I’ve been away from St. Louis for three and a half weeks now, and at every turn, I see my picture of “out west” in a more dramatic manner. Today, the M’s took me on a road trip to see some of southern Wyoming’s landscape, and from the moment we left the familiar sight of white-siding-covered suburban homes, I found myself in an alien world.
Wyoming so far had struck me as huge piles of gray sand dotted with scrub and scoured with horizontal lines, but the scenery took on a life of its own as the van zipped out onto a highway surrounded by mountains and plateaus. “Vast” doesn’t even begin to describe the millions of acres of open range that spread out on either side of the road, ruled by cattle, deer, antelope, and a few cowboy souls brave enough to face the land and themselves under an omnipotent sky. The landscape rose and fell dramatically, marked with rock formations that resembled sand carved by a stream, or tremendous brick walls, or ancient statues corroded away by the wind. Bluish-gray scrub and olive-colored juniper trees, twisted and tough and squat, gripped the cliffs, bracing against the wind.
We paused at the edge of the Flaming Gorge Lake, bathed in sunlight that made the waters sparkle brilliant blue, as if it was the only colorful piece of landscape when the rest of the world was seen through a sepia filter. The lake trails its way down into Utah, branching off like a river, bringing life to a valley below the “high desert,” where the deer and the antelope play.
Leaving the lake behind for the moment, we climbed higher into the mountains. Hills of snow were piled up along the roads, and a misty group of clouds hovered around us, dipping down into the valleys, shrouding the distant mountains so they appeared in soft focus. We wound through miles upon miles of road with no sign of civilization other than the curving asphalt in front of us, past herds of white-tailed deer and between rugged cliffs.
I’m used to a certain kind of earth, covered in soil and clothed with forest and cornfield, where rivers flow freely and the sky and wind take little notice of what is happening below. Out here, the earth’s bones show through, jutting out of the silt like a skeleton raised to life. The sparseness is unnerving, and the sky hovers uneasily over the open ground, its clouds mirroring the jagged rocks beneath it. The wind is merciless, scouring down the stone with each passing year in a constant battle of wills, and the water is furtive, sneaking along in rills and creeks that carve the Grand Canyon before the rocks know what’s happened.
Our final destination was a lookout over the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, just past the Utah border, and I sat back in my seat and just breathed in the West— fir-covered mountains washed in snow, open pine forests with floors of tumbled rock, marmots and white-tailed deer picking their ways between the trees, moss and multicolored lichen and tough scrub bushes scraping out a living among the stones, and a vast canyon, bright red-pink even with an overcast sky, plunging down to a blue swatch of water, rich as molten metal.
On the way home, we got caught in a snowstorm that drove huge icy flakes against the windshield, wiping blank all the landscape around us. I gazed out the window, watching the snowflakes swarm by, and stared into a world of white. The snow, feeling inadequate, had decided to give the ground a good beating to remind it of its power.
I’m lost in this world of west, in a place where land and sky and wind and water are in constant tension, a place where if you look up too long, you’ll find that the sky has swallowed you up and you simply don’t exist anymore.
Money spent today: $0
Leeway so far: $186.05