Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Why Wheatland, WY?

We exit Estes Park on Hwy 34, an even more beautiful winding road than Hwy 36. The Big Thompson River is wild and mesmerizing and the tall walls of the gorge are spectacular. Keeping my eyes on the road is really hard!

There are very few turn-outs, but just as I find one along the river our tire-pressure-monitor starts beeping rapidly. I'm so glad we've already found a place to pull off, especially when Bill tells me the reading is 15 pounds in our inside right rear tire!

I check my cell phone and we have no service. Great. But then I look across the road and there's a pay phone right there. I think we can't possibly be any luckier than that. Until Bill comes back in from checking the tires and tells me it's a false alarm. The tire is solid with over 110 pounds. Whew!

Through the town of Loveland, CO, and we're back on Interstate 25 heading north.

In 1993 my sons and I made a ten-state road trip. At one point in our travels we saw "something" on a hillside that we thought was a tree. Then we thought it was a sign, then a buffalo, then we realized it was a buffalo sign. Ever since then, when we would see something along a road and couldn't tell what it was, we'd say "it's a's a buffalo!" Silly, but although I didn't remember where it was, it's been a great memory.

As we approach the Wyoming border I see something familiar in the distance. It's a know what's coming :-)

That's our buffalo sign!
Now we're in Wyoming. Our eighth state in 13 months. Although we'll see more at a quicker rate during our eastern travels this winter, we do like this comfortable pace.

Our destination is Wheatland, WY, and my expectations are not high. I'm sure we'll see a lot of flat and dry and brown. But I very much want to see Fort Laramie, so we have reservations for two nights in this little nearby town.

It is beautiful here! After all the congestion of our last three stops, being back in a small, quiet town is heavenly. There are rolling green hills, trees, rivers....and a tornado watch. It's our first, I'm sure we'll remember it.

The watch that is, we don't even get any clouds.

Mountain View RV Park is possibly the strangest "park" we've stayed at. The sites are all on a city street. You pull into your home right off 20th Avenue. There's a nice clean laundry/shower house, but no office. Camp Hosts are easily identified on the corner, and we do the check-in on a clothes dryer in the only building. Level dirt site, 50 amp FHUs, no noise from the interstate, a nice view of open space from our windows. It's great for our needs.

Tuesday morning we head northeast to Fort Laramie. We come to the small town of Guernsey and see signs for a couple historic sites along the Oregon Trail. Let's go see them!

The first is Oregon Trail Ruts. One of several National Historic Trails, at this site the trail was forced away from the North Platte River and crosses a ridge of soft sandstone. It is worn to a depth of up to five feet, and is considered "...some of the most spectacular ruts remaining along the entire length of the Oregon-California Trail." Because of the geography of this area, it was necessary for practically every wagon that went west to cross the ridge at the exact same place - "with impressive results."

Surprisingly narrow
Heights of the "walls" differ along the trail
The trail from the parking area has many interpretive signs about the history of the trail and the military posts along the Oregon Trail. In addition to the ruts and the signs, there are wonderful grasses in all directions. More than any other flora, I love wild grasses. They are delicate looking, and yet so hardy - and they move beautifully in the wind.

There are also interesting wild flowers along the trail.

Blend of pretty and I will cut you!
These little guys looked like periscopes peeking out of the grass 
Ginormous seed pods - we saw these in Colorado too
A wonderful piece of history 
Just two miles up the road is Register Cliff. Between 100 foot limestone cliffs and the North Platte River, emigrants made this their first camp west of Fort Laramie. Their carvings were added to tribal pictographs already there. The earliest "dated" inscription was carved in 1829. Donated to the state in the late 1890's, the cliff is one of the best "registers of the desert". There are hundreds of inscriptions, most from the 1840's and 1850's. Sadly, none of the native pictographs remain as noted in the signage below.

Not surprising, there are more recent inscriptions from the 1920's to 2016. The historic carvings are protected behind tall fences, but it is the circling swallows overhead that are the greatest deterrent from accessing the wall. As soon as I get there I wish I brought an umbrella!

Hand carved 1868
Looking more like stamps, you can see the faint lines drawn as spacers for these more formal letters
Plotting their next bombing run from 30-50 feet up the cliff
Over a century of recording
The Frederick family who donated the site, blew an opening in the cliff to store produce - cool in the summer and frost-free in the winter
Every surface inscribed around the opening
Bill "finds" a different route to the fort, and soon we're on a narrow paved road through "Tank Farm" which is an area of oil storage tanks - lots of oil tanks. He only takes me to the best places.

Soon we leave them behind and are enjoying a dirt road through wide open spaces - green plains, rock formations, farm land. We see no other people.

Stretching our eyes
No people, but not alone
13 miles later we arrive at Fort Larmie National Historic Site

I'm excited to see this piece of history, to walk where Red Cloud negotiated and signed the Treaty of 1868. I have long been a "fan" of this Lakota Chief who made great strides trying to ensure peace for his people without sacrificing their culture. Although short-lived, the treaty not only gave lands and protections to the tribe, it also closed three military installations along the Bozeman Trail. This is the "why" we're here.

Bill and Tessa go check out the Laramie River and lovely park area, and I head to the fort grounds. Entrance is free so I am amazed by the restored buildings, staff in period clothing giving tours and talks and working in the gardens, rooms furnished and staged, and beautifully maintained grounds.

Old Bedlam
Preservation continues 
Bachelor officers' quarters

Post Headquarters
Burt House was built for officers with families
Officers' wives brought "culture and style" to the fort
and children
Love this old newell post - worn smooth 
The trading post was stocked for fort residents as well as emigrants passing throuh
Many of the larger buildings on "officers row" have been preserved
Wives of enlisted men tended gardens, helped with laundry and cooking
Weapons magazine - reminder that this was a military installation for most of its "career"
Bill and Tessa join me to see the visitors center where we watch a short documentary on the fort's history. Here we learn more details about the relationship of the military, the emigrants and the native tribes of the area. What I had not read, or didn't remember, was the role of the gold miners invading the Black Hills that lead to the Battle of Little Big Horn. Until then it seems Red Cloud's treaty was being enforced on both "sides". 

Wagon replicas - the original "down-sizing" movement
The grounds are beautiful this time of year
Although there is a nice breeze all day, the 90 degree temps are getting uncomfortable, and we're ready for a late lunch. The little town of Fort Laramie (population 320) has one eatery so we give it a try.

No need for a lot of detail
The interior is all red, white and blue and Bill notes the initials spell FLAG - very clever :-)
Not only is this a funky, quirky local stop, with the owner doing the serving and the cooking, but the food is outstanding! We don't even mind that CNN is playing on the TV, although it's the first news we've seen in 18 months. So when you come to see the area - and you should - stop for FOOD at the F.L.A.G.

Huge clouds follow us home
Sadly he is in a large fenced pasture, but he is our first bison
Gray Rocks Road takes us through more beautiful country
and past Gray Rocks Reservoir
Our drive home is on another dirt road. There are no turn-outs through the Gray Rocks Canyon that gives the road and water their name, but it is a gorgeous section of large formations surrounded by grass and trees. We stop at the reservoir and meet a young family whose three children are swimming in the cold water with giant smiles - they're so cute!

Today's thunder storm warning brings us strong winds that didn't materialize in yesterday's tornado watch, and I bring in the large slide. The storm passes us to the north, and doplar shows we missed a big one. 

We enjoy the cool breeze and smell of rain and tuck in for the night.

This has been a great stop, not only for the visit to a piece of history that matters to me, but for the surprising beauty we've found. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Bill Tries a New Look and More Family Comes to Colorado

As planned, much of the weekend is spent at home. With a fishing spot just out our front door, where else would we go?

Spruce Lake RV Park is by far the busiest place we've ever stayed. Even more so than state parks along the beach. All of the 100+ sites are full, the group picnic area is packed each night, all the cabins have families, dozens of children in the swimming pool and playground, and campers talk loudly to each other from everywhere in the park. It is more like summer camp than an RV park. 

Bill learns from the hosts that there is a family reunion here - 60 people! That makes sense. They're a big group who all know each other :-) Evenings and nights are still quiet so that's a plus.  

I venture through town for groceries on Saturday morning. With two events - The Westerniers and The Midsummer Scandinavian Festival - it is wall-to-wall people. Young traffic "enforcers" help keep cars and pedestrians moving at each signal. Given the huge numbers, the chaos is pretty organized!

Around mid-day Bill calls me to come outside. I see that he is now wearing a new shiny "head piece". He's done a masterful job of embedding two hooks of a treble-hook into his scalp. His idea that I'm going to pull it out with pliers is optimistic and unrealistic - we're going to urgent care. Not only do I not laugh (out loud), but I don't take a photo. I regret the latter greatly :-)

Everyone at urgent care has fun with their "patient" and of course have stories of much more "impressive" fish hook incidents that have walked in.

Evidence after the fact
Last week my "almost" daughter Megan contacted me about being in Fort Collins this weekend. While we are making plans to meet, their hosts tell her they want to take them to the Scandinavian Festival in Estes Park! So she and husband Chris, and their friends, come to us :-)

Street vendors and large crowds are not something that Bill enjoys so he drops me off and comes back for more fishing. The previous day's medical emergency has not scared him off!

The festival is very popular and all the pastry, clothing, art, textiles, and pottery vendors are doing a brisk business. There is a Saab club and I'm so sorry I forget to get a pic of the cute little cars. 

Lots of folks enjoy the festival
Interesting old structure on the hill overlooking the park
I've never seen a Maypole with the cross beam. Covered in flowers and vines, it is impressive.
We make our way to the center where all-day entertainment is scheduled. Megan refers to their friends Daven and Wendy as "The Vikings" - and at over 6' each, they wear their heritage well. Naturally we are seated in time to see the Viking battle event. A well trained group from Denver demonstrate hand-to-hand fighting with different weapons, including spears and axe. 

We stay to see the "peek-a-boo" dance (very fun), and then head across the street for lunch. We enjoy catching up at Casa Grande - another restaurant with a lovely view. They have to get to the airport so all too soon we say our good-byes. How fun to meet up in this beautiful place!

My Megan
Chris, Megan, Wendy, Daven and Alaric
Having fun with Mommy
Pam assures me that the best view of all Starbucks is here in Estes Park - a must see! Of course I must check this out and provide photographic proof.  She's right, this is definitely the nicest setting of any store I've been too. 

River front coffee
Here ya go Pam!
Bill picks me up (this is definitely the way to visit downtown in these crowds), and we're back to our lakefront home.

Monday we are heading back down to warmer temps, and out of Colorado for now. Estes Park is definitely one of the most beautiful places we've stayed. It is an expensive area, but it helps to know that a portion of the higher taxes go to the national park. We will be back - perhaps in May or September in an effort to avoid some of the crowds.