Rodeos, Rivers, and Bears—Oh, my!
Recently retired and ready to spread their wings, Len and Faith Todd wanted to do more with their time than just wait for the grandkids to stack up. Avid travelers, they purchased a toy hauler with the expressed purpose of doing some snowmobiling in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. But another motivation waited, unexpressed, in one of their hearts: to Tour Alaska, The trip of a lifetime. They waited three years and then, in late June of 2009, the trip of a lifetime began. During the trip, Faith and Len blogged their adventure and kept a growing audience of friends and family rapt with attention and not a little bit jealous. Chapter 4 covers July 8–13, days 9–14 of their adventure.
Home on the Range may be the Kansas state song, but if you—like Brewster Higley—want a home where buffalo, deer and antelope roam you’ll want a home in Wyoming. The only word I can use to describe this place is “expansive.” There is so much to see, so much to do—just so much! Now, you may be reading this thinking: “Aren’t they going to Alaska? Wyoming is not exactly on the way to Alaska.” Yes, if you are traveling from Michigan to Alaska, Wyoming is a bit out of the way. But there are many great reasons we took the road less traveled.
First, the “Adventure of a Lifetime” should not be a straight shot. Remember the maps in Indiana Jones movies? They NEVER went in a straight line.
Second, we had heard about the amazing fly-fishing in Wyoming, and Len could not pass that up. We absolutely heard right, but more on that later.
Third, we have some dear friends in Pinedale, Benny and Bethie Rogers. After all the excitement in South Dakota, we were ready to land somewhere for a while, and the Rogers were more than happy to show us around their neighborhood.
I mentioned earlier how much there is to see in Wyoming, but there was one omnipresent feature: the Rockies. They are magnificent, stretching across the horizon until they seem to encompass you.
Our first stop in Wyoming was not, however, to visit mountains, deer or buffalo. We went to see the Devil. Old Scratch was not at home, but his Tower is impressive. Devils Tower was the first official National Monument named by President Theodore Roosevelt back in 1906. I don’t know if Teddy ever made a deal with the devil, but I’m glad he had the monument protected. I can’t imagine how commercialized it could have become.
Not just an opportunity for clever puns, Devils Tower also offers great climbing and hiking. We chose the latter, but saw no fewer than three excited climbing parties. The hike was nice and peaceful, a brisk 1.3 mile trail around the base of the tower.
After our hike we made the harrowing drive to Buffalo, Wyoming to camp. (Read more about it from Len’s perspective by clicking here.) We were climbing into some serious elevation and fighting 40mph headwinds. We white knuckled it all the way. Traveling up several of the hills we could only get the truck up to 25mph—and we weren’t even in the Rockies yet! I have to admit, I was a bit of a nervous wreck. Not sure Len was having much fun either. But, we managed. Well, HE managed. Len did the driving while I may have offered a bit of advice from time to time, but I’m not certain how much it helped.
Despite the nerve-racking drive, we made it to camp in Buffalo safe and sound. Twin Creek Campgrounds (click here to read “Roaming in Wyoming,” our list of recommendations) had a Laundromat and, you guessed it, WiFi! The next morning, I took my sweet time with the laundry because I was anything but excited about getting back on the road. We left Buffalo with a palpable sense of dread. Our next stop was Pinedale, Wyoming; directly across the Rocky Mountains. The 386-mile trip took us nearly ten hours but, by the grace of God—and Len’s skills behind the wheel—we made it! Thursday night, Bennie and Bethie Rogers welcomed weary travelers with open arms.
Friday morning we headed out to our first Wyoming base camp, Fremont Lake in the Bridger National Forest. After setting up camp, we took a trip out to the Pinedale Rodeo Grounds for the annual Rendezvous Rodeo and Green River Pageant. This elaborate presentation took us all the way back to 1830’s-era Wyoming. Think outdoor play, where everyone, including the guests, is involved. We saw teepees, covered wagons, mountain men and Native Americans—all of it splashed across the timeless backdrop of the Rockies. If you plan to be in this part of Wyoming the second full weekend of July, you should definitely check this out. It really brings the culture of frontier Wyoming to life.
First thing Saturday morning we made the two hour drive over to Lander, Wyoming to pick up an unscheduled souvenir: a 2009 Chevy Silverado Duramax Diesel. Yes, guys, the 4×4 with the Allison transmission. No more nail biting rides. The Rocky Mountains had nothing on us now! One more thing about the truck, we chose the Wyoming edition. As far as I can tell, the only distinction that makes it the Wyoming edition is the bronc-riding cowboy stitched into the headrests.
Sunday night Bethie and Bennie took the intrepid Len and me out into the Green River Valley. The landscape defies description, but the best part of the trip is that we found another campground! Whiskey Grove is in the Bridger National Forest right alongside the mighty Green River. Simply put, we could not resist the beauty of this place, so Monday morning we packed up the trailer and put the new truck to its first test. We set up camp right on the river.
A word about these impulses; Any time you decide to just up and relocate, always
prepare yourself for everything the new campsite offers. Not just the amenities either. Yes, the sound of the rushing river was invigorating, but it also came with, um, bears. Big ones. They go out of their way to let you know this on your way into the park. In fact, there may very well be more BEWARE: BEAR COUNTRY signs than there are actual bears… but the point here is that, when you are camping around bears, there are some things you need to have on hand. Nerve and indoor toilets are at the top of the list. Other items you should bring include airtight storage containers for leftover food, toiletries and trash. Bears are notoriously shy, but can overcome that initial fear with ease when confronted with the potential of an easy meal or an intriguing smell. Some guides also recommend leaving the dog at home or, at least, leashed and close at hand.
Monday evening we had a beautiful time with the Rogers and their son, Will, around the campfire on the banks of the Green River. We shared a huge cutthroat trout Will caught earlier in the day. I had never seen so many stars in the sky. Good food, great company. What an amazing evening!
We drifted off to sleep that night in one of the most pristine places on earth anticipating an even greater adventure tomorrow.