Medicine Lodge, Wyoming
Well, I've been here almost a week.
It's so strange, but Wyoming is my state. It's where my heart lives, and it's felt that way since my first visit. I'm happy to be here. I don't want to leave here. I could live here. In the Eurovan and the tent. :-) It may get a little nippy in the wintertime, but the snowfall here in the valley is only something like 20 inches. The temperature, however, sometimes hits 50 below. Yikes! I'd definitely need one of those nifty engine block heaters, and a REALLY long extension cord that would reach to the ranch down the road.
Wyoming is so different than Colorado or Montana. It's big. It's raw. It's empty. It's colorful. It's magnificent. Some parts of it are just ugly. But it's all so real.
It's not polished. Colorado is almost too precious for words. Montana is like the hippest place on earth. Wyoming just is. (In my head Jackson Hole and Yellowstone are not part of Wyoming.) Cross the Wyoming state line going either north or south, and instantly the cars change from trucks to SUV's.
Sunday I pulled in and got all set up. I met the camp hosts, Rex and Becky. They have kids my age. During season they live here five days a week in their trailer. Two days a week they return to their home in Worland to do real life things like laundry. Rex is a retired oil engineer who now delivers cars for dealers. Sometimes Becky goes with him on his delivery trips. I believe that they may be two of the kindest and dearest people whom I have ever met. And they're fun. Well, maybe not as much fun as these folks. Every night Rex and Becky build a fire and whoever wants to warm up there, can. You can throw something on their fire and cook it if you want to, if you didn't make your own fire. They are incredibly patient with all of the stupid and ill-mannered tourists. And the locals.
And they have great stories to tell about their lives here and in the oil business. They've kept me laughing every night for hours.
And they lost a 5 year old grand-daughter last year to a drunk driver.
Monday I played in the creek. I rode my bike about five miles back into the wilderness area. I hiked the trail around the petroglyphs. This is a state-owned archeological site. There is 750 foot of forty foot of high ledge that stretches along the canyon floor. For more than ten thousand years people have chosen to live here, and they have left evidence of their lifestyles in layered deposits, which continue to be uncovered. They are pictures all over the canyon wall of animals and geometric oddities and men with, and without, shields and weapons.
And I wonder if other people lived here for the same reasons that I like it here so much: it's beautiful and wild, yet protected. There's abundant water, berry bushes, trees. It's diverse: canyons and caves and bare badlands and open foothills. Sandstone and limestone and grassy knolls. Sagebrush and cottonwoods and juniper.
Tuesday I had a wondrous day. I got up early (like 5 AM) and cleaned up and then I drove into Cody. I don't really like Cody very much; I could care less where Buffalo Bill last exploited anyone or anything. I tried to eat breakfast at some tourist deli in town, and they lost my order. I quietly threw a fit and asked them for my money back, and told them that I hoped that their food was good, because the service was about the worst I had ever experienced. I was starving.
Then I drove over to the museum complex to hit the bookstore for local history. I loaded up. They have great books there, and I've been reading a lot. On my way out of town I stopped at a store called "Crazy Mary's" that had clothes and some strange little things. They asked me where I was camping, and when I told them, they said that Medicine Lodge was a very magical place, but that very few people knew about it. Yep.
I drove 14-A east out of Cody, and the first thing that I came across was the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, where the Japanese were sent during the war. It's in a beautiful spot, but it must have felt totally desolate to the Japanese; there is absolutely nothing around there. Some of the buildings are still standing, but they're very spread out. There's also a monument. What a bizarre concept, anyway. to take innocent Americans, strip them of everything that they owned, and then imprison them.
About 20 miles further down the road, I found the Medicine Wheel. Wow. It's a big (like 70 foot diameter) circle of white stones, and it has 28 spokes radiating out from a center hub. Big mojo. It was discovered by whites in the 1880's, and no one really knows how it got there. Some say that it's Egyptian or Babylonian or Druid in origin. Some say it's just left-overs from Indian ritual. I say sacred geometry. Maybe the work of aliens. :-)
They closed off the road leading up to it to anything but foot traffic a few years aog. If you're handicapped, you can still drive it, though, and next time I go, I'll be sure to take along someone handicapped. The elevation is about 10, 000 feet, and it's about a mile and a half UP to get there. It's a beautiful walk, though.
The Wheel is fenced off and no one is allowed inside except native Americans. There was a native woman inside doing ritual while I was there. It's a very sacred place, and people leave totems and fetishes tied to the fence all around it. You're not supposed to leave anything there if you're not native, but I pulled a couple of hairs out of my head and let the wind carry them onto the fence, along with my silent prayer of thanks for all of the blessings in my life.
I started walking back to the parking lot, and a woman from Ohio, traveling with her grandson, gave me a lift. I was grateful. This woman was great, and I met up with them again about a half hour later at another historical marker down the road a bit. Her grandson, who is 12, and I walked out and climbed some boulders to catch the view, while she waited in the car, and made a tailgate dinner.
They had three weeks total vacation and had driven all the way from Ohio to Saskatchewan and were on their way back to Ohio. She was probably in her late 50's or early 60's. They were traveling in a white Voyager and they had taken the back seat out and dropped some air mattresses or something in there. The car was packed FULL. They unloaded all of their stuff and slept in the car every night. I have no idea where or how or IF they bathed, but they looked (and smelled) fine. What a great adventure with your grandchild! She told me that she had waited and waited for her husband to go on the trip with her and he never found the time, so she went without him! And that she had decided that next summer she was going to go for three months, and if he didn't get with the program, she'd make THAT trip without him, too! :-)
The rest of the drive on 14-A was beautiful. I checked out camping spots for my next trip, and watched for Bighorn Sheep. This drive and the drive back west on route 14 are not for the weak of heart. the elevation change is fairly extreme, and there is nothing between you and a big plunge over the side but a little ol' guardrail. There are turn-offs for overheated or runaway vehicles evey few miles. And the view is breathtaking.
I slipped into Burgess Junction for gas, and had a bizarre encounter with a mountain man. I couldn't fit the nozzle into my gas tank (these were really old pumps), and he was on the opposite side of the pump, and he kind of took over. He made an impromptu funnel and cleaned it and tried a couple of other things, and then finally went inside to ask for help. In the meantime, I was checking out his truck. He had all kinds of pelts and tools and interesting stuff in there. And he also had a really strange dog sitting in the cab. The mountain man, himself, was pretty wild looking, too, but quite handsome.
Anyway, he came out and essentially told me that we were both stupid; the nozzle on his side was a regular nozzle that would fit. It did.
He opened up his truck cab and it looked like The EVC! There were books everywhere. We ended up talking for a couple of hours, and then he asked me to marry him. He was very entertaining, and I actually thought about it for a few seconds before I turned him down. :-) Maybe he just was in desparate need of entertainment. Anyway, it turned out that he was a doctor from South Dakota, who had been in Red Lodge for the big Rendezvous. And he gave me a whole pile of presents to take with me:
- a hunk of homemade beaver jerky (ugh)
- a pair of gorgeous blue beaded earrings
- 2 green peppers
- 1 onion
- a package of ceremonial tobacco
- a stick of candy
- A Willie Nelson tape
- 2 books (The Hollow Earth and The Doctor of Lonesome River)
- and a reading list: Magnificent Destiny, 6 Grandfathers, 21 Lessons of Merlin, 7 Arrows, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Wilderness Medicine.
Eh. Garth always said that I was a good pioneer woman. I probably should have married the wannabe mountain man. And I did warn the guy that my hide tanning skills were a little rusty.
I drove 14 back toward Medicine Lodge, and it was as beautiful as ever. I passed through a couple of flocks of sheep tended by Mexican sheepherders. And it rained hard, which made the drive a little hairy, but the EVC performed with its usual aplomb. There were more cars on this road than I have ever seen here. Actually, there are more cars EVERYWHERE out here than I have ever seen. What can I say? I'm one of them.
Wednesday and Thursday it rained and I read, all snugged up in the EVC. We had flash flood warnings, but this part of the campground is high, and has never flooded. The lower campground has. The tent nor the EVC leaked a drop anywhere. I am SO impressed with the tent. We had really high winds, and everyone else was flapping around but me. And it could always be worse.
The balance of the week, I rode my bike and hiked and played in the water. And read. And slept. I forgot to eat for a couple of days.