Sunday, June 20, 2010

A LONG AND WINDING ROAD

It was a perfect afternoon and evening for a ball game. I watched two and a half of them as the Wheatland Lobos took on the Laramie Rangers.




I am not sure that this is the way they do it all the time, but given the distances between towns in Wyoming it makes some sense. It had rained here a great deal this spring so they may have been making up for lost time.


I should back up here a bit. Wheatland Wyoming is north of Cheyenne and an exit down from Fort Laramie which is the way I like to leave the pandemonium of the Black Hills souvenir world behind. The route is quiet and populated more by Elk, Bison, and Llamas all grazing together than people.


When I left you last I was exiting Minnesota into South Dakota. The plan had been to spend a week or so in the Black Hills after the obligatory stop at the infamous Wall’s Drug store in Wall, both named for Mr. Wall, who offered early travelers a free glass of ice water to slake their considerable thirst after traveling the plains of the Dakota Territory. It is now a scene of madness with everything for sale from lunch to Levi’s and all manner of cheesy souvenirs. One still can collect that glass of water for free, but finding parking is a problem.


It was still raining. NOAA seemed unsure how far west and north the front would reach, so I decided to look around South Dakota a little and stopped the weekend in Mitchell at the public park. Mitchell is a sizeable city. It is largest I have encountered that has a “town” campground. There is a small lake there and swimming is allowed so it can be a busy place on weekends. When I arrived on Friday it was pleasant, by the time I left on Sunday it had rained more than 7 inches, which qualified as the 100 year record in a 48 hour period, and a sinkhole had begun to appear in the campsites across from me of sufficient size to require one trailer to be pulled out. I left at six on Sunday morning in fog and rain heading north where, NOAA now assured me, there were only partly cloudy skies and less humid temperatures.


The roads in the nearly flat, square states are straight and nearly true to the major compass headings most of the time, so I was headed due north with one eye on the rising James River which would not crest for a few days but was already out of its banks and flooding farms and what are charitably called “secondary roads” here and the other eye on the sky searching for the beak in the gray dullness that had been my companion for far longer than I enjoy. Near the state capital of Pierre in the northwest part of state a light rain fell with some interruptions. It is known to the locals as “Peer” the local Americanization of the French. The State capital building and the governor’s house and the various agency headquarters are in the western part of town. I made a quick tour, noting the remarkable lack of security, which I assumed from my Washington experience, accompanied every public place these days.


I decided clearing weather here seemed out of the question so continued north. When I reached Modoch and the Indian River State Recreation Area I found sun along the Missouri River at this pleasant place where Lewis and Clark’s Corp of Discovery had made camp for a time on their way out in 1802. The prairie rolls here giving the illusion of hills. This year it is very green given all the rain and seemed a different world compared to the grey and foggy dawn I had seen when I left the south eastern part of the state, a mere 150 miles south.


I was tempted to spend some time to scrape moss from me here but still had not given up the idea of more than a cursory look at the Black Hills . During the bicentennial of the Expedition of the Corps of Discovery I had devoted nearly two years to following this route and while this looked pleasant it was too familiar. There was little here left to amuse my twisted sense of imagination except to look at the towns of less than 300 I had been moving through all day and wonder how I would handle the experience of living in one.


So the next day I was off west and south and–despite the forecast—back into the rain and fog. I was tired of this race to beat weather. I rarely mind the rain if it is warm, but there had seemed to be enough of it now, so the Black Hills would get a cursory look and I would go over them and into Wyoming and while doing that, try to decide what would come next.


After “experiencing” Wall and the eponymous drug store, I decided to stop short of the Hills. Given the traffic of trailers and class “A” campers seeming full of people it seemed wise to be sure I had a place to stay if I still was going to spend time in the Black Hills. The campground was proprietary in the town of Hasta which is four blocks square with many abandoned buildings, no business I saw except the campground, an elderly motel, and a service station which doubled as another “express campground” whatever the meaning of that term. I was later assured less than 100 people lived there on a permanent basis. The place I stayed is technically still under construction and had four customers. It was run by a young woman who, with her husband, was building a summer house in the trees nearby. They were both born here, knew each other in the high school which used to be here, went their own way for a number of years, meeting again, marrying, and moving on to Phoenix, a construction partnership, and a job with the Arizona Republic which disappeared with all the other mid level management jobs two years ago. He now drives an over the road truck for the Swift Company and she was here, finishing the house and living with her in-laws while the rain held up the completion of the house and the campground.


I learned all this while hooking the camper up to the utilities and she told me about most of her life which was now, she believed, happier than it had been when it was stressful and the money more plentiful. She was pleasant and interesting and I was impressed how well the couple had coped with the collapse of construction and the red ink bleeding from the newspaper business. Hearing her story made for a pleasant way to spend a gray and drying afternoon.


The next morning it cleared late after a dense fog I only emerged from as I climbed into the hills. It became a cloudless and warm day. The traffic in the Hills near the “attractions” was awful for one used to moving along the farm roads of the plains dodging an occasional truck or tractor. Rapid City was on the way to work as I went through and I wondered idly how I would handle the Los Angeles freeways if I was having trouble with this. I found the crowds an annoyance. Not in what they did, just that they were there. It was a sure sign, experienced before, that it was time to make plans for a way home. Except for the distance that lay between, there were few things I wanted to see or do, so I made a pass at Mount Rushmore, which looked the same of course, and Sitting Bull, which has progressed yet is itself bordering on a trashy sort of tourist attraction, much different than when I first saw it in 2002. I passed on the various caves of wonder, the zoo, and the rattle snake farms and the rest, kept moving and hence reached Wheatland. There are still things in and near the Black Hills I want to see—the Badlands, Custer, and the canyon where Bridal Veil Falls are, but I will do it another time when I can do them all justice and it is either earlier or later in the season.


Wheatland is a small, seemingly prosperous place just south of Fort Laramie and north of Cheyenne. It has a most attractive multiuse park that includes three baseball diamonds, a large picnic area, an outdoor theater stage an enormous swimming pool, tennis courts, a basketball court, and numerous picnic facilities. Many of the denizens here use it to walk in the evening and early morning, some accompanied by dogs, some by neighbors who make the circuit of the large place in good humored conversation and some who have obviously been told to get some exercise and move in a more solitary and plodding way around the road that surrounds the vast green area in the center. On the south side of the park, the city has 10 sites for RV campers and a tenting area. There is electricity available at ten sites. A sign asks for a donation and one is glad to leave one for a chance to watch the activities of the park and stay for the night in a quiet place under the large cottonwood trees.


I was attracted as I always am to the baseball diamond where I found the three teams from Laramie High school here to compete against the hometown Wheatland Lobos. I watched the freshman game, the Junior Varsity, and most of the Varsity game. Baseball, it is well known, is interesting to me at any level. I was struck that the JV game was the most competitive and error free. The freshman game was marred by the fact that the catcher for Wheatland, a boy no larger than 5”3” had a general understanding of the equipment needed and that squatting down was required, but lacked all the other requisite tools needed by a catcher, the most unfortunate being his inability to catch a thrown baseball. By my count eight runs scored as a result of balls that reached the backstop untouched. On this warm day, he may have worked harder and to lesser effect than anyone on the field, to the chagrin of all in the home dugout. He was mercifully removed for the last two innings. The other two games moved faster mainly because the ability levels were markedly better. When the lights came on in the fourth inning with the home nine behind by six and the Rangers clearly the superior team, I repaired to the camper for dinner and a glance at maps to decide on tomorrow’s destination. For the record, the Lobos won one out of three. The chosen destination was Colorado City.


It was time to go south and west which would bring me home. The trip was nearly done, the heat was coming to the desert, and this trip which had started as they all do with great promise, had more serious hiccups than most, felt as if it should be over. La Coachasita remains well but as happy as I to be going home.


We traced a path through the mountains of New Mexico near Taos, through a slice of the Navajo Nation including Shiprock and Window Rock, made famous by the mystery stories of the late and supremely talented novelist, Tony Hillerman, and made a last stop near Winslow Arizona. By tomorrow night I will be home, nearly 6,400 miles later, content with what I saw, pleased that I still enjoyed the places, the people, and the adventure.


Thanks for riding along.

8 comments:

  1. Wow. You covered a lot of ground. Thanks for letting me live vicariously through you--I'd love to take off some time and travel without a strict timetable. And I have to add: you must really love baseball. Hope your trip home is trouble free. GMB

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  2. You are off home again and we will have to wait for the next travel journal. It sounds like it was a wonderful trip.

    I too will miss Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.

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  3. Boy, the last half of your trip went (to use a phrase of my father's) quick, like a bunny.

    My oldest grandson, 14, just finished his first baseball season in a city league in Tampa. His team played in a Tournament of Champions from the various parks, and went down in a 12-inning, 21 to 20 blaze of glory. He is now hooked, I think. His family decided to move back to Atlanta and they celebrated by watching the Braves beat the Rays 3 to 1 at Turner Field.

    I hate to be a pain, but you must go on another trip very soon.

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  4. GMB:

    Trip home was hot but easy. Yes, any baseball game will get my attention. Thanks for coming along.

    Troutay: Chee it seems is about as common a name as there is in the Nation up there. Leaphorn is not. I remember them fondly too.

    RWP: I will be here at least two months then may try again to cross the country to the east coast in September. It was quick once out of Wyoming. The weather wasn't getting any better so a run for home seemed the most prudent.

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  5. Reamus: You made me remember something that I saw a year or two ago. There is a ball field on Hudson Street in the Village. Anyhow, there were some little league teams playing and there were a couple of guys--obviously not dads (they weren't old enough)--watching like it was a pro game. I found it endearing. Glad to hear you made it home. Have a long hot shower and a lovely night's rest. GMB

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  6. GMB: I'd have been there if I had seen them!

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  7. Oh, I know you would have, Reamus.

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