|Rally in Riverton required masks, but at least it DID HAPPEN.
We failed to reserve at Holiday Inn, proven good from earlier; we tried
Riverton's Comfort Inn. Respectfully — first night was horrible.
We got a room foreshortened by a niche containing an ice-making machine,
which rattled and rumbled all night. Under the windows of this non-smoking
room, we had an outdoor smoker's area, and one could practically never open
the window. I had the impression the whole night that something in the room
smelled faintly, but definitely weirdly.
The source became obvious the next day, when workers
trotted into other rooms on the corridor and began changing carpets. Ours had
already been replaced, by a clean, new, beautiful — but industrially
reeking one. We could not get the room exchanged in the evening, but now we
hoped to get a different room, or have luck changing the hotel. Still we got up
at four thirty (but for us, thanks to time zone change, it felt like
three-thirty) for the balloons.
|Bisons were determined to reach their destination.
|Destination was a water hole - here, comparing a small calf and a bull.
Riverton Randezvous was one of the few ballooning festivals that were even
happening this year. The rest of them got swallowed by corona-virus hysteria.
Still even this rally got affected. For example, for every day of the two weeks
preceding the rally, I had to fill out a form stating absence of cold symptoms,
and swearing that I did not visit China. Fortunately I managed to convince them
that one form per family was enough, since we share a household, and if any of
us got sick, none of us could participate. Further, no public was allowed on
the launch field. On one hand, it relieved us of having to watch out for some
idiot lighting up a cigarette (hint — every balloon's basket contains
two or three large propane tanks), from having to explain to over-excited
children that one does not step on the balloon envelope fabric, and to their
parents that rolling with baby strollers over a crown line (or any line) was
not the best of ideas. On the other hand, we missed our typical merry audience,
which outweighs problematic visitors many-fold.
|Bisons beleaguered by tourists.
|Hot springs form a cascade of pools.
The last annoying thing was mandatory wearing of masks. I can generally
understand a mask in the basket (with minimum space to move, people breathing
to each other faces few inches apart), but while running around a field, it
seemed excessive. Still, these were the conditions for the event, and we had
to accept them or stay out.
Having flown, the crew went to have a joint breakfast at Trailhead. We had dined
there the previous night, but it's a proven restaurant. Then we tried to reserve
a room at another hotel, but failed; so we tried to speak with the manager of
the one we stayed at — and suddenly everything worked and we were briskly
moved to the third floor, to a larger room, with an old (non-smelling) carpet,
far from rumbling machines. We took advantage of this luxury and pretty much
stayed in our beds for the rest of the day, kids in part doing things for school
and relaxing — after seven days on the road and having experienced a lot,
we needed to take a day off from our vacation.
|The color of algae and cyanobacteria indicates water temperature; orange means average 85 degrees Fahrenheit..
|A view to Big Horn River with people's baths.
The kids even refused to have dinner, and so Sid and I set out to check out the
night life of the
town. Ballooning is only a small
part of local summer festivals and celebrations, and that particular day ended
with a parade of vintage automobiles and a street party. Lots of people gathered
in the streets, lined with "hot-dog" stands of many varieties, but
from California we are sick of eating out from a paper bag, and we looked for a
place to sit down.
Eventually we found Brown Sugar, which presents itself as a coffee
shop and roastery, but they also have very good food. So good that we did not
regret stopping there, although service turned out to be very slow.
Getting up in the morning was difficult again, and on top of it we lost a
magnetic crew sign on our way to the launch field, and that made us grumpy.
And there was no flying that day, not even standing balloons up, for the wind
was such that you would miss the skirt opening on the balloon with your
"flame-thrower". So we reckoned that the freed-up time can be utilized
to a sociable chat, and took Jeanne with Tom to a breakfast at Brown Sugar.
The service was, again, incredibly slow, but it just gave us more time to
properly cover all topics and plan with our pilots a trip extension to South
Dakota. We had previously dropped kids off at the hotel, where they could get
the hotel breakfast (included in price). Then we planned to sleep in a bit,
and visit Thermopolis in the afternoon.
|A view to the cascade and a wooden walkway from the bath.
There are two attractions in this small town — bison safari, and
hot springs. We told ourselves we would first try the beef, should they be
there, accidentally. Two years earlier, they were not, and we only spotted
two specimens elsewhere by the freeway. This year we were rewarded by a whole
herd, tamely roaming where they were supposed to be. Adults with several calves
were crossing the prairie and to our delight headed to a water hole, where
subsequently all splashed, drank and refreshed. First to leave the pool was an
old cow, seemingly lame and dark-spirited — apparently she tried to give
herself a head-start ahead of the herd, as she fell behind on the way to the
Being good little tourists, we first walked the top side of the hot springs,
along the walkways all the way to a suspended pedestrian bridge over Big Horn.
We found less water this year in the pools, but people were swimming in hot
spring heated side of the river below, and we went there to join the fun.
It was difficult to find a parking spot there, but we squeezed in somehow
— even found a spot in shade under a tree, with a view of the river.
Sid and Lisa did not feel like swimming much, Tom and I made it to a bend in
the river. It does not seem much,
but Big Horn River proper is icy and has a strong current, especially on the
outer perimeter of the turn, and on our way back we were glad to reach the
bottom and walk against the current.
|Landing in the back yard of a supportive veterinarian.
Touristically sated and well washed, we went to have a dinner in a proven Thain
restaurant in down-town. It seemed to us that the owners have changed, but food
remained excellent, just as we remembered it, and it was another success.
Flying weather ensued on early Sunday morning, and balloons could begin to hover
as desired. Jeanne landed at the end of town we have not seen before, and we
liked it there very much. We chased and packed in the back yard of a local
veterinarian, who seemed quite open to such fun undertaking. We also got a
chance to speak with local mayor (who's grand-daughters got to fly), which
was a very interesting experience — mostly because we met again a person
very proud of their small town (ten thousand people) and its successes.
We had a breakfast at the hotel for a change, and then we packed for our trip
extension to South Dakota. We had agreed to meet with Jeanne and Tom at a hotel
in Hot Springs. Apparently they followed the same schedule, for we kept meeting
on the way at rest areas, and arrived more or less together. They drove a bit
slower, towing a balloon trailer, and we got tied up in Casper, where we in vain
hoped to get our windshield fixed — a rock hit us near Lander and we did
not want the crack to spread. Alas, the glass shop was closed on a Sunday
— despite advertising emergency hours online. We reckoned we would deal
with it in our next destination, and continued to Hot Springs.
|Bisons in South Dakota, roaming free, without reservations and fences.
|Four-legged bandits hold up cars and demand carroty toll.
We had a joint dinner in a more-or-less only local place, which doubles as
a bowling hall. But the food and company was great. Night brought a crazy
thunderstorm and rain, and we quickly ran to close it, once we realized we
have been keeping our bus windows cracked open and venting. It does not rain
much in California, and we keep our cars in the garage most of the time.
South Dakota demonstrated such habit as unwise. When I came back to the room,
Lisa sat on the bed nearest the open window and gazed, fascinated, into the
stormy night. For an asthmatic living in California, fresh air is a miracle.
In the morning we all piled into our bus — and we were not sure about
Jeanne willing to go along, for there are people who would never again share
somebody else's car on account of the
but Jeanne is obviously not afraid of dropping dead on the spot, when being near
someone who's not a family member (this journal being written with such
a delay, we can confirm Jeanne has not dropped dead even several months
thereafter, and instead is perky as ever) — and embarked on a loop through
beautiful Black Hills. Accidentally, herds of free roaming bisons grazed
alongside the road, and since bulls were coming into season, they made crazy
rumbling noises. We continued on the Wildlife Loop, where the main attraction
were wild burros (donkeys). Well... wildly... begging for treats in the road.
One baby donkey was funny, having decided to make its stand in the middle of
the road, and blocking traffic. It just stood there, you could see the resolve
to not move — it will likely grow into a very strong and very
|Twins are unusual with wild horses and donkeys, but here both yourg and the mother made it.
|Here is a practicing young donkey - surely will grow into a successful strong-headed adult.
A round trip covering pretty places took us through Needles — a beautiful
area with rocks — but I have not seen so many crowds in a long time.
One could not even park near Sylvan Lake, much less walk and see something.
And the most famous spot was still ahead of us — Mt. Rushmore with heads
of presidents carved into rock. At least there they are ready for lot of people,
and have built a huge underground parking garage. Jeanne and Tom kept assuring
us that the place was rather empty — while wading through tourist density
comparable to downtown Prague. It got better on a path under the monument, a few
hundred steps discourage a great deal of people. We could check out the four
presidents - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodor Roosevelt and Abraham
Lincoln from relative closeness. I was most intrigued by their eyes - instead of
empty, dead eyeballs the rock is carved into likeness of real eyes that look
like — "looking".
We stopped for a late lunch / early dinner at Firehouse Brewing in Rapid City.
It started to rain lightly, and we pulled out jackets and Lisa was ecstatic.
She kept enthused until morning, when she declared she was not checking out of
the hotel and would not be returning with us to California. We assured her that
we would not stay in the way of her desire, and that we noticed a sign in the
hotel that they were hiring housekeeping, and suggested she'd go inquire.
That took her aback a bit, but one thing stayed clear — South Dakota
jumped up to the top rungs of a ladder of places we would like to move to.
|We liked the landscape in Black Hills, South Dakota, very much.
|Needles - beautiful, but hopelessly overcrowded.
We have been considering to move for several years, on and off, and on our trips
we have always been looking out for signs, what would make sense and what would
not, what is a priority for us, and what we could be without. But more about
this next time — now we had a long journey home ahead of use. We began by
trying to engage a local glass repairman, to let him fix our windshield —
but he eventually did not; we had a feeling that he would prefer to remain in
the virtual mode, waiting for customers being a lot less work than actually
— working. So we let it be, thinking we'd stop somewhere along the way,
and drove into Nebraska.
Nebraska • Wyoming • Laramie:
We de-factor only passed through Nebraska, and it surprised us on several
accounts. First, we spotted beautiful rock formations — Scotts Bluff and
Wildcat Hills. Then we realized we really did not find cities there, though
according to maps we drove through several. It would seem that local habitation
consist of an endless array of huge farms. Farmers are sure to shop, go to
school and have their cars fixed somewhere, but apparently they have some secret
ways to do it off the main roads.
From Nebraska we re-entered Wyoming again; in Cheyenne we pumped gas at the
intersection of interstate freeways, and continued to Laramie, where we had
spotted another glass repair place. Re-entering the freeway, we got illuminated
by a big sign over the freeway, announcing a thunderstorm ahead. We did not
understand much the significance of such statement, for the storm was visible
on a horizon anyway. We got it in the moment hail the size of marbles began
pummeling our car. By then we found ourselves in a stretch with no escape, not
even under an overpass like we did years ago in Montana. Eventually we reached
Laramie, even found the glass shop. When we told the repairman we needed
a windshield crack fix, he said expertly,
"so you went through the storm".
We agreed we did, but assured him the storm did no damage; ours was from an
earlier stone. So he let us have a look at a car that came just before us
— dents in the hood, windshield smashed in five places — apparently
we got ass-hat crazy lucky and skirted but a tendril of the hailstorm with
marbles, not catching the main part with baseball-sized hail. The glass man then
told us about three more customers calling ahead and coming down from their
trip through that storm.
|Faces stone and flesh.
|Eyes of the presidents are carved so that they look and are not blind.
The windshield was to be fixed in an hour, and we ventured to a pub named Speed
Goat. I'm sure you understand that given our affinity to goats we did not have
much choice. Speed goat is an Indian name for the local antelope, and indeed,
the animals look very goat-like. This convinced us that Laramie was a very
civilized town — they'd fix our car without push-back, lady at the desk
chatted with us amicably despite it being after hours, and they have a Speed
Still we had to start biting off those many miles back home, and we had reserved
a room at a hotel in a town named Rowlins. The hotel was... peculiar. It must
have been a classic American motel at one time, with room entrances directly
from an open porch. Then somebody thought it suboptimal for a windy place with
cold winters, and glazed the porch over. Now, in ninety degrees heat, it formed
a nice hot-house — and with porch windows not possible to open (for our
safety, I'm sure), the rooms had individual air-conditioning, which, alas,
vented into the glazed-over porch/corridor. Which, naturally, jointly with all
the rooms, smelled like a monkey pavilion at a ZOO, hundreds of past visitors
having marinated here in their own un-aired juices; it was strong and powerful!
Eventually I discovered that back side porch windows could be cracked open to
an inch, and it smelled less there, so we asked to be moved. Unfortunately we
had no other choice; tried other hotels and they were sold out.
|Young mammoth bones.
|Mammoth jawbone with ribbed molars.
We drove through Utah the next day, where we — to Lisa's delight —
got caught in another nice thunderstorm, and stopped for the night in Elko,
Nevada. There the restrictions began to build up again, but we were still able
to have a dinner out in a restaurant, and got a decent breakfast at our hotel,
in a dining hall with tables, and silverware. When we pumped gas in Minden on
the border to California, we were greeted at the station by an aggressive sign
"no mask, no service" — regardless of the fact that there are
people (e.g. asthmatics), who cannot endure a mask.
And it was to be worse; being deep in California when dinner time hit, we
faced a hard lock-down — restaurants may serve food only outside.
It was eighty degrees, and we had to sit out on a smelly parking lot, at
greasy formica tables, slurping food from paper bowls and cups. How hygienic!
Yes, we could have bought groceries, haul them for several more hours all the
way home, and cook them by midnight, well...
This time there was no joy in coming back home from our trip, although we were
gladly reunited with our animals, slept again in our own beds, and living in
our own house. It was a return to the reality of a masked totality, full
of nonsensical edicts and drunkenness of power.