As of our last post we had just entered Colorado as the heavy rain and flooding occurred. We stayed for a week and got a first hand look at some of the damage. What we saw in the Denver/Arvada area was minor compared to the real damage which occurred in the mountains and out on the plains as the flood waters continued to disperse. There are towns in the mountains which have no road access to the outside world and likely won't have until sometime next spring or summer. Countless roads washed out and many bridges were destroyed. At the time we left the death toll was still uncertain. Many people lost their lives and huge numbers of people lost their homes.
Leaving Denver we headed north to I-80 at Cheyenne. The trip was delayed as we ran into stop and go traffic for miles as we approached the bridge over the Big Thompson River. Traffic was slowed, a giant gaper block, everyone wanted to see the rushing waters of the Big Thompson. Once clear of this traffic we were on I-80 westbound in no time at all. We made a stop in Laramie for diesel and then drove on stopping at a rest area near Fort Fred Steele. It was late enough in the day that we decided to stop for the night here.
In the morning I learned that circumstances would change our planned trip to Olympia, Washington to mid October so we now were headed for a family commitment in California in about a week and a half. That gave us a little time to enjoy exploring some new territory. We talked it over and decided to head into west-central Wyoming and take a look at the area around Lander. We drove a short distance into Rawlings, picked up propane to make sure we would have enough for cold nights at altitude. From there, the road northwest to Lander passes through some very scenic lands in the Great Divide Basin. The Great Divide separates water going to the Atlantic from water going to the Pacific Ocean. Here in central Wyoming, the Great Divide divides into two, then rejoins south of I-80 into a single divide again. Between the two routes of the divide is an area where waters flow into a basin with no exit. It would be similar to the Great Salt Lake basin except that there is little rainfall here and no large lake exists here.
We decided to stay at Twin Pines Campground south of Lander. This proved to be a good choice and then a bad choice. We were 7 miles from Lander and spent several days in town and exploring Sinks Canyon State Park nearby. In Sinks Canyon State Park, the Middle Popo Agie River disappears underground as it flows into a cave. At high water, some water flows overland but most of the year the river goes underground. Several thousand feet down the canyon, water from the river bubbles back to the surface and then continues to flow on the surface from there on. This is not a terribly uncommon occurrence, it happens in areas with Karst topography, typified by caves and sinkholes. We hiked the north canyon wall to a viewpoint that gave us an overview of the valley. The second day in the canyon we drove up and over the north canyon wall and across the mountains back to our campsite. The scenery was spectacular as the road took us past a number of mountain lakes and over several mountain ridges.
Once again, we stumbled on a unique event without any prior knowledge or planning. We drove into Lander on Friday morning and saw a banner stretched across the main street, "Welcome to the One Shot Antelope Hunt." The hunt would be Saturday morning, the opening of antelope hunting season. This event started in the late 1930's as a challenge between Wyoming and Colorado. Each state would field a team of three hunters. Each hunter would get one round of ammunition for their antelope hunt. Hunting parties would be made of one hunter from each team accompanied by a guide. The team that bagged the most antelope or in the case of a tie did it in the least amount of time would be declared the winner. Over time, the number of teams increased. This year there would be eight teams. Participants are by invitation only. There is a museum in town, past shooters include astronauts, a who's who of actors, particularly the cowboy genre of actors, politicians (former VP Cheney was in this year's group of participants), and other famous people. We saw several teams touring Sinks Canyon State Park after they sighted in their guns that morning in a remote area of the park. There weren't a lot of events open to the public but we enjoyed learning about this unique event.
We enjoyed a look at South Pass City on Sunday afternoon. This is a gold rush town that like many turned into ghost town once the gold mine became non-productive. The mine enjoyed several periods of development, starting in 1868 and finally ending in 1954 with the closing of the Carissa Mine. South Pass City was turned over to the State of Wyoming and has been preserved in its early 1900's condition. Returning to our park I prepared the car for our anticipated morning departure.
Monday morning I was up picking up e-mail, taking care of computer tasks as the coming days may not have internet coverage. I looked up from the computer and out our front window I saw smoke. This was not light gray smoke, it was not a distant cloud of smoke, this was a boiling black cloud of smoke and it was right in front of our motor home! I jumped up and looked out the drivers side window to see a neighboring motor home on fire. The fire was coming from the front engine compartment of a Georgie Boy that was in site 20. We were in site 18 and site 19 between us was empty. I picked up my phone and called 911. The call took 4 minutes. During that time the couple in the coach had bailed out the emergency exit window of the motor home. Both were elderly with obvious limitations in their physical abilities but they did make it out safely. Their pets, a cat and a dog, unfortunately did not escape. The Lander fire department is at least seven miles away and it is a volunteer fire department. It was 22 minutes from the time I made the phone call until I started taking pictures of the fire department at work. Those were the longest 22 minutes I have ever known.
After my phone call, Louise and I set about getting our slides in and preparing to move from our site. As I went out to pull the electric, water and sewer connections the heat from the fire was so intense that I decided we should abandon our attempt to move for our own safety. I could have driven off with utilities attached and perhaps I should have but we didn't. We got out of our own coach, Considering the propane tank and gas tank on the coach, I didn't want to delay getting away from the area. I have since imagined a number of scenarios which would have allowed us to get out of the way but of course none of that saved us at the time. Louise and I talked this over several days later, could of, should have, would have, is a game that can be played forever and it still haunts me but at least I'm sleeping a little better now.
I assisted in getting the woman into a fifth wheel on the far end of the park as she was feeling faint and near collapsing. We watched the fire from a distance and worried about our own coach. When the fire department started putting water on the flames their entire coach was involved in flames. The coach was completely destroyed down to the frame. Their Jeep which was parked in front of the coach had nothing left but the metal components. All this took just 22 minutes from the time I noticed the fire. It took another 20 minutes for the fire department to put out the last of the flames, and a few minutes more to pack up and leave. From beginning to end it was less than an hour. It was a truly frightening event for all involved.
Our coach sustained some secondary damage. Despite the fact that we got our slide-outs in as soon as we could, there were still numerous burn holes in the canvas covers. Embers from the fire rained down on the roof leaving little burn marks like a cigarette left on the sink in a motel room on the roof of the coach. Of greatest concern is heat damage to the entire port side wall of the coach. The fiberglass wall is warped just enough to make every vertical rib in the coach wall visible. We've had all this documented by an adjuster from our insurance company, now the repair work begins.
So we've now seen flood and fire, what is next? I don't know but I would advise you to leave if you see us coming into a park near you! In the Peanuts comic strip there was a character named Pigpen. Pigpen was always unwashed, grungy looking, and everywhere he went he had this black cloud of dust and dirt following. That is how I'm feeling right now.