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Archive for September, 2007

Old West Miniature Village

Today Rich is on vacation from blogging. In his place, Emma has graciously consented to write today’s blog entry.

We went to the miniatures museum and there were some trains you could operate yourself. You just pushed the button and the train goes around and around the models. One of the trains had a little problem. Sometimes when you pushed the button it would go backwards. Then when you stopped it, it wouldn’t go. After a while of pressing finally it would go forward. Then it will go all over again.


Then we went home and we had some leftover ribs from last night’s dinner. Now we are going to have the ribs that are left over from lunch, for dinner again! We bought me a book at Wal-Mart. I am now reading four series of books at a time. I’m reading Magic Treehouse, The Secrets of Droon, Dragon Slayer’s Academy, and some fairy series.

When me and Mom got out of Wal-Mart, it was a wind gust. I practically got swept off my feet and went a while mile faster than I was running!


Meeting Buffalo Bill

From Thermopolis to Cody is only 84 miles but it could seem longer if you don’t enjoy the Wyoming countryside. It’s dry rolling hills all the way, with few towns and a lot of open space. Fortunately, I do like the scenery, and Eleanor and Emma had books to read. I don’t think either of them noticed a thing until we pulled into Cody.

cody-irma-hotel.jpgCody is one of those towns that is almost entirely based on one famous person, in this case the larger-than-life “Buffalo Bill” Cody. He founded the town in 1896, opened the big hotel (“The Irma” named for his youngest daughter), founded the newspaper, and doubtless did many other important things to get this small town going. It is a bit like visiting Prince Edward Island and finding everything dedicated to the celebration of Ann of Green Gables, except that Ann was fictional and Buffalo Bill really existed.

Bill was a product of his times, at first a famed hunter of buffalos who certainly did his part in helping them along to near-extinction. (I’m not throwing stones, just pointing out a historical truth. At the time, buffalo hunting was brave and admirable work, but the men of the era were so efficient at it that they virtually wiped all the buffalo out in a matter of a couple of decades.) Later, Bill fought in the Civil War, was important to Native American relations, and finally founded “The Wild West” show that toured the world very successfully. He was by all accounts an exceptional man, and now I’m wondering if there’s a good 20th century biography of him that I might read.


The centerpiece of Cody is the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, which includes five superb museums. This is their annual fundraising weekend and so admission to the museums was free, a huge bonus for us. (Family admission is $40.) We toured the excellent Plains Indian Museum and the Draper Museum of Natural History, and I did a quick run through the Buffalo Bill Museum before everything shut down at 5 p.m. Definitely recommended.

For the past week we’ve been trying to coordinate a visit with Bert & Janie and finally today the details have come together. We are going to rendezvous in Yellowstone on Thursday, along with another couple (tenters, from South Africa) who we met today in the campground. Most of the Yellowstone campgrounds are closed this time of year, but it looks like the NPS campground Madison will suit us well. It’s about ten miles from the west entrance. There will be no hookups and the weather will undoubtedly be cold up there, but we’re all looking forward to it all the same.

In the meantime, we’ll settle into Cody. I’ve got work to complete before we venture into Yellowstone (since I will be completely and gloriously cut off from cell phones and Internet as long as we are in the park), and so over the next few days I hope to get everything under control to allow at least a four-day weekend in the national park.

Thermopolis, WY

Thermopolis has been one of those places that is so unusual that we are willing to overlook all kinds of inconveniences to have the chance to explore it. The campground we are in is a tiny wedge of land between the highway and the train tracks, and directly on the final approach course to Thermopolis’s airport. Last night, the BNSF freight trains were so heavy and long and close that we could actually feel the Airstream moving with the shaking earth. We know now exactly what a 3.5-4.0 Richter scale earthquake will feel like in the Airstream.

Heavy trucks with jake brakes farting down the hill come by occasionally, and once in a while someone flies about 800 feet overhead in or out of the airport. The smell of sulphur from the campground’s private hot mineral water pools wafts past the trailer. I don’t actually mind it in small doses, but it irritates Eleanor and so we try to capture some clear air when we can and then close the windows.

But the smell of sulphur is part of the territory when you are near natural hot springs. This water contains 27 minerals, they say, and the bulk of it is sulphur, calcium, sodium, carbon dioxide, chlorine, and magnesium. Healthy, say some. Stinky, for sure. It bubbles out of the ground at about 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54 C) and then cools as it runs across the ground forming fields and cliffs of mineral deposits, before ending up in the river.


The state park is worth a visit, especially since it’s free and right in the center of town. The “state baths” are also free, or you can drop $10 to splash into the water at one of the water slides next door. Walkways bring you through the mineral-coated plains where the water naturally flows, much like the walkways through the geysers of Yellowstone.

thermopolis-vertical-leap.jpgOne nice feature of the state park is a springy suspension bridge over the river chasm. This terrified Emma for about 30 seconds, and then she began to realize the fun of making the thing sway and bounce. Here she is trying to get the bridge going with her mighty vertical leap of about three inches.

Emma and I did try a swim in the campground’s hot pools. They run about 93 degrees, +/- 5 degrees depending on where you are. The water feels great. We were hoping the bottom would be natural, and possibly filled with interesting things to see, so we brought the snorkel gear. We were expecting something like Balmorhea State Park in Texas, but it turned out to be a rather ordinary swimming pool, although gigantic. The water felt very very good …


Our other stop today was the Wyoming Dinosaur Museum.   If there’s any place they know dinos, it’s Wyoming.   Right down the road from the museum they are digging away and finding new skeletons and other fossils routinely.   The museum is a must-see for fossil and dino lovers.

It is Friday evening and Eleanor hoped there’d be some action in town, but it was dead. We walked around and noted some architecture, a few statues, a couple of open shops, and not much else. Eleanor was secretly harboring a wish for an old-fashioned soda fountain in town. No such luck. But we did see this cowboy trotting through town, heading (as all good cowboys should) west, into the sunset.


Emma reports from Thermopolis

The following is a post by Emma.

We went to the Dinosaur Museum. There were brachiosaurus, duckbilled archeopteryx, triceratops, and tyrannosaurus rex skeletons. Then we went back to the trailer, had a snack, and went swimming in the hot spring. It wasn’t that good because there was nothing to see and we were going to go snorkeling. It was just a pool with cement walls and floors with hot spring water in it. It was very dirty with bugs (dead) too. Mom didn’t come to the hot spring because the smell made her nauseous.

The train went by twice today. It was very loud and very long.

Then we went into town. There wasn’t much. It was very quiet and everything was closed. Then we came back to the trailer and Mom made tacos and plantains while we just wrote this blog.


Part of Emma’s collection of Junior Ranger badges  

The road to Thermopolis

guernsey-sp-fog.jpgThis morning in Guernsey State Park we woke up to find fog covering the lake and our campsite. I opened the Airstream’s door and discovered a wonderful smell, reminiscent of cinnamon toast, like a light perfume. It seemed to be coming from the yellow flowers that are everywhere, but it was so faint that only when the air became still overnight did it concentrate enough to be detected. We all piled out in our pajamas to explore, and Emma led Eleanor back down to the dry lakebed to hunt for more rocks. A few minutes later, the fog began to lift and a light breeze resumed over the lake.

Emma’s searching of the lakebed last night turned up several nice pieces of jasper and agate. A few are keepers, including one we’ve never seen before: a light yellow-brown jasper with tiny black spots in it. Our Airstream is getting heavier by the day since she became a rockhound.

Since we are back in the west, we are camping without hookups more often and once again relying on the solar panels to keep up our batteries’ charge. Back east, the solar is not very useful since electric is often available, and clouds and overhanging trees limit our ability to recharge. I’ve discovered that light to moderate fog like we had this morning is not a serious detriment to recharging. In fact fog seems to increase our power-gathering ability in the early morning by scattering the light more evenly to the panels. Our panels don’t tilt to take best advantage of the sun, so in the early morning and late afternoon our power generation capacity is greatly reduced. A little fog can be nice.

guernsey-sp-museum.jpgDuring the middle of the day this time of year we usually get enough sun to fully replace our usage from the night before, and yesterday was no exception. But once the temperatures start to drop and nights get longer, we’ll be much more challenged to stay afloat without plugging in once in a while. If we get to Yellowstone in the next week, as we hope to, we’ll have a real test of the system.

To the left is a photo of the entrance door of the Guernsey State Park Museum. It’s a real gem of Civilian Conservation Corps construction from the 1930s, all handsomely fitted Wyoming stone with cypress doors from Florida and quarried flagstone floors. I was more fascinated with the building than with its contents. The arrow on the floor points west to Laramie Peak, clearly visible on a clear day.

I completely forgot to mention that we have left the Honda Fit behind in Denver. It is safely tucked into a private garage under the care of a good friend. We will miss it. It was incredibly convenient to have it as a runabout, and a real gas-saver too. But this is our closest point to Tucson for at least two months, and it would be thousands of miles extra on the car to bring it along our planned route. From here on, we will resume traveling with just one vehicle. Once we arrive at home base in Tucson, sometime this winter, I will fly up to Denver and fetch it.

I also forgot to mention that our household goods arrived safely in Tucson and so I can now publicly vouch for the company that handled our move, Broadway Express. Broadway Express and ABF were both recommended to me by blog readers as less-expensive alternative to full-service movers. “You pack it,” is their deal. You also load the truck yourself, or hire your own laborers to do it. Doing the work ourselves (and hiring someone to unload the truck at the destination), we saved about $2000, well worth it. Of course, it helped even more to move as little stuff as possible, which we did thanks to two summers of energetic divesting.

Since we’ve gotten out west, we have had plenty of suggestions of places to go, from blog readers. I really appreciate all those tips, even though we can’t take advantage of most of them. If you’ve got a suggestion, put it on the blog as a comment (click the link at the bottom of the post) so other people can benefit from it too!

Today we decided to get up to Thermopolis to spend a few days checking out the mineral hot springs. The drive from Casper to Shoshoni is long and fairly bland for about 70 miles, with virtually no services along the way. The road rivals US 50 in Nevada as one of the loneliest we have driven. We topped off in Casper before starting that leg.


Once past Shoshoni the road turns north through the Wind River Canyon, a really neat drive. Through the winding and deep canyon is the highway, the river, a few campsites, and the railroad. Three short tunnels added a little excitement to the road for Emma. Along the way, signs point out the rock formations, which are a real geology lesson, going from the Cambrian era (500 million years ago) through the Triassic (a little over 200 million years ago).

We are camped at a campground that boasts the world’s third-largest hot water pool. We can smell the sulphur occasionally at our campsite. And where’s hot spring #1? In town, of course, at Hot Springs State Park, just a couple of miles away. We shall “take the waters” as they say, tomorrow.

Guernsey State Park, Guernsey, WY

We had such a nice time with Jay and Cherie last night that we met up with them again at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum in Lion’s Park. They rode up on their gleaming aluminum tandem bicycle in matching “Airstream blue” jerseys, and we pulled in with the Airstream behind us.

The museum captures the history of Frontier Days, which is a ten-day event that has been held in Cheyenne for over a century. The centerpiece of Frontier Days is a big rodeo, and the museum has an extensive collection of photos and memorabilia from the rodeo over the decades. It also features a very large collection of carriages and western art such as bronzes. Definitely a good stop if you’re in Cheyenne.

Keeping in our new philosophy of getting lost for a few days, we decided to wander just a bit off the beaten Interstate path, over to see Fort Laramie National Historic Site. That was well worth the 30-mile detour, especially with the books I’ve been reading about western history. Fort Laramie was central to many important events that happened in the mid-19th century, including the gold rush in the Black Hills, the Fetterman Massacre, Wounded Knee, and the events that surrounded the violent deaths of George Custer, Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, and many others.

Emma discovered there was a Junior Ranger program, and scurried around with Eleanor among the many restored buildings to collect the answers she needed for her twentieth Junior Ranger badge! That was probably the fastest badge she has ever earned, completed in under two hours.


Meanwhile, I ran into a couple from Washington, Randy and Maureen, whose 1977 Argosy 24 was parked right next to ours. That’s the same model and length of trailer we used to own. They gave me a bunch of tips on traveling in Washington and we agreed to try to meet up in a few weeks when we get there. Instant friends ““ that’s one of the many things I love about owning an Airstream and doing my job.

ft-laramie-sign.jpgTonight we decided to stop at Guernsey State Park ($12 non-resident rate, no hookups), just about 13 miles from Fort Laramie, on a lark. We knew absolutely nothing about the park, but it turned out to be a spectacular one. The entrance road winds for miles along the shores of a lake, dipping down among canyon walls and yielding fantastic views at almost every turn. Little campsites are sprinkled along the shore, but most are not level. After about 3-4 miles of twisting along the road (at 10 MPH, the maximum safe speed for a big trailer like ours), we settled on a very quiet spot in a cove. Nobody else is here.

The water is low right now, so it looks like the Bay of Fundy at low tide. We walked out onto the dry mud bottom and found chunks of jasper lying in the mud, and crawfish shells. The wind is blowing strong and steady up above the canyon, but down here in our little secluded campsite it just makes the trees sway and rustle a little. This is a great place.


Cheyenne WY

One night in Rocky Mountain National Park is like one bite of a chocolate cake.   We’ll come back for seconds, the next chance we get.


We swung the Airstream down Rt 34 from Estes Park, down through the tall walls of Big Thompson Canyon and eventually out to Loveland and I-25 again.   Our destination was Cheyenne, to meet blog readers (and Airstream Life fans) Jay and Cherie.

I’ve corresponded with Jay from time to time over the past couple of years.   We’ve had a few near misses of their Airstream Safari 23 and ours, but never quite managed to get together.   Finally, they were home for a while and it seemed an ideal opportunity to meet.   Unfortunately, they don’t have courtesy parking, but Jay called over the Sierra Trading Post, which has plenty of RV space, and got confirmation that we’d be welcome to spend the night in their lot.

We’ve never unhitched the Airstream in these circumstances. Normally when we park overnight in a non-campground environment, we leave the trailer hitched up to the truck.   But since we had permission, and needed the truck to get to Jay & Cherie’s house, we broke the rule this one time and left the Airstream alone, wedged among a row of UPS trailers at the boundary of the parking lot.

This gave me an opportunity to think about security for the trailer.   We leave the “stinger” of the Hensley hitch locked into the trailer with two padlocks.   This prevents it from being removed.   It also makes it virtually impossible to hitch a truck to the trailer without breaking the locks.   But the trailer could still be broken into, so the best security is to be in a safe environment.   This parking lot is lit all night and the warehouse operation runs 24 hours a day, which helps a little.

cheyenne-jay-cheri.jpgNotice I’m in the picture this time?   That’s twice in the past week that I have borrowed a tripod from our hosts and taken a group shot with the timer.   I may have to start hauling my tripod to dinners from now on.

Jay and Cherie gave us a wonderful dinner, and afterward they were full of useful information for planning our route through Wyoming.   This was very helpful because I realized something absolutely fabulous today:   we have no deadlines or scheduled events for the foreseeable future.   This is almost unprecedented for us — since we began traveling we’ve always had something out on the schedule to think about down the road.   It might be a rally, a meeting, or a weather deadline, but something was always there to be thought about.

But in the past few days, our plans have mutated and our concerns about beating the winter have been alleviated by those changes.   Without going into the full explanation, the conclusion is that we don’t have to be anywhere in particular.   Freedom!   This is a form of luxury that is hard to imagine while still working: a complete and total lack of commitment.   I know it can’t last for long, but we’re going to run with it as long as possible.

The initial thought is to use this opportunity to spend extra time in Wyoming, looking at slightly-off-the-beaten path things that we might have passed on if we were in a hurry. We might even find a few spots where Internet and cell coverage are not available, so if the blog disappears for a night, don’t be too surprised.

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