Wyoming - Devil's Tower and Wind River Country

2nd - 6th July 2008

Dah-dah-dah-dah-dah, time for a movie moment.   Our first stop in Wyoming was at Devil's Tower, brought to fame in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.   Whilst we didn't have any alien encounters of our own, the monument was certainly stunning and a little eerie.    A revered holy place for Native Americans, their offerings visible in nearby trees, the rock certainly exuded a spiritual feeling.

We opted to escape close encounters of the millions of tourists kind, we wanted to truly experience the atmosphere of the area surrounding the rock.  We selected the three mile, more challenging "Red Beds Trail" for our tour around the monument, rather than the simple, one mile walk around the base.   

Devil's Tower

We were glad to find that we pretty much had the longer trail to ourselves and could enjoy and nature of the place and stunning views in peace, during rest stops whilst we got our breath back!   The scale of the rock was startling when measured against the tiny figures of rock-climbers,  visible against the sheer rock only with binoculars.

Brrr - didn't we start travelling to get away from this kind of thing?

We made a stop at the Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center in Dubois.  We learned that the town's name, for some strange reason, is pronounced Doo-boys and that Bighorn Sheep do indeed have really, really big horns.

Harvey did not particularly enjoy the next part of our trip, which involved the ascent of the Bighorn Mountains to a height of 9500 feet.    We too were feeling the effects of the thinner air and were apprehensive when we began this part of the trip, in search of the next campground, in heavy mountain mist.   This area was part of the National Forest Service lands and they had several campgrounds off the main road.    We arrived at the one recommended to us by the NFS ranger who'd given us the map, to find a dark, featureless site, deep in woodland, high up on the cold mountains.    

Unimpressed, we continued westwards along the mountain pass.   As suddenly as it had arrived, the mist lifted.  As we descended from the snowy heights, we found ourselves in a breath-taking canyon, rapidly descending around hairpin bends, towards the town of Ten Sleep.

What we lost in height, we gained warmth and we finally stopped at the Leigh Creek campground, where we found a campsite which backed right on to the river.   This, of course, required an exploratory fishing excursion before dinner.     The fish were in luck this time, the smaller ones were released and the big one escaped.


Bighorn Mountain Canyon

St. Stephen's Mission, Riverton.

Pouring over the roadmaps that night, Christine spotted a familiar name, "Wind River Indian Reservation".    The name was known from the books of Margaret Coel, who wrote a series of mysteries based in that area of Wyoming, with a Mission Priest as one of the two main characters.    We decided it would be great to detour through the area, to see how it compared to the way it had been imagined during the reading of the books.   

Next morning, after a long drive through fairly non-descript but obviously oil-rich high plains countryside, we arrived in the town of Riverton, home of the books' protagonist priest.    Naturally we had to make a stop at the town's St Stephen's mission, which was obviously the basis for the fictional mission in the books.   


From Riverton, we set out for the town of Lander, home of another character in the books.    We were already on a back road, having visited the mission, and as we continued on our route to Lander, we encountered major roadworks.   These had reduced the road to a rough, unsurfaced, pot-hole laden stretch of gravel which, much to Harvey's horror, continued for a further eight miles before we were able to rejoin the main road.   Perhaps we should have turned around when we first encountered the roadworks, nevertheless Harvey made it, unscathed and puncture free, if perhaps a tad dustier than he began!

This dust road goes on for how long??????

On arriving in Lander, we learned two things.    Lander was famous for being the home of the first paid rodeo and this year's rodeo was being held that weekend.    Secondly there was to be a 4th July parade and buffalo barbecue the following day, so it seemed that we should stick around for a while.   After all, it seemed we could get the total Western American experience all in one day!   We set off in search of a home for Harvey for the next couple of nights.

We drove out of town to check out a couple of RV parks listed in our guide.   On reflection, however, we decided that all the action was taking place right in town and retraced our steps to the only downtown campground, the Sleeping Bear RV Park.     Despite the fact that they were already fully booked, the friendly campground hostess managed to find a tiny spot for Harvey.    Even if we did have to share our power supply with our neighbour and take it in turns to run outside to reset the circuit breaker each time it blew, we were glad to be located right in the heart of things.

The fun started right away, as local businesses were throwing a party in town that evening and we cycled into town to check it out.    We enjoyed meeting some locals, some dancing and sampling some local beverages.

Next morning we headed back to town for the start of the parade.    The streets were packed long before the parade began and people kept giving us cryptic advice that we should move after the parade if we wanted to stay dry.   The parade definitely had a wild-west feel to it, with colourfully dressed cowboys and girls, local traditionally dressed native American Indians and a wagon train driven in crazy style, performing tight circles in the main street, heading alarmingly towards the crowds as it passed.

Rodeo Queens.......


Stunt driving in a wagon train......

and fierce Indian Warriors made it feel like the Wild West,

although participants came in all shapes and sizes!

As the end of the parade finally approached, it began to dawn on us why we were being advised to move.   Bringing up the rear of the parade were fire crews and engines from several different fire-services, representing all the fire-crews in the area.    The centre of town was already occupied by the town fire crew and the parade ended up with an insane water fight in the street between the different fire crews.   In no time at all the whole street was awash and spectators who stood too close were soaked, although many had opted for the drenching as a relief to the baking heat!

Main Street, Lander gets its annual wash-down

Next we went in search of the buffalo sausage barbecue laid on by the local Rotary Club.   It wasn't hard to find, we just tagged along behind the wave of people heading to the park.    We enjoyed our buffalo in company with some very interesting locals, before heading home for a siesta in preparation for that night's rodeo.

We were a little apprehensive about attending our first rodeo, having no idea what to expect.   The rodeo grounds lay some distance away from the campground, so we headed out on our trusty, rusty bikes.   We chose our seats in the "bleachers", wooden plank stadium seating.    Those with experience of "bleachers" brought their own cushions, the rest of us just fidgeted a lot as the night wore on.   

The folks from Lander wait in line for buffalo



We had selected our seat well, as our surrounding spectators were very friendly and eager to enlighten us about the rodeo events.     

First on the agenda was, of course, the heart-felt rendition of the American National Anthem, as Wyoming State Flag and Stars-and-Stripes were paraded around the arena.    

After this, scheduled events (and some unscheduled events) included.....

Bull-riding, followed swiftly by ambulance riding for one of the competitors.....

.....kiddie races and Lander's famous Indian relay races.    During the Indian Relay race, one rider had to make three laps of the arena, riding a different horse for each lap.   All riding was bare-back and the changeover of rider from one excited racehorse to another was quite something to behold.

There was bare-back and saddle bronco riding of wild horses and steer wrestling, where the cowboy leapt from his horse to grab a steer and rope its legs, to stop it escaping..

Cowgirls didn't have to wrestle the steers they roped and raced around barrels in the area at amazing speeds.

Cool Cowboys in Training.

  For the next event there was a set of warm up exercises for the participating children, which to the delight of many parents included rolling around in the dirt of the arena.    A poor unsuspecting calf was then released into the arena filled with children, who had the objective of getting hold of the ribbon tied on the calf's tail in order to win.    Miraculously no calves or small people were injured in this event, although the calf may well have needed therapy for some time afterwards! 
The final event of the evening, the wild horse race, was fascinating.    Three teams of three cowboys had to rope a wild horse once the three horses were released simultaneously from the pens.     After roping the unbroken animals, the team had to get close enough to saddle the horse and then ride it between a barrel and the arena fence, before returning to the commentator with the saddle first, to win.  

Initially it was hard to believe that the teams would even get near the wildly bucking animals.   Once the animals were roped, one cowboy held tight to the rope whilst being dragged rapidly around the arena, to serve as anchor to slow the horse, until it became calm enough to approach.    In the case of one of the stubborn animals, this was never possible.    This horse was most definitely determined not to be saddled.   However, the other two animals were finally successfully saddled, ridden through the finish line and unsaddled again, amazingly without the spilling of any blood!

After each event,  gallant rodeo helpers had to round up the wild horse, the angry bull or confused steer left running wild in the arena after the star competitor had left the ring.    Not a job to be envied!

The event ran longer than planned, due in part to the unplanned exit of one competitor in an ambulance and subsequent wait for a new standby ambulance to arrive at the arena, but also due to a surprise power cut, which left the arena in total darkness for about 20 minutes until the spotlights could be powered up again.    

We decided to give the July 4th fireworks in the arena a miss in the hope of cycling home before the big rush of cars.   What we hadn't counted on was the surreal bike ride home in the dark, with fireworks being set off all around town, sometimes right out on the pavement in front of people's houses as we went by.    We had the feeling we were biking through a war zone, but eventually made it safely back to our campground.    Apparently July 4th is the only day fireworks are permitted in Lander and it seems the locals like to make the most of it!

Next day we visited the town's Sinks Canyon State Park.    The park is named for the strange phenomenon in the canyon, where the river suddenly disappears into a hole in the rock.   Lower down the valley, water reappears magically from another rock.    It was finally established with a dye test that it was the same water exiting the rock as disappearing higher up the valley but, somehow, the water took two hours to cover the quarter mile distance underground. 


The Sinks of Sinks Canyon

At the rise, where the water reappeared, chubby local fish had cunningly become a tourist attraction, protected from anglers and kept well-fed from a fish-food vending machine placed strategically nearby by the Park Service!

Despite the restrictions on fishing at the rise, the rest of the river was reputed to be good angling.    Next day we relocated Harvey to the State Park campground and armed with his Wyoming fishing license, Phil set forth up the river to check it out, his trusty rod-caddy in tow.    During our walk upstream we managed to hook three nice trout, large enough to keep.    We encountered a curious three-year old boy walking the riverbank with his mother.   He was keen to see how fish were caught.  Willingly a demonstration was given, during which Phil coolly managed to hook a small fish right on cue for the little boy to land!

Sometimes fishing the river involved some acrobatics and rock climbing to reach the best fish spots.   The best catch of the day, however was right back in the campground during the early evening, when we hooked ourselves three good sized trout, reaching our daily allowed limit.   We enjoyed a delicious trout supper.   Fish doesn't get much fresher than that!   

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