Days 4-5: Wyoming, Dinosaurs, and Yellowstone

Miles ridden: 644; Money Spent: $170

It got cold last night, too cold for mid-June, and I pulled the sleeping bag as tight as I could, trying my best to sleep like an encased mummy and awaking periodically when a stray arm would wiggle it’s way out.

I packed up, chatting with Gary some more. He drives down from his house on the hill periodically, sitting on an immense ATV. He told me to stop in Hill City at the museum there, just down 385 from the campground.

“Dinosaurs and shit,” he said.

My ears perked.

That’s why you have to chat with the locals.

Inside the museum, Bob, a worker there, tells us they’re prepping a T-Rex in the back room. He rounds everyone up and takes us back, giving us a cool lesson in the process–excavating, separating rock from bone, sandblasting the bones with ultra-fine sand, and filling in the missing chunks in the bone with a silly putty like material.

We saw a section of a T-Rex tail and even got to touch it – a real T-Rex!

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If you look closely inside the black circles, there’s actually skin preserved from a dinosaur that roamed the earth millions of years ago. Amazing!

summer_2007_trex_skin

They only have 35% of the bones he tells us–a toe bone counts the same as a leg bone–because they have to go back and literally move a hill on a ranch in Wyoming to access the rest of the site.

Then, mostly women (“men don’t have the patience,” Bob says), spend days chipping away rock from the bone, eight hours a day, with a mini-jackhammer.

Back in the museum I met a T-Rex named Stan.

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And the right femur of a Brachiosaurus.

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I made my way towards Wyoming. The roads were fun, with even the highways gently sweeping back and forth as I made my way West. After a little while, I began to see something poking into the sky.

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And a little while later, I pulled off into one of the many photo-op spots along the highway.

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As the sun began to set I felt damn tired. I found a motel, took a shower, and scoured the local grocery store for dinner. Not wanting to fire up the stove indoors, I had to settle on some cookies and soda. A $2.73 dinner. Not bad.

*****

I set out from Moorcroft early the next morning, determined to cross all of Wyoming and set up shop at a free campground on a lake, just outside Yellowstone in the tail of Montana. The early start was nice for a change–the benefits of staying in a motel–and the sun hung low on the horizon when mountains, at first vague in the distance, came into view.

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The one sure thing about mountains–curvy roads. Seeing mountains for the first time this trip, along with the beautiful highway 16, made the morning almost perfect. Roads tucked into the rock formations with the open land in the distance were my favorite to ride.

summer_2007_wyoming_curvy_roads

Highway 16 spreads across western Wyoming, through mountains, forests, tourist towns, and eventually, an open horizon of short shrubs and dull brown gently rolling hills.

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I’d been holding back the whole trip, but after a fellow on a Moto Guzzi passed me like I was standing still, and with the open road just begging me to, I tucked down and opened the throttle. A few minutes later I saw a police car coming the other direction. He slammed on his brakes and spun around. I thought of opening the throttle wide, but saw the landscape, the single road stretching across those brown hills, and immediately started calculating how many days on the road a performance award for my daft display of driving skills would cost me.

Bless my heart. He never pulled me over.

I arrived in Cody, a bustling tourist town full of SUV’s with kayaking gear and two mountains for a backdrop. Entering into the mountain backdrop, I found this sign.

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As if getting mauled by a grizzly isn’t enough reward.

There’s a neat rock formation along the way, formed over millions of years, that’s said to resemble the ancient city of Jerusalem. It’s quite serene.

summer_2007_cody_rock_spring

Relieved to have crossed most the way across the state, my bum was awful sore, I entered Yellowstone. The road was under construction, so I had to ride along a winding gravel road to get in. For a brief moment it turned to one lane with no guard rails and a long, steep fall, and death, hanging just five feet to my left.

Past the construction and into the park, I again saw Bison.

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In fact, I saw so many I lost count.

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It’s hard to spot them too. From the distance, lying on the ground, they look just like a big boulder.

summer_2007_yellowstone_bison_rock

I passed a bunch of cool sites, just wanting to get through Yellowstone and to my free campground by the lake. I couldn’t find it though, so I gave up on finding something cheap and pulled into the closest spot–$28 to pitch my tent.

So it ended up being my most expensive day by far, and I came to the realization, perhaps later than some, that I’m no good at this cheap travel thing. Park passes ($20 for Yellowstone) were eating into my bankroll, gas was $30-$40 a day, and I was still a long way from California.

I splurged at the grocery store and prepared a feast of quesadillas with peppers, pork, corn, and salsa. Mmm.

summer_2007_yellowstone_food

Tomorrow would be Yellowstone, then west towards California, or South towards the Grand Canyon–who knows?

I set up camp, pondering rounding up all the bison I saw cowboy-style in the morning and creating a Dances with Wolves-style stampede.

Then I fell asleep to the sound of the stream, dreaming, for the first time in my life, of grizzly bears.

———-

The whole trip:
Days 1-3Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, and the Badlands
Days 4-5: Wyoming, Dinosaurs, and Yellowstone
Days 6-7Yellowstone, Idaho, and Oregon
Days 8-10California, Dinner with Strangers, and a Pacific Sunset
Days 11-13San Francisco, Yosemite, Death Valley, and the Grand Canyon
Days 14-16Utah, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, and Home