Saturday, June 2, 2012

Heading North

If we were going to get to the Canadian Rockies before the high season, it was time to start heading north.  The only problem was the weather, with high afternoon winds in the forecast every day.  So we did something we rarely do, we were on the road before 8AM and putting more than 200 of the 300 plus mile days behind us before noon.  That may not sound like a lot to a non RVer, but last year our average day of travel was only 185 miles and we usually leave at the crack of 10AM.  Normally we follow the 2-2-2 rule, drive no more than 2 hours, travel no more than 200 miles and stop by 2 PM.  But we have a lot of miles to cover to get to Canada. 
Our first stop was in Colorado Springs where we had this great view of Pikes Peak for the Elks campground.  We stayed two days because of threatening weather and did a day trip to Manitou Springs, a neat old town with many shops and restaurants.  We did have a negative experience in Colorado Springs as some fine patriot, who does not believe in free speech, tore our 08 OBAMA sticker off the car.  We were not deterred and had a replacement attached within minutes of discovering the vandalism.
The next big driving day took us across the High Plains to Alliance, NE where the Sunset Motel and RV park accepted the half price Passport America rate for Memorial Day weekend.  The plains do have their own unique beauty with the windmills, old abandon homesteads and fields of green and brown crops.
One discovery was the Nebraska panhandle does not have a lot of highways and you can often save many miles of travel if you use the unpaved roads (in the CRV, not the RV).  On this five mile stretch we met many cows, birds, pronghorns, two trees but NO vehicles.  On our return trip we did encounter a strange plains phenomenon, a fog bank like we have only seen in Labrador and on the Pacific coast.
You know you are in America's breadbasket when you see a junkyard that has only combine and tractor parts.  I was surprised to know they scrapped old equipment, from what I had seen I thought they just let it rust away behind the barn.
The goal of this drive was to add Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, the site of a huge collection of prehistoric but post dinosaur fossils, to our list.  The two hills, University and Carnegie, are where the digs took place.  There is a Pittsburgh connection here as the dig on Carnegie Hill was conducted in 1904 by O. A. Peterson from the city's Carnegie Museum.  Without realizing it I have probably seen displays of his work there on my many visits. 
The scientists believe there is such a large concentration of fossils here because during a drought the animals ate all the surrounding vegetation then gathered near the comfort of the waterhole only to die in large numbers.  These are a few of the remains of prehistoric animals like the Daphoenodon, beardog; the Monoceras, a rhino, and a Moropus, a relative of the horse.
One thing that stumped early scientists was these spiral fossils. They first thought they were a tap root of an ancient plant but later learned they were underground shelters of large, dry-land beavers, Palaeocastors, that lived in large colonies like today's prairie dogs on the High Plains.
Agate Fossil Beds also has an extensive collection of Indian artifacts that land owner James H. Cook, who first discovered the fossils, received as gifts.  Cook was friends with many Indians including Red Cloud, an Oglala Lakota (Sioux) chief.   Top are beaded moccasins.  Bottom is a buffalo hide with the story of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, the red whetstone that was carried by Crazy Horse when he was killed and Red Cloud's buffalo shirt.  This little out of the way park service site is a worthwhile stop. 
Another stop in the Sandhills of Nebraska that was on our list was Carhenge, a full size replica of the real thing that we saw in England.  We also saw a small scale replica in Texas (and you thought that everything in Texas was bigger), but this one is truly unique.  It was built in 1982 using 38 1950's and 1960's junked cars.  They are placed just like the stones in England down to the ones that have fallen and others that are half buried.  It even duplicates the real function of Stonehenge as the shadows align for the solstice and equinox. 
More recently other works of 'car art' have been added.  This one is the Fourd Seasons, that represent the four stages of the wheat crops grown in the area. 
After Memorial Day weekend it was back on the road with a stop at Fort Laramie National Historical Site in Wyoming.  The site of the fort was originally a trading post that became a military fort to supply and protect travellers on the trail used by emigrants heading to Utah, California and Oregon.  This is the old Calvary barracks.
One thing I have noticed in visiting these old frontier forts is that the barracks of the late 1800's were not that different from the ones I lived in during the 1960's.  A big room with lines of beds, no privacy and a large open mess hall.  I hope that has improved for today's soldiers.
The stones mark the foundation of an old infantry barracks and the buildings are the post commander's home and what we called the PX (post exchange).
The ruins are the officers quarters and the white building is the BOQ, Bachelor Officers Quarter, which was know as Old Bedlam.  I'm sure that is appropriate for a building housing a bunch of young officers far from civilization. It is believed to be the oldest building in Wyoming.
These are the homes of the married officers.  A great family setting for the frontier and sure a lot nicer than the enlisted barracks.  As they say in the military, RHIP! 
One thing the post had back then that they had when I was in, was the beer hall that had a pool table.  All the wooden cases are from Anheuser Busch.  It is great that the government has done such a good job of preserving these little traces of our past.

After leaving Fort Laramie it was on to a night at Wally World in Casper, Wyoming where we had some of the worst winds we have experienced since we hit the road.  We were glad we were parked and not out on the Interstate as a micro burst rocked us like never before.  As we continue north we are hoping for calmer winds.


Bobbie and Jim said...

Very interesting blog post with great photos.

RiverCat said...

Funny, I'm a new full-timer and am nearly on the 2-2-2 plan myself! After teardown, driving, and setup again that's pretty much a full day. I'm glad to know I'm not a total wimp.