The first distinctive landmark we enjoyed was Devil's Tower. Yes, THAT Devil's Tower from 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind.' There was a movie theater that always played the film and some schlocky alien inspired tourist shops. I can attest to the fact that there is NO airstrip behind the Tower. Mostly it was just a really beautiful place to camp and rock climb. We camped there for a couple of nights and enjoyed some terrifically fun and musical 'neighbors' who jammed with Pete and his mandolin.
The Tower itself is thought to be the core of a volcano which long ago eroded away. The top of it is roughly the size of an American football field. Native American legend explains the formation as the Great Spirit's means of protecting two young girls who were being chased by a grizzly bear. In their distress they cried out and the Great Spirit raised the rock up from the earth carrying the girls safely out of reach of the bear which clawed all along the sides trying to get at them.
In Wyoming we really had time to relax together as a group. We took a somewhat slower pace since South Dakota had been so grueling and we even picked up a new member along the way. Mark was from Michigan and had started his bicycle journey west from there. He had been biking alone the whole time and didn't hesitate in the least to accept the invitation to bike along with us. It was clear he'd spent 1000 miles or so alone and was glad for some company because he talked, and talked, and talked...and then talked some more. Still he was a fun addition to our rag tag band and seemed to fit in just fine.
I mean if we can accommodate people who sing into bike tire pumps, build wash lines on the back of their bikes, and a guy who wears bike shorts, a pleather wrap jacket and penny loafers we can certainly accommodate a talkative Michigander. And yes, Greg really wore that very outfit into a biker (motorcycle) bar late at night and ordered a soda and lived to tell the story.
Wyoming is also where we finally had our first mail drop of the trip. We were all so excited to get some mail from friends and family. We'd been gone over a month and letters and treats were a delight. One of the letters I got included a check from my dad requesting that I get him a 'unique' souvenir and use the rest for myself. I must say Wyoming had no lack of opportunities for unique souvenir shopping. I was tempted to buy Dad one of the ubiquitous Turd Birds made from the ever present buffalo chips but I resisted and instead got him a set of canned 'wild meats.'
Other firsts in Wyoming included our first serious encounter with altitude. When planning our course now we had to factor in where the best (read lowest) mountain passes were. It was important to be able to start and complete the climb in one day because it would be far too demoralizing to end a day mid-mountain knowing you had to start the day at that point. We noticed in Wyoming that signs at the town limit tended to include the local altitude and the local population AND that those numbers were inverse of what we were accustomed to thinking of. Here in Emblem, WY we noticed that if Del (second from left) and his family of 19 moved in the town would virtually triple in population.
Tune in next week for a Close Encounter with bison and some big changes for our group.