Leaving Wyoming, going south on 287, the clouds in the far distance thickened and looked ominous almost daring me to go on. Or, were they giving me even more reason to go back? Back to Wyoming. I somehow think the latter. My appreciation for Colorado is kind. I’ve been through the state before—run a race in Fort Collins and skied the slopes at Keystone years ago, but as I crossed that state line where six million year old rocks tower on either side of the roadway, I felt like a speck on the map—a speck not sure she was ready to leave Wyoming.
Wyoming may have done for me what Montana did for Mr. Steinbeck over five decades ago: put a spell on me. There came over me a surprising and unexpected desire to stay. There is the amazement of the vastness—not emptiness. There is a juxtaposition of in-your-face fierce mountain ranges with friendly, respectful inhabitants (clarification: human variety inhabitants). There is sheer beauty in the landscape confounded by the realities of the harsh weather. However the discrepancies line up, Wyoming simply feels real.
One morning over coffee I gained the perspective of a couple who made their way from Austin to Wyoming and now reside in Laramie full time. They decided that people see Wyoming as the way America could be, or once was. Another woman I met on the trail said she came to Wyoming in the seventies and it took her breath away—not from altitude—but from otherworldliness. “It pulled me like gravity to earth. I had to move here.”
Then again, there is the bumper sticker that reads, Wyoming: It’s not for everyone.
I admit it, I have a crush on Wyoming, not unlike the junior high girl who catches the eye of a cute boy in the hall. She hopes, perhaps even prays, he’ll stop by her locker or better still, leave her a crumpled up note scratched on torn out ruled notebook paper. She’ll read it several times to be sure of his writing, replacing the slanting letters to read the word “cool,” not “fool.”
Perhaps I am the fool to fall for a state that has recorded lows of negative 65 (that’s without the windchill!) and has a governor decidedly fighting against the Supreme Court’s decision of equal rights. Additionally, I learned that because the mining of natural resources funds so much of the state, the discussion of global warming is not offered in the classroom. There is also a possibility that I am turning a blind eye on the great divide—not the continental one—but the one that separates the haves from the have-nots. There are those who live a quarter of the year in huge homes by the ski towns and those applying for car camping permits for months on end.
Regardless of underpinning realities and possibly truths that may not align with my constitution, I am smitten. Nights in the Tetons over looking Jackson
Lake, the full moon lingering through morning, the opportunity to test my camping skills, not to mention my Bear Wise skills, has slightly empowered me and given me the thought that I might be able to hack it in the great wild west.
My last night camping in Wyoming took place in the Wind River Mountain Range on Half Moon Lake. The woman at the Chamber of Commerce told me it was closed, but campers still use it—as long as they take their own water. “You’d be fine. It’s quiet up there, just some hunters.”
I pulled into the campsite with the sign: No Services, No Fees. The wondering about hunters left me for a moment as I leaped at: Free night’s stay! Score. Okay, score with no water, no safety ‘host’ monitoring the campsite, and only a few hunters hanging out by their RV’s. The hunters seemed a friendly lot, just nodding as I drove by to select lucky spot 13 along the water. Where they brought along their ATV’s to circle the lake, I had my hiking shoes. Where the back of their trucks had a rack for their rifle, I had a laundry line for my washcloth and towel. Where their car sticker emboldened NRA for Life, I had my Namaste.
The next morning, as I shook the frost off my tent cover and boiled water to wash my face and then to make coffee, I took my mug to the small beach area and watched the sun crest over the thin layer of ice on Half Moon Lake. The temperature hovered around 29 and felt refreshing. (Refreshing? Okay, that’s a stretch) I nodded toward the man wearing his camouflage jumpsuit and wool cap several hundred yards down the way and thought for the first time: I am a camper. And, as my eyes scanned the pine covered hillside, I thought for about the hundredth time: I have a crush on this place. If I found a crumpled note pinned to my windshield asking me to stay, I just might.