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Published: October 3rd 2019
From Cody we drove to Thermopolis, where we soaked in the public hot tub pool. On to Lander, where we stayed again at the campground overlooking the town. But fierce winds our first night made the experience less than pleasant. We drove out to Sinks Canyon and took a mile plus nature walk. John worked in Casper 1969-1971, and wanted to revisit it. We drove all over the town, but the sun in the west was directly in our eyes and it was unsettling. Back to our RV we hurried, in a Walmart parking lot for the night.
I have enjoyed western mysteries by Craig Johnson, and the model for the town in his books is Buffalo, WY, so we next went there for a couple of nights. John was feeling very sad that we would be leaving the mountains, so I succumbed to his wish to drive a long loop through the Big Horn mountains. And I still didn't see elk! But we did run into rain, a bit of snow, and rainbows on the last leg of our drive. Our next stop in Wyoming was Devils Tower. We had a very pleasant walk around the base of that extraordinary rock formation.
And then we went to the Black Hills and stayed at a campground in Deadwood. We found a fascinating tourist center in Lead, all about physicists from all over the world doing experiments in a special building very far below ground near there. We stayed in Rapid City for one night, and the next morning visited Bear Country USA, which Deborah had highly recommended. I saw elk, at last. And many other animals.
And then the Badlands, which were actually very scenic. And since then, we have been heading eastward at a rapid rate - for us...
A highlight in Cody was a meal at a Mexican restaurant originated by a guy from New Mexico. My leftovers provided a second full meal. We might have considered an extra night in Thermopolis, but the no-see-ums were horrible. Out west, we find far fewer insects than in our backyard at home, and we had gotten rather spoiled. We have liked Lander especially; it is a major educational center for outdoor education adventures, so there are lots of energetic young folks in town. Downtown Casper felt "old-fashioned." We drove by John's old office building, now the Dick Cheney Federal Building.
Buffalo has a Craig Johnson festival every year now, and it keeps getting bigger. But the town is not overrun with souvenir shops; the souvenirs I saw were expensive. They give about as much attention to Crazy Woman. We had a beer and a burger at the Occidental Hotel Saloon, which has quite a history. I was happily surprised to find that driving over the Big Horn Mountains is not nearly as teeth-grinding an experience as many of our other mountain drives.
The approach to Devils Tower amazed me. We had left the mountains behind us, and so much of Wyoming had been barren and unpopulated, but here in this corner of Wyoming were lovely rolling hills with fields in varying shades of green. Our walk around the tower base was made especially pleasant by the fact that there were lots of old fogies on the trail who looked as energetic and interested as we hope to stay. Devils Tower is sacred to Indians, and their ribbon festoons in trees gave respectful pause.
Deadwood surprised me with its high number of casinos, hotels, etc. It must be quite a draw for people who have interests different from ours. Nearby Lead, though, had a huge open mining (for gold and silver) pit that you couldn't see the bottom of. And the museum really impressed me, though neutrinos and such are beyond my understanding.
Bear Country USA was a wonderful experience. Mostly (more later on that). You just drive slowly through the herds of native animals, observing their behavior quite up close. However, I do wonder if it's a good idea to drive a red car. I was so excited to see elks at last, one male with several females and youngsters. But after awhile the male came over to our car and put his head down as if he intended to put big scratches on the side of the car. We moved along then. Later we came to a huge area of bears, the largest private collection of bears in the country. They were fascinating to watch. A brown bear wandered over toward our car. Suddenly he took hold of John's door handle with his teeth and got the door an inch or so open before John pulled it shut and pushed the button that locks all the doors. Mr. Bear tried two more doors, to no avail. We certainly followed the rules to keep our windows up, but we had not thought to lock the doors. It turned out okay, but was memorable. If you saw our car now, spattered with mud and pollen and the paint nicked by pebbles (and pine cones back home) it would be hard to detect the results of our animal encounters. I had been complaining about how few wild animals we had seen, other than antelopes. No more complaints.
The Badlands was the last place on our itinerary of "musts." I don't remember if I was there decades ago, but it really is a neat area. Pale grayish stones form hills that have been sculpted by glaciers and wind. I like being on the ground looking up at scenic formations, and there were times as we drove through when the hills almost encircled us.
As usual, we travel about half as fast as the GPS suggests, so five days of driving, with only coffee stops, have only brought us a bit past Chicago. We have been delighted, however, with much of the scenery through Iowa and Illinois. John says the lush greens remind him of Ireland. The rolling hills and neat farmsteads just go on and on.
We are at this campground for three nights, and plan to take the commuter train into Chicago tomorrow, and wander around that city. This morning we drove through part of the nearby Indiana Dunes National Park. We are used to dunes at our seacoast, but it is neat to see them by Lake Michigan. It was an achievement for the area to be saved from the heavy industrialization that lurks just outside the park borders.
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