My previous experience with the mountains of the West was limited to a rental car ride from the Denver airport to Breckenridge, Colorado, in early November several years ago. That was a fine introduction but it in no way did justice to the opportunity.
Last week, Randa and I used the same starting point but drove north through Fort Collins toward Laramie. We stopped for a late lunch at The Forks, a small store, deli and saloon a fairly short drive from Fort Collins. The sandwiches were surprisingly fresh and tasty and we lingered for a while at their upstairs outside dining area, taking in the view.
Soon after that, we encountered some spectacular boulder formations. Giant rocks, many reddish in color, rose in jumbled grandeur above the high desert floor near the roadway. At one section, the great stones rose into a high plateau, ringing a ridge a mile away and framing the route. In a few places, gorges cut through the formations, adding depth and mystery as they wound along their deeply cut paths and disappeared. A line of distant mountains rose to the west, peaks still capped with snow and glowing in the afternoon sun.
Passing the state line, we moved beyond the near hills and entered the vastness of the high plains of Wyoming. Miles of sage and grass passed by us on either side. On Interstate Eighty, we stopped at the Wagonhound rest stop between Laramie and Walcott. Small patches of Indian Paint Brush stroked their reds against the sand and grit. Tiny blue wildflowers added their colors along with the whites of yet some other blossom. The smell of sage sifted the wind and stirred old memories for Randa, who lived near Big Piney many years ago.
We walked beyond the rest stop asphalt and stood at the wooden rails bordering the area on the south. Distant mountains fringed the wild range with faded blues and muted grays, yet still with that capping of white. We could see the telltale drifts of distant rain, vertical trails of slatted blues showing the seams between clouds and earth.
As we stood on the ridge and looked across the millions of acres spreading as far the eye could see, I understood more in that instant than in a lifetime of hearing about Big Sky Country. The Vastness that spreads far beyond us in this universe and yet somehow includes us is not comprehended in the stories of others; it is known when we venture to experience it for ourselves and pass from awareness to belief.