Wednesday, September 23, 2009

ROAD TRIP!! (day 1)

Money is tight for everyone that was involved in our recent road trip to Wyoming for Kevin's wedding. Our plan was to leave Friday afternoon, drive straight through, stay in Jackson Saturday night, attend the wedding on Sunday, then head back home. Many of the hotels were booked for a bike race and several other events occurring that weekend. We were lucky enough to find a reasonably priced motel with a vacancy so we booked it on the spot. I was concerned but I needn't have worried. When I pulled up the reviews they were varied as to the opinion of the quality of the rooms but all of them made two points: The rooms are clean and the staff is friendly. Good enough for me for a place to lay my head. After our stay I can unequivocally recommend the 4 Winds Motel.

Thursday rolls around and I get a call from Kristina, the provider of our conveyance, saying she is ready to go now. Now now now. I double-checked with the motel and they were able to add another day onto the beginning of our stay so after finishing work and gathering together our last-minute items, we were on the road around 8:00pm.

We made really good time to the Wyoming border, getting there right at sunrise (about 7:30am). And so began the photographic odyssey.

Our first stop, of course, was Tree Rock. Tree Rock is in the middle of I-80. It is a small pine tree that seems to be growing out of solid rock. The tree is a somewhat stunted and twisted limber pine. It's age is unknown but limber pines can live as long as 2,000 years.

The latest obsession of my friend, Kristina, is the Oregon Trail. We took I-80 across to Rawlins, then turned North on highway 287. Once we hit Muddy Gap, we took a detour onto highway 220 to visit Independence Rock.

Independence Rock was so named because it was a recognizable landmark that emigrants would reach this part of the trail around July 4. If they didn't make it by that time, they had an increased chance of having to endure heavy snows and harsh temperatures on the road ahead.

Kristina and I went out to the rock itself. She has been here before and has seen the names and dates chiseled into the rock. I did not avail myself of that opportunity since the names are inscribed at the top of Independence Rock and I don't do climbing or heights terribly well. Kristina took the opportunity to climb the rock and take some pictures.

She continued to try to convince me to climb up. "Come on, the names are at the top." There was no way I was going to climb to the top. "They're really cool." I'm sure they are. "The view is fantastic!" Sorry, all I would probably see is my potential doom.

I did climb a little ways up but then immediately climbed back down shortly after checking my progress by looking behind me. That rock is a bit steep. It's not the height that bothers me, really, it's my stability. I can go to the observation platform of a tall building like, say, the Sears tower and be perfectly (mostly) fine. Why? I am enclosed. If I get vertigo (which has happened to me in high, enclosed places), the only thing I am going to hit is the carpet if I do happen to falter. There is also the aspect of being able to look away, step away from the windows and stare at the floor until the feeling goes away.

As I was watching Kristina taking pictures I noticed a bunny that had taken shade under one of the rocks near her. Without yelling, I turned her attention to the critter so she might have an opportunity to photograph it. It took me a few tries but she finally spotted it.

Apparently, the little fellow was used to people (or was very into the shade) because she was able to get quite close and he didn't even flinch. Well, I couldn't let her have all the fun and, believe it or not, a bunny rabbit got me to climb about 1/3 of the way up that rock. And he was nice enough to sit still while we took pictures.

Before we left, I saw an opportunity to take one of those "fun" pictures.

In following the Oregon Trail, we next passed Devil's Gate. The Sweetwater River cuts a narrow 100-meter deep slot through a granite ridge, yet had it flowed less than a kilometer to the south, it could have bypassed the ridge completely. The gorge was cut because the landscape was originally buried by valley fill sediments. The river cut downward and when it hit granite, kept on cutting. It was a matter of pure chance that the river hit the buried ridge where it did. The site, significant in the history of western pioneers, was a major landmark on the Mormon Trail and the Oregon Trail although the actual routes of travel did not pass through the very narrow gorge. (source: Wikipedia)

A bit further up the road, we came across the Mormon Handcart Historical Center at the Sun Ranch. We took some time to listen to the story of the Martin Handcart Company and Mormon Pilgrims and Brigham Young sending out rescue parties. I didn't really understand what the story was about until after we got home. If you're in the area and have an hour or two to kill, stop in. The Mormons are not pushy (but they did wear the little black name tags). At any rate, it made for a good picture of Devil's Gate.

After our history lesson, we decided it was time to stop dawdling and get on down the road to Jackson. The Fit (Kristina's car) was go and we made pretty good time but had to make one more stop. There was an interesting geological formation that I kept trying to get moving pictures of. Suddenly, Kristina yanked the wheel to the left and hammered down on the brakes. Turns out there was a historical/POI marker for Crowheart Butte. It marked the geological formation but also commemorated a battle between the Shoshone and Bannock Indians in the general vicinity - actually, several miles to the North. The Shoshone Chief, Washakie, supposedly displayed a Crow Indian's heart on his lance at the war dance after the battle. What the battle and the butte have to do with each other besides the name, who knows.

The sun was getting low in the sky so after taking a few snapshots, we hit the road again. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be much later before the road hit us back. I'm not exactly sure where we were but as we skirted the edge of Grand Teton National Park, we ran into heavy duty road construction. Actually, it could more accurately be termed road reconstruction.

We entered the construction zone and came to a stop waiting for a pilot vehicle. For those who don't know, a pilot vehicle is used in construction areas when traffic can only flow in one direction at a time. Traffic is stopped at a specified point until the pilot vehicle and opposing traffic clear the one-way zone at which time the pilot vehicle turns around and guides the stopped traffic through the one-way zone. Lather, rinse, repeat.

If you have ever experienced this you know it is generally not a good sign. Now imagine it is dark in the middle of nowhere in an unfamiliar area and the road is gone. That's right, for twenty-seven miles they had ripped up the road bed and we drove through potholes, large-bore gravel and various other forms of natural shrapnel. We encountered a total of three pilot vehicle stops and Kristina grimaced the entire way. We eventually made it into Jackson and to the hotel where we enjoyed a decent nights sleep. We firmly decided, before we even left the destruction zone, that we would not be returning via the same route.

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