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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Well, It IS February After All!

After Bill went to sleep in North Platte I got the maps out to see how far it was to Billings. For some reason I thought Barbara and I had made it from Bozeman to Scotts Bluff in one day. What was I thinking?????? We'd gotten as far as Buffalo the first day and then to Scotts Bluff. Well, worrying about the fact that it was going to take us an extra day to Bozeman than I'd predicted I slept fitfully to say the least. At 6 am CST I gave up the ghost and got up. As we left the motel in semi-darkness and 22 degree weather we walked out with the night maintenance man. He bemoaned the fact that so many people just rush through this part of Nebraska on the Interstate never stopping to see the historical sites. For example, Bailey Yard is the largest railroad switching yard in the world--I'd love to see it after working Italy Yard in St Albans. He mentioned Buffalo Bill's home --something Roost also and the wonderful museum over I-80. I was pleased that I could tell him that I had been to both of them twice but that they are closed at this time of year. Then he spoke of Ole's Big Game Bar in Paxton--it sort of sounds like Harbor Hideaway in Shelburne--except the decor is all African and Alaskan big game. Seems that there were two ladies of considerable means in the area. One married the manager of Bailey Yard--a man earning a good sum from the railroad and they built a big beautiful house in North Platte. But the other girl married Ole and they used their money to hunt big game and they brought their treasures back and displayed them in their beautiful home, which is now a restaurant and bar. I've starred it on the map--I know Barb and I will check it out on our next trip.

Well,off we went into the dawning day--to our East the sky reddened with the dawn as a lone jet made a contrail across the fresh new sky. And to our West the full moon hung low over the highway bidding us God speed. Wispy clouds cut across its face and huge flocks of birds, like box cars on a long freight train, came one after the other East and North shifting leaders and patterns as they went. What a glorious time of day to travel--no real traffic yet--and coming awake with nature and the day. The clock read 7:15 CST but within a half hour we'd reached Paxton and MST so all of a sudden it was earlier than 7 am.

On we went chasing our own shadow and crossing and criss crossing the Platte and at other times running with it. Through small towns--some nothing more than a grain storage tank and a few houses, some with a Church across the tracks as in Lisco. One claimed to be the goose capital of the world and looking at the multitudes in the corn fields I wouldn't challenge their claim. The Lazy U motel was a splash of rainbow color blurry as we passed. We began to see long push me- pull me trains filled with coal and headed East--at one point two side by side almost challenging each other to a race.

In the distance, Jail and Courthouse Rocks side by side as the buildings after which they were named would be in the county seat. With all the houses scattered along the route and the railroad and the small power plant it is hard now to imagine how the pioneers following the historic trails we were tracing must have felt to see them. Landmarks told about by those who'd gone before and by the guides who led them. And how close they appear though they are a day's walk away.

The hazy telephoto of Chimney Rock captures that sense better though here, too, ranch houses and out buildings sit in the roadbeds of those old trails. I took a series of shots--5 miles away, 3 and then right next to it as we turned away and headed to Scotts Bluff. We covered the ground in maybe ten minutes--they would have trudged on for hours the rock never seeming to get closer. Paul spoke of his respect for these people as he looks out over the expanse of Missouri before him. To think that they left family and friends and in many instances never saw them again. Going to Nepal was nothing in comparison he said. I agreed and said those coming from Europe to America during the great immigrations were the same and it was some of those same people who then continued onward to the West. In these days of computers and cell phones and planes, how could we even really imagine the adventure and courage of these people?

Soon we arrived at the outskirts of Scotts Bluff, 9:15 am, just about the time we usually got on the road and we'd already covered 200+ miles. A sugar plant made me laugh--do we grow sugar cane here? Nope, but we do grow sugar beets. Pulled into the gas station next to the Whiskey Creek where Barb and I ate in 2008 after going down dark warehouse lined streets not having understood the directions to the service road right across from our motel. Don't want to say we were beyond tired! Anyway, what year is that Chevy, Glen?

As we left town the fingers of the storm coming from California started to reach out toward us. We'd known it was coming and hoped to get at least to Sheridan before it caught up with us. We continued through more little towns--Mitchell and its winery in which I bought a wine glass in 2008. Then through the last town in Nebraska--Henry --to the first in Wyoming--Torrington, though I missed the welcome to Wyoming sign. I must have about a dozen I can use in its place--LOL. Remember this welcome to Torrington sign I made you drive back to photograph, Barb, because I never thought I'd come this way again? Big ring-necked pheasant hunting area. Before us loomed the Laramie Mountains around which our road looped to reach Casper. At Guernsey we turned right onto that road, headed north toward Sheridan and ominous skies.

Once more the landscape changed --hilly with deep cuts and valleys making a surface as convoluted as the surface of a human brain. Some of the cuts show clearly the sedimentary history of the area. James Michener in Centennial describes the geologic formation of Colorado quite well and that applies to this part of Wyoming just as well. We stopped at the rest area in the cold wind before making the long uninterrupted trek on I 25. I love the Wyoming flag with its elegant buffalo.

Though for about the fifth time I missed getting a shot of the Trail of Tears cutout that sits on one of the bluffs I was able to capture the Jackalope, sitting and watching passersby from his position on the bluff outside Douglas. We came to a small generating plant in the middle of nowhere or so it would seem but this is an area of huge ranches. Later a Tricoperous--I know I haven't got that right--skedaddled away across the fields. We came across the first wind farm since Pennsylvania. I love them, too--I think they are beautiful. The last thing I remember is seeing the sign for Buffalo 109 miles in the distance and then I dozed off for about 15 minutes.

I woke with a start to find that the ground had been sprinkled with confectionery sugar and the trees had been encased in ice. Winter once more--23 degrees --and increasingly snowy. So knowing that the motel is right off the highway and that Sheridan is much bigger than Buffalo and the motel would require some searching we pulled off at 2:30 having covered 473.7 miles.

Checked in and hoping to eat and get in for the night we stopped at the Cowboy Bar only to find they don't serve food and the Winchester, supposedly the best restaurant in town, did not open til 5. Too long to wait- so we had a brew--chatted with the barmaid from NEW JERSEY! and a couple of locals. Good thing we stopped--Piney Creek hill between here and Sheridan is apparently both difficult to climb and treacherous to descend in slippery conditions like these. Also the Montana roads aren't taken care of very well. So we headed down the road to the Bozeman Trail Cafe where I splurged and paid, you don't want to know how much, to eat elk. Delicious. Especially with Moose Drool on tap to wash it down. Great local game mounted on the walls. Got a Wyoming shot glass for Jeff but it only says Wyoming--also picked up a book on the history of the local whorehouses! They are all gone now--Puritanism having reached the West--mostly in the form of Christian women--wives and sisters--objecting strenuously to this form of male entertainment. And so into the motel by 430 with heavy falling snow almost totally covering our car by 10 when I turned out the light for the night.

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