Doug and Laurel Go West

Day 4: Wednesday 7/2/2003

Odometer: 1193 miles
The Bighorn Mountains

There’s this pass with a million trees looming up at you and you are moving, so (through the wonders of parallax) you really see each tree and can perceive for a moment how many of them there are, and how few of you there are. It’s like when Zaphod Beeblebrox went into the total perspective vortex. It’s incredible. I’m going to have to disagree with the libertarians here – I don’t think it would look better clearcut.

I think Wyoming needs a new state motto: “Holy Crap!”

The Bighorns are even more beautiful than the black hills. The scenery isn’t as –oh Christ what’s the word – “scientifically wacky” as other scenery I’ve seen. There is no “Look at the huge boulder balancing on the little one!” or “Look at the five colors on one boulder, have you ever seen such a thing?” This scenery is more Mary Ann than Ginger, but we all know that Mary Ann would be much, much better in bed.

Mary Ann was not plain. The bighorns aren’t either. They are dramatic and gorgeous. Their components are more earthy than the black hills: Trees, rocks, water, sky. But my god. My god. I wish that our passage over the bighorns could take all day.

Before entering the State Park there is a hand painted sign that says, “Beef, Elk, Buffalo jerky. Free samples. 15 miles.” I expected some type of mountain-town or concession stand to appear, but none did. Fifteen miles into the bighorns you will find Steamboat Rock. It’s right off of the road. You look to your right, and there is a hill and on top of the hill is a lovely rock formation that looks like a cross between a steamboat and Stonehenge. If you look to your left you will see a light blue Chevy Del Rio from the late fifties, with a money-box on the hood and a variety of types of Beef Jerky resting on the bumper. Next to the Chevy you will see a tan, happy-looking gentleman who will give you a big-ass smile that perfectly complements the friendly valley below him, and if you are cool like Laurel and I are he will say, “Hi! I’m Steamboat Sam. Would you like to try some jerky?”

I have a relative who counseled against Laurel and I geocaching, because he is afraid of booby-traps. He also was uneasy about our camp-stove, because he was afraid it could blow up. To give you some context, he was very upset that I sky-dived, because he was afraid it was dangerous, and once was disturbed by a glow in the dark watch, because it was radioactive. Don’t get him started on second hand smoke. (Illogically, he loves it when Rush Limbaugh calls environmentalists “alarmist” and votes for presidential candidates who are in favor of tobacco subsidies, including that recent one who would not admit what even Philip Morris’ mother conceded, that nicotine is addictive to humans, but I promised myself to stay away from politics, so I’ll stop)

Anyway, I didn’t ask said relative about taking buffalo jerky from strangers with potentially false names like Steamboat Sam, but I think I know what he would have advised.

The geocache didn’t kill us, the camp stove has worked fine so far, I landed on my feet without stumbling, I think he’s back to wearing glow in the dark watches, and the buffalo jerky was the best I had ever tasted. Bar none.

Doug’s camping tip #4: If you run into Steamboat Sam, say “hi” from Laurel and Doug, and sample as much of his jerky as decorum will allow.

We tried various styles of dried buffalo, cow, and elk, and bought three packages. “You must eat them within three weeks” cautioned Steamboat Sam, “because I don’t add preservatives.” Three weeks? It would only be through superhuman will power that it would last three days.

I was happy, talkative, and fascinated. How do you wind up on the middle of a mountain selling homemade elk jerky out of your car? I asked, “Sam, I have a question. You’re a human being like I am. How do you wind up doing this?”

“I was the first person smart enough to approach the state for a license to sell jerky in this park.”

Nobody else was selling anything, his smartness was beyond question. But that wasn’t what I meant.

“No, no. I mean, where did you go to Junior high? Did you smoke meat when you were 11?” I babbled a bit, Laurel translated, and he got the point of my question.

Sam was a gregarious school psychologist who, one day, made the mistake of visiting a friend who ran a jerky stand Somewhere Else. He noticed his friend was having the time of his life, and wanted to try it, too. He scouted locations, found the beautiful Steamboat Rock, some good recipes, and a partner.

Laurel, Sam and I talked for a while about the biz, about Wyoming, about his web site, etc. It was hard to leave. As we were going, he gave us a gift – our choice of fancy branded wooden boxes that he uses when someone orders jerky in a gift-package. It is very sturdy and Laurel and I are finding it quite useful on our trip.

Goodbye, Sam. Laurel and I are thinking of you smiling from your spot in the Bighorn mountains, selling travelers little slices of fresh-heaven.

Shell Falls: Our Bighorn Mountain experience got even better when we reached Shell Falls. Sam had described them with the skill of a master storyteller, and even he couldn’t do them justice. There is a place where you could stop and walk around, viewing the falls from different points. These are the first amazing falls of our trip, and my first in a long time. I don’t get tired of looking at waterfalls. But time keeps a’ passing, and Laurel and I have to as well.

12:57 PM.
Odometer: 1277.1 miles
Driving away from Emblem, Wyoming

“Let’s stop”
“Okay. Where is the next town?”
Emblem has a population of ten. There is a post office. There is nothing else that we can see.

I want to make a bumper sticker: “I’d rather be ski-boxing”

New state motto for Idaho: “We call Montana ‘East’! Isn’t that Quazy?”

I once new a girl
Who owned a latrine
Her name was Shoshonna
Don’t know what it means

2:07 PM
Odometer: 1310.7 miles
Cody, Wyoming

Laurel and I had a picnic lunch, and picked up a book – 99 things to do in Yellowstone County. This was #86: “Visit a national park.” Ummm…. You think? Any in particular you are thinking about?

I should put a poll on my website. Where would you rather live? The first picture would be captioned “South Dakota” and there would be a picture of the Black Hills. The second would be captioned “Iowa” and there would be a picture of a highway in flatness like I-35. The third would be captioned “Jennifer Connelly’s house” and there would be that picture of her nude looking in a mirror.

6:52 PM
Big Game Park, Just outside of Yellowstone

It will be great to start the improv troupe up next semester. I should see if I could get J. to come to Cedar Falls to do a seminar with them. She is so good – they would be very lucky if she did.

Once, when tactfully steering me away from doing something foolish, my friend Kelvin pointed out that many geeks have a tendency not to let things go. He wasn’t using “geek” as an insult (as some do, out of ignorance) nor as a compliment (as some do, out of chic) but as an honest term. And he was right.

Two Zen monks were crossing a stream. (Have you noticed that many Zen stories begin like a joke? A Zen Monk walked into a bar and there was this stripper putting on an exotic dance show on a nearby stage, and at that moment the Monk heard the sound of one hand fapping. I am so clever. Ho ho ho. I gotta million of ‘em) Two Zen monks were crossing a stream, and they saw a young woman trying to cross the stream and having much difficulty. The older lifted her, and crossed while carrying her in his arms. He put her down, acknowledging her thanks with a nod. For miles, the younger said nothing. Finally he burst, “We aren’t supposed to touch women!” The older said, “I left her on the river bank. Are you still carrying her?”

The creationist’s sign was over five hundred miles ago. Okay, Buddha, I’ll stop carrying it. Okay, Kelvin, I’ll let it go.

Laurel and I have found a primitive camp site in the woods outside of Yellowstone. Truly gorgeous. Because we are in Bear Country, we have to be careful of our food, and we wound up not cooking tonight, because there is no good place where we are allowed to wash dishes. We actually went to Yellowstone, but after driving 15 minutes in the park, we decided to save it for tomorrow.

While exploring our campground, we ran into a sniffing boy and his mother, telling him how brave he was being. She asked him if he wanted to show us his Owie. He shook his head and we proceded to continue leading our separate lives. Later that night, we ran into him again, with his mother and some other women. He pointed to us and said something, probably words to the effect of “those are the people to whom I refused to show my wound, about which I was rather brave.”

I haven’t used bug-spray in years. The smell is so familiar. It doesn’t bring back memories of specific events, but it does bring forth memories of old emotions. The part where I have to spray the top of my head brings back no memories. That part is new.

I just got my fifth splinter of the day. Laurel asked, “What is it with you? Why are you always rubbing wood?” I was not mature enough to contain my laughter.

The Laurel and I had a nice moonlight walk, and she has turned in while I am sitting near the river bank a little longer, thinking, writing and watching the stars come out. There are quite a lot of satellites spying their way across the sky. I just waved at one. Goodnight, NSA.

[later] The night was windy, but the tent held up.

Click here to go to the next day!