Don’t let the blank map bits fool you: Tensleep to Thermopolis
Sunday June 2, 2013, 65 miles (105 km) – Total so far: 1,806 miles (2,906 km)
My make-shift pillow is perfect. Whatever combination of clothes packing and stacking that I’ve achieved is just right. And my bed is so soft. The lush green grass provides a soft firmness that my body really likes. I really don’t want to get up this morning.
But up we get. Wyoming is a state that punishes late-risers. The first breaths of wind sometimes accompany the first rays of dawn. By noon, it seems like there is always some wind from some direction. It’s always good to get some good miles down before 9am.
The Wyoming state map shows a blank expanse with no relief between Tensleep and Worland. Don’t let this fool you into thinking it’s flat. About 20 of the 26 miles between towns is very hilly. There are some really long climbs.
All of this climbing is your introduction to the Bighorn Basin – a large oval depression 120 miles long by 60 miles wide. Structurally, there are three parts to the basin: 1) the rim; 2) the shoulder; and, 3) the trough. The shoulder is about 10 miles wide here with many anticlines (upside-down U-shaped folds of rock) and synclines (U-shaped folds). Unfortunately, for touring cyclists heading west, the steep side of the anticlines face the mountains. Get the legs, ready!
The anticlines trap oil, and there are many fields in the shoulder encircling the basin, particularly on the way to Worland from Tensleep. The oil from this area is very black, and very smelly due to high sulphur content. Indeed, the smell of hydrocarbons permeates the air for miles at a time on the ride this morning.
Close to Worland, there is a historical marker which describes the Colby mammoth site southeast of here. This mammoth kill site dates back to 11,200 years ago. It is the only site in North America where Clovis points were discovered with a meat cache. The hunters had left meat in a hillside within a structure made of mammoth bones and skull. The museum in Worland has an exhibit about this.
I hang around Worland until the museum opens. It’s a very functional-looking, but not overly pretty, town. There is a Pepsi bottling plant here, along with a sugar beet refinery, aluminum can factory and infrastructure related to oil, gas and bentonite manufacturing. I take a spin around town but there’s not all that much to see, to be honest. I kill some time in a park eating some food, then kill some more time at McDonalds drinking an ice tea while I use the wifi.
After an hour and a half at the museum, I roll out of town, reading all the historical signs about early irrigation schemes and agriculture in the area. This is a very stark landscape. I can’t imagine moving here after being enticed by ads designed to lure new settlers. It is a not a landscape that says ‘Welcome’. I can see how Native American tribes could subsist off this land – but trying to bring it into agricultural production was gutsy, even with the Bighorn River flowing through.
I’ve got a headwind, 10-15 mph again, impeding progress this afternoon. I plod along. I’m feeling pretty blah; my throat is still scratchy. I figure I’m still feeling the effects of the big climb yesterday since the terrain is not too difficult. There are some hills to climb, but parts of the ride follow the river. There are historical signs about Jim Bridger and the routes he blazed through the area. I’ll come across this guy all over Wyoming – a truly amazing adventurer.
We are riding back through time as we proceed south. Close to Thermopolis, we ride through Cretaceous shales and past an outcrop of the bright red Triassic Chugwater formation. There is a final climb to get into town as you ascend an anticline and the travertine deposits of the hot springs. These springs exists because water flows down through porous rock from the Owl Creek mountains to the south. The water is heated by rocks deeper in the earth before rising through fractures associated with a fault. The hot water dissolves calcium carbonate as it travels through limestone formations. This is then precipitated as travertine at the surface when the water temperature decreases. Here, the travertine deposits flow right down to the river.
I take some photos, then set off to find the RV park on the south side of town. It’s not great, but it’s the best of the bunch. I have a tiny square of grass and a picnic table to call my own. The rest of the place is gravel sites and rental cabins.
I set up the tent and then read some info about the Wind River Canyon (the plan is to do an out-and-back ride tomorrow to view all of the geology sign boards and scenic beauty). I then begin to think about what I want to do for dinner. Alarm bells start to ring faintly. I have no appetite. That’s odd. I’m always hungry by late afternoon. All I can think about is how tired I am.
So at 7pm, I lay down in my sleeping bag. That moment of rest is all it takes for the virus to go commando on my body. The flu bug hits, and hits me hard. I shiver and cuddle down into my bag, even though it’s still 70F outside. I go down for the count.