Thursday, August 15, 2013

Black Thunder

After climbing Inyan Kara, I was too exhausted to make the drive to Grand Teton so I camp at Devil’s Tower and get a strange craving for mashed potatoes. In the morning I set off for Grand Teton but first make a detour back down highway 16 towards the black hills. Coming this way allows me to see the black hills one more time and give me a more scenic route to western Wyoming as opposed to taking the interstate.
Along the way the undulation of the fields gets more and more pronounced and the environment more arid. In the towns I pass I see oil wells being pumped and derricks. Then on my right I see a train stretching off to the horizon. On the horizon there grows a silo. The silo gets taller and taller and a trunk stretches from the top all the way to the ground. The train is heading towards silo. Then to my left there is another one of these silos. At its base there are giant trucks with wheels the size of a regular sized truck. They dump piles of coal into buildings and those buildings dump piles of coal into smaller trucks and those smaller trucks drive around the field. A sign on the side of the road says “Blasting area, orange cloud possible. Avoid contact.”, another sign says “Black Thunder”.
After the mine the last remants of the prairie are fractured by sandstone cliffs pushing up and shearing the grass that is giving way to scrub. The cliffs get taller as I go and the stone gets red and for a second I imagine that I’m driving to Moab in Utah. Then suddenly the sky is full of clouds and the cliffs subside into the earth and grass grows again. I’m nearing Riverton and the sky is streaked with layers of fat clouds. So many that when the central rockies come into sight I mistake them for another band of clouds on the horizon for the longest time.
Once the mountains are in view the nature of my journey changes and I become a bit restless. I’m no longer travelling across fields waiting to see what comes over the next hill. Now I know where I am going and can only watch the mountains as the details resolve as I get closer. The clouds let loose the rain that makes this region fertile but I can see the sun shining on the peaks in the distance. By the time I reach Grand Teton, the rain has given way to a haze that allows me to see the mountains only in silhouette.

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