In the morning Interstate 80, the only road west out of Cheyenne, was closed at the pass. Inclement weather and nothing to do but wait it out.
First we went for breakfast at a place that seemed afraid we'd miss the fact that its all about eggs. Every surface, wall, and menu emblazoned with sunny yolks and ovals. (Of note: the eggs were terrible.) Then we snatched a glimpse at Wyoming history at the museum, learning that eons ago Wyoming was a tropical wetland with magnolias and palms and swampy places. When the climate shifted, the slow magic of geology turned the swamps to coal, and the rest is history, as they say. Hello oil fields and coal mines.
I could have looked for hours at the beadwork moccasins and headdresses of the Shoshone and Bannock peoples, but the boys were more impressed with the enormous head of a bison and other artifacts from the time of the early settlers. Each one revealing both recklessness and bravery. Rifles, spurs, tin pitchers, whisky bottles, washboards, sheep wagons, pistols, chaps.
I keep wondering what the boys will remember, if anything at all. We took a photograph of them out front standing in the stirring wind, their backs to an enormous cowboy boot statue painted with every Wyoming emblem you can think of. The have those quirky big-kid grins on their faces, the kind that happen when you tell them to smile. What isn't captured is the way Bean kept poking Sprout in the ribs to make him giggle. What isn't ever pictured in any of the pictures we take, are all the snippets of conversations, the eye-spy games, the arguments, the annoying repetitive noises that one or the other of them makes to drive everyone nuts, or the way they say "I love you" to each other out of the blue. What's never in the picture is the sweet scent of the wide open space; of raw snow, of sage brush of stirring wind. After a moment of jostling in front of the boot we ran for the car, checking the road reports.
The Interstate was open, and loaded with snacks from one of those health food stores that smelled exactly the way every health food store of my childhood, we were off, the landscape changing before our eyes.
Up, up, into the thin air and blue sky of the pass. Tears came for me. I couldn't help them. The West feels like home in an inexplicable way. I was born in the bowl of the Rocky Mountains, and it's as if that high-altitude air and jagged geography indelibly stamped my soul.
In Laramie we found the best coffee of the trip; an unexpected win. At the counter, the pretty barista with a feather at the end of her braid, and a guy on the other side of the bar were discussing reincarnation. Outside, the wind never let up and the trains of the Union Pacific kept barreling past. Laramie. I kept thinking of the book I read as a kid: My Friend Flicka. One of the best books. It took place outside Laramie, I think, and in my minds eye I can see the herds of horses. The big thunderhead clouds in summer. The way things were.
Soon we were crossing the Continental Divide, marking the place where the rivers no longer run towards the Atlantic, and instead slip and slid towards the wild, untamed Pacific. We saw antelope run, and a lone coyote with its shaggy salt colored coat blur into the sage brush and sun.
Everywhere the hills were traced with the terraced zig-zags of cattle paths. Small ponds, dried in the sun, left salt-slicked circles in the planes. Birds swooped, bright among the purple blooms and blowing grasses. Snow fences hunched weathered in the sun, and at their backs the last of winter's white stuff, greying in the shadows. And then we were among the red-rocked land of Utah where the mountains suddenly towered above us, the heavens gathering close is the sun slowly set.