If a picture says 1,000 words, then this is a 3,000-word essay on Scotland.
If a picture says 1,000 words, then this is a 3,000-word essay on Scotland.
The road home—the Beartooth Highway in southern Montana and Highway 14A in the Bighorns of Wyoming.
Pictures don’t capture the majesty of these mountains.
Nor do they capture the gut-clutching, death-defying, close-your-eyes-and-trust-your-driver feelings.
Fortunately, there are places to pull in, catch your breath, and stand and gawk at the grandeur.
Then on we drove to the northern route over the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming. And I thought the Beartooth Highway was nerve-wracking! I don’t have many pictures of this route because I was busy coping!
The grade here is 10-11%. Breath-taking is a good description! That’s usually a good thing, but on occasion I didn’t want to give up my breath! (Lots of exclamation points here, you’ll notice.) I almost kissed the flat ground when we got down. And I swore off ever driving in the mountains again unless it was in Glacier Park’s little red busses.
In hindsight, when I had recovered and was relaxing at the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, listening to a cowboy band, I thought of this day as one of the best mountain days I’d ever had. Thanks to my husband for doing the mountain driving, or I never would have had the experience.
Here ends my travelogue of our Great American Road Trip West; the harsh beauty of the West is a wonder to me; the indomitable spirit of the pioneers inspires me; and the enduring evidence of strife between peoples in our country saddens me.
Like Dorothy who stared in astonishment at Munchkinland and said, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas,” the US is a whole of so many vastly different parts. Going from the Midwest to the West is like going from to Mars to Jupiter. Pictures and words absolutely do not convey the feel of the varied beauty of our country. Go see it for yourself.
Speaking of our country…
Horseback riding in the Absaroka Mountains of Montana (pronounced Ab-sor’-ka). I’ve been looking forward to writing this post.
The Skyline Guest Ranch is three miles east of Cooke City, on Highway 212. A log structure purpose-built as a bed and breakfast out of timber salvaged from the Yellowstone burn of 1988, Skyline hosts guests who want to run around the mountains by various means and for various purposes—horseback riding, snowmobiling, fly-fishing, hunting, backcountry camping—or guests who want to sit on the porch and enjoy the view.
Our purpose was to ride in the Rockies. This is the way to see the mountains: from the back of a horse!
Wrangler Rob, on his trusty steed Sue (a gelding), led us up and down, through the forest, and over rocks—for two hours.
Dave and I are seasoned riders, though out of practice for many years. I don’t know how rookies do this! Not that I want to deter you if you’ve never ridden a horse and you’re burning to try it in the Rockies. Just a caution: don’t panic. The horse knows what he’s doing, even if you don’t.
Here we are close to the turn-around point. As you can see from my right hand, I wasn’t altogether relaxed! It wasn’t a sheer drop to my left, but it was pretty steep and a long way down. But I was having a blast!
To give you an idea of how steep it was, to take this picture Rob had to dismount on the right and crouch on the mountainside, then remount on the right because it wasn’t safe to mount on the left, the side from which you always get on a horse.
Shortly after Rob took this photo, he said, “Do you want to turn around here? or where it’s wider?” “Here” was the width of a horse, with DOWN to the left. So I said, “Wider.” Duh! Well…”wider” was two horse-widths! Our horses had the maneuver done before I had time to freak out.
An afternoon shower on the way back did nothing to dampen our enjoyment of our ride in the mountains. We were just glad we were off the rocks by the time it started raining, not that slippery rocks would have bothered Mason and Rodman.
Now, when I’m lounging at home, drinking my morning coffee, my mind often wanders back to this ride. It was great! No, more than great—it was one of those lifetime greats.
If you go to the Skyline Guest Ranch, these guys await you.
“Let ‘er buck!”—the battle cry of the University of Wyoming athletics fans. It means: Bring on the bronco and let her (or him) buck! Metaphorically it means: Face adversity and try to conquer it, even if it throws you around. A put-up-your-dukes, stick-out-your-chin, bring-it-on attitude. And why not? A tough land makes people tough.
Wyoming—state of vast sage-covered land and really big mountains. It’s a thrill as the Bighorn Mountains, a subrange of the Rocky Mountains, rise in the distance. Take Highway 16 out of Buffalo and in no time you’re in the mountains.
On this trip we revisited places from a trip 30 years ago.
The South Fork Inn, a few miles into the mountains, has changed but not in a bad way. The name is different, but still recognizable, South Fork Mountain Lodge and Outfitters. The new cabins are neatly folded into the landscape. And the 100+ year old cabin we had stayed in is still there—a bedroom on either side of a center kitchen with a wood burning cookstove (now unusable).
After having a look around the South Fork Inn we trucked on to the next revisit—Crazy Woman Canyon Road—the reason we drove our 4-wheel drive truck. Single lane, gravel, and rutted. Not a road for cars with low oil pans. It’s a crazy road leading to fantastic scenery and gorgeous campsites (bring your own water or water treatment tablets). No facilities—I mean NO facilities—if you know what I mean. This eighteen-mile road can be driven in either direction, from south of Buffalo, or from Hwy 16 in the mountains, or you can just turn around like we did.
By this point in the road, (photo at left), I wasn’t feeling so good—a bit of a headache and mild nausea. OK, I’m a flatlander, and it takes me a bit to adjust to the altitude, but not long. Fortunately, my husband did 97% of the mountain driving. Well, fortunately, I think. He likes to drive, which means I was sucking in my breath or closing my eyes on occasion. Mountain driving is much like aging, not for sissies.
Down in the valley, me driving, a storm piled up black clouds and raced across the open range; a wall of rain bounced off the dry ground. Storms in the West are like that: fast, frequently in the afternoon, and sometimes violent. A beautiful storm.
Hot and tired, but exhilarated from being back in the mountains, we pulled into Cody, Wyoming. Cody is for tourists, and we fell right in step, enjoying a gunfight staged at the Irma Hotel.
Next morning—whoa, we’re not in the city anymore!
“See the USA in your Chevrolet.” This advertising jingle, sung by Dinah Shore in the 1950s, called Americans to the road. We answered and haven’t slowed down since, no matter what the price of gas.
So Dave and I jumped in our Ford truck and away we went. From southern Wisconsin turn west on I90 and set the cruise. Last stop, Nevada City, Montana.
As Road Trips go, ours was relatively moderate—2,800 miles. We met a couple driving from western New York to Oregon. That’s a road trip!
We hadn’t done a Road Trip for a number of years, and we were reminded, again, of the varied beauty of our country. And of the people who settled the land.
We often thought of the pioneers as we followed their footsteps West. I imagined the pioneers standing on the eastern bank of the Missouri River saying, “Now what!?”
On we went to the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park, Virginia City and Nevada City in Montana, to a ranch in the mountains in Montana, and then over the Beartooth Highway.
Ride along on this travelogue.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This wisdom was penned by Margaret Wolfe Hungerford in her 1878 book Molly Bawn, though the phrase has floated in some form through our literary history since about the third century BC. Truth in the perfectly crafted sentence.
Example: My dad thought his pug dog was beautiful. Sorry, but there’s an ug in pug. (Don’t go all schoolmarm on me—I know it’s u-g-h.)
Another example: My brother-in-law refers to seagulls as “winged rats.” True, they’re messy, noisy, and pesky, but I find them captivating.
The day I took this shot, I must have taken a dozen photos of the raucous Glaucous. Then I tweaked and cropped those photos so I have enough for a gallery show.
Last example: I’ve actually heard snakes called beautiful by some misguided, weird, downright blind people. Believe you me, you won’t find a picture of a snake on this blog!
Here in Wisconsin we’re having a hot, humid, horrible patch. It makes me want to scream. Don the striped pajamas and be a prisoner in my house. But instead of our usual inertia and complaining about the weather, last Sunday we hopped in the air conditioned truck and took off on a drive in the country. We ended up at a beautiful county park that was new to us.
The breeze was just right to keep the horse flies and mosquitoes at bay. I wandered down to the lake where a family of geese scuttled into the water. Too hot for a walk, I ambled around the edge of wildflower meadows, snapping photos. The profusion of flowers was breathtaking.
We ended our day sitting on a patio overlooking a river, eating a gelato—a double.
The day got me waxing philosophical. If I had stayed indoors, cowering from the heat and humidity, I never would have delighted in the wildflowers. In fact, I would have missed the peak bloom of the season.
There’s a life lesson in here somewhere.
Fill in the blanks for yourself.
“If I had……, I never would have…….”
This is a lazy person’s post, or busy—we’ve got company coming for the weekend.
Here’s what I have to offer: more pictures of England, with some bonus Scotland pictures thrown in. Saudade tonic. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read last week’s post—Saudade, A Deep Longing.
To see the slideshow, click on any of the photos and enjoy.
Saudade–I have a bad case of it. Wikipedia defines this Portuguese word as, “…a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. It often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return.”
My saudade sighs are for England.
In my mid-twenties I lived in Beaconsfield, England: halfway between London and Oxford. This was my house—minus the two-story addition on the right where the brick is darker and plus masses of tall Queen Elizabeth roses. My house must also have a new name, or no name, since one chimney was removed. The Post Office once directed a friend visiting from Geneva to my house when the friend said, “I think her house is called ‘Two Stacks’.” How quaint.
For two years “Two Stacks” was home. I arrived a young, naive woman and left with a heart full of the love of friends—a heart that’s got a chunk of it shaped like England into which only England and things English will fit.
I long to return: a longing so strong it feels as if it might pull my heart right out of my chest and stick it to some place in England.
I run back to England as often as I can—to the dreary weather, the quaint houses, the endless footpaths, the English way of life—and to friends.
Almost every day a friend and I walked our dogs here. Public access to private land gave us miles of hill and dale for the dogs to run, providing the dogs didn’t bother the livestock. The only time that almost went wrong was when I watched helplessly as a stud donkey chased my dog. Fortunately my dog ducked under the fence an inch ahead of the hoofs.
I long to walk in England. Tramping the sidewalks in my rabbit warren urban US neighborhood doesn’t cut it. Nor does walking the Department of Natural Resources land near my house where they’ve just clear-cut the woods to make way for a prairie restoration. “Progress!” she spat out in disgust.
Sometimes my English friend and I ate lunch here, both dogs resting under the table—the Royal Standard of England. I had already had a taste of living overseas by this time, having lived in Geneva, Switzerland, for two ski seasons, but the Royal Standard was an eye-opener. I understood why England viewed its American step-children as unappreciative of history. Part of the Royal Standard was 900 years old. I had no sense of history like that.
England has changed tremendously since I lived there. The pace of life has almost caught up to the US, horrible blights on the architectural landscape have gone up, economic stress is rife, and the country struggles valiantly with ethnic diversity. The butcher shop that brined my corned beef for me and the butcher that gave my dog treats are gone, replaced by a huge, convenient grocery store.
Yet I can’t wait to get back. It makes me feel righted somehow—like my bones have fallen into place.
I know all this saudade silliness flies in the face of Paul’s wisdom: “…for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content,” (Philippians 4:11). It’s not that I’m not content in the State of Wisconsin. But, for some reason, God put this love of England in me. I do know that my next novel will be set in Scotland and England. If I can’t live there in reality, at least I can live there in my imagination.
If only they wouldn’t drive on the left!