Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight

Yet another gem to be found in Wyoming is the town of Thermopolis.  Getting to Thermopolis involves a trip through the Wind River Canyon.  The illusion is that you’re driving down into the earth, when in fact you are gradually climbing to a plateau.  That illusion is reinforced by roadside markers pointing out the geologic formations with age every few miles or so along the road.  This drive is the closest we’ll ever get to time travel.

Tucked away in the Wind River Range, Thermopolis boasts the largest hot springs in the world, most of the springs found in Hot Springs State Park (http://wyoparks.state.wy.us/Site/SiteInfo.aspx?siteID=9).  Both Owl Creek and the Big Horn River feed the springs, which in turn leeches minerals out of the water and the rocks and builds incredible travertine terraces before spilling back into the Big Horn River.  Hot Springs State Park also offers a year round bath house that is free to the public and open almost every day of the year.  There is a twenty minute time limit for remaining in the pools, but after twenty minutes of soaking in 120 degree water, most people already start to feel par-boiled. 
 
Take a walk along the boardwalks over the springs.  The differing colors are created by the dissolving minerals brought to the surface and deposited there by the hot water.  Stroll across the suspension foot bridge that spans the Big Horn River for a truly panoramic view of the springs.  Any time of year the springs are lovely, but in the winter, there is a silence and serenity that can’t be found during the height of tourist season.  With a landscape mantled in white, a sky of incredible cerulean blue, and the gurgling of the water, you can find yourself alone with your thoughts.  Of course, getting to Thermopolis in the dead of winter can sometimes be a challenge. 
There is another gem to be found in Thermopolis.  It’s not much to look at from the outside, but once inside, prepare to be awed.  The Dinosaur Center (http://www.wyodino.org/) is a privately owned museum with a world class research facility.  Their biggest claim to fame are the fossilized remains of a tiny dinosaur about the size of a modern magpie—that of the archaeopteryx.  This little dinosaur actually had wings and is believed to be the evolutionary link between dinosaurs and modern birds.  This truly priceless fossil was purchased and then donated to the center by an anonymous donor.  Other fossils include a behemoth that spans nearly the length of the building, affectionately called “Jimbo.”  This supersaurus dinosaur was the largest quadruped to ever walk the earth.  
The Dinosaur Center also offers day long trips to a dig where you can assist the professionals in excavating fossils.  Just be sure to bring along plenty of water, as Thermopolis is in a high plains desert.  If you want to go on a day-dig, be sure to make your reservations early, as they book fast.  There is also a bus trip up the side of the mountain to an active dig where you can see footprints of the dinosaurs frozen forever in time.  
If you’re planning a trip to Wyoming and have dinosaur-happy little ones (or even big ones, like me), Thermopolis must be on your bucket list.  Stop by Thermopolis and have a hot time.

a ghost town and aspens

Located west, south-west of Laramie is a tiny town called Encampment.  Originally, it was called Grand Encampment by the trappers, mountain men, and even the Native Americans who would gather in the area for the summer rendezvous to trade with one another in the meadows of the Sierra Madre range.  Supposedly there was some gold to be found there, but the true mother lode was copper and Encampment saw a short lived population boom.  According to the 2010 census, less than 500 people now live in Encampment. 
Encampment boasts a museum devoted to the town’s history and mining.  There is also a one hundred year old opera house which still hosts several events a year.  That old house probably saw some vaudeville acts and had a few of the era’s stars tread those boards.  However interesting Encampment is (and I was fascinated when we visited because I will be the first to admit I am a history fanatic), this blog entry is more about the drive to Encampment from Laramie, with a detour into Aspen Alley.
Fall brings breath-taking color to Wyoming, and if the beautiful scenery of a fall day is your thing, this day trip will not disappoint. If you can’t make the trip in the fall, try it in June.  The wildflowers color the roadside and hillsides in splashes of stunning pastels.
The trip originates in Laramie, WY.  From I-80 in Laramie get on state Highway 130 (also known as the Snowy Range Road) to Centennial.  Continue on the Snowy Range Scenic Byway across the Medicine Bow Mountains (also referred to as the Snowy Range) and through the Medicine Bow National Forest.  One of my favorite places to camp is found along this stretch of road, just a few miles outside of Saratoga.  Highway 130 features plenty of fall color and great views of mountains and lakes. The 78 mile trip will take you to Saratoga.  Please note that the Snowy Range Road is closed for the winter season from Centennial to Saratoga so plan accordingly.  Usually the Snowy Range Road closes around November 1 and won’t reopen until late April to early May.  I’ve been to Libby Flats at the top of the Snowy Range in mid-July and there was still several feet of snow tucked into shaded outcrops.           
The Snowy Range Road will take you into Saratoga, which is located on the North Platte River.  During the warmer months, the North Platte provides for excellent fishing and kayaking.  Several world record brook and brown trout have been taken from the North Platte along this stretch of the river.  Up until the snow flies (and even after if the sun is shining) fly fisherman can be seen wading waist deep in the river, hoping to land the next trophy trout.  In addition, Saratoga has two beautiful golf courses, of which the public course plays along the river.  I just never understood the appeal of hitting a little ball away from me and then chasing it along a grassy field, but to each his own.
 

When you reach Highway 230 south of Saratoga, turn onto 230 toward Encampment.  At Encampment, turn west on Battle Highway—Highway 70.  This takes you across the  Sierra Madre towards Baggs, WY.  Travel about 23 miles along Highway 70 (Battle Highway) to Deep Creek Road (Forest Road 801) and turn north.  This will take you into Aspen Alley—a  beautiful area filled with very tall aspen trees overarching a half mile stretch of dirt road.  Regardless of the time of year, Aspen Alley is a photographer’s must.  
So many hidden gems are in this state I’ve adopted as my home away from home.  Aspen Alley, the history in Encampment, the grandeur of this drive in the fall are just a few of those gems I treasure.

Not Quite Bone Dry

Hidden away in southwestern Wyoming, the Red Desert—a high altitude desert and sagebrush steppe—consists of approximately six million acres (9,320 square miles) of stunning rainbow-colored hoodoos, towering buttes, swirling sand dunes, vast open spaces and prehistoric rock art which Native peoples have left in the form of petroglyphs and teepee rings that outline ancient campsites. The Red Desert is the largest unfenced area in the lower 48.  Its emptiness can overwhelm visitors at first, but as you explore and look more closely, the desert has a way of drawing you in.  The Red Desert has captivated hundreds of thousands of people over the years, myself included.
The Red Desert is a rich landscape that offers world-renowned pronghorn and elk hunting, wildlife viewing and one of the largest active sand dune complexes in North America.  Animals have adapted over generations to thrive in this harsh landscape.  One of the largest desert elk herds in North America makes the Red Desert its home.  Each year a portion of the 50,000 pronghorn antelope and 50,000 mule deer herds migrate to the Red Desert for the winter and then into the Upper Green River Basin and Wind River Mountains during the summer.  The Red Desert provides these animals with crucial wintering habitat.  In the springtime, thousands of sage-grouse gather for their mating dances as they have for centuries.
 
Among the natural features in the Red Desert region are the Great Divide Basin, a unique endorheic drainage basin formed by a division in the Continental Divide, and the Killpecker Sand Dunes, the largest living dune system in the United States. In the 19th century, the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails tracked through the northern and western regions of the Red Desert after crossing the Continental Divide at South Pass. Today, busy Interstate 80 bisects the desert’s southern region.
The majority of the Red Desert is public land managed by the Rock Springs and Rawlins field offices of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Red Desert supports an abundance of wildlife, despite its scarcity of water and vegetation. The largest migratory herd of pronghorn in the lower 48 states and a rare desert elk herd, said to the be world’s largest, live in the desert. Ponds fed by snow melt attract a wide range of migratory birds such as ducks, trumpeter swans, snowbirds, and white pelicans.  Herds of feral horses known for their long manes and tails roam the area in large numbers, despite roundups and population control efforts by the BLM. The Hayden Expedition (1871) said Bighorn Sheep were numerous during their stay at the Honeycomb Buttes in the Red Desert, but today wild sheep are only found high in the mountain ranges and are rarely seen. Bison were also common and their skulls and horns can occasionally be found there.
Despite the vastness of the Red Desert, it isn’t silent here.  One would think, as wide open as the desert is, silence would reign.  But, that’s not the case.  Grasshoppers continually click their way through the air.  In the evenings, coyotes can be heard barking and yelping.  And there is the wind—ever present, ever moving.  It shifts over the sands of the Killpecker Dunes, letting the sand hiss and whisper in its undulating motions. 
Light here changes rapidly, from the soft, pastel hues just before dawn and at twilight to the harsh, glittering glare of noon, seemingly so sharp in defining the landscape that it seems the light itself could shatter.  In the summer, shade is a precious commodity. The combination of the vastness, openness of the landscape, and the light makes judging distances difficult and incredibly deceptive in the Red Desert.  What appears to be a few hundred yards away quite often is over a mile in the distance. 
The contradictions are what make the Red Desert so special and unique.  Aridness hiding seasonal ponds and pools that shelter water fowl, distances that stretch as far as the eye can see that shrink perception down to the ground at your feet, diverse and hardy life thriving in a place that at first blush appears to be devoid of life. 
The Red Desert is a place that has to be experienced at least once in a lifetime.  

Forever West

The other day I saw the most amazing time lapse video on the Wyoming tourism site.  (http://vimeo.com/50774025)  I know I watched the video at least five times, and each time, I kept murmuring that I wanted to go home.  I can honestly say that I love the state of Wyoming, and like the old saw that California is more a state of mind that an actual place, Wyoming is a state of being: a state of being at peace, a state of infinite possibilities, and a state of being calm even in the face of all those possibilities.  Wyoming has always presented herself to me as bigger than life, where someone is judged not for who they are but for what they can do and accomplish.  Every time I have been in Wyoming, I see a hardy pioneer spirit still alive and well. 
Devil’s Tower rising from an early morning mist
I’ve written before that every western historical romance I’ve penned has been set in Wyoming—or the Wyoming Territory, as these romances were set in a time before Wyoming became a state.  So, with that in mind, I’d like to take the next couple of blog entries to introduce you to my adopted state.  This time, we’re going to start in the northwest corner of Wyoming, near the Black Hills of South Dakota, at Devil’s Tower.
Belle Fourche River and Devil’s Tower
Devil’s Tower rises 1,267 feet above the nearby Belle Fourche River and is on the edge of Thunder Basin National Grasslands.  Where the tower is located is the only place in Wyoming that none of the mountain ranges that rise from her plains are visible.  What makes the tower so striking is its sharp, near-vertical cliffs with regular furrows and flattened top.  During the age of the dinosaurs, this area was once under a shallow, warm sea.  Over a period of millions of years, sediment was deposited on the floor of this sea and this eventually turned it to sedimentary rock such as sandstone, shale and siltstone.  At the end of the age of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, pressures from within the earth forced the land upward.  These pressures created the nearby Black Hills and Rocky Mountains.  The pressure also forced molten rock toward the surface at the location where the tower now stands.  What scientists cannot agree on is whether this molten rock ever made its way to the surface.  If it did, then Devil’s Tower is probably the remains of an ancient volcano and the tower is a volcanic.  A volcanic plug is formed when a volcano becomes extinct and the molten rock in tube that carried the magma from deep in the earth to the crater of the mountain cools and becomes solid igneous rock.  Usually the rock in the tube is much tougher than the rest of the mountain and as the wind, rain and snow erode the mountain away, the plug becomes exposed.  One well-known example of a volcanic plug is Ship Rock in New Mexico which towers 1,700 feet above the surrounding plain.
Ship Rock in New Mexico
Another theory of how the tower formed is that the tower is a laccolith.  A laccolith is an intrusion of hot magma from deep within the earth that never reaches the surface.  It pushes up a bulge of sedimentary rock above it, but no caldera or crater is formed.  As the molten rock cools and the soft sedimentary rock of the bulge is worn away, the harder igneous rock is exposed.  If this is the case the top of the tower probably became visible between one and two million years ago.
I’m not a geologist (even though, at one time in my undergrad studies, I seriously considered changing my majors because I had so much fun in the geology classes I took as electives), so I’m not saying which theory carries more weight, but I’ve heard from several PhD geologists they believe that Devil’s Tower is a volcanic plug.  It doesn’t matter to me, because the geology behind the tower doesn’t alter its incredible beauty.
Pleiades rising through the trees
There is also the Native American myth regarding Devil’s Tower.  The myth ties the tower to the constellation of the Pleiades, the cluster of stars that many of us know as “The Seven Sisters.”  The Indian myth goes something like this:  One warm, sunny fall afternoon, seven children were playing in the meadow by the river, collecting berries, and just being kids.  Out of the woods along the river came a grizzly bear.  When he saw the children, he chased them.  Frightened, they ran from the bear but the only refuge they could find on the prairie was a tree stump.  They leaped up onto the stump and prayed to the Great Spirit to help them.  The stump began to grow bigger and bigger and the grizzly leaped up at them, trying to catch them.  As the grizzly slid down the stump, his claws left the long marks down the rock that are still visible today.  And, because the stump grew so large, it turned into rock and the children were able to step off the rock into the sky and they stayed there to play and became the constellation we know now as the Pleiades. 

New Skill Sets

It’s fall in most parts of the country now.  The trees are beginning to turn colors, the nights are getting cooler and the daylight seems a bit more crisp.  Apples and pears hang heavy in the trees.  In the evenings the crickets seem to be urging everyone to hurry and make preparations for the coming winter.
I have to say fall is my favorite time of year.  There are many things to love about all the seasons, but it is fall—when the earth slowly settles in for its long slumber under the blankets of snow and ice—that I find to be the best season of all.  The colors of fall dazzle the eye: oranges, reds, yellows, browns combine with the sharper scents of fall: burning leaves, pumpkins, spices and apples. 
This fall, I’ve started several new projects.  The most time consuming project I’m working on and this is a first for me is canning.  So far I’ve canned chicken that I bought on sale, several pork loin roasts sliced into one inch steaks, homemade beef stew, venison (thanks to the generosity of a local hunter who already has a full freezer), and hamburger.  (Hint if you want to can your own hamburger—boil it first in water, drain and then boil it again.  It will remove almost 100% of the fat by doing this.)  I’ve canned pears and the sweet scent of cooking pears in a light sugar syrup filled the house and made everyone hungry for those sweet treats.  For dessert tonight, we had still warm pears (one jar didn’t seal) drizzled with warm fudge topping.  Yummy!  As good as they were my mouth is watering thinking about putting up apples tomorrow in homemade apple pie filling. 
I purchased a hand-powered grain mill and actually ground my own wheat into flour.  (Our local Super Wal-Mart carries whole wheat—as in not ground into flour—in twenty five bags.) From that flour, I mixed up bread dough (by hand, I will point out) and baked two loaves of bread, using two loaf pans of cast iron that I found at a yard sale.  I love cooking with cast iron.  Yes, it’s a pain in the butt cleaning and seasoning the first few times it’s used, or rehabbing neglected cast iron (as the two loaf pans were), but to me, food always tastes so much better when cooked in cast iron.  After working that bread dough until it was elastic, my hands and shoulders were aching.  I gained a whole new respect for my grandmother who always baked homemade bread.
I have a couple of hunters who have said when they field dress out the deer they get, they’ll roll the hides for me and save them.  I want to try my hand at making leather.  While some of my readers might be opposed to hunting, with the drought we had this summer, the number of deer allowed to be taken this fall has increased, because our state DNR is worried about the deer literally starving to death over the winter, and better they be taken through hunting and go into someone’s freezer (or canning jars) than slowly die from starvation.  Being allowed to get the hides from these generous people means that much less of the deer will be wasted and I get to learn a new skill.  The bonus is I don’t have to get up before the crack of dawn, trudge through a cold, wet field, climb into a deer stand, and shiver the morning away.  Not to mention, I haven’t gotten hungry enough that I could pull the trigger on Bambi or Bambi’s mom.
DH asked me the other day why I was starting this hobby of learning pioneer skill sets.  He quickly added that he wasn’t complaining, because we’ve had several meals from the jars and he’s amazed at how tender the meats are, but he was curious.  I told him that if I’m writing historical romance, maybe I should have a slight idea of what my characters went through putting food up for the winter.  DH informed me we were NOT buying a hog and butchering and curing or smoking it.  I laughed and said that was next fall’s project. 
It’s been an interesting start to the journey of learning new skill sets.  There were a few set backs (bread not rising, a canning jar breaking in the pressure cooker) but so far, it’s been highly educational.  My next big purchase is going to be a wood cooking stove that will be installed in the guest house and I’ll try cooking with that.  When that happens, I’ll let everyone know how it works out.

THE NEXT BIG THING

THE NEXT BIG THING and, no, I’m not talking about my hips!
It’s time for a blog hop. This one starts out with a shout out to my Rose Sistah and fabulous author, Vonnie Davis. Check out her blog and bog hop answers at
The rules for the blog hop are as follows:
****Give credit to the person/blog that tagged you
**** Post the rules for the blog hop
****Answer these ten questions about your current WIP (Work In Progress) on your blog
****Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.
Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:
What is the working title of your book? Gossamer Dreams
Where did the idea come from for the book? Cole and Rebecca came from what I almost considered a “throw-away line” in The Devil’s Own Desperado, when Amelia is musing that she can’t deal with the wounded man in her home and that Dr. Archer can take him home and take care of him.  A moment later, Amelia is reminding herself that Dr. Archer and Rebecca are newlyweds and don’t need that added stress.
What genre does your book fall under?  Western historical romance
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Oh, wow…that’s a tough one.  Most of the actors I really like are too old to be Cole and I’d have a hard time naming someone to portray Rebecca.  If pushed, I’d say Alan Rickman (have adored him since Die Hard) and Julia Roberts.  I love her laugh and when Rebecca laughed, it was that deep, honest laugh I heard.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  Can a doctor acquitted of his wife’s murder and a less than pristine mail-order bride find healing and acceptance with one another?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?  I don’t have an agent, and I’m too much of a coward to go the self-published route.  I’m going to be pitching this one to my editor at The Wild Rose Press, the wonderful Susan Yates (shamelessly groveling before Susan now).
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  The very first draft of this took me about six months.  I hated it.  I went back and tinkered with it, puttered with it, and totally gutted it.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? GAH!  I hate questions like this.  But, if anything, I’d compare it to the western romances that Lyverle Spencer wrote.
Who or What inspired you to write this book?  The characters themselves did.  I heard a wry question of “throw-away line?” when I debated removing that little bit of introspection Amelia was engaged in.  That led to all the “what if” and “why” games that most authors play with themselves when creating a new story and fleshing characters.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?  It’s not the usual western romance.  I’ve got a doctor perfectly comfortable wearing a gun and a heroine who isn’t sure that being married to him is her best recourse.
I tag –