“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” ~Confucius
We Left the Red Desert Rose Campground at 8am and drove into Rawlins, back to the Huckleberry Café for breakfast where we each got a Cowboy Bowl (hash browns, sausage, egg, cheese, and gravy) and some coffee.
We took Route 220 towards Casper and saw TONS of pronghorn antelope in the vast grasslands that extend as far as the eye can see along Route 220.
At first, it was, “Wow! Look! A pronghorn!” But by the end of the drive we’d seen so many it was more like, “Oh. Huh. Another six pronghorn. (Yawn.)” How quickly we get used to glorious sights like the fine fellow Len captured posing in the grass, majestic mountains in the background.
We visited the Trail Museum in Casper which is wonderfully interactive (a great spot to bring kids). The displays explained in-depth about four of the major westward trails: The Oregon Trail, The Pony Express Trail, The California (Gold Rush) Trail, and the Mormon Trail. I hadn’t realized that so many Mormons made the trip to Salt Lake City pulling handcarts rather than in covered wagons relying on beasts of burden like oxen, horses, or mules. That seems crazy to consider, but there were “handcart companies” that touted it as freedom from the worries of tending livestock and as a faster way to get west. The companies supplied food and water and the individual families pulled only what belongings they wanted to bring.
Ironically, many ended up tossing the belongings that had seemed so essential and ended up pulling sick or dying loved ones in the carts instead (with so many people on the trail, dysentery was a big problem and could kill in as little as 24 hours). Two ill-fated handcart parties left Missouri late (in August) and encountered horrible snowstorms mid-October; many of their members froze to death. Brigham Young sent out a search party to help guide them in but they couldn’t offer assistance until the pioneers walked to Devil’s Pass where a supply wagon had extra food. In the history of the Latter Day Saints, these people who died were raised up as martyrs to the cause, instead of gullible pioneers (hoodwinked by profiteering guides) who foolishly left too late in the season, perhaps trusting that God would look after them on their journey. I’ve always had a problem with people of faith that give over entire control of every aspect, every decision. I understand there are times when that is the correct impulse—let go and let God—we can’t control everything, after all, but it also seems to me that God has enough to do. Why give Him more niggling things to worry about when you have a brain—a brain He gave you, yes? You know the way the world works—do your best to avoid ending up asking God for help because of a bad decision (or indecision) on your part. Turn to him if you must, but I’m more of a “The Lord Helps Those Who Help Themselves” kind of believer. Too practical to want to leave my entire fate, every second of the day, in the hands of a very busy benevolent being.
I remember once, visiting my father (an alcoholic, of the barely functioning variety), and he had joined a religious organization in Southwest Virginia that even at sixteen I was pretty certain had cult-ish tendencies. My father had been living with them, doing odd jobs, refurbishing an old hotel that somehow the group had come into possession of. He took me to the home of one of the leaders of this group (If I recall, they referred to their themselves as followers of TWIG, or The Way) for dinner and the thing I remember most about that whole dinner—of all the details I could have retained—not the food, not the home, not anything concrete—I remember the hostess describing with breathless wonder how she had gone into one shoe store in town that day, wanted to buy a pair of shoes there, but decided to wait, and then two stores down, found the exact same pair but for half the price! And wasn’t God great for guiding her to that other store instead? She was certain it was an everyday miracle, ecstatic to have been the recipient of such graciousness from a loving God. And as a skeptical sixteen-year-old, all I could think was, “Lady, you are loony. People are starving and suffering and dying and sinning and begging for redemption. God is busy. You think He cares about the cost of those shoes you were coveting??” I was on the cusp of adulthood, just becoming acutely aware of the strange hypocrisies of adults and I asked my dad about it later, prepared to lose all respect for him if he agreed with her, and to my great relief he said, “Yeah, sometimes they go a little overboard. But they’re good people.”
And this is one of the things I like about the place where I grew up (The Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia), a place my father’s family has lived for generations. There’s a certain tolerance there, a live-and-let live approach that feels different than in other parts of the South. People seem to hold back judgment or say, “Oh, that’s just Old Orin. He’s different like that. Don’t pay him no mind.” I sense the same sort of friendly acceptance of individualism in Wyoming. (Yes, I realize I’m generalizing.) In fact, I’ve felt really at home here in the Cowboy State. It speaks to me the same way my beloved Blue Ridge Mountains do. We ate dinner at The Fort Steak House and Saloon (bison sirloin and sweet potato fries!) and they played country and western music in the background, but also down-home bluegrass. Other similarities noted: people in both places value self-reliance but are always ready to help a stranger in need, they live close to the rhythms of the natural world, are comfortable with the firearm as a tool more than a weapon, live off the bounty of the land whenever possible, and appreciate strong women.
In other news, we haven’t seen The News in over two weeks now, and it’s been glorious. Len, in particular, is a news junky—as a former military intelligence officer, keeping up with the news was part of his job for years. But this break has been wonderful. I recommend it. I hope to carry some of this back with me into the real world because it turns out the world actually does go on if you take a break from the sturm and drang of it. And there’s nothing like ancient, ageless rocks to give one a sense of perspective about our current place in time.
Next up: Into The Bighorns!