The wrong time of year: Guernsey to Guernsey State Park
Tuesday July 9, 2013, 12 miles (20 km) – Total so far: 2,750 miles (4,425 km)
The names cover the cliff-face from the base to… however high a human can clamber. There’s modern-day graffiti covering older names, but the Oregon Trail era names stand out with their elegant letters and script. This, Register Cliff, was one of the famous landmarks on the Oregon Trail – a place where emigrants stopped to carve their names in the soft rock.
For a mile or so down the valley, the names are inscribed on the vertical rock cliffs. How exciting would it be to stand here examining the names and find your great-great-grandfather’s signature? That’s not to be for me though – I have no individual connection to the Oregon Trail. My family made it as far as Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. My ancestors were farmers, coal miners and steel mill workers and I guess the Midwest was good enough for them.
I drag Verne and Kermit away from their enjoyment of some river habitat and head back toward Guernsey. We ride up to the old Trail Ruts, some of the deepest and most famous on the trail, and try to imagine the thousands and thousands of wagons that it would take to carve such extreme scars.
We head back into town to get some food – I’m down to peanut butter, tortillas and pop-tarts. And so I find myself standing at the deli case. My basket contains 2 apples, 2 bananas, 1 broccoli crown, a bag of baby carrots, a chocolate milk and a coke. I’m looking for pasta salad or something calorie-dense.
A thin man in his 50s comes up and says, “Everything in there is high calorie.”
I reply, “Good, that’s what I’m looking for. I’m on a bike.”
He pauses and then says, “Well, you’re skinny enough you could probably use those calories”.
I’m not sure what to say. It seems like a compliment? Thankfully, he moves on.
However, as I’m packing my haul in my panniers, the guy walks out of the store, ambles over, and says, “Well, hooo-boy! You really are on a bike! Where you headed”?
Gulp. The standard six.
I reply, “Just up to the state park today, but I’m weaving my way around Wyoming”.
He says, “Wow, so how far do you usually ride in a day”?
Yep. The standard six questions.
I say, “It all depends. There’s lotsa factors, but I think I average around 50-60 miles a day”.
And then, thank goodness, he mixes it up.
He questions, “So what’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen”?
I fumble for words. I don’t have a standard response for this, so I say, “Gosh, I’d have to think about that”.
“So have you seen any UFOs”?, he asks, as casually as he’s asked everything else.
“Um, well, no, but I can’t say I was looking for them,” I stammer.
In a most jovial tone he says, “Oh, you should look for them. They could teletransport you and get you places faster”.
I’m onto this now. I say, “Well, it would certainly make for a good story. Have you ever seen any”?
He laughs. “None that I can be sure of. Otherwise they’d be IFOs. Identified flying objects. But some pretty spectacular things can happen to a person when they’re all alone in this sort of country”!
Oh, do I take the bait? Oh, I so badly want to ask this guy if he’s been abducted by aliens. But there’s a part of me emphatically exclaiming, “Disengage! Disengage! You really don’t want to know!”
So I say, “Well, it’s been nice to chat with you, but I need to get pedaling. I’ll be on the look-out for UFOs though”!
“OK. Make sure you do. Travel safe”.
And that is the excitement for the day.
The road to Guernsey State Park is a steady and somewhat steep slog. Once to the entrance gate, I have to resort to Plan B. Plan A had been to do some hiking near here, then cross over the dam, visit the CCC-constructed museum building, then camp on the northeast side of the reservoir. However, the road over the dam is closed, so accessing the other side involves a 30+ mile detour. The museum is closed. Plus, Wyoming gouges out-of-staters for daily use and camping fees. They want $17 a day for access and camping (pit toilets, hand-pump for water).
I stand there for awhile, finally deciding we’ll stay one night. I deposit $8 in the envelope – what I feel is a fair price for a hiker/biker. Then I head up The Rim road. It involves some climbing and a whole bunch of descending. And then I see the rail-line. The BNSF line runs right next to all the campgrounds (it’s actually not as annoying as you’d think).
I pass up the first campground, which has about 6 RVs, but stop at the third where there are shady walk-in tent sites. I disregard the “Reservations Required” sign. I’ve already stiffed them $9, why not just blatantly disregard all the regulations?
Unfortunately, I’m here at the wrong time. Last year, a forest fire swept through the park, and much of it is looking quite singed. Plus, they drain the reservoir starting July 4 every year because of silt problems. Someone has definitely opened the spill gates – it’s a long walk across the emptying reservoir to the water. Yuck. It is muddy, foamy and just plain gross, so there’s no swimming on offer either!
Instead, we spend the hot afternoon drinking water, listening to music and practicing our snake-spotting skills on our trips to the water pump and toilet (we see three different rattlesnakes today). No one else ever comes to camp. I never see any UFOs. It’s a quiet night, except for the comings and goings of the coal trains.