Ok, so I’ve got a real problem writing today’s blog. It goes right back to when I first decided to cycle the TransAmerican Trail. At the time some people just didn’t get it. I’d get a blank stare as if I’d just joined some bizarre religious cult, or decided to live on cauliflower for the rest of my life. They couldn’t understand why anyone would want to ride more than 4,000 miles across the US – what was the point?
Hopefully, since Terry and I began blogging at Virginia Beach on May 7th, we’ve been able to communicate something of what makes this journey so special – the warmth and generosity of strangers, the spectacular scenery, the weird and exotic wildlife and not least the chance to see parts of this vast continent tourists rarely visit.
But over the past few days I’ve been struggling to describe the dramatic beauty and variety of the Rocky Mountains we’ve been riding through since Pueblo. The camera can’t capture it, video doesn’t do it justice and words are just not enough to convey the astonishing number of landscapes we are passing through as we ride through the Rocky Mountain range.
This truly is a geologists playground, every twist and turn, every crest of the road reveals something new. Huge blocks of granite thrust thousands of feet in the air, flat-topped buttes shaped over millennia by erosion, mountains striped with layers of sedimentary rock. Each time you think you’ve seen it all another vista opens up before you, rocks, mountains and rivers in endless variety.
The truth is the only way to really experience this ever-changing landscape is to ride it. And if you cycled through it you’d get what the TransAmerica is all about. You would, trust me. I’ve posted a selection of photos of today’s landscapes. They are a pale representation, so get the bike out and ride it! OK lecture over.
For much of today we’ve been riding through the Wind River Indian Reservation which covers more than two million acres in North Central Wyoming. We are following the Chief Washakie Trail, named after the head of the Shoshoni tribe who still live in this area today. At first there seems little to distinguish it from other parts of the United States we have cycled through, but small indicators, the occasional tepee skeleton, piebald horses, architectural touches, mark it out as something a little different. But the real indicator is that there is a casino – Mike explained that Native Anericans get significant tax breaks, so running a gambling business makes good financial sense.
But as we ride through, the conversation between myself and Terry turns once again to the genocide that was inflicted on the Native Americans as Europeans and subsequently the Americans pushed west in search of ever greater riches. This land is so vast, the Native population so comparatively small, it seems extraordinary there wasn’t space for the different cultures to live side by side.
Instead the Native peoples of this ancient land were sidelined, moved onto ever more unproductive land and, as at Sand Creek, sometimes massacred in the name of progress. The Indian Wars did much to reduce their number, but it was the slaughter of tens of millions of buffalo, key to their way of life, that proved the clincher.
Today the buffalo have largely vanished and so have so many of the tribes that once called this beautiful land their own. But Native American culture it seems is beginning to emerge from the tragedies of the past and it’s importance recognised as an integral part of the American story. Lets hope this continues because surely this young country cannot truly call itself the Land of the Free until it’s most ancient inhabitants are acknowledged and respected. Time for a Native American President perhaps?
At Fort Washakie we called into the Wind River Trading Co with its Native American made goods and then we climbed onto a plateau upland of sage brush, buttes and pronghorn antelope. The spectacular scenery continued with every climb and descent, so much so that at one point Terry was heard to comment: “It’s like Space, only more of it”.
We stopped for lunch at Crowheart, close to Crowheart Butte where in 1866 a battle was fought between Shoshoni and Bannock Indians against the Crow, who wanted to gain access to the rich hunting grounds of the Wind River Basin. The Butte was named because Chief Washakie displayed a Crow Indians heart on his lance after the battle. No hearts on show today but Mike Terry and myself did tuck into a huge cinnamon roll.
After lunch the outstanding geological smorgasbord continued as we followed the Wind River towards Dubois, dodging thunderstorms and lightning on the way and finally reaching town at around seven where we checked into the Wind River Motel and headed to eat at the Cowboy Cafe where a combination of burgers,fries and pies topped with glacier-sized chunks of ice-cream, ensured any calories we had burnt off during the day had been replaced and then some.
Today’s Miles: 74
Miles since First Landing: 2881