Note from Reed! Plus tons of photos and video at the bottom!
Wild, Wonderful, Wow, Wyoming. As we left the Black Hills and journeyed into the north eastern part of Wyoming, Joe and I settled into true happiness, introducing Hale and Reed to a state we both love so much.
As a University of Wyoming graduate, I’m often encountered with the bewildered inquiry of “Wow, why did you go there?!?” and I am never one to snub the question. Wyoming has something for everyone. From the high plains of Laramie to the mountain towns of Jackson, Sheridan and Cody to my best friends city of Casper, the tundra and flora and fauna are just as varied as the people who live in the state.
First up on the Wyoming tour, Devil’s Tower. As this vacation is all about saying “Yes”, when Joe asked to see this landmark, made famous by the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, we jumped at the chance. There is nothing like crossing over the state line from South Dakota to Aladdin, Wyoming (population 15) and about 30 miles down the road, you see the tower rock formation as you come over the mountains. It’s seriously striking.
Devil’s Tower was pretty simple, we drove up, snapped a photo and onto Gillette we went. I have several sorority sisters in Gillette, including my “daughter” in the house, Monger, along with my friend Toni and Donna. I’m grateful that I see Toni and Monger every couple of years, however I hadn’t seen Donna in 16 years. A few quick facebook messages and they all agreed to meet our traveling roadshow at the park in Gillette.
I am so grateful that on three hours notice, they made time for me and my family. We caught up, swapped stories, I learned more about their town, met Monger’s son, Hudson and in general reconnected. I love these girls and love our connection – no matter how much time has passed.
Once we sufficiently ran the kids around, we were onto Casper for a few days – to stay with Andrea and Chris at their beautiful home. Andrea is like a sister to me and she and Joe are very close. She was at the hospital when Graydon was born – was one of the first people to hold him – and she and our third Amiga, Emelie, are both Godmothers to Reed.
After stopping in Kaycee Wyoming to tip my hat to Chris LeDoux, we drove into Casper eager to see everyone. We had never spent a significant amount of time in Casper and so Joe and I were thrilled to be in “their” space for a few days and get to know the town. Andrea and Chris hosted a BBQ for us and our mutual friends, Kelly (also a sorority sister from college – see a pattern here?) and Vig and their little boy Nico our first night. Joe and Vig have spent time together at prior events so they enjoyed reconnecting while we just let the kids roam in the backyard after a full day in the car. It was so great to be with these girls and their husbands, eating steak and drinking moscow mules.
The next morning, we visited the Sun Ranch (see the sign in the pic!). This land has been in Andrea’s family since forever and I’d always heard about “the ranch” but never had the privilege of experiencing it for myself. About an hour outside of Casper but feeling like millions of miles away, we rode horses, shot guns, rode ATV’s and learned about the land – from working the land to understanding the BLM/Federal land in the area to understanding leases on the land (hunting, oil, etc) to moving cattle. It was super eye-opening and the most amazing experience of our trip thus far. It was definitely one that Graydon will never forget. It takes a lot to maintain land of that caliber and I applaud Andrea, her father Dennis and her brother Jeff for the work they put into it, especially considering the size of the property is larger than the Island we live on. I have a newfound respect for the Sun’s, a family I didn’t think I could love any more 🙂 I can’t wait for Gray, Hale and Reed to be old enough to spend summers working with them on the ranch. We are so fortunate.
The next few days were spent getting to know Casper, we went to a few parks and up to Rotary Park to the Garden Creek Falls. Andrea, Kelly and I went out one night and loved being together. On our last day, we visited the Tate Museum, where they had replica and original dinosaurs for Graydon and a play area for the littles. Gray met with a curator who had worked with the Tate Museum for almost 20 years and who’s job it was to draw the dinosaurs based on what paleontologists find, i.e. with feathers, scaly skin, etc. He and Gray were like two peas in a pod – going absolutely nuts in dinosaur discussion down to every last detail. Graydon was so happy and I was seriously impressed. My kids truly knows his stuff, he reads, comprehends, listens…he’s not just reciting or recycling information.
While we were there, I met another mom who was traveling with her three boys. We exchanged notes about what to do in the area and she told me about a horse-drawn stagecoach rides in town on the original Oregon Trail. I knew we had to go, so I immediately called and booked for a two hour sunset ride. It would be me, Joe, Andrea and the three kids.
We met at the Lewis and Clark honorary site in Casper for our 5pm ride. The woman assisting us was wonderful and passed us off to our guide, Ben. Ben told us that because of the extremely heavy rains the night before, the mountain had been carved up and we would be having a very “authentic” wagon train experience. Think carved out motes and ruts where water had run down the steep mountains, a clapboard stagecoach made to be super flexible and ravines all around. Ben was a grad student, a brilliant guide, very skilled and knowledgeable about the settlers, the wagon trail movement, and the Native Americans indigenous to the land.
If you have never been in as stagecoach, FYI, its not the same as a carriage and this wagon was extremely authentic. They are structured to go over mountains and the only word I can use to describe their build is “flexible”, they wiggle and worm in ways you can’t imagine – wobbling on the extremely rocky terrain. Quite frankly, you feel like the damn thing is about to come apart on all sides, at all times. I expected the wheels to simply pop off. Good stuff.
We started off going down into a canyon with Andrea holding Graydon, Joe holding Hale and me clenching Reed ‘till I basically cut off his circulation. The washout on the mountain kept throwing us from side to side as the horses made their way down the ravine, stepping in giant holes with the wheels of the wagon lurching into deep ruts. The first 15 minutes in, Andrea and Gray were thrown to the floor of the coach. Oh, and all of this was on a path a bit wider than a bike lane, with a cliff on one side – down a washed out mountain, on the Oregon Trail, being led by two horses.
I can’t really remember at what point I said “this may have been a really bad idea” but it was probably only 20 minutes into the trip. I kept checking in with Andrea however, since she REALLY knows horses, and she kept assuring me that our guide knew his horses and knew what he was doing. And she was right. Once we accomplished getting down the hill (and Ben guided the horses like a champ) and into the valley floor, the experience was amazing. We went across the plains, up and down small peaks and valleys, all while Ben gave us unlimited history and understanding of the area. It was awesome.
We were headed back when we crossed into another property and Ben had to hop off to close up the fence. Ben was about 20 yards away when one of the horses started stepping – which caused his partner (the other horse) to fall in line. Before I knew it, they were trotting and within a matter of seconds, they were into a full gallop – closing in on going “all-out”…with us sitting in the back, terrified. We were on a runaway stagecoach.
This is where I have to give major props and love to my husband, my hero. He was so incredibly calm. Andrea was in the back of the stagecoach with Gray, I was in the middle with Reed and Joe was the closest to the front with Hale. Joe looked behind and saw Ben about 50 yards back, waving and running at full speed, with no chance of catching up. They were going. Joe grabbed Hales arm and pushed him into me. He then wobbled his way to the front of the stagecoach, grabbed the reins (thank God they were still there) and stopped the horses.
Later, Joe told Andrea and I that he used all of his strength and then some to pull back on reins, thinking it was a bad sign that their heads were all the way down (it was). Yep, the horses heads were down, they were gone and they didn’t care about their cargo (us). Who knows why, perhaps something spooked them (snake) or perhaps they need to be re-broken. In addition, there were giant ravines all around us, and I was watching and preparing for us to topple into the one on the left, which was about 20 feet deep.
Ben caught up and thanked Joe, apologized and took the reins back over. As we were headed up the canyon the ruts caused us to stop multiple times as we were stuck in a few of them and the horses were refusing to work. Ben knew his horses though, gave them lots of breaks, and then laid into them where needed. We made it up from the canyon floor, up and over the mountain and finally, home safe.
I was the total definition of emotionally exhausted when we finished, however I was grateful for both Joe and Andrea for their very different perspectives. Andrea allowed me to freak out while Joe just took care of business. I couldn’t have been with two better people to balance me out, validate my emotions and rehash the moments frame by frame over drinks later. I love them both dearly.
We love Casper and love that our friends have chosen it as their forever home. The downtown was full of people, lively western shops and fun bars. There are a few breweries coming into town, along with the pop up of specialty bars, shops and more. We didn’t even scratch the surface with the amount of pathways, bike trails and playgrounds. I can’t wait to go back.
PS – There’s a five day stagecoach ride from Casper to South Pass City I want to do when the kids are older. Joe and I are not giving up – we’ll be back for more. Andrea’s “out” 😉
#Wyoming #VisitCasper #ThatsWyoming #SunRanch #ThatsWy