From Salt Lake City, Interstate 80 climbs up the Wasatch Range, the Westernmost range of the Rocky Mountains. For most of the day, we climbed steep grades up over passes, through valleys, ever higher and higher. The foliage faded away, replaced by scattered specks of brush. Mountaintops took on cowls of gleaming snow.
At about 5,000 feet, the landscape was mostly desert, sand, and rock. We were passing high plateaus. Big flat plates of land are edged with sheer banded cliffs where they drop off into a writhing topography of rifts and folds. Sudden columns of rock erupt randomly from otherwise flat land. A word of warning to the traveler: fill up the tank and empty the bladder before this trip. There are no towns, no rest rooms, no gas stations.
Rawlings WY: Population = 8344, elevation 6823 feet, average January low temp = 12.6, Average July high temp = 84, average sunny days = 227, annual snowfall = 51.9”, annual rainfall = 9.1”, air quality index = 98, water quality index = 71, comfort index = 70
At about 6,000 feet, the land levels off again and we rolled on through a land where the most scenic thing you see are the clouds floating over it. Gradually, a few hills appeared and rocky prominences sprouted up. We were a little over halfway across the Rockies. The day was wearing on so we stopped for the night at Rawlins. The Western Lodge is quaint but comfortable, with an actual sofa in the room where we could sit and watch TV. Dinner was at Buck’s Sports Grill, a fun saloon / restaurant with a funny menu, huge portions, sports TVs, and stuffed deer heads. The burger topped with BBQ pulled pork was more than enough for us to share.
The next day we moved on. We were soon driving through a narrowing valley with more snowy mountains rising around us. Large hills with rocky outcrops appeared, gradually melding with rolling hills and plains. We were descending through a gap in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Ahead of us lies the High Plains.
Fort Collins, CO: Population = 133,058, elevation = 5,005 feet, average January low temp = 13.5, Average July high temp = 85, average sunny days = 237, annual snowfall = 47.2”, annual rainfall = 15.1”, air quality index = 67.6, water quality index = 100, comfort index = 62
Our journey over the next couple of weeks was becoming more complicated, as it involves meeting friends and family and arranging schedules. Fort Collins was a good halfway point with Denver so we stopped there. Fort Collins lies along Interstate 25, the main artery that connects the Front Range cities together. During our brief stay there, we took a quick peek at the town. Just past a beautifully manicured college campus, we found a friendly brewery, the Black Bottle, with some fine brews and good eats. The next day we ventured into the Old Town district, an area jam packed with fine and funky restaurants and brewpubs. Old Town has plenty of parking, but it is all full, even with the herds of people on bicycles plying the streets.
Cheyenne WY: Population = 54,937, elevation = 6,123 feet, average January low temp = 15.5, Average July high temp = 83, average sunny days = 236, annual snowfall = 55.2”, annual rainfall = 15.2”, air quality index = 97.5, water quality index = 36, comfort index = 65
Cheyenne is home to Jan and Les, hometown schoolmates and longtime friends with Marylu. They have graciously invited us to stay with them for a few days. On our first day there, they both have commitments, so we were free to explore Cheyenne. This is the state capitol, but the building is being updated so it is closed. Undeterred, we moved on to the stately St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral. We were lucky enough to happen in as a gaggle of young school kids were getting a tour, so we got a little extra history.
Next stop was the Historic Depot, where the Trolley departs on tours of the city. Our boisterous and enthusiastic guide regaled us with tales of the city; railroad tycoons, gunslingers, cowboys, and ladies of the night. The city is full of Wild West history and buildings, mansions and bordellos, saloons and boarding houses. The people of Cheyenne are proud of their wild and wooly history and there are several museums to preserve it. Their annual Frontier Days celebration has been going strong since 1897.
Les is the consummate sportsman and his knowledge of the area is encyclopedic. He and Jan took us for a tour of the area. At Buford, the smallest city in the world (elevation 8,000 feet), we found the Tree In The Rock. At Vedauwoo, we saw tall knobbley hills with rock climbers and rappelers assaulting the face of Turtle Rock. Along Happy Jack Road, we passed Curt Gowdy State Park. All along old Highway 30, back to Cheyenne, we spotted antelope grazing on the rolling hills.
Many thanks to Jan and Les for their wonderful hospitality and delicious cooking. It was a pleasure sharing their unique home for a few days. I loved gazing off into what I called their “100 mile backyard”.
Next up: Crossing the Plains