Day Two — Grand Island NE to Rock Springs WY

[634 miles today; 1158 miles so far. I-80 from Grand Island NE to Rock Springs WY.]

I understand that some of you are tracking my progress across the country, so I’ve added my route info with the entries. Have fun plotting Hurricane Colin! 🙂

This morning, I awoke in Grand Island to temps in the 20s, and a crystal clear sky. After a little breakfast, me and Smokey got on the road, pointed west once again.

I didn’t get far until I pulled off for my first stop: Kearney NE. Ordinarily, there’d be no reason to stop in Kearney versus anywhere else, but as I approached, I saw this mammoth arch across I-80. As I found out, this arch was The Great Platte River Road Archway Monument. This thing is truly… well, mammoth! I pulled off, and drove to the archway, only to find that it is only open on the weekends this time of year. Oh well! The site was beautiful, and worth stopping it, despite being closed.

A little farther west, in Gothenburg NE, I pulled off and walked around an original Pony Express station from the mid-1800s. The building had been moved to this location, but looked like it had been there for the last century and a half. It was a nice little stop, and Gothenburg smacked of being a quaint little town, probably worthy of the fifteen minutes I’d given it.

Westward I continued toward Sidney NE. Yet another opportunity for a break, and a terrific shooting locale. I stopped at a rest area here, and just took in the plains. All through the trip this morning, I’d been climbing in elevation, the prarie slowly giving way to the rolling hills that would eventually lead to the buttes and mountains. This was the last good view of the flatland before hitting the majestic peaks of the front range of the Rockies. Here, the plain stretched to the east, and planted atop them was a two-story tall aluminum sculpture by Hans van de Bovenkamp, placed there during the Bicentennial. This thing is huge, and depicts a confluence of roads, presumable the confluence of I-80 and I-76, which is only a few miles from this spot.

On west I continued, and I saw my first butte jut from the landscape. I was elated to see the promise of the big mountains yet to come. I love the Rockies. Their beauty really speaks to me, and I was exhilarated to know that soon, I’d start seeing them peek over the horizon.

And soon came. In truth, had the skies been clearer, I would’ve seen the peaks earlier, but when I hit Cheyenne WY, I finally saw the big mountains on the horizon. They’d been there for a while, but the growing haze during the day kept me from seeing them any earlier. I was filled with joy when I realized they were there, and felt like I’d made real progress on the trip. The Rockies just seem so far away from St. Louis, and seeing them told me that I’d exited the flat prairie, and traded it for the mountains.

The road to Laramie WY wound higher and higher into the mountains, crossing 7000 feet in elevation. Here though, the elevation was making for a tough drive. I thought it was just me having trouble keeping the truck on the road — I’ve been known to have challenges with altitude — or that the truck was complaining about the altitude. Then I passed the sign that said that the winds were over 45 mph with higher gusts. No wonder the truck was all over the place! This was a tough, tough part of the drive, with me and a whole bunch of big rigs jockeying for space and position on the road.

Still east of Laramie WY, I stopped at a “Point of Interest” (that’s what the sign said, anyway). Basically, it was a chance for me to rest from the drive and walk around in the whipping winds. The point of interest? A tree. Growing out of rocks. Apparently, this was an amazing thing to see when folks first came from the east to find their fortunes in the west. According to the signs, this scene has graced many photos and postcards. I guess it’ll be in my collection too!

Still east of Laramie WY, I encountered yet another rest area, this one at the highest point on I-80 — 8640 feet. The folks out here really like big monuments, and this rest area had a gigantic statue with the head of Honest Abe atop it. I-80 was at one time a private roadway, called the Lincoln Highway, and this monument was a tribute to the old roadway. Also memorialized was the first telephone cable run through this area in 1882. A very nice stop, albeit cool and windy. The 70s I had enjoyed on the plain had given way in the altitude to mid-50s, along with 40+ mph winds.

My intent was to stop in Rawlins WY for the night, but when I did, it seems that every hotel in town was under construction and weren’t quite open yet. This, despite having lit signs, advertising prices and touting availability. I stopped one worked and asked if they were open, and I got some response in Spanish indicating clearly that neither of us understood the other. I finally figured out that he was telling me the hotel would be open in a few days. I couldn’t wait that long, so I decided to head for the next wide spot in the road: Rock Springs WY.

Rock Springs WY was also under construction, but here it was the roads, not the buildings, that were all torn up. Happily exercising my 4WD over the pummelled roads, I found my way to the Best Western Outlaw Inn, and plopped myself down for the night. So, my misfortune in Rawlings WY puts my about 100 miles farther than I needed to be, so I’m just a little ahead of schedule, with only 100 miles left in Wyoming, to be followed by Utah and Nevada tomorrow. My goal is to spend the night in either Reno or Carson City on Saturday, leaving me just a short jaunt to Yosemite on Sunday.

Given that I’m a little ahead of schedule, I’m seriously thinking about taking I-80 to Salt Lake City UT, and then taking I-15 south to Hwy 50, and then taking it west to Ely NV. That’s a short day for me — about 450 miles, give or take — and sets me up for a short drive of about 300 miles on Saturday, which will allow me to spend some down time in Reno, enjoying The Biggest Little City in the World.