Buffalo Wyoming – RVing Basque Style in the Bighorns!

July 2017 – During our stay in Buffalo, Wyoming, we were treated to a most unusual celebration: an annual Basque Festival which featured a parade of Basque sheep herders’ wagons rolling right down the main drag as well as a weekend-long fair and Basque Wagon Show at a nearby park.

Basque Festival in Buffalo Wyoming

A Basque wagon parade!
(What a cool RV!)

The only thing we knew about the Basques prior to this event was from watching the Euskaltel–Euskadi cycling team in the Tour de France. Whenever they rode through Basque country, an area that spans the borders of France and Spain, the locals would all be dressed in orange and green, lining the sides of the and road waving flags, and they would go absolutely crazy!

It turns out that the Basques have lived in their corner of Spain and France since long before the Roman Empire reached across Europe. Their language is the only living and spoken European language that doesn’t have Indo-European roots (actually, linguists have not definitively found its roots in any language, dead or alive!), and scientists say their DNA is unique as well.

In the 1800s and early 1900s many Basques immigrated from France and Spain to America and became sheep ranchers in the western states.

Quite a few Basques settled in and around Buffalo, Wyoming, in Johnson County, and there is a bronze sculpture in town that commemorates them and their line of work.

Sheep sculpture and Basque history Buffalo Wyoming

The Basques immigrated to Wyoming from France and Spain and became sheep ranchers.

When the shepherds were out on the prairie tending their flocks, they would set up camp in a covered wagon.

Many of the original wagons are still around and are still owned by Basque-descended families. As we stood watching the parade go by, we were amazed by the number and variety of these wagons.

Basque wagon Basque Festival Buffalo Wyoming

What a cool trailer — with the Basque flag on the truck bumper!

Some were pulled by a truck, some by horses, and some by antique vehicles. Some had rubber wheels and others had wooden wheels. All of them were very cool.

Basque wagon towed by antique car Basque Festival Buffalo Wyoming

Oops! A nifty antique car towing a Basque wagon needs a little TLC mid-parade!

Basque Festival Buffalo Wyoming Basque wagon

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The people in the parade were all descendants of the Basque families, and their excitement was palpable.

The Basques have a wild side (as we had noticed in those Tour de France bike races), and a few of them carried a leather pouch filled with wine that they squirted into their mouths as they paraded along!

One family float had big coolers of beer, and when they stopped in front of us a family member grabbed a beer and took it up to the driver of the truck pulling the float. Drinking and driving was okay for a day in this fun commemorative procession!

The families are very big now, and many family groups had lots of folks in the parade. Some carried cute signs.

Arno Flock Basque Festival Parade in Buffalo Wyoming

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The Arno family’s wagon had a funny sign on the back too:

Arno family wagon Basque Festival parade in Buffalo Wyoming

Party animals all!!

Some even brought the family dogs along in the parade.

Basque Festival Buffalo Wyoming

Rover got a ride on the back!

The Basque wagons are very cute travel trailers, and as RVers we were especially curious about what they were like to camp in.

After the parade there were a dozen or more of them at the city park, and each one was opened up so you could take a peek inside.

Basque trailers and Basque wagons Buffalo Wyoming

After the parade, we had a chance to see these intriguing trailers up close.

Basque wagon display Buffalo Wyoming Basque Festival

The design is generally the same with the front door at the hitching end of the trailer.
A big bowl for water, cooking and cleaning hangs on the door.

These trailers looked to be about 15 to 25 feet long and they were set up very simply.

Basque wagon display Buffalo Wyoming

Home, Home on the Range!

Basque trailer on rubber tires Buffalo Wyoming Basque Festival

A broom outside and wood stove inside
and a split door.

Inside, there is usually a wood stove on the driver’s side, a bed in the back, a bench/bed on the curbside and storage drawers all around.

Basque wagon interior Buffalo Wyoming Basque Festival

Most had a wood stove for heating and cooking inside plus a bed in the back and lots of storage.

One had been upgraded with an RV stove instead of a wood stove.

Inside a Basque wagon for camping and sheep herding Buffalo Wyoming

A few modern upgrades!

Each one was unique, and they all looked like a lot of fun to camp in.

Inside a Basque wagon for camping Buffalo Wyoming

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Of course, for Basque sheep ranchers on the wide open lands of Wyoming, watching the grass grow and the sheep eat it back wasn’t necessarily a life of thrill and adventure, so the Basques often passed their time making music. During the parade we had a chance to see several Basque dance troops showing off some of their traditional dance steps.

As we wandered among the Basque wagons, we were intrigued to see two Amish men walking around as well. America is home to so many unique lifestyles and traditions, it was really fun to see the Amish among the Basques!

I started to talk to one of the Amish men and discovered his name was David and he was from Lancaster, Pennsylvania (of all places!). He had a non-Amish neighbor back home who had a summer house near Buffalo, so he and another Amish friend had hopped on a train to come visit for a week.

He had never been out west and was really enjoying seeing the beauty of our country. He gave me his card and suggested I look him up next time we’re in Lancaster. Definitely! We both had a good laugh when we found out that he has a cell phone but we don’t!

Amish man and Basque wagon Buffalo Wyoming Basque festival

In the middle of this immersion in all things Basque we saw two Amish men checking out the trailers!

The festivities in the park included all kinds of things, from crafts to Basque flags and wine pouches to music performed by a Basque steel drum band.

Steel drum orchestra Basque Film Festival Buffalo Wyoming

I wouldn’t have associated steel drums with the Basque, but there they were!

In one corner of the park lots of kids romped around in a big playground. A group of kids was having a blast swinging on a huge self-propelled merry-go-round. Cowboys, of course, were everywhere, and we spotted a very young cowboy — in hat, western shirt, Wranglers, boots and all — nimbly scampering up a rock climbing wall!

Young cowboy climbs the rock climbing wall Buffalo Wyoming Basque Festival

Among the younger set, who can resist a rock climbing wall?

Buffalo, Wyoming, sits on the edge of the Bighorn National Forest, and we enjoyed several excursions into this beautiful wooded and mountain scenery.

The woods were filled with pine trees, and much like the Black Hills where big rocks and boulders predominate, there were lots of wonderfully craggy rocks between the trees in the woods.

Ponderosa pines and rocks in Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

Bighorn National Forest has lots of widely spaced pines and big jagged gray boulders.

We were surprised that in late July the Bighorn mountains were still snowcapped. The views of the Bighorns were beautiful.

Bighorn Mountains in Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

Wow!

Even though the peaks of the mountains still had snow on them, the wildflowers were in full display in the valleys.

Lupine wildflowers Bighorn National Forest Bighorn Mountains Wyoming

Wildflowers and mountains — love it!

Wildflowers Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

Pink ones.

Backlit wildflower Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

And a vivid orange/yellow one.

The lovely wild lupine were in full bloom, happily showing off their lavender glory.

Lupine wildflowers top view Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

The lupines were at their peak.

Carpets of these gorgeous purple flowers covered the ground between the trees.

Lupine wildflowers surrounding tree trunks Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

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Ponderosa pine forest filled with lupine wildflowers Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

Lupines blanket the ground in the woods — Beautiful!

We found wonderful streams and noisy babbling brooks.

Cascade and brook Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

A river runs through it.

And the skies were very dramatic.

Stormy skies Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

We saw some fabulously stormy skies.

Suddenly, we saw a huge flash of lightning and heard a loud crack of thunder just before a deluge of rain pelted us.

Lightning in Bighonr National Forest Wyoming

A summer thunderstorm!

Then, as quickly as the summer storm descended, it suddenly dispersed, leaving a beautiful sunset in its wake.

Fifth wheel trailer RV camping Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

Wyoming sunset.

One of the greatest joys in our traveling lifestyle is the many people we meet. While in Buffalo we started chatting with the owners of a side-by-side UTV, Jonette and Bill, and we peppered them with questions about it since we’re very curious about these things.

As we talked we were blown away to discover that they followed our blog! We became friends and they laid out the royal carpet for us during our stay, showing us many of the hidden jewels in the area.

One evening they took us out to the Bud Love wilderness area where we saw an incredible number of pronghorn antelope and deer. It occurred to us that for the Basques living in their wagons out on the prairie, “Home, home on the range” was definitely a place “where the deer and the antelope play!”

Pronghorn Antelope Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

A pronghorn antelope.

Doe and fawn Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

Mom and baby white tail deer.

The fawns still had their spots and they stuck close to their parents. If mom wandered off, baby had to run to catch up.

There were two types of deer roaming around: white tail deer, a slightly taller deer that raises its tail like a white flag whenever it runs, and mule deer, a smaller deer that has enormous ears and holds its brown tail down when it runs.

White tail fawn running Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

A white tail fawn waves his white tail as he runs!

Doe and fawn Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

A mule deer doe and fawn.

One group of mule deer was particularly unafraid of us and let us get quite close.

Buck and fawn Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

A buck and fawn.

Buck and fawn Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

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There were several bucks hanging around along with a fawn and doe, and when they stopped right in front of me in a perfect family Christmas card pose, I was just thrilled to get the shot!

Deer family Bud Love Wildlife Area Buffalo Wyoming

Family Portrait! Perfect for next year’s Christmas card!

Then they wandered off and the fawn began running and jumping to keep up.

Running fawn Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

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Jumping fawn Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

It always amazes me how deer literally bounce across the ground!

On another day we were driving down a dirt road when we noticed a fawn climbing out of an irrigation ditch right by the side of the road. He stopped and stared at us with a rather stressed look on his face. We pulled the truck over to get his portrait and noticed he was all wet.

Wet fawn Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

A little fawn fell into an irrigation ditch. He was soaked!

He disappeared into some tall grasses and then came running out again. Then he began running in very tight circles round and round.

Scared fawn Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

The poor little guy started running around and around in circles.

Frightened fawn running in circles Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

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We were really puzzled, but had learned from friends last year in Montana that herds of elk run in tight circles when they’re scared. We had seen a whole herd of elk doing just that on the side of the highway in the Bitterroot Valley (blog post here).

Scared fawn running in circles Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

Around again!

As we watched him, we suddenly noticed his mom was standing waiting for him on the other side of our truck. We had inadvertently parked our truck right between him and his mother, and besides falling into a ditch and getting drenched, he was now terrified he couldn’t get back to her. What a day!

We pulled the truck back out into the center of the road and drove off so the little tyke could get back to the safety of his mom’s side.

We were lucky to see the North American Basque Organization’s annual festival in Buffalo this year, but it will be held in other towns for the next few years. So, if you can chase it down to its next location, definitely do so. In the meantime Wyoming’s Bighorn National Forest is a true delight for an RV trip. We will definitely return for more!

RV boondocking and camping in Wyoming

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Buffalo Wyoming – Cowboys, Cowgirls and Sheriff Walt Longmire!

Buffalo, Wyoming, and the nearby Bighorn Mountains stole our hearts during our RV travels this summer, and we ended up sticking around for a while.

Fifth wheel trailer RV camping at sunset

A Wyoming sunset.

On our first day in Buffalo, we were astonished to find the streets were lined with throngs of really excited people. As we made our way through the mob, we noticed the cops were directing traffic at every intersection.

Something really big was happening. But what?

Soon we realized a parade was about to come through town. What perfect timing!

Longmire Days Parade Buffalo Wyoming Home of Longmire

We arrived in Buffalo, Wyoming, just in time to see a parade!

We watched the parade go by and gave each other quizzical looks as we tried to figure out why there would be a parade in this small town in the middle of July. The 4th of July was over, so this must be something else!

Longmire Days Parade Occidental Hotel Buffalo Wyoming

A band plays on a flat bed trailer as it passes the Occidental Hotel. What on earth was this parade for???

Suddenly a turquoise truck came by with a guy standing in the bed of the truck. A huge roar went up from the crowd, and the man waved at everyone. It was as if he were some kind of beloved celebrity.

The woman standing next to me saw I wanted to take a photo and eagerly stepped aside. “Go on!” she said urgently. “Push on out there and get his photo!”

Walt Longmire in Longmire Days Parade Buffalo Wyoming

A roar goes up from the crowd as this cowboy goes by in the back of a Bronco!

I got my shot and then asked — still confused — “Is that the mayor?”

She threw her head back and laughed. “No! Of course not!” She said. “That’s Walt Longmire!”

Sheriff Walt Longmire in parade at Buffalo Wyoming

Of course this isn’t the mayor.
This is the famous Sheriff Walt Longmire!

I stared at her blankly.

“You don’t know who Walt Longmire is?” She was clearly shocked at my ignorance. “Longmire is a huge TV show that’s really popular around here. That guy is the lead actor! The show takes place in this town, although it’s called Durant on TV rather than Buffalo.”

It turned out that we had arrived just in time for a special weekend celebration called Longmire Days when Buffalo, Wyoming, welcomes the cast from the Longmire TV series and also welcomes thousands of out-of-town guests who come from as far as California to see their beloved stars in person.

There is a store in town devoted to memorabilia from the show, and the store owners later told us it is really fun — and a bit funny — to watch these starstruck fans come from near and far to see the heroes of their series in person.

Longmire Headquarters Buffalo Wyoming

The Longmire TV show, developed from a local author’s book, depicts life in Buffalo, Wyoming, but calls the town “Durant, New Mexico.”

I’ve been starstruck by celebrities before too, so I totally understood. But I have to say that it is really hilarious when you have never heard of a TV show to run headlong into fan hysteria and the celebrities who are at the heart of it.

To me, this famous and adored actor (that women were truly going nuts for) just looked like a regular old cowboy standing in the back of a truck!

Then again, after a decade on the road, largely in the western states, I have become a huge John Wayne fan. We watch his old movies all the time. If I were to see John Wayne in person who knows what crazy hysterics I would fall prey to!

Ironically, it turned out I wasn’t the only John Wayne fan in Buffalo, Wyoming.

John Wayne T-shirt Buffalo Wyoming

I wasn’t the only avid John Wayne fan in town!

Buffalo, Wyoming, is home to about 4,600 people, and the heart of the town is a small grassy park called “Crazy Woman Park.”

The term Crazy Woman is popular in this area. There are both a creek and a canyon named “Crazy Woman” along with various business and shops. There are several legends behind the name, and they vary a bit, but each one references a woman (either white or Indian) who witnessed or was involved in a terrible tragedy that made her crazy. She lived out her days in a canyon not far from Buffalo.

Crazy Woman Park in Buffalo is decorated with several big, colorful murals that were commissioned in 2012 to show that Buffalo isn’t just a One Horse Town.

Horse mural and cowboy Buffalo Wyoming

Buffalo isn’t a One Horse (or One Cowboy) Town.

The murals were painted by Aaron and Jenny Wuerker. The first panel on the left depicts old black and white photos of cowboys around the turn of the century.

Old cowboys in "More than a One Horse Town' mural Buffalo Wyoming by Aaron Wuerker

Original cowboys in Buffalo way back when.

The next panel shows two cowboys chasing some horses across the prairie and bringing them into the town of Buffalo. This is definitely not a One Horse Town!

Horses on a mural Buffalo Wyoming by Aaron Wuerker and Jenny Wuerker

Cowboys chase horses across the prairie…

Horse mural Aaron Wuerker and Jenny Wuerker Buffalo Wyoming

…and into town.

The love of horses and the cowboy way of life and cattle ranching runs deep in Buffalo, and every week in the summertime there is a rodeo at the Johnson County Fairgrounds.

We stopped by one afternoon and had a great time watching both kids and adults dash all over the place with their horses.

Rodeo queen Johnson County Fairgrounds Buffalo Wyoming

A Rodeo Queen flies past on her horse.

The little girls were just too cute for words. They were fearless as they galloped past, and nothing would stop them from going full speed ahead, even if their hats flew off!

Rodeo princess loses her hat Johnson Country Fairgrounds Buffalo Wyoming

Hats off to this rodeo princess!

Rodeo Princess Hats Off Johnson County Fairgrounds Buffalo Wyoming

Woops!

From the pretty Rodeo Queen to the most adorable and tiniest Rodeo Princess, we loved them all!

Little Rodeo princess Johnson Country Fairgrounds Buffalo Wyoming

There’s no such thing as being too young to ride a horse.
Eventually both the helmet and horse will fit!

But there were plenty of adult cowboys putting their horses through their paces too.

Johnson County Fairgrounds Rodeo Buffalo Wyoming

There was full grown adult rodeo action too.

But this cowboy stuff isn’t just for show.

While in town one day, I had the really good fortune to meet an old cowboy named Dick and spend some time talking to him and listening to his life story. He described growing up in the area, and he painted a vivid picture of what it was like to be a rancher in the 1950s and 60s.

“It is the best life for a young man,” he said wistfully. The outdoors, the wide open spaces and fresh air — he had loved it all.

He passed his love of the ranching life to his two sons, and with great pride he told the story of putting his boys in charge of moving a hundred head of cattle from one pasture to another when they were very young. He told them he would meet them at an appointed hour and place, and he expected them to be there — with the cows — when he arrived.

I had to smile imagining two boys on horseback urging the beasts across the fields with their promise to Dad and his expectations weighing on their shoulders.

Sure enough, he told me, when he pulled up in his truck at the spot where the kids were supposed to be, they were there along with all the cows. Not one single cow was missing.

Chatting with an old cowboy Buffalo Wyoming

Longtime Buffalo area resident, Dick, shared his life story with me and painted an enchanting image of life on the ranch in Buffalo fifty years back.

There was an oil boom in Wyoming right about that time, however, and the lure of a better income in the oil fields took him away from ranching. As the years went by, he rose in the company and eventually ended up as the General Manager with a desk job in town.

But once a cowboy always a cowboy.

Dick had come to town on this sunny summer day wearing his cowboy hat and carrying his leather ranching gloves in his back pocket.

As we talked about the vibrant nature of the town, its festivals, its artwork and the bronze sculptures we’d seen around town, his eyes misted over when he told me that a locally noted bronze sculptor had created a beautiful sculpture of him with his grandson holding a calf.

There’s a romance to the ranching life, but there’s reality too. During our stay in Buffalo, we were touched by a bit of both as we paid quite a few visits to the small shops and tourist boutiques in town.

Cowboy boots Buffalo Wyoming

Cowbgirl boots are available in every style!

Several shops had fantastic arrays of cowboy boots. The pink and bling cowboy boots we’d seen on the cowgirls at the rodeo were all available in town. Just pick your favorite!

There were also lots of cowboy hats for sale, and we had fun at the hat rack trying different ones on. There were also lots of rifles for sale, many of them vintage guns from a bygone era.

Cowboy hat and rifles Buffalo Wyoming

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In one particular shop called The Office, I was idly scoping out the pens and pads when I saw a notebook on the display rack titled “Beef Calving Record Book.”

Beef Calving book for sale in stationery store at The Office Buffalo Wyoming

How often do you find a Beef Calving Record Book in your local stationery store?!

I opened it up, and inside were columns marked Calf ID, Cow ID, Sire ID, Birth Date, Sex and various measurements and weights.

Was this for real?

I asked the store clerk, and she said that oh, yes, those little notebooks were very much for real and the store often ran out of them in the spring when the calves were being born!

How totally cool is that?!

In this crazy era of history when we can’t let our cell phones out of arm’s reach and laws are being passed in Hawaii to remind pedestrians to look up from their phones as they cross the street, ranchers in the small towns of Wyoming are still recording the vital stats of their newborn calves with pen and paper in specialty “rain proof” notebooks!

Beef Calving book in Buffalo Wyoming at The Office stationery store

These little “weather proof” notebooks are hot sellers during calving season!

It is this very simplicity — not that calving is in the least bit simple — but it is this very straight-forwardness and closeness to nature and life itself that makes the cowboy lifestyle so romantic and appealling.

Lots of folks come to Wyoming to spend some time on a dude ranch, riding windswept trails past picturesque snowcapped mountains so they can savor a whiff of a the cowboy life.

We were photographing the mountains one afternoon when a group of horseback riders appeared out of nowhere.

As we got chatting with them, we discovered the ranch owner was a native of the area, but his wife was German. Decades ago she had made a career in the tourism industry in Austria selling western American vacations to Austrians who wanted to get a taste of our Wild West.

She ended up getting a taste of the Wild West herself one year when she took a short term job on a ranch, and she fell in love not only with Wyoming but with a Wyoming rancher too. In no time she was married, had started a family, and was hosting German and Austrian visitors herself!

Horseback riders in Bighorn National Forest Bighorn Mountains

German speaking tourists from Austria and Germany enjoy a tour with local guide Claudia.

We heard a lively exchange of English mixed with German as she talked with her guests on their horses, and the huge grins on their faces said it all. They were loving their week in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains!

Back in 1879, just five years after the Custer Expedition into the nearby Black Hills, a fellow named Charles Buell pitched a tent alongside Clear Creek where the town of Buffalo stands today. Some miners coming out of the Black Hills who were loaded down with gold asked if they could bunk in his tent for a few nights and store their gold with him too.

Buell instantly realized that opportunity was knocking, and he decided that these miners would be his first customers at his brand new hotel, restaurant and bank! Within the year he had built a wooden hotel building.

Ten years later he was charging $2.50 a night to regular visitors from all over, and in the ensuing decades he hosted celebrities like Buffalo Bill Cody, Teddy Roosevent, General Crook and Calamity Jane.

Occidental Hotel Interior Buffalo Wyoming

When you dream, dream big!
The Occidental Hotel started as a tent by the creek!

By the early 1900’s the current brick building filled a full city block, and now, over a century later, people still stay in the rooms upstairs and enjoy live bluegrass music jams every week in the classic old western bar downstairs.

The hotel still stands right next to Clear Creek where Charles Buell pitched his tent nearly 140 years ago, and there’s a little dispenser on the bridge where you can get a handful of fish food to throw over to the fish swimming below.

Occidental Hotel Buffalo Wyoming home of Longmire

Kids throw fish food down to the fish below the bridge by the elegant Occidental Hotel.

Folks of all ages love to cast a fishing line off the bridge in downtown Buffalo, and one day as we walked by a young boy reeled in a really big fish. Wow!!

Proud kid with trophy fish Buffalo Wyoming

Nice catch!!!

Part of the Longmire Days celebration was an antique car show, and after the parade ended everyone wandered over to a nearby park where the cars were lined up on the grass and glistening in the sun.

1948 Chevrolet truck Buffalo Wyoming

A late 1940s era Chevrolet pickup truck — Sweet!

Since this is ranching country, a large number of the old vehicles were vintage pickup trucks.

We chatted with the owners, and in more cases than not we discovered that the truck we were admiring had been owned by Dad or Grandpa and had had a productive life on the family ranch before being lovingly restored and brought out to show off.

Antique truck at a car show in Buffalo Wyoming

An antique Ford pickup. Many of the trucks at the show had done decades of duty on nearby ranches.

Of course every ranch has dogs as well as trucks, and we spotted a particularly pretty dog in attendance.

Beautiful dog portrait

Sunset in the Bighorns.

We had loved our RV trip through eastern Wyoming where we visited the towns of Chugwater, Douglas, Newcastle and Sundance, but the town of Buffalo and the nearby Bighorn Mountains enchanted us.

Crepuscular rays of sunset Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

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Little did we know that first weekend that Longmire Days and the antique car show would be just the first of several delightful celebrations we’d enjoy on our RV trip to Buffalo, Wyoming!!

Sunset over an RV Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

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Buffalo Wyoming River Runs Through It mural seen on an RV trip to town

Allow a few days when you take your RV to Buffalo, Wyoming!

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More info about Buffalo, Wyoming, and Longmire Days:

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Eastern Wyoming Small Towns – An RV Trip through Wyoming’s Quiet Side!

August 2017 – Our favorite places to travel are small towns tucked into rural areas across America, and during our RV trip through eastern Wyoming this summer we found some real charmers. These small rural towns were not only really scenic, but each one had a different flair.

Eastern Wyoming landscape scenery

Driving through eastern Wyoming was a sheer delight.

In all our years of traveling full-time we have been enchanted by many small towns. From Joseph, Oregon, to Eastport, Maine, to McCall and Sun Valley, Idaho, to Sedona and Oak Creek Village, Arizona, to our all time favorite, Maysville, Kentucky, we have loved getting to know what life in small town America is like.

Whenever we look at the map to choose our RV travel itinerary to get from one place to another, we always opt to drive the back roads and stop in the many small towns along the way.

RV trip on eastern Wyoming scenic roads

Eastern Wyoming landscapes…beautiful!

This year we chose a back roads route through eastern Wyoming that took us through several towns and villages (there’s a map in the reference section at the end of this post).

 

CHUGWATER, WYOMING

The first town, Chugwater, Wyoming, turned out to be a thriving metropolis that is home to all of 212 people! And its name is no accident. Recently, Chugwater was voted to have the best tasting water in all of Wyoming. So, in February 2018 the town will compete for that honor nationwide!

We were so busy tasting the various gourmet offerings at the Chugwater Chili tasting room, however, that we forgot to taste test the water in town. Next time!

Chugwater Wyoming Chugwater Chili Company

Chugwater Chili Corporation makes not only a fabulous chili powder but fantastic chili dip powders too!

Chugwater Chili is absolutely delicious, and we stocked up and have made several batches since we left. They also have a sweet chili pepper jelly that is divine with cream cheese and crackers, and a yummy chili pepper sour cream dip too. Oh my!!

Another fun stop in Chugwater was at the Chugwater Soda Fountain which has a true 1950s style soda fountain inside where we got an ice cream soda (Mark) and a root beer float (me)!

Chugwater Soda Fountain Chugwater Wyoming

Chugwater Soda Fountain is a great place to get a root beer float!

But what we love in villages like Chugwater is simply to walk the streets, because you just never know what you’ll find. When we rounded a bend, Mark suddenly said, “Look, it’s a serpent — or a dragon!” Sure enough, there was the undulating and scaly back of a serpent going through the grass!

Chugwater Wyoming Dragon in the grass sculpture

A serpent makes its way across the grass in Chugwater!

By late afternoon we figured we’d seen all there was to see in Chugwater when we suddenly heard music coming from a tiny covered stage in the town park. We hurried over and soon became spectators numbers 24 and 25 sitting in the grass and listening to a wonderful musical performance by the duo Davis and Mavrick.

They were playing pop hits from the 1950s to the 1990s, and the whole audience (including us) sang along with gusto. They invited a few people to join them up on stage for each song to play percussion, and before we knew it, Davis was pointing at us and inviting us to come up. Oh no!!

Then a trio of boys who had been riding their bikes in and around the park got stopped in their tracks and invited up too. One of the kids was a real ham bone, and we all just loved his antics.

Chugwater outdoor concert with Davis and Mavrick in Wyoming

All of a sudden we were up on stage with Davis and Mavrick along with a trio of very adorable boys who were snagged right off their bikes as they rode by!

 

DOUGLAS, WYOMING

Lots of towns have an artistic theme of some kind, and they often decorate their public space with sculptures highlighting their mascot. In Sarasota, Florida, we found the Tube Dude, and in Custer, South Dakota, we got a kick out of the life-size buffalo sculptures.

Douglas, Wyoming, is into the Jackalope, an unusual animal that is part desert jack rabbit and part pronghorn antelope. Westerners love to tease easterners on their first visit out west by asking if they’ve seen a jackalope yet in their travels and describing what it looks like.

Jackalope Square in Douglas Wyoming

Douglas, Wyoming, is home of the Jackalope!

Jackalopes are fictitious, of course, but that doesn’t stop folks from trying to trip up their friends with a good natured jest.

Douglas Wyoming Jackalope sculpture in city park

Have you seen a jackalope lately?

Jackalope park bench Douglas Wyoming

We even found jackalopes on the park benches in Douglas!

Small towns also tend to have lots of celebrations, especially in the summer months, and we always enjoy these gatherings, especially if we accidentally stumble onto them without knowing anything about them ahead of time.

In July, we just happened to be in Douglas on the day of the Knight Kruiser’s Car Show where we saw a wonderful display of antique cars from old Model A’s to woodies to muscle cars and more.

Douglas Knight Kruiser's car show in Wyoming

Knight Kruiser’s Car Show was a great display of antique cars from all eras.

Knight Kruiser’s Car Show in Douglas Wyoming in front of Princess Theater

Cars lined up in front of the old Princess movie theater transport us to the past!

While we admired the classic cars filling the town streets, I glanced at the store fronts and the names of the shops behind them. Not far from the old fashioned movie theater there was a small sewing shop called The Prairie Stitcher. The big mall stores Joann and Michaels have their place elsewhere, but you don’t find them here on the main drag in Douglas, Wyoming!

The Prairie Sticher Sewing Shop Douglas Wyoming

We love finding small, one-of-a-kind shops where you park right out front and can meet the owner inside.

 

NEWCASTLE, WYOMING

Another town with a fun theme is Newcastle, Wyoming, where we found every street corner was adorned with an American flag made from an old wooden pallet. The designs were very creative and a lot of fun.

Wooden pallet American flag Newcastle Wyoming

Newcastle, Wyoming, had wooden pallet American flags on every corner!

American flag made from a wooden palette Newcastle Wyoming_

What a neat idea!

Rather than having conventional parking meters on the public parking spaces, Newcastle has little horse heads with loops. If you ride your horse to town, it’s easy to find a good place to tie him up!

Horse head hitching post Newcastle Wyoming

Parking meters in Newcastle? Nope! Just some very slick hitching posts!

I’ve written before that one of the best ways to get to know a town is to get a haircut at a local barber shop or hair salon because you are guaranteed a lively 20 to 30 minutes of conversation with the stylist. We often find that we learn a lot of little things about the area that we might not otherwise discover.

During our cruise in Mexico I gained some really heartwarming insight into Mexican culture while getting a haircut, and our visit to Newcastle, Wyoming, offered the same opportunity.

Besides a wonderful conversation with the barber, who had moved back to his hometown after some years away, Mark got a true straight blade shave as well. How many places offer that?

Haircut and straight blade razor shave in Newcastle Wyoming

Mark gets a haircut and a straight blade shave in Newcastle… fun!

 

SUNDANCE, WYOMING

Sundance, Wyoming, also has a creative western mascot theme — the cowboy boot! We saw just two in town, but what a neat idea.

Sundance Wyoming Cowboy Boot sculpture

We found colorful cowboy boots in Sundance, Wyoming

We were in Sundance during the famous nearby Sturgis Motorcycle Rally week, and the crowds of motorcycles in town were thick. There’s a Harley-Davidson dealer in Sundance, so lots of the bikers were stopping by to get repairs or souvenir gear.

One rider in particular had just gotten himself a pair of very cool motorcycle goggles.

Motorcycle riding dog at Harley-Davidson of Sundance Wyoming

Ready to ride…

Talking with the locals and getting to know them a bit is our favorite aspect of traveling, and finding common bonds is often very easy. Sometimes we find that our cameras help break the ice.

Sharing a photo with a special friend

Mark shares pics with a new buddy in Wyoming.

 

BUFFALO, WYOMING

Shortly after our very enjoyable stay in Custer, South Dakota, Buffalo, Wyoming, stole our hearts. Buffalo is extraordinarily warm and hospitable, and we soon learned that there is something special going on there almost every weekend all summer long.

Buffalo Wyoming downtown mural on brick building

Buffalo, Wyoming, has some wonderful murals on its buildings and some unique summertime festivals too.

We’ll be sharing a few tales from Buffalo, Wyoming, soon, but we wanted to urge RVers to check out these special eastern Wyoming towns as you make your way to or from the Black Hills or the Big Horn Mountains, especially if you’re headed to the area to view the upcoming eclipse!

RV boondocking in rural Wyoming mountains

On your next RV trip to Wyoming, check out the small towns on the eastern side of the state!

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Grand Teton National Park Wyoming – Rare Sightings!

Fifth wheel RV with bikes and a rainbow

A rainbow appeared off in the distance…

September, 2014 – We had a lot of dark rainy days during our stay at Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park, and one afternoon we looked out the window to see a very bright rainbow dramatically piercing through the black sky in the distance.

We were waiting for sunset at that particular moment, kind of resting up a bit and relaxing.

We’d been taking so many photos and running around so much that when we saw this stunning rainbow, we greeted it with a shrug.

“It’ll never last,” I said.

Vivid rainbow at Mormon Row Grand Teton National Park Wyoming

This rainbow was so much more intense than most!

“Yeah. It’s way over there, and there’s nothing in the foreground but grass,” Mark added.

If it had been in the opposite direction, over the mountains, we would have leaped into action. But it wasn’t. So why bother?

Talk about blasé!! Our stay in this gorgeous park had totally spoiled us!

“It would look great with the Mormon barns,” I suggested after a while, wishing we were closer to those classic buildings.

 

rainbow on the Mormon barns at Grand Teton National Park Wyoming

It touched down right between the historic cabins at Mormon Row

But Mormon Row was a good ten minute drive away, and rainbows last just a few minutes, at best.

We went back to doing whatever we were doing — nothing really — while we each secretly kept an eye on this incredibly vivid arc that was flooding the land with light from the heavens.

Finally, we couldn’t take it any longer. We jumped up, grabbed all the camera gear we could find, and dashed out to the truck.

Mark floored it, and we zoomed onto the highway in hot pursuit. Unbelievably, the rainbow just got brighter.

Happy photographer with rainbow at Mormon Row

The rainbow crossed the sky, showing first one side and then the other.

We stopped at the most famous Mormon barn, along a dirt road of century old buildings, but the crowd of swarming photographers was thick. No way!

We raced back to the truck. I was running so fast over the uneven ground that I tripped and fell flat on my face — but I saved the camera!

I got up, brushed myself off, and saw that the rainbow was still there. So I kept running!

A bit further down the road we found some less picturesque but still very cool log cabins, and in this quiet spot we instantly busied ourselves taking a zillion photos.

Rainblow into an outhouse at Grand Teton Wyoming

Right to the pot of gold…in the pot!

We worked frantically at first, and then a little more calmly and with a little more thoughtfulness once we realized that our special rainbow was here to stay.

The sun fell lower in the sky, and the rainbow shifted, showing first one side and then the other, while the sun played with its shadow on the buildings and the land.

Mark cracked a wry smile and lined up the perfect shot, making the rainbow come right down onto an old outhouse.

The Milky Way and stars in the night sky at the Tetons

Starry starry night…

He’d found the true pot of gold at the end of the rainbow — in the pot!

Now that the rain had scrubbed the air clean, the nights became brilliantly clear, and Mark got another stunning shot, this time of stars.

While I snoozed and mumbled something unintelligible into my pillow at two in the morning, he snuck outside with his camera and aimed it at the sky.

A few minutes later he’d caught the Milky Way in its ethereal glow, rising out of a pair of silhouetted trees.

Next time I’ll make a point of joining him. That was much too good to miss!!

Mormon Row Grand Teton

One of the famous barns on Mormon Row

Church Bell Episcopal church in Grand Teton

Since 1925, this church bell has welcomed worshippers to this little log church that looks out at the mountains.

We did end up getting some photos of the classic Mormon barns at dawn, just as the peaks of the Teton Mountains were glowing pink.

The park has lots of other intriguing historical buildings, and one is an Episcopal log church that dates back to 1925.

Services are still held there, and what a heavenly view the congregation has through the windows behind the altar. It’s a wonder anyone ever hears a word of the sermon!

Badger at the Tetons

A badger waddles through the grass.

The Tetons are known for wildlife too, and in between our moments spent in enraptured communion with the landscape, we had quite a few wildlife sightings.

I saw my first badger, a little raccoon-like guy who waddled around in the grasses, perfectly camouflaged.

A red fox crosses the road in the Tetons Wyoming

A fox trots across the road

One day, out on a dirt road somewhere, we suddenly saw a bushy-tailed fox go by.

We weren’t the only car on the road, but the fox didn’t seem to mind.

He trotted right down alongside all the slow-moving cars for quite a distance before he darted into the woods.

We often saw bison grazing in the distance, and a few times we got hung up in traffic jams when the herd decided to cross the highway.

Bison jumping over fence Grand Teton Wyoming

Can he make it?

The leader of the pack was a huge brute of a beast, and one day Mark saw him take aim and jump over a fence.

Buffalo in Grand Teton National Park

…I think so…

This big guy eyed up that fence for quite some time, pacing back and forth, which gave Mark just enough time to get ready for the shot.

Bison jumping in the Tetons Wyoming

…Yup, he cleared it!!

And then he went for it — and cleared it like an expert high jumper!

 

Happy campers at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming

What a beautiful place to spend a little time…

We really wanted to see a moose, and we got word that there was a big one with huge antlers that hung out by the bridge at Moose Junction (how fitting!).

Sure enough, one morning we saw him, just fifty yards from his bridge. He was with another moose friend — perfect!

But we had set our alarm clock so we could wake up before dawn to go take photos of the little log cabin church at sunrise.  Moose weren’t on our agenda!

 

Teton Mountains in Wyoming at sunset

Sunset at the Tetons

In our sleepy state, somehow we didn’t grasp the gift of the moment, and we kept on driving to the church, totally intent on our mission.

Silly us. The church was there every morning, but the moose in the Tetons play hide-and-seek. Unfortunately, we never saw them again.

Oh well. In the long run, it didn’t really matter. Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park is a place we’ll return to again and again, and now we have a great reason to go back — to see moose!

 

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Grand Teton National Park – 101 Ways to Enjoy The Tetons!

Horseback riders at Grand Teton National Park Wyoming

What a great way to see the Tetons — on horseback!

September, 2014 – The National Park Service has posted some surprising statistics over the years about just how many hours the average visitor spends in each park.

Crazy as it sounds, it is really common for folks to do a quick drive-by, hanging out the car window for some photos to take home, and then checking the park off their bucket list.

Grand Teton National Park often suffers that fate, largely because it is laid out on a north-south highway that runs from Yellowstone National Park to the town of Jackson, Wyoming.

 

Grand Teton's new paved bike path

A new paved bike path goes nearly 20 miles along the base of the mountains.

A USA Today article from July, 2012, stated that the average time spent in the Tetons is just 6.5 hours!!

While it’s easy to drive through the Tetons really fast, during our two week stay on this visit we discovered there are all kinds of wonderful ways to get to know this park in a much more intimate way.

A fantastic addition to the park that was built since our last visit in 2007 is a nearly 20 mile long paved bike path that runs from the southern entrance of the park to the far north end of Jenny Lake.

 

Riding a bicycle with a view of the Tetons

The only problem with riding by views like this is keeping your eyes on the road!

We rode portions of it several times, and it took us to quite a few off-the-beaten-path locations within the park that we never would have stopped at if we’d been touring in our truck.

Every mile of this path was filled with families and cyclists of all ages. They were all enjoying a day of riding in the fresh air, with a stunning view the whole way.

We met cyclists from Jackson doing their daily workout ride (lucky them!!), clubs from out of town that had arranged a group ride of the area, and the Backroads Adventure Tour company with paying customers.

 

A motorcycle rides into Grand Teton NP Wyoming

Seeing the Tetons by motorcycle would be awesome,
especially on the curvy roads.

 

The roads throughout the park are ideal for scenic driving in a car, but they are probably a whole lot more fun on a motorcycle.

There’s a series of sweeping turns in the northern portion of Teton Park Road that are just too stunning for words, and doing them on a motorcycle would be quite a thrill!

Boating is another great way to go.

One day as we walked along the pebble beach at Jenny Lake, we rounded a point and our jaws dropped when we saw a beautiful sailboat anchored on crystal clear water set against a spectacular mountain backdrop.

A sailboat anchored in Jenny Lake Wyoming

Ahhh… maybe the nicest way to experience the Tetons would be by sailboat.

Kayaks and ferry boats on Jenny Lake in Wyoming

Kayaks and canoes are available for rent.

At the south end of Jenny Lake a small boathouse is home to the ferry boats and rental kayaks and canoes.

Getting out on the water is always a pleasure, especially in a watercraft you can power yourself.

Kayaks on Jenny Lake Grand Teton National Park

These two gals said they were loving their kayak ride as they floated past me.

We saw lots of folks kayaking on the lake, some of whom had brought there own and some of whom were renting them from Jenny Lake Boating.

This company also rents canoes and offers ferry boat rides and scenic boat rides on Jenny lake.

Jenny Lake ferry boat in the Tetons

A quickie ferry boat ride gets you out on the water and across the lake.

Even though we missed the summertime bargain boat fare for this ferry, I ended up scoring a free ride later that morning with some rock climbers who were headed across the lake for a day of climbing.

A kayak at Jenny Lake Wyoming

Now that looks like fun!

Mark had already hiked halfway down the two mile trail that goes from the boathouse to the dock on the far side of the lake, so we chatted on our trusty two-way radios about my good luck and his scenic hike, and later caught up with each other!

If flying across the lake at breakneck speed while hanging onto your hat with both hands isn’t the way you dream of way of seeing the Tetons from the water, a canoe trip is a much more peaceful way to go, and you can share the ride too!

Rafting trip down the Snake River in Wyoming

There are loads of rafting trips, from little rafts like this one to huge ones with 10 people aboard.

Powerboats in Jenny Lake Marina Grand Teton National Park

We were astonished by the size of some of the powerboats. What a spot to keep a boat!

River rafting trips are also extremely popular, and we saw several huge rafts filled with ten or so people. A guide stood up in the middle and used an enormous oar to steer the boat.

There were also smaller rafts of all kinds, each flying down the Snake River at a very fast clip

Fishing on the beach at Jenny Lake

Fishing is a nice quiet way to take in the serenity of the Tetons.

There were powerboats of all shapes and sizes at the marina too.

Artist painting at Phelps Lake Grand Teton National Park WY

This is a place that will get your creative juices flowing!

Of course, nothing says you have to be on some kind of moving vehicle to enjoy the Tetons.

The more stationary pursuits of fishing and artwork are other great ways to soak in the beauty of this magical place.

When we hiked to Phelps Lake, we were delighted to come across an artist working at an easel by the water’s edge.

Riding a driftwood see-saw_

Aw heck, when you find a see-saw on the beach you’ve gotta try it out!

Sometimes it’s fun just to be a kid in the presence of these special mountains.

On the shores of Jenny Lake we found a huge driftwood log see-saw, and we promptly jumped on it to give each other a ride.

A motorhome drives in Grand Teton National Park Wyoming

RVs are almost as common as cars in this park.

Of course, the Tetons are RV heaven, with lots of camping options both inside and outside the park.

Every other vehicle on the road was an RV of some sort, and a good percentage of them were rental RVs.

Laurence Rockefeller's audio-visual meditation room at Grand Teton

The Rockefellers built audio-visual (and audio-only) meditation rooms where you can experience nature without the dirt and dust.

For those who don’t want to deal with the grit and effort of hiking and being outdoors, the Rockefeller family (who were responsible for the Park Service’s acquisition of most of the lands in the area), have created a unique “green” building that has several audio-visual meditation rooms.

This might seem goofy, but watching the baby bears climbing trees, the moose lapping water from the lakes and the birds flitting between the trees in larger-than-life scale was actually really cool, especially since we didn’t see those things at close range on any of our hikes.

Reading a book on the beach

What a place to relax and unwind for a while!

Perhaps the best way to enjoy the Tetons, though, is just to pull up a chair and kick back in the presence of these magnificent mountains. After taking in the incredible views, it is even permissible to look away from the dramatic landscapes for a while and settle in with a book!

__________________________

Well, that’s not exactly 101 ways to enjoy the Tetons, but it’s a whole bunch!

Grand Teton Lodge Company is the National Park’s concessionaire for the campgrounds, (Colter Bay and Gros Ventre are RV campground options at different ends of the park).  They also offer scenic lunch/dinner cruises on Jackson Lake and river rafting trips.  Jenny Lake Boating offers ferry rides, private boat rentals and kayak and canoe rentals on Jenny Lake. 

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Grand Teton National Park WY – Mirrored Waters

Sunrise at Shwabacher's Landing Grand Teton Wyoming-2

Sunrise at Shwabacher’s Landing.

September, 2014 – The wild skies in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park settled down after a while, and clear blue skies began to rein.

We continued our morning ritual of hopping out of bed before dawn to run down to the scenic viewpoints to catch the sunrise.

As the sun rose, pastel shades would silently creep across the sky and then spread across the water below in beautiful mirrored reflections.

The sunrise was different every day, and each one was lovely in its own way.

Teton Mountains at Shwabacher Landing Wyoming

Just before sunrise, mist floats along the base of the Tetons.

Perfect reflections of the Teton Mountains at Shwabacher Landing

At the same place on another day, the mountains blush and check their reflections in the water.

Still water and mountains Shwabacher's Landing Teton Mountains Wyoming

Mirrored reflections of sky and mountains at Shwabacher’s Landing

This business of running around before dawn turned out to be surprisingly popular in the Tetons.

Every morning, headlights pierced the cold black air heading in both directions on the highway, and brake lights lined up at the turn-offs to the viewpoints.

At first we thought the Tetons were full of crazy photographers.

Water reflections Shwabacher Landing in the Teton Mountains-3

Serenity.

But we soon figured out that lots of these people were fishermen, wildlife stalkers and folks getting an early start for their day’s hike.

So much for R&R when you take a vacation to Grand Teton National Park!

What we loved, though, was the stillness of the water and the way its glassy surface mirrored the sawtooth mountain peaks as they changed shades in the morning light.

Placid water at Shwabacher's Landing at the Tetons

Prefect stillness… for a split second!

We returned to Shawbacher’s Landing several times to capture these special moments, and every single time we were teased by the dam-building beavers.

A tree felled by a beaver

Beavers are great lumberjacks. How do they
know when it’s time to bite and run?

Each morning, it was guaranteed that until the sun crested the horizon to the east, the beavers would sit on the tops of their dams, silhouetted perfectly.

They looked so cute and stood so incredibly still as they posed for us, little hunched figures on top of their world.

However, in such hopelessly dim light there wasn’t a chance in heck of getting that dreamed of beaver-sitting-on-his-dam portrait.

Beaver Dam at Shwabacher Landing Grand Teton Wyoming

A dam built by a beaver, nature’s engineer.

Of course, just as the colorful magic in the sky would begin, the beavers would all jump in the water and swim around, totally messing up the reflections.

They’d drag branches to and fro between their dams, true to their reputation as nature’s industrious little engineers, but they’d leave the water completely rippled, shattering the pink mirrored mountains into a zig-zag pattern of fractured images.

Mirrored reflection across Jenny Lake in Wyoming

The mirrored reflection of the mountains stretched clear across Jenny Lake.

The photographers that were lined up on the shore would moan and grumble to each other about those damn beavers, throwing up their hands in total frustration.

They’d call out to the beavers, telling them to get out of the way, and pleading with them to hold off on construction until the work day actually started in another hour or two.

Sometimes the water would settle for a split second, and then a flurry of shutter clicks would fly.

 

Jenny Lake evergreen trees in morning mist Wyoming

Pines mirrored in the mist at Jenny Lake.

Triumphant grins would flash between us all, only to be followed by another series of loud groans when a fish would snag a bug on the water’s surface, sending out a ring of ripples.

Once the light show was over, of course, and the sun rose high enough to bathe the scene in stark, bright light, the beavers would vanish into thin air, nowhere to be found, and the water would resume its glassy state, a little late.

So it goes with nature photography.

 

Mirrored mountains Jenny Lake Grand Teton National Park Wyoming

We were captivated by the beauty around us.

Jenny Lake sits in the middle of Grand Teton National Park, and there is a 10 minute ferry ride that shuttles people to the far side where there are several wonderful hikes.

Wandering down to the boathouse one afternoon, we discovered that this ferry ride is $15 per person all day long, but the very first boat ride at 7:00 a.m. is just $5.

Misty morning on Jenny Lake Wyoming

Every way we turned the images were
awe-inspiring.

What a deal! We were there!

So, on yet another ice cold morning, we dashed off in the truck, only to arrive at Jenny Lake and discover that now that Labor Day was behind us, the ferries were on a Fall schedule.

There was no early morning discount deal.

Rising mist on Jenny Lake Teton Mountains

The water was like glass.

In fact, there were no ferries at all until 10:00 a.m.

Argh!!

But this turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as we were now on the shores of Jenny Lake at dawn, a time and place where the Tetons quietly radiate their greatest majesty.

Foggy shores of Jenny Lake Grand Teton Wyoming

Mist rises from Jenny Lake.

The mist was rising off the surface of the water, and we suddenly had nothing to do but wander along the edge of the lake and take in the beautiful scene.

Talk about mirrored reflections on the water!

The whole lake was crystal clear and utterly ripple free!

We picked our way between the rocks on the shoreline, totally captivated by the steaming water and glowing mountains across the lake

 

Morning mist on the water Jenny Lake Grand Teton National Park

Jenny Lake is a magical spot at dawn.

There was less than a handful of other people down at the lake, and we were all walking around with dreamy smiles on our faces.

Granted, we all needed coffee, and we all had red, runny noses, but we all knew this was life at its finest.

The world was asleep, snug in their sleeping bags or rustic cabins or plush hotels in Jackson Hole, but a breathtaking dawn was silently unfolding around us lucky ones right here.

 

Mountain reflections in Jenny Lake

The mountains glowed orange.

Time stood still as the mountains gradually glowed fiery orange.

The light intensified for a few moments, stealing over the scene and over us noiselessly, without any kind of announcement or tap on the shoulder saying, “Hey, look at me!”

All this bravado and show was just nature’s way of stretching and shaking off the cold stiffness of the night air before getting up.

 

 

Dinghies on the beach at Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park

Dinghies and trees on the beach made beautiful patterns.

It was a magic moment that swept us up in its glory, so singular and so special for us that it would stay in our memories forever.

But it happens every day, day after day.

How lucky we felt to have witnessed it. How fortunate we were to be in this spot on this morning to watch the vibrant light grow and fade, to see the mist rise and dissipate from the water.

At the same time, how reassuring it was to know that it is always there for everyone, every morning… Jenny Lake at dawn.

 

Visit these links for the Official Grand Teton National Park website and Wikipedia’s Grand Teton National Park entry.

Here is a little more about Jenny Lake  and the Jenny Lake ferry.

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Grand Teton National Park WY – Wild Skies

Rainbow over our fifth wheel in Alpine Wyoming

At the end of the flood…a rainbow!

 

August, 2014 – After our four days of Noah’s Flood in Alpine, Wyoming, finally ended, we were blessed with a beautiful rainbow right over our little buggy.

The mud around us dried just enough so we could make our way back to the highway and continue our journey north towards Grand Teton National Park.

The deluge wasn’t entirely over, however, and dark gloomy skies filled our views for a few days.

 

 

Mist rises at dawn in Grand Teton National Park Wyoming

The Tetons are wreathed in a mysterious mist.

 

We arrived at the Tetons to find them wrapped in a mysterious mist that rose and fell and enveloped their faces as a cold wind whipped ours.

The clouds moved quickly, coagulating into otherworldly shapes and then dispersing into nothing, as if a magician were shrouding them under a gossamer veil and then laughing with a twinkle in his eye as he pulled it away.

 

 

Mountain mist explosion at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming

The mountains seemed at times to be exploding.

 

We drove along the highway that runs through this park, awe-struck by the majestic scenery surrounding us.

Wisps of fog reached out along the base of the Teton Mountains and stole up their craggy flanks, giving the regal peaks a mystical air.

Sunlight came and went, teasing us as it lit the jagged faces and then withdrew and left them dark.

 

RV fifth wheel in Grand Teton National Park Wyoming

Dawn’s light played amid the mountain peaks

 

 

We roamed all around, enchanted by this unusual light, until some huge black clouds gathered overhead and gave us a frightening glare.

When they finally burst wide open, we huddled inside the buggy.  Rain pelted our roof, thunder echoed off the jagged peaks and lightning flashed all around us.

At last the rain stopped, and we ran along the Blacktail Pond overlook with vague hope in our hearts that there might be a good sunset.

 

 

Storm clouds over our fifth wheel RV

Storm clouds threatened and then burst with fury

 

We claimed our spots with our tripods and cameras on opposite promontontories, just in case.

I noticed another photographer setting up near me.

“Do you think there’s a chance of a sunset?” I asked him, making a face as I glanced at the grey skies.

“You never know.” He replied. “I’ve been coming here for years, and I’ve seen some incredible sunsets.”

 

Wild skies in Grand Teton National Park Wyoming

Wild skies at sunset

Just then, we both noticed a faint hint of pink in the sky.

As we stared at it, willing it to grow, the most stunning sunset I have ever seen unfolded.

In moments, the entire sky was on fire, flaming in waves of brilliant pink and orange.

The colors intensified, as if the flames were licking the mountaintops.

A pink glow began to radiate between the peaks.

 

Sunset in Grand Teton National Park Wyoming

Waves of color formed as the sunset drama played out

I could hear the shutter clicks of my companion and the “oohs” and “aahs” he was muttering.

I was doing the same thing, and hoping feverishly that Mark was as spellbound watching this magical drama over on his precipice as we were on ours.

I turned away from the valley for a moment and was shocked to see the sides of the storm clouds above us had suddenly begun glowing magenta.

 

 

Storm clouds and sunset in Wyoming

I turned around and saw the storm clouds glowing, as if from a fire within.

Two trees on the flat plain were silhouetted against this delicious, lugubrious sky.

And then, without a hint of warning, it was over.

Mark and I ran towards each other, bursting with excitement.

“Did you see that?”

“Yes. Did you get it?”

“I think so… Look at this one…”

Pink glow between the Teton Mountain Peaks Wyoming

Vibrant shafts of light radiate between the peaks.

Fire in the sky at Grand Teton National Monument in Wyoming

The gods play with fire in the sky over the Tetons.

Shwabacher Landing Grand Teton National Park before dawn

Before dawn, the misty peaks were reflected in the water.

We traded cameras to see each other’s pics, dashed into the rig and drove off in a flurry, totally flushed with excitement.

The next morning we set the alarm for oh-dark-thirty and snuck down to Shwabacher Landing to see if we might get lucky with a sunrise.

The mountains were shrouded in blue-gray mist.

Only the peaks were visible, but the reflections from the mirror-like water gave the scene an ethereal air.

 

Sunrise at Shawbacker Landing Grand Teton National Park

But all the sunrise drama was happening behind us!

We set up our tripods for our sunrise shot, totally focused on the mountains and reflecting water in front of us.

Then we turned around and our jaws dropped in astonishment as we watched the most vivid display of pink and orange developing behind us.

We were in total awe. But the cameras were facing in the complete opposite direction!

After a few minutes I finally regained my senses, yanked the camera off the tripod and fired off a few quick handheld shots of this glorious sunrise.

Sunrise lights the peaks in Grand Teton National Park Wyoming

Sunrise lights the tips of the mountains as fog rolls in

No sooner had the color faded in the eastern sky than the rising sun began to light the peaks of the Tetons to the west.

The mist was rising rapidly, leaving just the points of each jagged peak to poke its head above and glow pink for a few seconds.

We caught our images, but our hearts were pounding.

How crazy that a silent sunrise could steal over an entire valley and send us into paroxysms of frustration and thrills: “I’m missing it…No, wait, I’m getting it! I got it I got it!!”

Blushing mountain peaks at Grand Teton Naitonal Park Wyoming

The tips of the mountains catch the sunrise above the mist.

For the next few days we rose with the alarm clock to catch the sunrises over the water.

There were other photographers at every viewpoint, all jumping up and down to keep warm, and blowing into their hands to bring some life back to their fingertips.

We shared stories of missed shots, wrong camera settings, and the ecstasy of catching it just right.

Some photographers had caught The Big Fiery Sunset at Ox Bow and Shwabacher Landing where the theatrics in the sky were doubled by reflections in the water.

Stormy sunrise over an RV

Another stormy sunset fills the sky

Such good fortune!

The stormy skies continued to enchant us, and we were blessed with one stunning sunrise and sunset after another.

After nearly a week of this nonsense of getting out of our warm bed in the ice cold dark and not crawling back into that warm bed until many hours after sunset, we were bleary eyed and tripping over our own two feet.

But the Tetons had gifted us with their magic and we were grateful for every stunning moment.

 

Glowing with happiness at Grand Teton National Park Wyoming

Glowing with happiness in a truly spectacular place.

Prior to this visit, our RV travels in Wyoming had brought us to this magnificent valley twice. The first time, in our first year of traveling, we had naively rushed through way too fast, and the second, just two years ago, had been devoid of mountain views due to thick wildfire smoke in the air.

This visit, however, was taking us by storm, in the best and most literal sense.

We quickly decided to stick around a while to see what else these mysterious mountains would share with us.

For more information about Grand Teton National Park, click here.

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Flaming Gorge, WY – Absolutely spectacular, colorful views and friendly big-game animals

Overlooking Lucerne Valley in Flaming Gorge, Wyoming, while boondocking in our RV

View of Lucerne Valley in Flaming Gorge

Early September, 2012 – Putting our tire troubles out of our minds for the moment, we left Pinedale and Rock Springs, Wyoming and headed south to the incomparable Flaming Gorge.

Flaming Gorge Wyoming Sunset

Sunset in Lucerne Valley, Flaming Gorge

The north half of Flaming Gorge sits in Wyoming and the southern half sits in Utah.  Five years earlier, at the beginning of our full-time travels, we had driven down the eastern flank of this large body of water and gotten a glimpse of some of its magic.

Rainbow at Flaming Gorge, Wyoming

We saw glorious rainbows every day.

This time we drove down the western side with plans to stay a while and really soak up its essence.

Pronghorn Antelope at Lucerne Valley Campground

Pronghorn roamed between the campers at Lucerne Valley Campground

 

Lucerne Valley has some wonderful views, and we drove and rode our bikes and walked along the roads taking it all in.  Late summer in this area produces some fabulous, looming clouds, afternoon downpours and rainbows.  Every day we were treated to nature’s best.

Pronghorn antelope at Lucerne Valley Campground in Flaming Gorge, Wyoming

Pronghorn at rest.

Down in the Lucerne Valley campground a herd of pronghorn antelope had taken up residence.

On a ledge at Flaming Gorge Red Canyon Visitors Center

Checking out the views near the Visitors Center.

We rode our bikes around the campground loops and we watched the herd wandering between the trucks and trailers, motorhomes and satellite dishes. They acted as if they owned the place!

Rainbow at Flaming Gorge Wyoing

Colors light up the heavens.

They weren’t too concerned when we approached, but if we got too close they would bound away, as light on their feet and as nimble as dancers.

Wildflowers at Flaming Gorge, Wyoming

While the views in the heart of Flaming Gorge are all about brilliant red rocks plunging down to the serene Green River a thousand feet below, up in the Lucerne Valley area the green farmland makes a beautiful contrast to the hills in the distance.

Boondocking views of Lucerne Valley Flaming Gorge Wyoming

Spectacular views everywhere.

As the clouds fingerpainted the sky with stormy hues, we kept a sharp eye out for unexpected rainbows and were never disappointed.

Sheep Creek Geological Loop Drive in Flaming Gorge Wyoming

Sheep Creek Geological Loop

We took the Sheep Creek Geological Loop backcountry drive which is a 14 mile loop off the western side of the gorge.  Here we saw soaring cliffs and beautiful views as we crested the top of the loop.

Bighorn sheep in Flaming Gorge Wyoming

Bighorn sheep

The drive is noted for offering close-up encounters with big horn sheep, but we didn’t see any until we returned to the main road.

Then we saw three of them grazing right alongside the highway.

One glanced at our truck briefly.  He didn’t seem to mind my paparazzi-like camera clicks in his direction as I hung out the window of the truck and took his picture.

Sunset at Flaming Gorge Sheep Creek Canyon Wyoming

Sunset view from Sheep Creek Canyon

 

There are some switchbacks along this steep road, and as seems to have been a common occurrence for us this summer, it started to pour as soon as we started to climb.  But the views from the overlooks at the top of the hill were worth every moment of white knuckles on the way up.

Flaming Gorge Sheep Creek Canyon Overlook from our RV

Flaming Gorge is truly breathtaking

We enjoyed the beauty of this place and we stayed quite a while, first taking a few day trips down to the Utah part of Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area and then eventually heading down there to stay with the rig.

 

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Pinedale, WY – A beautiful modern-day Boomtown

Wyoming's Centennial Highway

Sweeping turns on the Centennial Highway

Late August, 2012 – Heading south out of Jackson, Wyoming, we followed the Centennial Scenic Byway (Route 191).  This is a lovely curvy road that weaves between mountains and eventually emerges into wide open spaces where there is virtually nothing but undulating land as far as you can see in any direction.

Wyoming's Centennial Highway

Pretty views along the highway

What a surprise it was, then, when we suddenly came upon a huge construction project that appeared to be the erection of a large bridge over the highway — one that could easily support several lanes of traffic — but with no roads leading to it on either side.

Pinedale, Wyoming bridge for wildlife

Wildlife bridge under construction

We drove further and discovered a second similar bridge being built.  Huh?  Then more construction followed with workers busily paving a bike path along the edge of the highway.  Cool!  But what really knocked our socks off was the sudden appearance of two brand new 3-story hotels on either side of the road: upscale Hampton Suites and Baymont Inn and Suites.  What in the world?  Minutes ago we had been driving through vast empty plains.

Pinedale, Wyoming, Carriage Rides

Horse and buggy ride in Pinedale

This was Pinedale, Wyoming, we learned, something of a modern version of Montana’s Virginia City and Nevada City gold mining towns, where drilling for natural gas was driving a boom like we’d never seen.  Beautiful schools, lovely city parks, a chic brewpub, a horse-drawn carriage taking people through town — these were the fallout from massive multi-national corporations coming to town to set up shop and drill.

Pinedale, Wyoming, Deer

Deer visit our trailer in Pinedale

We learned that the two big bridges outside of town were for wildlife, not people or cars.  Large animal migrations cross the highway each spring and fall, and the new bridges would give the deer, elk and other migrating creatures a way to cross the road safely — and spare many cars from being totaled.

Pinedale, Wyoming, Footbridge

Footbridge in the pretty city park

 

 

 

 

 

A tunnel was being dug for these guys as well, since some animals like to take the high road while others prefer the low road… Wow!  I hope the animals can read the road signs leading to their bridges and tunnel!

Wind River Mountains behind Fremot Lake

Wind River Mountains beyond Fremot Lake

After a few days in town enjoying the fabulous library and strolling the pretty paved paths in the woods and along the streams in the city park, we ventured out of town towards Fremont Lake and the Wind River Mountain Range.

Unfortunately the smoke from fires further west was still quite thick and the views were hazy at best.  So we drove down to the lake’s marina where we found sailboats and motorboats and elegant outdoor dining on a deck overlooking the water.

Pinedale Wyoming Sailboat Marina

Sailboat at the marina

A sailboat left the dock and sailed towards the middle of the lake on a beam reach under a light breeze.  Watching the wind fill the sails caught us between two worlds for a moment, as we hadn’t thought about our boat or sailing or the water for a very long time.

Pinedale Wyoming Sailboat Marina

A sailboat reminds us of our other life!

Returning to Pinedale, I indulged in another passion I hadn’t thought about for a long time, and rented a pair of skates for an hour.  I buzzed around the town’s skating rink, very wobbly at first but gaining enough confidence to show off for Mark a bit, since he had never seen me skate before, something I had done intensively as a child.

Pinedale Wyoming Skating RinkThe wonderful town ice skating rink, the new skateboarding park, the excellent high school track, the well appointed city park and all the other public amenities were all top notch in every way, easily suitable for a city of 20,000.  But Pinedale is said to have just 1,200 to 2,000 residents (depending on which brochure you read), and the number undoubtedly changes monthly as the profits in the gas fields wax and wane.

Pinedale Wyoming Laundromat

The laundromat is decorated with trophy heads.

A fellow who was removing some heavy clothes from a laundromat washing machine labeled “Oil Field Clothes Only” told us the town had been in a slump in recent years as gas prices had fallen, but that gas prices were on the way up again and the companies would likely resume full-scale operations.

Stopping in the BLM office to ask about camping options, our conversation wandered away from camping and the clerks opened our eyes to another side of living in a boom town: prices were higher here for everything from real estate to food to gas at the pump, and one woman just shook her head as she said worriedly, “Who’s going to foot the bill for maintaining all this when the gas companies leave town?”  Gold mining and gas drilling, boom towns and ghost towns — as we looked around it seemed to us that life in the 1860’s and 2010’s had quite a bit in common.

Pinedale Wyoming Lake

A lake on the back side of town

Exploring the back side of Pinedale, we discovered a pretty, peaceful lake.  Watching the ducks leaving their triangular wake in the otherwise glassy water, as they have done for millennia, we found it hard to believe that both of the 3-story hotels we had seen on the way into town had been booked for two years before they were even completed.  Such intense activity in such a placid place.

Pinedale WyomingWe loved every minute we spent in Pinedale, but our time there drew to a close.  We left in high spirits, singing away as we drove at 55 mph on the brand new asphalt of one of the smoothest, flattest roads we had been on all summer.  Suddenly, a loud flapping noise right behind the truck jerked us to our senses.  Instantly, Mark pulled over.  We jumped out of the truck and saw that the tire tread had spontaneously peeled right off of one of the trailer tires.

Fender damage to our trailer

Fender damage from our tire disintegrating

Parts of the tread were wrapped around the axle, bits were strewn in the road, and a long strip of it was still partially attached to the tire along one edge.  The tire was still at full pressure and the tread was plenty deep, but the trailer fender had been damaged badly when the tire failed.  Good grief!!  Mark whipped out his tire changing gear and got the spare installed in minutes.  But we spent a long five days in Rock Springs, Wyoming, first getting all the trailer tires replaced and then trying to sort out the warranty situation with Michelin/Uniroyal.

Quick tire change on an RV

Mark pulls the shredded tread off the axle.

Michelin/Uniroyal had just recalled 849,000 similar tires a few weeks earlier, because they had a tendency to have their tread peel off unexpectedly (hmmm!!).  But ours was a slightly different model number.  So, rather than an easy recall process we had a very difficult warranty process that started with us paying to ship the failed tire to Uniroyal via UPS (not cheap!).

Tire without any tread

The denuded tire – all the tread had peeled off!

Their process is entirely based on the US mail service, rather than fax and email (which they don’t consider legally viable), and it involves getting documents notarized and mailing off written quotes from RV repair facilities.  None of this is easy to do while traveling in remote places.

But we did what we could while in Rock Springs, Wyoming, and carried on.  After many hours on the phone, Michelin/Uniroyal promised to reimburse the cost of shipping the tire to them and they agreed to allow us more than the usual 45 days to complete the warranty claim process.  Phew!!  Wyoming and Utah’s Flaming Gorge was looking really good by now, and we hustled down the road to get there as quickly as we could!!!

 

 

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Jackson, WY – The Wild West Tamed & Gentrified

Yellowstone National Park Wildlife on Road sign

Drive carefully!

Mid-August, 2012 – After leaving Ennis, Montana, and Earthquake Lake, we continued into Yellowstone National Park and then on into Grand Teton National Park.  These are enormous parks that take hours just to drive through at nearly highway speeds without stopping to see anything.

Grand Tetons Not Visible due to Wildfire Smoke

On top of Old Smokey…

On a mission to spend time at the Tetons, we didn’t stay long enough at Yellowstone to see any of the big game animals.  But we did see a cool big game animal road sign!

A rash of wildfires burning in Northern California, Nevada, Idaho and Montana had filled the air with smoke, and it hung over everything in a thick brown cloud.  Standing at the enormous plate glass windows of the Jackson Lake Lodge, which usually frames the mountains, we could barely see the outline of the peaks.

Jackson Wyoming Boondocking

A great spot for a few days!

So we dropped south a little bit to Jackson, Wyoming, thinking we might wait out in this hip tourist town until the smoke cleared out.  We found an ideal spot to camp for a while on a tiny bit of BLM land along the Snake River and watched river rafters float by.  They would skid along sideways and then twirl backwards and then regain their footing and slip forwards down the river right by our rig.

Snake River Rafting

River rafters floated past us every afternoon

One afternoon Mark was deep in a photography book and I was buried in my computer when two gals in bikinis knocked on our door.  Mark was delighted!

Jackson Wyoming Snake River Rafters

It’s a busy river.

They wanted to borrow our phone to call for their ride to pick them up, as one of them had decided she’d had enough rafting for one day.  Mark instantly ditched his book to help them.  It turned out they were recent law school grads from Harvard and BU who were celebrating graduation with a big trip out west.

Jackson Wyoming Horse Saddle Barstools

Giddyup!

Jackson is a fun trendy town where — we were told — the billionaires moved in and forced the millionaires out.  Very Wealthy People have homes here, and everything in town is quite expensive.  But enjoying the sights is still free, and we got a kick out of poking our heads in one bar and seeing a line of barstools made from horse saddles.  A little kid grinned at us from his carriage as he rode around the town square.

Jackson Wyoming Carriage Ride

Even kids love Jackson

Jackson Wyoming Pistol Doorknob

Where retired pistols end up…

Jackson Wyoming Pistol Doorknob

Shoot first, ask questions later.

The wild west has been tamed here, and pistols now serve as door handles and each corner of the town square has an arch made of densely packed elk antlers.

Bronze sculptures of some of America’s historic dignitaries sit on park benches around the square, and we took turns photographing each other with our arms around Ben Franklin, Abe Lincoln, Einstein and others.

Jackson Wyoming Elk Antler Arch

There are four of these antler arches…

Jackson Wyoming Abraham Lincoln Statue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A fantastic paved bike path rolls up and down over the hills from town out towards our camping spot, and the map showed that other paved trails went in other directions as well.

Jackson Wyoming Paved Bike Path

There are paved bike paths all around town.

Jackson Wyoming Sunset over Snake River

Sunset over the Snake River

We were eager to ride them all, but the smoke lingered, burning our eyes and lungs, so we decided to save those adventures and the Tetons for another visit.  Little did we know when we left Jackson that the cool town of Pinedale, Wyoming, was going to catch our fancy down the road.

 

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