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. 


  1. Ft. Laramie looks really nice. I love your buffalo story. Tornado warnings - scary. Love the ruts and the names carved in the stone. Amazing how perfect the lettering is.

    1. We've had real weather since leaving New Mexico, almost every day, but tornado is not something I ever want to hear for an area where we are parked! It was like they traveled with rulers to make their letters - almost all of them were very neat.

  2. That really is a gorgeous area, isn't it? Those wide open spaces of WY are beautiful.

    1. I'm blown away by how beautiful it is. Even the drive to Casper goes through some amazing areas.

  3. "The love of money is the root of all evil." Blast those gold miners who ignored the treaty!

    1. I almost put that exact quote in the post!!! False wealth has caused so much of our negative history :-(

  4. I love to imagine all those settlers travelling and enduring their lengthy trips westward...and to know that centuries later you are stepping exactly where our ancestors did! Really amazing and it really brings history home.

    1. Me too! I'm not a military buff, but forts are some of the most amazing places where we can still walk where history happened. And those ruts were very ghostly!!

  5. There is so much history in this area between the Indians and military. We didn't get to Fort Laramie I'm sorry to say when we were nearby. Looks like they did a great job with the restoration at the fort. Glad you got to stop and visit:) Wyoming certain is beautiful with its endless open areas and views for miles:)

    1. So much of where we've been probably looks about the same as it did 150 years ago and the preserved places make it so easy to "see" it. We're sorry we only had one day in Casper - a mostly rainy one :-(

  6. So much beauty and history...I love stops like that! of your pictures of the grasses looked a lot like foxtail. Foxtail is what our big pup ingested when playing ball. The foxtail lodged in his intestine and assessed which caused his death. I have heard horror stories about foxtail so be careful with Tessa.

    1. Thanks I will be sure to be vigilant around them. We had them on our ranch and had more than one trip to the vet for foxtails in ear and nose :-(

  7. Whew, glad that was a false alarm because we’ve been in spots twice in the past month where we had no cell service and went to use a pay phone that was still there but no longer in service with no sign. Just pick up the receiver and nothing. I love grasses too and your pictures are terrific. There are so many grasses and they are what prairies should be about. We saw Oregon Trail ruts at the Scott’s Bluff National Monument in Nebraska. You have to be in awe of the difficulty of that trip. I also greatly admire Red Cloud and can’t recommend enough that you visit Fort Robinson also in Nebraska where you can stay at the Red Cloud campground and see where Crazy Horse was murdered at the fort. There is a lot of information there about the treaty and the Red Cloud Wars. A sad story. Here’s the link to my post on some of it.

    Oh woe is me NINETY degrees. Whew!!

    1. I was trying to remember why I wanted to go to Nebraska - now I remember it was your post :-) Glad we didn't have to find out if that phone worked, although as Plan C there was a small market. I'm afraid they are becoming too obsolete to maintain anymore.

  8. "Food" -- haha! No overblown advertising there. Love those unassuming places that turn out to be great finds. But you didn't tell us what you had to eat! The fort looks intriguing, and is amazingly well preserved. I'll definitely need to read up on Red Cloud before we visit Wyoming. All the stories of broken treaties make me mad and sad.

    1. I had chicken fingers that were the most moist and flavorful I've ever had and Bill's shrimp was yummy too. Apparently his corned beef sandwich is amazing too. Simple food that was superb. Red Cloud's story is compelling, you'll enjoy it I think.

  9. What an awesome road trip memory. Glad the tornado missed you. Or you missed it. Not an experience I'd want in a RV. The ruts are impressive but I'm with you on the beauty of grasses. Am seeing those same seed heads here and wondering what they are. I like having names, and know absolutely nothing about grasses. The inscriptions must have taken a bit of time to be so precise but a shame the Native work has been obliterated. It is still history. Like being in Fort Laramie and getting a real feel for the stories. A worthy stop. When only one restaurant in town, it better be good.

    1. I would love to know the names of all the plants we encounter - I'm so envious of those who "know them when they see them". Some of the inscriptions that were high on the wall were like that too - don't know how they did it!

    2. I would love to know the names of all the plants we encounter - I'm so envious of those who "know them when they see them". Some of the inscriptions that were high on the wall were like that too - don't know how they did it!