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Wyoming to Colorado

IMG_1805Time is flying by. Seems I left Rawlins yesterday, but it was Tuesday and today is Thursday. Lost a day. Left Huckleberry’s about 5pm Tuesday after abusing their wi-fi for a few hours, waiting for the thirty five mph headwinds to subside. I’d been so involved with the fact checking the blog that I hadn’t noticed and was surprised to see it was raining pretty good outside.. I put my shell over my head and ran for the car, let the dogs out and headed west on I 80.

The rain soon stopped and though the sky was still filled with dark clouds, a silver ribbon of highway stretched out in front of me. The Wyoming sky is a total drama queen.

Before I turned south on WY 389 I stopped to put the sway bar on the trailer and let the dogs out for another pee. Their noses took them straight to the rotting, sinewy carcass of yet another dismembered pronghorn, good parts taken, the hide, head and legs thrown by the roadside, the rib cage well scavenged.

I had spoken at length to a rough, tough BLM law enforcement agent in Huckleberry’s about his job. I asked if it included poaching, which it did. He also said sick people occasionally shoot horses and game, just for the hell of it, leaving the carcasses to rot. There’s a $10,000 fine for wanton killing, but it’s also a crime to discard carcasses, waste hide, etc. I had seen the same repeated offense in unofficial dumps sites and roadsides. I find it appallingly disrespectful.

I mentioned I had been surprised to hear a lot of Russian and Slavic languages spoken in the McDonalds on I 80 and that it sounded to me like a drug deal was going down. He said that there are tons of eastern Europeans doing long haul trucking between cities to the east and Salt Lake and Vegas and that it was a major meth transport corridor.

IMG_1810As I turned south on 389 a huge storm cell was speeding west to east across the horizon, the precipitation slanted by its velocity. Bolts of lightning cracked from cloud to ground. We would cross paths. The light was fantastic, so I stopped to video a few seconds, caught a flash of lightning as well as some pronghorn on the side of the road.

IMG_1838I continued south through the storm as the rain began to fall harder, turning into hail. The different precipitations were rendered on the asphalt so I could see exactly where it changed from rain to hail, back to rain or clear again. The play of light continued and the tiny draws filled with menacing, swirling brown water. Cattle and pronghorn continued to graze, unfazed by the thunder or hail, and the desert greened before my eyes.We continued like that, the small mountains of northern Colorado shining in the distance. The striated red and grey hills of the Wyoming desert gave way to grassland lush with the rain.


Horse ranches and stock trailers appeared. I was losing the light and it was still raining lightly. I hated driving in the dark, not because of the added difficulty, but because I wanted to drink in all the beauty of the country I was passing through.

Hasta la vista Wyoming. I will see you again.

IMG_1880Uneventful night at the Wal-Mart in Craig, CO. Technically a “no overnighting” Wal-Mart, but it was still raining, cold and there were a couple of other rigs so I took my chances. In the morning we continued on south on 13. It was cold and rainy but northern Colorado was beautiful nonetheless. The road follows the Yampa River, which cuts a small canyon for miles and miles. There were lots of Forest Service turn offs with historical markers and such, but with the rain and towing the trailer I didn’t want to risk getting stuck in the very slippery, wet clay. I passed the turn off to Yellow Jacket Pass, the visual of which made me laugh.

The triple stacks of the Yampa River Coal Plant appeared on my left, steam rising in the cold air. To cool the plant turbines, water is drawn from local streams, rivers and wells and then recycled into cooling ponds. In these arid areas loss of moisture through evaporation exceeds rainfall many times over, and the steam lost in the cooling of coal plants is not recouped. A little while later a freight train snaked toward me along the Yampa River. When I got closer I saw that then entire hundred cars carried coal headed for the power plant, which made me see not only the wisdom of building the Bridger plant in Wyoming right on top of the coal mine, but I also got an object lesson of Jerry’s figures, seeing what a coal freight with a hundred cars looks like and recalling that the Bridger plant burns up one of those freights every eleven hours. Some coal trains can be two miles in length! Wyoming currently produces 37% of the coal mined in the U.S.

A bit further on a huge white conveyer tunnel crossed the road carrying coal from Mine Number Five on the east, to the tracks on the west where coal is transported out of the mine into the waiting freight cars. I’m guessing that freight just ferries back and forth between the mine and the power plant all day. The coal burning plants in southern Wyoming and northern Colorado supply power to Denver, Vegas, Phoenix and even all the way to Los Angeles along high tension lines with ridiculous loss of power along the way.

There are currently sixteen coal burning power plants in Colorado, with another nine proposed. Many of these are on Native American Reservations where as usual, a battle is being fought by some of our poorest and most needy members of society between the need for income and quality of life and environment.

If you live anywhere west of Colorado to get real about where your power comes from, check out this interesting and informative article, “Coal-burning Power Plants of the Colorado River Basin” by John Weisheit. http://www.onthecolorado.com/articles.cfm?mode=detail&id=1224816661155

The journey south along CO 13 continued to be lovely. Still raining and cold, but what did I care? I was warm and dry and all was well with the rig.

In Meeker, CO there is no doubt it is hunting season. The meat processing and taxidermy businesses are quite open and a sign in front of the local liquor store advertises “Suitcase Bud Lite & Fine Cigars.” The center of town sports a life sized bronze elk wearing an orange hunter’s cap and vest. I have to appreciate the humor.

Coming into the high country we pass sheep ranches, the fleece of the white-faced sheep turning dark grey with the rain. Two paint ponies were tied to a sheep wagon completely unperturbed by the cold, wet temperatures in the low thirties. I marvel at, and am quite jealous of herd animals’ thermoregulatory abilities. I passed several more sheep wagons perched high on the rugged mountainsides.

sheep_camp.308104015_stdTraditionally wood sided wagons covered with hooped canvas, steps out a rear door and a wood stove pipe sticking out the top, they resemble an old time Gypsy wagon. Today they are often covered in aluminum, are quite expensive, pretty darn cozy and are being swept up in the Tiny House craze. These however, were working sheep wagons, with thin wisps of smoke coming out their stovepipe chimneys. I imagine a sheepherder could sometimes be glad of a cold rainy day, sheep bunched up for warmth and not needing his constant attention.


As I climbed toward Nine Mile Gap the rain turned to big, wet flakes of snow, which stuck to the greening grass, dulling it to the same soft hue as the sagebrush. I kept an eye out for black ice but the snow presented no problem to driving as it was above freezing.

I finally top out at a rest area where a mountain bluebird shakes off the snow.


Then it’s down into Rifle to pick up I 70. The weather clears and I have a short but beautiful ride west along the Colorado River into Grand Junction, then south on CO 50 through Delta to Montrose for another cold very and rainy night at more welcoming Ché Wal-Mart.

I’ve sprung a couple of small leaks around the back windows of the trailer and the memory foam is a giant sponge. I attempt to dry things out somewhat by continually repositioning the catalytic heater, hoping I don’t set anything on fire. In Wal-Mart I lust after heavy fleece Mickey Mouse pajama bottoms and fleece lined Wranglers. I buy warm socks, stuff towels into the leaks and spend an uneventful night in the parking lot, dwarfed by giant, tour bus sized RV’s.


Next stop: Telluride.

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