Monday, June 2, 2014

Travel Day 3: Merriman, NE to Casper, WY

I slept better this night, thankfully.  The town was super-quiet, and not at all busy... which I'm sure played into a more restful night for me.

I was up well before 6:00am, and was parked at the pump when the gas station attendant opened shop.  I wasn't the only one - there were 2 others waiting to fill up as well, but they were locals.  Seeing them, I didn't feel so bad about stalking the station.  I put over 16 gallons in the tank.  After arriving in Gordon, NE later this morning, I established that I would not have made it there with the fuel I had left in the tank last night.  I'm very relieved I didn't take that risk.

I've enjoyed the drive on US 20 thus far.  Far more than I enjoy traveling by interstate highway.  I think it's because, for the most part, the US highway routes with the contour of the land - there never seems to be a shortage of things to look at, small towns and other items of interest.  Interstates cut through the landscape, eliminates the active participation with the road, deletes the smaller towns... which seems to make the travel dull.  The interesting thing is that, outside of traveling within the towns, I still do the same speed on the US highway as I would on the interstate highway.

Before arriving into Chadron, I took a short detour to the south of the highway, and into the Nebraska National Forest.  I could see some pretty rock formations from the main road.

Definitely not in Chicago anymore...

I stopped in Chadron for a shower and to refill my water, and then proceeded into Wyoming.

Soon after crossing the state line, I could begin to see a mountain range.  I stopped in Douglas, WY to top off the tank and review my atlas for alternate route options - the mountain range was tempting, and I hoped that I could re-route in that direction.  Before I left home, I had done a little research on both the Pony Express Trail and the Oregon Trail... and today, I'd hoped to find them.  I found some 'unmaintained' roads (gravel/dirt) on the map, and decided that's what I'd do.  I had a couple of options.  I could (1) go north on the I-25 interstate from Douglas and catch a short dirt road, or I could (2) drive 15 miles south on the interstate, in the opposite direction that I had been driving, to a segment of unimproved road that would take me a lot longer to navigate.  If I routed myself correctly, that road would dump me out back in Douglas... where I started from.  I chose the second option.

I spent the better part of the afternoon within the Medicine Bow National Forest navigating forest service trails and 2-track ranch roads.  I'd guesstimate approx. 100 miles traveled on non-paved surfaces this afternoon.  Gorgeous landscape, multiple encounters with elk and free-range cattle, and just a great day to be 'lost.'

I left the dirt roads for the pavement, and rolled into Casper, Wyoming this evening.  I grabbed a quick dinner, and then headed out again... this time on the road that leads to the top of Casper Mountain.  I stuck around there until just after sunset before coming back down into the foothills that is Casper.

As I consider tomorrow's travel, there are a couple of things that come into mind.  While I'm not one for setting a daily destination goal, I'd like to get into the neighborhood of Yellowstone by the end of the day tomorrow.  That said, I'm now finding better information about the Pony Express/Oregon Trails, and I hope to find them west of Casper tomorrow.  Even if I'm not successful, there are a TON of unimproved road routing options I can take in the direction of Yellowstone.  I have to balance the time and distance... to experience the backcountry while still making my destination before dark.

More later!