The Road to Alpine

Leaving Las Vegas (and please, please, don’t ever play Ms. Crow’s song of the same name while I’m in the room), heading south, we glanced backward on the weather radar and concurred that our decision to leave a day late was the wise one.  Colorado’s I-25 was snow and ice bound by 8:00 a.m., while our weather was low clouds, fog, and dry.  We rolled into Rowell at around 10:30 and opted for Whataburger over the Alien Museum.  Roswell is a curious place, bigger than I remember, with green aliens helping market most businesses along the main strip.  Lots of personal injury lawyer billboards, too.

The remainder of the day was long highways.  And wind.  As if possessed, it bucked the car, awakened a plague of dust while dust devils danced a tarantella, hoovering silt and sand skyward, choking the sun and swallowing mountains, propelling tumbleweeds, slinging the thin bloom-rods of stumpy-bodied cactus like whips, as if attempting to sweep the already desolate land to nothing but bare rock and stone. 

Dramatic, ain’t it?

I won’t lie.  Aside from the Guadalupe mountains—arrogant, treeless, muscular peaks—the drive is boring, the landscape brown, nothing but short brush and cactus, flaccid or desiccated. Two road-killed feral hogs and plenty of border patrol cars were about all the excitement we had for four hours or so, except for the goldfish shaped giant TARS blimp sitting in the middle of the desert between Valentine and Marfa.

TARS goldfish zeppelin, Border Patrol’s eyes in the skies

The last bit, driving into Alpine, was beautiful.  The wind died down and the flat landscape rose, elegant peaks hugging the now winding road.  Alpine is home to Sul Ross State University, an impressive looking academic institution marked by colonial structures and the college of choice of our daughter. She’s not arriving back from her spring break until tomorrow, so, peckish as hell and hoping to redeem last night’s food fiasco, Cindy and I hastened to Spicewood, a newer joint at which Cindy had imbibed and ingested before.  The blackberry habanera margarita and Manhattan made with Amaro Averna rather than vermouth were surprising, complex, and delicious.  A half-order of nachos left us with too many, despite the outstanding balance of cheese, freshness, spice, and perfectly thin, crispy chips.  My wedge salad was a tad lettucy, missing the heaping mess of dressing, olives, tomatoes, cheese, and cranberries I douse mine with at home, but the cornmeal fried catfish was fit for Jehovah.  Cindy enjoyed a perfectly made green chili burger.  The meat was fresh and heartily seared.  The five-layer chocolate cake and Irish coffee provided the perfect dessert. 

Tomorrow: Big Bend National Park, and maybe the Marfa lights.  For now, it’s lights out.


On The Road Again

A year ago, in March of 2020, the fear factor from Covid-19 reached critical mass.  Albany County Schools left for Spring Break and didn’t return until August, the University of Wyoming sent staff to work at home until further notice, and the trip I had planned to visit my children was put on hold.  My oldest daughter was diplomatic.  “Well, you might want to consider whether you want to make this trip, given everything that is going on.”  My oldest son was not so much. “Dad don’t come.  This is bad.”

Road Trip!

Fast forward and we’re on the road again, taking the trip that we should have taken a year ago. Armed with our first Fauci-ouchy and matching masks, we left today on our way to Texas, sneaking out of Wyoming 24 hours in advance of what has been billed as a snowstorm of epic proportion.  The weather channel has named it Winter Storm Xylia; she’s expected to plop 15 – 30 inches of wet white stuff on Laramie in our absence, and although we’re sad to miss it, the trip is important: it’s been over two years since we’ve seen two of our children, we have a serious case of the stir-crazies (adventure withdraw is a real thing), and traveling is prescription for grief (more about that in a later post). 

We picked a swell day to leave.  No precipitation other than fog droplets from the moisture building south of Denver (which will fuel Xenia’s insatiable libido), bad drivers (like in Houston, traffic laws seem unenforced through metro Denver, as if ten percent of the population seems to feel it’s OK to weave through traffic at 90 miles per hour), and the sun in our eyes once we passed Trinidad.

I-25 is a beautiful drive if you’re not in a hurry. We coasted down Raton Pass into New Mexico and realized it shares some of Wyoming’s geography: the silhouettes of Western Mountains, wide open, tree-less plains filled with antelope and cows, wind, and rural Republicans still flying trump flags.  Just north of our destination, an American flag stood straight and tall and complete in the stiff west breeze, next to a trump 2020 flag that had been ripped in half, as if to say, “Tr. . . “ (Treason?)  We are the wind, fellow human beings.

Our destination was Las Vegas.  When we arrived, we inquired as to the location of Masaharu Morimoto’s restaurant, but realized we were in the ‘other’ Las Vegas—the one without good restaurants and gambling.  Our Super 8 was Covid-whipped: masks required in hallways, public areas off limits, and ‘No Soup for You!’ in the evenings.  A quick perusal of restaurant options here led us first to a place called The Skillet, which would have been more aptly named Noisy Crazy Place Where You Have to Fight For a Table, Order at a Window, and Fend Off Feral Pre-Teens While No One Waits on You, and I was not about to ruin yesterday’s acupuncture vibe and long serene drive chill.  We tried Kosina de Rafael, but they were take-out only.  The Realta was closed.  We finally settled on the Flamingo Room at Hillcrest, the name obviously coming from the significant number of plastic flamingoes perched on the sign in table, the piano, and the buffet table obviously now used as a holding station for cups and plates.  Chandeliers shared space with modern domed lights on a dropped ceiling, and Aztec kitsch played nicely against the beige tablecloths covered in thick plastic, two inoperable pump organs, and sounds of Super Hits of the 60s and 70s.  We ordered plates of Mexican food, including the unfortunately hyperbolic “World Famous Burnt Cheese Tacos,” and ate while the maître d’ read off the temperatures of every obviously cold-blooded person who walked in like FM radio station call numbers:  94.2, 96.8, 89.3.  Hearing the soothing strings in Hamilton & Joe Frank & Reynolds’ Fallin’ in Love (1975) may have aided digestion for a moment, but I nearly decided to take The Animals’ advice when “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (1965) played.    

At the hotel now, watching Food Network so we can eat well, vicariously.  Stay tuned for tomorrow’s adventure on our way to Alpine, TX. 

Peace, friends!

For Sale in Laramie: The Stories Behind the Listings

Actual items taken from Facebook Group, Laramie Wyoming Buy and Sell Stuff.  No rabbits or chickens were harmed in the making of this post.

Partial bag of chicken food.  4 chickens included you haul.

We got the chickens one Easter when li’l Jackie stole ‘em out of old man Franklin’s yard.  We let ‘em run the house when they was little but they got big and didn’t wanna go outside.  Jackie was thinkin’ they was them Leghorn chickens and would lay white eggs but one of ‘em’s a Araucana and its always dropping blue eggs and the other three’s them Olive Egger cross-breeded kind that make green ones.  They’re mean and always peckin’ at the cat and we don’t find the eggs right away on account of they drop em’ behind the sofa or in the laundry room and we don’t know until they stank.  Nobody’ll eat the colored eggs anyway, even though they look the same on the inside. The chickens hadn’t been too much mess ‘cuz dogs is coprophagous and Buckney’d just follow ‘em around and lick it up like whoop cream but then he got worms and we hadda put him out.  One night we put the chickens back in Franklin’s yard but they just back here the next day and comin’ in through the tear in the screen door.  We finally decided they gotta go somewhere far, even though they all got names.

175 PSI Air Storage Tank

R2 was always the spoiled one.  Such a mama’s boy, always whining about having to anything.  Hell, she changed his oil until he was, like, twelve, and I’m like, “Dude, seriously, it’s not that hard!”  Used to wheel around naked as a trash can, no vocabulary, no social skills, and then he lands the big one, the gig, and all of a sudden he’s zippin’ around in his fancy blue suit and treatin’ the rest of us like shit.  Everyone thinks he’s so damn cute, right, the brat, but the truth is he’s a rotten, selfish can of aluminum wire.  I asked him for fifty bucks the other day and he’s all like, “No, you’re gonna spend it on synthetic oils and some rusted alley-can whore,” like I need his lectures or his newfound morality.  Jerk didn’t even get me a role as an extra.  I would have rocked the scene in Episode 3 where the droid is having his feet burned.  Think Gielgud’s Hamlet.

Anyone have fifty bucks?  I can fill up your tires for you. . .

Cloth Diapers $10 Used but great condition

If you’re interested in those, you might consider some other items I have for sale:

  • Siftable cat litter.  Cat only used it a few times.
  • Half-eaten frozen rib-eye.
  • Partial dentures.  These weren’t mine originally but worked surprisingly well.
  • Small bag of used dental floss.  Rinsed well.
  • Diaphragm.  It didn’t work for me, but I may have put it in wrong.
  • Hairbrush. Missing a few bristles.  Don’t see any lice on it.
  • ½ tube Preparation H™ with original applicator.
  • Contact lens (1) for nearsighted person.
  • Roll of cohesive bandages.  Only worn for a week.
  • ½ package of U by Kotex™ tampons.  Barely used at end of cycle.  Still look white.

Disney Dory Bowling Set

Are your children too quiet? Do you wish that there was more noise in your house? Try the Disney Dory Bowling Set! Who doesn’t appreciate the sound of a hard, plastic bowling ball on your wood or tile floor, crashing violently into pins while you relax in the bathtub?  Or the pleasantly musical echo of a pin thumped against a younger sibling’s head?  Comes complete with instructions and additional activities, such as juggling, the riotous “Don’t Hit the TV” game, and “Lawn Darts” (weighted, stainless steel attachable dart heads sold separately).

ISO Someone to come help clip bunny nails!

The change was subtle, like the moon from night to night in slow wax.  They’re everywhere of course.  Dogs chase them, cars avoid them.  They blend into the colors of the landscape, and you can often miss them except for their cotton colored tails bouncing down the alley like marshmallows.  But then we saw signs: claw-marks on the fence, too small for a bear. At night, queer sounds cut through the cold air, guttural and malevolent.  There were rumors: a husk of hares stalking a fawn; two rabbits at dusk, walking slowly down an alley, their claws long and bloodied. Maybe they’re not harmless little bunnies.

We begin in the morning, with nets and snares and Safari™Professional Nail Trimmers.  Cutting their nails is the first step to ending this nightmare.  The moon is fat and high.  I’ll lock my doors as soon as Suzanne comes back from walking the dog.  They’ve been gone a very long time. . .



Highway Hazards and Animal Abodes

Wyoming’s landscape rolls like waves: treeless hills of sagebrush undulate under a large sky.  Mesas and buttes poke their heads above the restless, arid plains, ravines carved by long-ago water snake between the hills, and massive tan rock formations thrust into the sky like curious animals.  Traveling east on I-80 on our way to Omaha, I became aware of a gradual descent, a flattening of the geography, as if someone was pulling the sheets tight on a bed.  Uneven grazing lands filled with cows gave way to miles and miles of corn, wheat, and soybeans, ponds and reservoirs, and the lush green of America’s heartland.

Interstate 80 is a major thoroughfare, filled with 18-wheelers satisfying the country’s insatiable demand for products.  But if semis are the red blood cells of the American economy, motor homes are the cholesterol-carrying fat cells.  These bloated road hogs reach 40 feet in length have romantic, hyperbolic names like ‘Bighorn,’ ‘Reflection,’ or ‘Quantum.’  The monolithic ‘Dutch Star’ we passed allows its passengers to enjoy nature with Bermuda glazed maple hardwood cabinets, a king-sized bed, induction cooktop, Samsung TV and Blu-ray player.  At over $400,000, this example of conspicuous consumption keeps the oil industry healthy, getting a miniscule six miles per gallon on flat roads.  If I stayed in a $300/night hotel for 30 nights each summer for ten years, I’d have spent only $90K. But to each their own.  You go on with your bad self, draggin’ your ‘Stryker’ down the road at 63 m.p.h.  Enjoy your mortgage.

Speaking of road hazards, Burger King has now made my list of things to avoid while driving, like deer, or hitchhikers in prison garb.  I was possessed to go there in the first place at the prospect of actually being able to order a burger before 11 a.m., which for some reason is anathema to most fast food joints.  But, to my annoyance, I was informed that the flame-broiling-Whopper-maker was incapacitated, so I settled for a bacon, egg, and cheese Croissan’wich.  The picture on the left, below, looks delicious, yes?  But oh, my, what I got (see picture on the right) was the most disturbing bite of ‘food’ I’ve ever eaten.  Yes, bite (singular), because I threw the rest away.  I would have licked a Silverback’s butt to get the taste out of my mouth, but in the absence of the primate, orange juice, coffee, a cigarette, a day old, overripe banana, and water did the trick after about twenty minutes. Cindy’s sausage version of the same thing tasted like it’d been dipped in kerosene before serving, and the hash brown nuggets like they’d been hammered in eight-day old spoiled fryer-oil.  Shame on you, Burger King on 205 N. Greeley Hwy, just off I-80 in Cheyenne!  Shame on you, plastic-faced spokesperson Ronald McDonald wannabe King! I am sick when I do look on thee!


Speaking of Silverbacks, the Omaha Zoo offers a reasonably priced opportunity to view a wealth of the world’s animal species.  Depending on what survey you look at or who you talk to, it’s up there with the San Diego Zoo in the number one or two spots on the “Best Zoos” list, but at half the price.  We got there early, allowing us some peaceful exploring before the inevitably strident invasion of children under ten.  Highlights for us included the gorillas, the desert dome and swamp beneath it (I had forgotten beavers were that big), and the aquarium with its stunning collection of jellyfish.

Our trip concluded with a visit to my cousin Jennifer Schurman’s farm near Pickrell, between Lincoln and Beatrice.  In addition to her day job, she runs the Shepherd’s Rest Goat and Sheep Rescue, a not-for-profit providing rehab and sanctuary to these animals.  I’ll admit, it’s kind of trippy taking a walk through the woods with thirty-six hooved and horned mammals of all shapes and sizes.  She’s fundraising for hay right now: you can find the organization’s page on Facebook (Facebook@ShepherdsRestRescue).  And if you’re in the area, Goat Yoga takes place on weekends.

Closing the Door

Leaving the city I had called home for 17 years was difficult.  Diurnal habits, the roads I haunted to get to the familiar places of business and pleasure, neighbors and other friends whose voices swam through the song of that place, the dwelling in which I raised my children and its quirky brokenness, and even the sense of sky from my front and back yard: all these are gone except as threads of melancholy set free to weave themselves into the growing quilt of memories.

Houston did not want me to leave, or so I imagined. My impending separation seemed to provoke the tentacles of that oil-fattened octopus. As if to keep me in place, everything seemed more difficult.  Dysfunctional.  A trip to Caliber Collision to pick up the car became a chapter from a Kafka novel:  they didn’t accept our cash (who doesn’t take cash?), and when we returned with a money order, Caliber wouldn’t take that either because their check-reading machine didn’t like it.  Fifteen minutes became three hours.  Or Xfinity and Centerpoint Energy, both of which wanted to steal from us in the form of ‘early termination’ fees.  Then there’s 24 Hour Fitness, whose system was unable to cancel my membership (although it worked fine when I signed up), and our short term rental property, the Terra Apartments, which tried to insist that, even though we signed a 90 day lease, we were required to give it 60 days’ notice and therefore we owed it an extra month of rent (we called the would-be thief on its own fine print through its parent company, Knightvest).

Maybe worst of all was the Texas Education Agency.  I had resigned early from my job with H.I.S.D (through their website and procedure, with ample notice) which promptly tattled on me to T.E.A for breaking contract.  T.E.A, being the fawning, obeisant I.C.E wanna-be that it is, sent me an eight-page legal document (complete with those stupid § symbols) outlining the ‘egregious nature of the acts committed” by me, as if I was a child predator or embezzler.  Go ahead and suspend my teaching license for a year, I told them, closing with:

Rather than exerting the amount of legal energy you’ve exerted on my case, you might consider spending that energy on cases that are truly egregious, and remind HISD that although it would enjoy some retribution for my early resignation (that is what this is all about, after all), it should bring its house in order if it would like to keep qualified, experienced teachers in its employ.  For your agency to act as nothing more than a hit man or bully on behalf of HISD is just simply sad.

Not to labor the point, but given the above, I had reservations about returning to Houston last week.  We’d left Cindy’s car in Houston rather than tow it behind the moving van, and I needed to take care of a few other items of business before fully, and firmly, closing the door on Houston, so the trip was necessary.  Maybe Houston didn’t want me back: my flight from Laramie was cancelled because the cargo door on the plane wouldn’t close; my connecting flight in Denver was reschedule to 5:45, and after a four-hour shuttle ride and an additional delay, I arrived in Houston sometime after 9:00 p.m.  To travel 1,100 miles in 14 hours works out to about 79 miles per hour.  Go, airplanes!!


Another day in Houston traffic

Once on the ground, the second wave of assault began.  Roads, even residential roads, were clogged with traffic and angry drivers with high beams on weaving too fast between lanes.  All errands required a minimum of thirty minutes.  And the heat.  Turning the air conditioning to arctic while cleaning the apartment didn’t help contain the nine gallons of sweat I mopped the floor with.

The two-day drive back to Laramie was tiring, but as I crested the pass from Fort Collins and set eyes again on the Snowy Range and the valley, I relaxed, and reflected.  By moving here, I replaced rats, lizards, and roaches with rabbits; here I don’t sweat when I get out of the shower; my places are five minutes away; getting a driver’s license or plates takes five minutes instead of five hours.  And as much as the song might applaud the ‘stars at night,’ they really are bigger and brighter in Laramie.

The flowers are, too.  On the trail near Happy Jack Road, the wildflowers were at full peak and sharing their nectar with flocks of butterflies.  Now this is living.

Here, Fishie Fishie. . .

Having lived in Laramie for six weeks without putting a line in the water, we decided it was time to take the bait and do a little fishing.  My previous experience with this art was mixed.  As boys, my brother and I reeled in a dozen trout a day at Lake San Cristobal near Lake City, with nothing more than a bobber and some salmon eggs. As an adult, fishing was something that happened once and a while, for a little while, during a vacation while managing a campsite and children. I probably caught more in one day on Lake San Cristobal than I have in total since.

Never mind the past. We live 30 minutes from Curt Gowdy Park, home to two shiny blue reservoirs, so we headed to the West Laramie Fly Store to gear up.  As newby Wyomingites, we didn’t qualify for the less-expensive in-state licenses; a couple of reels (I already had some poles) and the necessary fish-attracting hardware (flies, bait, hooks, bobbers) pushed our total into the ‘small investment’ category. No matter.  The Fly Store proprietor gave us some advice on rigging the lines and told us what the fishes in Curt Gowdy liked to eat, and we were ready!

Monday was our first day out.  Full of optimism, we chose the farthest of the reservoirs, Crystal, to ply our new trade.  Like an uncooperative child, one of the reels almost immediately became a contrarian mess: six-pound test line wrapped around every part of the reel while an inconsolable ball of the stuff flapped haplessly in the breeze.  Think string theory meets chaos theory. Cutting the line and untangling the line from the reel seemed like a good idea, but in the wind proved more than our combined patience could tackle.  Fishing 1, Joneses 0.

Crystal Reservoir, Curt Gowdy State Park

Fishing at Crystal Reservoir

A little while later, the line of the second pole snapped during a cast, sending the bobber, swivel, and fly combo I had patiently rigged the night before into the water and leaving me gawking at the empty end of a translucent line.  Fishing 2, Joneses 0.

Not all was lost.  It was a gorgeous day.  We restrung the rod, and with the help of some rainbow colored Powerbait reeled in our first, and only, catch.  We grilled it in foil and ate it that evening along with some chicken, corn, and balsamic roasted Brussel sprouts.  Fishing 2, Joneses 1.

Cindy at Crystal Res

We ventured to the same spot on Tuesday morning, a bit earlier this time.  Within ten minutes I’d caught a rainbow trout with a caddisfly (I think that’s what it was) and the game was on.  But as the sun rose, so did the wind speed.  Two hours later we headed home having claimed a small victory, which we beheaded, disemboweled, and put in the freezer for another night. Joneses 1, fishing 0.

The view from Granite Reservoir

This morning we found a beautiful spot on the Park’s other reservoir, Granite.  Cindy hooked one quick, but it slipped off the hook before I could get a net on it.  After that we went biteless.  At two fish every three days, we’ll be able to pay for our investment in a couple of years, but that’s not really what it’s about.  While loading up, a wise man who’d parked near us asked what people usually ask: “How’d you do?” After I answered him, he said, matter-of-factly, “Well, we come to fish, not to catch fish.”  Yeah.  That’s it.

Joneses for the win.





Mount Rushmore by Noon

I first visited Mount Rushmore a decade or so ago, after a three-day drive from Houston. From Laramie on Monday, we left before 8:00 a.m. and were there in time for a picnic lunch under the watchful gaze of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln. The drive is mesmerizing. I’m still coming to terms with the spectacular Wyoming landscape: treeless rolling hills, rock formations, canyons and gullies carved by wind and water, and cows.  Lots and lots of really big cows.

Cows on the Wyoming Prairie

The Mount Rushmore Memorial sits in the Black Hills of South Dakota, an hour and a half east of the Wyoming border, among pine trees and rock spires.  Ten bucks allows you to park there for a whole year; there are no entry fees.  There’s a short loop trail from the amphitheater that gets you a bit closer and affords different angles of the presidents.  It was along this path that I observed that Lincoln looks a bit like Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) from the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes, but perhaps that was because the chins of his companions in stone are clean shaven.

Mount Rushmore Memorial

After lunch, we set up our tent at Sheridan Lake, then escaped to our car to read from Rex Alan Smith’s The Carving of Mount Rushmore while being pummeled by a hailstorm.  Washington, because he was the first President, and Lincoln, because he unified a divided nation, were the first to be considered for the monument.  Jefferson was added both for the Declaration of Independence and the Louisiana Purchase, and Roosevelt because of the Panama Canal.  The Memorial’s architect, Gutzon Borglum, abandoned his work on the Georgia Confederate Monument to work on the Mount Rushmore Memorial, “In commemoration of the foundation, preservation, and continental expansion of the United States.”  Work was begun in 1927 and finished in 1941, at an overall cost of just under one million dollars.

Watching hail from the car

Warning: political commentary (skip to the next paragraph if you’re not in the mood)

I couldn’t help but be reminded of what we’ve lost, looking at these figures against the backdrop of today’s wasteland of political corruption and impotence.  Washington was elected unanimously for both of his terms, without wasteful campaigning.  Jefferson considered his presidency as public service, not self-service.  Lincoln embraced the ideals of unity and equality, rather than division, strife, and bigotry. And Roosevelt not only protected the country from unbridled capitalism, but also gave us 230 million acres of national forests, wildlife refuges, and national monuments.  So much has been undone in such a short time, and against the standards of the great men on this mountain, the only carving our current president warrants is on a wet turd.

End of commentary

On Tuesday, we had intended to drive north through the Black Hills and back into Wyoming to see Devil’s Tower but opted instead for another visit to Mount Rushmore (this time with a leisurely and expensive walk through its vast gift shop).  From there, lunch and shopping in nearby Keystone and a visit to a couple of wineries.  Red Ass Winery featured some spectacular reds and some rhubarb wines, but Naked Winery was a bit more fun.  Rachel took us on a flight featuring Dominatrix, Penetration, and Climax, all of which we brought home.

Crazy Horse from the road

Near Mount Rushmore is the Crazy Horse Monument. I was suckered in ten years ago but decided to keep my money this time. From the road, it looks the same as it did then: a single face on the top of a mountain.  I’d go again when it is finished, but it won’t be, at least in my lifetime.  They’ve been at it since 1948 (that’s 71 years and counting).  With assets of $77 million and annual revenues around $12 million, there’s really no rush, I suppose.  Visitors can see the imagined final product on coffee mugs, T-shirts, and tchotchke, all of which must help pay for very tiny carving utensils.

Snowy Range Camping . . .and David

It has been an eventful year since our last camping trip: new jobs, leaving those jobs, selling a house, downsizing, and loading up the moving van on a prayer and moving to Laramie.  My son recently flew up from Houston to attend a Python programming camp at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, so we planned a camping trip for the days between his camp and his flight home.  We’d had our eye on Silver Lake campground, near the top of the Snowy Range on Highway 130 west of Laramie, but it was (and still is) covered in snow.  Father west, 20 miles or so east of Saratoga, Ryan Park was snowless and available.  The reservation site stated that guests were permitted to erect only one tent per camp site; the camp host, however, had no such restrictions.

Many of the sites at Ryan Park are shadeless, including ours.  The afternoon sun proved relentless and heated up the site; a tarp we hung between two trees gave us a sliver of comfort.  A three-quarter mile path circles the campsite, following Carroll Creek and the larger Barrett Creek, both of which roiled with cold snowmelt.  Thanks to an informative historical marker, we learned that the campsite had been used as a POW camp during World War II. Prisoners from Hitler’s and Mussolini’s armies worked six days a week there for the Crow Timber Company between 1942 and 1946.

After a restless and cold first night on an uncooperative air mattress, we headed to the Little Laramie Trailhead, back over the pass to the Laramie side of Snowy Range.  This was a beautiful hike, one of our favorites so far.  Dense, lodgepole pine forest surrounds a well-maintained, easy to follow path.  Our Alltrails app said we put in 2.9 miles; trail extensions allow for longer hikes.

Last summer, our tents did a great job of keeping out rain.  Not so, this trip.  Along with the faulty mattress, our final night at Ryan Park brought a midnight rainstorm and the slow drip of water inside the tent.  When the sun rose, we skipped camp breakfast (except for coffee), stuffed the wet stuff into the back of the Pilot, and were back in Laramie by 8:00.

The Fourth of July in Laramie was perfect.  In ideal weather, we spent the afternoon at Washington Park with 10,000 or so others listening to Danno & Have Fun Will Travel and The Boogie Woogers.  After a lovely dinner at our new favorite restaurant, Altitude, we brought the lawn chairs out to the edge of LaPrele Park, just south of the University, to watch the fireworks.  In the distance, lightning from a storm over Medicine Bow National Forest lit up the clouds behind the display.  Here we met David and his dog Gonzo.  By his own admission, David had spent too long at the pubs and had consumed too many “Colorado edibles.”  A Viet-Nam Veteran and Texan from sometime in his history, he ranted about Trump, extolled the beauties of Wyoming and its history, talked about Idaho and Oregon and Californians, women drivers, Chief Washakie—whose statue sits on Grand Avenue between 15th and 17th Street—and then said goodbye before the fireworks had ended, wishing us well in our new home.  I hope to run into him again some day.

Colorful Fantasia: Denver Pride

Laramie, Wyoming is quiet.  Calm.  Cool, in both temperature and, like The Fonz, attitude.  From our street I can see the Snowy Range off to the west and the brush-covered hills that border hiking trails and Curt Gowdy State Park to the east.  In between is vast expanse of sky that hosts a diversity of clouds by day and a surprising density of stars at night. Houston’s lights, buildings, and air quality never afforded me either.

On my way to Denver a few days ago, I was reminded of another reason to have left Houston: the traffic.  Interstate 25 was a rage of congestion, construction, unchecked bad driving spawned from the anonymity of vehicles and shared communal anger.  For years I’d blamed myself for my anxiety, my high blood pressure, my imagined need to crush another driver’s skull with a crowbar, but like a bad relationship, the solution was simple.


Were it not for an invitation, my wife and I might not have made the trip to the Denver Pride activities,  but our close friends from Kansas were driving in and that, along with the promise of a good party, was more than enough to convince us to make the two plus hour drive into downtown.   We stayed at the Brown Palace Hotel, close to the Fifteenth-Street Mall and the Capitol grounds where thousands of the proud and colorful walked, danced, held hands, walked their dogs, or lounged in the grass.  The pride flag hung above the Capitol steps; the day was gorgeous and so were the people.  Colored hair floated through the crowd like cotton candy; furry animal costumes mingled with the topless and nearly denuded; bodies of all shapes, sizes, colors, and, I might add, political affiliations made their way through the packed tents of vendors, and everyone was gay. We laughed when a friend said, “Straight couples are welcome, but don’t flaunt it, you know?” I’d like to think that this gathering represents America, its true nature, embracing individual expression and imagination in a Pantheistic celebration of communal love, but I fear this country still has a long, long way to go.

On Saturday evening, between the Capitol gathering and the Sunday morning parade, we visited the Brown Palace’s cigar bar, an opulent leather-bar from well over a century ago.  Framed prominently therein was an original painting by the Italian painter Virgilio Tojetti (1851-1901) titled Colorful Fantasia, but also known as The Sultan’s Dream.  Against the backdrop of a Turkish cityscape, a dark, bearded man sits in a boat while naked, white young odalisques clamor to him like codfish to a fisherman. I couldn’t help but interpret the romanticized ‘other’ as both something barbaric and at the same time (because of its prominence in the room) admired, as if to say, “My God, look at that savage,” while secretly savoring the image as a private fantasy. Inebriant ruminations, perhaps, as I enjoyed my cigarillo.  The Manhattans were superb.