With The Home Ranch’s summer season drawing to a close in late October, once again I loaded all my gear in the Ranger, bid friends and co-workers farewell, then headed out in an easterly direction. My end-of-season treat to myself was to be an extended road trip to see old friends, meet new ones, and see some familiar and lots of new country.
Optional: Click one of the following formats to hear a little travelling music: Real MP3 (I'm not the swiftest in dealing with sound files. Hope one of them works for you!)
From the ranch, I drove east on Highway 40 through Steamboat Springs, up over Rabbit Ears Pass, then north on Highway 14 and across North Park. Colorado features these unique geological formations called "parks": ancient, dry lake basins surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides. The countryside was painted in shades of late October brown. Fall and winter come quick in the Rockies. Passing through the town of Walden, I skirted the Medicine Bow Mountains to the west, finally emerging out onto the flatlands of southeastern Wyoming.
In my ongoing attempt to avoid fast food franchises whenever possible, I pulled into a local Laramie café. The parking lot was choked with pickups and, inside, the tables were overflowing with hunters clad in varying shades of orange and camouflage. Elk hunting is big business in this part of the world. I’d have a hard time shooting an elk for sport, but then who am I to judge?
Continuing east on Interstate 80 and past some dramatic mesas, I crossed into Nebraska (go Big Red!) where the terrain got flatter…and flatter…and, yes, even flatter. A word about my route choice over the course of the trip: if possible, I avoided driving on the Interstates. Built in the blandest of terrain and dotted with the same ubiquitous fast food restaurants, they certainly serve a worthy purpose to truckers and high-speed travelers. But to stay on the interstates is to miss the small towns and changing countryside that makes America interesting. Indeed, driving along at 75 mph on an interstate can lull one into a stupor where entire states whizzed by, one looking much like the other. Welcome to HUSA (Homogenized United States of America).
Though I was expected to arrive in time for dinner at my friends, the Barger's, how could I resist stopping at Cabela’s retail outlet in Sydney? Cabela’s, the ultimate toy store for rednecks real and wannabe. Where else can one buy everything from elephant guns to camouflage baby outfits? No, I didn’t see camouflage diapers, but then I wasn’t looking that hard. It is a sprawling monster of a store and, in my hour there, I barely scratched the surface. Most customers (all male) walked out lugging bags of cool outdoor gear -- and maybe a bass boat or two. My sole purchase, on the other hand, amounted to a single health food bar. "Wow," half-joked the young cashier (all female), "big spender today, huh?" Rather than take offense at her wisecrack, I took pride in my abstinence.
The next few days were spent in North Platte with Steve and Laura Barger and their children, David, Tallie, and Riley. Plus there was a new addition to the family: three year old Hope, their foster child, all smiles and straight blond hair. I’ve known Steve and Laura since Mammoth Pack Outfit days and it was great to see them again. Having gotten to know Steve as a packer, cowboy, and rancher, it was a wonder to watch him work the phones and computers of his commodities business -- all the while strumming his guitar. Hats off to Mr. B.
A cold, prairie wind blew steady during my stay, but we did manage to layer up for a horseback ride down through the cedar breaks that crisscross his ranch a few miles south of town. It’s easy to imagine the plains Indians taking refuge from the bitter wind down in those red dirt draws, perhaps laying in ambush for unsuspecting cattle drovers or cavalry troopers. On the southern edge of Nebraska’s Sand Hills, this country was once Indian territory and blanketed with buffalo herds.
in Kansas, Toto.