Saturday, September 28, 2013

Pictures & Comments From Wyoming And South Dakota

Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all the day

How often at night where the heavens are bright
With the light of the glittering stars
Have I stood there amazed and asked as I gazed
If their glory exceeds that of ours


By Dr. Brewster Higley (1873, since modified in modern versions), it is the State Song of Kansas.

It's actually a very pretty song...:

Every time I read those last two lines it brings a tear to my eyes (yes, I just read that crying by men has become unfashionable, but tough shit).  "Have I stood there amazed and asked as I gazed, If their glory exceeds that of ours".  As a lifetime fan of astronomy and natural sciences, I can say in my case, yes, their glory does exceed that of ours...

I already knew before we went on our trip that I would have a wonderful time, as I had been to a tiny corner of Wyoming over 30 years ago when I worked in the oilfields.

I have already discussed Yellowstone, Noreen Firearms and our search for the K-T Boundary in my most recent articles.  This one finishes with pictures and comments that most other tourists will not write about.  Hey!  If you want to see pictures of Old Faithful and Mt. Rushmore, Google 'em!  Or become a "friend" of my wife on Facebook!


After landing in Jackson, WY we then went on for three nights in Yellowstone.  After those three nights we traveled NW to Bozeman, MT for our meeting with Noreen Firearms.  On the way, I got a hint that Montana was in many ways my kind of place: Speed Limit 75 mph on Interstate 90!

Personal freedom is taken very seriously in all of the places we visited.  Privacy; live and let live.  Private ranches everywhere (some owned by California / Hollywood celebrities, most of them loathed (hear me Ted Turner?  Jane Fonda?)...)

People were very friendly and kind to us in the places we visited.  They did not speak "with an accent", hah!, about as American as they come!

And the buffalo steak..., mmm...  Tough meat but flavorful.  Perhaps best in burgers though...  Same comment for elk steaks, tough but tasty.  Mmm...


Our trip to Cody, Wyoming went mostly through breathtakingly beautiful Montana (an old friend, Nick M, hi Nick!  I hope you get to see this!), into the Great Plains (hilly there) and then for an hour through Wyoming via rural two-lane roads (65 mph, yeah, have to love it!).  It interested me that you could tell almost immediately that Montana was a little different than Wyoming (no dis, just a little different looking).  I will never forget that stretch from our exit off I-90 to Cody...

Here is a pair of pictures of the small Cenex oil refinery in Laurel, Montana, just off of I-90 (hey, I told you these would be different pictures than those of other tourists):

I was only able to get these two pictures (above of the entrance and some storage tanks) before their security came by to run me off.  A refinery, especially a podunk one in the middle of nowhere, you might ask?  Yes, I studied a bit about oil refineries when working long ago...  Refineries are a part of infrastructure, which I have always admired since I was a  child.  Below is the distillation column as well as other equipment (to raise octane in gasoline, make heavy fuel oil, kerosene & diesel, etc.).  The little gray vehicle at the left was our Chevy Captiva, which we liked (!), we drove it over 1500 miles.

I will never forget the countryside between Laurel, Bridger and Belfry there in Montana.  A picture would insult the scenery, trust me...


We spent two nights in Cody, Wyoming (Cody, WY; Bozeman, MT; Sheridan, WY; and Denver are all located at  4000 - 6000 feet above sea level).  Cody is famous for being "Buffalo Bill's" main stomping grounds, he is almost worshiped there...  There was little of interest for me however in Cody.  Lots of tourists, it is perhaps the main way to drive to Yellowstone Nat'l Park.  (Al though I did get to do a round of Tai Chi at the elementary school playground).  From Cody, we crossed the northern end of the Bighorn Basin before we crossed the Bighorn Mountains themselves.  We saw a "workover rig" along the way.  A workover rig, like the name would imply, is used to maintain already drilled and producing oilwells.  They are not as big & impressive as real drilling rigs (we did not see any drilling rigs on our trip).  You can tell this is a workover rig because of all the guy wires holding it in place.  And of course the light-duty kind of "look" to it.

We also passed a bentonite plant.  Bentonite is a very fine type of shale (rock made from mud) that was used in drilling fluid (aka "mud") for oilrigs when I was younger.  Bentonite is added to the water to make it thicker, yet it flows well and is "well behaved" (no surprises, no corrosion, etc.).

For me, I was very much looking forward to crossing the Bighorn Mountains (we chose Highway 14A because it had a higher pass: 9400 feet).  I know NO ONE personally who has driven across the Bighorns.  The Bighorn Mountains, FYI, are an "almost" isolated range of the Rockies, they just barely connect up with the rest.  Here is a picture of our approach to the valley up into the Bighorns:

The gray-green bushes near the road and near the fences is the nearly ubiquitous sage brush found all over fairly arid Wyoming.

Up, up up.  This picture is pretty much the last view to the west (Bighorn Basin) prior to crossing the pass, I estimate that we were at some 8000 feet here:

The Absaroka Range is visible along the horizon.  It was the Absaroka Mountain Range that was broken up by the Yellowstone Supervolcano.  It was getting cold up there...

I did not know that there was an interesting site along the way up near (just west of) the pass.  The "Medicine Circle" was constructed by unknown Native Americans some 700 years ago.  Many of the tribes came.  Some believe that there is astronomical significance to the circle and spokes, but the stars' positions have changed, relative to the Earth, since it was built.  Native Americans still come, and put "fetishes" (items of religious significance to them that we know little about).

The only people allowed "inside" the posts are Native Americans with a permit...   There in the background is our little Captiva!  It was cold, our SUV's thermometer told us (35 degrees F).  Elevation: approx. 9000 feet.  Read more about it here:

After such an interesting ride up into the Bighorns, I was prepared for a less interesting descent (into the Powder River Basin).  Wrong!  The government (Wyoming?  USA?) kindly marked some rock formations along the way coming down.  This picture shows rocks lain down in the Ordovician Period (430 - 500 million years ago).  During the Ordovician, the only life on land that primitive green plants and fungi... (wikipedia has a great article on the geologic time scale here:

People interested in geology (like moi) like seeing things like faults (showing and earthquake happened long ago...), you can see the fault near the left edge of the photo (the brown rock bed). this from the same Big Horn Formation (Ordovician).

A few hundred meters down the road .gov was kind enough to label the Darby Formation (Devonian Period, younger than the Ordovician rocks, the Darby was laid down from about 360 - 400 million years ago (the figures from .gov and wikipedia differ slightly).  "Normal fishes", the first trees and the first insects (no wings) first appeared in the Devonian...

You can see the start of the Powder River Basin beyond the sign.  Physical geographers may differ on whether the "Great Plains" start here, or further east (just beyond the Black Hills of SD and WY).

[Sidebar: My last article was on the K-T Boundary, some 65 million years ago.  The above rocks are very much older.  After the Devonian Period came the Carboniferous (lots of coal beds all over the world), and then the Permian.  I wrote in my article that it is estimated that the K-T Event killed off some 25% - 50% of the species then living on the Earth.  Well, there was an earlier event even worse, the Permian Mass Extinction, which killed off an impressive 90% of all species then living.  It is not clear what happened...]

What a day!  That drive from Cody to Sheridan (near the base of the Bighorn Mts. to the east) was one of the most interesting drives ever for me...


The next part of our journey was two days later, crossing the energy-rich Powder River Basin (with HUGE coal reserves, and their coal is low in sulfur compared to coal from West Virginia, they also produce oil there).  Here is a small coal-fired electric power plant near Gillette, WY:

And how do coal-fired plants get their coal?  By trainz, bitchez!  We saw several "unit trains" hauling only coal during our trip.  At one point, with nothing better to do, my wife and I watched one go by (no camera...), she decided to count the cars: 123 of them all hauling coal...  This one (just two engines) was not as long, perhaps some 80 cars.

We arrived that same day in Custer, South Dakota, up there in the Black Hills near Mt. Rushmore).  I saw something that I had thought had gone extinct!  But, no, here is a picture of a Sinclair gas station in Custer, and we all thought (Jim) Sinclair was a dinosaur (smile,,,):

Now all I have to see to revive my youth would be a "Pure Oil" gas station...

The next day we went to see Mt. Rushmore, my wife (and every other decent photographer has that one covered better than I could).  I took this one in the other direction, towards the Great Plains that stretch from the Black Hills of South Dakota all the way east to Ohio...:

OK, my wife did take ONE touristy photo of me, this one in Badlands National Park (South Dakota):


After our two day visit to SD, we drove towards Denver, to catch our flight back.  We went looking (again) for the K-T Boundary in the SE Powder River Basin, but did not find it.  So, we passed through some tiny towns in Wyoming along the way.  Why I did not stop to take a photo of the sign of Lost Springs, Wyoming (population: 4) I do not know, I must have been crazy to pass on taking that one...


Our last day was in Denver.  My wife stayed in the downtown area to walk the pedestrian mall thingie now so common in cities, while I drove out the Colorado School of Mines, just to check it out.  Mostly various kinds of engineering majors, very difficult looking material...

Early in the evening as we were getting close to Denver, we passed an ominous looking FEMA vehicle, it looked like a big bus-thing ("like Conway Twitty uses" -- V. Mix) with few windows...

Weed / Herb fans!

I had the chance to interview two local informants about the marijuana situation there in Colorado.  My first local contact was a recently released convict while in the restroom of a Denver McDonalds.  (He was tatted up and missing his two incisors, so he looked real enough to me in that role)  He told me that in January that weed would be freely available from the "medical dispensaries" to anyone!  Holy Cow!  Party on, dudez!  

My second contact was the Budget rent-a-car shuttle bus driver there at Denver Int'l ("DIA").  He said the same re January, that they would limit out-of-staters to 1/4 oz per day (which "SWIM" (look it up!) says is more than ample, as it is far stronger than it was 35 years ago according to "SWIM"...

January 1 looks like it will be a big day in Colorado!  LOL!


By the length of this article, I hope I have demonstrated the wonders waiting for one and all in the northern Rockies and the northern Plains.  A "Five Star" trip, highly recommended to anyone who has not been out there.


  1. Endearing, slice-of-life article. Do you have any more detailed pics of the Native American 'site'? If so, i'd like to see. (oh, and some mummying from me-- "there's no point complaining about the cold if you're gonna stand around all day in your t-shirt and refuse to wear that jumper i knitted you...silly boy"....

  2. That's a good picture of a workover rig. It's not everyday people get to see one of those. It sure is a welcome distraction from the mountains and roads, isn't it? I hope you guys had a great journey as you go about your other destinations. Drive safely!

    Jermaine Ryan @ Load Craft


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