The Great American West in Your Vest Pocket

How many times I have longed to get away on vacation! But leaving Dubois this year only makes me appreciate it all the more.

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cactusesHow well I remember all those vacations before I retired, when I longed for a chance to get away. How odd to get away this year, and find I spent so much time longing to get back.

During our trip to the prickly, alien world of southern Arizona, I began to understand why many of us who first come to Dubois to get away find it so difficult to stay away once we have left. Visiting the Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson, all I wanted was to return to that softer high-mountain desert back home up north, made so much gentler by the sight and smell of sagebrush and the waves of grass.

But it wasn’t merely that I missed the familiar landscape. There’s much more to it than that.

I learned what it looks like around Phoenix and Tucson. We drove through many beautiful mountain passes, and I saw the actual OK Corral in Tombstone. It was okay.

Butch_Cassidy_mugshot
Butch Cassidy: mug shot from Laramie State Prison. The ranch he must have been missing during his only prison term was right here in Dubois.

So many others, like us, were also out there, covering vast amounts of territory to satisfy their curiosity about the real West. They could have seen it so much more simply and quickly, within a few hundred square miles, by just going to Dubois. (Why aren’t we pointing this out to people?)

Think about it: All the eras of Western geology. Dinosaurs nearby in Thermopolis. Native American prehistory in the mountains all around. Then the history: Mountain men, cowboys, and our very own famous outlaw, Butch Cassidy. Railroads? The ties were hewn right here. A great restored ghost town and working (though failed) gold mine, just around the corner in South Pass City. Not to mention the greatest American National Park, a long day trip but really so close.

As to the landscape, we traveled over many days to tour Arizona, and here’s what we found:

PaintedDesertNPS
Painted Desert. Luckily, because there is so little vegetation here (I’m guessing), our dog was actually allowed on the path, unlike so many other National Parks. But we aren’t allowed off the path.

Painted Desert: Yes, you can see it from your car in the Petrified Forest National Park, or hike overland deep into the adjoining Arizona back country to explore it (no highways nearby). But there’s nothing like actually scrambling up these multicolored slopes and exploring the rambling draws. I do it all the time, close to home.

PaintedHills
Our own painted desert in Dubois, just one small part of it. There are many places around town where you can hike these fabulous badlands and see the formations up close.

“This should be a state park or something,” said a neighbor on one such hike. Lucky for us, most of it isn’t anything official. It’s just delightful.

NewspaperRock
Petroglyphs on Newspaper Rock, Petrified Forest National Park. You might get this good a view with a great set of binoculars.
Petroglyphs Dubois WY
Petroglyphs in a valley near Dubois, about a half-hour drive from the middle of town.

At the end of a short paved path, using a telescope provided by the Park Service and looking down and to the right, in good light you can catch a glimpse of the petroglyphs on Newspaper Rock in the Petrified Forest National Park.

In Dubois, tourists can contact the local museum for a guided tour to see our many local petroglyphs, right up close. I think ours look better, but then I could actually see those.

Undoubtedly I’ll keep traveling. But if I long to keep learning about the true West, I know exactly where to go (or stay).

Unless I suddenly develop a passion to be surrounded by cactus.

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© Lois Wingerson 2015

Author: LivingDubois

I am a retired science journalist, devoted to enjoying and recording the many pleasures of life in the Wyoming's Upper Wind River Valley.

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