From the outset, this day was noteworthy because it was Cali’s first birthday! Cali was the most extraordinarily wonderful canine companion on this expedition. There is always some uncertainty when traveling with an animal, but I knew from a previous trip that she did not seem to mind spending time in the car, although this trip was surely going to be a test.
Although we had fashioned a cubby hole where she could lay flat behind TK, she wasn’t satisfied with this arrangement. She preferred to alternate between being stretched out in the middle of the rear seat with her head on the center console between our seats, or wedging herself into the most unlikely and uncomfortable looking mass on the floorboard amongst various a sundry items behind my seat. We would hear this loud scritching sound as she clawed her way through obstacles in order to make a nest. She truly was a remarkable companion on the trip and it is abundantly clear how much she adores TK.
It was an incredibly beautiful morning with the amazing backdrop of the rugged rock formations at Vedauwoo being backlit by the rising sun resulting in a typical Wyoming inferno of red, beige and orange rocks ensconced by pink scarlet ribbons of clouds. We both took time to walk outside the campground to admire the landscape.
After breaking camp, and casting aspersions on Ranger Rick’s lack of weather acumen, we embarked on the next leg of the journey. Before departure, we iced down a bottle of champagne in anticipation of drinking a small toast upon crossing the Great Continental Divide later in the morning. The planned drive was much less daunting than on the previous day because the terrain had finally changed from one of flat, wide-open fields to rolling hills with more interesting scenery and our spirits were high. I was amazed at how little traffic we encountered over the past several days. Sometimes we went for long stretches without seeing another vehicle. We also saw very few police cars out on the road, which was especially surprising given that it was the cusp of a major holiday weekend. The lack of traffic was particularly pleasant for me because it gave me the chance to view the beautiful landscape without worrying about other vehicles nearby.
About 2 hours after leaving Camp Vedauwoo, we crossed the Continental Divide, just west of Rawlins, WY. The Continental Divide is the principal hydrological divide of the United States, where all of the rivers on the west side of the divide flow into the Pacific Ocean, whereas all of the rivers on the east side flow into the Atlantic. When one thinks of the Continental Divide, one usually associates it with rugged, mountainous terrain. TK and I had been encouraged by friends in Charlottesville to climb to the top of some craggy spot and piss off into opposite directions as some sort of ritual to mark the occasion. I suppose TK would have chosen the westerly flow pattern, and I the easterly. In any case, the portion of the Continental Divide that we encountered is called The Great Basin, part of the Red Desert. It is an interesting geological oddity because all of the water, what little there is, that hits the ground either sinks into the desert soil or evaporates, never reaching either the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. I’m sure that we could have built a case for peeing in the Great Basin but, after seeing the flat, wide open terrain with no real place to pull over, it would have been a logistical challenge as well as an extraordinary site for passing motorists. Ergo, we opted to continue onward and save the champagne for our destination later in the day. Bonus: Because the Great Basin is an oval, we crossed the Continental Divide a second time as we continued west! Unfortunately, this was an equally exposed position, so our thoughts of having the pee race of the ages was once again stymied. West of the Great Basin, the landscape transitioned from a large flat desertscape to one punctuated by bare rocky outcroppings that would pop up from nowhere.
Our first stop of the day was in Rock Springs, WY to refuel. After exiting the interstate, one of the first gas stations that we encountered was the Kum & Go. Of all the possible names for a company, who in the world selected this one? It sounds more like an adult video store than a place to fill up your gas tank.
While wending our way back to the interstate through “downtown” Rock Springs, we passed by a business with a huge sign proclaiming it to be the “World Famous Astro Lounge”. Wondering what could possibly make this lounge “World Famous”, we turned to Google to reveal the mystery. Evidently, it is a strip club of such repute that several of the dancers are listed on Homewreckers.com! We made our way back to the interstate and pressed onward. We had only one side trip planned for today and we were looking forward to an early arrival at the next campground with plenty of daylight and a lake for swimming. Being a daily swimmer in Charlottesville, I was missing my morning ritual.
The main side trip for the day was to be a visit to Devil’s Slide, an unusual rock formation near Croydon, UT. We planned to drive up and get out of the car to take a few photos. However, when we reached the destination, there was no way to get to it. There was a “scenic viewing area”, which means a small place to pull your car over, but it happened to be blocked by an eighteen wheeler that was parked there taking up the entire pullover lane! In a flash, we missed it and there was no turning back. Here is what it looks like on Wiki-Pedia. Based on our experience, we rate it 1 out of 5 stars.
As we continued on in Utah, we passed through several areas known for high winds and saw our first tumbleweeds sailing across the highway. These areas are also known for frequent dust storms, including “dirt devils”, which we also witnessed swirling across the dusty fields. The windy conditions in this part of the country are perfect for the generation of electrical power and we passed numerous fields of windmills.
Just north of Ogden, UT, we saw the hazy smoke filled air that resulted from the plague of wildfires that had recently erupted in many of the nearby states, including California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Wyoming and parts of Colorado.
Given that many of these fires were blazing in close proximity to our planned campsites on the last several days, we were a bit concerned, not only about the immediate fire danger, but also from the resulting poor air quality as well. Fortunately, we did not experience any difficulties related to the wildfire situation.
We arrived at the Lake Walcott Recreational Area in Minidoka, ID in the early afternoon. This was one of the larger, more organized campgrounds that we had encountered thus far with lots of activities available for visitors including a Frisbee golf course, volleyball, and the lake for boating and other aquatic endeavors. Unlike the past few days where we arrived in the early evening, this time we got there in the middle of the afternoon and had to “check-in” with our camp hosts. The hosts were a retired couple from South Dakota who roam around the country playing “host” at various state park campgrounds for a month or two before moving on to the next location. Although they seemed outwardly pleasant, it quickly became apparent that they had, and enforced, “rules, rules, rules” here. They ran down a long list of rules, especially noting that we had to keep Cali on a leash at all times. We assured them that we understood and parked the car in a lot near our site.
Our site was located right on the edge of the lake and required us to haul in our gear rather than having on-site parking as we had become accustomed. Fortunately, it was no big deal because the parking area was very close to the campsite. Unfortunately, as we were unloading our gear, Cali had been left to race around and explore the immediate area. Magically, out of nowhere, our hosts appeared on their golf cart and reiterated the warning about keeping Cali on a leash and indicating that the official park ranger would give us a ticket if he observed her off-leash again. They also took the opportunity to inform us that we were not allowed to “gather firewood” as we had done at all the prior locations. I immediately sensed TK beginning to bristle at the notions of keeping Cali leashed, and his inability to assuage his innate yearning to scour the immediate countryside for dead wood with which to build the nightly inferno. I placated him by offering to purchase 2 bundles of firewood that were sold by the camp hosts and simultaneously conned the hosts into agreeing to deliver them to us on their golf cart. By assisting the man in loading the cart, sorry I didn’t get his name, he was especially generous and we ended up with a sizeable stack of well-seasoned and split wood for $10 which seemed to please TK. After setting up camp, TK took Cali for a run along the trail that winded through the campground in an effort to work off some of her pent up energy and tire her out. Upon their return, and with plenty of daylight remaining, we decided that it was finally time to take a plunge into the lake. Anticipating that the water temperature was likely to be quite cold, we decided to head for a small floating dock that we had discovered close to our site where we could jump in quickly rather than unpleasantly wading into the water from the shore in front of our campsite.
We donned our swimsuits, stripped off our shirts and made a mad dash for the dock, intending to launch ourselves into the frigid water. The dock pulsated on the surface of the water as we ran across it causing the water below to come squirting up through the cracks between the slats, the sudden icy cold spray catching us off guard and causing us to slow down and reevaluate our plan. During this pause, we noticed a duck swimming around. In a Monty Python-esque voice, I exclaimed “Beware the Minidoka duck. While it may appear harmless, ignore it at your peril. Its razor sharp beak can rip the flesh off the limbs of unsuspecting swimmers in one fell swoop.” The next potential hazard, and this one was all too real, was a triangular headed snake swimming in close proximity to where we would have landed had we taken the plunge. After a moment of reflection, the swim was cancelled for the day. Besides, we were not in the designated swimming area, which we decided probably existed for a reason, and we had already broken enough rules for one day. Thwarted in our attempt to go swimming, we returned to the campsite, built a raging fire, poured ourselves a beer, and began making preparations for the dinner that we had planned for this evening – deep dish Chicago style pizza cooked in a cast iron skillet. TK had first suggested the idea back in Charlottesville and, because I really enjoy extreme cooking challenges, this one intrigued me for days leading up to our departure. Making pizza is another love of mine and one that I take very seriously. One challenge was to convert the standard issue charcoal grill that is found in many campsites, the rectangular kind that stands on a pole with an adjustable grate, into an oven. Accordingly, we brought along a large roll of extra heavy duty aluminum foil and used it to encase the top and sides of the grill and created a flap front door that could be lifted up to allow access. A pile of burning wood embers was then placed in one corner of the “oven” to bring it up to temp. I had made the flour & cornmeal pizza dough in advance, along with a fresh tomato sauce, before leaving Charlottesville and frozen them. The cold temperature inside the cooler kept the yeast from reactivating and it remained dormant until we allowed it to rest on the picnic table whereupon it came alive again with great vigor. We chopped up some green bell pepper, onions and tons of garlic slices and placed them in a foil packet over the fire embers to soften while simultaneously grilling 2 spicy Italian sausages. The dough was then spread into the well-oiled cast iron pan and placed into the now hot “oven” to prebake slightly. This is not a step that I typically do when making pizza but it is also not unusual for this style of pie. It apparently keeps the sauce from infiltrating the bottom crust and making it soggy. When ready, the crust was covered with thick slabs of whole milk mozzarella cheese, a layer of the fresh oregano-infused tomato sauce, the vegetables with garlic and thin slices of the grilled Italian sausage. A generous sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano covered the surface and the pie was then ceremoniously slid into the oven. Another challenge was the timing because I had neglected to bring along my trusty Thermopen instant thermometer so we were going blind as to the actual temperature inside the oven. I checked on the pizza a few times by peeking into the door flaps but saw little progress being made and determined that my constant checking was likely allowing the heat that had built up inside to escape. I decided that it would be best to just leave it be for about 20 minutes and hopefully the cooking would commence. In the meantime, we broke into the Knob Creek Single Barrel bourbon that we had purchased at Whole Foods back in Lincoln, NE. Cue impish grin. When I checked on the pizza 20 min later, it was clearly done but unfortunately the side closest to the fire got a bit darker than I had hoped. Not burnt mind you, it just went to the dark side. No matter, given the circumstances of the crude oven, and lack of any kind of control over temperature, it turned out just fine. In fact, it was awesome and we hungrily and happily wolfed it down. Lesson learned, next time I will turn the pan at the halfway point. After dinner, we sat at the picnic table drinking bourbon and listening to Tom Waits for a while. The neighboring campers all went to bed very early and, even though it was not all that late and the music was barely audible outside of our campsite, we did not want to be “those assholes” so we began shutting things down. Earlier in the evening we had been warned by our hosts about the presence of “aggressive raccoons” in the area, and so we took preventative measures by dragging all the trash and leftover vittles up to the car to secure them for the night. Around this time, out of nowhere, the wind began to increase noticeably with sudden large gusts. There was no rain, just a strong unrelenting gale punctuated periodically by even larger squalls. We discussed the possible need for additional stakes on our tents. I pulled out a set of special heavy duty tent stakes that I had brought along on the trip, placed them on top of the picnic table, and went to bed.