Dave Cox in Thermopolis, WY. Fri. May 31, 2013

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Hello everyone.  I am about ready to head north into Yellowstone Park, and don’t expect to have email access for some time, so thought I would send this update.  I last wrote from Custer, SD; I drove from Custer across into Wyoming and up to the small town of Sundance.  It was in Sundance in 1887 that Harry Longabaugh, at age 20, spent 18 months in jail and took the name “Sundance Kid,” some 10 years before associating with Butch Cassidy.  Sundance also is the closest convenient stop for visiting the  unearthly Devils Tower, famed for being the site of close encounters of the 3rd kind.  I had no close encounters with anything but red squirrels, but am attaching a photo a Japanese youth kindly took of me, where he got down to an angle which makes me appear about to take off.  Also see the photo of the climbers on the tower (look very close – many going up the right side).  I noted groups of climbers on all four sides of the tower; a Park Service ranger told me they all do free climbs, using ropes only as safety lines, and to rappel down.  Seems crazy to me.  The tower is a monolithic magma plug which stoppered an ancient volcanic vent; the land rose, and the surrounding softer sedimentary rock wore away leaving this towering 1,000 foot vertical tower.  Over the eons, vertical pillars have sloughed away, forming the boulder fields at the base, and leaving the stippled sides of the tower appearing to support the ancient Native American oral tradition which tells of a giant bear which clawed the sides trying to reach a small group of people on top.

From Sundance I drove to Buffalo, WY at the SE foot of the Bighorn Mountains.  In the RV camp I constantly had whitetail deer by my trailer, and a fair amount of birdlife.  I spent a day driving forest service road loops on the eastern slopes of the Bighorns, and saw many moose and mule deer.  The scenery is terrific at the high elevations.  I drove out of the Bighorns on a tiny dirt road that dropped through Crazy Woman Canyon, shedding about 3,000 feet in 5 miles of steep to very steep descent.  Speaking of crazy, I met an extremely interesting and amiable young lady, American now living in Australia, who back for several months for a US visit is riding a bicycle from Indiana to Yellowstone, alone.  I first met her in the Sundance RV park (she uses a tent, often in the RV camps), and then, remarkably, a few days later ran into her again in the Buffalo RV park where I stayed. Passing her once on the freeway I saw she was stopped to photograph the “Crazy Woman” exit sign.  I last saw her preparing for the climb over the 9,700 foot Powder River Pass in the Bighorns. GO EMILY!

From Buffalo, I had my first real power test for my Subaru Outback in hauling the little trailer over that same Powder River Pass.  Highway 16 climbs from Buffalo, at 4,600 feet, to the pass, at 9,700 feet; the first 6 miles is a fairly steady 7% grade.  I stuck at 45mph and, although the little engine roared, it had no problem hauling the Scamp up the grade.   I also was gratified at having no engine power issues at the summit pass at 9,700 feet, even though the regular gas here in Wyoming has just an octane rating of 85.

On the western side of the Bighorns I drove down to the little town of Thermopolis, which is famed for the largest natural hot mineral baths in the world.  Although I do not intend to enjoy the baths (the main bath is free pursuant to a 1897 treaty made between the US and the local Shoshone and Arapaho tribes), I have enjoyed two other attractions.  In town is the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, which contains one of the best collections of dinosaur and other ancient fossils on earth.  The major showroom, inside a huge warehouse, holds the assembled and displayed (in semi-dioramas) skeletons of dozens of species of dinosaurs, including the 106 foot Supersaurus, and a full T-Rex and Triceratops.  The center also has one of only 3 complete specimens of Archaeopteryx (the famed feathered flying dinosaur) in the world.  Just 30 miles NW of Thermopolis I yesterday visited the little known rock art site called Legend Rock.  Along a low stone cliff running beside the Cottonwood Creek, pretty much in the middle of nowhere in the high plains, is the best example of a petroglyph style called Dinwoody.  Both the anthropomorphic and the many zoomorphic figures, to my eye, have detail in common with the early basket-maker and Freemont petroglyph styles in Utah.  The claim by some experts, however, is that many of the Legend Rock petroglyphs are 5,000 years old, with two of the panels claimed to be 8,000-11,000 years old.  I am skeptical, as dating petroglyphs is problematic, and the styles seem to have sufficient similarities to those to the south, which are generally accepted to be about 2,000-2,500 years old.  Nevertheless, the art work is wonderful, with a number of unusual and new features for me.

I am debating whether to travel to another Dinwoody petroglyph site, stay in Thermopolis another day, or travel on into Yellowstone tomorrow.  The weather is improving, having been partially sunny yesterday morning, and only turning to rain in the afternoon.  I have attached photos of a barn swallow, blue-winged teal, song sparrow, grey jay and black-headed grosbeak in addition to subjects discussed above.    Later.  Dave

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