day two: Utah, Wyoming, Colorado

07Jun11
Distance traveled: 554 miles (891 kilometers)

Route: North from Provo on I-15, then east on I-80 to Cheyenne.  At Cheyenne, south on I-25 until just north of Denver, and then west on 228 until it hits 6, northbound to Boulder.

The landscape through Wyoming is absolutely beautiful, rugged and forbidding on the one hand, while otherworldly and delicate on the other.  The dry scrub of the high plains gives way to sandstone mountains that look almost like giant salmon-colored layer cakes that have been eroded by time.  This is exactly the landscape for dinosaur bones, not only on account of the geologic makeup of the place, but also because an inherent aesthetic appropriateness, a fit between femur and thighbone and the light greys and reds that permeate the soil here.  If I had had time, I would have loved to leave Interstate 80 and go north to investigate the Como Bluff Dinosaur Fossil Site, Fossil Butte National Monument, or the JC Penny House that lies just outside of Kemmerer.

Wyoming is big sky country and I drove for hour after hour across the state under skies that looked like they had been taken directly from the opening sequence of The Simpsons.  The open stretches of desert plain here lend themselves to wind farms, and there are quite a few stretches where the view is dominated by spinning blades of white turbines.  Somewhere between The Hogback and the Haystack Mountains you cross the Continental Divide, the place where all the waters start to flow into the Mississippi.

The town of Green River is surrounded by gorgeous sandstone buttes and I pulled in to take a few photographs and get some gas.  While I was at the gas station, I decided to check the air pressure in my tires.  It’s a good thing I did, because I found a small finishing nail stuck into the front tire.  I was hopeful that perhaps it was just a small piece of metal that had lodged into the exterior rubber of the tire, but that hope quickly left the window when I started pulling on it with pliers and heard the sound of hissing air.  Luckily, there was a tire shop in town and it took about 30 minutes and $17.00 to have the nail pulled and the tire repaired.

Back on the road, I sped across Wyoming with the convoys of delivery trucks, trying to make up for lost time.  Somewhere near the Medicine Bow National Forest snow started cropping up, and by the time I hit Laramie it was starting to look like late winter, rather than late spring.  Apparently a snowstorm had just come through, part of the series of storm fronts that have resulted in persistent flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.  Although I try not to let any single event define a place, as I drove through Laramie I couldn’t help thinking of Matthew Shepard, tied to a fence and dying alone in the snow.

The highway climbs steeply out of Laramie as it heads back into Medicine Bow National Forest, reaching a summit of 8,640 feet, somewhere near the Ames Monument and the Vedauwoo Rocks.  After reaching the summit, the long descent into Cheyenne was marked by some of the thickest fog I’ve ever driven through on a highway, brake lights appearing through the fog like ghosts.  The fog eventually broke up just around Cheyenne, where I turned south along I-25.  It was already dark , but I managed to make it to my grandmother’s house in Boulder at a reasonable hour.

The next day, before I hit the road for Kansas City, my grandmother and I spent some time going through a stack of old family photos that she’d found.   A large stash of the photos were photos from my childhood that I had never seen before, including the photo above, taken of my mother, my father, and myself — probably in Bolinas at the house that my grandmother used to own there.


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