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Published: August 9th 2007
Rocky Mountain National Park
A welcome return - in sunshine!
Motorhome News from North America 43 5th May - 16th May 2007
Experienced 24ft Winnebago for Sale
As our week in Rapid City wore on, we were tempted to reconsider our strategy to sell the motorhome. Our advertising had produced just one unsatisfactory enquiry over the internet and the T-Mobile phone remained silent. Our options were to continue on to uninhabited Yellowstone National Park or return south again to Denver and a larger urban market. With considerable reluctance, we chose the latter, surrendering all hope of experiencing the magic of Yellowstone again, and placed advertisements in Denver newspapers and websites for the coming Thursday. The web turned up two enquiries from ‘Craig’s list’ in the Denver area within 24 hours and the issue was sealed; we would head south again, retracing our footsteps through Wyoming back into Colorado. The two prospects were emailed to anticipate our arrival before the weekend and we set off south via Wind Cave for the Wyoming town of Lusk, a halfway point with a highly recommended campsite.
Wind Cave proved to be yet another interesting lesson in geology. Yes, the cave was discovered as a result of wind created by the variation in air
Another geology lesson, box formations throughout 124 miles of tunnels!
pressure between the interior and exterior, significant, we discovered, at the narrow entrance. Whilst formed by water and acidity, the cave passages have remained virtually dry for many thousands of years and stalagmites and stalactites are almost non-existent, but ‘box’ formations are prominent throughout the 124 miles of narrow tunnels known to exist in an area of just one square mile below the surface! We exited fascinated, though not excited. That would be tough after Carlsbad. You’ll not find me first in the queue to go caving, I’d rather leap out of an aeroplane - with a parachute of course, but it’s difficult to pass a cave with a guide! We are available for lectures on ‘Caves and Caverns’ of the United States, when we get home if anyone’s at all interested.
Talking by phone with friends in Washington State prompted a new train of thought where motorhome sales were concerned. JoJo suggested that gas prices could be frightening people off guzzling V10 motorhomes running the highways at 10 miles per US gallon. This might go some way to explain the somewhat dismal response to our sales effort so far. Down in Texas we were paying $1.98 a gallon
And another history lesson
for unleaded fuel at the beginning of March. This week the pump price in Rapid City topped $2.99; a 50% increase. In Colorado, where everything takes on a natural air of expense, it shot up again to $3.29. That hurts in this gas dependant country - right in the pocket. Perhaps if we had a quiet word in George’s ear he could do something about it, but in the meantime, a national boycott of gas stations is planned for the 15th May by way of protest. There’s no doubt we’ll be joining them!
We’re not used to ‘hanging around’ waiting for things to happen. Both of us felt the dizzy sensation of a goldfish in a bowl, lost, gazing out of the window without real purpose. We were missing the goals and objectives of our regular routine. To put the pressure on, we booked our flights home and plan on leaving Denver for Heathrow on the 30th May whether or not the motorhome is sold.
There is something strange about on line booking of transatlantic flights. The one-way fare with British Airways is offered at $1,100 each, but a return ticket is only $979! Further internet checking gave
Always good for an overnight halt - when the devil drives!
us two returns via Chicago with United for $690 each (£345). Now, that’s what I call a deal!
Each day, after breakfast, we tidy up the motorhome. We clean, polish and scrub every nook and cranny inside and out, just in case someone should chance to call in response to the ‘For Sale’ signs in the windows. It was the same process at the lovely little town of Lusk, (Pop around 1,500) as it was every other day. We were parked on a wonderful campground in the town, a sort of ‘Camping Municipale’ as we would more likely find in France. Janice was on her hands and knees with the vacuum cleaner and His Lordship was in the bathroom cleaning the floor, the hand-basin, loo and shower. “I don’t know why we keep doing this,” Janice remarked from her prayer mat. “We’re not going to sell Winnie before we get to Denver.” She’s quite right of course; she always is - well, nearly always. At that very moment there was a knock on the door and a well-dressed lady poked her head inside. The coffee mug in her hand suggested she was out for her morning walk and, observant
as ever, I knew she was not a dog owner - there was no plastic bag in the other hand.
“I left a message on your telephone,” she told us. “I saw your motorhome was for sale.”
“Sorry,” I said, “For our sins, we chose T-Mobile as our ‘pay as you go’ option, but we’ve yet to be anywhere with a signal. Anyway, now you’re here, come in, and take a look.”
Joanne took a quick peek inside from the step and excitedly promised to come back with husband, Ben, when he came home from the ranch around midday.
Ben and Joanne arrived in the pick-up around noon and we talked motorhomes and haggled a little before getting on to more personal things, as one does in pleasant company. Ben is a few years less young than me, with white hair and a knowing smile that comes with the love of life that keeps him working with his beloved Aberdeen Angus herd. Along with others we’ve met before, they came to Wyoming to escape the noise, the traffic, the crowds and the fumes of California.
They kept us on tenterhooks all day while they thought about
the big commitment of buying a motorhome, promising to return 'an hour before sundown'. Ben wears a watch, but his life clock is firmly anchored to the needs of his cattle - a sort of mental cowbell, perhaps.
While we waited, we took off for Fort Laramie, some 50 miles to the south, to top up on local history. Trading posts were established in the early pioneer days along the frontier, for trappers and fur traders, and later, for migrants, gold seekers and missionaries heading west along the Oregon Trail during the 1840’s. Fort Laramie served as an important post for the US Army on this route in support of their efforts to negotiate and maintain land rights with the plains tribes as migrant numbers increased. Many of Fort Laramie's buildings set around a vast grass parade ground have been painstakingly restored, reflecting the period and its clear division of rank and file in military establishments. The trip added little to our knowledge of forts or the history of the time, but it did provide a diversion from our real concern of the day; the prospect of selling our home on wheels.
That evening the deal
JoAnne and Ben
Winnie's new owners enjoying the true comforts of home on the road. Happy Days!
was done. Winnie was sold. At sundown minus one hour the excited couple returned as promised and the transfer of monies, registration of title and licenses was arranged for the coming week. We would meet again in five days time for dinner at their house just along the road; with prime Angus steak on the menu and fine company assured. That’s something worth looking forward to. It seems likely Ben might just recognise a good steak while it’s still on the hoof.
With the best part of a week to wait whilst finances were juggled, we took Winnie for a last fling down towards Denver hoping to meet up with friends from our Costa Rica trip and collect a rental car from the airport for our last two weeks in the USA. It was just two weeks until our flight home and that should be enough for us to get to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons to fulfil our original mission after all. We were back on track once more, riding on the back of our guardian angel, Lady Luck.
Going south we chose a different route through that southeast corner of Wyoming to sample a town or
More of the Rockies
A long string of white mountains in the wing mirror
two from the storybooks. Laramie, a name with a thousand cowboy images from my youth, disappointed us. Those of us old enough to remember the black and white Saturday evening TV showings of the cowboy series of that name would expect a movie setting to match the memory. Somewhere along the line the town planners lost the plot along with a great opportunity to capitalise on their rich past. Perhaps it was already too late by the 1950’s. The old town has lost all traces of old west romance: over restored and over modernised, as is the territorial prison west of town where Butch Cassidy was incarcerated for eighteen months for cattle-rustling. Laramie’s only local campground was also disappointing. It was late, the next nearest camp was 50 miles away, and we decided to stay overnight on the car park of WalMart, the Big Brother of the UK’s ASDA stores. WalMart is famed in motorhome circles, allowing free overnight parking for one night only. They’re not daft; we all spend our money there in the store. WalMart camping is not something we make a habit of, preferring the comforts of electricity, wireless Internet and water supplies these days, but when
the devil drives, it’s convenient, safe and free - though unlikely to be the most scenic.
The following morning we set off early for the mountains and called Jean-Pierre and Linda in Border to arrange to meet. They live amongst the foothills to the north of Boulder, Colorado, in a peaceful setting overlooking fresh green meadows and rolling hills. They met us as the larks rose to greet the sun, at The Rocky Mountain National Park where we fled from the forecast snow little more than a week before. This time the skies set deep blue above the snowy-white mountains, proudly proclaiming Colorado as the most beautiful place in the USA. It comes close to that on such a day, hiking the trail over rocky paths towards the peaks through ponderosa pine to the aspen line above 7,000ft where snow still clings to its hold on winter, deep, crunchy underfoot, slippery where the path is well trodden by man, marmot, mountain lion, elk and moose - and fine views of white mountain peaks glistening in the morning sunlight. Boy, we’re happy here; face-to-face with Mountain Bluebirds, great herds of elk on the meadows, wandering coyote oblivious of our presence,
Broad-tailed Hummingbirds flashing by and Downy Woodpeckers gently tat-tap-tapping their Morse-code messages on quaking aspen, fresh and green where the warm breeze announces the coming of spring and the welcome promise of a brief summer.
Pangs of hunger drove us into the University town of Boulder for dinner on Friday night. Broad-leaf trees welcomed us with the green of spring and lilac flowered in homely gardens and lush grass stood tall awaiting summer sunshine. It was graduation celebration time in town; restaurants heaved with pretty girls in pretty frocks and boys in smart attire, well behaved and polite - with proud moms and pops at their elbow hoping this was the final bill after four years of dedicated support and empty pockets. Buskers performed to happy crowds on tree lined streets in the cool of a fine evening, leaving us with an impression of a proud young city, of students and young IBM professionals, sophisticated, well turned out, happy and fresh-faced. It is a city of some proportions of course, and they do have to contend with city traffic on a daily basis, something we’re not accustomed to these days. They also live with the thunder of F E
Warren Air Force Base; something we are accustomed to back home near RAF Lakenheath and Mildenhall.
Birders will be birders and we always relish the chance to hit the countryside with those more accomplished than us. There is always more to learn, particularly on new territory. We accompanied Linda on one of her many ‘scientific’ bird count quests, this one at Beaver Lake’s Tahosa Scout Camp on the fringe of the Rocky Mountains. Two new birds showed up for us on a wonderful walk that day: the Black-headed Grosbeak, and in a field nearby, a Bobolink; both thanks to Linda’s local knowledge and Janice’s sharp eye. It was a Sunday morning; the cyclists were out in huge numbers: hundreds, nose-to-tail, heads down in the cycle lane challenging the mighty hills, just for the fun of it. Those were the days!
After two nights parked at their home, we waved our goodbyes to Jean-Pierre and Linda and left to be nearer Denver International Airport for an early start back to Lusk with Winnie and the hire car the following morning; the long string of white Rocky Mountains in the rear-view mirror, and camped at Barr Lake, just outside the
Thriving at high altitude
State Park. Little did we know how good that would be for birds. There were too many Bullock’s Orioles and Western Kingbirds to shake a stick at, magnificent bright yellow and black birds the size of a European blackbird - and two more new birds for us, both spectacular and long awaited; Orchard Orioles and Western Tanagers. Our North American bird list now totals 442 species, Janice informs me. It would seem impossible to grow this list to 450 before we leave; a nice round number. Now, there’s a challenge.
Janice followed behind in the car for the return drive north, turning off the freeway only to pass through Cheyenne, the State capital of Wyoming, that other Western series of TV days gone by, a town with a touch of class showing through the ornate buildings and clean streets. The last 56 miles of the journey from Guernsey passed through wide open rolling plains, the road ahead often seen as a spindly thread winding through the hills some ten miles away. The next parallel road was twenty miles distant beyond the horizon in either direction. In all that time, we passed two cars going the opposite way. It was
rush hour in Wyoming!
About half a million people live in Wyoming, the ‘Land of the Cowboy’, the ninth largest State in the US at 98,000 square miles. There is great beauty here, raw and naked, comely landforms, a sea of grass on the gentle slopes of the eastern plains, bereft of trees, perhaps a few cottonwoods along the valleys, and no hedges; so vast no camera could possibly capture the enormity of the landscape or the gargantuan skies. It is possible - and indeed likely, to drive for 50 miles or more and see nothing but grass, no dwellings, no vehicles, just a few Angus and Hereford cattle, black and brown, and wild pronghorn antelope on the hills. This land belongs to the pronghorn and the Aberdeen Angus, and despite its peace and tranquillity, the land is master.
At its lowest point, Wyoming is 3,100ft above sea level, and at its highest, at 13,804 ft stands Gannet Peak. Opencast coal heads east by the trainload day and night, and now newfound gas and oil help to minimise taxation and fund education. It might be 100 miles to the nearest furniture store, but it’s not difficult to understand
With the Aberdeen Angus, they rule in Wyoming
why those few people who choose to live here keep this place a secret. If there is another untold secret it is probably the winter. They don’t talk about it, but those bitter winds will surely fly across the open plains unabated. Those who live in Wyoming have a passion for it.
Once back at Lusk we prepared Winnie for its new owners, spick and span as we would expect to find it, before walking the few blocks to meet Joanne and Ben for a celebratory dinner party. Let me tell you right now; the ‘New York’ cut Angus steaks lived up to their promise, as succulent and tender as you would ever find, raised on ‘the best grass in the world’ as Ben would have us believe - and we’re sure he’s right; it’s as green and fresh as a sprig of dew-plucked asparagus. Ben’s speciality is bovine genetics and bull semen, and dinner was preceded with an introduction to the visual evaluation of ‘marbling’ in steaks at the hand of an expert, whilst the barbeque overheated.
Ben told us that each cows gets around fourteen acres of lush green pasture hereabouts, fattening at a rate that finds them ready for slaughter within 14 months, believe it or not. That’s a short life to be given up to the human appetite for survival. Short enough to turn one vegetarian, left long enough to think about it. Me? I'm not into serious thinking these days - I’ll stick to the steaks.
We left Lusk in our hire car the following morning having completed the formalities at the Bank and City Hall, happy to know that our motorhome would be left in the hands of such charming people. We are indeed privileged to have met them. It was a sad moment, we were silent as we left Lusk heading west; no looking back, no regrets, but fond memories abound. The next few days will see us heading to the far corner of Wyoming, back into the Rocky Mountains once again, to the most geologically diverse and beautiful experience of our journey, saved until last - spectacular Yellowstone National Park. We still have fond memories of our last visit in 1993.
See you there next week!
David and Janice. The grey-haired-nomads.
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