There is a beautiful song, “From Clare to Here,” sung by Nanci Griffith. You may know it.
The first line of the chorus goes “It’s a long way from Clare to here.”
For my purpose, I am changing the lyrics to “It’s a long way from here to there” — with here being Lima and there being Wyoming. I think you would agree, using the place names in the song does not flow well.
The fact of the matter remains: It is a long way from here to Wyoming — 1,200 miles, give or take. It may be a tad shorter, but I round up in this case because I believe it is better to give than take. That way, one knows what he is in for when it comes to the drive at hand.
Because it is a long way from here to the once (but in many ways still) Wild West, I don’t get out there as often as I would like. March 2012 was most recent overland trip to the land of sage-covered plains flecked with white rumped pronghorns, cloud piercing mountain ranges and geysers vomiting steam from the bowels of the earth.
The ultimate destination of that trip was Logan, Utah, where I would see my daughter Chilali perform a harp concerto.
Prior to that, my last road trip to Wyoming was in June 1989. My wife, Karen, and I did a three-day trip to the Teton/Yellowstone country in 2009, but that was a side trip when we flew to Utah.
As I said, I don’t get out that way often enough. My plan was a one-day drive to my hometown of West Point, Neb., where I would hang out for a day. My brother Ken, who lives there, would head west with me the next day.
Like me, Ken has spent a lot of time in that country. Our introduction to Wyoming, sometimes referred to as the Cowboy State, took place back in the '60s when we began travelling and traipsing about with our father. Dad was, among other things, a lover of mountains and wide open spaces, and he instilled that same love and interest in his sons.
I remember Dad once saying, “I’m gonna put on sack cloth and head to the mountains.”
He would have agreed with John Muir’s observation of the high country. “Who wouldn’t be a mountaineer? Up here all the world’s prizes seem nothing.”
Ken and I didn’t don sack cloth, nor would we have time to climb any mountains. We were on a tight schedule to get to Logan, nearly 1,000 miles beyond the horizon in one very long day.
What we did do was make the most of our 402-mile journey across Wyoming on Interstate 80 by keeping our eyes on the road and the familiar but ever changing landscape. In this case, two sets of eyes were better than one.
I had never been to Wyoming in late March, so I didn’t know what to expect weather-wise. Little or lots of snow? Raging ground blizzards or warm Chinook winds? In many parts of the country, winter 2012 had been wacky at best, with little in the way of snow and way above normal temps. The impending season of rebirth was totally unsprung, and spring in Wyoming was no different.
Some 10 miles east of Laramie, we reached the summit of I-80, which at 8,640 feet is the highest point on transcontinental I-80. From that vantage point, we could look west to the Medicine Bow Mountains and Snowy Range. Other than the high peaks and shaded lower slopes, there was little snow. The same was true of the Laramie Range to the north.
If you’ve spent much time in Wyoming, you know the place is chock full of geologic features reaching for the sky — The Big Horns, The Wind Rivers, the Tetons and mountains in and around Yellowstone — all with distinct characteristics.
I-80 traverses southern Wyoming, bisecting a region that can be described in many ways. Desolate and dry as a parched mouth, with 10-12 inches of rain per year, boring — though not to we Hugos — big vistas allowing one to see 75 miles or more to the Wind River Range and fantastic geologic formations. Beauty.
The road cuts, with walls showing the layers of rock, much of it tilted, are an open book to the geologic history of this place. A geology that rises from the plains.
Speaking of which, an interesting read on Wyoming’s rich geologic and human history is John McPhee’s “Rising From the Plains.” Keep your Wyoming map at hand so you can travel with McPhee and geologist David Love.
Back to those descriptions above. Did I mention the wind? It has played a central role in a cast of elements that have sculpted that landscape and it can blow with a ferocity that creates a hazard for safe travel on I-80 at all times of the year. Signs flash warnings and the road can be gated.
On our return trip, Ken and I experienced sustained crosswinds of 40-45 mph, which combined with 50 mph gusts often pelted the car with sand. It was like driving in a 200-mile-long wind tunnel between Rock Springs and Laramie.
It was a quick crossing of a state we both enjoy visiting. On our return, we jumped off the interstate at the summit interchange and enjoyed a leisurely 40 mile side trip on state Route 210, also known as the Happy Jack Road. We stopped, caught some air and did a little rock picking.
I also plucked a small clump of cactus from the sparse soil and carefully placed it in a bag. Back home, I planted it, welcomed it to Ohio and enjoyed its delicate flowers as it bloomed. I will eagerly anticipate its beauty this year.
It is a long way from Lima to Wyoming, but memories, a 30-pound piece of lichen-encrusted Sherman granite in my living room and a cactus help to shorten the distance from here to there.