July 23 – July 29, 2013
(The Big Trip is over for us . . . but not for you! I am still putting together blog entries that cover the rest of our sabbatical adventure. I hope you enjoy this continued travelogue.)
From South Dakota we drove to Wyoming, a favorite state of mine. The land was open, vast, with rolling hills, sometimes green, sometimes brown and arid. Far away mountains could usually be seen. Our compass was set for Saratoga, WY where, according to the internet, there was both a free campground on the North Platte River and a free hot springs maintained by the town. Having gotten a late start, we only got as far as the small municipality of Wheatland, WY.
It was still hot as we arrived with the setting sun. Although a weeknight, Wheatland’s Lewis Park was abuzz with activity. In one direction a softball game with cheering crowds was winding down. In another direction, was an outdoor swimming pool. Happy groups of people were finishing their meals around picnic tables. A theater troupe held a rehearsal on the outdoor stage. The feeling was festive and the camping was free.
The next morning we walked to the nearby pool and, for a minimal fee, swam and showered, feeling refreshed for another day of travel. On our way to Saratoga we drove through the Medicine Bow National Forest. I was thrilled by the views of granite peaks, fields of snow, lakes and wildflowers visible from the road. We pushed on to Saratoga but I was hoping to come back to these mountains.
The BLM’s Foote Access camping area just north of Saratoga had that overused and poorly treated look of many free spots. But it wasn’t too bad. There was plenty of shade, it had a pit toilet and we camped only a few yards from the scenic shore of the North Platte River. The weather was not as oppressively hot as the previous weeks had been, alternating between sun, rain and storms.
Some highlights of the six days we spent there:
• The Saratoga’s Hobo Hot Springs is located in the center of town; we visited it regularly to both soak and shower. Open 24 hours without fee, there were always people present. It had been recently attractively remodeled and included two cement pools and a bathhouse. There was also a pool within a pool, the small “lobster pot” of extreme heat. No one entered it for more than a few seconds; I didn’t even try. The hot springs water also flowed into the nearby Platte River where it was possible to sit at the edge in the warm flowing shallow waters or plunge into the cooler water of the main channel. At one point Chris commented, “I’ve been relaxing for 10 months. Maybe I don’t need to relax anymore.”
• Kayaking. The North Platte is famed for its trout fishing and is also good for kayaks and canoes. Although low in a few spots, I started in the center of town and had a leisurely 5 mile paddle right to our campsite. Birds, animals – both domestic and wild – live in and along the
river. My most unique sighting was a mink. I saw it standing upright along the shore and knew it was a weasel but it took me a few moments to identify its species. This one had thick, reddish fur. It jumped into the river to cross in front of me. Diving down deep the mink brought up debris from the bottom and carried it to the other side, depositing the messy pile among branches of a fallen tree. The next day Chris paddled the same route; along the way he saw three bald eagles.
• One morning we carried our camp chairs to the pebbly shore of the Platte to meditate. As we settled in, I saw a large bird flying upstream toward us. Getting closer it became huge. A golden eagle soared low overhead.
• The air was filled with an outbreak of small flies. They did not bite or seem particularly interested in us but they were so plentiful and so blown around by the breezes that they stuck in our hair and clothes. The nighthawks and other bug-eaters were very interested in them. We watched these sleek acrobatic birds fly zigzag across the sky from dusk till almost noon each day, announcing their presence with their nasal cries. They rested in the shoreline trees during the afternoon.
• Nearby were three friendly donkeys behind barbwire fences. When I approached the fence, they all usually came up to me looking for a nose scratch or probably an apple or carrot. A ranch hand said that they were Sophie, Marguerite, and Jess. The donkeys belong to the 5N Ranch, a place with a few unusual features for rural Wyoming. Four wind turbines power the facility. The entrance gate has Tibetan prayer flags fluttering. On the backside of the main ranch sign read boldly “Namaste!”.
• Another unusual experience was a visit to the local IGA grocery store. Upon entering we were face-to-face with a standing stuffed glass-encased grizzly bear. All the walls of the large square-shaped building are covered with trophies heads, entire animals and skins. Above the vegetables two black bear climbed on the upper shelf. The beauty products were decorated by stretched hides. Mountain sheep, pronghorns, deer, elk, moose, turkeys and even caribou covered the walls. This area of Wyoming has many ranches that cater to the wealthy adventure seeker, particularly the hunter and fisherman. Near where we camped was the TA Ranch which organizes hunting trips: five days cost about $6500.