Wyoming: Of Prairies, Peaks, and Pronghorns

Wyoming: Of Prairies, Peaks, and Pronghorns
Loneliness must have come to the rolling hills of southern Wyoming just to get away from it all. It liked what it saw and settled down. And we can feel it trying to grab hold as we cross the treeless landscape, rolling along over the smooth surface of Highway 191. The empty miles continue to spool away in easy bends that tempt my throttle hand to urge us over the next rise toward anything that might resemble home. But out here all traces of civilization have vanished and only the occasional notice from a pronghorn antelope bears witness to the passing Gold Wing.

A veteran of many trips to the Cowboy State, my dad once told me that being alone here is a very humbling experience. As our mileage adds up, romping across gentle hills in a deep valley, we are learning what he meant. Vehicular traffic is virtually nonexistent and structures appear with even less frequency. The only real signs of humanity are large, haphazard configurations of wooden frames by the roadside that look like billboard slats awaiting a sales pitch. In fact, they're ramps intended to deflect and redirect wind-whipped snow away from the pavement. Frozen precipitation shouldn't be an issue for us to contend with in August, but these ominous bulwarks, the only things around resembling "shelter," remind us it's best to avoid any kind of inclement situation in these parts.

The winding route eventually climbs the steep eastern flank of the valley and deposits us atop a ridge straddling two canyons. Despite the darkening clouds building on the western horizon, the boundless solitude makes us pause to marvel at the beauty before us. The vast expanse of waving grasses gives way here and there to ancient clefts gouged by rivers and streams; and as the approaching clouds thicken and roil, partially obscuring the setting sun, countless shafts of brilliance strike a distant valley floor. Suddenly, a cold breeze slashing the warm, still air causes us to take a quick sidestep to maintain our balance. Bearing down at a breakneck pace, the clouds and wind startle us from our trance, and grabbing our helmets, we hastily take off.

Our overnight stop in Rock Springs is, according to the wildly oscillating road sign, still nearly twenty miles away. Stiff gusts bearing sand and bits of grass and weed batter our port side, nearly pushing the loaded Wing onto the narrow shoulder on several occasions. The pleasurable ribbon of swooping asphalt has changed into a frightening gauntlet through weather that seems likely to topple us at any moment. Though I manage to keep the Wing on course at a respectable speed, never have so few miles seemed to pass so slowly, as we finally leave the high ground behind and ride into Rock Springs. Ironically, once we reach the parking lot of the Holiday Inn, the clouds benignly disperse as quickly as they came.

Amazing panoramas never cease in Yellowstone National Park.

High Plains Drifters

Peeking out the window, we're greeted with a crystal-clear sky beckoning an early departure. But after checking the map, we decide to take in a hearty breakfast at the onsite restaurant. The road ahead could be desolate and topping off all pertinent tanks is the best course of action. We continue traveling north, a miniscule speck crawling across the enormous scene, with miles and miles passing beneath. All the while, the only real landmarks are the endless lines of barbed wire and posts beside the road and the infrequent windmills. Scatterings of cattle and roaming antelope are all we can see that enlivens the hills.