We left Jackson to catch our return flight to Salt Lake City before sunrise. By 7:30 the car was filled with gas, we had grabbed breakfast at the local McDonald's and we were on our way. The cabin resort had provided us with a map of Wyoming with what they said was the most scenic route back highlighted,. As long as we were in Wyoming we could pinpoint our exact location on the map. The tiny specks of towns showed up in the right order and all was well. We then crossed over into Utah. This is where things get a little fuzzy. Since we had a map of Wyoming, and only Wyoming, the information on Utah was vague at best. It was like two warring neighbors that refused to acknowledge the existence of each other. We knew route 89 would lead to route 15 which would in turn lead to Salt Lake City; we knew we were on route 89; we just had no idea where on route 89 we were.
As we left Jackson the sun was rising above the mountain ranges turning their snow dappled peaks red. One small town followed another.
Etna, Wyoming Population 200
You may be familiar with the term "one stoplight" to describe a small town. This tiny hamlet was so small it did not even have one stoplight. It did, however, have a sight which halted us dead in our tracks. One of the very few houses along the road bore a sign identifying it as an Art Studio and Gallery. From it's well kept porch proudly hung a rainbow flag. This type of flag is used as a symbol to express Gay Pride. It is also used to identify a business as gay owned or gay friendly. It was the only rainbow or rainbow flag we encountered in the state of Wyoming, or anywhere else on the trip for that matter. To me it served as a reminder of the old adage "We are everywhere", even in the middle of nowhere.
Afton, Wyoming Population 1100
This bustling, by Wyoming standards, metropolis possesses, as it's claim to fame, The Worlds Largest Elk Horn Arch. It spans the town's main street just down the block from Shelly's Cowboy Bar and Golden Spur Cafe.
It was outside this town where we had to stop and wait as a couple on horseback herded their cattle down the middle of the road. Picturesque indeed!
We then came to the town of Montpieler. It's place in history is due to the robbery, in 1896, of the Bank of Montpieler by Butch Cassidy and his gang. They made off with $16500 in cash and silver, a princely sum at the time. As they fled, the sheriff borrowed a bicycle to chase them down but was quickly outdistanced.
Throughout the trip my partner had remarked repeatedly about the absence of roadkill. This was definitely rectified by what we encountered out of town. On the opposite side of the road appeared a long bloody smear punctuated by equally bloody chunks of flesh. At the end of the smear lay a skinless, battered, almost unrecognizable cow's head. I gazed at my partner with a look that read, "So much for no roadkill. Are you happy now?"
We crossed the border into Utah. That is where the confusion began. Apparently the cartographer who drew the map decided when he got to Utah vague, seemingly arbitrary lines, directions and mileage to towns in that state would suffice. We had confirmed that 89 would lead to 15, we knew that we were on 89, but as I stated before, we just were not sure where we were on 89. Furthermore, we ascertained after a while that there was a route 89 and a route 89 scenic bypass. We figured this out when signs saying "89 Scenic Bypass" started appearing roadside.
We had missed a turnoff. We had made a mistake. A wonderful, wonderful mistake. One of the brown wooden signs which announce National Parks and Forests informed us we were entering the Cache National Forest. At first glance it looked quite like the other evergreen forests we had been seeing throughout the trip. Then the road narrowed and began to descend into a canyon. The road wound back and forth, up and down as it followed the natural topography of the land. Evergreens gave way to trees and brush showing off their brilliant fall colors. A kaleidoscope of hues collided with the stone canyon walls that towered over us. At the bottom of the canyon the road followed the bends and curves of the river that ran beside it, it's banks also overrun with fall's palette. On some hillsides, where thick stands of evergreens commanded most of the land, occasional leafy trees, wearing their mantle of fall, mixed with the evergreens in breathtaking juxtaposition.
The scene, lit by the early afternoon sun in the clear blue sky left us awestruck making us stop at scenic turnouts to take in and document it's beauty. The road began to ascend, twisting and turning it's way out of the canyon back to the more mundane roadside sights of strip malls, tract housing and characterless chain hotels. The same snow covered mountains we first saw upon our arrival towered above these and with their grace and majesty reminded us of the wonderful, memorable and remarkable places we had experienced on this trip as we continued to the airport and our flight home.