Today my plan was to get to Buffalo, WY, a nice stop on the way to the Tetons.
I took the long way, route 14, to Devil’s Tower.
There was something about crossing into Wyoming. I really liked it. It helped that it was sunny, but I liked the wide openness and the verdant feel. There were more farms here, rather than just prairie. More rolling hills.
I also incidentally took the junction through Sundance, which was kind of cool. I made it a point to look for Robert Redford, but couldn’t tell which farm may be his.
These are the kinds of places where a rugged older actor, like Kevin Costner or Jeff Bridges could be wandering around in a ball cap, and I’d miss it. I kept my eyes peeled a little better after that.
Devil’s Tower is incredible cool and mystifying – even to geologists, it turns out. There are about three theories, but no one agrees.
It’s so big and solo that you can see it far off in the distance, before you get there, which is cool.
They have a nice visitor’s center and a trail around it. You can camp there too, which is neat. It was a bit too far from where I was hoping to be, or I may have.
For more: https://www.nps.gov/deto/index.htm
I did the trail and then hit the road again, through Wyoming’s back roads – where the speed limit is 70. The one road I was on felt like I was driving through someone’s ranch. It was also next to a huge lake – which had a fence around it, so you couldn’t access it. That made me appreciate all the publicly accessible land I’ve been around.
Then, on my way through a tiny junction [read, 45 mph “town”] connecting the 70 mph back road to an 80 mph highway, I got pulled over. By a state trooper. Going [redacted for mom] over the speed limit.
I have a lead foot, and have been lucky in the past. People did warn me that out of state plates are a prime target out west, so to be on the lookout.
I was so out of practice with being pulled over that I opened … my driver’s side window. The kid state trooper, about my age, looked a bit like Todd (!) from Breaking Bad. He smiled and knocked on the passenger side window. “This one,” he said.
He asked where I was going and how fast I thought I was going.
I told him, and made a to-do about the speed limits out here.
He then noticed my Michigan State shirt. “You from Michigan?”
“Yes, and I went to State.”
“Ah, I’m from Tawas.”
“No way! I’m from Midland!” (They are like, 45 minutes apart.)
He smiled and looked down at the pile of stuff in front of my glovebox. “Do you think you can get your registration and insurance out of there?”
I laughed – a little nervous. I know cops don’t like when you reach for stuff. “I can, I will just need to move some stuff.”
So in an overly cautious manner, I said what I was going to move before I would. “Ok, I’m just going to move this bag … OK, now this pillow …”
Finally got to them. “I’ll just take these and run them, and we’ll see,” he said.
The sweat-inducing wait for a verdict, and the prayers, began. I really can’t afford a big ticket.
The time-space continuum that exists in doctor’s offices and getting pulled over finally ended. He had a paper in his hand. Shit.
“I’m just going to give you a warning, this is the paper that explains. This is a small town, wouldn’t want anyone getting hit,” he said. I looked around and saw no one – not in parking lots or windows or anywhere near a road.
“Yes sir,” I said.
Needless to say, I’ve (mostly) followed the speed limit since.
Also, Justin and I discussed how you can drive about up to 80 comfortably, but anything over 80 requires concentration, so it isn’t as fun. Like, at 80, I can have one hand on the wheel, change the radio, eat, whatever else you do while driving long distances. Anything over 80 requires two hands and eyes peeled.
So, at the speed limit, I continued. I had about two hours to go.
Wyoming is cool because there’s just huge expanses, but it’s not as boring because there are rolling hills, farms, small towns or ranches, and the giant sky ahead of you, putting on a show.
In fact, the further west I drove, the more of a show the sky was putting on.
Wy-zard of Oz
I knew there were storms in the forecast, but it’s been a bit hard to pinpoint the exact weather, since I don’t know exactly where I am going to land, and since the distances I’ve been covering have been so vast.
I also grew up in the country, and am well familiar with severe storms and tornado weather in the summer.
The rain started as I passed one of the few major towns I’d see on my drive, Gillette, WY.
There was just something about the shape of the clouds ahead: their purple-ish color, and the eerie, sand color that was being projected below them.
As I passed the sign for my destination county, I instinctively turned the radio on. The alarm was beeping. “If you are in an automobile, find shelter right now. A tornado has touched down in Johnson County. This is a warning of the public …”
I found the first “emergency vehicles only” turn around (exits are few and far between in this sparsely populated country.)
I sped back to Gillette, the last city I’d seen.
I made it to a gas station, where I filled up and took a breath inside to figure out where to stay. My hands were shaking.
I used TripAdvisor and “splurged” a bit on the Quality Inn. Glad for that – I drove by the cheapest option, and it was a motel that had been fitted into an old strip mall (not in a good way.)
Again, the Universe smiled on this:
As I walked into the lobby, I passed a man who had a walkie-talkie. I assumed he worked there.
The check-in girl was nice, and I told her I was glad they had a room, so I could avoid the tornado.
She smiled and pointed to the guy with the walkie-talkie. “You should talk to him. He works for the Weather Service.”
My jaw like, hit the counter.
In case my car decided to pull a Wizard of Oz and fly off in a tornado in the middle of the night, I went back out to my car to get my most valuable stuff. The guy with the walkie-talkie was standing at the entrance, watching the sky, listening to the talkie.
“Some weather, eh?” I said.
“Oh yeah. Look at this, this is the first time Wyoming has ever gotten an ‘extremely severe’ weather alert.”
I sighed: of course it was.
He showed me his work phone’s email – an official @ .gov email. Crazy.
I told him I was supposed to camp there, and was grateful there was a place to stay.
He told me that his daughter lived that way, and showed me some pictures of the big country place she’d bought. He added that I should move my car around to the other side of the building, since the wind was coming this way.
It was interesting to spend the night in a hotel – mostly for the unlimited access to wifi and showers.
I reorganized some of the stuff I’d brought in, piled up the stuff I needed to mail, and hit the hay early-ish.
The storms abated over night, so I didn’t need to worry. I slept pretty dang good, in a bed I realized was twice the size of my tent.