Monday, August 29, 2011

Catching Up On Wyoming

From Kevin:
Whew! - Where to start on catching up? We have been in Wyoming since the second week in July. Robin says that she could tell when we were approaching the state because she saw a big grin begin on my face. She says it grew bigger the closer we got.  Wyoming is where I grew up.  I left right after high school and joined the Marines.  I did return for a while after that but Robin and I moved to Austin, TX in 1993.  We have visited a few times but it has been a LONG time since we were able to spend any amount of time.


Our first stop was Devil's Tower. Neither of us had seen it before. It was remarkable. I can see how the Native Americans (Indians) considered it a sacred place. We were awed.

We wanted to hike around the perimeter but it was so hot we opted to just tour the Visitors' Center and be on our way. Here are a few pics from the Visitors' Center and on the road.




From there we headed directly west with Cody as our destination. We overnighted in Sheridan which lies at the Eastern base of the Big Horn mountains. We got to visit with a friend who I had worked with at UPS about a hundred years ago.

Carl and his bride of a few decades, Joyce, are doing great. It is amazing how some folks don't change. (Carl, your hair has always been that color, right?!).

We hit Sheridan on the day the "Tour de Wyoming" bicycle tour passed through. We talked to a couple riders. It is an organized 300 mile loop of central Wyoming. It starts out on the plains and then crosses over the Big Horn mountains TWICE. We drove over those mountains and are amazed to think of riding them twice. The tour offers a neat riding jersey that says "It's just a mountain - Get over it!" Very clever.

When we reached the top of the Big Horns we stopped at the Burgess Junction Visitor Center.  This is a National Park facility. It lies at 7950 feet altitude.

While we were there, along came two guys on bicycles loaded with touring equipment. We met Andrew and Nate, brothers spending the summer traveling across the country on their bicycles. They were fun to visit with. We found their tour blog and have followed them to the end of their ride at the Atlantic coast. Wow!

From the visitor center to Cody was a pleasant jaunt. We were excited to reach my sister's place.

Demity and John retired a few years ago. Cody won hands down as their retirement destination. It is 50 miles from the East entrance to Yellowstone. Within a 50 mile radius of Cody you find almost every type of non-tropical ecosystem you can imagine PLUS Yellowstone.

We are fortunate to have our relationship with Demity and John. They are a perfect blend of outdoors and cosmopolitan lifestyles. John spent his entire career with the Wyoming Game and Fish. He even wrote a book on fishing Wyoming waters. If you want to know anything about fishing, especially fly fishing in Wyoming, John is your man. He led us on some great hikes. Demity loves the outdoors but her real talent is decorating their wonderful home and yard. She also finds time to work at the Buffalo Bill Historical Museum. Their knowledge of the Cody area is incredible. We did a bunch of great drives with both Dem and John and a couple with Dem alone while John ministered to his no-fishing withdrawals. They are a lot of fun to play with.

We have been doing a lot of sightseeing and hiking in the area. The vistas we have seen are so spectacular that I opted to NOT take pictures as they just would not do it justice. In retrospect, when we return I am going to go take pics as they will convey at least of a bit of this amazing area. Stay tuned.

We have been into Yellowstone three times. Each time we saw something different. We've seen three moose, numerous bison (buffalo), many elk and deer and an eagle. Lots of squirrels and small critters. So far the highlight has been our first grizzly! It was about 200 yards away foraging and messing around under a large tree. My camera could not capture it at that distance. Rats.

It was a blondish color. I can see how people get in trouble with them. It looked just like a huge stuffed toy. It's hair looked so soft and beautiful I could imagine hugging it. Not a smart thing to do.

Yellowstone has gotten a phenomenal amount of rain this year.  The meadows and fields are bright green and the wildflowers are incredible.  We are fortunate to have been able to see it in this condition as it may never happen again, or it may be the new climate situation, regardless, we have been thrilled:


We also got to spend some time with our good friends Karen and Charley. We were RV neighbors in Texas. They spent the last two summers working in Yellowstone. They gave us a great tour of the park plus the Grand Tetons. Incredible. Also, they encouraged us to apply for summer positions in the park for next year. They even went so far as to introduce us to the manager of the store we would be working in. He did not turn and run so we took that as a good sign. Wow, think about it. Next summer we could be getting paid to live and work in Yellowstone. Doesn’t get much better than that! Wish us luck.

We have done a number of hikes in bear country. We carry bear spray and hang “bear bells” from our packs. The idea is that most bad bear encounters are the result of surprising the bear who then attacks in self defense. Hikers are advised to make noise to let the bears know they are approaching. The bears will leave if they are sufficiently warned. It sounds like Christmas as we walk along.

One interesting thing we have learned is how to identify scat. Deer and elk is readily obvious. They look like large Milk Duds. Bears are a bit harder. The best way to identify Grizzly scat is to look closely and smell it. If you see bells and smell bear spray, you can be pretty sure it is Grizzly!

One fun hike we did a few times is up Cedar Mountain which lies on the outskirts of Cody. It is quite challenging as it gains about 2500 feet in altitude in approximately 4.5 miles. The altitude gains are pretty hard on us sea-levelers but we are concentrating on deep breathing and drinking LOTS of water. We did it halfway a couple times and then did the whole thing once.  Here is a pic of Robin at the halfway point:


We spent three weeks in the Cody area before heading down to Durango, CO for a big surprise. Are you ready for this????

We decided to downsize even further from our 37 foot long motorhome to a pick-up camper. We are now living in about 85 square feet of space. AND LOVING IT!!!

We traded the Prius for a 2011 Dodge Ram one-ton pickup. We found a 2005 Outfitter Apex 9.5 pop-up camper in Durango, CO on Craigslist. It is a huge compromise in space but the versatility these afford us for access to virtually anywhere is worth it. We’ve been in it for almost two weeks and find ourselves not wanting for anything other than our clothes washer and dryer. Using laundromats has always been something we do not enjoy but I gotta tell you, when I was single I sure met some interesting ladies there!! Robin reports seeing some weird guys hanging around them when she was single. Am I getting a message?

“What about all your crap?” you ask. Well, we bought a gently used Haulmark 5x8 foot cargo trailer. It perfectly houses a number of storage bins as well as our bicycles and other miscellaneous items.

The motorhome will remain in storage in Elkhart, IN. We do not want to goof up and sell it just to find out we want to return to the larger rig. We feel secure knowing we have that option.

On the way back north we stopped in Boulder, CO to visit Robin’s brother and sister-in-law, Doug and Pat. I could fill pages with how interesting and great these two are. They both retired from glowing careers as wildland forest fire firefighters and fire management experts. They are still in demand as consultants. The stories they tell of flying over forest fires in helicopters and planes are spine tingling. Their firefighting careers were a perfect marriage between their environmental knowledge and vast experiences in the outdoors as campers, hikers and wilderness-knowledge gatherers. When I say “knowledge gatherers” I mean “KNOWLEDGE GATHERERS.” To hike with them is to be immersed in an encyclopedic amount of facts and information on all aspects of flora, fauna and geology. I could go on and on.

After leaving Doug and Pat, we headed to Cheyenne. As usual, with any used vehicle, there are some items with the camper we want to have addressed. We are currently in Cheyenne camped out at my parent’s house. The issues will be addressed this week. The camper needs some work on the roof-raising system. We will go to the Outfitter factory in Longmont, CO Wednesday morning for that.

We are having the trailer hitch extension modified by a local trailer expert here in Cheyenne. Because the camper extends beyond the end of the pickup bed, we must use a hitch extension. There is a lot of play between the original hitch attachment point on the truck and the extender and the trailer ball unit. This looseness results in significant bucking between the trailer and the truck. It made for an uncomfortable ride. Also, I am concerned that something could break. I’ve actually had a trailer come loose while going down the highway. Not fun and the damage to the tow vehicle was a lot because the tongue of the trailer came forward and hit the tow vehicle. Thank God for safety chains! Anyway, I never want to experience that again.

Attending these issues has afforded us time to spend with my brother, Max, and his fun wife, Yvette. A interesting side note is that Max and Yvette met in El Paso, TX when Max was in the Army. Yvette still has family in Texas with one sibling in San Marcos, which is about 20 miles south of Austin! Small world.

Max and Yvette are way more town oriented than the other family members I’ve described. Max manages an insurance agency and Yvette is the assistant manager for a local credit union branch. I don’t think there is a civic board in town that Max does not sit on. I don’t know how he does it. We also had a lot of fun listening to him co-host a call-in car show on a local radio station. The fun part was that the normal host was out of town. Max does a great job of starting his car but that is about the extent of his mechanical knowledge. The show was a hoot!

Yvette keeps the grass at the local softball fields well worn. She is quite the ball player. Her team won the championship a while back. I guess there are serious competition seasons and some lesser more fun oriented seasons. Right now she is playing with the “get out there and laugh” crowd rather than her normal “get out there and win” crowd. She loves both.

Friday evening Max and Yvette introduced us to Cheyenne’s “Fridays on the Plaza” event. What a lot of fun. It is a weekly get together of the local folks. I was surprised to see all ages from tykes to geezers to the most-senior-set all in one gathering. Everyone was having a grand time with live music and LOTS of visiting. We saw a number of people we had not seen in 20+ years. We will certainly partake again when we are in town. It has been so successful that other cities have begun sending delegations to learn how the town entices such a mixed and pleasant crowd. Way to go Cheyenne!!!

After everything is finished on Wednesday (keep your fingers crossed) we will head back to Cody for the remainder of September - then east to North Carolina for the winter.

One thing we are looking forward to is our 28th anniversary near the end of September. We honeymooned at Yellowstone in 1983. One of our most memorable things was a spectacular dinner at the Yellowstone Lake Hotel. We hope their menu has something equally scrumptious these 28 years later. I’ll let you know.

That’s about it in a nutshell for the past month. Since we are heading back to Cody and will be repeating some of our earlier activities, I will concentrate on more pics.

Stay tuned as we continue Chasin’ Our Dreams!!