ABC Guide to Wyoming

Only a few days left until I leave for Edmonton, Alberta and I thought I’d share some wisdom for future travellers to the Equality/Cowboy State. Hope this comes in handy for the next people who come this way (like the new engineers Doug’s been training!)…
Adobe Town. A very cool, and very hidden place in southwestern Wyoming for a hike or camping trip.

Book & Bean in Green River has awesome service, tasty drinks, and neat local and hard-to-find gifts and books. Say ‘hi’ to Sarah or Misti for me next time you’re in!

Curry. If you’re a curry fiend like me, you’ll have to be a little creative while you live here. You can get great Thai curry at the Siam King in Rock Springs and can even buy the fixings at the grocery store, but for Indian curry you’ll need to buy it, naan, and pappadums at Whole Foods in Park City or ‘import’ it when you visit other major city centres. Or learn to make recipes from scratch like I tried on occasion.

Dog park in Rock Springs. They just built it in the spring of 2009 and it’s one of Riker’s favourite spots. If you live here and have a dog, you’ll want to stop by.

Escape Day Spa in Rock Springs. Don’t be frightened off by the cluttered boutique you first walk into. There are some great products in there and when you go through the door into the back you step into another world. It is calm, quiet, the staff is very professional and the treatments are lovely.

Fiery Hawaiian Pizza from Domino’s is amazing. It’s like the company combined my fave (Hawaiian) with Doug’s (italian sausage and hot pepper) to create a feast of fruit, roasted red peppers, and tasty meats. I will miss Steve, our pizza guy in Green River. So will Riker.

Green River Farmer’s Market. One of my favourite things to do last summer was to wander down on Wednesdays to pick up fruit and veg from Grand Junction, CO and other areas. I also committed carbicide at the Bread Lady’s stand and sure enjoyed the buffalo sausage on our hiking trips.

High altitude: Sweetwater County is a good 6000 feet above sea level, so you’d better believe you’ll be working harder if you’ve just arrived from lower ground. Keep this in mind before going off to climb the Wind River range or Tetons!

I-80. This is the second longest interstate highway in the U.S. and will get you from San Francisco to New Jersey. I’ve heard the section linking the sister cities of Green River and Rock Springs is one of the busiest. My best advice: watch out for the ‘semis’ (i.e. tractor trailers), consult WYDOT frequently during the winter, and if you can make it to Utah you’re alright because they salt the roads.

Castle Rock perched high above I-80 in Green River.

Jalapenos, tortillas, and margaritas. There are some great Mexican (and Tex-Mex) restaurants around here (Don Pedro’s and Mi Casita), the fresh salsa at the supermarket is delicious, and in the summer time you can pick up roasted peppers at road-side stands. Even at Bonzai, a Japanese restaurant in Rock Springs they have a stuffed-Jalapeno sushi on offer (and the portion sizes are definitely Texan)!

Killpecker Sand Dunes. I’ve never seen anything like it before!

Lunatic Fringe Salon in Park City. I tried to get my hair done locally and it was not pretty, so I found Karly at Lunatic Fringe. She’s a junior stylist (so the price is very reasonable) and knows how to cut, colour, and style. You get free Voss sparkling water, a luscious wash and massage in their lather lounge, and they validate parking.

Mormon Church aka Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS). For anyone not familiar with this religious group you should read up before coming to the area as it’s one of the dominant ones. Otherwise you won’t understand terms like Jack Mormon, Jesus Jammies (pejorative), etc.

National Public Radio. This might be an oversimplification, but I have discovered there are two types of people in the U.S. – those who listen to NPR and those who don’t. And Doug and I definitely have focused our friendship-making on those who do. NPR brings in BBC broadcasts and the Wyoming program Open Spaces is terrific. So much better than the screaming pundits mixed in with oversensationalized crap on CNN, MSNBC and Fox. In fact, the only TV news I watch is the Daily Show and the Colbert Report.

Organized religion. Actually, if you’re coming from a large city or place where religious beliefs are not something you discuss regularly (or that you’re used to discussing/debating at all) you might be a little shocked when you move here. I was. Rent Religulous for research purposes.

Pubs. Your best bet is to go to the Bittercreek Brewing Co. in Rock Springs for a pint of their microbrews (Doug’s fave is Bob’s Beer and mine is the Coal Porter) but don’t stay for food – it’s good but the service is abysmal. Better yet get a Growler to go. In Green River go to the Red Feather to enjoy a smoke-free drink.

Quaaludes, Methamphetamine, and other drugs are a problem in this area as the newspaper stories and drug counselling centres indicate. People also like their chewing tobacco and have drive-thru liquor stores. There is an ongoing joke about whether it’s the churches or bars that are winning the numbers game…

Recycling. I had to work a little harder to do this while I was here, but Green River has a drop-off centre that takes just about everything except glass, hard plastic, and some metals. So then you take the hard plastics to Rock Springs and the rest of it to Park City or Jackson Hole – a great excuse for a road trip!

Sweetwater County Libraries are terrific. The library staff work incredibly hard to put on exciting programming, support local artists/authors, and share their love of the written word. Take advantage of inter-library loans, online databases, and the staff’s good natures for your research needs!

Tanger Outlets in Park City, Utah. The best and nearest shopping destination to SW Wyoming. Yes, it’s a 2 1/2 hour drive away, but it’s totally worth it. Stop for lunch at the Red Rock Brewing Co. or the Hapa Grill. You won’t be disappointed.

Umbrella. Don’t bring it ’cause you won’t need it here much, which I love. It is sunny almost every day and big storms blow in and out in the summer so quickly you’d hardly have time to open your ‘brelly anyway. You’ll hardly use a snow shovel in the winter too!

Vicki, Evonne, Chris, and Christine all rock! They are great fitness instructors at the Green River Rec Centre (GRRC). Without them I never would have fallen in love with spinning, weight training, or be able to do ‘man’ push-ups!

The Green River Rec Centre

Weather. Wyomingites, like Canadians, love to talk about the weather. And it’s a safer topic of conversation than say, politics or religion!

XXX entertainment in the region: The Mast in Green River (which has a better website than most businesses in the area, I was just surprised to discover!) and the Astro in Rock Springs. Even small towns have their ‘dens of iniquity’!

Yoga is on offer five days a week at the GRRC with the lovely and soothing Shannon. These sessions helped me stay centred, stretched, and relatively sane through the craziness of the past year. Namaste.

Zumba, the dance-aerobic craze that’s sweeping the nation! And the Green River Rec Centre has just started offering it every other Friday night at 6pm. Lots of fun and a great workout.

Launching Summer

Although I missed my official book launch at the Book & Bean in Green River, WY on June 15th because of car problems, the owner and I decided to schedule a little meet and greet on Saturday, June 20th. I made sucre a la creme (using my aunt Micheline’s recipe) and gave out maple candies to the few folks who came by to chat.

On Wednesday the 24th, possibly the sunniest, warmest day the county had seen so far this summer, I was scheduled to give a talk at the White Mountain Library in Rock Springs. I had my powerpoint slides all set and when I arrived it was a great room with a big screen and ceiling-mounted projector. The weather was not conducive to an indoor event, though, and even with decent local media coverage the turnout was small. It’s quality not quantity that counts, however, and we had a great chat.
The weather was iffy on Friday the 26th when some friends and I set up our booth at Festival in the Park, part of Flaming Gorge Days here in Green River. The day began with torrential rain but tapered off a bit while we put up our sun/rain shelter. Halfway through the afternoon a thunderstorm hit us again and we all huddled together trying to protect our wares. Saturday the weather was much nicer and the Festival was much busier, but we all realized that people were there for sno-cones and Made-in-China souvenirs and were not interested in our artisanal products (my book, hand-made pottery, garden-planning “flower fan,” and broadsheets). As Doug remarked after a few hours of people watching: this is definitely not your target market. I guess I should have known when one of the headlining events was cage fighting.
My friend and booth-mate, Luke, handing out his self-published broadsheet, The Fiddler at Festival in the Park.
So after a tiring few months of deadlines and travelling and a pretty disappointing result from my Wyoming events, I decided to take a week or so off to relax and spend some quality time with Doug and the pets. One of our first orders of business was to head to Recreational Equipment Inc (REI) in Salt Lake City to purchase our camping gear. Then of course we had to go test it out. Which we did July 1st (both Canada Day and Doug’s birthday) at the Popo Agie (pronounced popo-zha) Wilderness Area in the Shoshone National Forest.
We stayed at the Popo Agie Campground, a no-fee, no services grouping of tent sites with very limited vehicle access. We were actually there the first day that section opened (it’s an alpine region so the snow recedes later) and no one else was camped. We loved the seclusion but the mosquitoes were plentiful in all the little snow-melt ponds and chased us out a day early. But we got the chance to test our gear in sun, hail, wind, and heavy rain – all in one 24 hour period! And Riker has decided he loves camping – especially weenie roasts.

Roadside “waterfall” in Shoshone National Forest

We attempted a hike from Christina Lake trailhead, but I hadn’t slept very well (who knew nature was so noisy at night?!) and the bugs were really getting on my nerves. So we called the trip and decided to go home, catch up on rest and regroup. This turned out to be a very good idea as I seemed to come down with a 24-hour bug once I got home and was out of commission yesterday.

This morning I felt great, though, and Doug and I headed for a hike up White Mountain to Pilot Butte (the rock formation behind me). We drove a short ways north to the Wild Horse Loop and then deked onto a track for a few kilometers before getting out and tramping through the sage brush. In the process I startled two pairs of sage grouse which made me screech and just about gave me a heart attack. But we made it and had a great hike, seeing several wild horses, pronghorn antelope, and what I think was a red-tailed hawk.

Riker is loving all this fresh air and exercise. We even bought him his own collapsible “Adventure Dog” bowl for trips. We’ve also discovered that the farther out his tongue hangs, the more tired he is. The tongue in this picture lets me know he will be comotose for the next day! Sure enough, as I write this, he has been passed out at the bottom of the stairs pretty much since we got back four hours ago…

At Pilot Butte there’s a metal ladder to get you to the very top. It’s pretty solid, but still a little nerve wracking.

“Wyoming folks have it better than most”

This was the headline for last week’s Green River Star editorial by Kathy Gilbert and from what’s been going on around the U.S. and the rest of the world, I tend to agree.

Gilbert was writing in response, of course, to the national recession and everything it entails: increased unemployment, reduced drilling for natural gas and oil (Wyoming’s major economic export), and the general sense of doom and gloom. But, Gilbert argues, she and many Wyomingites have had the “privilege of living with a boom-bust economy” for many years, making this less of a shock, perhaps:

“This isn’t new to those of us living in the middle of Wyoming’s huge natural gas reserves. Those of us born here have seen this boom and bust all our lives. It’s something we can count on, almost as surely as the sun rises. But the other thing we can count on is that we will survive. It might be a little harder this time … but we will get through this bust just as we have in the past. There will be some belt-tightening in most households. Some of us may have to forego a planned vacation, but overall, we’ll be fine.”

She also notes that “people in other places are talking about how they are now taking lunch to work instead of eating out. They say their familes used to eat out once or twice a week, but they’re cutting back by not doing that now.” I, for one, have taken lunch to work or school 99% of my life and I rarely go out for food more than once every couple of weeks, not only for financial reasons but because, as many magazines report, it is very hard to keep track of nutritional information and portion sizes at restaurants. Could it be that an interesting by-product of this recession might be a decrease in American obesity and type-II diabetes?

A few lines later Gilbert also writes that “one woman spoke about buying clothing at thrift stores” – something she hadn’t done before. Again, something I’ve been doing for years, especially at fun consignment stores in Vancouver’s rich neighbourhoods (a guarantee for good deals on chichi clothes). As a full-time student for six years living on my own, I learned to find sales, clip coupons, and enjoy used book stores. The hunt is half the fun!

While there are certainly those who have watched their pennies, worked hard and still lost their jobs and homes, it appears from media accounts (and the rumour mill) that many people lived the “Fat Cat” lifestyle during the boom times of this decade. Their overspending, undersaving, and general “I want it now but don’t want to pay for it until later” mentality has led to a large number of foreclosures and reposessions.
It may very well be that students used to scrimping, delayed gratification, and peanut butter and jam sandwiches have it better than most!

This Is Wyoming (Part Two)

For those of you who read my original post, This Is Wyoming (TIW), you probably have an inkling of what is to come in part two…

Preparing for an overseas journey is always a little stressful. You want to get ahead on your work – clear your desk physically and mentally. Then you need to figure out what the weather will be like, what you need to pack, and what you need to buy. You need to make arrangements for the pets, the mail, and the plants. A bunch of small things that can be a bit of a hassle, but usually work themselves out quite easily.

But this is Wyoming. This is a rural place with a small population that has largely been forgotten by the rest of America – and the world – except for a small blip of notoriety when Brokeback Mountain came out (if you’ll pardon the pun).

In a week and a half I am leaving for the United Kingdom to visit Doug, who’s in training in Edinburgh (Scotland) and then down south to Kent and London to visit good friends. Because I will be doing a fair bit of travelling on planes, trains, and buses, I decided it would be far easier to get a big backpack than have a rolly suitcase (been there, done that – the wheels broke and I almost died walking uphill to my B&B; in Ireland). Off to buy a multi-day camping backpack! Well, nothing in Green River, nothing in Rock Springs, and nothing at the outlet centre in Park City, Utah. Okay… thank goodness for the internet! I shopped around and found one half price through Eastern Mountain Sports last Friday. It shipped today from Massachussetts and should arrive in the nick of time next week.

Next step: clothes (because I do not want to show up in the uber-fashionable UK looking like a country bumpkin). The shopping selection here is very limited. While I like Herberger’s quite a bit (as you may have noticed with my Christmas post), it’s nice to have variety. So off I drove the two hours to the closest shopping area to me – Park City, Utah. I personally believe that the Mormons back in the nineteenth century went too far: they should have stopped about 30 miles east of Salt Lake City. At the risk of sounding sacriligious the Tanger Outlet Centre is my Zion, my temple square.

But one trouble with outlet stores is that you’re often getting the overstock from the retailers and special items – swimsuits, for example – are tough to come by out of season. So I checked out the local stores: the J.C. Penney website convinced me I didn’t want their swimsuits even if they had any; the local Sears, the man who answered the phone told me, only sells appliances and tools; and no one even answered the phone at Herberger’s. I was NOT driving 2 1/2 hours to Salt Lake City on slippery roads for a swimsuit. Time to do the unthinkable: shop for a bathing suit online. After poring over several websites I decided to order from Land’s End. So I ordered a whole mess of tops and bottoms and hopefully something works – then I can return whatever I don’t like for a flat fee of $6.95 shipping and handling… (Doug – probably best if you don’t look at the account until then!)

This morning, sitting at the computer, I decided to order my last online purchase: British Pounds. Doug’s company has a great system – in theory: you can order foreign currency online, they fed-ex it to your house, and deduct the amount from your account. Well, like everything else with The Company if it seems simple and straightforward it probably isn’t. Half an hour after I put in my online order, someone telephoned from a call centre in Toronto, Ont. to inform me that my request had been denied. Apparently they have a limit of $1500 US in any 90 day period from one account. If you’ve been watching the exchange rates, that’s lots in say, Zimbabwean dollars but zilch in GBP. The lady kindly informed me that I could take the money out of a different account or credit card. I informed her back that we had only just moved to Wyoming from Canada and were trying to keep the number of accounts and cards to a minimum. Then she suggested I get family to order the money and I could pay her back. I referred her to my last statement, sounding out the words: just moved to Wyoming = family in Canada.

Okay, fine, I’ll try and exchange money locally. So I call the branch I bank at and after speaking with two people discovered they do not exchange money (what?!!). Then I called US Bank; it would take them 10 days to order in British Pounds. Then I called Wells Fargo; you can only exchange money if you have an account with them. (At this point I think I felt a blood vessel burst somewhere in my brain.) Then I called the Rock Springs National Bank. After two people failed to be able to tell me if they exchanged money at the bank I finally spoke to Jan, my new best friend, who told me they could order in GBP in two days and I didn’t have to have an account with them (just had to pay $20 in fees for the service). So now I’m sitting on a wad of American cash waiting for my sweet Jan to call and tell me that my pounds have arrived.

But I’m not resting easy yet. After all, as my friend Anna discovered while she was here – it ain’t over until you are on that Dash-8 and out of Wyoming.

This is Wyoming (TIW)

If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, then you know that my friend, Anna, was here visiting last week. Anna is from Canada: she grew up in Ottawa, we met in Montreal, and she’s been living in Edmonton the past year. In short, she knows winter, and knows how traveling in winter can be a bit of a gamble.

She has also travelled extensively in Latin American and lived off and on for a year in Africa (Kenya and Mali) doing AIDS research and treatment-related projects for her Master’s in Public Health Policy. In short, she’s had to deal with travel SNAFU’s in rural areas of developing nations.

Apparently Wyoming combines the ‘worst’ of all these experiences.

Last Saturday I left the house for Rock Springs early in the day to volunteer at the Humane Society’s Santapaws event. I looked out the window at one point and saw it was snowing so asked someone what it was like outside. “Oh, it’s just wet on the roads,” he said. Within a few hours our customers had dwindled and people were talking about cars sliding through intersections. Apparently the temperature was dropping and any precipitation was turning directly into black ice.

At 4pm I got into my car and cautiously headed back to Green River. I never got above 60km/h (half my normal speed on the I-80) because I was concentrating so hard on staying in the dry grooves between ice patches so that I might stay on the road. Tractor trailers and other vehicles were whizzing by me in the left lane, and I was worried one of them might spin out and hit me but luckily that didn’t happen. I did notice a tractor trailer completely totalled in the ditch, though, and was so happy I hadn’t been on the road when that happened! [read Green River Star article “Winter Weather Brings Crashes“]

Someone else’s fun experience on the I-80 in winter conditions

When I got home, completely exhausted, I told Anna how bad the road conditions were. After checking the net, I also discovered that Salt Lake City was in the middle of a winter storm warning. I told Anna I wasn’t sure I would be driving her to SLC if this kept up. A resourceful traveller she said that was fine and checked into the Greyhound bus. According to the website it left from Rock Springs at 6:35pm and arrived in SLC at 10pm. Sounded good.

So we headed into Rock Springs Sunday at 3:30pm to try and get her ticket ahead of time to discover that the Greyhound ‘offices’ are closed on the weekend – so you’d just have to wait outside in the freezing cold to catch the bus. There was a sign in the window, though: “If the bus don’t come, its cause of weather. Call SLC.” (I heard this with a red-neck accent in my head, personally.)

Okaaay. So Anna’s worried now and not trusting the bus system much with good reason: after trying to talk to multiple people on the phone, she received varying departure and arrival times and no one seemed to know if the bus had left Denver en route to Rock Springs. If you asked Anna after getting off the phone, I think she’d have told you they didn’t know their heads from another part of their anatomy!

So she decided to rent a car and drive herself instead. We stopped in the local Holiday Inn and borrowed their yellowpages and phone. We discovered that because it wa Sunday only the rental places at the airport were open. Anna didn’t have any luck on the phone there, so we head back to my place for a marathon phone session of calling every single rental place in Green River and Rock Springs. It turns out that a) 75% won’t do one-way rentals (even if they have offices in Salt Lake City and b) no one had any cars anyway because there had been so many accidents over the weekend that all the cars had been rented by people whose vehicles were in the shop.

After hearing this I was really not going to drive my little Mini Cooper on a 5-hour round-trip on the truck-full I-80 to Salt Lake City! So I suggested she change her itinerary and fly out of Rock Springs, because at least we knew the roads around here weren’t horrible. After being on hold for far too long with United and Expedia, Anna finally had a new itinerary (which only cost an additional $250 or so – about the same as a Greyhound, taxis, and hotel would cost in SLC). Monday morning I drove her to the airport, made sure she was able to check in and get through security – because with the way things were going I wasn’t too confident in anything!

Anna couldn’t believe the amount of hassle she had to go through just to leave Wyoming. She told me, “I expect this kind of thing in Africa, but at least there there is always someone who wants to make some money and is willing to chauffeur you to wherever you want to go. And if it doesn’t work out, I just say TIA – This IS Africa.”

Well, everyone, This Is Wyoming.

*We just got a bunch more snow this morning and it’s been super cold the last few days. Check out the Rock Springs I-80 webcam on the WYDOT website:

The votes are in: The Masked Avengers have won!

We are two days away from the American election and it’s getting pretty exciting.

The local middle schools here in Green River, WY have already held their mock elections, participating in the National Student/Parent Mock Election Day. The elections were pretty close, but the Republican McCain/Palin team won at both schools (161-103 at one and 145-120 at the other). I love what the local newspaper, the Green River Star, reported these sassy sixth-graders as saying about the election rumour-mills. One student, Alexander, said he had heard a rumour “that Obama is a terrorist and that he is going to make all white people his slaves if he is elected. He said people should focus on the facts and not rumours.” Another student, Erik, said he heard that “Palin has the IQ of a 2-year-old.”

It would be really interesting to know where these young voters have gotten their info: Fox News (the conservative, Rebublican mouthpiece); MSNBC (Democrat all the way); CNN (the “no bull, no bias” network); or perhaps parents, neighbours or their friendly neighbourhoud white supremacist group? Maybe they’re like me and watch Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show and The Colbert Report for their political news.

In any event, the idea behind the Mock Election Day is, of course, to start training pre-teens and teens to be civic-minded. Studies have shown that these sorts of initiatives mean youngsters are more likely to get out and vote for real when they reach the age of majority (but can’t yet drink alcohol, which I still think is very silly). Voter apathy is a real issue and Leonardo Di Caprio and friends have launched a video “Don’t Vote” to get through to US Citizens:

Then there is the more light-hearted side of things with Quebec comedy duo, The Masked Avengers, who just ‘punked’ Sarah Palin by pretending to be the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy ( or to hear the conversation, go to Palin was completely oblivious, but was actually quite diplomatic in the face of comments about hunting with Dick Cheney and the recent porn spoof of her in Hustler. But, as the pranksters said, she didn’t come across as all that intelligent.

She should feel like quite the celebrity, though, The Masked Avengers have similarly pranked Bill Gates, Britney Spears, and Sarkozy himself. Now Palin “the down-home, simple American” has more celebrity cachet to go along with her new $150,000 wardrobe.

Winter has come to Wyoming

Yesterday was October 10th and we got our first snowfall here in Green River, Wyoming. I’m not just talking about a few flakes that melt before they hit the ground, but big, fat, wet flakes putting a decent coating on cars and lawns (and perfect for snowballs!).
By the afternoon it did warm up a bit and things started to melt. Then around dinnertime as the temperature dropped, snowflakes began swirling again – and the wind picked up. Big time. The whole night the wind was howling outside and when I got up this morning we were experiencing white-out conditions.

Of course, my good friend from Belgium has been visiting the past few days and today she was scheduled to drive up into northern Wyoming to Yellowstone National Park and Cody – the home of Buffalo Bill. She made her first attempt at 7:30am but was back by a little after 8am. She had made it to the bridge (usually a 5 min drive away) but couldn’t see 5ft in front of her (or the road) and was skidding quite a bit, so she prudently decided to return. Now it’s 10am and she’s off on her second attempt. It has cleared up quite a bit but is still blowing something fierce! Good thing she went off and bought herself a winter coat yesterday! Not sure how much use she’ll get out of it in Belgium, though…

According to the weather forecast this system should move through by Tuesday when it will get up to 11 degrees celsius and be sunny. Even so, if this is a sign of what is to come this winter, I am definitely rethinking my idea of buying a bike to get around when Doug’s got the car. I think I’ll just stock up on canned goods and emerge in May!

Wild Wyoming

As I might have mentioned before, Wyoming – compared with most places in the continental U.S. – is quite sparsely populated. There are about 500,000 people spread out over the state, and most of these are clustered in small towns and cities.

This means that there are a lot of wild, wide-open spaces.

Last Wednesday, Doug and I attended a talk at the Sweetwater County Library (our local library in Green River) about the wild spaces of Wyoming. Erik Molvar, director of the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance and author of Wild Wyoming, gave an entertaining talk with lots of accompanying photos. Erik good-naturedly bantered with the audience and even seemed to enjoy my cheeky question about ‘wildlife management’ being an oxymoron!

He and Doug really hit it off afterward and got chatting about more ecofriendly ways to extract oil and natural gas from these protected areas. As always, trying to balance economic growth in Wyoming (both mineral and recreational) with the conservation of fragile ecosystems is a tricky business. If we don’t become members of the BCA, we will definitely be signing up for some of the guided hikes they offer to really neat-looking wilderness areas like Adobe Town, which isn’t far from here.

We stayed chatting at the library until closing time and didn’t get home until about 9:30pm or so. We were standing on out front looking up at all the stars when some movement caught my eye across the street.: there was a Mule Deer doe and her fawn walking along. What a magical moment!

I’ve had some more semi-domestic encounters the past week as well. Last Tuesday I started volunteering for the Rock Springs Humane Society. They are chronically understaffed, underfunded, and underexposed (in the PR sense) in the community. I went in expecting to have to fill in an application to be a volunteer and maybe even submit to a criminal background check (like some places I’ve worked/volunteered at in big cities in the past). Nope, none of that. The director, who is two years old than I am, looked at me eagerly and asked when I’d like to start and how often I could come in.

I’ll be spending two days on site a week and volunteering at special events like Dracupaws (Halloween portraits) and Santapaws (Holiday portraits) while I live here. I’m also helping them figure out some new ways to fundraise, do community outreach and I’ll be re-vamping their scrapbook. I discovered that their 35th anniversary is coming up next year, so maybe I’ll write a little ‘history of’ for the organization, too (once the book is done, of course!).

I’m loving both the hands-on and hands-off work so far and I am amazed at how they manage to operate on such a shoe-string budget. Doug and I have already donated a big bag of cat litter, a jumbo pack of paper towels, and I’ve started stockpiling possible sale, raffle, and prize items from garage sales (Doug’s happy for us to help out as long as I don’t bring home 3 dogs and 5 cats!).

The RS Humane Society’s vet bill alone at the moment is $5000 and they operate mainly on donations. If you’re ever in the Rock Springs area or you feel like helping out this no-kill shelter with cash or in-kind donations, they are open 12-6pm, seven days a week. Feel free to email me at if you want to know how you can help.

This is Bear, the most timid Black Lab I have ever encountered! What a sweetheart!

Feeling High and Dry

High Desert Country.

This pretty much sums up the climate and elevation of our new hometown of Green River, Wyoming: the city sits at a lofty 6100 ft (1859 m) above sea level and is a green oasis surrounded by scrubland, sand dunes, and the Red Desert. To put this in perspective, nearby Denver, Colorado – the so-called ‘Mile-High City’ – rests at a mere 5280 ft (1650 m) above sea level.

During the drive cross-continent from Ottawa, Ont. (Canada) we didn’t notice any dramatic increases in elevation. Unlike crossing the Canadian Rockies or even the Washington Cascade mountains, we didn’t experience much ear-popping or other signs that we were radically shifting altitude. We kept tracking the elevation gains on the GPS and it said we were regularly inching toward the sky, but we still couldn’t feel it physically for the first few days.

We felt the change in humidity first. We had just left a hot, muggy summer in southern Ontario where you constantly felt damp. Three days into the trip we arrived in Cheyenne, WY (elevation around 6000 ft or 1828 m). I woke up at 4:30am with massively dry sinuses and steamed up the bathroom to get some relief. Doug’s cuticles began to bleed. Both of us were afflicted with the dreaded knife boogers.

Day Four we arrived in Rock Springs, WY – Green River’s neighbouring city – and checked into the Hampton Inn. I had continued training during the roadtrip, using the stationary bike at the hotel in Lapeer, MI and going for a jog in Des Moines, Iowa. After all, there were only a few weeks left until the CIBC Run for the Cure and I needed all the training days I could get!

Feeling pretty confident about my fitness level I went down to use the Hampton Inn’s gym my first day. Oh. My. God. I had read about altitude sickness and some of the difficulties athletes and mountain climbers encountered when rapidly shifting elevations. Up until that point, though, I had mostly been driving. It wasn’t until I started jogging that I fully realized we weren’t in Kansas anymore – it felt more like Mount Everest!

As per internet advice, I drank twice as much liquid and ran half as fast. All the discussion forums I’d come across said the key was to go low and slow. So I set the incline at zero, jogged barely above a walk, and somehow managed to complete two 25-minute sessions during our stay at the hotel.

Next step: out into the real world. When we moved into our townhome in Green River there was tons of physical activity involved. We had the Uhaul to unload, heavy boxes and purchased items to carry up and down stairs, and never-ending errands to run. Now, Doug and I are not Olympic athletes, but we can usually handle pushing a grocery cart up a small incline without huffing and puffing!

The real test came when it was time to resume our training activities. The first two jogs out we almost died (no controlling the incline out on the streets of Green River!). Our first tennis game felt like we were playing on Mars (because the ball bounced so much) with cystic fibrosis or emphysema. I regret all the times I took for granted the ability to breathe. It really is a wonderful thing.

Aside from the elevation’s impact on our bodies, it also affects cooking and baking. Water boils faster (which means it doesn’t get as hot) so cooking pasta, rice, etc takes longer.

I also haven’t quite gotten the hang of baking, as you can see from the photo of the chocolate chip ‘cookies’ at right. Doug thinks I should just come up with a clever name for them and pretend like I meant to do it. Apparently flour is drier at higher altitudes so you need more liquids, less leavening power (baking soda/powder), and sometimes higher baking temperatures.

I was never a chemist and so don’t really fancy fiddling around with measurements in the hopes of coming up with the perfect combination. Instead, I think I’ll just buy a copy of Pie in the Sky: Successful Baking at High Altitudes. I’ve also found some recipes on the internet – including one for chocolate chip cookies that shouldn’t turn out like flat tires!

Wish me luck!

Must be a full moon

I know it’s an old superstition, but the little white dog two doors down keeps yapping, I’m having trouble sleeping, and the last few days have just been too weird.

First of all, Doug and I keep hurting ourselves.

1) Guinness was lying on one of the stairs a few nights ago and Doug almost stepped on him. Luckily for our poor cat, Doug managed not to, but in the process fell down quite a few steps and ended up with a nasty cut on his wrist from his watch.

2) Doug and I have both sliced ourselves opening up the cans with the pull-tab lids. Mine was a tomato soup can and his was the can of coffee grounds.

3) At least we got to enjoy the can of soup. Not long after Doug had brewed his first pot of coffee I was doing dishes and managed to smash the pot on our darling retro laminate floor. Darn! (notice anything in the photo to the right?)

On a much happier – but equally strange – note, yesterday Doug and I had just finished a little walk along the Green River boardwalk when I glanced across the parking lot at a familiar figure.

“But,” I thought to myself. “We’ve only lived here for a few days and we’re in the middle of nowhere… how could it be?” Well, one look at Darcy and Don’s van with the Small World Adventures sticker on the back and the kayaks on top and it was clear that my good friends from UBC grad school had somehow managed to appear in Green River, Wyoming.

Over a quick beer and dinner at the Bitter Creek Brewing Company (we don’t know any other places in the area!) we learned that Darcy and Don were on their way from Aspen, Colorado to Seattle, Washington via Idaho for her grandfather’s birthday party. The funny thing is, they never meant to stop in Green River and we had originally intended to go play tennis up at the high school and ended up at the boardwalk on a lark! Don took a photo to prove this encounter actually happened!

Today started out relatively normally (other than I was up at 4:30am) and Doug and I headed out to Red Canyon in Flaming Gorge Recreation Area in northeastern Utah for the hike we’d planned. The 9-mile Canyon Rim Trail was well-groomed, devoid of people, and had just enough elevation gain so we knew we were hiking, but not enough to be hard.

While I love hiking, usually something comes up to make it memorable: I trip and fall and start bleeding; Doug misjudges the length or difficulty of the hike and I start crying; or both.

Today, though, nothing bad happened.

That is, until we got back to the car. We had parked at the Greendale Overlook (it’s what ‘lookouts’ are called in Utah) around 9:30am and headed out for our hike. At 2pm we returned and discovered that the passenger window of our cute little Mini was smashed in. Staring in disbelief, the two forest services workers in the parking lot came over and told us that they’d been waiting for the car’s owners to return. Apparently they had already called the Flaming Gorge Dam sherriff who had been by to take a look. They gave us a garbage bag in case the encroaching clouds decided to dump on us and lent us their broom to sweep out the shattered glass.

From there we drove the 1/2 hour to Manila, Utah to chat with a different Sherriff and deputies there and get some duct tape to secure the garbage bag to what used to be the window. After exchanging info for the police report and heading to the local country market, we sat in stunned silence in the car.

The weird thing was, nothing was missing from the car. We had nothing of value in the car – visible or otherwise. And it also sounds as if between the wilderness ranger, other tourists, and the forest services rangers, there was usually some activity in the lot during the day. Our theory is some desperate, opportunistic Manila Meth-heads (the local store had a sign saying they would only sell certain chemicals and pharmaceuticals in limited quantities) smashed the window with the intention of taking things or even stealing the car but were startled off by the arrival of another car (or befuddled by the Mini’s foreign door-locking system).

The funny thing is, the Mini is apparently one of the hardest cars on the market to steal. If they were after electronics and cash they should have come after us in the bush: that’s where our US cash, camera and GPS were! All we had in the car was a change of clothes, our old refillable coffee mugs, a cooler with water, and a change purse with about $10 in Loonies and Toonies. As Doug said, maybe we should have left the car unlocked and just let them have our deodorants. As is, we’ll have to find an auto-glass place tomorrow and probably shell out several hundred dollars for a new window. Hopefully they can do it locally – if not, the nearest Mini dealership is 300 miles away and they’re calling for thunderstorms!!!

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.