Driving the American West: Central to Northwest Wyoming

Central Wyoming is where the deer and the (pronghorn) antelope play

 

Continued from
Driving the American West: Western Colorado

I departed western Colorado via route 13, which, upon crossing the south-central border of Wyoming, becomes Route 789.

Zig-zagging around the Great Divide Basin, 789 is one of the most geologically fascinating — and yet almost utterly empty — stretches of highway in the United States.

By the time I veered west onto small-town Route 120 in the state’s northwest, the landscapes of Wyoming had grown quite dear to my heart.

Along the lonely 789, I didn’t exactly drive down the middle of the blacktop, but pausing roadside was hardly an issue. I stopped to gape at the vastness of the Continental Divide for a full fifteen minutes before another car even started to cruise into view. It was so quiet out yonder that I could hear a hawk’s far-off cry on the rolling wind.

After five or six hours of driving, though, I became bone tired near Riverton and decided to stop for the night. This was, so far, the most unfortunate decision of my journey, as Riverton is exceedingly unattractive and its food options…limited. On the evening in question, so were hotel rooms; a big high school debate tournament  in town meant that there was one room left at the Holiday Inn, for the not-at-all-worth-it price of $119 US.

Had I been more timely about leaving Colorado that morning, I’d have been able to push on another 40 miles or so to Thermopolis, home of the world’s largest mineral hot springs and a super-quirky Days Inn with a hot spring pool and free breakfast.

Dang.

Still, I slept well in Riverton and launched into a fresh day of driving past all sorts of stuff I’d never heard of: the icy plains of the Red Desert, the canyon cliffs of Boysen State Park, the bubbly kitsch of Thermopolis, and the discreet charm of itsy-bitsy Meeteetse.

I was merely on my way to the Old West mecca of Cody, but in this case, the journey was just as much as the destination.

In late winter, I found myself all but alone on long stretches of Wyoming's Route 789

Alone, that is, but for the occasional pair of bald eagles

When I reached the Continental Divide, I pulled over to stare, barely able to wrap my head around the immensity of America -- and the former Pangaea

Winter-red grasses studded the frozen wetlands at the fringes of the Wind River Range

In Boysen State Park, the Wind River meanders between (gorgeous) cliffs and reservation land

Winter frost on the Wind River in Boysen State Park is worth a lingering look -- and a deep breath

When entering Thermopolis, Wyoming, home of the world's largest mineral hot spring, keep an eye out along the byways for resident Amish folk

Also in Thermpolis, keep an eye out for tractors -- many, many tractors

And cattle -- lots and lots of cattle

In the tiny town of Meeteetse, a rodeo cowboy started making chocolate to pay for a saddle and fell in love with the craft; I fell in love with his 60% cacao hot chocolate and his olive oil-rosemary truffles

Just past Meeteetse, I pulled over to watch elk travel across the hills; seems like we had the same idea

RESOURCES

Riverton, Wyoming
Thermopolis, Wyoming
Thermopolis Days Inn
Boysen State Park
Meeteetse, Wyoming
Meeteetse Chocolatier

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Soon continued in
Driving the American West: Cody, Wyoming

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