A Hit and a Miss

Thursday, November 14, 2013 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Cheyenne, WY to Pueblo, CO

Since we arrived early enough to make our pilgrimage to the Wyoming State Capitol yesterday afternoon, we had only to search for a few letterboxes before leaving Cheyenne this morning.  Results of our search were mixed, with some boxes exactly where they were said to be (like the one hidden on the 1242 pictured above) and others clearly missing, a pattern which would repeat itself later in the day.

Driving south on I-25 from Cheyenne, we stopped at the innovative Southeast Wyoming Welcome Center.  Opened in September of last year, the 37,000 sq. ft. building encompasses meeting rooms, tourism offices, traditional rest area facilities, a gallery, and a host of interactive exhibits with life-size elements representing Wyoming wildlife, history and activities.  In addition to its exceptional functionality, the center is a delight to the eyes and a marvel of green design and engineering.

Southeast Wyoming Welcome Center
The colorful exterior walls are striped to represent cross-sections of the earth and the layers of time that it took to build it, using a sustainable building technique called rammed earth.  Rather than hauling off unwanted dirt from the building site, the contractor mixed the earth with sand, clay and gravel and a small amount of cement as an emulsifier.  Various types of oxides were added to create different colors in the individual layers.  After the mixture was dampened, machinery was used to ram the mixture into a frame, where it hardened into a solid building material.  The forms were then removed to reveal these stunning walls.

Welcome Center reception desk 
Carrying the green construction indoors, the wood paneling for the reception area was reclaimed from Wyoming snow fences.  Once inside, visitors are introduced to the state through interactive displays representing all parts of the state and many periods of history.  There's even a life-sized cast of a Columbian mammoth similar to one at a Casper geological museum.  And it's set in a replica of a working archaeological camp.

A letterbox is on site, as well as walking trails, a wildflower green roof on the building, and wetlands formed from reclaimed runoff water from I-25.  So much to like here.  Though we were very impressed with a New Mexico rest area we visited last year, this one has no peers.  It's a destination itself.  Well done, Wyoming!

Continuing down the interstate through Denver, we were just making tracks to get back toward central Colorado.  With an offer of a free salad, P.F. Chang's lured us in for lunch, and their Colorado Springs location was conveniently located along our path.  When we left there, we drove west 35 miles on US-24, past Pikes Peak, to the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.  Sure, it took us 70 miles out of our way (round trip), but who could resist this appealing description on the NPS web site for this fascinating preserve?

Experience Colorado Prehistory

Beneath a grassy mountain valley in central Colorado lies one of the richest and most diverse fossil deposits in the world.  Petrified redwood stumps up to 14 feet wide and thousands of detailed fossils of insects and plants reveal the story of a very different, prehistoric Colorado.
Color us gobsmacked when the first thing we heard from the park ranger in the visitor center was, "You won't see any fossils out there."  Say what?  Yep, that's what he said, and that's what he meant.  Call us crazy but we actually expected to see a profusion of fossils in situ.  The "No Fossil Collecting" sign in the parking lot certainly encouraged that misconception.
Fossils poorly exhibited in visitor center
It turns out that the vast majority of fossils at the Florissant Bed are still sleeping well beneath the soil.  A handful are poorly exhibited in a small display area at the visitor center.  Oh, and a half dozen or so petrified redwood stumps are on site, some with a pork-financed million dollar pavilion protecting them from the elements.  Don't rocks usually thrive in outdoor environments?  The old Rocky Mountains seem to be doing alright without shelter.
Redwood stump in its cozy home.  How did it survive its first 34,000,000 years without shelter?
Further discussion with the ranger provided additional information about Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.  Even though there are only a handful of fossils on exhibit there, more than 40,000 have been sent elsewhere to museums and the like.  So why did we drive all the way there?
As you might have guessed, we felt like we had just been lured into an episode of Stump the Chumps.  Our tax dollars at waste here, in our opinion.  Yes, they had a few hiking trails through a grassy meadow, but so did all the local parks in the numerous towns we drove through to get there.  Now, our question is, how do you get rid of one of these money pits once it's been wedged into the federal budget?

Thankful that our senior pass prevented us from actually paying an entrance fee, we left this odd property, driving south to Pueblo, where we're spending tonight before turning back west tomorrow.  Great Sand Dunes National Park is on our agenda.  Will it be another Colorado boondoggle?  Stand by...

One of the creative exhibits at the Southeast Wyoming Welcome Center
The stump and the chump, who asks, "Is that really all there is?"