Magical days are born Out West, and they just get more magical. Where else could I turn a 4-hour drive into an all-day project and take delight in every single minute of it? And the greatest delight of all was in sharing the experiences today with Matt, and seeing everything through his eyes as if for the first time. My grandson has been so utterly delighted with what he saw and did today that it just makes my heart soar.
Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming is an amazing structure that sprouts out of the ground and goes almost 1300 feet straight up. It is made up of columns of ancient igneous rock, and many years ago some of these columns broke off high up and rolled down the hillside. It’s astounding to see a chunk of rock the size of a house, lying on the ground; then to look up and realize where it came from on this monolith and what havoc it must have wreaked when it tumbled. Around the foot of the monolith lies a field of boulders, many acres in size, and we did some climbing among them. I went up as far as I felt safe, and Matt went all the way up to the signs that warn it’s a federal offense to go farther without being registered. Coming back down was easily as rigorous as going up, perhaps more so. And given the high altitude, we were both pretty worn out!
From there, we started the trek to Buffalo, Wyoming, to make our way over the mountain. Greybull, my brother’s town, lies between the Big Horn mountains and the Greybull River, with the Grand Tetons beckoning farther to the west.
What makes this area so spectacular is that every small turn of the path reveals a new and splendidly different vista. It’s as true of the road across the mountain as it is of the Devils Tower and surrounding valleys, and especially of the sights along the road from Buffalo to Ten Sleep. That’s what stretched our day out. We were up at 6 a.m. and at Devils Tower before 9 a.m. One hike around the shorter trail, two climbs, and at least a dozen stops for views and pictures later, we were finally ready to leave around 11:30. After lunch in Gillette, we continued on I-90 toward Buffalo. Then when we were almost through the mountains, we stopped at one of the overlooks and spent some time taking pictures and just drinking in the view, and talking.
We were looking down at a valley with a lovely stream running through it, with mountains — walls and towers of solid rock — on both sides. The road is an insignificant and very late addition to the scene. We imagined what it would have been like to explore this wild, beautiful land before any roads had marked and crossed it, and the prospect was both daunting and enticing. We imagined the challenges and delights of traveling with a bedroll, tent, and some food, of walking over the land with no idea of what lay beyond the next rise, with no town just over the hill where supplies could be refreshed, no cooler full of drinks and fresh fruit to sustain us. And no noise except that made by God’s own creatures.
We talked a great deal, after leaving the mountain behind, about how our lives get planned, and how important it is to follow one’s own heart and imagination rather than being locked into what one “should” do or what everyone else does. People often look askance at someone they perceive as a “free spirit,” as if the designation as a “free spirit” carries with it a certain level of irresponsibility.
Here I am, just now at the age of 68, living pretty much exactly as I want to live. What took me so long? Why must we wait for retirement to do such things? Why do we place such a high value on stability and so little on having a sense of adventure and on being awake and alive to the serendipity that is — that ought to be — life?
Tonight, we are at my brother and sister-in-law’s home in Greybull, and loving the sense of family and love that surrounds us. Tomorrow, after I go to Mass just down the street, it’s on to hiking adventures at Devils Kitchen nearby. We have several days of activity planned here before we head for Yellowstone later in the week. Adventures abound! Serendipity is just around every corner, waiting to be discovered and unleashed.
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