Home, James

Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming

The last Electrical Outlet
The Route
Pawnee National Grasslands
ATV cowboys
Little House on the Prairie
Nebraska Passes
Scott's Bluff National Monument in a Nutshell
Along the Oregon Trail
Fort Laramie and its Restaurant Scene
Guernsey - a town with a history in camping
Welcome to wonderful windy Wyoming
the Badlands from Hell
Bridger Crossing - Past and Present
Birdseye Pass and Wind River Canyon
Thermopolis and the Big Horn Basin
Meteetsee - friendly home of the Marlboro Cowboy
Cody - the town that Buffalo Bill built
My Memorial Day Ride
Escape from Buffalo Bill


- Scott's Bluff, Nebraska has interesting scenery and passes for the cyclist and history buff.
- Following the Oregon Trail on a bicycle is better than following it in a car.
- Sorry, but greasy hamburgers and socalled "french" fries just aren't my cup of tea on a bike ride.
- Spring 2004 in Wyoming : rain, wind and snow
- a ride to the largest hot springs in the world - supposedly
- Jim Bridger, the old trail scout, left some great fat tire cycling routes for us
- Finally the weather catches me.

The last Electrical Outlet

Finally the moment had arrived, the time to leave behind the comfort of the last electrical outlet. So you say, big deal ! Who needs an electrical outlet on a bicycle tour anyway ? Let me try to justify this curious convenience. I'm talking about my support vehicle. These bicycle rides are based out of camper, and the camper can run on electrical power for heat etc. I had been preparing the camper for so long that it was a big deal to finally use it unsupported, without umbilical cord, without power. Actually I had been preparing to use the new truck camper for about a year. That was when I bought it.

The previous support camper was a 81 VW bus. The bus is history now. But it has taught me a lot. Every time it broke down it taught me something new about VW vans. I learned what chokes are for, that the alternator needs to have the brushes replaced regularly, that the fuel filter has to be replaced with religious regularity every 15000 miles, that the previous owners can play tricks with the timing of the engine so that it drives fine but wears the engine very quickly, that it needs new points every 10000 miles, that when the fuel gauge says almost empty the tanks is completely empty - little things like that. But I'm afraid I still don't know it all, and I'm glad I never will know it all. It's sold to somebody more mechanically inclined than me.

Enter the new support vehicle, an F150 truck with a Sun-Lite 690 truck camper on the back. The camper too has already taught me a lot, and that even though it's brand new. It's the reason why I have been preparing for so long, and why it was a big deal to finally get going, and leave behind that last electrical outlet. The things the Sun-Lite 690 has taught me are easy to understand even if you don't know a thing about engines. That's because the engine is in the truck, not the camper. The first time I drove the truck and camper together, groceries stacked in the cabinets, they flew open and the groceries did a hard landing on the floor, as soon as I drove around the first turn. Gee, am I the first person to ever drive around a corner with this truck camper ? Makes you wonder if anybody ever used this model. Oh well, it's nothing you can't fix with a drill, a few hooks, and some bungie straps. More learning was in store for me. The time was March after a spring snow storm. While making last preparations before leaving, I found an inch of water in the space where I was planning to sleep. This taught me that you regularly have to check the Silicone seals on the roof, around the window, around the roof vents, and wherever any part meets another one on the outside. This is especially important if the camper is new, just in case the factory forgot to seal some parts altogether, which was the case in this case. Since the front roof panel was damaged by the moisture the camper had to go back to the shop for a month. Luckily this happened on week 51 after I bought it. Had this happened two weeks later, the dealer insured me that the warranty would have been void and null.

A month later, mid April, I could finally come to terms with the more enjoyable aspects of the camper. There was so much room where to put stuff, room for a laptop computer, space for bicycle parts, books, beer, water. I had some extra doors to the truck bed installed, so that I could use every last square inch of space for a dedicated object. It really was like a little house, only that I could move it to the starting location of each new bicycle ride.

So this is how it works. Every day I ride back to the camper, and every day or couple of days, I move it to somewhere where I can connect by bicycle to the previous day's ride. I know - it's a little complicated. It makes the answer to the question  "Where are you riding ?" more difficult. After answering that question to a woman, sitting comfortably in a shady spot on the sidewalk, much later into the tour, she asked : "So your wife drives the camper ?". - No, not exactly, actually there's no wife involved in the process, just a bicycle and a camper. Other cyclists seem to understand much better. Actually most rides end where they start. The advantages of this on the north American continent are cost and nutrition. The occasional campground and gas cost less than paying for camping or motels every night. Not being dependent on grocery stores selling only potato chips and pop also has its advantages.

But we haven't left yet. There was still another preparation to take care of, a mental preparation. The first part of the route I picked north was unusual enough, that I didn't expect to run into other cyclists for quite a while. So I stocked up on social bike rides with cycling clubs in Denver. All the bike clubs were covered, a virtual race up golden Gate canyon with RMCC, a social ride up to Bergen Park with Heartcycle, a canceled DBTC ride with a handful of friendly folks who showed up anyway, not knowing that the ride had been canceled, because of bad weather that didn't materialize. That was the best of the club rides over the two weekend period. The leader canceled the ride, but it wasn't really canceled, because if we did it, it existed, and hence was not canceled. So what constitutes a canceled ride anyway ?

Anyway, the moment was approaching at last, the moment to leave behind the comfort of the last electrical outlet, located at a friend's house in Denver. Let's get melodramatic. I made my last preparatory purchase. After that there was no more delaying. I'm referring to the purchase of an extraordinary large amount of baked goods from the Entenmann's thrift bakery, very close to my friend's house. The more you buy, the more you save, and I bought so much that I saved a tremendous amount. Only bicycling every day could burn up all the calories purchased. At the Entenmann's thrift baker you have a choice. Either it's 6 baked goods for 6.99 from one table, or 3 baked goods of for 4.25 from the other table. These two tables is where baked goods end up after they have been driven around the state by delivery drivers, and it turns out that nobody wants to buy them for 3.65 a piece. Here they resume their life on the 2.99 a piece table. But only for a short time, if nobody buys them they quickly hop to the 3 for 4.25 table, until a few days later, when they end up on the 6 for 6.99 table. That's where they finally become an irresistible bargain for the hungry cyclist. But the deal making doesn't stop there. Since my total purchase topped 5 $ I was treated to a free bread from the free bread rack. But the savings continued further. "Where is your punch card ?" asked me the cashier, with a look in her eye saying "I know you're the type who can't resist a bargain". "Here it is", right in my wallet. Now I was entitled to yet another bread and Danish from the 4 for 4.25 table, and another additional bread from the dollar bread rack. Finally I had more Entenmann's pastries and Oroweat Russian Rye loafs than I could fit into the cabinets of my camper. The overflow baked goods had to be stored in the cab. I really hat to get going now, and develop some hunger. There was no more delaying. Without some long bikerides I could never eat them all, and I don't waste food.

During the final stages of preparation for a long bicycle venture, every anthill becomes a big mountain. There is nothing like a large amount of baked goods, that need to be eaten, to finally get you going.

The Route

My bicycle rides over the next two to three months took me north along the east sides of the main ranges of the Rocky Mountains, as far north as Yellowhead Pass, near Jasper, British Columbia. These were rides, not so much through the mountains, but along the mountains. The most memorable images of these rides were of mountain ranges in the distance, ranges surrounded by swirls of virga and stains of black clouds, mountains revealed in pixel detail after a thunderstorm, impenetrable walls of black in the sunset, snowcapped beacons of the west at sunrise. More in the picture page ...

Why ride on the east side of the mountains ? The east side generally has somewhat milder temperatures, fewer trees and more wind. More wind is not a good thing. But fewer trees paradoxically make the landscape look more natural. Since there are fewer trees, there is less to cut down by the lumber companies. Instead the ground cover consists largely of fields. Of course fields are manmade too. But somehow rectangular planted fields have a more pleasing appearance than rectangular clear cuts in the forest. Leaving Denver, the first part of my route took me further away from the mountains, into Nebraska. Having lived along the northern Colorado Front Range for many years, I wanted to ride through "new" territory as soon as possible, hence the eastern detour. If you are looking for the great, the wonderful, the spectacular cycling destination that everybody wants to bicycle, that's part of this tour too, but not until much later. These first two pages are about more unusual destinations. But who needs a destination anyway ? Later in Alberta my bike rides took me to the great, the wonderful and the spectacular, the Canadian Rockies National parks, the Icefield Parkway and onwards to the fjorded Pacific coast of northern British Columbia. But that's months away. For now my circle rides headed north out of Denver, following the Front Range Trail out of town, then dirt roads along the Platte Valley, heading for the Pawnee National Grasslands. My bike was a mountain bike, so that I could ride anything that looked interesting.

Pawnee National Grasslands

I am not suggesting that you cancel your ride over Trail Ridge Road or Independence Pass in order to bicycle through the Pawnee National Grasslands. But maybe those passes are still closed. They were in my case. Bicycling is a year round activity. Maybe you have been fantasizing about bicycling out on the sunny plains, on a warm winter day, when all your Front Range friends are out skiing in the Colorado Front Range Mountains. That's what happened to me, the first time about 10 years ago. This year it wasn't exactly winter any more. But as I explained, it took a while to get ready.

This is what you can expect as you head north from Denver, at some distance from the Front Range, rough direction the open plains of the Pawnee National Grasslands. Heading north east from Greeley you leave behind the planned communities, designed to enclose the maximum amount of air space with the cheapest available walls. A few miles east of Rte 85 they stop growing houses in the fields. East of Greeley the world is reduced to squares, divided by a plethora of orderly roads, most of them dirt, running east to west or north to south. The landscape becomes the horizon. For a few miles there is still the wall, crowned by white, on the horizon. But soon it disappears behind a horizon of fields. The plains are to landscapes what a Mondrian painting is to art. If a road goes diagonal you just have to find out the reason for this perplexing abnormality. Has the world gone crazy ? Did a road planner become in sane ? What could the reason be for this unimaginable abnormality ? Or is the road following a river drainage for some reason ? Ten miles east of Ault, they even stop growing crops in the fields, not to mention houses. Here the land still retains the appearance of the great American dessert, as Pike and other early explorers called it, except for the dirt roads

Bicycles are a common sight west of Rte 85. To say that they are rare on the east side would be an understatement. I have yet to see another bicycle, east of Rte 85 in Colorado. On my first circle ride in this cycling frontier, two motorists came driving behind me and stopped, wanting to know if I had some kind of problem. I assumed that they meant a physical problem, not a mental problem, and told them that I was bicycling, as evidenced by the bicycle between my legs. That seemed to satisfy them. Odd but within the realm of possibilities, there faces said. I would have liked to tell them that there was some obscure archeological site down this dirt path, or an old historical homestead. But the truth was, this path promised to be a quiet, connecting path to the previous' day ride. That's all.

I have read reports of bicycle tours on the eastern plains, some very interesting, describing the passing of mile posts, every one of them alike, and the psychological effects on the cyclist. Or they focus on the detailed description of ordinary activities, such as the rotation of the feet, or having breakfast. But let me try a different approach. The north eastern plains of Colorado are not without attractions. Take the town of Gill for example. I rode into it in search of a little park where I could eat my packed lunch. No luck, no park, of course no restaurant or business. But how different from any town west of Rte 85 ! Garden gnomes galore, trailers painted with more color than Haight Ashbury houses in San Francisco, goats in the garden, discarded cars and functioning, stinking lawn mower monsters, a closed Lion's Club Lodge with the sign, "you may be able to rent this building" and a telephone number. You could, but would you want to ? First one would have to remove the boards from the windows.

There are even bigger attractions on the plains of Colorado. One would at least produce an obligatory nod of recognition from a Coloradoan. I'm referring to the Pawnee Buttes, at the center of the Pawnee grasslands. One year they were even featured on the cover photograph of the Colorado map, published by the Colorado board of tourism, back when there still was such a map. Name recognition is half the game in marketing. Without it the entire US industrial complex would collapse. The Pawnee buttes have name recognition. True, this pair of buttes with its surrounding sandy badland rock formations wouldn't stand out much if it were located in southern Utah. But it's the contrast to the flat open expanse that makes them stand out. The Pawnee Buttes are to east Colorado, what Ayers Rock is to Australia, even if the scale is a bit smaller. The Pawnee Buttes are to Colorado what Monument Valley is to Arizona, but without the Navajo carpet salesmen. I approached them on a 75 mile circle ride from east of Briggsdale. The dirt roads are ideal for an efficient aerobic workout, without sand or washboard.

In the meantime a front blew in from the north and shook my little house on the prairie like a little boat on the ocean. I parked it to face the wind for the night to minimize nightmares of the Titanic variety. The next day a more appropriate comparison to the buttes would have been located somewhere on a wet beach, not in southern Utah. It was the last day of April. But I was in the middle of a cold wet air mass, coating me and the landscape with wet snow. Without the distant view the sandy bandland hills had a sand dune like appearance.

The 85 mile ride on May 1st circled around the Pawnee Buttes with the bulk of the miles stretching north to I 80 in Nebraska, following or approximating a small part of the Pawnee Pioneer Trail scenic route, a name decreed by the Colorado tourist department. The route has an austere kind of beauty, abandoned farms, bullet riddled "cow grate signs", the buttes beaming in the distance. From the east the buttes are a landmark. From the west you can't see them until you're almost on top of them. Heading west into Nebraska, the farms become large corporate ventures, large pieces of machinery with spewing and heaving arms, toiling away inside a field that stretches to the horizon. On 85 miles of dirt road, not a diagonal among them, I saw 6 pickup trucks, 1 farm truck, 2 cars in the Pawnee Buttes parking lot, and 2 three wheel ATVs.

ATV cowboys

ATVers are a curious species. He came racing towards me, trailing a plume of dust across the plain. He stopped his noisy vehicle and his dog jumped off the back. The driver greeted me with the words "just checkin up on ya. Ah didn't know what ya weyare". - "Yes, I guess you don't see too many bicycles around here" I answered.  I didn't know what he was either. But at least we got a good look at each other. His dog jumped back on the ATV and he drove back to where he came without an additional word, somewhere in the fields. Half an hour later, a second ATV came racing towards me. Unlike the first ATVer he had a sunburned complexion, looking like he spent more time doing something other than just sit on his noisy motor vehicle. He pulled up next to me and said "I thought you were my son". "Does he ride a bicycle too ?", I asked. "No I thought he might be walking. I've just moved from Taos" he answered. That second sentence didn't make much sense, and shows I was still in a an "west of Route 85 state of mind". You just moved here from Taos ?" I asked.  "No, I'm moving cows" he answered. Now that made more sense. People from Taos would move to California, or if Colorado then Boulder or Eagle or any number of places, all of them west of Rte 85. The ATVer had more practice understanding sentences through the engine noise of his monster. "I'll leave you alone now" he spoke, and so he did. ATVers may be a curious species. But their curiosity is limited.

It was only a matter of time until I had an encounter with the cows themselves. It was 15 miles north of Bushnell, Nebraska. The road crested a fold and the landscape broke into a series of bluffs, opening up the first view on the Wildcat Hills of Scott's Bluff. The cows were a herd a hundred yards wide with the road running through their middle. We stood there and stared at one another, neither one moving. I was tempted to moo back at them. Finally I carried my bike around the herd, through the range, not wanting the cowboys to loose some "doggies" on my account. The cowboy guarding the tailend of the herd said  "Didn't know you looked that scary, did you ?" - No, I didn't know that.

But that brings up the appearance of these cowboys. They were a bunch of pudgy guys in blues jean racing around on ATVs. What about that image of the cowboy popularized around the world ? What about that Marlboro cowboy gazing from his horse with an air of selfreliance ? What about the horse beneath him ? He can be seen on thousands of billboards stretching across Europe. He was hard to find in Nebraska.

Little House on the Prairie

Now that I own a house, I have responsibilities, even if the house has wheels. This morning I discovered another leak, not from the roof this time, but from under the sink. Water was dripping out of the connection between the water hose and faucet in the sink. While trying to tighten it, I noticed that it was coming from the faucet fixture itself, and before too long the hose broke off, containing the part of the faucet that it was clamped to very tightly indeed. Luckily the failure was benign. There was a workaround. The hose could be unclamped and rerouted to exit a cabinet and go to the sink directly. A bungy strap could be used to hold the cabinet door almost closed with the water hose still running through the crack. I would like to suggest to Sun-Lite to deliver the camper with a supply of at least a dozen bungie straps, to fasten all the things that fall off the camper within the first 6 months of operation. The camper already comes with a large supply of extra screws that are located in all parts of the camper. Or are these screws that have fallen off ?

Nebraska Passes

Yes - Nebraska has passes. The map says so, and maps don't lie - usually. Let's just say the meaning of the word has been modified from the way it is used in "Independence pass" or "Beartooth Pass".

The top of the climb was only 300 or 400 feet higher than the start. It only took half an hour to cover the 4 miles and the climate didn't change. But the view from the top was amazing. A set of low cliffs was edged above the plains. It was like a life sized model of the landscape, made from a topographic map. There was only a single contour line. But that single contour line traced out a wildly waving, long precise line, marking a cliff. The 400 feet elevation difference is enough to  produce an orographic effect, resulting in loosely scattered needle trees on the plateau, overlooking the vast treeless fields surrounding Scott's Bluff.  That's the view awaiting the cyclist cresting the Wildcat Hills south of Scott's Bluff on a 4 lane hard topped road. Next to the road a very small portion of the hills is reserved for a state park. It will cost you 3 dollars in order to as much as place your butt on the grass there. The park contains a total of 3 miles of trails that can be biked and hiked. It's a very pretty place, but very small. At a dollar a mile, for walking, it presents a questionable value of return for your investment.


You learn something new on a bicycle tour every day, even if you don't want to. Today, the thing I learned - and wasn't especially interested in - was the fact that there is no "public grazing range" in Nebraska. Farmers have to graze their cattle on private land. I was informed of this by a man of ample girth, wearing a purple shirt, wide brimmed hat, driving a rusty pickup, demanding to know what I was doing. I was not grazing cattle, or even my bicycle. But apparently I was parked on his land, which I had taken for a public sand pit and occasional partying spot, judging from the garbage. I had planned to spend the night there. The junk yard owner seemed to get annoyed at just the idea that "public land" even existed in other states. "You are in Nebraska now" he yelled. Of course I can understand the old fat man to some extend. How would you like it if somebody camped in your junkyard ? It is noteworthy, that in this corner of Nebraska, private land is not posted with signs. Nebraska is primarily populated by farmers, some of whom are also junkyard owners, and farmers and junk yard owners are territorial.

There was another parking spot I remembered. It was not far and even identified as public land on the gazeteer map - apparently an access road to a well head. I could finally get some sleep here, I thought. I thought wrong. At one o'clock in the morning I noticed flashing lights outside. I was fully awake before they tried to wake me up with a siren. The camouflaged teenagers outside my truck identified themselves as "US government". They informed me I was on "US property". That's what I had hoped. If it's not private, it's corporate, state or federal, and if it's federal what better ownership of US land than the good old US themselves, rather than say Cuba for example. BLM, National Forest, Bureau of Reclamation all these agencies administer federal land. However they weren't talking about BLM land. But they couldn't tell me what they were talking about. Apparently it was "top secret". "All we can tell you is that you have to leave" they said, sounding a little like Smart from the ancient TV series "Get Smart". I could tell you that I was parked on an access road to a missile silo. But, these days that would be interpreted as threatening homeland security, so I won't.

I spent the rest of the night parked on the noisy shoulder of a nearby road. This was the only place that somebody objected to my selection of overnight parking spot in 5 months, and that twice in the same night, first a Rush Limbaugh look alike, and then the entire US government in the form of machine gun toating teenagers. Apparently I needed advice in that department. I got some the next day. After a short 40 mile ride back to the Wildcat Hills I turned my attention to the finer things in life, namely a Chinese Restaurant Buffet in Gering and the North Platte Museum. The weather had turned from record lows in the Pawnee Buttes to record highs in the 90s in Scott's Bluff, and a day of physical rest was in order.

Al, a man in his 60s, gave me a personal tour of the North Platte Museum. He himself had found the most impressive artifact in the museum, a beaded indian shirt But the personal tour didn't stop there. When I mentioned to him I had trouble finding the road to Carter Canyon, Al jumped in his car. It was a small pickup with two garage door openers on the dash, as well as a variety of tools and building materials. He was just in the process of fixing up one house in order to sell it and then buy another one, and then fix it up. He took time to show me around, in spite of the home improvement frenzy. We drove a circle from Scott's Bluff, passing not only Carter Canyon,  but also two low  unpaved passes in the Wildcat Hills, Robidoux Pass and an unnamed Pass above Carter Canyon. Al could relate to cyclists even without biking himself. His son was a committed cyclist, he told me. That explains it.

In the process of the extensive tour we also covered the Cedar Canyon Wildlife Management Area, which is the perfect spot for selfcontained camping in the Gering - Scott's Bluff Area. It's a meadow surrounded by a horseshoe of bluffs on three sides and the lights of Scott's Bluff twinkling in the night on the remaining side, by far the best in free camping on public land that Scott's Bluff has to offer, not even a missile silo or junk yard in sight

Next day I cycled the two passes that Al had showed me. Both are associated with an old  French trapper of the Rocky Mountain Fur company, Robidoux. After his employment with the company he returned to build a trading post, and started the tradition of overcharging customers for basic services. Robidoux Pass is a 400 foot rise over sage hills and bluffs. It was also the route of the Oregon trail prior to 1861. Carter Canyon leads to an unnamed pass through the only dense forest I have encountered since leaving. Here a reproduction of the Robidoux trading post waits for passing cyclists, an attractive, authentic L shaped log structure. Robidoux's trading post was the first settlement in the area, and this was most likely the location of choice for it, years after the first store.

There is one more "pass" in the Scott's Bluff area. This one is the most famous, and least pass like of them all, Mitchell Pass in Scott's Bluff National Monument. It's little more than a gentle incline to a gap in between two rock outcrops. But it was a famous landmark of the Oregon trail during its most popular time after 1861. There is nothing pass like about this pass for today's cyclist. The word "pass" is testimony to the exhaustion felt by Oregon trail travelers, when seeing this slight incline after 2 months of wagon travel or pulling handcarts over a featureless plain.

A 1.7 mile 7 percent spur road leads to the top of the rock from the pass. But I already knew from my personal guided tour that it was closed to cyclists. After 82 miles I was tired enough, and content to get back to Cedar Canyon without another detour. But I did want to needle the park ranger just a little bit about the reason why the road is closed to cyclists. I thought I owed it to other bicyclists. Maybe someday the road will be open. So it's okay to burn gasoline but not calories. It's okay to add C02 to the air. But it's not okay to burn up fat, of which Nebraska has an overabundant supply. It's illegal to climb the road on your own power. But it's okay to sit there and get fat. You can't use a bicycle. You have to rely on the automobile. I wasn't going to say all these things. I was too tired anyway. It would be satisfying enough to just think these things, when the ranger would painstakingly prevent me and my bicycle from being on the road.

"So why is this road closed for cyclists ?" I asked the ranger as he locked up the museum. "Well, it's closed for bicycles only during business hours. You can ride up it now. Just go around the gate" he answered. It's 1.7 miles with a 7 % grade". That's what you get for even thinking of needling a park ranger. Of course I had to ride to the top regardless how tired I was. The road leads through several tunnels, and gives a great view of the Platte river meandering under a canopy of trees over an otherwise bare plain towards a hazy outline of the Laramie mountains. It is hard to believe you are only a couple of hundred feet above the plain. This is not Mount Ventoux or Mount Evans. But on a clear day you can see just as far. It turned out to be the longest, most satisfyingly exhausting day so far, 97 miles in all. The three miniature passes, two dirt (Robidoux Pass, Carter Canyon) and one hard top, Mitchell Pass, could be covered on a day ride out of Scott's Bluff in as little as 30 miles of riding. The rest of the miles stretched up the Platte Valley into Wyoming.

Scott's Bluff National Monument in a Nutshell

When they saw these rocks, they described them in their journals in glowing terms. They compared them with magnificent castles complete with their chapels and buttresses. They were travelers on the Oregon trail. The era of westward migration was in full swing. After 2 months and 600 miles on the plains, the travelers were bored at best. Some wrote "I wish something would happen. I wish the Indians would attack". At worst they were sick with cholera and their family members lay buried along the trail. Late during Oregon trail history, there was an average of 4 gravemarkers to the mile. From this rock monument, settlers could see the Laramie mountains for the first time, if it was clear enough. On my bicycle rides during May I couldn't make out the hazy gentle outline floating above the sea of green until I reached Fort Laramie, one day later.

Here is the abridged version of the history of this rock, Scott's Bluff. The river started carving its meanders through relatively young and soft Miocene sediments and left the Wildcat hills. Stepping forward in time just a little bit, felt hats started becoming fashionable in large cities of the 1820s. American fur traders, intent to cash in on fashion, started wandering the rivers of the west, among them Smith, Jackson and Sublette of the American Fur company. The rock was named when Scott Hiram was deserted by his companions and died in the area. Different versions of the story exist.

Pretty soon the Platte was a major access route to Wyoming's South Pass an the mountains to the west. The area directly adjacent to the Platte was too muddy for a good trail. Enter the age of westward migration. For the longest time the trail crossed Robidoux Pass. It was already on the cycling schedule today. Wagons were used by Smith, Jackson and Sublette on the Oregon trail the first time in 1830. They utilized them to carry trinkets to the Indians, supplies to the trappers, and the raw materials for the fashion craze back to the east.

Finally, in 1861 the ruts on Mitchell Pass were cleared away so that wagons could cross it, staying close to the Platte. Mormons had a different viewing angle of the rock. They didn't cross Mitchell Pass. Instead they stayed on the other side of the river. Mormons had their own guidebooks to the promised land, giving distances in rotations of the wheel. While the men pulled the handcarts, the women would count the wheel rotations, to estimate arrival at the next watering spot. In 1860 Russell, Major and Wadell obtained a government subsidy for their failing freight business, resulting in the Pony express mail service. Mail from Missouri to California took 8 to 10 days. The idea lasted 18 months, until telegraph wires were strung through the pass. The heavy traffic through the pass didn't last much longer either, till 1869, when the transcontinental railroad was completed. The road to the top and the sturdy buildings in place nowadays are a result of a CCC work project.

The pioneer history of the area is told in the museum with a large amount of  William Jackson illustrations. Jackson was a photographer first and an illustrator second. Well, that's not really true. First he was an illustrator, then he was a photographer, but his photography achieved more fame. That's not really true either. He was an illustrator, photographer, and painter. In his late life, Jackson reworked many of his early illustrations into grand paintings, such as a very popular canvas of wagons rolling over Mitchell Pass. The painting is a romantic vision from Jackson's memories. Today's camera sees a harder outline. When rivers carve out landscapes, the leave things behind. The Platte left a National Monument, Scott's Bluff.

This brings us to today, the day of my visit. A teacher entertained a group of 40 forth graders with Oregon Trail stories, pioneers eating livers and hearts of buffalo, things like that to keep the crowd engaged. After a slide show consisting entirely of Jackson illustrations of the area, the teacher lead the class of overweight children in stretching exercises, which take up less energy than walking 1/100 of a mile. We've come a long ways since we used to walk over the plains, pulling handcarts or hiking next to prairie schooner wagons to the west coast. There must be something better than these silly stretching exercises for these enormous overweight bodies of forth graders. For starters, how about some public land to move around in. The low cliffs of Scott's Bluff are a fantastic natural area. Yet almost all the land is private and fenced in, with the exception of one state park containing a grand total of 3 miles of trail, one national Monument with another 3 miles of trail and the Cedar Canyon Wildlife area.

Along the Oregon Trail

My rides in the Platte valley were the kind of ride a cyclist would do if he lived here - that is if they would ride bicycles here. It followed dirt roads and small asphalt roads. The main highway, Route 26 cuts across this orderly grid. Route 26 through Torington and Lingle, actually follows the Oregon trail more closely. But life along the Oregon trail is harder to imagine, with all the truck traffic and commercial signs. My bicycle rides crossed the Platte several times, together with the loosely scattered trees that lined the once mighty river. Today it's been reduced to a trickle. But the picturesque widely scattered trees, perfect for camping, remain. These trees once contained the greatest collection of Indian bands assembled in one place. The occasion was the signing of the Horse Creek Treaty, which was a moment of peace between the emigrants and the Indians before it all fell apart starting with the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado.

Fort Laramie and its Restaurant Scene

On first sight the appeal of Fort Laramie is the same as that of the many abandoned farms, I had been photographing on my dirt road rides. A row of forlorn houses stand in a desolate landscape, and your eye looks for some landmark to complement its lonely appearance. But there aren't any. But this spot, the confluence of the North Platte and the Laramie River, is the historical center of Wyoming. People have always traveled through Wyoming, on the way to somewhere that seemed more important to them, and this was the most important stopping point. First came the fur traders. William Sublette built a fort to trade trinkets for furs with the Indians in 1934. A second fur trader fort replaced the old one in 1941, this one made of adobe.

But the fort that received all the reconstruction dollars came after the two fur trading forts, a military fort established in 1849. Its purpose was to guard the westward expansion against Indians. Unlike the fur trader posts, it did not have a protecting stockade around its perimeter, but was a set of buildings facing around a rectangular parade ground, hence the abandoned farm look. A group of 180 men served there, and most of them never saw hostilities. With a group of indians permanently attached to the fort, serving as guides and interpreters, and 50000 emigrants trudging through the fort each summer, it must have been quite a sight. The first use of the fort was guarding against Indians, demanding payments from trail users.  But the real strategic value was its importance as a supply point. With each treaty broken by the US, more support was needed from Fort Laramie, finally culminating in the battle of the little Big Horn in Montana, which didn't go very well for a certain Mister Custer. The bridge built just for that military expedition greets the cyclist as he bicycles towards the fort.

Many buildings in the fort are lovingly refurnished so that the military romantic can let his imagination roam. Interpretive signs educate the visitor to such facts that the smart old white building, named "Old Bedlam" was named after the "boisterous sounds that emanated from bachelor officers during parties". In this way the fort is very family friendly. One building that has not been placed under federal protection is the bordello serving the fort, once referred to as "hog ranch". It sits on a piece of private land a mile west of the Fort and is in private hands.

Fort Laramie attracts the military history fan more than the person interested in the mountain man/fur trade period. The reconstruction dollars were used to rebuild military fort facilities. None of the money was used to rebuild structures from the fur trade period. Nothing is left from the fur trade period either, except the confluence of the Laramie and the South Platte rivers themselves. There is a commemorative sign near where Fort Platte, one of the fur trade posts once stood, however. It points to a mobile home and a large haystack.

At a center of "all American" military history, it makes good sense to serve "all american food", meaning hamburgers. I had not planned on eating there. But I didn't have a choice. A person on a bicycle back in Lingle assured me that I would have a wide variety of fine restaurants to choose from in Fort Laramie, and if that didn't fit the bill, even a gas station with a microwave. When a person on a bicycle tells me something, I usually believe him. Consequently I didn't take a lunch with me today. Now I know, that bicycle had never traveled the dozen miles to Fort Laramie. If it had done so, its rider would have known that there was only one restaurant that could be relied on to be open. Worse than that - the gas station was without microwave. I had no choice. I needed fuel to get back, and fuel in this case was hamburgers and socalled "french" fries.

With so many patriotic people visiting Fort Laramie, it makes sense to serve a patriotic theme along with the hamburgers. As you ride up to the All American Cafe, you are greeted by a slick sign depicting an eagle flashing stars and stripes under the wings. It's the kind of thing you would expect to see on a postage stamp. Inside the patriotism escalates. Heardt shaped "stars and stripes" make up the table spread. The wall paper features flags, and nothing but flags. A wall display reads "I love USA" surrounded by more heardt shaped flags. The statue of liberty can't be missing. It's right over another USA relief. Of course the only colors in the entire place are red white and blue. That goes for the food too. The bread is white, almost as white as old paper. The catsup, the substance serving as vegetable, is red. The surgeon general says you must eat vegetables every day, and red catsup is as close as it comes around here. The hamburger itself is patriotically inspired, It is about the size of an old silver dollar. It costs five contemporary dollars.
The All American Cafe was quite full. The American flag is a great sales tool. You can use it to sell cars. Who hasn't seen the hundreds of flags blowing in the wind around "Honest Abe's car deals", or a similar establishment. You can use it to sell hamburgers. See above. You can even use it to sell wars. It wasn't long ago when patriotic George Dubiyah sold his first invasion of the middle east with help of the American flag. When you stand behind the flag, your motives are pure, and inversely proportional to the stupidity of the people believing them. But the town site of Fort Laramie is really a friendly little town. There is even a free park/campground with water.

Guernsey - a town with a history in camping

Leaving Fort Laramie along the Oregon trail by bicycle, you can really feel the excitement of the changing landscape. Fort Laramie disappears behind waves of windblown grass. Successive waves of prairie drift by, each one cresting a little higher than the last one. Finally the triangular loaf of Laramie Peak looms in the haze ahead. Small unobtrusive signs, that you would miss in a car, help you track down trail ruts and pioneer graves. The modern road is far away on the other side of the valley.

The next town, Guernsey, has a very refined history of camping. Approaching on the Oregon trail,  you can see the appeal right away. Wide river bottoms make crossing easier. Low cliffs, at some distance from the river, enclose the area, making for a spacious natural park, where animals could forage and travelers could relax. Nearby cold and warm springs once offered opportunities for bathing. Oregon Trail Travelers, freshly resupplied at Fort Laramie, chose this area traditionally as a layover day. A cliff served as guest book where trail travelers chiseled their names. This is one of the very rare occasions where graffiti achieved the state of historical documentation, one of three such locations along the trail. Lee Jones, who was here in 96 doesn't seem to recognize the difference. He may well be one of those who left the large amount of Bud Light cans along the Platte too.

Guernsey also seems to be developing into a motor sport resort for senior citizens. Bicycling into town from Register Cliff, during a Saturday morning, one is confronted with the incongruous sight of small wheeled vehicles, racing around in circles, on a verdant green lawn. The vehicles are topped with canopies. The lawn is so green that it gives the appearance that it rains a lot - or that it never rains - like in Arizona. Yes, maybe you guessed it already, they were golfers, chasing that little ball with motorized support. No Wall Mart marks the outskirts of this cow town. No obvious subdevelopments have grown along the periphery, not even an Outback steakhouse chain restaurant exists - and still - grown men chase little white balls with the help of motorized vehicles with tiny wheels and canopy roofs.

But back to the camping. The history of camping in Guernsey does not end with the Oregon trail and the age of westward expansion. In the 1930s the local camping culture was further enriched. This was the age of president Roosevelt's Civil Conservation Corps (CCC), the WPA and other acronyms, synonymous with government work programs, providing jobs for people needing them, building new trails, roads, damns and public outhouses for the general population. The bureau of reclamation had already built a dam near Guernsey. It was the CCC's job to enrich the manmade lake with toilets fit for a king, to place flag stone picnic structures pitched on cliffs, overlooking the lake like a castle in Europe. Chances are, long after the lake is silted in - which it already is - these structures will cast their stately beauty over the area - which they still do. Campers on Guernsey reservoir have enjoyed this aesthetic luxury since the 1930s. In spite of the fact that this was a federal program, entry fees are several hundred percent higher for the out-of-state visitor.

Looking for a place where time stood still ? The little CCC museum in Guernsey state park is it ! Interestingly, one of the exhibits refers to the exploitation of the Indian and the large disregard for the their culture, that took place during the age of westward migration. Sounds like 20/20 hindsight with the luxury of 150 years distance ? Not in this case. That was the view of the Roosevelt administration in the 1940s, as this display proves. It's nice to see that political correctness also has a long history, maybe not quite as long as ignorance, racism and bigotry, but at least back to the 1940s.

The lonely park ranger at the Guernsey CCC museum also proved very knowledgeable about the CCC itself. In order to work for the CCC, you had to be single and aged between 18 and 30. If you were married and older, the WPA was your program. In the CCC you earned 20 dollars a day. 15 were sent directly to the family member of your choice, and 5 were yours. How's that for a program for parents ? It's somewhat ironic that Wyoming, a place that prides itself on low taxes and selfreliance instead of social infrastructure, would be the site of major CCC and WPA projects, locally often referred to as useless "make work" projects.

In addition to all that civilized camping there is also camping for barbarians, free sites along the Platte River on BLM land. I meant to take advantage of one of these. But it was the weekend, and the volume of thrown away artificially alcoholized water cans - known here as light beer - made me head for the hills north of town. From Guernsey a nice continuation of of the route would head straight towards that 10200 foot mountain, Laramie Peak, with a day of hiking to the top thrown in. But the weather didn't cooperate. One of those U shaped troughs, that have become common in recent springs, roamed south along the Rockies and promised snow statewide on May 12th.  My route diverted from the Oregon trail and continued north into an area named the Hartville uplift. So here we go again - snow to 90 degree temperatures, back to snow.

Welcome to wonderful, windy Wyoming

When bicycling the basins of Wyoming, it helps to be scared of closed in places. It helps to be frightened to death of them, so that you yearn for the wide open spaces, and its dirt roads traveling to the horizon. Wyoming delivers in that department. It also helps if you love the wind, not only prevailing wind from the west, but howling backsides of storms from the east too, not to mention gusts that rock even selfcontained truck campers all night from the south, followed by ice pelting wind from the north. It also helps if you like the taste of sand, and other debris blown up to hit you in the face and find the crevasses between your teeth. If you don't love wind and the taste of sand, it helps just to be able to put up with them. As an atmospheric trough drew closer to the Hartville uplift, and the wind switched from south to north, the temperature dropped from 90 degrees to highs in the 30s within 24 hours. That was the day I went for a 50 mile commute into Douglas on hard top roads, with the excuse to buy some canned tomatoes for my dinner recipe. The next morning I awoke to the sight of snow. The date was May 12.

After several days of conditions like that, relief is greatly appreciated. A place offering such well deserved shelter from the wind is "Ayers Natural Bridge Park" at the edge of the Laramie Mountains west of Douglas. A stream makes its way under a natural bridge. The flood plain around the stream is transformed into a well kept glowing green lawn. Rod Iron benches invite you to rest. Picnic tables abound. The park is almost a garden. It is surrounded by cliffs, protected from wind, not a single horizon in sight, just green grass, water stilled by a little natural stone dam, reflecting bucolic trees and peace. Since there are no pets allowed, you can find a deer inspecting your bicycle in the evening, and a couple of rabbits hiding under your camper in the morning. This is not a wilderness, but nature fixed up like paradise. Ayers Natural Bridge Park is a piece of land donated by the homesteader, Ayers, specifically with the stipulation of making it a free park. And what a park it is, really an oasis ! It contains free camping and picnic areas, and made a great base camp for the next couple of rides. However you do have to bring your own water. What a difference to the windy outpost on the Hartville uplift it was.

Ayers Natural Bridge Park is a perfect refuge from which to start bikerides chasing the horizon. The prettiest short ride from here passed farms on the Platte, and then continued on to the Fort Fetterman Site. As fort locations go, this one could have been chosen with the touring cyclist in mind. It overlooks a lazy bend of the Platte, huge trees decaying in the sheltering depression below. People interested in the finer points of military life, can peer into sighting tubes and locate the exact spot where privates had to hoist water out of the river and haul it up to the fort. There was no well in the fort. And then peer into another sighting tube to see the spot where they swam the Platte, in order to spend their money at yet another local "hog ranch", or bordello. History tells that later a bridge was built.

But locations for military forts are chosen for military reasons. Fort Fetterman's position on the bluff was chosen to command over the Bozeman trail. This pioneer  road, was established to lead miners to the gold fields of Montana in the 1860s, leading through Powder River country, an area much valued by Sioux and other Indians. Consequently the military campaings started from the lonely yet picturesque outpost often had tragic outcomes.

Heading north along the Laramie Range towards Casper, my route followed 50 mile long lip of sage hills, shielding the peaks from view. Oregon trail travelers and today's cyclist don't see much of the Laramie Range along this route. The only hint of the sandstone peaks behind them could be obtained back in Douglas, and even then only on a clear day.


Casper, the second biggest Wyoming metropolis, is an oil town. It has a picturesque yet deserted old downtown, an ugly yet practical, popular modern mall on a hill and a 3000 foot bread loaf shaped mountain behind it. You can also visit another old Fort, appropriately named Fort Casper, fixed up by the WPA. Again nothing remains or has been constructed from the really early days. The first important structure at this point was a bridge across the Platte built by the Mormons. The Mormons had a greater interest in creating an infrastructure of ferries, bridges and guidebooks of the area. For them the Oregon trail was a 2 way road, along which to travel back to the east for supplies. Today the reconstructed military fort is surrounded by a water treatment plant, and 4 lane highway and squadrons of workers on lawn mowing tractors. But much work has been put into reconstructing the buildings, fixing up the inside furnishings, and hanging authentic uniforms over the bunk beds. But my favorite was the museum with its collection of peace pipes, Jackson photographs and an example of spectacular Indian beadwork.

But back on the bike again ! From Casper the Platte directs its meanders into a southwesterly direction, along with the Oregon Trail. I followed them to one more famous camping spot, Bessemer Bend. The first expedition of historical consequences that crossed west, the Astorians, camped here. Later, Oregon trail travelers that didn't want to pay the tolls or wait in lines, sometimes up to a week long back in Fort Casper, forded the river here. It was their last chance to get across the Platte. Today modern suburbia from Casper is nipping at the edge of the scenic river bend.

Many of the most interesting and scenic Oregon Trail landmarks are still west of here, south of the Rattlesnake Range.  But my route was north. I said goodbye to the Platte and rode across a large, ever so slightly rolling plain on Route 20. Distant mountain ranges appeared like tidal waves in the rolling sea of grassland, appearing and disappearing from view as I bopped from grassy wave to grassy wave. But here too, historic trail cross the cycling path. Now they are just separated by 20 mile workouts.

The Badlands from Hell

If this were South Dakota, it could well be a national park. But in Wyoming badlands are a common occurrence and often receive different treatment. "Hell's Half Acre" was noted by the early explorer Bonneville, for the sulfurous smells emanating from the badland basin. The Rattlesnake Range (Rattlesnake Hills on some maps) form a picturesque backdrop. Today the badlands are still an interesting stop on the Route 20 ride, west of Casper. But today "hell" refers to the restaurant and souvenir shop built on the rim. Tire ruts have carved their own erosional forms into the parking lot, where trucks sit idling away gasoline. Garden gnome devil cutouts of questionable taste are the landscaping around a prefabricated house serving as restaurant and souvenir shop. Tourists and truck drivers step inside to buy books such as "how to eliminate the idiots in your life", "the outhouse book", and other intellectually stimulating titles. They sell 50 cent post cards that look like they're taken by people who are more accomplished with aiming guns, not cameras. Above the cash register the menu is written with a chemical writer on a white board, the kind that is used in office meetings. The menu reads "hell burger $6.35", with the motto "try it if you dare". Thank you, but no thank you.  It's only a handful or two miles to the next historic stopping point along US 20, Bridger Crossing.

Bridger Crossing - past and present

Jim Bridger has more landmarks in the American west named after him than anybody else, and deservingly so. The great, the legendary,  the unsurpassed trailfinder got his start with General Ashley's fur company, and afterwards guided everybody who was anybody through the American west. Just the route that was ahead of me to Bozeman, crossed a Bridger Creek leading to a whole series of North and South Bridger Basins and Creeks in the Bridger Range north of Lysite, Wyoming. From the valley of the Rosebud north of the Beartooths I passed Bridger Road to the Yellowstone. Going into Bozeman, my route crossed Bridger Pass from Bridger Canyon. There are two additional Bridger Passes in Wyoming and I don't know how many Bridger creeks, and that's really not a complete list, but just what I happened to run into. However, the landmark currently in front of me and my bicycle was of a different nature. It was a bathroom, a toilet in the dessert, named Bridger Crossing.

The elaborately constructed bathroom, complete with sign offering historical enlightenment, was only a handful of miles beyond the badlands from hell. A solid well designed stone building, constructed so well that only a federal government could have done it, stands out in the dessert like an oasis - but the trees are missing. Hardly any of the oil firm workers, stopping their four wheel monsters, cast an eye on the bare, mysterious looking Rattlesnake Range lurking in the south. That's where Jim Bridger used to arrive from, emerging from the windy haze, guiding wagons of oxens or mules.

All of the Bridger landmarks mentioned above, except one Wyoming Bridger Pass, belong to the Bridger Road to Montana. Roads to Montana became an issue when gold was discovered in Bannack and Virginia City (Montana) in 1862. Two roads were opened up roughly at the same time, the Bozeman Road and the Bridger Road. The Bridger Road was an alternative to the Bozeman Road (also mentioned in conjunction with Fort Fetterman above), to the Montana gold fields of the 1860s. It led west of the Bighorn Mountains, and avoided the Powder River hunting grounds of the Sioux. Jim Bridger, the old mountain man, knew better what hunting grounds meant to Indians than the army. However, the road never became widely used, and one can only speculate how history would have been changed if it had become the more popular option. It would have been possible to bicycle the route of the Bridger road more closely than I did, over something called "Oil tank road", and other hard to find jeep trails. But with all the rain and wind in the forecast, I was content with the general scenery of Bridger's old route, while having solid impervious pavement under my tires. Still, following the Bozeman road as closely as possible on a mountain bike would make an interesting excursion.

Back to the present. Times have changed. These days, Bridger Crossing is a favorite place for people to go to the bathroom, and that is where modern day trail crossings take place. In the parking lot was an almost antique RV with the logo "zu alt zum arbeiten - zu jung um zu sterben", german for "too old to work - too young to die". This common American saying sounds strangely thought provoking in another language. Reading it in another language caused me to think about the meaning for the first time. Would anybody really consider the thought of dying just because he is not working any more ? It may be a novel thought for some. But there are people who actually believe that there is value to life besides work. The implication that you are ready to die when you are not working is something the German Nazis could have come up with. Their slogan was "Arbeit macht frei", "Work liberates". But the slogan under discussion is an American saying. In that case maybe the Republicans and their corporate bosses came up with it. If not, they would at least agree. This RV warranted further investigation.

Two German trekking bikes were on the back. The RV turned out to be a vacation home of a German couple. Since 1996, they had been flying to their  vacation home, this RV parked at a friends house in Idaho, and then taken it for month long tours around the states on a yearly basis. Many years ago they had bicycled across the US  too. Their German-American friend, living in Idaho, was in the sign making business. This explained the curious inscription. "Too old to work - too young to die", translated into German. The conversation got around to politics pretty fast. I knew that we would agree on most everything before the conversation even got started. Suspenders with peace symbols on them can do that. By the end of the conversation he confessed that the "too old to work - too young to die" slogan on the RV was painted by a fascist.

Birdseye Pass and Wind River Canyon

North of Shoshone I finally located a circle ride worthy of a mountain bike. It cries out for the rider's attention every inch of the way. It is my favorite kind of mountain bike ride, with a bit of every kind of riding, except single track. It starts with a good workout climb, continues with a thrilling descent, and  finishes with 35 miles of supremely scenic hardtop through a beautiful canyon, so that the endurance aspect doesn't fall short. But back to the start. North of Shoshone the Birdseye Pass dirtroad climbs on the order of 2000 feet to a crossing in the Owl Creek mountains. The route continues over angular grasslands, not a single rounded hill in sight. The landscape looks like somebody threw playing blocks onto the earth and threw a green carpet over them. The ride descends to Buffalo Creek Road, with a backdrop of equally angular cliffs that have a striking streak of red, as red as any Utah red, red so red that it even looks red in the rain.

That brings up the only complaint I have about this ride, the weather. Just as I started the descent a fierce, black cloud parked over the pass, and dumped rain on the landscape and me. The clay is so sticky in this area, that my well cared for mountain bike tires started to resemble tractor tires, due to the several inches of mud caked on them. Whatever mud didn't fit through the bike frame and the brakes, collected on them. Pretty soon I couldn't see the brakes any more at all. The chain disappeared into a cavern of goo. The whole bike resembled a bad sculpture of a motorcycle. It was only a matter of time before I fell off the bike and resembled it in appearance. The best thing to do was walk next to the track on the grass, out of fear of mud. Now my bike shoes with their cleats became elephant feet of mud. The presence of such a strange looking creature caused a herd of cows to get back in touch with their ancestral buffalos selfs and make a big ruckus. They did their best to organize themselves into a band of chasing wild animals, whose peaceful existence had been rudely upset by an unknown invader. When I closed the last gate behind me, a group of 10 tried to lend a threatening edge to their goodbye moos - and the sun shone on the hardtop ahead of me. Apparently mother nature was now satisfied with the final appearance of its mud sculpture - me - and proceeded to bake me into a finished product. I feared the bike would never work the same again.

An hour later I recovered in a Thermopolis fast food place, eating a submarine sandwich, drinking my own tea from a muddy bike bottle, ample mud remaining in my face and clothes. The bike was parked outside, oozing brown clay from a few places where I had tried to chisel out a brake and a derailleur. "Is that your bicycle outside ?" asked me a policeman sternly. - "Yes, sir, it is". "You missed a few spots" he simply said. I couldn't tell if it was sarcasm, meaning I missed a few spots cleaning it up, or straight talk, "I missed a few spots when covering it with mud". Both would have made equal sense. But this was not the time for linguistic analysis. It was time for strong measures, the carwash. It was the only way I would ever see the brake pads again.

The final part of this multi faceted bicycle circle was the most pleasant, and spectacular too. The ride through Wind River canyon from Thermopolis to Shoshone, on hard top, traverses rock layers in increasing age down to the Precambrian. The narrowest part of the canyon is in the oldest and hardest rock, at the southern end of the canyon. Between three short tunnels impressive vistas open up onto railroad tunnels on the other side of the canyon.

This ride also has a historical aspect. The route over Birdseye Pass predates the route through Wind River Canyon. For a decade after 1913 benzine buggies such as the Model T traversed the now obscure pass road. But this may not be of paramount interest while you are caked with mud. We have the intrepid Yellowstone tourists to thank for creating a requirement to build a road through Wind River Canyon. In the early days of the park, gaudy yellow rocks marked the side of the route.

Thermopolis and the Big Horn Basin

It wasn't until the next day that I took a closer look at the thermes in the polis of Thermopolis, the hot baths State Park. The single big spring from which gushes the largest amount of thermal water in the world looks impressive, bubbles emerging onto a carpet of colorful algae. But it does rather look like any hot spring in Yellowstone Park. It is amazing that it would produce so much more hot mineral water than any other comparative spring in the world. It is surrounded by a pleasant park with picnic benches and bathhouses. Maybe that's the reason why somebody on the state government level found it necessary to install large white letters on the Butte behind the spring stating "worlds largest mineral spring" and an arrow pointing to it. It's the kind of lettering often seen advertising the local highschool sports team such as "go Hawks" or "home of the Uintah Bears".

The hot spring was part of the Shoshone Indian Reservation. When the white man discovered the medicinal benefits of the waters, he persuaded Chief Washakie to sell it to them for 60000 dollars. Washakie of the Shoshones was possibly the wisest and most peace loving Indian chief of all times. He stipulated that part of the spring remain accessible for free. It's him we have to thank that the state park is still free today.

Apparently there is a statue of him  near the rehabilitation complex that adjoins the park. But I'm sorry to say I missed it. But then again, maybe it should stand where everybody can find it. A good location would be on the hill behind the spring, adorned with the cheesy letters "World's biggest mineral hot spring"; or maybe on the real estate taken up by the equally cheesy water slide park. But all in all it's a beautiful park setting. Though somebody couldn't resist building a hanging bridge over the travertine pools.

Bicycling US20 north of Thermopolis, you traverse one of the great basins that make up the Wyoming landscape. The earth's layers have been compressed into something resembling a stretched out, upside down U. Consequently the upper layers of rock have been pulled apart and were easily eroded into a basin. The remnants of erosion form endless low ridges, each one with a shallow grassy side, and a rocky steep side. The different characteristics of each exposed rock layer makes for a changing landscape, changing in a subtle way, but changing with infinite variety nonetheless. US20 parallels these shallow ridges most of the way. But there are endless dirtroads that cut across them, a maze of roads to small farms hiding from the wind behind slivers of wedgeshaped rocks. These roads pass small, precious riparian zones, trees and bushes hinting at a small stream. Geological anticlines like this one often contain hydrocarbons, of great interest to the oil companies, and the rest of us to some degree.

Sand Draw Road, 20 miles NW of Thermopolis is an interesting example of a dirt road ride through this landscape. Tracks sneak through the muddled geography of rock layers so varied, you're in a different little valley every 10 minutes. The area also produces Hydrogen Sulfide gas. This gas is odorless and can kill you in a concentration of less than 2 percent. Little flexible 5 inch thick tubes stick out of wellheads. The poison pipeline crosses miniature canyons in rickety pipes. The odor of gas hangs in the air. It makes you wonder if you should feel comforted by the fact that you are definitely not smelling hydrogen sulfide. The poisonous gas is odorless. Whatever it is that's producing the smell is another gas. Or should you feel worried ? Because where gas leaks, it's just as easy for hydrogen sulfide to leak. Signs with skulls and crossbones abound in the area, about as common as rusty pipes.

Meteetsee - friendly home of the Marlboro cowboy

But the mountain biking is great. The selfcontained camping is even better. I camped in three different locations in the Big Horn Basin, all on BLM land. The only sound was the sound of the never ceasing wind. Carlights traveled by in the distance, hurrying from one 500 inhabitant town to another, towns like Meteetsee.

Meteetsee could easily compete for the title "America's friendliest town". This town of 500 inhabitants offers 4 free museums. Here the Marlboro cowboy doesn't stare at you from an oversized billboard, like in the rest of the world. Here, he has been elevated to a museum exhibit. The "Marlboro Crew", as they are known, did their dirty job on a ranch upvalley from here, and thanks to the wealth of the photographer/rancher we now have a free museum of his work.

When a bicyclist sits down on a bench lining the old west boardwalk through Meteetsee, somebody is likely to say something to him. Even if it is only to wish him a good day, even though it's raining or to say "I have a bicycle too, and in the winter I keep it upside down, so as to keep the pressure off the wheels".

North of Thermopolis the basin landscape turns into layer cake geology. As you approach Cody you approach Yellowstone, and the traffic increases as if you are approaching the encircling suburbs of a city. For bicyclists who like dirt roads the "Flying U road", connecting with the hardtopped Greybull river road, is a pleasant alternative.

Cody - the town that Buffalo Bill built

I think I already mentioned the special relationship with the wind, that one can't help but develop when bicycling in Wyoming. Sometimes it's a short ride that can be the most demoralizing, because it's still darn windy, but you aren't going much of anywhere. That's the way it was, when I rode a human's fingers and toes worth of miles into Cody - that would be about 20 I guess, give or take a few. A road flagger turned his stop sign to "go", just for me, with the words "I don't want to break your concentration". I must have looked pretty fierce in my ski hat, fighting my way through the blowing construction dust at a snail's pace on my bicycle, between the concrete barriers. Regular plastic cones would have blown away a long time ago. I was getting closer inch by inch. Cody lies before a backdrop of mountain sized wedge shaped landforms. Even the mountains looked like they had adopted smooth aerodynamic surfaces, so that they could deal with the wind more easily. In that moment I forgot about all the geology training, I once received, that would have told me otherwise.

Cody is the most commercial of the Yellowstone gateway towns. The museum in town greets you with the flashing words "We are the west". A visitor is lead to believe that there is no west of Cody, only north, south and east. Okay, maybe one shouldn't take shameless selfpromotion literally, but as talent for selfinvention. The same goes for the hitchhiker I saw in Cody. A big gasoline canister stood next to the cardboard sign, saying "Jackson". As I biked past him, I asked if there was any gasoline in it. "No, you don't need it. That's the way you hitchhike, son". he informed me, young enough to be my son. Selfinvention, that's what counts here in the west, empty gas canisters to get cars to stop for the hitchhiker, flashing "we are the west" signs to get cars to stop at the Cody Wild West Museum. Six hours later, when I returned from my ride up Cody Canyon, the "we are the west" sign was still flashing, and the hitchhiker was still hitchhiking at the same spot, his empty gas canister discarded at some distance.

Cody is the town that Buffalo Bill built. His full name was Buffalo Bill Cody, probably Wyoming's most famous historical resident. In his early years he was a guide, soldier and trapper, known at one time as "the youngest Indian slayer in America".  He went on to become an early media star, live wild west showmaker and millionaire. With time came a little more wisdom and wealth. He didn't think that killing off all the buffalo was such a great thing to do any more, and his attitude toward Indians changed too.  Where else can a media star producing "wild west shows" turn into a land developer, damn builder, most important pillar of the economy and art collector ?  The museum housing his collection of wild west memorabilia Indian artifacts, guns, and collected art is said to be the most encompassing collection of wild west artifacts. The problem is if you want to see the Albert Bierstadt and Bodmer paintings, you also support the countless junk associated with his media career as well as a firearms museum with the 17 dollar ticket, all of them behind the flashing "we are the west" sign.

The heart of Cody is Buffalo Bill's old Irma Hotel. Here you can dine before an old 19th century bar, given to Buffalo Bill Cody by Queen Victoria in 1903. The souvenir shop next door features leather jackets with long frays, posters of media cowboys, Roy Rogers smiling handsomely from his plastic saddle. People like myself, who want to buy something other than leather jackets with long leather frays, are thankful for the presence of a Wall Mart in town.

My Memorial Day ride

Ever since having lived in Denver, I have looked forward to Memorial Day Weekends. They were weekends of warm weather, and prime time for 3 day biketours with various bicycle clubs in the area. Today was Sunday of that weekend, and here in northern Wyoming, summer still seemed far away. A fresh dusting of snow crowned the Absoraka Plateau. The wind was blowing as always, a crisp howling wind, like on a winter day in Denver. Surprisingly, as far as I could tell, none of the Denver bicycle clubs were doing any interesting 3 day rides on this particular weekend. In the here and now, it was a perfect day for a valley ride east of Cody. As I made my way to Powell, various homeowners were hoisting their patriotic flags over their freshly mowed lawns..

Of course Memorial Day was conceived with a different meaning than bicycle tours in mind, and on this year's Memorial Day ride I came closer to the meaning of the day. A dozen miles south east of Cody, a large chimney sticks out of the ground, a leftover from a previous time, surrounded only by a windy, grassy plain. The sharp triangular shape of Heart mountain stands on one side, and the snowy Big Horn range forms the eastern horizon. The chimney used to belong to a hospital. The hospital used to be part of a camp, a whole city really, the third largest city in Wyoming at the time. But the inhabitants never traveled to the Big Horns or up Heart Mountain, or even the dozen miles to Cody for that matter. The were forced to stay where they are, four to a room. Two thirds of them were US citizens. All of them were of Japanese decent. The time was world war two, and this space housed approximately a tenth of the 110 thousand Americans of Japanese descent, all of whom were deemed a threat to the US because of their Japanese descent.

Apparently about 200 of them decided to join the American military, for whatever reason. The camp inhabitants erected a flagpole and a plaque in honor of their compatriots actions. In spite of being incarcerated by their government they chose to go to war for it, or was it because they could better their future that way ? Time has erased the names from that plaque. About 10 years ago the plaque was recreated, but without government help. It now sits near the remnants of two old barracks and a chimney. The flagpole is there again too. But no flag was flying on it this Memorial Day. A marker to the site along the highway half a mile away has been vandalized. The "why and how" these Japanese Americans joined the US military would make an interesting Memorial Day story. Why would you want to join the military of the country that incarcerates you ? Were conditions better there than in the place of incarceration ? This monument makes you curious about the camp, but then fails to tell the real story.

Escape from Buffalo Bill

Paved alpine passes are a rare thing in Wyoming. But the 100 miles north of Cody offer a relative wealth of them. Weather it's Beartooth Pass, Sylvan Pass or Dead Indian Pass, they all have one goal, Yellowstone National Park. It's hard for me to resist a good mountain pass on a bicycle. But I only made it partways up Sylvan Pass before the weather turned wet and cold, then white. For more information on those passes see the return trip on the last page.

For now the center of attention was in front of the mountains. On the Wyoming Montana border the Beartooth Plateau terminates on the plains like a 3000 foot high table with a stiff plastic table cloth draped over it - almost. The table has canyons carved in it, most notable Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone. Cycling the paved road to the canyon entrance, both sides of the canyon exhibit different pictures. On the south side black volcanic rocks are dragged into a rhythmic swirl. On the north side a medley of twisted sedimentary rocks lead sideways, then upwards to the granite of the Beartooth range. This is the place to escape the tourists, the souvenir shops and wild west theme parks. If you're sick of Buffalo Bill Cody and his resurrected wild west idiocies, this is the place where something real happened.

The Nez Perce Indians had evaded the US army, and their wish to place them onto a reservation. The chase had started all the way back in their homeland, Washington State. This was the tribe that had welcomed Lewis and Clarke some 50 years earlier. Now the US government had decided they would be better off in Oklahoma somewhere. The path of the Nez Perce is hard to describe without a map. But it had already traversed Yellowstone Park, then already in existence, and headed for Canada. With the army on its heals, the tribe headed up this canyon, which was considered to be impassable.

But you can't escape the present completely. Today the canyon is used by ATVers. The path used by Chief Joseph to flee the cavalry was presently used by a Hot Tub Installer on his way to work. The hot tub belonged to a millionaire in his ranch up on the plateau. They helicoptered the bathtub in last week. Now he rode is ATV up to the ranch to install it. Is this what Mister Reagan meant by trickle down economics ?


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