If you think that The West is not the place for your cultural little self, then you need to unpick a few stitches and get your yee-haw on.
People ask me on our travels what attracts me to The West. What attracts me to anywhere is usually its history. In The West that vibrant history that made it The West is always just bubbling beneath the surface of every place you go and everyone you meet, whether they are aware of it it or not. If you think about what makes the iconic West, then those things are still here. Western folks are proud of their history and their lifestyle. They yee-haw without prejudice in establishments such as the Bear Trap and jingle jangle their spurs. The burger and fries and local ale served by heart of gold barmaids with western bling and don't mess with me attitude are to be found in not to be missed spades at the Mangy Moose. The cowboys and cowgirls are immortalised in the finest museums in small towns that you get to after driving across seemingly endless prairies of sagebrush and ancient bluffs that the dinosaurs used to wander.
The geological history of Wyoming is the icing on the cake for me - I can't get enough of it. Rawlins in Carbon County would have been a seaside resort in one of those ancient eras when the sea level loved to come and go. And thanks to all this activity, Wyoming in extremely rich in coal and oil. The State is a veritable dinosaur graveyard. Those ancient bluffs witnessed the coming and going of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals (mammoths!). They may have been there when the earth below them was creating the finest green jade in the world. They would have overseen the bison herds and marveled at the coming of the Native tribes. And they would have seen the struggle of those tribes to hang on to their lands as a new force from the East marched in, first to trap the beaver and then to make the crossing to the West coast or settle the land and make a fresh start. Forts rose up, filled with soldiers to protect the wagon trains and then the pioneers.
Then the railroad came, an irrepressible juggernaut. Cities sprang up on the ancient plains. Cities like Cheyenne - Magic City of the Plains; like Laramie - Gem of the Plains. Ranchers set up their ranches; homesteaders fenced their patch; miners plumbed their claims. Fortunes were made and lost; legends were created. Ingenuity and invention and determination carried the day.
Above the ancient bluffs, the mountain ranges reign supreme, lending their extraordinary natural beauty to raw magnificence of the prairies. This combination of natural history, dynamic human history and the interaction of both as all the players seek to tame or eradicate each other is what creates the uniqueness of The West. And like I said, it is always just bubbling beneath the surface. They say out here that their history is young - and they mean compared to the coming of the pilgrims and the revolution, or to European history. This is a rugged history of creating or carving a way of life from what nature offered and the best way to use it. It has iconic characteristics that hallmark its identity. A journey across south-eastern Wyoming is a profound western experience.
I'm writing this in Denver, which is the end of our journey. We have been to Laramie, home of the University of Wyoming, her people so friendly and so proud of their colourful history - and when you're hanging folks (there were very bad people) in the street as late as 1893, that's pretty colourful! We took a drive to Rawlins and discovered its gem of a museum and those amazing bluffs and rugged sage-brush and alkali prairies, which sometimes resemble moguls and must look irresistable to mogul skiers in winter.
Our next stop was Centennial, which is a tiny town of 100 people at the foot of the awesome Snowy Range and very hard not to fall in love with. I would live there in a cabin with Tank and my dog in an instant if I could. Between it and Laramie are vast grass-covered prairies. An Overland Trail marker is there on the side of road. From Centennial we crossed the magnificent Snowy Range, think I took about 500 pics of wildflowers at the top of the pass, and headed to Encampment and Riverside, two small towns that sit side by side on the Encampment River. If ever you go, you must stay at the Spirit West River Lodge with Lynne & RG Finney by the river. The towns nestle at the feet of the Sierra Madre mountains, which like all mountains in Wyoming are spectacular.
We came for the Woodcutters Jamboree and Rodeo like lots of other families and folks and what a great day we had watching the bull riding and bronc busting and calf roping and seeing that sawdust fly as the woodcutters try and beat the clock. The Mangy Moose was definitely a highlight. But the museum was too with Cowboy Bill to show us around. As was the Grand Encampment Opera House melodrama - a-booing and a-hissing and a-cheering, it was great.
We stopped in Cheyenne for a couple of days - we spent time here on our last trip, so getting reacquainted was fun and relaxing. Of course, Cheyenne is very significant to my series The Liberty & Property Legends, so my imagination tends to really run wild here.
And so here we are in Denver, the mile high city, which also has a rich and colourful history as it became Queen of the Rockies. It too occupies some significance space in The Liberty & Property Legends and today I'll be investigating some of that history and escaping the heat in Denver's public library and fabulous museums.
Tomorrow Tank and I head on back to Australia. In a way we've walked the historical timeline. Boston for the blow for independence! New York for the... well... did I mentioned the windowcleaners outside our 22nd story apartment window? We headed West to St Louis and readied ourselves for the journey Westward. We set out from Denver in our covered wagon that resembles a Chevolet Impala and headed to Laramie, Centennial, the Grand Emcampment, Cheyenne and back to Denver again where this Western odyssey, our grand adventure, ends tomorrow.
This has been a most absorbing and joy-filled experience, full of history and culture and just the most wonderful, friendly people, who have really made this whole tour of the States so memorable. Thank you to everyone we met and befriended. Thank you for your wonderful hospitality and care. Our time with you and the stories you told and experiences we shared have become stories we will tell for years and years to come, remembering you with so much affection and appreciation.
See you on the other side of the Pacific (or as they say, across the Pond)!!
Photography by Frank Sedmak at Woodcutters Jamboree & Rodeo, Grand Encampment, Wyoming.