Some people vow never to return to Wyoming, having traveled only the breakneck road race called Interstate 80 that hugs the flat, featureless southern margin of the state. Or, never having visited at all, they envision a place where dirt roads head off into nothingness.
Homeward bound, after the long, long climb up out of Utah, we take one of the first exits heading north from I-80, into this nothingness. We enter a gently rolling ocean of grass and sagebrush. Almost instantly, stress flows away and vanishes.
The road heads forward, so straight and empty that it’s quite safe to take photos from the driver’s seat. As I drive, I begin to pity those travelers who arrive by air from the East Coast (as I did, on my first visit) and set off straightaway in their rental cars toward the maelstrom of Jackson and the national parks.
Here, you can still see the ruts from the mule-drawn wagons that once brought people ever so slowly along the Oregon Trail. That makes you think, too. Out here there’s no signal, and nothing but the sound of your tires to distract you.
Geology presents itself off to the east: A knife-sharp ridgeline. I can almost feel the motion of the sub-surface tectonic plate pushing the land mass upward.
This is open rangeland. The only billboards are clever warnings from the Game & Fish Department. “Caution: Slow moving traffic ahead,” reads one, with an image of a cow. Obligingly, a herd of cattle appears on the left.
“Antelope entering highway at 55 mph,” reads another. Later, we do see a small herd of pronghorn antelope some distance away. Two of them are engaged in a high-speed chase. We’re at 70, and if they weren’t intent on running vast circles on the empty plain, they could almost keep up.
Somewhat farther on, I see some border collies on the shoulder, and slow down. One is just sitting on the pavement; another is barking at the passing cars.
As we come even with them, we see men on horseback nearby. They are busily herding a huge mass of sheep, which are nearly invisible against the sandy landscape, toward the wagon where they will be sheared.
Now and again, ranch roads peel off enticingly at right angles. The onboard navigator is totally lost. In the distance across the moonscape, we see a small Mount Rushmore, with faces carved by the wind.
Eventually we can see what looks like a long, low bank of clouds ahead and to the left. That’s the snow on top of the Wind River Range. Our beautiful valley is on the other side of those mountains.
Coming from the Interstate to reach Dubois–the place Expedia has called the best escape in Wyoming–still entails an hours-long drive across the wilderness. Like any goal worth attaining, it does require some effort.
It’s difficult to convey to people on the TripAdvisor forums how very long this journey takes–and how rewarding it can be, if you are willing to let go of the reasons you’re always in a hurry.
© Lois Wingerson, 2018
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