Tag Archives: Rocky Mountains

The Road to Laramie

An uneasy quiet had settled in the car as we traveled through a desolate mountain pass when a lush, green line of trees and grasses appeared, paralleled the road and lifted our spirits. The vista widened again. The dreaded narrow canyons hadn’t yet appeared but the road steepened. Our top speed dropped to 20 miles per hour. The terrain was different to the Bighorn Pass the previous week – more open and rolling, not straight up the cliff face via an unending series of switchbacks. The steepest grades had been dynamited and chiseled away leveling the roadway to an uphill slog rather than a mountain climbing expedition. Nor did we have a red-faced, annoyed procession behind us although 10 minutes previously I would have welcomed some company other than vultures in the lonely countryside.

Cumulus clouds
Cumulus clouds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the summit of 7,300 feet we were treated to a big Wyoming sky; it was grey and raining miles to the west; white cumulus clouds pumped themselves up against a clear blue sky to the east; the sun shone overhead and the snow-capped Rocky Mountains reappeared ahead of us – miles and miles ahead of us, perhaps 60 miles away (now that I look more closely at the map). We’d reach our destination long before we had to worry about the Rockies.

Rocky Mountains with snow stripes
Rocky Mountains with snow stripes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Snow fences, placed to stop winter snows drifting across the road, lined up to the west and “ski poles” – narrow stakes, eight feet tall with reflectors on top to mark out the road edges when the snow fences are overwhelmed and the road has disappeared under a drift of snow – predicted a harsh winter.

But on this day the outside temperature was still in the nineties as we cruised straight out of the barren mountain pass towing our “house” behind us and up to the Laramie railway line. We turned left and bowled into Laramie, elevation 7,165 feet.

Cropped screenshot of James Stewart from the t...
Cropped screenshot of James Stewart from the trailer for the film The Man from Laramie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, ladies and g’s, himself had every opportunity to be smug after our relatively easy journey which he had chosen after carefully studying the map, but that’s not in his nature. He just smiled to himself as he drove into Laramie, intent on following his Wild West dreams, set to music – The Man From Laramie – sung only in his head thankfully.

The Wild West – emphasis on Wild, and much to Jimmy’s chagrin –  was about to provide more than cowboy gunfights.

It Wasn’t My Idea to Come This Way

“How wide are we?” I asked my driver.

My expert driver managed this one. Surely a canyon in Wyoming would be no problem!
My expert driver managed this one. Surely a canyon in Wyoming would be no problem!

“Eight feet,” he replied. “Why?” with an edge to his voice.

“Did you see that sign? It said, ‘All loads over 8½ feet wide require pilot’ That doesn’t bode well does it?”

“Do you think we should turn ‘round?”

“I have no way of knowing,” I said, unhelpfully. You’re not going to catch me that easily. “You decide.” Jimmy kept going towing our eight foot wide box home behind us as I knew he would.

After I had studied the road atlas and found two routes for the day, he had chosen this particular byway to Laramie. I refuse to have the final say in choosing a route for our wanderings after our fiasco of overheating and driving at 10 miles per hour up through the Bighorn Mountains with an unhappy parade of vehicles behind us.

Gradients are not shown on our road map, only the steepest elevations. If the engine is going to blow up, let it be on his head, figuratively speaking, you understand.

Is that where we're headed?
Is that where we’re headed? There’s snow on those mountains!

“Well, it’s pretty so far,” Jimmy said, optimistically as we drove through rolling countryside towards the snow-capped bursts of the Rocky Mountains.

“Yes, well it’s flat so far.”

The sign I’d just seen was obviously niggling Jimmy and visions of getting stuck in narrow winding canyons must have been plaguing him when he said, “It’s that 8½ feet that worries me. We’ll have three inches to spare each side.”

“Yup.” He still didn’t turn around and as the road began to climb I wondered if we should have an altimeter installed in the car.

“It’s 98° outside,” Jimmy informed me, avoiding both the gradient and width issues.

Well, that will help the engine temperature when we start to clamber through the Rockies won’t it? I thought uncharitably. We maintained a groaning 35 mph in 3rd gear as we climbed steadily upwards. The peaks loomed nearer and looked even more daunting from our new height. “How far have we come on this road?” I asked Jimmy.

“About two miles. Why?” he said abruptly. He is always suspicious when I ask a question I should already know the answer to.

“We’ve still got 50 miles to go on this mountain pass.”

“I only picked this short cut to make you feel better about your navigational gaff last week.”

It looks like a dead end but I assure you it isn't!
It looks like a dead end but I assure you it isn’t!

Yeah. Yeah. As we reached a high plateau, the road ahead formed a thin, looping ribbon and disappeared into steep altitudes. The landscape was barren with rocky outcrops and low growing, arid-loving sagebrush. The road narrowed and its surface deteriorated so I looked up into the sky, hopefully, only to see two nasty looking turkey vultures circling overhead so dropped my gaze to a disconcerting number of skid marks showing hasty exits from the roadway into the ditch. At least here in Wyoming there aren’t the disturbing little white crosses beside the road that show traffic fatalities as in South Dakota.

Of the 600 species of animals purported to be in this area, I was unnerved to see only the creepy turkey vultures. I sneaked a look at the gas gauge and was comforted to see we still had three-quarters of a tank to get us out of trouble but became uneasy again when checking my phone. There was no signal. Jimmy became quiet as the turkey vultures circled hungrily and the thrusting Rockies taunted us in the distance.

Who would find us out here? We hadn’t seen another vehicle in an hour. The only signs of human existence were the deadly skid marks.

Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture (Photo credit: Jim Bahn)

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