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Driveabout America: Part 4

July 18, 2018

Mary and I had been on the road for nearly 2300 miles when we headed out from Fort Collins, Colorado. Most of the locations we visited during the first half of our trip were places we have previously visited. But now we were heading into country new to the both of us.

Leaving Colorado, we once again were traveling secondary roads on our way to Yellowstone Park. It was nearly 400 miles to the park. As we were leaving Fort Collins, I could see - in my rearview mirror - dark and foreboding clouds. They seemed to envelop the lands in darkness behind our vehicle. In front of us, on flat open country, we could see rain showers crossing the barren landscape. I knew it was several hours before we reached our hotel in Lander, Wyoming. With each passing hour, the sky grew darker and the occasional rains came in heavy sheets, blowing over the empty lands. At one point, we could see distant mountains covered in snow. The further we went, the more foreboding it seemed to Mary and me as darkness, fog, and rain now accompanied us on our journey. I'll bet we passed no more than a couple dozen cars going the opposite direction. I began to wonder what they knew that we didn't.

After nearly five hours, we arrived in Lander. The day had faded into rainy darkness as we arrived in a town we did not know. To be honest, it somehow seemed a little bit unsettling after a long day of traveling. After a short time, we found our hotel and checked in. We asked the lady at the desk how far to Yellowstone, and she told us about three hours. She also explained that the next day might not be the best time to visit the park. The weather forecast was for 33 degrees and snow. We decided at that point to spend a couple nights in Lander. Surely the area must have something that would interest us the next day.

Article Photos

Photos by Chuck Clegg
Sinks Canyon Park, where the water rises to the surface down the canyon.

The next morning brought a whole new world. The skies over the town were a vivid blue, and the air was clear and warm. The town we envisioned the night before, with its heavy rains and ground fog, were false mirages in the darkness after a long day of traveling. We quickly realized this town, in the middle of Wyoming, was a place we needed to spend some time.

Before we set out for the day, we sat on a bench in front of the hotel. We were enjoying the morning and watching the movement of the community as it came to life. As we sat there, Mary noticed something sitting on a rock ledge. Her curiosity got the best of her, and she went over and picked up the object. She showed me it was a stone, and someone had painted the words, "Joy" and "Smile" on one side. On the other side it had the words, "Riverton Rock Ravs." There was also an image of a raven. I'll assume the raven's image is the creator's signature. We talked of people leaving messages on stones and placing them for others to find. It is something we sometimes find in our community. About that time, a man who had been working nearby must have seen Mary find the stone. He came over and explained he was the person who placed the stone. He told us of his father, who lives in Riverton, had painted this particular stone. It was something he had done many times before. The Raven's son would take the stones and place them for people to find. The pleasant man welcomed us to Wyoming and thanked us for finding the stone and hoped we enjoyed his father's gift. If I could give the Riverton Rock Raven a message, it would be to tell him the stone will journey to the very tip of Maine. Who knows, perhaps its next finder will carry it back to Wyoming.

The more time we spent in this town, the more I enjoyed the experience. Once again, we spoke with the lady at the desk who told us we should take the time to visit Sinks Canyon State Park. She explained that the water in the creek disappears and then reappeared further down the canyon. Mary and I were intrigued as we set out to find this place of disappearing water.

The area that surrounds the town will be part of my mental image for my next book I was researching, The Last Buffalo Hunter. Snowcapped peaks and green foothills. A trout-filled creek coming from the high mountain peaks lined with Aspen trees. We followed that stream to where we found Sinks Canyon Park. As we pulled into the parking lot we saw a sign which explained the park would not open until Memorial Day, that was in four days. Standing on a short ladder, near the visitor's center, was a young lady changing outside light bulbs. We asked which path would take us to where the water disappeared into the ground. She smiled and disappeared into the building before returning with an informational pamphlet. She pointed towards a path lined with yellow flowers and told us it was just a short walk to where the water vanished into a limestone cave. We asked if she worked at the park office. Her face lit up as she told us of her recent graduation and then coming west from Kentucky to work at the park. It was her first job with the park service and we could tell she was excited.

After speaking with the young lady, we made our way to a point overlooking the rushing mountain stream. The fast moving water came down the valley and made a ninety degree turn into an opening in the mountain. During our talk with the park ranger she explained to us that the waters of the Popo Agie River disappears underground and rises back to the surface down the canyon. Water based dyes have been added to the river as it enters the mountain. When it reappeared downstream it was determined the water takes two hours to travel the quarter mile distance underground. The view of the mountains covered in snow, and the valley with its rushing stream lined with spring wild flowers, was a great unexpected side trip.

Just think, if the tiny lady in our GPS hadn't directed us on the road to Lander in the middle of a rain storm, we never would have found the message stone. Nor would we have experienced the wonders and mysteries of Sinks Canyon as told to us by a young park ranger out in the world on her first job. In fact, if we had not came to Lander, Wyoming we would have missed new experiences, along with the opportunity to view its beautiful surrounding country. Mary and my stay in Lander was for just a few days, but it was a wonderful and unexpected addition to our Driveabout America, as we looked Through the Lens.



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