Ode to a Journey to Wyoming
One day I awoke to prepare once again
To go on journey to visit my friend.
I have traveled this same route several years ago
But the adventure of going on a trip never grows old.
twice I have endeavored on this solo journey of
Traveling from Minnesota to the land of Wyoming.
The familiar towns and landmarks along the way
Are dear old companions who greet me and wave
While silently proclaiming, “Yes we are still here;
So glad to see you travel our way this year.”
I passed through several small towns and by farmsteads too
And oh my, Lake Heron is a splendid sea of blue.
I drove by several state parks along the way
And note, “I must visit there on another day.”
The morning was full of bright, illuminating sunshine
As I drove along the interstate crossing the first state line.
Onward I drove with my intent eyes peering into the horizon
As I joyfully anticipated revisiting my high school friend.
And lo, how we both know that we don’t visit enough
As times can be hard and cost of travel just too much.
With the consistent rain through the summer months,
The ground has remained emerald green; deep and lush.
For usually, the further I journeyed westward from home,
The atmosphere became more and more arid while I drove.
But on this trek the land remained moist and green much longer
And I chose to enjoy this and not ponder and wonder.
So forward I drove and gladly journeyed
Into the horizon; a vast green and blue sea.
Near the end of the day my traveling was done
As I paused beneath the vaulted ceiling of a glowing sun.
While it slid down settling in the distant west,
I knew it was time for a long night rest.
I opted to stay at on a hilltop of green sloped wonder
In a motel overlooking the winding Missouri River.
For the wide flowing blue stream curved this way and that
With an iron scalloped bridge uniting one land mass to the next.
Next morning arrived and soon I was on the road
Anticipating new places to see and sights to behold.
“I can’t help it,” I chided myself with a frown,
“I must visit once again that old ghost town.”
Soon I found the right off-ramp and pulled in
And found myself wandering the old streets again.
I strolled past the old schoolhouse and the church too
Wondering what life was like back in say…1882.
I drove on nearing the Wyoming border
And noticed the rugged mountains coming closer.
After another long day’s drive,
To my friend’s house, I finally arrived.
I was there for a week, treasuring each day;
And we embarked on a few adventures along the way.
Such a sweet time to spend with a dear friend,
That my heart ached with sadness at the week’s end.
Turning around I started the long journey home
Thankful for friendship which nourished my soul.
So now, ode to a Journey I took to Wyoming,
I have a new treasure of memories inside of me.
Learning Something New
The love of picturesque walks in nature is shared by my friend Cindy who lives in Wyoming. I went to visit Cindy and her daughter Briana and they introduced me to a new sport: geocaching. Geocaching is a high-tech sport requiring the use of the Internet, and a handheld global positioning system (GPS) device. It often involves long walks, detective work, and a sense of adventure to find a hidden container known as the cache. I enjoy adventures; they add spice to everyday life. So, with this sense of adventure, my friends take me on several geocaching hunts. In doing so we embark on several hikes in the Wyoming wilderness finding that the true reward in geocaching is enjoying the walk and discovering scenic places while finding a secret container.
The Appeal of Geocaching
The desire to track and find the hidden cache is appealing challenge; like a treasure hunt and I am hooked. Since then I have found hidden caches in Wyoming, Minnesota and Wisconsin. I have now added the states of Washington and South Dakota to my list of geocache finds. These Cache containers can be hidden in easy to access locations requiring short walks and little effort while others are hidden in remote places requiring long hikes and an adventurous spirit. These latter are my favorites as I take time to enjoy the journey and the hunt.
A Light-Hearted Adventure
In Wisconsin I go geocaching with my niece, Amber, sharing adventures in tracking down the hidden containers. Amber has sharp eyes that will pierce through the darkest, shadowy places finding the elusive containers. We discover our first cache on geocaching.com entitled “Trout Haven”. I record the location coordinates in my GPS and we follow its direction to a little-known wilderness area containing a small creek flowing beneath an old, dilapidated bridge, long grass, and trees. When we arrive, we spot two other people there and assume they are fisherman.
Next day we return when no one is around. My GPS indicates the cache is near a certain large tree. I circle the tree plunging unknowingly into a deep, soggy, marsh where thick, tall grass blades surround me like a small forest of young saplings and I am soaked to my ankles. Caches are often hidden so they are protected from nature’s elements. Knowing this, I climb back to dry ground focusing on a different side of the tree. I and Amber search in crevices and hollowed out areas. I look closer at the base of the tree noticing something hidden under a loose slab of tree bark. Peering closer, I spy a camouflaged peanut butter jar; we find the cache. We discover later that the “fishermen’ had been geocache seekers also and we still laugh about this.
A Wintry Hunt
Amber and I reference the geocaching.com site again embarking on another hunt in a park for a cache known as “Broken and Twisted”. A wintry chill fills the clear, blue sky and the snow is deep. I park my car where it will not get stuck resulting in a longer walk to the cache. We follow the direction my GPS indicates forging a new path through the heavy blanket of gleaming white snow and into the quiet woods where dark trees, motionless as statues, stand stripped of their leafy crowns. The snow makes the trek difficult but we will not give up. We trudge further into the woods finding ourselves underneath a large, arching, twisted branch.
My GPS reads, “00.00” feet meaning we are near the elusive cache Amber’s piercing eyes are at work as she searches upward into the dangling, broken tree limb, “I see it” and promptly reaches for a small object lodged high in the tree branch (this time a black 35 mm film container). Then I realize I had forgotten a pen as this cylinder container is too small to have one but it does have a small log for recording our visit. My niece is not happy with me. Oops.
Nature’s Unseen Choir
I engage in plenty of geocache hunts where I am unsuccessful in finding the hidden container; I revisit the same places to try again and I know the extra walking is good exercise for me. One place I return to find hidden caches is a wilderness area near my home in Minnesota; eventually, I find the caches. For each visit I endure at least 30 to 40 minutes of fast-paced walking beneath a long canopy of green foliage circumventing a quiet lake. I see red-winged blackbirds fluttering and swooping between the trees while ducks float in the lapping water. Sounds of singing birds fill the air. In the evening frogs and crickets announce their presence with their chorus of croaks and chirps escalating to an incredible ear-splitting crescendo; I marvel at the melody of this unseen choir.
Geocaching has Interesting History
Geocaching is a new sport gaining popularity and is now in its 15th year. According to a “History of Geocaching” website, geocaching began in the year 2000 with a single hidden container near Portland, Oregon and one posting on the web; then new containers have been hidden in California, Kansas, and Illinois. The next secret container resides hidden in faraway Australia and from there it branches worldwide. This new game is based on using the global navigational system developed by the US Dept. of Defense using orbiting satellites.
Getting Started in Geocaching
Geocache sites are registered at geocaching.com and other websites. A geocache seeker must register and log on the website to access the most current information about hidden cache sites. This is important because geocache sites are sometimes temporarily disabled or permanently removed. For each hidden cache, the seeker obtains the longitude and latitude coordinates inputting them into his GPS device. Handheld GPS devices can be purchased at department stores, sporting goods store, and online. I had purchased mine from Amazon.com.
As a geocache seeker, I recommend double checking the coordinates to ascertain they have been entered correctly into the GPS. The geocache seeker will have an inaccurate reading if off by one digit resulting in failure to locate the hidden cache. I realize this mistake once when I find myself standing on the banks of the Minnesota River with my GPS indicating for me to continue trekking deep into the flowing current. Later I check my GPS entry against the website confirming an error.
Being Prepared for the Adventure
The hidden cache is a container usually full of trinkets, log book, and a writing utensil; some caches are too small to contain trinkets or a pen. The cache containers range in different shapes and sizes. A good idea is maintaining a small geocaching backpack or bag (I use a slightly oversized camera bag) with supplies including pen or pencil, tablet to write down extra clues from the website entry, trinkets, camera, and extra batteries for the GPS. Wearing hiking shoes and other appropriate apparel is wise along with having a cell phone. As in any sport, being safe and prepared enhances the geocaching adventure.
Finding the Cache
When a cache is found the geocache seeker records his registered geocache name and date in the log book as proof he has found the cache. He also has an option to make a trade with the selection of trinkets in the cache. The basic rule is to trade fairly or trade up. If a geocache seeker selects a trinket then he also adds a trinket of equal or higher value. In this manner, there is always a small “treasure” to be found by the next geocache seeker. Back at home, the geocache seeker logs back onto the geocaching website recording his progress and adding notes about his geocaching adventure. His entry becomes available for others to read.
A Breath-Taking View and Nourishment for the Soul
Several summers ago, I had returned to Wyoming to revisit my friends and we embark on several geocache hunts. One memorable experience involves climbing a small mountain to its peak and finding an old fire lookout station. This climb is a workout in maneuvering uphill over rocky and treacherous terrain and I realize that my Wyoming friends are in better physical shape than I. Even so, I am elated to be with them and eager to reach the top.
With joy and a sense of accomplishment, I made it to the peak with my friends. After viewing the old lookout station we search for the cache by checking for crevices in nearby rocks, looking under loose stones, and around trees. Cindy finds the cache and we all enjoy the scenery; a breathtaking, high-altitude, panoramic view of the hunter-green, forested valleys below and the distant, tree-topped mountains surrounding us. With longing, I gaze around letting the scene nourish my soul. This is the joy and the adventure of geocaching. I enjoy more scenic walks and discover new places in nature which I would never have known if I did not participate in the fun and the adventure of geocaching.
Lost in Wyoming (Part 3)
Well, I am still on my journey to visit my friends living in Wyoming. So far, the weather has been warm and beautiful with no hint of foul conditions along the way. It seems that God has seen fit to bless my little excursion as once again I drove along Interstate 90 with optimism and confidence. It never occurred to me that I would have any sort of difficulty. I had it all planned out in my head to drive into Buffalo, pull up to my friend’s house, and surprise her at her doorstep. I was sure I knew the way and so now set off without delay. A part of me knew that there is always some danger when on such a long journey but it seemed to me that things were going so very smoothly; I had no unusual fear or foreboding as I cruised along enjoying another day of glorious sunshine to light the way.
I had now crossed most of South Dakota and was edging closer to the Wyoming border. I remember seeing sunflower fields which also brightened my long journey and the scenery was changing as the flat terrain became hilly. And those hills became steeper and steeper as I drew nearer to the mountains. I stopped at a scenic outlook at one point to study the hills a bit and to gaze at the distant mountains now on the horizon. The slopes were rugged with blunt shapely edges as if God, the Creator and Artist, had reached down taking clumps of earth to hand sculpt these towering and protruding hillsides. I thought of a potter working with lumps of clay in his hands to lovingly create an awe inspiring masterpiece. No two hillsides looked the same. The grass is also different as it is a softer green than the vibrant hues you may see in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I stopped in scenic Rapid City for lunch and to gas up.
I am now seeing tourists’ signs for the Wall Drug Store/Wax Museum, the scenic Badlands, and Mt. Rushmore. All of these are very fine places to visit and see. Once again, I experienced a flood of memories as I recalled my mom and dad on our trip years ago visiting all those places. I also remembered touring through caves then also. Soon I was approaching the Wyoming border and a certain gas station with a long row of gas pumps. I never counted them but it was much more than usual as the store itself looked tiny compared to the elongated row of pumps. I don’t recall the name of the station but I do know there used to be this informational sign which warned drivers that this gas station would be the last one they’d see for many miles. As you might imagine, that piece of advertising worked as every car, truck, motorcycle, and camper pulled off to fill their gas tanks. And you probably guessed; it worked on me too as I didn’t relish becoming stranded in the middle of nowhere. Another factor in my decision making at this point was that now, according to my cell phone carrier, I was in a dead zone where my phone would not work. So if I have car trouble at this point, I couldn’t call for help.
Soon I had crossed the border cruising up and down the steep, wild hills of Wyoming. The country side itself emitted this wild and untamed sensation as for miles there was nothing but wilderness. I was seeing a lot of brush and clusters of trees; and very few farms or other housing. And the towns now seem very, very far apart. According the latest US Census, Wyoming is the least populated state of the US. And, apparently according the same census report, South Dakota is the fourth least populated state. As I continued along, I learned to recognize the bluish green sage brush along the way because my friend had pointed it out to me on a previous visit. Also there were these long, tall and strategically placed wooden fences all along either side of the interstate. These were not meant to pen in herds of animals. No, they had a very different purpose in which they were used to block snow from blowing across the highway as was explained to me. Now, I have never driven this way during the winter months and so I have no idea how well they worked. However, I am guessing that they are somewhat successful and make a noticeable difference in protecting this road because there seems to be quite a number of these long wooded barriers in place. And why would someone keep building and installing these fences if they didn’t work?
But as for fencing in the farm animals? Well, a lot of Wyoming is open range so the animals are free to wander. Many farmers and ranchers here do not use barbed wire fences, electric fences or any other type of fence to pen their herds of animals. This is so different from where I grew up in Wisconsin! There are some barriers in place such as these metal, gaping grates built in some driveways and some roads to keep the animals from crossing. And I think the interstate highway is somehow guarded too from wandering herds of animals although, I am not clear on that.
One time on a previous visit, my friend and I were sightseeing along a dirt backroad when we came across a dairy cow with a tag in her ear just nonchalantly standing in our way. We came to a complete halt as she was in no hurry to cross. I rolled down my window and kindly called out to her, “Hey Milking Cow Number 33, could you please move along?”
My friend who was driving burst into laughter but my remark had very little effect on the cow as she just stood and stared at us. Slowly though, she did decide to meander along.
One difference I noticed on my current trip was an increase in mining in this state. Companies hungry for new fuel resources were hard at work digging up this beautiful and pristine land. I saw a number of mining sites along the way. To me they were unsightly eye sores searing scars in the midst of Wyoming’s natural and wild beauty. From what I understand now, most of those mining operations have ceased and moved to other locations in their hunt for more fuel resources.
I hope those mining companies had plans in place to restore the land as much as they could to its former natural beauty but I don’t know if that was the case. And I do understand that mining is an important industry as we need to wisely use our own resources instead of depending on other countries. My father had worked in an iron mine near Black River Falls, Wisconsin while I was growing up. That mine is closed now and the land has been restored and even renovated into a beautiful county park known as Lake Wazee and is a serious tourist attraction. That lake is actually the former mining quarry and the water is as pure and clean as can be. It is about 355 feet deep at its deepest point and attracts boaters and scuba divers. There is also a camping area, beach and a swimming area. It costs a small fee to visit and there is a nearby sports store to rent or purchase water sport equipment and supplies. I enjoy visiting the park and walking along the wooded trails that surround the lake.
But as I drove along the Wyoming highway today, the coal and methane mines all were in full operation with plenty of huge trucks and heavy equipment transporting along the roads. As I drew nearer to Buffalo, the roads became more hilly and steep. I was nearing the mountains. As I reached the top of one steep hill I glanced in my rearview mirror and my heart pounded wildly in fear. For the first time on this trip I was meeting terror head on.
I saw a huge mining truck reach the crest of the hill I had just crossed. Most of the time large trucks move at a slower pace especially on steep grades. However, this driver knew how to shift and keep his vehicle clipping along at a very face pace. Several minutes earlier when I was atop that previous hill that truck had been many miles behind my car. It never dawned on me then that he would catch up so quickly. From judging how fast he had climbed that hill, I knew he would catch up to me in no time. That driver was in a race and this highway was his racetrack.
Now in full panic mode, I frantically wondered what to do. I was sure he would collide with me as I mentally envisioned that I and my car would become flatter than a pancake. What should I do? No room to pull off and no other roads to turn onto. I was afraid of speeding like he was. The road was curvy as well as hilly and I knew I could lose control. I checked the mirror again. That speeding missile on wheels was temporarily out of sight as it had dipped down between the two steep hills. And here I was a moving target about to be plowed and pummeled to death. I knew he’d be behind me in seconds. Should I move into the other lane? That seemed like a good idea but then I thought no. He may already have seen me (since I had also spotted him) and therefore may already be prepared to go around my car. If I moved now into the other lane while out of his eyesight, it could potentially goof him up. He may have already moved into that lane but I couldn’t tell. So, with a pounding heart, I stayed put in my lane driving as fast as I dared with white knuckles glued to the steering wheel. I prayed for God to welcome me into his beautiful home in heaven for I was preparing to die. I didn’t know if I was making the right decision. I didn’t know if I would be alive in the next few seconds.
Suddenly, the hugely ominous truck loomed behind me and I felt my heart nearly jump out of my chest. He was still in my lane. This was it, I thought; will I live or die today? I gripped the wheel tighter than ever and continued to drive faster as I tried to keep some cushion of space between the truck and my car. Then, much to my relief, the roaring monstrous vehicle swerved into the other lane and flew passed me. That driver did not slow down for anything and was soon out of my sight. This road continued to be his one truck racetrack. I heaved a long sigh of huge relief. I continued to breathe deeply trying to calm my beating heart and my shaking arms. I was so thankful to be alive and safe. It was God’s will for me to live a while longer and to continue this journey.
Soon after that I reached Buffalo, Wyoming. I was so overjoyed that my long drive in the car was soon over. Feeling very confident again, I drove through the streets as I pictured myself showing up unexpectedly on my friend’s doorstep. Oh yes, I thought, I know the way to go; just turn here, then here, and then one more turn and in a few blocks, I will pull up in front of her house. Except… That didn’t happen. I pulled up to the wrong house and was baffled. What happened? I was sure I knew the way.
Oh well, I was certain I was close so I drove around a few more blocks. I was positive that I’d recognize the right road and then find the right home. After all I prided myself with having a photographic memory. I just needed to spot the right old house, turn at that corner and just drive a few more blocks and I would be there. Yeah, right. Well I drove and drove in circles. Obviously, I didn’t have such a great photographic memory. Perplexed, I knew I would have to stop somewhere and dig out her address from everything out of it. Her address wasn’t there. I had left it sitting on the table at home. I then checked my gps device to see if I had entered her address there. I had done no such thing; so much for careful planning and paying attention to details. Now I was 1300 miles away, lost in a city I did not know and my larger than life self-assurance had finally deflated.
“Well,” I thought, “I will just have to call my friend and her daughter and admit I got lost.” I flipped open my small cell phone, dialed her number and listened. It was not a smart phone, by the way, just a very basic cell phone.
“Sorry, that number is no longer in service,” answered a female robotic voice.
I didn’t have the right number. I couldn’t believe it but I thought of the next step. I simply called my cell phone carrier’s directory to retrieve my friend’s number that way. However, to my stunned surprised, my carrier didn’t have a listing for her for two reasons; her cell phone number is with a different carrier and she didn’t have a land phone. Therefore, my carrier had no listing for her. I also tried calling the regular phone directory and they also had no listing for her as she seemed to have a private listing.
More perplexed than ever, I wondered what to do. I thought about booting my laptop computer to contact her through facebook but I didn’t think I would pick up a signal to connect to the internet. But, with a start, I thought of someone who could do that. Picking up my phone again, I called my cousin living in the state of Washington, “Hi, I’m lost in Buffalo, Wyoming and need your help.”
My cousin sounded incredulous, “What do you want me to do?”
“Go on Facebook, send a friend request to my friend and her daughter, and see if they answer.”
“Okay,” replied my cousin who was eager to help.
She logged into her computer and into Facebook. I gave her my friend’s name and her daughter’s name and she sent the friend requests. Then we waited and waited. No one answered her requests.
“Shoot,” I said feeling more deflated, “neither one is on the computer right now. What could they be doing? They both know I am arriving today so they must be home.”
My cousin had the next brainstorm, “Do you want me to search for her in the white pages?”
“Okay,” I said a bit more hopeful.
She went to work entering my friend’s name and searching through the pages, “Well, several entries have come up but it is hard to tell because only the initials are used.”
I thought about it, “Can you just read each entry and I will see if one of them sounds right?”
So, carefully and concisely, my cousin read each entry to me. By process of elimination, I was able to determine which one might be my friend.
Kathy clicked on the entry I indicated and found an address. She read it to me and I entered it into my gps unit.
“Thanks for helping me, cousin,” I replied, “and I will let you know if this worked.”
“Okay,” answered my cousin, “I will talk to you soon.”
So off I went again to find my friend. I followed all the instructions supplied by my gps device and soon I was indeed pulling up in front of a familiar house. I knocked on the door, and much to my elation and relief, my friend answered the door. And was surprised to see I have arrived. Excitedly we hugged and then I exclaimed, “What have you been doing? I actually got lost and couldn’t get hold of you. So my cousin tried contacting you through Facebook for me.”
“Oh?” My friend and her daughter looked at each other and then me trying hard to not laugh. Then they explained, “We fell asleep!”
Curious now, they jumped on their computers, logged in and checked their Facebook messages. They had indeed received my cousin’s message requesting to be friends and explaining that I needed help.
We all laughed and began planning the next few days. We all liked hiking and geocaching so we planned several of these along with some sightseeing.
One of the biggest highlights is that we hiked to the top of a certain mountain where an old fire lookout house still remains. We had engaged in a geocaching hunt and the cache was hidden near the old building. We searched under rocks, around trees, and around the old building. Due to the steepness and rocky terrain, it was a challenge to safely maneuver around. Numerous times, I grasped the edge of rocks, tree limbs, or small boulders to keep from slipping. My friend found the cache this time. But even more thrilling than finding the hidden “treasure” was the treasure of seeing the mountainous beauty and just being with my friends. We don’t get to visit each other often enough so when we do, we cherish that time. Just writing this account now, I am once anxious to be on that long and wondrous journey again to visit my Wyoming friends.