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There’s Something About Wyoming 29 July 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Travel, Wyoming.
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There’s something about Wyoming, the high peaks, the plains, the desolation. The entire state, which is about the size of Colorado, counts fewer residents than Denver. And that’s the appeal. We arrived there two summers ago for an 11 day trip in which we went five straight days without seeing another human being. 17 trail miles from the nearest road, we plopped down in the Shoshone Valley at an old camp and watched as rain fell, then hail, then snow. We swaddled ourselves in sleeping bags on a frosty August morning, and with hands I could barely feel, I took the photo above.

I suppose in theory, I could find all that in Colorado—maybe in the San Juans—but in practice, I haven’t. Wyoming offers an altogether different experience, at once immediate and ancient. Primeval you might say if you were prone to such language. Along with the Alaskan wilds, and Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem remains one of the last great untouched stretches of earth in America. There be grizzlies there, and wolves, and entire valleys which function untrammeled by humans.

If that doesn’t lift your spirits; if the existence of a landscape in which humans are irrelevant doesn’t excite you the littlest bit, then, well, stop reading because this is a place to feel small, and insignificant. As I said in a college essay, longer ago now than I care to consider, we find solace in the mountains precisely because the mountains do not care whether we find solace in them at all. Wyoming is a place that does not care about you, or your concerns. Whatever you bring there, whatever you may find there, is your own. Nothing given, nothing taken.

But enough of that. Let’s speak realistically about wolves and bears and high meadows awash in a sea of indian paintbrush and alpine sunflower. The snow lingers well into August. Glaciers inch down valleys, grinding the landscape into submission. We ran into a pack train about a week into our last trip. “Not often we see people out here on foot,”  their leader said. “Stay safe.” They trotted off. And it was in those wilds that we crossed paths with two young grizzlies, racing from one drainage to another over a 12,000′ saddle. The second stopped and gave us a glance at a few hundred yards, then continued on his way, unconcerned about our two-legged intrusion.

We preserve wilderness to preserve these encounters, to keep Wyoming in existence. This Saturday, we’ll drive 450 miles over 7 hours to walk 50 miles over 5 days. In pursuing speed, our culture has lost a sense of scale and an ability to appreciate just how grand and expansive this American landscape really is. How far can you walk in a day? How far can you bike? Drive? Fly?

But those are the sorts of questions you ask in Colorado, where you can climb a 14er and return home that afternoon. Come to Wyoming and forget you were concerned about that sort of thing. Put one foot in front of the other. Walk, and in so doing, experience everything.


Visiting Vedauwoo 19 October 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Travel, Wyoming.
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The Wyoming of Commercials

You might recall from a high school history class that Wyoming is a US state. It’s kinda sorta squarish, and is for the most part large, empty and brown. Detroit has twice as many people, which should make you think about the desirability of living in either place. Even Dick Cheney left. Here in Denver, though, we see a  lot of commercials asking us to visit our northern neighbor, the plea usually following something about how wild Wyoming still is, and how buffalo roam everywhere, except those parts where ranchers don’t want them. Then they get shot–which is also pretty standard fare for Wyoming but still never makes the commercials.

Vedauwoo doesn’t either, and it’s worth a look. Just a couple hours from Denver, it offers a landscape so far removed from Coloradans’ expectations that its existence seems impossible. How could such a place have escaped notice when every other nook and cranny within a hundred-mile radius crawls with hikers? My first guess is that sites like this have something to do with it. That’s the first thing that pops up following a Google search and it looks like mid-90s web vomit. “Land of the earthborn spirit.”  That page does a disservice to this place. Nothing  deserves WordArt.

What Vedauwoo deserves, however, is an accurate depiction of its beauty and intrigue. The rock here, Sherman Granite, congealed deep within the earth 1.4 billion years ago, and 1.33 billion years later, during the uplift that created the Laramie mountains, that rock moved toward the surface, outlasting whatever surrounded it to to form the hoodoos and outcroppings marking the landscape today. It first appears about halfway between Cheyenne and Laramie. The rolling plains give way to forested hills, and the boulders loom over these, almost as if they were placed there by enormous hands. In places, they give the impression that they’ve been stacked like so many alphabet blocks, ready to topple with too strong a gust. But of course, erosion is and always has been the culprit. It’s still working today, and with every passing moment, you’re seeing a different landscape, one just a tiny bit closer to dust and sand. We found a boulder split in half on Sunday. It couldn’t have been long since it fell open.

Try to find it.

The road that winds its way from I-80 discourages travel. At times, the washboard threatens to tear apart the car bolt by bolt. Stick it out, though, and the reward is a campsite unencumbered by fees and crowds. The aspens whisper. A mule deer forages on the boundary between forest and sage. And the granite beckons. Explore.

Or don’t explore. Climb. According to that goofball website, the area features more than 900 named climbs, most of them some of the best wide-crack or “offwidth” routes in the world. So saith the site, anyway. But I’m inclined to believe them. The rock there is grippy if sharp, and any climb takes the climber out of the trees and into the views almost immediately. They probably involve some real puzzles as well. That’s good enough for me.

Whatever you plan to do in Vedauwoo, the allure remains the same: this is not Colorado. This feels somehow more remote and more Western. You can run out of gas between Cheyenne and Laramie if you play your cards wrong, and the guy who’ll pick you up isn’t driving a Subaru, but a Dodge. He’s not wearing a Patagonia fleece, but a cowboy hat. Maybe that’s what those commercials were trying to say: come home to Colorado, but visit Wyoming. Visit Vedauwoo.