Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Two Thousand Mile Sunday Drive--Day Three

The Big Horn County Court House
Taken 10/5/09 in Basin, Wyoming

Monday Monday, can't trust that day,

Monday Monday, sometimes it just turns out that way
Oh Monday morning, you gave me no warning of what was to be
Oh Monday Monday, how yould cou leave and not take me.

--John Phillips
To hear the Mamas and the Papas sing "Monday, Monday," click here.

First, a disclaimer. None of the pictures I'm sharing today will ever win any awards. They're here just to show you what kind of weather we had.

Just as Saturday and Sunday, Monday got off to a late start. Not because we loved camping in the WalMart parking lot, heaven forfend. As I noted at the end of Day Two's blog, the snow really began coming down. Every time we got out to let the dogs out, there was no evidence that we'd been out earlier--our tracks were completely filled in.

As we exercised the dogs one last time before taking to the road, Major, our newest, got free from his lead and took off. I should mention that the reason we have Major in the first place is that a friend found him running loose in an industrial parking lot and scooped him up--leaving him with us until his true owners could be located. That was several months ago now, and we consider Major our dog. But he does like to run and once he starts, he just has to go. He will not come when called. We had just about decided that Cody would be his new home, when we caught sight of him by a coffee shop across the highway from WalMart. By this time, he was very happy to get back in the truck.

We had asked several people what would be the best route from Cody to Gillette. Neither of us had driven these roads before, although as a child I'd ridden many times as my father drove from Cody to Powell and back to the Billings area. There were three options for our east bound journey: US 14 through Sheridan, US 16 through Buffalo, and there were two ways to get to Buffalo--to Greybull and then along the Bighorn River or through Meeteetse. Both roads meet at Worland, then US 16 continues east.

No one had a good answer for us, although most counseled that given the weather, the road to Sheridan would be difficult. No one told us that Powder River Pass on US 16 is almost 10,000 feet.

Ever on the quest to capture court houses, I prevailed on Kevin to try the Greybull to Worland route. The snow continued to fall intermittently as we headed east, but it was calm in Greybull when we stopped to ask where the Bighorn County Court House could be found. The man we asked answered that the court house was another eight miles down the road in the next town, Basin. Greybull was not the county seat.

The previous evening, I had captured the Park County (Wyoming) Court House, a much more stately edifice than the Park County (Montana) complex. And on Monday I was able to get the Bighorn County (Wyoming) Court House and the Washakie County Court House as well. I also shot this rose on the grounds of the Washakie County C.H. in Worland. I'm sure it wasn't quite ready for winter either.

Rose on the grounds of the Washakie County Court House
Taken 10/5/09 in Worland, Wyoming

East of Worland lies the oddly named town of Ten Sleep. I have heard of Ten Sleep for many years, but I'd never been through the town, nor had I any clue about the origin of its name. For a moment I pondered if it might be from some pioneer Dutch family, but no, apparently it refers to the route the Sioux took from the Platte River to southern Montana, and Ten Sleep was ten nights north of the Platte. Immediately after leaving Ten Sleep, the road began to climb, and we passed a sign saying that if the lights were flashing, the road would be closed seven miles ahead.

The lights were not flashing, so we drove on, passing numerous signs warning of impending road closure--but the lights were never flashing. Actually, we passed so many such signs all the way across Wyoming that we decided closed highways were a regular part of Wyoming life.

Scenery (such as it was) east of Ten Sleep, Wyoming
Taken 10/5/09

I have no idea how many miles we drove from Ten Sleep through what has to be some absolutely stunning scenery. Unfortunately, the snow was falling so thick and fast that we could barely see any of it. We will have to return sometime when the weather is more clement. What I do know is that the road continued to climb before us. We drove so long climbing the steep grade, that I began to doubt the existence of a summit or pass. We would just climb forever. And though it certainly felt that way, eventually we did reach Powder River Pass (9,666 feet), having climbed over 5,000 feet from Ten Sleep. From here it was all downhill.

I'd like to say the weather got better, but that would be a lie. I remain grateful for Kevin's skill and patience. I would have been in a panic trying to get our heavy rig up and over in those conditions. When we finally reached the bottom of the pass and drove into Buffalo, we found a city almost paralyzed by the snow. Broken tree limbs were everywhere, and the McDonalds, where we stopped to eat after not being able to get gas at Cenex ("Sorry, our pumps aren't working.") was not able to accept credit or debit cards. The heavy snow had played havoc with the computer connections around the town. For some undoubtedly unrelated reason, the ice cream machine wasn't working either.

Kevin's view of the road, US Highway 16
Taken 10/5/09 in Central Wyoming

At Douglas we picked up Interstate 90 again, and continued east toward Gillette, Sundance, and eventually Rapid City South Dakota. We continued to pass signs warning that the road could be closed, but it wasn't. Kevin drove through snow, drizzle and low clouds, but he continued on bravely through the weather. At Moorcroft, we left I-90 for US 14 headed toward Devil's Tower. I've never been near enough to the monument to actually see it, and I kept wondering if Richard Dreyfus would suddenly appear on his way to a close encounter. What can I say, the Tower is impressive, rising vertically from the rather level ground around it. Unfortunately, it was impressive but only half visible. We have to do this trip during good weather sometime.

Back to I-90 at Sundance, on past Beulah with its signs warning that this was our last chance to get low-priced Wyoming gas, and cross the border into South Dakota. Should you ever take this route, be forewarned. Gas in South Dakota is at least twenty cents less than gas in Wyoming. Also a word of warning--the price shown on signs in South Dakota is for Plus or mid grade, not regular. Regular is usually about ten cents a gallon more than Plus. As it turns out, Plus is 10% ethanol, and the good people of South Dakota want to make sure that their corn farmers are adequately employed.

Kevin insisted that tonight we would stay in a motel--good thing since none of the campgrounds we tried were open. Super 8 in Spearfish gladly took us, our four dogs and our money, and gave us a room with two beds, a shower, a hot breakfast the next day and a hot tub--well the latter was not in our room. We had to run to K-Mart and get end of season close-out swim trunks at 2.99 each. Running the dogs around the hotel in the middle of the night was the only reason to get out of bed. We both slept well.

To be continued....

Devil's Tower
Pretty impressive even under these conditions
Taken 10/5/09