a journey from the heart

We’ve crept up in temperature once more, though to be fair it’s no where near as hot as a week ago. It’s funny how I turn to longing for snow when the temperature gets above 80°. Currently we are sitting at a steamy 86° with a gentle breeze.

When I left Rod and Lynn at their quiet farm/ranch I continued my journey northeast into the Big Horn mountains. Not originally part of my trip, the ascent into the mountain range was breathtaking.

A two-lane highway for much of the drive, it required much patience to make the steep ascent while also drawn by the beauty of the valley below, the changing mountain landscape, and the many curves in the road.

Having snowed the previous night, the temperature was brisk and I was excited to see Medicine Wheel, though I’d been warned it may be under snow.

I had to laugh at myself as I made the trek over snow-covered hills to the site because I packed my snow boots and poles in my car, just in case. Of course, they remained in the trunk of my car.

Our of respect for this sacred place, I have no photos of the medicine wheel. I can however attest to the meditative quality of the space, having enjoyed a quiet walking meditation around the wheel. A pilgrimage I am glad to had made.

Stormy Weather

Like much of the US, we are in the grips of a heatwave here in the Midwest. So this morning’s thunderstorm was incredibly gorgeous and welcomed all of us.

Enjoy all or part of the five minutes of what was forty minutes of continual lightning and thunder.

Any of you remember Mystic Moods Orchestra Stormy Weekend? I owned it on vinyl and used to listen to whenever I missed the sound of the rain and thunder. Or to the sound of the train in the middle of night when I would stay at Aunt Matilda’s during summer trips back to White House Station.

Monumental

When you decide to make your cross-country trip, whether that is solo or with a friend or three, I highly recommend you make the drive through the Black Hills of South Dakota.

There is beautiful, mile-long hike in the canyon, to Roughlock Falls, that will take you through open meadows, high canyon walls, and waterfalls.

And just in case you are wondering, the Black Hills got their name from the color they appear from the distance. It’s actually the trees, and their appearance from afar, that give them their name.

I never did get to camp at the cowboy ranch. Which is really a shame, because I was very much looking forward to it. That being said, the cost of a hotel room was cheaper than the cost of the funeral parlor and I allowed my bleary-eyed, road-weary self a hotel room in in Cody, Wyoming. It turns out I was only twenty minutes from the ranch. Alas, better late than dead.

I rose early the following morning and drove out to the ranch for a cowboy breakfast to meet Rod and his wife Lynn. While there I also and got to meet some extraordinary people. There was a group of young people who were spending the summer working on a horse ranch in Colorado, out for a weekend road trip, and believe it, a bachelorette party.

I imagine Rod is in his late 60s or early70s, a born-and-bred Wyoming cowboy, who has one of the only organic farms in the state of Wyoming. His wife Lynn has done many different things over the years and together the two of them bought this ranch a handful of years ago.

Much of their energy is provided from their own solar panels, and they are planning on putting up another array in the near future. With this and other projects in the works, they are working to be as sustainable as is possible.

Quiet does not begin to describe this beautiful place. Heart Mountain looms in the distance, a short drive up a dirt road. And while time really wouldn’t have allowed it, I considered hiking at least a little of it. Sadly, due to the late spring, unusual wildlife activity left The Nature Conservancy, who owns the Heart Mountain Nature Preserve, padlocking the entrance gate. It turns out the grizzly bears were still far too active.

I found this place on Airbnb under the heading of Bring your own gear/Cowboy Breakfast. Which was, by the way, fantastic! Some of the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten, large and sweet and fluffy, and homemade sausage, from their own animals. And while I am not a coffee drinker, there is genuine cowboy coffee, thick and dark and strong enough to put hair on your chest!

The road trip to Wisconsin brought with it many unexpected twists and turns along the way, not only cruising down any given highway, but also in the weather. While at Glacier National Park there were multiple hail storms. Heading south through Montana en route to Wyoming rain and hail storms continued, with sporadic snow storms. This was June 20.

Sadly, I never made it to my camping spot at the Rainbow Campground outside of West Yellowstone. Instead, I spent the night in a hotel room in Dillon, MT. Not the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in, however not the worst either. And what it did provide me was a night in a dry place where I could hang my tent tarp and open the tent to allow them both to dry out from the rain and hail the night before.

Three hours behind schedule to get to, and through Yellowstone National Park, I packed up and headed east through Montana and into Wyoming. Beautiful country, with snowstorms (now June 21, the summer solstice) in the distance and the first of a few side-excursions along the way, I stopped in Nevada City and Virginia City.

I have to give a shout out to Chris for his suggestion to take this route through the Madison Valley on my way to Yellowstone. Absolutely gorgeous! Rolling hills and open fields on one side, steep mountains on the other, and an amazing sky from which rain, hail, and snow fell in the not-to-far distance, intermittent sunshine along the way.

Founded in 1863, Nevada City and Virginia City were communities that in the 1880’s were known as one of the “Richest Gold Strikes in the Rocky Mountain West”. Many of the original structures still stand and today are home to a variety of businesses. From fresh, locally roasted coffee and created artwork, to panning for gold, living history tours to train rides, museums to reenactments, these two cities are a great place to stop. Explore for an hour or more, enjoy a bite or a beverage; Nevada City and Virginia City make for a delightful day trip, ghost towns that are still very much alive.

Unexpected Delays

When I traveled through Yellowstone on the summer solstice, my intention was to go through the northern section and explore some of the less populated parts of the park. The start of the drive was pleasant enough, one short delay for bunch of people stopped along the road to look at wildlife. A few miles up the road though, traffic came to a halt. For the next hour and a half we crept along, covering only a couple of miles. I turns out that a herd of bison decided to take a stroll down the middle of the road.

Needing to continue on, and after talking with a random person who had turned around and was heading the other direction, I also turned around. The southern route turned out to be less crowded than expected, for reasons I would come to learn.

Staying just ahead of me the whole way through, a snow storm was dumping a bunch of snow in and around the southern section of park.

Needing a break and hoping to find cell service to let the folks at my next camping spot know I was going to be late, I arrived at the visitor center for Old Faithful. Snow on the ground, it seemed that I had just missed the storm. Cell service was essentially non-existent, so I stretched my legs with a short walk to the viewing platform of Old Faithful, finding the crowds I’d expected on the road.

Turns out I arrived just in time to see Old Faithful erupt. The video is about four minutes, so watch as much or as little as you wish.

Hitting the road once more, the storm continued to remain ahead of me. So gorgeous!

And for all of the chaos that herd of bison caused on the northern route, this is the only one I saw while I was in the park.

Welcome to Wyoming in June!

Chasing the Sun

Day eight of my road trip took me to Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Not far from Wall, and Wall Drug, is the 240 Loop through the Badlands.

I drove in around 8pm as the light was starting to change with the setting sun. My destination was a short way down the loop, a dirt road that, twelve miles down, would provide a campground and much needed rest.

Chasing the sun, I headed down the road between canyons in one side and prairie on the other. I came upon a bison strolling down the road and slowed to admire (?) the view.

Storm clouds in the distance would bring no rain, but a spectacular lightning show after the sun set.

After forty-five minutes of bison and prairie dogs and spectacular vistas I arrived at the bend in the road announcing my near arrival to final my destination for the evening, Sage Creek Campground. A circle campground with parking along the outer edge and camping in the center, some covered and uncovered picnic tables, this proved to be a great place to pitch my tent. Watch out for prairie dog holes!

(Some of these photos are from the following morning.) It was nearly dark when I made camp and I still had to meet the neighbors before I pitched my tent.

Ah, sweet sleep. Amazing stars in the middle of night. The call of coyotes. The buzzing of mosquitos. The snoring emitted from the next tent over.