We woke on day 7 to yet another cold rainy morning in Grant Village. It had been in the low twenties overnight, so donning the clothes that sat haphazardly in the corner of the roof top tent over night was exciting, but not on quite the same level as say; a winning lotto ticket. I quickly went to work on getting the stove and percolator ready... Not because it was cold, but because above all else, coffee comes first. While Nicole prepared breakfast, I began folding up the RTT. It was sopping wet, and can be a challenge even in dry conditions to get under the cover with a double wide 0 degree bag inside. My fingers were frozen, and when the zipper got stuck while I precariously balanced on top of a wet tire and rock slider, my sense of humor faded into a steady stream of audible profanity.
We ate breakfast in total silence to allow the steam rolling from my ears to cool in the gentle rain. It worked. Being properly fed and caffeinated, we were ready to hit the road again; this time to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park. We had seen most of the southern loop in the driving wind and rain over the 2 days prior. While we dodged umbrellas and selfie-sticks to each tourist site with precipitation dripping from our faces and onto our North Face rain gear, I would quickly whip the camera out to fire a few shots before returning it to it's happy home in my pack. We were really hoping for a nicer day today, but as the fates would have it, mother nature had a trilogy in mind and was taking her time to write it.
About an hour and a Buff-Jam (Bison traffic jam) later, we found ourselves at Artist Point with a brief pause in the rain and some stunning scenery. With 60 different angles of the same 5 photographs, we headed back to the rig and within a few minutes had the wipers on high again. I pulled into a fueling station for a restroom break and some gummie bears, while we decided what our next move should be.
Already this season we had endured monsoons with 50 mph winds in the desert on the White Rim Road, conquered some pretty serious trails in the San Juans, and woken many times to frost and snow in the Rockies near our home on many weekend adventures. We are no strangers to adversity, and generally will not bail out under any circumstances. I hopped back in the truck and wiped my glasses off for the eight-millionth time, and turned to my wife... "I think I'm over it".
Leaving two days early took some discussion, and we both agreed we did not want to return home yet. What to do? We made our way to a cafe in Fishing Bridge for a hamburger that tasted like a 1980's flashback to Furr's Cafeteria (if you're over 30, you probably know what that means) and discussed our options. The 10 day forecast looked far too familiar, and I didn't want to return south through Grand Teton and Jackson because of the mind-numbingly boring drive that lay beyond them. I proposed leaving through the east entrance, and when I brought up maybe getting a room for the night, I could tell from her lightened expression that I had just sealed the deal.
Making our way up the beautiful mountain pass toward the east entrance, the weather intensified to a mix of rain and snow, reducing visibility and solidifying our decision. Two hours later we pulled in for fuel in the cool little town of Cody, shed two jackets apiece and soaked up the sun's rays for the first time in 72 hours. With two more days of vacation left, we had no intention of continuing east to I-25 just yet... Between smart phones and thumbing through GPS apps on the truck mounted tablet, we decided to head south toward Thermopolis.
Approximately sixty miles and thirty minutes of comfortable silence went by as the rolling hills and ranch land began to inspire me. I asked Nicole if she would grab the camera, "Sure, what for?" and I explained that a story had been formulating in my head. "Better grab the notebook when we get there."
After a bit of negotiation with the friendly man behind the counter at the Elk Antler Hotel, we acquired the last room available; a large family suite with 3 beds, two rooms and a 25% discount if we agreed not to use more than one of the beds. Sold. Pulling some sandwich stuff out of the 4runner's ARB fridge, we settled into the room and began looking for scenic routes through more of Central Wyoming.
A friend from a nearby area had given me some good suggestions on where to go to camp, but the next morning when the proprietor of the local diner asked where we were headed, he handed us a small map and said, "Nah, you want to go this way". I believe it was in between Shoshoni and Riverton that we started wondering what this man's idea of a scenic route was, but as the miles ticked by, soon the rolling hills and ancient rock formations emerged once again.
Wyoming is Huge. Altocumulus clouds stretched out in the endless blue sky as hundreds of miles of climbing and descending two lane highway disappeared beneath our tires and into the rear view mirror. Many miles often went by without seeing another vehicle as we surveyed the pure undeveloped landscape. I imagine the fur traders that forged the Oregon Trail more than 200 years ago saw this exact same scene, other than some asphalt and a few widely separated ranches. It is evident that man's time spent on earth is just a drop in the bucket when you have a look around here, and it gives you a true feeling of insignificance.
Each small town we passed through seemed to have a laid back atmosphere with friendly people and a hard working, rough country vibe. When you live in a city of over a half million people, small town life makes a pretty immediate impression one way or the other. I liked it. A lot.
We had been to Wyoming several other times; Mostly staying in the windy high plains along I-80 for our son's soccer tournaments. I had also taken several trains to Cheyenne in the course of conductor training, and sitting in a hotel room for 30 hours waiting to get a train home doesn't create the best memories. Our perspective has certainly changed for the better having now driven so much of it's interior. I can't say for certain when we'll be back up there, but I can say with little doubt, that it will be a stronger consideration than it once was.
As the sun began to get lower in the sky, I realized it had taken most of the day to travel less than half of the seemingly gigantic Cowboy State. We decided to push on to Granby, CO to camp for our last night as it was an area I knew, and had seen many times from the cab of a Union Pacific locomotive. It would put us about 5 hours from home the next day. Crossing the State line into Colorado, we left Wyoming with a new appreciation not only for the State itself, but of our own ability as over-landers to adapt to changes in plans, and to always seek new adventures in places we haven't been.
I doubt I will ever leave Colorado's mountains. It is my home, and of all the places I've been, is still very hard to beat... The starry sky above us at Lake Granby was no exception. That being said, I think there's a bit of a secret in Wyoming being held by those who know and love it. In fact, I think a fleet of hard working, gun-toting, Ranch-Hand Bumper clad pickup truck driving folks just pulled up out front... They don't look happy. I should probably get going.
Scott J Hunt