rockies in my rear view mirror (well actually side view mirrors but you get the picture). As I looked at the flat prairie unfolding before me and the majestic mountains shrinking to nothingness at the miles rolled by, I had sharply mixed feelings. It’s good to be going home after nearly five weeks on the road, but I know I’m going to miss the mountains that gave me so many hours of riding pleasure, miles of scenic wonders, and crucial moments of spiritual contentment.
These beautiful piles of various rocks, these soaring stony spires, these color wheels of geologic evolution, these Rocky Mountains have lasted for tens of millions of years; I imagine they’ll still be there when I return. And I will return. Many times, I think, before I’m done riding on two wheels.
During August, eastern Colorado is a lot like western Kansas. Small dusty towns trying to hang on to their pioneer past; flat landscape; hot stale air; wheat fields and alfalfa fields that stretch endlessly to the horizon; odiferous feed yards every 30 miles or so packed with clueless cattle. What’s a rider to do? Well, one approach, and the one I took today when I could, is to go fast, don’t stop and try to get through it as quickly as possible. But when you have 440 miles to go and every 20 miles bright orange cones, dusty yellow highway equipment and florescent lime-green safety vests pop up like spring flowers in a fecund meadow, the distance from point A to point B seems to shrink much too slowly. Still, by pushing the speedometer above the posted speed suggestion limit signs pointlessly littering the roadside, I covered the distance in about eight grueling hours. And that included a pie and coffee lunch (coconut cream, again) and two petrol stops.
I’m back in Wichita with family for a couple days. I’ll continue to write and post some short remarks. I may even go back through my photo gallery and post a few pictures taken along the way that didn’t make the cut to the blog the day they were taken but probably should have. There will, as always, be something here for die-hard blog readers who are usually killing time at their desks when they ought to be doing the productive work they’re getting paid for. At any rate, I’m glad some readers are hanging on to the end of the GRMA. There may still be some Adventures along the way home.
GRMA Day 34: The Loop is Completed
The goal for this year’s Great Adventure was to loop the Rocky Mountains–from the southern end in New Mexico to the northern in the Yukon Territory and back. When I rolled into Pueblo, Colorado, late this evening, the loop was completed since this is where I began 28 days ago. I haven’t seen all the many ranges and sub-ranges in the Rockies, but I’ve sure seen a lot of them. And they were all I expected and more. Mountains–especially the Rockies–produce in nearly everyone who sees them feelings of awe and wonder and amazement and reverence and more.
I never tired in four weeks of waking up to them, riding through them, stopping to drink them in and trying to understand them from both a scientific and an emotional perspective. There’s an old saying that if a biker has to tell you why he (or she) rides a Harley, you wouldn’t understand anyway. Maybe that’s the way it is with mountains. If you can see them, be in them, hike through them, ride through them and still don’t understand why they’re special, nothing I could write or say or photograph would really help you understand.
I had initially thought about taking a quicker route today involving considerable Interstate riding. But this morning, when I realized this was my last day in the mountains (for a while), I turned off the GPS route I had pre-loaded and just headed south from Linda’s ranch in Laramie. I had a vague idea where I would be going, so I mainly just kept my eye on my compass and rode mostly south with some east/west roads thrown in as needed. The result was that I rode on roads I’ve not been on before and just sat back and cruised through curves and the ups and downs enjoying the view and my additional few hours in the mountains.
The only stop I had planned for today, and the only place I took pictures was Pike’s Peak, about 50 miles from my Pueblo destination. The road is now fully paved and doesn’t offer the challenges it once did when drivers risked life and limb on gravel and rock much of the way to the top. But the dozens of hairpin turns with no guardrails and near vertical drops of hundreds of feet still keep your attention as you climb from about 6,000 feet to over 14,000 feet. Unfortunately, like many other places I’ve been on this adventure, there were too many people. And many of those people don’t understand that they shouldn’t stop on an 8% grade coming out of a hairpin turn when there’s a motorcycle behind them. Or not to stop in the middle of the road to look at wildlife because there was no room for any shoulder. I made it to the top with no accidents (motorcycling is safer than fishing, after all) but I did express myself bluntly to a couple drivers who should have stayed on flat ground.
Three years ago I rode to the top of Mt. Evans in Colorado, the highest paved road in the United States. The ride was more challenging and there were a lot fewer people at the top. The view was pretty much the same (damned awesome) and I guess I’d recommend the Mt. Evans ride over Pike’s Peak. In either case, be prepared for a temperature drop of about 50 degrees. It was about 93 in Colorado Springs and about 43 at the top of Pikes Peak.
I hadn’t planned on doing any wildlife shooting today, but since a hearty band of Big Horn Sheep made the 14,000 foot climb to the top, I took a couple shots of some ewes that were nearby. The ewes, with their shorter, slender horns don’t make for dramatic photographs the way the males do. I heard several people refer to the “mountain goats” but I decided not to correct their errant identification. If they want them to be goats, let them be goats.
Tomorrow I turn my back to the mountains and travel across one of the flattest states in the union on my way to another family visit in Wichita. But, after I’ve travelled several more days, I’ll be back in the mountains of Western North Carolina, and those will do just fine. I’m going to keep writing everyday until this Adventure ends when I roll down my driveway in Maggie Valley, so keep checking in to see where I am and what I’m up to.
GRMA Day 33: Typical Day at the Ranch
You never know what’s going to happen at Linda’s Ranch.
I watched a dramatic sunrise today as the sun struggled to break through the early morning clouds and drew in deep, long breaths of clean, mountain air. It was a great way to start the day.
Linda had intended to buy a welder last night but other developments postponed that trip until first thing this morning when we drove 20 miles to pick up a used portable gas welder on a specially made trailer that can be taken to the fields when something breaks (and something always breaks out there). If she doesn’t exactly know how to use a gas welder, she’ll figure it out.
Haying operations are ahead of schedule at the ranch because of a very dry last three weeks, which meant Linda could mow, rake and bale her small square bales destined for horse stalls throughout Colorado and Wyoming more quickly than in the past. So all she needed to do today was mow part of one small meadow.
In the meantime, her friend Brad and I took off in Brad’s truck to deliver salt blocks to the 600 pairs of cattle currently grazing in a 5,000 acre pasture on the ranch. The pasture starts near the river that runs behind Linda’s house and goes to the top of the mountain where her property boundary is. And there were no real roads, just a barely discernible two-track trail across the rocky plains and up the mountain side. But Brad knew the way (they’re his cattle, mostly), so off we went, bouncing along and keeping an eye out for wildlife.
In addition to the cattle occupying the pasture, dozens of white-rumped pronghorn antelope also graze there and, fleet-footed trespassers that they are, quickly run off when we approached them in the truck. But I managed to get a few shots, mostly of their rapidly diminishing backsides.
We spotted a red-tailed hawk, but I had to shoot from a pretty good distance because they’re skittish and take to the air quickly when anything moves toward them. I had hoped to spot a pair of bald eagles that call the area home and while we did see them later in the afternoon on the wing, I never had a chance to shoot their portraits on a perch.
We did, however, spot part of the 150-member elk herd that is the bane of Linda’s haying ops, and I was able to get a couple long-distance shots before they moved on to trample her neighbor’s meadow. He will no doubt chase them back to her land. In one more week, elk hunting season begins and the herd will head to the mountains and hope for safety from the hunters, ending Linda’s elk problem for the year.
With the mowing done and the cattle taken care of, Brad asked if I wanted to go fishing. I jumped at the chance and while Linda cleaned up from her morning mowing, Brad and I headed to a neighbor’s small lake to try our luck. I hooked a 7 lb rainbow trout after only about 20 minutes and, following a quick photo, the fish was back where he had come from. The wind was blowing hard across the lake and we weren’t have much luck where we were so we went to the other side of the water where Brad quickly landed another 7-8 pounder, which was also returned to his fishy friends.
I hooked another nice one–probably 7-8 pound range, but he unhooked himself just before I was about to land him. Brad said if you try to land them too aggressively they can sometimes rip their mouths and escape. I had learned my lesson. About 15 minutes later a third big trout had attached himself to the end of the line attached to the rod I was holding. I wasn’t going to lose this one. So I reeled him slowly, letting the drag play out as the fish tore off in the opposite direction I was trying to coax him to go. Slowly, I brought him closer and he started to go parallel to the rocky shore. I began to walk his direction to reduce the tension on the line. And then the real adventure began.
I tripped on a rock while I was watching the fish. I caught my balance, lost my balance, caught my balance and lost it again in what must have looked like a very awkward ballet. Backwards I fell, splitting my head open on the rocks and dropping the rod in the water. Slightly rattled and feeling no small amount of pain from my throbbing head, I stood up and saw blood dripping on the rocks. But I also saw that the rod (Brad’s rod) was in the water with the fish still attached. I reached into the water and probed until I had a firm grasp on the Zebco 33. Brad said he’d take the rod if I wanted to take care of my head, but I was determined to land the fish that, aside from my own clumsiness, had caused my current embarrassment. A few minutes later, as my Coumadin-thinned blood ran down my head, behind my ear and into my beard, the fish was on the rocks with me; the epic battle had ended and I was the woozy victor. Bloodied but not beaten. Fishing is a tough sport.
After the obligatory picture of me and my defeated foe, the fish was returned to to the cold water of Rex Lake. I needed to stop the flow that was now getting on my clothes as well as my beard. I found an old paper towel in the truck, blotted my wound a couple times, folded the paper towel to form a small square, then cinched my CSX camouflage hat a notch or two tighter to press the paper towel to my head to attempt to staunch the stream of blood and I commenced fishing again. By now it was late afternoon. Brad caught one more and I went scoreless for the rest of the day, even though I think I was still casting into the water.
I knew yesterday that a day on Linda’s Ranch would bring adventure. I was right.
With my make-shift pressure bandage squeezing the flow to a mere trickle, we finished our day at one of the best Mexican restaurants in Laramie, a favorite place we always go and where we always honor our tradition of downing tequila shots while drinking very large Coronas. It was a convivial end to an adventuresome day.
Tomorrow I leave one of my favorite stops on this trip and head for Pike’s Peak and Pueblo where I will complete my 6,000+ mile loop of the Rocky Mountains.
Other shots I liked today:
GRMA Day 32: At Linda’s Ranch
One of the high points of any trip I take out west is a stop at Linda’s ranch outside Laramie. For those who don’t know, Linda is a friend from our Wyoming days in the 1980s and a unique person Marilyn and I admire and enjoy very much. Linda runs an 8,000 acre ranch by herself and I’m convinced can do any job a ranch requires.
The trip to Laramie from Dubois was a trip back through time as I rode on highways that I got to know pretty well in the four years I spent in Wyoming from 1986-1990. Crowheart, Ethete, Lander, Jeffrey City, Rawlins, Elk Mountain–these were all recognizable names and scenery and not much has changed. The land seems empty except for the occasional isolated ranch and the ubiquitous historical markers reminding today’s travelers that this was the land of pioneers and covered wagons and Indian wars. The area I went though today was traveled by hundreds of thousands of pioneers in covered wagons headed west because these high plains (6,600) feet were the best pass through the Rockies.
I took time to take a few photographs of the multi-colored landscape, the Wind River, Split Rock (an easily seen landmark for native Americans and westward travelers), some antelope and a hawk. The hawk shot was made a little more difficult by a ranch dog who came to meet me in a rather unfriendly manner but who finally decided I wasn’t a threat to whatever it was he was protecting. I’m also learning that hawks are hard to photograph. The first two times I tried to shoot a hawk today, they flew off before I could even get my camera out of the tour pack.
I arrived at the ranch a little after 4 p.m. and Linda and her friend Brad had stopped work for the day and were going to look at a welder but postponed that chore until tomorrow morning. She showed me some of the changes that have been made since the last time I was here (two years ago): New equipment shed, new hay shed, and a new bunkhouse (an RV). She never stops working at the ranch. A couple beers, a little wine, some Jack, great grilled ribs and plenty of new Linda stories occupied the remainder of the evening.
I thought my 10,000 mile Great Rocky Mountain Adventure was an adventure until Linda begins relating stories about her daily life on the ranch. A mountain lion scarred her heavy duty RAM truck with scratches on the hood, the window and the top of the cab. A moose camped out in her yard for a day and then charged her in her own front yard as she was heading for the barn. Not one, not two but three mountain lions set up shop in her hay barn and strolled through her yard like they owned it. 150 elk trampled her pasture and she had to run them off. But the best part of all these adventures is hearing her tell it in her own Linda way. I really think she could make a living touring and telling hilarious stories of life on the ranch.
As I sit writing, the Little Laramie River gurgles peacefully outside my window, the last light is fading in the west, and everyone is going to bed early because the sun comes up early at the ranch and that’s when work begins.
Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but on the ranch it’s going to be interesting. Of that I’m sure.
Other pictures I liked from today: