The goal for today was a 400+-mile drive north from Torrington, Wyoming to Dickinson, North Dakota – mostly miles and miles of wide open spaces. Heading north from Torrington, Wyoming on US85 I couldn’t help but remember that there was a time when I would have traveled through this country complaining that it was desolate and boring.
Perhaps it is living in the West for more than 50 years, keener observation skills or enhanced appreciation but today I find something of interest or intrigue in every mile traveled. The Southeastern Wyoming landscape is dotted with tiny clusters of ranch buildings – some active, some weathered with only wind-blown memories. What hardships did the first settlers endure? Or even earlier, how did the land appear when tall, native grasses waved across the prairie disturbed only by thundering herds of buffalo.
Sunflowers wave from the shoulder of the highway as we pass. We crossed the dry bed of Raw Hide Creek more than half-a-dozen times. Our eyes follow it’s course marked by tall aged cottonwoods and edged in flowing, narrow ribbons of green grasses along its banks. At some crossings we note evidence of previous flash floods. Today, I love driving through the land where the deer and the antelope play.
North of Newcastle the route winds into the western edge of the Black Hills. We see signs for Calamity Gulch, Devil’s Bathtub, Cleopatra Place – what’s the history behind these names? Not long after crossing into South Dakota we enter scenic Spearfish Canyon, a narrow split in the rocky walls bordering Spearfish Creek. The pullout at Bridal Veil Falls is probably the most popular stop along the Scenic Byway.
We leave US85 at Belle Fource to spend the afternoon following state highways to Dickinson. Although sparsely populated there are always signs of man’s habitation: a rusted windmill, a rutted dirt lane, fenced pasture land, a complex of ranch buildings on yonder hill. Except for a slim strip of Custer National Forest, trees are almost non-existant. We wonder how far ranch children have to travel to a school. What must the early settlers have thought of these wide open plains?
When the road narrows for bridge repair we’re amused that instead of a flagman or temporary light signal there’s simply a sign saying, “Take Turns.” Rarely an issue in these wide open spaces.