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JohnBoy’s Travel Blog

Photos and stories of my journey across the US and Canada

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Hey WYOMING…..   I’m heeeeere!!

I am delighted to announce that I have arrived in Lander, Wyoming for a one-month house-sitting assignment (who knows, maybe a new career for JohnBoy!).  I arrived on Thursday, May 20 and will be here until at least June 24, when I will likely resume my travels around the western US (and Canada if they will let me back in!).


The photo above is of my spiffy new license plate!  It’s the same as my old one which I first requested in 1998 and had gotten so badly faded that you could barely read where I was from unless you were standing close to it.

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NC DOT, in their infinite wisdom, has passed a law that everyone must get a new plate every 6 years (free if you keep the same tag number).  My registration renewed in January so I was one of the first to get a new plate.  I just read recently that there is now an aluminum shortage so the state has already put their new plan on hold so I am happy I snagged mine when I did.  Now, on to my regular blog greeting and orientation:


Welcome to my blog.  Here I will share photos of my trips throughout the United States and Canada.  For details on my intent for this project please click “About” in the upper right hand corner.  If you have comments or requests please feel free to contact me by clicking on “Contact” in the upper right hand corner.

If you are new to the blog please note that you are seeing the most recent posts first.  As you scroll down you are going back in time.  You may read statements which may not make much sense right at the moment because they may refer to a discussion earlier in the blog.  If you want to find posts for a specific place (e.g. Grand Canyon) enter it in the search box.  You may also use the calendar grid to use the “way-back” function to time travel back to a particular day’s posts.

Enjoy, and please feel free to share the blog address with others.  Also feel free to copy and save any photos I’ve taken.  You should be able to right-click on them and save them to your device (but if you sell them and make a gazillion dollars, please slip me a zillion or two. We’ll just keep that between us).  The photos are best viewed on a computer or tablet, not a phone.  The larger the screen the better.

Hurry up and wait

I had a little flurry of posting activity but my time in Lander is winding down and I need to clean up the house, pack and fulfill my obligations here before leaving Friday morning. I will have some multiple nights in Airbnbs starting next week so hopefully I will have time to get more posts up. I have family here in Lander and we have precious few evenings to have dinner together so I want to make the most of it. I have lots of photos to post so please be patient as I get caught up.

Here are a few photos I took yesterday on the way to Yellowstone, in Yellowstone and on the way home. I will repeat them later as I get caught up to that point in time.

The Grand Tetons as seen on my way up to Yellowstone:

The grand Tetons (some of them) as seen from Oxbow Bend:

The Grand Tetons “in profile” as seen from further up the road, before entering Yellowstone:

Yellowstone Lake from the “West Thumb” area (panorama):

The “smoke” is gases released from boiling springs next to the lake.

A young bull moose I saw in Yellowstone:

And some things I saw on the way back to Lander, south of Dubois WY:

And finally, some herons feeding their (my, aren’t they getting big) young in nests high in trees above a business called “Lander Llamas,” taken last weekend. My sister in law, Jen, knew about the nests and I thought they were osprey nests until I took the photos with my zoom lens:

Hopefully these will tide you over for a few days!

Cheyenne

After spending part of the day in Laramie on Wednesday I zipped over to nearby Cheyenne, about 45 miles to the east. I would be spending the night down in Fort Collins, Colorado as a set up for a scenic drive back to Lander the next day on a road just north of there. Fort Collins is about an hour south so I knew I only had until 7pm to see the things I hoped to while in town.

As I drove into town I had to go up and over a bridge which spanned many sets of railroad tracks (way more than there were in Laramie). There was a tower between the two bridges (which took cars in opposite directions) much like an air traffic control tower at an airport, to allow controllers to monitor and supervise traffic on the various sets of tracks. Trains are a big deal in the west and it is not uncommon to see a train which is miles long.

My first stop, ironically, was the train station downtown, as it is where the Visitor Center is located. I had a very pleasant conversation with the young lady who was working there and she was very helpful in approving my “to-do” list and indicating on a map where everything was. There would be more driving and less walking this time.

One of the things I wanted to see were the “boots” scattered around town. Various towns across the United States participated in an art project several years ago and each town had a theme which suited it’s local flavor. Cheyenne had cowboy boots. BIG cowboy boots. There were three lined up right in front of the railroad station:

These babies were over six feet tall and each painted with a unique theme.

This one was behind the station in a restricted area so I could only get a photo through the window:

Here is a photo of the train station/Visitor Center:

Inside, most of the benches where travelers would normally sit had been removed and there was a large “mural” on the floor showing major items of railroad and history milestones in many of the northwestern states:

After organizing my game plan I drove north of town to the Botanical Gardens, which I was told was very nice. It would close at 5pm so I wanted to get it checked off the list first. I drove past the state capitol to get there and I regret not taking the time to go inside. It wasn’t a very big building but state capitols are often very ornate, inside and out, and worth a look.

I arrived at the Gardens and of course there was a boot outside near the entrance, a tribute to a major benefactor and designer of the Children’s garden I would soon tour:

Hard to tell with the up close photo but the back of the boot contained an image of a large bison.

The woman at the welcome desk at the Botanical Gardens was very helpful in prioritizing my list of things to see in the brief time I was there. She suggested I go through the inside, three level atrium and also allow time to walk through the Children’s garden outside.

It was blazing hot in the atrium and I started at the top and quickly worked my way back down to the ground floor, thankful for the “misting stations” which kept the plants watered. I mainly took photos of any plant with color on it but most of the plants were lush green.

These were green but I couldn’t resist getting photos of the “Bunny Ear” cactus:

At closing time I headed over to a city park on the east side of town where a “Big Boy” replica was on display. Not Bob’s Big Boy, which you will see in a future post, but a large steam locomotive engine.

After taking my photos I headed across town to a facility I had passed on my way in to town, the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center where another “boot” was located:

Unfortunately the boots were scattered all over town and although I had a map with their locations I didn’t have time to track any more down. I hopped on the interstate and headed south to Fort Collins, Colorado where I stayed in an absolutely fantastic modern home with a very nice young couple who were preparing for a weekend birthday party for their young son. The perfect end to another perfect day!

Laramie

I had driven past this town on the interstate soon after I entered Wyoming, stopping only to get gas at a lone gas station off the first exit in town (as I did again today) who’s price was 30 cents less than anywhere else in town. Both times I planned it so I would have an almost empty gas tank to maximize my savings (18 gallons x 30 cents is over 5 bucks so, beancounter that I am, I thought it a worthwhile endeavor).

Wednesday I drove back down to Laramie (or LaRamie, given the name of the gentleman the town was named after) to check out the town. I went back down to Rawlins and took Interstate 80 east, retracing my entry into the state. It is about 220 miles from Lander and it took about 3 hours to get there.

I left early in the morning as I would have quite a full day. As I drove south I saw mountains in the distance which were silhouetted by the morning sun and it occurred to me that they were in my mirror as I drove north so I had been denied a look at them.

Laramie has a population of a little over 32,000 and is home to the University of Wyoming. I stopped at Walmart after getting gas to buy some UW swag and then headed downtown. Part of their campus is adjacent to one of the main streets going in to town from where I had gassed up and it is beautiful.

I stopped in at the Visitor Center downtown to find out where the handful of things I wanted to see could be found and was pleased to learn that they were all within reasonable walking distance. I found a free all-day parking lot, put on my full-rim hat and meandered through town. It was such a nice day that I decided against visiting two museums in town but as you will soon see, made up for it by taking a walking tour of many murals which have been painted around town.

The train station wasn’t open to the public but there was a walkway up over the tracks and I hoped a train might come through while I was up there but was denied that photo op. I heard them rumble through town a few times during my walk but they never passed through while I was up there waiting.

But the extra height did me a nice view of part of the downtown area:

Being a college town I found it amusing to see this sizeable bar/restaurant called The Library. Their awning proclaimed “Don’t lie to your Mom. Tell her you’re at the Library”.

I spotted this beautifully decorated angular rain gutter which carried the water from the roof of a building down to street level:

Here is a closer look at some of the tiles which made up the pattern:

Then I started in on the murals, which were scattered throughout one side of the downtown area, often in back alleys.

I suspect the artist took the liberty of inserting himself into this scene:

This is a larger than life map of Wyoming, painted on the side of a building. It is enormous:

And next to the map was an even bigger pronghorn antelope. The cars at the bottom of the photo give you an idea of just how big it is (and you can see part of the map on the left side of the photo):

Next I found a long series of fish paintings. Please bear with me because I think they are all pretty good:

And one last mural I found as I walked back to my car:

Next stop – Cheyenne, which is about 45 minutes further east on Interstate 80.

Farson/Jackson/Dubois Loop

Monday I took a break and spent the day planning my route and booking Airbnb’s for the first month of my post-Lander life. June 25 I will hit the road and travel over to southern Idaho (just west of where I am now), then down to Utah to spend more time in some of their National Parks, and Arizona – a state I largely neglected during my earlier trips to the southwest.

Tuesday I drove back down to Farson, where we enjoyed ice cream on the way home from Flaming Gorge on Sunday, but this time I turned right and headed northwest towards Jackson, next to the Grand Teton mountains and the border with Idaho. From there I drove a little further north and then turned right to head southeast back towards Dubois which I visited about a week earlier.

After passing Red Canyon south of Lander and before the road started going through mostly open space when I got past Atlantic City I saw these bright wildflowers next to the road, a sure sign that it was going to be a great day:

I arrived at the crossroads in Farson and turned right to start heading northwest. This sign was along the fenceline of a ranch just north of Farson:

Although it may look solid it is mostly air. The four leaf clovers were either cut near the corners or were welded on later. The line through the middle and the little man were also either cut out or welded on later. Not sure what the name of the ranch is but it struck as a very clever, if labor intensive, sign.

As I was driving north towards Pinedale, which I would reach before Jackson, I was driving through a large open area with scrub-brush on either side of the highway, much like the road from Lander to Farson. I did a double-take when I saw this sign which said I was entering a National Forest.

Huh?

Well, when I drove a few hundred feet further I saw a sign saying I was exiting the National Forest and realized it was just a prankster labeling the three small trees next to the highway as a forest. Oh, the easy life of a park ranger to have this plum assignment…

I continued on up the road to the town of Pinedale. I had read online that there was a road called “Skyline Drive” overlooking a lake and stopped at the Visitor Center in town to find out where it was. I had to backtrack a short ways before I could start climbing the mountain next to the town. Once I got up towards the top I had a very nice view of Fremont Lake below me and the mountains off in the distance:

I had driven up into the eastern portion of the Teton-Bridgerton National Forest (a real forest) and was looking west towards the western portion of the same Forest and the start of the Teton Mountain range which would become Grand Teton National Park up past Jackson. I climbed up as far as the road went at which point I was at about 9300 feet elevation. The town of Pinedale is at 7,180 and the Skyline Drive was about 13 miles long. Once at the top I had a view of the Wind River Mountains to the east:

I stopped on the way down for another look at Fremont Lake before getting down to Highway 191 to continue my trek to Jackson.

As I got closer to Jackson the road got a little more interesting as I got in to more mountainous terrain. There was a small rain system passing through the area so at some points there was a light drizzle and I was in an overcast area while the mountains ahead of me were in bright sunshine. I hope it is a clear day when I pass through the area again as I leave Wyoming as there were some great photo ops which I passed on because the conditions were less than ideal.

In the panorama above I appear to have captured a UFO, hovering over the road. It is actually a quirk of taking panorama photos when a vehicle or animal is passing through the frame and can result in some rather amusing distortions. In this case it appears to have been a black pickup traveling right-to-left as I panned the camera left-to-right resulting in a severely “shortened” tiny-truck with tiny-wheels.

The photo above is a portion of the Grand Tetons, northwest of Jackson. The photo below is looking back from a little further up the road and includes a glimpse of the Snake River.

I have posted numerous photos of this area before and won’t repeat them here.

I turned right when I got to Moran, north of Jackson, and started east through the Togwotee Pass on my way to Dubois.

When I got to Dubois I stopped at the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center and took some photos of the displays there:

South of town I stopped at the huge National Museum of Military Vehicles, the largest private collection of such vehicles in the world. There are several large displays indoors and many vehicles under roof outside. It is an impressive display of all types of vehicles from several major conflicts and if you are interested in such things you would very much enjoy a visit to Dubois to see it for yourself.

I can’t say as I have ever thought of a canoe as a military vehicle but in the strict definition of the word I suppose it is:

I was also struck by how small early tanks were. The one below is shorter than my Nissan Altima:

As I left Dubois to head home to Lander I passed this formation which I had seen in an earlier trip but the sun was hitting it at a better angle.

It was a great day as I drove through a variety of landscapes and made it home in time for a yummy enchilada dinner that my sister-in-law Jen made!

Montana Wildfires

I know I am behind on posting photos, having just finished posting photos from Flaming Gorge NRA taken on Sunday, June 6. Let me jump ahead to two days ago, Tuesday, June 15 when I drove up to Cody, Wyoming to attend my first rodeo. As I drove north, past the little town of Meeteetse, I spotted something off in the distance and stopped to take a photo of it. It doesn’t show up very well in the first photo but would soon become hard to miss.

If you look really close, directly above the white line on the right edge of the road at the top of the first “hump,” you will see a small column of white smoke (it was more noticeable with my sunglasses on). The photo above was taken at 1144am Tuesday. I was afraid it might be a wildfire on the back of the dark mountain and soon my fears were realized. This was the early stages of the Robertson Draw fire, which started Sunday 12 miles south of Red Lodge, Montana – not far from the Wyoming border, and about 35 miles “as the crow flies” north of Cody. The fire isn’t anywhere near the dark mountain, it was just in my line of sight. At this point I believe the fire covered between 200 and 2,000 acres.

Once I got into town the smoke had grown more intense:

That was at 222pm.

At 420pm this was the view from a set of railroad tracks between Cody and where I would be spending the night in Powell, WY.

And at 717pm this was the view from the rodeo arena, on the west side of Cody:

As of Wednesday afternoon the fire had grown tenfold again, consuming over 20,000 acres and is now over 24,000 acres as I write this Thursday morning. And as the TV ads used to say – “but wait, there’s more!”.

As I was seated in the grandstand waiting for rodeo to start at 8pm I spotted another column of smoke forming northeast of Cody, to my right:

Just to the left of the lightpole is a vertical column of smoke which I later learned was the start of the Crooked Creek fire, which started earlier Tuesday afternoon in the Pryor Mountains of Montana, roughly due north of the town of Lovell, Wyoming and beyond where I would be spending the night in Powell.

The photo above was taken at 719pm. The photo below was taken at 847pm:

As I write this on Thursday morning this fire has already consumed over 5,000 acres in a day and a half.

Conditions were hot (100+ degrees in Cody mid-afternoon) and dry, and there was a stiff wind where I was, not a good combination for wildfires. The northern state’s fire websites don’t update as frequently as CalFire did when I was in California but it appears that both of these fires are off to a strong start, with little or no containment.

My friend Max is currently down near the Grand Canyon in Arizona and has already been near two wildfires down there, one near the South Rim, which prevented him from taking the most direct route to the South Rim Visitor Center from Flagstaff (because the fire was straddling that road), and he saw the smoke from a wildfire southwest of Grand Junction, Colorado when he drove up to the southeast entrance of Canyonlands National Park in southeast Utah last weekend.

I will have more updates about wildfires which occurred in Colorado late last year when I get caught up to my trip to Fort Collins, Colorado last week. I am in my final week of “family time” here in Lander (and am still accumulating photos from my almost daily road trips from my base here) so hopefully I will get caught up when I get back on the road next week. From Lander I will be heading west into southern Idaho, then south through Utah and Arizona.

Stay tuned!

Flaming Gorge – Unnamed Overlook and on home

A volunteer working for the Forest Service at the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area Visitor Center suggested that we stop at a small overlook not far up the road from where we were as a small platform had been constructed out overlooking the reservoir making it easy to get some great photos. This shows the view from a slightly different angle.

The photo below is looking northwest, further into Utah, at the snow-covered Wasatch Mountain range:

My sister-in-law heard this bird chirping high up in a tree above us:

We drove further east, crossing the dam which creates this huge reservoir, and stopped at a small store in the town of Dutch John. We then proceeded north in Highway 191 and back into Wyoming. We stopped a few more places along the way to enjoy the scenic views:

After crossing Interstate 80 and continuing north towards Lander we stopping in the little crossroads town of Farson for some ice cream at the Mercantile:

I had huckleberry and it was outstanding. Jen had cautioned me about their huge portions so she and I only got 1/2 of a “baby scoop” each (and we opted for it in a cup) as we also stopped at a fantastic barbeque place to buy enough food to feed us for a few days.

Heading home to Lander we stopped for another photo of Red Canyon, just south of Lander, as the afternoon sun was hitting it just right to highlight the “wall”. I learned after reading some travel literature that this land is now owned by The Nature Conservancy and is a working cattle ranch. It is also on a huge migration path for elk and other animals so sightings at certain times of the year are numerous.

Flaming Gorge – Visitor Center

Our second stop Sunday was at the Visitor Center, in Utah, on the south end of the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, part of the Flaming Gorge National Recreation area. As we were driving in I FINALLY saw two bighorn sheep! I reported a few years ago that I thought maybe they were extinct because I saw warning signs everywhere but never actually saw any. Well here were two standing not far off the road in the shade:

The Visitor Center is called “Red Canyon Visitor Center” even though this is nowhere near the Red Canyon south of Lander. Because of the red rocks in this part of the country I see signs for places called Red Canyon all over the place as I drive around the state.

Outside the Visitor Center there was a low fence to keep people away from the edge as we were very close to a steep drop off, but the views were incredible. My sister-in-law got another shot of your hero JohnBoy at work:

Here are some photos without the “clutter”

As my sister-in-law, Jen, and I were wandering around taking photos my brother spoke to one of the Forest Service members who was outside the Visitor Center controlling the number of people which were allowed inside at any given moment. Turns out he lives about a mile and a half of where I do in Durham NC!! He and his partner are both volunteering to work for the Forest Service in exchange for lodging. What a deal!

And while were driving further up the road to an unnamed overlook the man from Durham told us about, Jen reminded me of a phrase she had uttered earlier in the day based on their previous trip to this place – “Flaming Gorgeous!”

Flaming Gorge – Dowds Mountain Overlook

Sunday my brother, sister-in-law, their corgi, Ellie, and I all went on a road trip to Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area in southwest Wyoming. It is 3 1/2 hours and 200 miles from Lander. I am posting photos in three parts, the Dowds Mountain Overlook, the Red Canyon Visitor Center and an unnamed overlook – all on the south side of the Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The bulk of the Reservoir is in Wyoming but the three areas mentioned above are actually in Utah.

I don’t know why this beautiful place wasn’t on my radar when I was out here four years ago but it has been on the top of my to-do list since I learned about it, and was the first thing I mentioned when asked what weekend road-trips I’d like to take while based in Lander.

To get there we drove southwest on Highway 28 to Farson, then south on Highway 191 to Interstate 80. We went west on 80 for a few miles then south on Highway 530 to the little town of Washam WY before crossing into Utah. We then drove around the southern end of the reservoir before getting to the town of Dutch John and heading north back home.

First stop – the Dowds Mountain Overlook, elevation about 7,700 feet – and what a view we had!

The photo above was taken with my iPhone camera. Here is a photo from almost the identical spot taken with my digital camera:

While the digital is great for close-ups with the zoom lens I have to say the iPhone wins this particular comparison, hands down.

This is a look back at the road we took to get up to the overlook, a series of photos looking left-to-right, followed by a panorama shot of the whole scene:

And here is a photo my sister-in-law, Jen, took, of your host JohnBoy (on the left), my brother Steve and their corgi Eleanor Roosevelt (aka Ellie):

Next stop – a little further up the road at the Red Canyon Visitor Center.

Shoshoni

This little one-traffic light town was one I passed through on my way to both Thermopolis and Casper. As I continued east on Highway 20 on Friday I passed some interesting rock formations just off the road to my left and not far from town and I made a note to stop on the way home to take photos when the sun would be in a better location.

There were lots more than these but this gives you a general idea of what was there. This made an otherwise rather boring drive to Casper a little more interesting.

Hiland, Wyoming

I passed through this little town on my way to Casper and made a mental note to stop on the way home to take photos.

That’s it.

You’ve now seen Hiland in all it’s glory. The whole enchilada.

The building on the left in the first photo was at one time a motel (which someone came out of when two vehicles pulled in after I had taken my photos and is evidently where all the residents of the town live). The building on the right houses “The Bright Spot,” a restaurant/bar and fuel station.

The parking lot (which covered a large area) had recently been repaved which, as my original boss in North Carolina would have said, was not inexpensive.

Business must be good!