Sunday, February 20, 2011

Western Vacation 2010 Day Nine: September 11th

This is the log of my western vacation in September 2010. Some of my own photographs are included and some from Wikipedia.

One day of traveling to go, and that's it for vacation 2010. We got up at 6:00 and hit the road by 7:30. Dad drove us to Tower Junction and up the Lamar Valley to the Northeast Entrance. We heard rumors of a wolf pack (but saw none) and stopped for all those bison on the highway. We spotted some mountain goats on a cliff above the road before the entrance, too.

The highway leaving the park here is very rugged, passing through the Absarokas Range. There were large, snow covered peaks on each side of the road. The geology in the areas of the West like this comes right to the surface- we saw a large shelf on the south side of the highway that ran on an even level on the side of the mountains for miles. We stopped in Cooke City for some gas and food. I bought an egg and ham sandwich which the clerk warned me might be several weeks old. No lie.

From there, we crossed into the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone Valley, a wide ranch canyon with snow covered peaks on either side. This is part of the Chief Joseph scenic highway. This is all cattle range. Near the top of the valley, the Absarokas came together into a rough, stony gorge and then we switched our way back over Dead Indian Pass. There's great views of the canyon and the Absarokas from here. Once at the top, the view goes the other way (to the east), and you can see plains and desert forever. This is the Bighorn Basin, another sage brush badland like we saw south of Jackson.

The foothills on the eastern side are a desert badlands with red, rocky buttes and formations. It levels out pretty quickly though, and was much flatter by the time we made Cody around 10:30am. We rolled through the lower badlands and into Thermopolis, where we ate lunch at the at the world's most Western restaurant.

I took over the driving from here. We could still see the Absarokas to the west, and the Bighorns a great distance to the east. There were many hills and buttes in this area, and the road went quickly into the Wind River canyon of the Clark Fork River. This is a deep, narrow canyon with rocky walls. I understand that there was a rock slide and train crash here a few years ago- you can see some videos of that on the internet. We didn't have any such trouble except for a construction zone at the mouth.

Once we left the canyon, we were out of the badlands. From here the road was flat, straight and desert. I started measuring the longest straight stretches, and in this section I hit 5.1 miles without turning the wheel. There are slow rolling hills in this section, some grass, and pronghorn antelope everywhere. We sped through a few little towns, including some on the Indian Reservations with their obligatory casinos.

At Casper, we picked up I-25 and then really started to make time (as if we were going slow before). The highway follows the North Platte River here, which is probably the most green part of central Wyoming that we saw. We had to stop briefly for a flat tire outside of Casper. Danny had a full size spare though, which kept it from being a real problem.

The rest of the ride through Central Wyoming is just flat prairie. Near Glendo we could see the Laramie Mountains and Laramie Peak in the distance to the west. There are some badlands closer to the river, and in one stretch we saw lovely bluffs over the N. Platte. Away from the river, nothing but grassland and straight stretches. I hit a 7.0 mile straight stretch in here. It's flat as a board closer to Cheyenne, stretching to the horizon in the east. All the way to Ohio, probably. Here though, some hills appear in the west, and the Colorado Rockies are finally visible to the Southwest.

Traffic really picks up once you take I-25 into Colorado, and Danny was driving in this section, for which I'm glad. About ten miles into Colorado we could see large mountains directly to the west, and there were two very prominent peaks to the west at the I-25 exit for Rocky Mountain National Park. Long's Peak perhaps?

And that was it. We made it back to Dan's apartment around 7:30 and got some pizza for dinner. We watched some football, and relaxed from a grueling 12 hour drive. I got to sleep on a couch, then Dad and I were off first thing in the morning from Denver to Philadelphia, and back into Pittsburgh by 7:00pm.

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