August 30. The mountain ranges that encircle Salt Lake City are the most beautiful I’ve seen in our two-month travels. On this crisp morning, as we left the city en route to Cheyenne, filtered light from the sun’s rays created a variegated palette of warm earth tones across the face of the mountains. It was an auspicious beginning of a very pleasant drive to Wyoming, nicknamed the Cowboy State. Although Wyoming’s politics is colored deep red, its history is anchored in more progressive endeavors as it is the first state to grant suffrage to women in 1896, which explains its second moniker as the State of Equality. (Yes, we are standing next to a six-foot tall boot).
Cheyenne is the last stop of my post-retirement cross-country trip. Here Melanie and I are visiting friends, Bob and Carole Mathia, from Granger who retired here last year. Bob is a former city planner from South Bend and Carol, a retired Spanish teacher from Goshen High carpooled with Melanie for seven years. Bob’s first career was with USAID, United States Aid for International Development. Their home houses memorabilia from the many years he and his family lived abroad. Walking through the rooms of their eclectically furnished home is akin to taking a virtual tour of the globe. Bob has an extensive collection of elephants from Thailand, India and Pakistan. Rugs from Pakistan adorn the floors of each room. Walking canes seemingly from every corner of the globe affirm their globe-trotting past. The rocking chairs from each of the countries in which they’ve lived complement Bob and Carol’s convivial nature inviting the visitor to stay awhile. Adding to the charm of their home is Carol’s broad collection of Tweety Bird paraphernalia. Melanie and I particularly like Tweety leaning against the Eiffel Tower, a gift from one of our trips to France.
September 2. Our Labor Day weekend with the Mathias was low-key and relaxing. We had breakfast on Saturday morning with their daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter. The rest of the day was spent touring Cheyenne. The town has an Old West feel to it. Walking around the central square, looking at the storefronts and the cowboy images, it is not hard to imagine the once untamed character of a dusty frontier. The old railway station and the huge locomotive nearby remind us of the importance of rail traffic in the development of the Western territories. We spent Labor Day at Bob and Carol’s log cabin about a two-hour drive north of Cheyenne. The landscape of distant rocky buttes and mountains with sagebrush spread over miles recalled boyhood memories of the Western movies that my brothers and I happily watched with our dad. This land seduces you with its open skies and vast stretches of land with limitless boundaries. I understand now why this region is called Sky Country.
The canopy of sky surrounds and envelops you in a sea of marine blue; its starchy white billowing clouds create architecturally interesting shapes against this brilliant canvas.
Before arriving at the cabin, we stopped for lunch at a café in Chugwater, population 210, known for its delicious chili. And what a cultural experience! This café originally began as a drugstore and soda fountain in 1914, and from what I could observe, not much has changed since then. There was only one table occupied and no one at the soda counter when we entered, but not long after a steady stream of visitors came. Before long the place was packed. The number of people squeezed into this small establishment was matched by the hordes of flies that invaded the space. But what was interesting and almost comical was the elderly rancher, most likely the husband of the proprietor, who walked around with his fly swatter smacking the intrusive pests. What was equally amusing was that no one seemed to bother with him or the flies, and it certainly did not interfere with the tasty chili. And, we could not leave without first treating ourselves to tasty and refreshing shakes.
Later in the day, after spending time at the log cabin – although made of logs its size and interior accouterments qualify it more as a home away from home – we toured the countryside and visited another small town, Glendo, whose population was just shy of Chugwater’s at 205. The main drag could have been a setting for a Wyatt Earp film. We moseyed over to the saloon, passed through the swinging doors and entered a smoke -filled room rancid with the smell of tobacco and alcohol. Every seat at the bar was occupied, so I could not get the full cowboy experience as I had envisioned. Besides, the heavy smoke made it practically impossible to breathe, so we ordered a six-pack to go. We returned to the log cabin and drank our beer with sandwiches. It was a much better ambiance anyway as the sun began to set casting a warm glow over Mount Laramie.
Our stay with the Mathias was much too short and did not allow time for a visit to the Black Hills or Mt. Rushmore. That will have to wait until our next visit westward across I-80. Our two-day journey home after Labor Day was uneventful. Once we saw the cornfields of Nebraska, we felt home was near. Since our arrival, we’ve kept a busy schedule of volunteer activities, outings with friends, and chores at home. Melanie had jury duty and has resumed her church meetings. And I’ve stained the pergola over the deck. There are still at least two more chapters of this post-retirement odyssey. So stay tuned.