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A Night in the Bakken Oilfield

I spent a night in the middle of the Bakken oil field – or more accurately, in the Walmart parking lot in Williston North Dakota – which really is in the middle of the oilfield. To remind you, Williston is/was the boom town that more than doubled in size in a few months when energy companies started exploiting the oil shale deposits. Oil was to be found everywhere. Prices went through the roof. Oil workers were sleeping anywhere they could find a bed. Investors built thousands of apartments.

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US-30 Highway

Marker at Vista House

I started this latest (Summer, 2022) trip west by crossing from Iowa to Nebraska on US Highway 30. At that point it is also the Lincoln Highway route. I followed US-30 / Lincoln Highway to west of Laramie, Wyoming where I turned south to visit some of the National Parks in the Great Circle. When I rejoined the Lincoln Highway in Utah, it follows US-50 to Sacramento and on to San Francisco.

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No, not that one.

This Stonehenge is atop a bluff on the Washington side of the Columbia River near Maryville. It was built between 1918 and 1929 by pacifist-entrepreneur Sam Hill as the first monument to World War I soldiers. Mr. Hill mistakenly believed that the original Stonehenge was the site of human sacrifice, and the monument was intended to remind viewers that people are still sacrificed to the god of war.

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My dad was a multipotentialite. Don’t know what that is? Neither did I. But when I recently learned about multipotentiality I knew I found a term that described him. Multipotentiality has only become a thing in the past ten years. It describes people whose interests cannot be confined to a single activity and it accurately describes my dad.

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Heads of State

In the summer of 1970 I took my first vacation. Ever. I had a new yellow Fiat 124 Spider convertible that I packed with a tent, a duffel of gear and a cooler, and headed west from Detroit. It was maybe the second or third day out; cold, constant rain and dark. I saw the sign that said Mount Rushmore and decided to pass on setting up camp in the rain. I pulled the car up an incline on the verge of a side road to make reclining easier and quickly fell asleep.

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Crooked River Gorge

The most fun I have on these wanderings is when I come across a place that is truly spectacular and I had no idea it was there. Such a place is the Crooked River Gorge.

Because of a scheduling problem, I had an eight hour driving day; pretty long for me, and stopped at a rest area north of Redmond Oregon to sleep for a while. Signs in the parking lot said “dangerous cliffs” and “leave your pets in the car. Many dogs have died here!” That was ominous. A short walk brought me to the Crooked River Gorge.

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Canyonlands Cowboys and a Bit of Remembering

From the 1890’s to as recently as 1975 Ranchers have run cattle in Canyonlands. This is not pasture grazing – this is high desert. I imagine the cattle only survived. The cattle and the cowboys that tended them were surely tough. The cowboys lived in open air “bunkhouses” under the overhanging rock for months at a time. The black is the smoke deposits from the stove behind the bush. (No, the white box in the center is not a beer cooler!)

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Medicine Bow Wyoming

Medicine Bow is a really small town on the Lincoln Highway and the Oregon Trail, It’s history is as a bawdy town filled with bars, gunslingers and prostitutes. So much so that it inspired Owen Wister to write the novel, The Virginian, a story about western life, the Lincoln County Wars and the life of a ranch foreman he called The Virginian he placed it in Medicine Bow. I was able to gather much of Owen’s story from folks at the Medicine Bow museum. About 1884 Owen Wister suffered some sort of mental break resulting in vertigo, blinding headaches and hallucinations. His father had a friend in the “Wyoming Territory” and asked the friend if Owen could spend a summer on his ranch to recover, and all was arranged. Owen was met by the ranch foreman when he arrived on the train in Medicine Bow, and they proceeded north to the ranch somewhere near Jackson, Wyoming, a distance of maybe 200 miles. On the trip the foreman told Owen tales of the territory and the foreman’s adventures.

Owen kept a diary, and years later he wrote the novel about the foreman he called “The Virginian”. The story, although based on his experiences, was highly fictionalized. However his description of Wyoming was accurate, and book caught the imagination of easterners. It became a best selling book of the day with four printings in the first year. People were inspired to visit Medicine Bow, and in the early 1900’s the Virginian hotel was built to cash in on their interest. It is still there, and you can stay in any of its historically decorated rooms. Since then, the novel has been the basis of two movies and a 60’s-era TV series. The book is a great read.

The Museum is housed in the old train station by the Union Pacific mainline. I spent a couple of hours there looking at the collection and talking with the museum director. Later in his life Owen Wister built a cabin in northwest Wyoming where he and his family would travel from Philadelphia for the summers. When his wife died young and unexpected, Owen never went back. The cabin sat empty for nearly 50 years, and was about to be burned when the good folks of Medicine Bow put together a plan to move it. It now sits next to the museum, and is furnished as it would have been at the turn of the previous century.

The museum director told me a story about those days. It seems the mayor of Medicine Bow was told of a new business in town, “The Riding Academy”. He was at a loss why anyone in and around Medicine Bow would need riding lessons –people here grew up on horses. He doubted the business would be successful. Finally a cowboy told him, “Your Honor, it’s another brothel. It will be very successful!”

Just east of Medicine Bow on the Lincoln Highway (Route 30) is Como Bluff known as the “Dinosaur Graveyard”. In 1880 the fossil treasure was discovered and it became source of the highest quality fossil specimens now displayed in natural history museums throughout the world. Next to US-30 is the Fossil Cabin built entirely of bone fragments. It was built as a tourist attraction during The Virginian days, but was also abandoned.  Como Bluff is the hill behind the cabin in the photo.

The cabin was gifted to the Medicine Bow Museum and they are working to have it moved adjacent to the Owen Wister cabin.

If you ever come this way, Medicine Bow is worth a stop.

Ron’s Summer 2022 Begins

Lincoln Highway Marker

I leave in the next few days for another 3-4 month trip into the great west. The only thing I know about this trip so far is I will follow the Lincoln Highway west from Iowa. If you want to follow along, there is an interactive map and a lot of information at the Lincoln Highway Association.

The Lincoln Highway was the first coast-to-coast route that started in Times Square and ended in Lincoln Park, San Francisco, passing through 14 states on the way.

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