By Elsa Wolf
Driving into Cheyenne, Wyoming after a leaving northern Colorado was a bit unexpected. The place professes to hold 60,000 people, but I don’t know where they are all hiding. On this Saturday afternoon, very few people are milling around. The Airbnb place we are staying in is a private home with newly renovated lodging over their garage. If I understand correctly, they have another room for guests in a different area of the property, as well as a camper for rodeo visitors or participants in Frontier Days. The couple who are hosting us are originally from Michigan, which is quite a coincidence as I have spent many a time there since my mother is from that very state. My host’s son coincidentally worked on Mackinac Island for four summers, which brings us all into a kind of harmony. I diverge from my intended path. After comparing our origins, we discussed and resolved some confusion I had about the upcoming rodeo. I’m looking forward to the event even though it is a side benefit to our original intention of visiting the state to decide whether or not we want to leave the east coast and retire on the west.
To move along in my Cheyenne description; I should say, we decided to take a rather lengthy walk into town that began uneventfully with a stop at the State Museum to learn about military and mining history in Wyoming. The older lady at the information desk had a dark purple swath of hair mixed in with shades of brown and gray. My first thought; Cheyenne isn’t conservative, but one person’s looks can’t tell the entire tale. In the free museum, I was surprised to see a wagon from some immigrants that arrived ages ago from the Basque country of Spain to hunt for gold and fortune but became sheep farmers instead. I noted this because I love visiting Spain.
More interesting than anything thus far, and like nothing I’d seen before, were the events taking place in front of the train depot. A rock band was playing in the center of the square, a couple of dozen souped-up old cars sat around the perimeter. We walked into one side of the depot to find a self-service beer establishment parallel to the active train tracks. I suppose that doesn’t sound that odd, but on the other wing of the building were at least a dozen tattoo artists inscribing new designs on various parts of the client’s torsos and limbs. Some of the people subjecting themselves to this form of permanent ink were either grimacing or tearing up. I felt like a conservative old lady walking through the group, and I tried not to flinch. It was almost impossible to keep my eyes moving back and forth across the tables without staring at men and woman sprawled out across the ridged surfaces. Some of the clients had long hair and beards twisted in various patterns. One artist’s, in particular, had so many tattoos that none of his original skin showed through and the skin under his eyes where one might put eyeliner almost glowed red. He seemed like he was straight out of an avatar film or a Star Trek or Star Wars series. The shock value was a bit overwhelming; I tried to take a picture, but it didn’t come out well. Then I thought these people are freely expressing their personalities, which is admirable even though I don’t understand why they have decided to go the route they have chosen. The event was only for one day and likely the rest of our time in Cheyenne will be quite different than our first night.
Generally, people are kind. I sought out a shop that provides classes in both painting and pottery. Walking up to the open garage, the instructor stopped demonstrating how to paint the background of their cow portrait and came straight over to me. Smiling, she introduced herself, gave me a pamphlet, invited me to observe the class and even said I was welcome to have some bottled water at no charge. A few blocks later, another person, who’d I never seen before said he wanted to ask me something. In response, I replied that I didn’t know anything about anything in this town. I’m getting quicker at such random interactions as I age.
He countered with, “Do you think there’s a God?”
I responded in the affirmative.
He said, “that’s my girl.”
Having said all this—moving on—I ask myself; where are the cowboys the state of Wyoming is known for? Perhaps, I will find out when the rodeo commences. But for now, I’ll go to sleep on a firm mattress that’s resting in a rustic bed frame made out of bark stripped tree trunks in the newly constructed garage apartment.
My patience was rewarded when I awoke at five-thirty. Our Airbnb host offered to take us out to see some horses and cattle. We accepted without hesitation. He drove us out to Tractor Supply in a Dodge Ram pickup with a big step up on my part. I’m glad my knees are better than they have been. Our host drove us to the beginning of route where multiple horses wearing western saddles finally emerged along with a wagon or two. A short time later, emerging from the high green grasses, wranglers appeared with a heard of several hundred cows or heifers or steers. Some with horns and others without. They, of course, tried to stop and graze rather than continuing. Then they were moved along by the riders down onto the asphalt roadway that runs parallel to the highway.
Next stop, Curt Gowdy State Park for a look-see at the information center. They provided us with hiking route maps, tips on camping around the lake as well as types of birds & plants to search for. To finish things off; a stuffed mountain lion on a pedestal in the center of the building reminded us there is wildlife in the mountains. Next, to enter the park, we paid the admittance fee for non-residents; $6. As we drove down the back roads—some paved and some graveled we sought out or destination. Number 28 was on the edge of the road beside the lake where a canoe could be rented for an hour. Before we got going onto the trail, we changed into hiking boots. Armed with bottles of water on a shoulder strap and a map we were off into the wild. The ground was dry and would not get any wetter until the afternoon rains. Up and down slopes, we trudged past the lake. Avoiding small rocks and an occasional branch across the trail, we progressed. For the most part, the evergreen trees provide cover from the heat of the day. Along the way to the hidden waterfall, we said hello to passers-by with their dogs. Everyone returned the greeting, and one woman gave me a hand up onto a boulder that crossed our path. Two miles in and two miles out. Not bad for a half a day’s hike at an elevation of 7500 feet. A far cry from our home elevation of 108 feet. Deep breathing and a couple of bottles of water helped life look rosier.
The walk brought one of my mother’s stories to mind. My mother was young once; I tell myself while disbelieving she could have ever been out on a trail with a posy of horses traveling the trails in Wyoming with two guides. The truth is, she was. The trip was with one of her sisters, her father, and a couple of other people whose names were never revealed. I think I only remember it because things didn’t go very well. It began with a day on horseback up to a cabin in northern Wyoming in June. Everything went as planned that day, but the next morning they awoke to find the cabin half-submerged in snow. They weren’t too concerned because they had enough food to get by for a few days while they waited. When it was time to leave, they mounted the horse and headed out, but one of the guides decided to walk his horse. This resulted in a twisted or perhaps broken ankle. I’m not sure how they solved everything; I never got the rest of the story out of Mom.
To come will be an exploration of Laramie, which I think will be our landing spot for retirement. We shall see…