Thursday, July 04, 2013

Travels with Dad

I was mostly offline from June 29th to July 3rd.  Here is some of what happened...

Saturday, June 29, 2013

First image…a view of the setting sun from my room in the dorms at UNL.  The temperature dropped and it was a really beautiful night.  Another festival wrapped up.

Second image…so we’re on the road to Wyoming.  If you’re from Nebraska, I apologize, but there is almost nothing to stop for in Nebraska.  Just get in the car and head west.  We stopped that the new museum that they built over the freeway.  It’s an amusing bit of Americana…slick and commercial but interesting all the same.  I like doing this stop and it’s worth the ten bucks it costs to walk through.  They even briefly acknowledge the fact that we decimated the native American population.

For lunch we stopped at the Sam Bass Saloon, but the manager was late so they weren’t open. They guy sitting out front was probably an employee, or may have been a prospective patron, but in any event lunch was clearly not going to happen here.  Sam Bass was a relative of mine, and a train robber…which led to his early demise.  So we drove into the small town of Big Spring…or something like that…in search of some kind of authentic non-chain for lunch.  As we drove into town there were a number of folks standing on the street looking around like something was happening, and there were several cars with little logos on the side for the Lincoln Highway.  Turns out that this Sunday is the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Lincoln Highway, which was the first coast to coast highway and was built in 1913.  Interstate 80 was the first interstate and was built on the same route in 1954.  In any event, this year it is a thing to drive Route 30 from coast to coast, and as we were standing in town a group prof of cars came through on this pilgrimage.  The best one was a 67 VW Bug.  Unfortunately, when we asked one of the locals if there was a cafĂ© he would recommend, he informed us that the only restaurant was back in the truck stop by the freeway.  He also let us know that the building behind us had been purchased by a guy two years ago who turned it into a meth lab, right next to the police station…which doesn’t appear to be used much.

Onward after lunch to Wyoming, where we decided to seek out the Curt Goudy State Park as an option for staying overnight.  We drove through Cheyenne and into the Laramie Mountains, and were zooming along when we began to realize we had gone too far.  Missed the road!  Okay, back toward Cheyenne…and on…and where the hell is the road cuz we’ve gone too far again.  Turn around and slowly back toward Laramie until we hit the mile marker where the park is supposed to be and…nothing…but wait, that unmarked tiny road…and turn and over the hill and look, an enormous sign arch that you can’t really see from the road!  In any event the park is mostly full and not really the kind of place we were looking for so we push on to Laramie and grab a room in the Motel 6.

Into town for dinner.  I wanted to stop and eat at the Fireside Lounge, site of much of the material from The Laramie Project.  I had read that the place had been renamed, but I was pretty sure I had a good address, so we drive to 201 Custer and what do we find?  Photo four for the day shows the construction site that was the Fireside Lounge.  In an area where NOTHING is new or shiny, this one address is being rebuilt.  There is a story there somewhere.

And that’s the news from west of Lake Wobegon.  More tomorrow!

Sunday Night, June 30th

Not a lot of juice left in the computer, so I’m going to do highlights from today.

Started the day by locating the Matthew Shepard fence in Laramie.  It’s located just northwest of town.  Exit 316 and then north on Grand, right on Sherman Hill Road, left on Arabian Drive, right on Quarter Horse Road.  When the road turns to gravel, keep going straight.  They are building a new road (so it might not be gravel anymore.) so when the new road makes a sharp left you will need to park and walk out from there.  The fence is a few hundred yards out from there (walk toward the house on the distant hill).  It was not at all what I was expecting.  The fence doesn’t really have a road next to it and it marks the corner of someone’s property.  It is basically a hundred feet or so of fence in two directions from that corner just set in the middle of nowhere.  The stones that had been left by previous visitors had been rearranged into a heart.  It was a very desolate place, and yet surprisingly close to town.  Closer than I had expected.  The fact that the town doesn’t mark the spot, or have any other kind of memorial, and that there are NO TRESPASSING signs all over the place, make it a very dark place.

It’s a strange thing to visit a place like this.  I have a couple of motivations, mostly curiosity about how the town fits into the picture I created in my head when we did the show, and also curiosity about the place as a symbol for folks who advocate for an end to violence against marginalized folks, GLBT or otherwise.  It’s clearly a town that is not looking to be a player in such a journey…the predominant symbol is a cowboy on a horse, and it’s a strange college town.  A few gentrified restaurants downtown, but largely a place that is focused on the values of the wild west.  It’s not their job to be a symbol, and on the one hand I can understand how they would like to forget.  However, there’s a great line from The Laramie Project, “And we need to own this crime. I feel. Everyone needs to own it. We are like this. We ARE like this. WE are LIKE this."

From there we headed west to Rawlins and then north with the intention of looking at Boysen State Park as a place to stay.  All the terrain and camping areas were very exposed, and so was most of the state for that matter, and there were lots of RVs in the sites.  They were pretty much organized for RV camping and for recreation on the lakes, not for distributed car camping.  It was dry and dusty and there were no trees.  All in all not where we wanted to be.  So we pressed on.  The park ranger had suggested the Hot Springs park, but it was pretty much the same…though the park had lots of amusing touristy gimmicks and water set to create large accumulations of sediment.  All in all, Wyoming south of Cody had little to recommend it.  I’m sure that folks who live there enjoy it, but its desolate.  We saw very few trees all the way from Lincoln Nebraska until we were driving in the Shoshone.

Having grown up in a place like New Jersey and then Minneapolis, my bias is to prefer green spaces.  There is very little green here.  Brown and desolate.  Dad and I were trying to puzzle out why anyone would want to live here, but the answer is obvious after a bit.  It is completely remote.  No one is going to tell you what to do so you can live any way you want.  It’s a bit ironic, really, since I usually perceive these places as being conservative and intolerant of alternative ways of being.  In fact, these are the places you go when you want to avoid the strictures of active government and social structures.  This phenomenon lives in an uneasy balance between a preference for more conservative expressions anti-social or libertarian views and the natural consequence of those views which would support some socially liberal views.

So we pressed on to Cody.  We got there in good shape and after stopping at two closed Forestry offices (it was a Sunday) we got a map of the Shoshone National Forest from an information station that matched up with the map that Rich Soule had given me of the trails in the Beartooth area.  We headed out of Cody and after about fifteen minutes realized that we were somehow on 14 instead of 120, so we took a quick left and another left and boom, we were at our turn into the Shoshone National Forest.  We promptly climbed from our starting elevation of about 5000 feet to the first pass which was about 8000 feet.  Hard on my Prius!  It took a while, but eventually we got to Beartooth Lake Campground area.  We were super excited.  It was wooded and by a lake and all kinds of perfect.  We drove past the boat landing and made the turn for the camping area and were met with a barricade and a “Campground Closed” sign.  No!!  We had just driven 1,100 miles in two days and had finally found the perfect spot, and it was closed. 

We headed down the road intending to check the next camping area in the forest, Island Lake, but were not hopeful.  Before we got there, we came to the Top of the World lodge and store, and the youthful clerks responded to our inquiry about when the campsites open with, “First of the month.”  Um, that would be tomorrow.  “Yeah, sometime around then.  It depends.”  No idea what it depended on.  Complete demoralization!  We figured we would go ahead and press on to Island Lake, have dinner, and then figure it out from there.  We had few options.  We could illegally camp by the picnic area, or drive down to Red Lodge and look for a room (which would be expensive). 

We drove up the road and came to Island Lake, as we pull down the hill toward the camping area I spy an RV parked ahead, and then see its in the campsite host spot…and there are TENTS!  Yay!  We can camp here.  Lots of open spots and an amazingly beautiful location.  $15 per night.  Hurray for my tax dollars at work.  Lovely lake.  Trailhead right here.  Quality bear boxes for our food.  Nice fire pits.  New picnic tables.  All is well.

Our neighbors include Chris and his wife with their adult son traveling in a modified van RV unit.  When I asked, he said they sell new for $100K but that he had gotten it used for $50K.  Last year they spend six months in it.  Surprisingly it gets 24 mpg  They have bikes on a rack and it looks really comfortable.  Neat way to travel.  Down the lake to our left is Sean, who is here with three younger guys.  They are packing up in the morning and are backpacking in further and camping in country.  I hope to do a little of that in August, but it’ll require some exercise and training between now and then.  We’re at 9,500 feet and I get winded at the smallest of tasks.  Across the way from us is Xiong from Taiwan.  He told me to call him Light.  Neither spelling is probably correct.  In any event, he left from New York 53 days ago, and has biked here from there.  Across to Chicago, northwest and through South Dakota, across Wyoming and then up here through Red Lodge (which I think is in Montana).  He is going on from here all the way to San Diego.

I am completely off the grid here.  It will be Wednesday morning before I am back on, so this will be posted then.  In the meantime I have about an hour of juice in my laptop to last from now to then.  Next time I’ll have to make sure I charge it before I go off the grid.  If I turn off the wifi it uses juice very slowly, but I foolishly arrived here with it almost out of juice.

Slept fitfully last night.  Partly because it was cold (bring some sweatpants for the next leg of this trip), and partly because I always sleep poorly the first night of camping.  It takes some acclimation to the sleeping pad and such.  In any event, got plenty of sleep and was up early to make coffee and a warming fire.  Beautiful fog rolling over the lake and the sun had risen such that it was coming through a break in the trees to warm our picnic area.  After breakfast we went over to Beartooth to catch the trailhead there and hike in a little ways.  There is a trailhead in our camping area at Island Lake, but because the water level is so high from spring snow melt, there is a vigorous creek blocking the path.  Dad is up for a some hiking, but not a river crossing.  When we got to Beartooth and hiked in a ways we quickly encountered a creek on that trail that was too vigorous to cross as well.  We hiked around the campground for a bit and then ran back down the mountain to Painters Store to get some gas.  I’m almost empty and don’t want to chance going over the Beartooth pass while running on empty.  It would be an interesting place to run out of gas. The only thing they have is premium…the Prius will be in shock.  On the way back up we stopped at a waterfall and hiked in as well as made a couple of stops at scenic overlooks.  There is an overlook above Clark’s Fork that looks back to the Southwest and has an amazing string of peaks in the view. 

After lunch Dad took a nap and I put on my Tevas, packed my hiking shoes and some odds and ends in my pack and headed for the trailhead.  The current at the trailhead is so strong that I almost went in several times.  If the rock I could step in was less than six inches below the surface, then it was no problem, but many steps had to be taken on rocks submerged twelve to eighteen inches down and the current made it very difficult to maintain one’s footing as you step down.  Got across, and walked about a mile and a half up the trail, which followed two lakes.  I’m still pretty winded by walking given the 9,000 foot elevation, but its getting better.  Of course, I’m generally out of shape as well, so the two things combine to require frequent stops.  Still, if I continue to eat camp rations and hike for the rest of the summer, I should be able to make some real progress on getting a bit more fit.  I’m wearing the backpack with a light load as a way to start building those muscles as well.

There is a little more traffic in the campground today, though at the moment (mid-afternoon) it’s pretty much silent.  We have a new neighbor, David with his dog.  The four guys across the way are off to camp in country for the night…saw them on the trail as well.  Sean had a music player of some kind, so there he was walking through the wilderness listen to some kind of pop music.  Here in camp, everyone is off doing other things or napping.  I have a bug bite on my arm that’s starting to itch.  First one I’ve noticed.  The flies and mosquitoes are persistent but not overwhelming.  There is a nice breeze which helps.  Speaking of the weather, we have largely had sunshine, though big puffy clouds move through periodically mostly looking pretty.  Temp feels like it’s in the low 70s and its simply gorgeous.

Plan to take it easy the rest of the day.  Read.  Make dinner.  Play with the fire.  Watch the clouds float by.  Chat with neighbors.  Light/Xiong is gone…probably all the way down the mountain and into Yellowstone by now. 

Haven’t brushed my teeth today.  Not supposed to use toothpaste, but a brushing would be useful.

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