Days 12, 13, 14  WLBT

Lander and Thermopolis, WY

Written by David Runkel

The tour’s original schedule called for us to be in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Utah these days.  But, when the recommended bookstore owner in Moab was contacted, he said, “You’re coming here in late June. Do you know how hot it is here that time of the year, and how many tourists there are?”

This led to a change in plans.  Let’s stay further north, explore Wyoming.  So, after an amazing breakfast at Persephone on Tuesday (Ali, the owner wants to own a B&B as well as cafes), the tour headed south and east through beautiful mountains, passing fast-moving rivers and then a long stretch of high desert sage brush.  We descended, to our left was a deep canyon with green on one side and red rock on the other. Having taken a number of geology classes in my day, I fervently wished I’d paid attention.

Eventually we landed in Lander and since this part of Wyoming is a B&B free zone, the local Best Western was our destination.  Alas, the Inn at Lander is no longer a Best Western and we think we found out why. It’s definitely lost whatever luster it may have had.  Our room was clean, however, and we ventured into the small exercise area for treadmill and cross-trainer time, followed by a dip in the very cold pool and eventually after a large, local family departed, into the hot tub.  Our bodies reveled.

Lander’s main drag is a quiet place of an evening. Good old YELP directed us to a stunning and wonderful place, Cowfish.  Its name comes from local legend that a cowboy struggling to help rescue a cow from the river discovered its hindquarters were fishlike. The food was surprisingly good, especially the lightly-fried walleye served on a bed of beans, tomatoes and some hot peppers.  Their signature spicy date cake with whiskey sauce somehow disappeared, even though we were both full.

Wednesday, we took off for the world largest mineral hot springs (WLMHS) in Thermopolis, which is also the heart of dinosaur country. The striking 10-mile long Wind River canyon with 2,500-foot walls displaying a billion years of geology robbed us of the words to describe them. We felt like we were in and of a National Geographic cover.

Too early to check in to the Best Western, we followed the sign to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, which turned out to be in a new, ugly, metal warehouse-like building on the outskirts of town.  What do we know about this place? Nothing.  How much do we want to spend? $10 each at the most. Coming from Smithsonian territory, it’s hard for us to give up cash for T-rex.

But that’s what we did, and you’ll be surprised to know that in terms of breadth of displays and depth of scholarship, it was equal to the Smithsonian. At the outset, no dinosaurs were visible. Instead, we started with the history of the earth’s formation, moving on to the first sea creatures and plants.  The museum has a remarkable collection of impressions made by animals and plants in rock formations from around the world.  All sorts of early fish were exhibited, with those forming legs with eight toes and then shedding three toes so that when these fish moved onto ground they had the five toes we all have today.

Eventually, we moved into the flying and land based dinosaurs, some small, others gigantic.  Again, there were real bones found in places around the world, including those found nearby.

The highlight was Jimbo, the largest and most complete dinosaur in the world found in Douglas WY. Jimbo is 108 feet long and weighs 40 tons, with a brain the size of a golf ball.  New to the museum this year is the smallest dinosaur ever found in the state, which had been preserved for years almost adjacent to Jimbo. Behind glass windows, workers were carefully removing dirt from bones recently found.

We could have continued our course of discovery by spending the rest of the day at a dig site in 90-degree temperatures, but saved that opportunity for the next time.

What an amazing place!  Better than any natural history museum the tour has ever visited.  So, comprehensive and with the story of the world so well told and documented. 

Leaving the center, we found the entrance to the Hot Springs Park, but took a turn to pass a large cooper-roofed building holding a large mineral springs pool, and then to our surprise found the Best Western.  Turns out to be a 1918 two-story, reddish-brown brick building with beautiful rooms, a pool and a spa with hot mineral water flowing in from the WLMHS up the hill.  A slight Sulphur smell is everywhere.

We checked in, had lunch, rest and with the sun about to go down behind the hotel, go for a cure in the spa.  It’s 104 degrees.  We sit a while, cool off in the pool, sit a while in the spa, cool off.  You get the picture.  We’re well on our way to perfect health.  Somehow, we lucked out.

More of the same on Thursday, although we added a stop at the state-run baths.  No cost, as per a treaty agreement with the Indians in the late 1800s.  Two pools were fed directly from the hot springs a block away.  After a soak, we walked around the springs, indeed very large daily pumping out 18.6 gallons of 127-degree water containing 27 minerals.  The walk included crossing the Wild River via a 100-foot pedestrian swing bridge, which is best done if you look straight ahead and ignore the wind and the fast-moving water below.

While in downtown Wednesday we stopped by the local book store which stocks a lot of religious books, smoothies, coffee and an impressive array of stuffed animals.  Josh, the owner’s nephew, was welcoming but said he couldn’t schedule a reading on the spot without the necessary public notices.  He accepted a book to give to his aunt who was on an anniversary trip to Alaska.  In exchange, he gave us two biscotti cookies which are shipped in weekly from Hoboken, NJ.  It seems that a relative of the biscotti baker stopped by several years ago on vacation and a deal was reached. 

Friday morning the tour attempted a pop-up reading in the hotel lobby, but there was more interest in checking out and getting on the road than in hearing the white-haired author in her fried-egg dress hold forth. A flop, but a try.

Instead we headed north 25 miles to Legend Rock State Archaeology Site to take in more than 300 petroglyphs some believed to be more than 11,000 years old, but a couple only 100. These scenes of people and animals, many with unusual bodies, are “pecked” or “incised” into rock wall. Art that is centuries old.  We were impressed.  The volunteer caretakers at the site for June, Jenny and Steve, are from Fort Collins, CO where we are headed tomorrow to be with Betsy and Bill Towle. Reading Monday at Fire House Books.