Armchair Peregrinations

October 3, 1998

Hams Fork River, Wyoming, August 1984

The Hams Fork river valley is a sinuous ribbon of life in the midst of the enormous vastness that is Wyoming. A desert stream or river, particularly a perennial one, is a wonder to behold. Often large cottonwoods line the banks, their leaves fluttering by the thousands in any slight breeze. The waters of these streams enable life to flourish in otherwise inhospitable landscapes. Migratory birds find food and shelter. Miles upstream the rivers have their sources in mountain snowmelt and are often nudged along with inflow from springs. Hams Fork originates high up on Fontenelle Mountain in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. By the time it reaches the high plateau and desert, it's a stream of some significance, at least in this arid world.

I took this picture of the river from an overlook on the road to Kemmerer in the far southwestern corner of the state 14 years ago during my first trip around the country. I was heading back from spending a summer in Seattle, and was, by the time I got to this spot, in some kind of travel-induced bliss. I knew in the back of my mind that when I got back to New Orleans, no job awaited me (although I was soon to get one, however, and it was awful beyong words), and I was not in the best position to feel real comfortable about my life. But the complete and utter wonder and joy of getting up each morning to a totally new landscape with unknown adventures and never-before-seen places up the road completely dissipated any worry and anxiety I might have felt otherwise.

I loved being in Wyoming and reveling in the freedom to experience the immensity of its great desert spaces, open to the sky and clouds and full of 180 degree vistas. In the town of Rock Springs, I wrote in my journal on Aug. 8, 1984 these words:

"...This is terrain where you can get out of your car atop a rise in the land and gaze out over 10-15 miles of open desert and small canyons. Dry creekbeds are reminders that water has flowed over this parched land. There are springs dotted here and there but which probably take some persistent backroads searching to locate. This is country where the silence is born of so immense an area that the sound of an occasional car is quickly swallowed up in the stillness. On the windless morning when I passed through, the silence was so great that it almost seemed unnatural and hard on ears so accustomed to a multitude of obnoxious sounds. What must it be like to live out here and know the early morning stillness firsthand! Wyoming is so sparsely populated that it seems to defy, and then gobble up in its lonely reaches the puny dwellings, accoutrements, and markings of its 20th century inhabitants. What stubborn and persistent people take up residence with the prairie dogs in these tractless desert areas. I think you have to really want to be far apart from the mass of humanity, far from city and town alike."

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