Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Day Twelve: Wymoing

 First thing in the morning, we take a trip down to the lake. This is where an eagle was sighted the day before, and we are hoping to see him again. We do - a great golden shape silhouetted against the sky. As we watch him, he watches the huge flock of Canada geese that are busily eating up the golf course. A raven swoops down, swearing at him. It comes closer. Still the eagle shows no reaction. It hops about him, staying just out of reach. The eagle still does not react. The raven persists, flapping into the air and swooping at the eagle, talons outstretched. The eagle lunges with its massive beak and the raven flaps away, cursing. After a few minutes, the eagle decides to move. It launches into the air and moves in slow, leisurely flaps to roost by the golf course.

Walking along the lake path, swallows flash around us - barn, green-blue and tree swallows. Robins hop through the long grass, fossicking for worms in the dirt. A spotted plover fossicks on the narrow strip of beach and a hunched turkey vulture awaits its opportunity. Alas, we can proceed no further as the trail is blocked for elk carvings. We then go further down the river to hunt for dippers, but aside from fisherman casting their lines into the crystalline blue waters, there is little to be seen.

Peter the pika meets Tiriki the kea

Leaving Estes behind us, we being our longest drive - it is seven hours to Dubois and the route we have selected is not noted for being particularly scenic. When we first planned this trip, Tim asked on Metafilter and the other route (via Casper) was favoured - but it also adds another 30 minutes or more to our trip, so the I-80 through Laramie and Lander it is. Apparently, we will be impressed by its grassiness.

At the start there are rolling hills, a mixture of pink and green hues. The road is more-or-less straight, visibility for miles. After a time the hillocks disappear and we are in vast, flat plains. There are a couple of cities and a few towns scattered along its length and they are all small and look pretty old.

We stop in Laramie for lunch, dining at a place called the Coal Creek Mining Company, as recommended by Lonely Planet. It reminds me rather of the Lyttelton Coffee co-op (now defunct) and I fill myself up with panini and chai before we go on a quest for an ATM. We find two. One is broken and the other isn't turned on at all. No money for us yet, hopefully we'll find something later, maybe in Lander.

Laramie's Historic District
We leave the I-80 at Rawlins. A deer watches us from a cemetary. Heading north, the landscape becomes even more isolated. The highway is now only two lanes - one northbound, the other southbound. Prairie/grassland stretches as far as the eye can see. the sheer size of this land overwhelms me. Hawks circle the road, I count eight in one place, scanning the prairie for tasty treats - like prairie dogs or rabbits at a guess. The tiny "Jeffrey's City" is the most inappropriately named place we've past. A motley collection of small, decreipt buildings and a lone petrol pump. It looks like it has been abandoned and forgotten. Also, the sort of place you might find rednecks. We have no need to stop, and thus drive on by. We stop in Lander to stock up on necessities, unsure of what might be available in the tiny township of Dubois - petrol, breakfast food (bananas) and chilled beverages. Finally, I locate a cash machine that actually works, although I can only withdraw $200.

We puzzle over the wooden structures by the side of the road, that look like great wicker fences but are open at both ends. They are snow fences, apparently. Likewise the regular signs that feature an L with three ---s dripping from it. Later research shows that they are related to the road markings and are there to indicate to the WyDoT where to repaint their markings. Snow clearly has a vast effect on this barren, flat landscape.

Nearing Dubois, the landscape growns more impressive. Canyons open up and red streaked cliffs line the horizon. Small hillocks are covered in stone - maybe glacial. Finally, we see some proper trees.

Dubois itself is a quaint little township - more an assortment of motels and eateries than anything else, at least in the part that I explore. The buildings are all designed in the Wild West style of log cabins, and a giant (and I meant giant) skull forms the doorway for the laundromat. There are arches made of deer antlers, a mine in the centre of the village and a Jackalope museum. It is hard to know if Dubois is authentic or making an effort to be a roadside attraction.

The jackalope museum is pretty neat. For the uninitiated, it seems quite believable that these creatures actually exist - although the moose-sized riding jackalope is a little frightening. We take in dinner at a little diner opposite the hotel. The place is almost empty, the staff member seems disinterested and my taco salad is cold and enormous. Good value for the money, but not a patch on Maui's tacos in Hawaii. Then a soak in the spa pool. The Stagecoach Inn is okay, nothing remarkable, a very run-of-the-mill hotel room. But it's a bed, it's comfortable and tomorrow more adventures await us in Grand Teton.

Main street, Dubois

Antler arch

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