The BNSF railroad runs massive coal trains from Wyoming to electrical plants in the south. We were used to big trains, but this empty train heading north was one of the longest we have ever seen.
Entering Wyoming we spent our first night at an amazing campground at the Vedauwoo Recreation Area. It is an area full of huge boulders and cliffs and is a very popular climbing site. It reminded us of an area south of Jos in Nigeria, that we had camped in during our trip across the Sahara. (https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/regions/Rocky_Mountain/VedauwooRecAreaPoleMtn/index.shtml)
We then headed north to Casper through some lovely green country (obviously lots of rain here also!) where we saw lots of pronghorn deer grazing in the meadows with the cattle. And there were lots of cattle! Courtesy of the Harvest Hosts website we found Historic Trails West, who offered free camping for the night if we joined one of their covered Conestoga wagon expeditions along the Oregon Trail. (https://www.historictrailswest.com)
This sounded like tons of fun, and is just the sort of silly thing we enjoy, so we signed up for a wagon ride/pioneer dinner. And it WAS tons of fun! The driver included explanations of the Trail and background into the lives of those heading west. Most fascinating was how to get the two Percheron horses (not authentic from the time but practical) and the wagonload of people safely down a steep part of the trail. Not to mention getting them up it again on the return. Our meal was excellent, especially the cherry cobbler!
We spent a pleasant night up on the bluff surrounded by pronghorn deer and stayed warm and dry while the wind howled and the rain fell! We have been experiencing lots of afternoon storms in Colorado and in Wyoming and some of them are quite violent.
The driver of our Conestoga wagon told us about the annual National Collegiate Rodeo Championship taking place in Casper at that time, so we decided to delay a day to attend the semi finals. We had no idea that Western universities had rodeo teams and competed against each other for money and prizes. We thoroughly enjoyed our first rodeo and watched with awe the bronco riding, the steer riding, and all the other events. The skill of the riders and their horses is incredible. Fred, on the other hand, was most impressed that the majority of the broncos, steers, and even goats, made an immediate bee line for the exit chute as soon as their event was over. There were, of course, “shaggers” to catch and direct the animals, but in most cases it simply wasn’t necessary, the animals knew when their event was over and left of their own accord. It may have been our first rodeo, but it was clearly not theirs.
We also visited the Fort Caspar fort and museum. The site had long been used by traders, emigrants, and settlers. Over the years various trading posts, military installations, fords, ferries, and a bridge were built there. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Caspar)
Still in Oregon Trail mode, we headed south to visit Independence Rock. This rock was a gathering point and market for those heading west. Lots of names were carved on it by the settlers and it was known as the goal to be reached by July 4, so as to avoid the greater likelihood of winter snows in the mountains as they progressed to Oregon. We did not find many clear inscriptions probably as we did not climb the rock itself. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independence_Rock_(Wyoming)) We also went to look at Devil’s Gate, a cleft in the mountain that the settlers had noted and visited on their route west. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil%27s_Gate_(Wyoming)) We were not able to get closer than the overlook. From Independence Rock, the emigrants began an easy, one hundred mile climb to South Pass, a remarkably low and wide pass in the Rocky Mountains. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Pass_(Wyoming)) Looking back at Lewis and Clark, and others, the South Pass was a kind of Shangri-La for European Americans trying to travel west. And by making it easy to cross the Rocky Mountains, the South Pass helped spell the death knell for the Plains Indian nations.
While on this jaunt, we realized that our refrigerator was not working well, again! So we turned it off, restarted it and prayed it would get its act together. We camped for the night beside the North Platte River in one of the BLM fishing camps, Chalk Bluffs.
The next morning our refrigerator (the one that was replaced last year in Maine) was really dead. So we returned to our campground in Casper with the aim of getting it looked at. The campground, the Casper East RV park (http://caspereastrvpark.com), welcomed us back and recommended a local RV repair shop. The shop, however However, told us to go away until August so we decided on Plan B. We ordered an ARB 50 quart plug in unit from Amazon and a new refrigerator, a Nova Kool this time, the same as we had in the Tiger. We no longer trust the Thetford Norcold. Meanwhile Denise borrowed a cooler from the camp owner which she will return when we return on Thursday to pick up our ARB. We did mention that the RV park was wonderful?