Saturday, 26 August 2017
Casper, Wyoming to Orem, Utah 475 miles
Breakfast at the Red Butte Lodge was being served at 7:30, so for once we were assured of a somewhat early start! Ruth, our host, cooked a most delectable veggie omelet with fresh dill and served it along with a fresh fruit salad, a huge muffin, toast, and juice. We had time to look around the property a bit and have our pictures taken next to the river and in front of the red rocks. We were on the road by 8:30, with good suggestions from Gerise about places to stop along the way. We checked in with Rex to see how things were doing on Tiki as Hurricane Harvey was making its way across the area. So far, so good for us, but Houston was in for a very wet few days.
Our first stop was at Independence Rock. All three of the main trails west, the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, and the Mormon Pioneer Trail all followed essentially the same route to this point and about 100 miles farther before they branched off to Oregon, California, and Utah. Like Scott’s Bluff, Independence Rock was a ‘register rock’, where many pioneers carved their names into the granite monolith. Wagon trains first passed it on Independence Day, 1832, which is how it got its name. It is estimated that 50,000 emigrants passed this rock in 1853 as pioneers continued moving west across America. We walked around the northwest side of the rock where most of the names are carved, and along the way we saw lots of rabbits, hawks, and one little frog. Again, we were reminded of our many blessings and vowed to be more patient and ever grateful, especially when travel plans don’t go just the way we want them to.
Our next stop was the small town of Lander, WY, which was just a short detour north at the first fork in the road. We parked and wandered down main street, stopping to buy some jewelry in a local art gallery/shop called Alchemy. The women there told us we must go a bit farther out of town to see a river that flows into an underground cavern and then comes back out again a ways downstream. We were really thirsty though, so first we stopped at a cute restaurant called The Middle Fork and sat outside to have a glass of tea. Our tea turned into lunch (the first time we’ve had breakfast and lunch in one day!) and Kim had a grilled cheese with wilted spinach and I had a BLTA and fresh fruit. Once fortified, we were ready to ride up the canyon to see the river whose name we couldn’t figure out. We passed a sign that said something about the middle fork of the Popo Agie, but that still didn’t ring any bells…
Soon we came to the Sinks of the Popo Agie visitor center, so we went in to check things out. Turns out the river’s name is pronounced ‘Puh – Po Shuh, and it’s thought to be a native American word for ‘gurgling water’. At any rate, it was very cool! The river comes down the steep rocky bed and flows into a cavern, where it disappears from view. We hiked down to the cavern, which had a rocky but very sandy trail ending on a sandy beach. We went back up, then followed a sidewalk down the hill and across the street and down the hill a bit farther until we were at the ‘rise’ of the river. At this point, there was a huge pool of crystal clear water bubbling up from the bottom, and it was full of giant trout! Big brown trout and beautiful rainbow trout were feasting on food thrown by visitors – it was quite the site! The river flowed on from there – it was really pretty, and we were glad we had taken the time to see it.
We drove back in to Lander and retraced our route back to the highway, where we opted to take the right fork in the road and continue on the more scenic drive away from the interstate for a bit longer. Eventually, we would be forced to hop on I-80, but we could wait for that! Once we did get on the four-lane, we were not surprised to see it reduced to two lanes, no passing, due to construction… We crossed the Utah border and bypassed Salt Lake City, since we have been there before and seen the capitol (albeit when we were 12 and 13) and since it was after five on Saturday afternoon. We made our way to the Hampton in Orem/Provo, and realized we were lucky to have gotten a room, since there had been a BYU game that day and there was an outdoor concert right across the street. We found a cool place to eat and decided to Uber to it so Kim could have a break (and a drink or two!)
The name of the restaurant where we ate was called Communal, and there was a long table where many people could sit as well as several small tables. Kim and I had a two-top, and our waiter explained that the menu was designed to be shared. We had no trouble agreeing on an heirloom tomato, watermelon, feta, and watercress appetizer and an almond-crusted smoked sockeye salmon with creme fraiche and capers with a side of succotash of edamame, local corn, asparagus, tomatoes, and chives. Dessert was fabulous, and we didn’t share it. Kim had a sundae of Marionberry pie and blackberry- Oreo ice cream with warm cinnamon-chocolate fudge sauce, and I had a Nutella-banana pudding with crumbled shortbread and whipped cream. DIVINE!! Oh, and we each had a couple of local beers. It was a wonderful night out and we were still in at a decent hour, ready to rest up for our trip along the ‘loneliest road in America’ tomorrow.