Monday, August 31, 2015 Road Junkies 0 Comments

CANADA OR BUST, Chapter 21:  
Day 24:  Cody, WY to Gillette, WY
After leaving the hotel about 8:15 this morning, we backtracked west to the Buffalo Bill Dam and Reservoir.  Unfortunately, the visitor center was not yet open but the interpretive signs and exhibits at visitor parking were quite informative.
Before leaving the area we planted a letterbox near the dam and picked up a few groceries at the local Albertson's.  Compared to the canyons and cliffs west of Cody, the terrain to its east was quite a contrast—mostly flat, fenced, buff-colored acres with grayish green knee-high scrub.  In the distance, a ridge of low hills limited the sweep of the horizon.  Grass along the roadside forms a golden carpet with occasional clumps of yellow-blossomed gorse providing a pop of color.
Trees grow reluctantly, only where planted by humans—mostly around homesteads.  Yet this part of the highway is marked scenic by AAA.  Go figure.  Maybe those doing the ratings favor monotony.
As we continued east, we passed through some farmland, then back to the dry scrub again.  In the town of Greybull (pop. 2,140), we filled up with gas before following US-16 as it turned south to Worland, along the Big Horn River.  There we found one of Peter Toth's Whispering Giant statues along with an equally impressive letterbox with one of Shorty's stellar carvings.  The sculpture was carved in 1980 from of a Douglas Fir harvested in the Big Horn Mountains in nearby Washakie County.
Whispering Giant #36
A hand-carved rubber stamp in the letterbox nearby depicts the statue
Sticking with US-16, we continued northeast through the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains and the town of Ten Sleep (pop. 260).  By then, the scenery had become much more interesting—red rock hills, canyons, mesas, and buttes.  
Beyond Ten Sleep we were driving on the Cloud Peak Skyway, a 47-mile byway across the Big Horn Mountains and the southernmost road through these peaks.  At the north cove of Meadowlark Lake, we paused to check out the scenery.  Before leaving, we saw a moose calf enjoying his lunch.
Cloud Peak Skyway near Ten Sleep
On the way up toward Powder River Pass, the temperature dropped as our elevation increased—from 78° to 48°.  About 2 p.m., we stopped at the pass and were inspired to plant a letterbox at the summit of this beautiful route.  By the time we were back down to 4,000 feet in the town of Buffalo on the other side of the Big Horns, the temperature was pushing 80° again.
In Buffalo, we stopped for cold drinks and got into an interesting conversation with Don, a sixty-something silver-haired local entrepreneur.  As soon as we saw him in line in front of us, we knew he was no tourist.  His cowboy hat, western belt and boots just looked too authentic.  After he took his ice cream sundae to a table, we sat nearby and Ken engaged with him about the incredible scenery west of Cody.
Don asked if we wondered why we hadn't seen more wildlife and then plunged into an impassioned discourse about what he believes is folly—the importation of Canadian red wolves into Wyoming.  According to him, the interlopers have decimated the local deer and elk populations.
Setting out on Clear Creek Trail
We couldn't leave Buffalo without searching for another letterbox by one of our favorite Wyoming-based planters—the very clever Half Empty.  The temperature was above 80 and the hike was almost two miles on a gravel trail with only occasional shade, but, as always with his boxes, it was well worth every sweaty step.
Finally arriving in Gillette, we popped in at the local Albertson's for dinner supplies, checked in at the hotel, and collapsed into bed soon after we ate.

Daily Stats

Miles driven:  275
Miles walked:  4.2
Letterboxes:  2 found, 3 planted
Weather:  57° to 84°, sunny
Gas:  $3.22 in Greybull, WY
Moose:  2
Road kill:  46
Interstate speed limit:  80 mph