This morning we got up slowly. Yesterday was a long day. Kathy was out early getting breakfast food from the car and bringing it down to our table. Rebecca was as deeply in love with sleep as usual this morning. Daniel was barely awake and certainly not ready to consider food. Kathy and I stuffed our sleeping bags and rolled our mattress pads. Then we had to encourage the kids to get moving. With steady pressure, we got them out of the tent and to the table. They sat with food in front of them while Kathy and I finished packing up the sleeping bags and began taking down the tent. The tarp was quite damp and we spread it out to dry while we packed up the car. On each pass by the table, we encouraged the kids to eat some more breakfast.
Finally we have everything ready but the kids. We get a last few bites of cereal down them and gather up the tarp and the breakfast trash and head for the Prev. We backtracked a mile or so to the Game Lodge store for some ice. The kids got out and came inside and claimed a few snacks and postcards. They were still moving slowly so we gathered them up and packed them back into the car. Now we could start wandering toward Cheyenne, where we must meet Steve this evening. We drove west across the park and picked up the road south, past the Legion Lake area and the Blue Bell area. The wildlife loop was tempting again, but we continued on south and into Wind Cave National Park. The grasslands here were gorgeous. We had decided that we were not going to visit the cave. We chose instead to visit the fossil quarry at Hot Springs. But there was a large prairiedog town along the highway. We did stop there to let Rebecca and Daniel watch the prairiedogs for a while.
We then continued on to the town of Hot Springs where we located the fossil quarry with little trouble. Regular tours of the facility were run but we chose to let the kids wander through the exhibits on their own. They had a big sandbox with steps built around it for kids to stand on. There they hid casts of bone and supplied brushes for the kids to use to uncover the "fossils" themselves. This alone would keep a small boy busy for 20-30 minutes while his sister looks through the posters. After all of the posters had been carefully scrutinized and the favorite chosen, we encouraged Daniel to finish his current fossil so we could start on our way back to Wyoming.
From Hot Springs we took US 18 west out of the Black Hills, past Edgemont and across the border. At Mule Creek Junction we turned south toward Lusk. One of the family restaurants that was recomended in the book I had purchased was in Lusk, so we decided to have lunch there. We are now out of the mountains and back on the northern prairies.
When we reached Lusk it took only a few minutes to locate Cindy's Cafe. The restaurant was pretty crowded, but we managed to find a table. Fortunately, they had chicken fingers with french fries here, so Daniel was able to eat lunch. The rest of us chose standard lunch items like hamburgers. At the table behind us was a family of British tourists, pretty far off the beaten track. They had an infant with them and were taking turns caring for it while eating. While we waited for our lunches, we listened with amusement to the mixed rhythms of British accented voices and the western voices of the local residents exchanging greetings. When our lunches arrived, Daniel was quite excited to see food of which he could approve. For the rest of us, the lunch was quite adequate, if not exciting. While we were eating, the British visitors got up to leave. As they were paying their bill, I noticed that there was a baby's bottle left on their table. Kathy picked the bottle up and returned it to the baby's mother as they were leaving the restaurant. After having done our good deed for the day, we quickly finished our lunches and got back on the road.
From Lusk, we continued south through Jay Em and Lingle, where we turned west along the Platte River toward Fort Laramie. At Fort Laramie, the buildings are all preserved as they were when this was the major operating fort and trading post on the Oregon and Bozeman Trails. The rooms are filled with furnishings of the times, with items set out on the tables, as if they were in use. When we went out the back door of one building, we fountd an small bunny huddling down in the shade beneath the outdoor staircase. Either he was tame enough not to be worried about us or he valued the shade ore than he feared 2 kids oohing and ahing over him. But the vast plains before the mountains were now empty of the herds of bison that once could be seen here.
However, we saw only a few other people around. One poor woman was dressed in a long, heavy dress, complete with hoops and bustle, even though the temperature was approaching 100°. While we could read descriptions of activity at the fort, we could not really get the feeling of what it was like when the great Sioux camps were in the area, the "Laramie loafers" were hanging around the fort, the generals and commissioners came out from Washington to treat with the Sioux and Cheyenne bands in order to keep the trails west open. It was from this fort that the treaties of 1868 and earlier were negotiated. This was the fort from which the armies left in an attempt to protect traffic on the Bozeman trail. Fetterman left from here. Crook left from here. Much of the history of the wetern plains centers on this fort. But this afternoon, it is quiet here. Ironically enough, among the few other visitors to Fort Laramie today was a Native American woman with 2 children, both about Rebecca's age. I wonder what the stories were that she was telling her children.
We circumnavigated the main parade ground of the fort before heading back to the Prev for a drink. We planned to drive a short distance from here to the town of Guernsey and then detour south to see places along the Oregon Trail where the metal rims of the wagon wheels had worn deep grooves in the soft rock as they had passed this way. It was easy to find the way, past the local park, to the parking lot for visitors to the Oregon Trail ruts. From there it was less well marked but we followed the trails other visitors had used in the past. The ruts themselves are completely unmarked. However, it is hard to make a mistake about what you are seeing. The ruts are not just a few inches deep. They are as much as 6 feet deep in some places! I don't think that the kids appreciate what these ruts mean. I don't think that I appreciated them until now, as I write this. When I saw the deep gouges in the stone, I saw them as physical objects. Now I can see the social implications of these artifacts. They testify to the unending stream of immigrants moving over this trail. If the Plains Indians stopped some of them, they would be replaced by others. These ruts are the physical reminders of the social revolution that was moving people from Europe into this country and displacing the people who were at home here before they came. In their presence, the ruts are simply a physical fact; in their absence they become tangible evidence of an extremely painful and disruptive period in the history of this land, when people with a strong culture and cohesive social structure were overrun by a society with very little social cohesion but a small technological advantage and few moral restraints. Today I would see these ruts very differently.
From the ruts, we went on a few miles to Register Cliff, a site where many travelers along the Oregon Trail would stop to rest, recover from any illness, spend a few days in this sheltered spot beside the river. Many of these travelers would carve their names into the side of the cliff, sometimes with dates and itinerary. There was a small graveyard surrounded by an iron fence. For some reason there was a large tunnel carved into the cliff. Entry was blocked by a locked iron gate, but the swallows flew in and out with regularity. There were many swallow's nests above us on small overhangs on the cliff side. We also used this quiet riverside park that did not attract many visitors as a place for a short rest. We walked back and forth along the cliff examining the inscriptions and wondered about the people for whom this was the last stop and who now rested in the small graveyard.
We still had a drive ahead of us to get to Cheyenne where Steve would join us this evening. We didn't know just what time he expected to arrive so we felt we should not be too late. For this reason, we decided to retrace our steps back to Guernsey and proceed from there rather than to follow our natural inclinations and see where the gravel road we were on would lead us. It should wander around Grayrocks Resevoir and eventually lead us into Wheatland from the east, but . . . . So we returned to the highway and went to Wheatland the normal way. There we picked up the interstate and drove on in toward Cheyenne. When we got close, I had to read the billboards carefully so that we would be able to get to the motel where we had reservations, Little America. It was located at the intersection of the North-South and East-West interstates and required some quick manuevering to get on the interstate headed west and then to get off immediately for the motel. We negotiated this with relative ease, using 4 pairs of eyes, and parked in the registration area.
When we registered, we found that Steve had just checked in minutes before. We got directions for driving the Prev to a spot near our rooms and pulled around. Then, taking the minimum necessary from the car, the kids, we went to the rooms. Daniel was truly energized when he saw Steve, talking excitely, man to man, about everything we had done. Rebecca, on the other hand, was her usual reserved self, commenting only with her eyes, on Daniel's behavior. Kathy and I left the kids with Steve and returned to the car to do get the suitcases, throw out the trash, drain the ice chest, etc., etc. As we went back and forth, we negotiated a dinner time and left Steve to get reservations for us. The bathrooms were elaborate here, as opposed to the smaller places where we had been staying. Daniel was so intrigued by a bathtub with bubble jets, that he had a bath before dinner. Our rooms were adjoining, so we were able to open the connecting doors and allow for a quiet space for reading as well as a more active space. We also were able to open the patio door and let David and Steve play a little catch on the lawn before dinner.
This was also to be our most elaborate dinner on the trip. We did not intend to try to find our way into the city and search for a restaurant. We ate at the motel restaurant. Of course, this ruled out chicken fingers. While most of us had little trouble deciding what we would have for dinner, we had to negotiate, both with Daniel and the waitress, about Daniel's dinner. Pasta with no sauce was arranged for and a normal assortment of meat, fish and pasta worked for the rest of us. The furniture was heavy; there were tablecloths, a piano player, and few other diners. Dinner was good but a lot longer than our other dinners. Kathy, Steve and I still needed to look at the maps to decided exactly how we were going to proceed tomorrow. We allowed the kids fancy desserts while we had coffee. Then we headed back to the room to get the kids settled in, if not in bed yet while we planned for tomorrow.
It did not rain tonight.
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See our map and guide reference section for trail maps and other useful information available from Maps.com.
Wyoming Atlas and Gazetteer, DeLorme Publishing.
South Dakota Atlas and Gazetteer, Delorme Publishing.
Roadside Geology of South Dakota, John Paul Gries, Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, MT
Natural History of the Black Hills and Badlands, Sven G. Froiland, The Center for Western Studies, Augustana College, Sioux Falls, SD
Roadside Geology of Wyoming, David R. Lageson & Darwin R. Spearing, Mountain Press Publishing Co., Missoula, MT
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown, Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Cheyenne Autumn, Mari Sandoz, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln. (Video)
Crazy Horse: Strange Man of the Oglalas, Mari Sandoz, Univ. of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.
The Indian Frontier of the American West, 1846-1890, Robert Utley, Univ. New Mexico Press.
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© 1995 - Karen M. Strom