Blog


“And you know, when the truth is told, that you can get what you want or you can just get old.” ~Billy Joel July 6—Happy birthday, Rob! We left Sage Creek Campground (aka Woodstock) and hit the road for Albert Lea, Minnesota. On the drive out of the park, we saw a TON of wild bison, including a huge male that suddenly appeared ten feet from my vehicle window as it crested a rise next to the road. That was a rush. After the early excitement, though, I slept for a lot of the day’s driving. The road often completely mesmerizes my brain: highway hypnosis. I have to fight it when driving, but when I’m a passenger it takes over and stupefies me. I was sad watching the hills turn to flatlands: the day after Christmas, when all the presents are opened. In Minnesota, I thought about my grandmother Lavinia growing up in Lakefield. She got the nickname “Minnow” because she could swim in the coldest lakes for hours without getting chilled or tired. Her grandparents owned a dairy farm (she loved buttermilk all her life) and her parents owned  the town pharmacy (her father was the pharmacist) which included a lunch counter/soda fountain (run by my great-grandmother who also taught piano lessons). She took great pride in the fact that her father got shunned by the local Episcopal church crowd when he applied for the first liquor license in the county. She also remembered a crowd hanging a stuffed strawman of Kaiser Wilhelm between the pharmacy and the shop next door and burning him in effigy at the start of WWI. At 6pm (Day 29) we crossed the 5,000 mile mark—and Len has driven every single one of them, except for that fifty feet or so that I drove so he could listen to the bearing/brakes squeal in the Rawlins Tractor Guys parking lot. This 5,000-mile mark is also roughly when he began a slow tailspin of quiet rage (the male version of a meltdown). Suddenly everything became frustrating, difficult, awkward, painful, and rage-inducing. The trailer didn’t want to park correctly, his favorite flashlight went missing, he barked his shins on the hitch, and the road, in other words, just generally sucked. The fact that we are headed home, back to reality, was surely part of it, but there really is a point at which it gets OLD living like a refugee, carrying everything with you, picking up stakes and moving every day, trying to keep track of where you are, where you’re going, and what you need to do in order to get there. No matter how...

Read More

“I been a long time leavin’, but I’m going to be a long time gone.” ~Willie Nelson We left Sheridan (and Buffalo, boo-hoo) early on the morning of the 5th with our compass (okay, GPS) set toward Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Our last sight of Buffalo and the Bighorns was from a scenic knoll on the Interstate with a meadowlark perched on a nearby fencepost, larking for all he was worth. Seemed fitting, being escorted out of the Bighorn Basin by the warbles and rolling trills of a yellow-throated songster. I stared into the distant snow-capped Bighorns and my throat swelled,too, already missing the friendly people, abundant wildlife, and epic scenery. I almost never take photographs of informational signs. It seems silly—do people really go back and read those? Is the sign the important thing to capture? Or the sight that the sign is about? At Fort Kearny I watched a woman move from sign to sign taking pictures and never once moving the camera from her eye to actually take in what she was photographing. But on this day, on this departure, on this sign, I wanted to preserve every detail. We planned to camp at the Sage Creek remote campground area in Badlands National Park. This is one of the National Park areas where you can camp for free but the sites are limited and there’s no way to reserve them ahead of time. We’d had good luck with the BLM sites that use the same model and the National Park website said the site was “rarely full” so we ventured forth with great hopes for a remote, scenic, and peaceful spot. The fact that it involved about 20 miles of dirt roads to get to the site seemed especially promising for weeding out the less  serious campers and the big-rig folks. En route, we stopped in Sturgis, South Dakota, the site of the huge motorcycle rally every summer and a gathering spot the rest of the year, as well. We wanted to take in some local flavor and walked around the town a bit (the temperature was right at 100 degrees, so we walked slowly) then got lunch at The Knuckle Saloon and headed out again. When we rolled in to the Sage Creek area at 3pm, six of the ten sites were occupied and our best option appeared to be the area normally set aside for horse trailers. At that time of day, with 103-degree heat in the shade, it seemed a pretty good bet that there wouldn’t be many horse riders needing to use the area before nightfall so we pulled in...

Read More

“America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” – Harry S. Truman Happy Fourth of July! We rose early and took a quick tour of the Sheridan coffee shops looking (in vain) for Internet service so I could post (and schedule) my recent updates. It seemed the entire town was having connectivity issues so, once again, I calmly closed my laptop and looked forward to the day. I’ve had quite enough meltdowns already, thank you very much. (Wait. Does that many meltdowns make me a snowflake? Hmmm, I guess it does. But a reasonably badass snowflake, if I do say so myself. Plus, gather enough snowflakes in one place and you end up with … an avalanche.) We toured Fort Phil Kearny (an old fort that only operated from 1866 to 1868) but was an important stop on the Bozeman Trail and housed not only soldiers but lots of civilian family members, too. It was abandoned in 1868 after a decisive military defeat for the US (second only to Custer’s  battle at Little Big Horn which would take place ten years later). It was also one of the few battles in which the Indian tribes came together (Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho warriors) and using the standard US response to an Indian attack to craft a plan and trick the US soldiers into an ambush. Crazy Horse and other warriors acted as decoys and taunted the soldiers into coming down over the ridgeline (an action the acting Captain had been expressly forbidden to take by his CO) where two thousand Indians waited in ambush. All eighty-one men were killed in thirty minutes and marked a decisive victory for the Plains Indians. Then into Buffalo. Shopped a bit (needed to replace a favorite piece of clothing that has gone mysteriously missing—I will not meltdown, I will not meltdown). A few doors down we found the “campaign headquarters” for Walt Longmire, Absaroka County Sheriff. (Hint: there is no Absaroka County in Wyoming and the author of the Longmire series, Craig Johnson, actually lives in Ucross. I love it when fictional characters become so real that their lives start to bleed over into real life.) We lingered in the store and spent a fair amount of money. I bought a Red Pony T-shirt (with the words “continual soiree” on the sleeve and the first book in the series (signed). Len bought a LONGMIRE T-shirt and a few other must-haves. We found a great pottery shop on Main Street and browsed for about 45 minutes. I found a simple...

Read More

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song. ~Chinese Proverb Aside from the massive blanket of pollen over everything we owned, we were sad to leave Prune Creek—especially knowing it would be our last wilderness camping spot on this trip. We’ve got two more days at a KOA in Sheridan and then we start the long trip home. On our way to Sheridan, we had planned a stopped in Ucross so I could show Len the awesome space where I was awarded a writing residency last April. Just as we were at the crossroads before Ucross, a white Bronco pulled up alongside us. It had an Absaroka County Sheriff decal on the side and the license plate said WALT. The young guy driving it rolled down his window to talk to us at the stop sign (we’re learning this is a SUPER common occurrence in Wyoming—apparently the majority of conversations happen through vehicle driver-side windows). He pointed to the trailer and said, “Where’d you get that??” I want one!” So we pulled over and gave him a tour and a TC Teardrop card. He was totally into it. Then we told him we were big Longmire fans and asked about the Bronco he was driving. He said it was the author’s personal vehicle and he was busily helping him preparing for the coming weekend which is Longmire Days in Buffalo, Wyoming. He told us to come to the shop in town the next day around noon and he’d show us around, so we set our watches. At Ucross, we went to the gallery and saw an amazing show: The Universal language of Birds by Christina Baal, a young artist and avid birder who plans to depict all 10,000 species of the world’s birds as her artist’s mission. I was really, really into the artwork. So good. My favorites were the large paintings with gestural wings (including paint drips that rocked) and super detailed pen and ink heads. She’s really into the idea of the artist / citizen scientist being engaged and making a difference in conservation. Check out the website if you get a chance—or make your own art to add to it. I love her approach. It seems to be a very millennial way of effecting change in the world. From there, we had cheese sticks at a picnic table on the grounds and went by the Ucross Schoolhouse to see a bit of the renovations there (mostly to the kitchen, which I’m sure will please Cindy, the fabulous gourmet chef who spends her days there). We had hoped...

Read More

“If fishing is like religion, then fly-fishing is high church.” ~ Tom Brokaw Another day spent on the banks of the Tongue River (north Fork) in the Prune Creek Wilderness Campground. We woke to a forty-degree morning and the sound of brown trout calling Len’s name. There was heavy condensation inside the trailer on the windows and doors. This happens when the temperature drops, much as it does in a tent with two people breathing all night. We just pull back the curtains and it evaporates quickly enough. Two nights feels right for a relaxed stay. Next trip we’ll make sure to book more double nights and make it the norm more than the exception. We’ve had great neighbors here, quiet but friendly. Most of the conversations revolve around fishing, especially since Len walks around with a fly rod everywhere he goes, because you never know when the fish will be biting. And I hate to brag too much because he’s a modest man, but virtually everywhere people have told us, “the fish aren’t biting” he’s been pulling them out left and right (and releasing all but a few). Of course, there are lots of people here fishing for trout with spinners and worms (artificial and real) which seems weird but I guess some people do it that way. The woman at Medicine Lodge Creek who ran park maintenance (and told him the fish weren’t biting there) asked Len what fly pattern he was fishing with and when he told her (Ausable Bomber—and how many fish he’d caught) she said her favorite lure for trout was a “Number Nine Pink Nightie” then waited expectantly. When Len asked what that looked like she laughed and said, “That’s gets the fly fishermen every time. It’s a number nine hook with a rubber pink nightcrawler stuck on it.” We laughed and she seemed pleased to have found another sucker to fall for the joke. I’m now trying to use up fresh food in the fridge so I made our first hot breakfast of the trip: turkey sausage and western-style (but, of course!) scrambled eggs with garlic, red pepper, tomatoes, and cheddar cheese topped with hot sauce. And of course Len’s delicious coffee which I’m thinking he may need to start making every morning, given that he is retired now, after all. The trout kept singing their siren call and Len kept heeding it. We are right on the banks of the river and every time a fish jumped or the light on the water changed he’d go for his fly rod. We snacked through lunch (while fishing and hiking) and cooked a...

Read More

“You have brains in your head, and feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” ~Dr. Seuss For breakfast, I ate my leftovers from the Speakeasy and Len ate a banana and a lamb-jerky bar, part of a big box of retirement goodies from my sister (he loves them, Sarah). I finished up some online stuff, scheduled the next update to publish while out of range, and we headed into the Bighorn Mountains. It was a sixty-mile trip to the Prune Creek Wilderness Campground and we stopped at the Burgess Junction Visitor’s Center at the junction of 14 and 14-A. By now most of the educational things we’re reading are things we’ve seen in other museums along the way, but the refresher is always good. I’ve been so intrigued with the rocks of Wyoming. The chert is especially interesting and is what was used to make knapped arrowheads and spear points for thousands of years. The sedimentary rocks often have evidence of invertebrate fossils in them, and the granite is just gorgeous, often pink or red with veins of quartz or onyx running through them. I snagged a few for the crabitat, all the while secretly hoping that Wyoming has a goddess (like Pele) that will compel me to keep returning to her mountains. Before leaving the visitor’s center we ate a quick lunch out of the chuckwagon (smoked turkey wrapped in a tortilla with provolone and Parmesan and a handful of grapes). At that point we didn’t realize how close we were to our destination and suddenly 2.1 miles later we were at Prune Creek. The Tongue River here is just gorgeous (it’s what Prune Creek feeds into). It’s still fairly high from snowmelt, but it’s got wide open banks and Len was able to fish from the sides and cast all the way to the far bank with no trouble. It’s at an altitude of about 8,000 feet and reminds us both of the Adirondacks. The woods are mostly pine and the river water is clear but stained brown with tannins from the pine duff. The campsite was quite nice. The amenities included a pit toilet (for the whole campsite) and a centrally located pump-handle water spigot. At first I kept seeing clouds of dust and thought the nearby dirt road was going to be an issue, then I realized it was the pine trees surrounding our campsite that were joyfully pollinating one another at an astounding rate. I cleaned off the solar panels every few hours and the paper towels came back smeared with bright yellow. My black windbreaker showed a...

Read More