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Driving and Demons in Wyoming

By Alan Murray,
Uncharted Staff

The sun sets over Medicine Bow National Park in southeastern Wyoming. (© 2013 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

The sun sets over Medicine Bow National Park in southeastern Wyoming. (© 2013 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

There is a demon in Wyoming. It lives somewhere between Cheyenne and Laramie. It broods in the air over Interstate Highway 80 around 8000 feet above sea level. They say all kinds of things happen to cars along that road. Steep mountainous terrain, freezing temperatures and fierce winds strain engines, exhaust gas tanks and oppose passage to more hospitable roads.

It was there, on a cold September day that threatened snow, in the place where cell phones go dark, just before the small town of Buford, population of one, that my car met that demon and died.

I was almost halfway through a trek across 19 states when without warning it lost power while climbing a mountain pass. I crawled at 20 mph on the shoulder of the road, my four-way flashers frantically blinking in distress, as traffic swarmed by at high velocities.

I drove at this embarrassing pace for nearly half an hour when help arrived – at least that’s what I thought. Another car pulled off the road just ahead. Relieved, I exited the vehicle just as the other driver shouted, “I just ran out of gas. Can you give me a lift to the nearest station?”  I moved my supplies out of the front passenger seat to make room for another stranded motorist and we continued crawling up the mountainside.

Two or three miles later we arrived at the only gas station in Buford.  The station manager, accustomed to motorists in distress, wrote from memory the number for the nearest towing service.

The tow truck came and I parted with my gas-searching hitchhiker. For over 20 miles as we headed toward Laramie, the tow truck driver recounted tales of the demise of other cars he had rescued on that stretch of highway – victims of breakdowns, accidents and severe weather. He talked of terrible whiteout conditions, snow, freezing temperatures and his narrow escapes from these menaces, reminding me that snow was in the forecast already in September.

It was Saturday. When my car finally arrived at the dealership, it was closed.  I was stuck in southeastern Wyoming for the weekend.

My next stop was supposed to be Arches National Park in southern Utah, where I had planned to camp for a couple of days and work on some projects for Uncharted’s online exploration community now under development. Instead, I rented a room and waited.

The following Monday I paced back and forth outside the dealership anxiously awaiting the verdict, hoping it would be a simple fix. It was anything but simple. There was no telling how long it would take to fix my car – if it could be fixed at all.

I wasn’t ready to give up. I had traveled almost 2000 miles and I wasn’t going to let this mechanical nightmare keep me cooped up in a stuffy hotel. I had to find some way of turning this frustrating situation into something good. I rented a car and ventured into Medicine Bow National Forest just west of Laramie. The road climbed higher and higher until it turned to dirt. The weather was clear as the sun began its descent, creating  canvases of spectacular cloud formations and patterns of light perfect for photography. Images of this scene are available at Uncharted’s new Etsy Shop, another way we bring our adventures (even the ones where things go wrong) into your home or office with prints and gallery wrapped canvases. While admittedly I was in a frustrating situation, had my car not broken down, I would have hastily passed through Wyoming to my next destination without ever discovering the many spectacular scenes and unique stories it offers to those willing to get off the interstate and explore.

The next day, with my car still on life support, I resolved to get back on schedule and complete my journey. Since by then the national parks were closed, I abandoned my plans for southern Utah and headed to my next stop near Salt Lake City.

From that point on, my car and I parted ways. From Utah I took my rental back through Wyoming, to Colorado, through Kansas to Missouri, to Illinois, through Kentucky, to Tennessee, into the Carolinas, up to Virginia, then West Virginia, through Maryland and back home to Pennsylvania.

My car went by some other route, hauled by a shipping service. The demon had one more trick to play, however. The truck hauling my car also broke down, delaying its return by a few days. It’s now on life support at a local shop.

So, if you’re traveling across the country and venture through Wyoming, beware of the demon that lives between Cheyenne and Laramie, somewhere near Buford, population of one, with one gas station.

Alan Murray is Uncharted’s President and one of its co-founders. He just finished a tour of 19 states as we prepare for the début of Uncharted’s new online exploration community. To learn more, sign up and we’ll let you know when it’s ready. 

National Park Alternatives During Government Shutdown

By Alan Murray,
Uncharted Staff

A coyote follows a bison as it walks on the shores of the Great Salt Lake at Antelope Island State Park near Syracuse, Utah. (© 2013 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

A coyote follows a bison as it walks on the shores of the Great Salt Lake at Antelope Island State Park near Syracuse, Utah. (© 2013 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

One of the things I wanted to do on my month-long trek across the United States was visit some national parks. Top on my list was Arches National Park in southern Utah.

While I lived and worked in Utah for over ten years, somehow I never managed to visit this picturesque national park with its iconic 65-foot tall freestanding natural arch near Moab.

I naturally found plenty of lesser known places to explore throughout the state, but before I knew it I had moved away without ever having experienced life at this spectacular place featured on Utah’s license plates and visited by travelers from around the world.

It’s ironic that I would now venture over 2000 miles from home to visit a place that was once only a four-hour drive from where I lived.

I planned to be at Arches for two days of camping by Sept. 30.

A car breakdown in Wyoming (another story for another time) delayed my arrival and the next day the United States closed its national parks in response to a government shutdown.

It’s important to mention that while the closure of national parks is an inconvenience to travelers like myself, that there are far more serious consequences from the government shutdown that have affected people’s health care, income and employment, including some of Uncharted’s own. Our thoughts go with all those who are affected adversely by this difficult situation. We hope it will soon be resolved.

But, if you find yourself in a situation where the closure of a national park is affecting your travel plans and you’re not brave enough to sneak in, you might consider some really cool state parks. Utah’s governor recently requested that its state parks honor National Park Service passes during the federal government shutdown. The passes are valid for day-use only. Utah has also published a very helpful travel advisory with plenty of state-run alternatives to closed national parks.

Since I was in Utah during the first part of the shutdown, I decided to visit a place I once frequented while working as a newspaper photographer but had never really had time to thoroughly explore.

Antelope Island State Park on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake is open year-round and offers camping, biking, boating and mountain biking. It’s also a great place to view wildlife including a herd of over 500 bison, some Pronghorn antelope, coyotes, badgers, bobcats, hawks and falcons.

After several hours exploring the island, I saw a bison walking slowly across a dry patch of the Great Salt Lake normally covered by water. A few moments later, a scrawny coyote creeps out from behind some brush and stealthily trails the bison. Something else startles it and it runs back into hiding.

It’s not a national park, but Antelope Island State Park is open and it’s a great alternative to the many national parks now closed.

 Alan Murray is Uncharted’s President and one of it’s co-founders who still hasn’t been to Arches National Park. To learn more about Uncharted and the new online exploration community we are building, sign up and we’ll let you know when it’s ready so you can share about your own adventures.