What a long day it was—sixteen hours of driving!
I woke to a refreshingly cool morning in the Badlands, and hit the road at about 7am for Devil’s Tower, Wyoming. It was only about a two hour drive, and the weather was lovely. I took many pictures during the approach, but then the line proved to be so long to get into the Park (even though I have my National Parks Pass from visiting the Badlands) that I decided I didn’t need to go hiking at that point. Get a head-start and save the hiking for Yellowstone!
I have been wanting to visit Wyoming for ten years—ever since I read Gretel Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces for Doc Cass’s English class. It is a much more diverse state than I had ever expected! It had hills and farms and pastureland near South Dakota, and then the incredible landscape around Devil’s Tower. The climate became hotter and drier as I headed southwest into the state.
But then my route ended up taking me through Bighorn National Forest. What an unexpected pleasure! I paused on a mountainside called “Hospital Hill,” because they had taken wounded soldiers there to get some fresh air during long recovery periods. The Forest rises like an island in the middle of the state—and it rises quite literally, having a much higher elevation than the surrounding terrain. I discovered that vehicles have no “pick up and go” at altitude; thank you to the friend who warned me of this phenomenon, or I would have thought something was wrong with my 20-year-old, 260,000-miles-on-it car!
Now, I was expecting to hit the desert in Arizona. Everyone has warned me, and I have been mentally bracing myself to be miserable. What I was not expecting was that Wyoming has its own desert. And I spent the hours of noon through five o’clock driving across it.
I saw a dust devil whirling across the arid land to my left as I zoomed down the highway. Just ahead, a tumbleweed rolled in front of my car. No kidding. It was a Wild West desert. There were no trees. The only things bigger than the scrubby little shrubs were the hills they grew upon.
I would have taken pictures, but I didn’t want to stop my car even long enough for that. One sign I passed read: 100F. My overheated mind played with the spacing of the numbers: 10 of, or perhaps 1 oof. I liked that last one. How hot was it? “One oof!”
I rolled into Yellowstone around 7pm. I stopped for several pictures, both because it was beautiful and because I needed a stretch after surviving the desert. I paused by the giant lake and hauled a bucket of water. I took it up the beach and across the road, and then washed my hair with biodegradable, nature-friendly, citronella-scented soap. Suddenly life seemed much more pleasant.
The campgrounds in Yellowstone were all full, so while I paused for picture breaks, I continued on to Grand Teton National Park. Unfortunately, those campgrounds were all full, too. But I got to enjoy the sunset over Lewis Lake, including the appearance of Venus. I saw the full moon rise over the mountains, and the sky turned a dusky purple.
I continued driving.
I ended up following Antares (the red giant star in the constellation Scorpio) south out of the Park. I was alone on the dark mountain road, and the full moon was on my left. As a result, every time I glanced toward the Tetons on my right, they were bathed in moonlight with a backdrop of stars.
I pulled into Jackson, Wyoming and went about looking for a place to stay. All the hotels—and motels, for that matter—looked like resorts. I stopped at a smaller one whose “Vacancy” sign was still lit (many were not). The lady at the desk said all she had left was a triple room that would cost me $160.
I kept driving.
At this point, I was thinking I would have to make it all the way to Salt Lake City that night. The little towns I passed were all shut down for the night—it was after 11pm local time. I braced myself to stay awake, filled up on gas, and kept pushing south into the darkness.
It was with surprise that I pulled into Thayne just after midnight and saw a sign that gave me hope: Swiss Mountain Motel—Best price in town! Office open.
I pulled in, and the office was dark, but a sign told me to buzz for service, and the open sign was still lit. So I buzzed. I heard voices inside, and in a moment it was confirmed that I had pulled the landlady out of bed. But she was all kindness and generosity, and I got my room key for a much more reasonable price.
The room was decorated with frills and cabbage roses, and the matress was foam, and there was a ticking clock on the wall that I couldn’t silence. But oh, did it feel good to get some sleep!
I had a dream that I was riding a horse through the mountains. I was so happy that I did one of those full-body stretches with my arms over my head. Only, see, I didn’t just do it in the dream, I did it in real life too. I woke suddenly to a painful popping in my rib, which until this point had been feeling much improved. Now it hurts all over again.
Some gentle stretches and a shower helped. Now I’m off to Zion National Park on the southern edge of Utah!