Absolutely love it out here!: Independence Rock to Casper
Friday July 5, 2013, 51 miles (82 km) – Total so far: 2,602 miles (4,188 km)
I wake to the pungent smell of cow shit. Good morning, Em.
I unzip the tent and fly. I poke my head out. Fog is lifting, the sun’s rays filtering through the low cloud in a dim and hazy manner.
There are three cow pats out there, about 5-10 feet away from the tent. The odour-producer must be around where I can’t see it. I can see the sources – three members of the cattle herd are about 15 feet away in the grass, all staring at me as their jaws munch in circles. The slightly concerning thing I discover is that this is not cow shit. It is bull shit. Or young bull shit. I don’t know what you call young, weaned bulls.
I pull my head back in the tent. I pull forth all I know about young bulls and any safety concerns I should have regarding them. Nope, I know absolutely nothing. I know you don’t want to be in a paddock with a full-grown bull. But maybe it’s not such a big deal when they are young. I mean, if it was a problem, they wouldn’t let three of them be together, right? Of course, they shouldn’t be here anyway. The parking lot is fenced on three sides and has a cattle guard on the other. I’ve got no idea how they got in – the gate I messed with is still firmly closed.
So I climb out of the tent and pack up, avoiding eye contact, with the distinct feeling that I’m being watched. This is all fine, until I discover that the cattle have slobbered all over my handlebars. There is thick, slimy, smelly cow saliva all over the grip tape. I assume they were going after the salt left from my sweat?
Whatever the case, I’m very glad I’m camped near the rest area, so I do not have to ration water. It would be a real toss-up between hydration and getting rid of the gooey mess. It takes me 10 minutes of dousing the handlebars with water and wiping with my bike rag to make it acceptable. It will still smell like cow cud for several days.
Finally, we are ready to set off. I walk the bike through the parking lot and past the young bulls. I don’t make eye contact. In my peripheral vision, I see them watching me, one taking a step toward me. They certainly don’t look scared. But I make it past the cattle guard with no problems, hop on the bike, and the day begins.
The only trouble with riding through a down-dropped trough of land is that you will have to climb out of it. And this we do, in a series of undulating hills, for the first 15-20 miles. The road takes us high into the landscape, the sagebrush falling away with the land to the southeast. To the northwest, the last of the mountain tops recede into sagebrush covered hills in the foreground.
The change in sediments and rock types is pretty dramatic at the top of this climb where a cell phone tower comes into view. I stop to try to better understand this at an overlook of Alcova Reservoir way down below. The cliffs rear up, the bright red Triassic rocks uplifted and framing the dark blue water. Lighter shades of red from the Permian period also crop out in spectacular fashion. Then I begin the long and fast descent, the red sandstones and shales escorting me down the hill in a flare of colour not seen since leaving Lander early yesterday morning.
Down the bottom, near the turn-off to Alcova, I stop to read the interpretive signs. This reservoir is one in a series built on the North Platte River for flood control and water regulation. It was constructed in 1938.
After we pass out of the canyon, we find ourselves riding through bright green fields of lucerne and other crops irrigated with river water. The river flows down lower in the landscape off to the southeast. The road shoulder is wide here, the scenery more Nebraska than Wyoming, if you don’t look at the mountains off to the sides.
The road skirts around the west end of Casper Mountain – a long ridge of rock that dominates the southern view from anywhere in Casper. The river lies just to the edge of the road as both squeeze through the end of the anticline. After this the river sweeps away to Bessemer Bend and the highway climbs up over the end of the anticline. It is all 4-lane, divided road here. Casper Mountain rises steeply to the right. Finally, we crest the hill and zoom down into Casper.
Casper is a resource-dependent town. Like others I’ve passed through, it feels sort of rough and gritty. But everyone has told me that it’s not ‘nasty’ like Gillette. And I don’t get that feeling. It does have a nice bike path system following the river, passing through parkland created from the land previously occupied by an oil refinery. The views aren’t spectacular but plenty of people are using the asset. I do get a good sarcastic laugh out of the sign on the side of a bentonite plant along the path.
Downtown Casper is like a time-warp. It feels mid-western in character. The streets are narrow and lined with multi-story buildings. Depending on where you are in the downtown core, you could feel like you were back in the 1910s, 1930s, 1950s or 1970s. The architecture seems to have followed the boom and bust cycles of energy production. One building, an early 1970s style, is actually named “Petroleum Building”. I like to think about all the meetings, the money changing hands, and the decisions made by executives up there on the 9th floor.
Finally, I head back to Ft Casper. The museum is quite well done. There are extensive exhibits on Casper’s history and its direct ties to the oil industry, the political Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s and current mineral resources production. I love watching the series of old black-and-white short films showing how they dug wells and erected drilling derricks. The oil really did gush from the ground in some places.
I also take in the Oregon Trail history (the Mormons established a ferry service here in 1847 which was followed by a toll bridge, trading post, Pony Express station and military post). I tour the old fort buildings and then browse the bookstore – it has a really impressive range of books. Finally, it’s off to find food and shower. I haven’t had a real shower since Rock Springs. My hair seems as oily as the entire Salt Creek oil field!