a journey from the heart

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.

Cheeeeeeese!

This afternoon I took a stroll down to the Dane County Farmer’s Market, the largest producer’s only farmers market in America. It wraps all the way around the capitol building and down a side street or two.

I had to go because of cheese. Yes, that’s right, cheese. I have heard so much about Wisconsin cheese from people who have lived here, visited here, have dreamt of this place, or only traveled through. And so I sampled baked cheese, cheese curds, and spicy cheese bread.

I have one word for you, “Yum!”

Let’s start with the spicy cheese bread.

Warm from the oven, soft and fluffy on the inside, lightly spiced, with cheese running through it. I had to take this picture while sitting in the grass across from the vendor because I was not going to wait until I got home to sink my teeth into the loaf. Well, I was a little more civilized and tore off a large chunk instead. Here’s what is left:

I am rather proud of myself for not eating more of it, yet.

On to the cheese curds. Truth be told they are not the prettiest of cheese. And they squeak across one’s teeth when you first bite into a curd. But, wow! So good. So I bought two bags, one garlic and herb Gouda and the other jalapeño Gouda.

The jalapeño is freshly chopped and mixed with the curds. Quite flavorful!

Finally, there was the baked cheese, of which I sampled but managed to walk away from. Think of that grilled cheese sandwich you made recently, with quality cheese and not American slices. You know that but that squishes out in the pan and fries up a little? A little crunchy, a little soft. That’s right, you know what I’m talking about. Well, that’s basically baked cheese.

Next time. In a few weeks or a month when the cheese I bought today is gone.

Who am I kidding? It’s cheese!

Wall-eyed

Everyone who knew the general route I was taking told me I needed to stop at Wall Drug. In Wall. South Dakota. So, I did.

Quaint, quirky, and fun! Had I more time I would have peruses the entire scene. Alas, the Badlands beckoned and the sun’s trajectory was heading toward the western horizon.

Arrived

I have arrived in Madison and it feels good to know I don’t have to get in my car tomorrow to go anywhere. The road trip was much needed and I am grateful to have had ten days of my own company. The highlight of my day was my trip to the Pottyville Outhouse Collection in Glenwood, MN.

Each outhouse has its own theme and the interiors are decorated to match. I promise more photos soon!

For now, I am in need of sleep. In the coming days I will have much to unpack, physically and otherwise. Stay tuned for more pictures from the trip and words of wisdom, grace, and general ramblings. I leave you with this…