Close Encounters

Blog Post created by bejacob on Oct 18, 2019

As the days grow shorter and the weather gets colder, it becomes harder to visit certain parts of the United States. When snow blankets the northern part of the county, driving long distances between county seats on rural highways becomes less appealing. I figured I could squeeze in a trip to Colorado and Wyoming in mid-October and still enjoy decent weather.


My trip began on a Friday afternoon with a flight from CMH to DEN, followed by an overnight at the Gaylord Rockies Resort. I posted a Hotel Review: Gaylord Rockies, for anyone interested. I noticed as I arrived there was already snow on the ground. Turns out, a winter storm had blown through a few days earlier and not all the snow had melted. While the morning temperatures were near freezing, things warmed up nicely during the day. Over the course of my three day trip, skies were mostly clear which made for a pleasant drive.


Having visited much of Colorado on several previous trips, my focus this time was eastern Wyoming. From Denver it was a straight shot to Cheyenne and on to the cities farther north. Counties in Wyoming are quite large so even with a full day of driving, it’s only possible to visit about 5 or 6 each day. About the only curious sight that first day was in Douglas, Wyoming. The State of Wyoming officially named Douglas “Home of the Jackalope.” I won’t get into the details about jackalopes here, but feel free to investigate further on your own.  I spotted two jackalope statues in town. Here’s one of them.

My day ended at the Fairfield Inn located in Sheridan, WY. Decent hotel; nothing fancy. As I often do, I headed out a little before sunrise on Sunday morning. Just after dawn, I had my first close encounter. I had been noticing mule deer in the fields alongside the road as the sun rose, not really giving them much thought. That was until one darted out in front of my car. Luckily my speed was modest at the time (maybe 50 mph) and I slammed on my brakes barely managing to avoid hitting the startled creature. She darted off into the prairie with nary a care in the world. I didn’t think to photograph any of the hundreds of deer I saw along the way that morning, but I did stop for moment to snap a picture of some pronghorn antelope. Yes, I was out on the range where the deer and the antelope play. Go ahead, sing along. You know you want to. 

After visiting the city of Gillette, I made a slight detour on my way to Sundance. I knew I would be fairly close to one of the most iconic US National Monuments and it hardly seemed right to be so close without stopping. Not only that, but I had purchased an annual pass to the National Parks earlier this year, so my admission fee was covered.

I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time to stop and still be able to visit all the counties I had planned for the day. Probably a good thing as it was quite chilly that morning. You can still see the snow from that early storm. This was about as near as I got. I guess could call this my second close encounter of the day.

From Devils Tower, I continued on to Sundance and then across the state line into South Dakota for a stop in Deadwood. Deadwood is one of those towns that is a victim of its own success. The place capitalizes on its ‘old west’ gambling and gunfighter history. While the historic part of town is kind of cool, it’s also a bit kitschy. It might be an interesting place to spend a bit more time, but I think if I did that, I’d want to stay at the Springhill Suites in town. Parking was limited and seemed to be at a premium. The parking meters even charged on Sunday, something you almost never see.


Leaving Deadwood and heading back into Wyoming took me through O’Neil Pass, elevation 6,683 ft. The roads were still clear, but the snow on either side of the road was at least a foot deep. I definitely wouldn’t want to drive this route in the winter. The rest of the day passed with only one notable incident, my third close encounter.


For this part of the trip, I was driving on US route 85, which is mostly a two lane highway, on what some call a single carriageway. At one point, I noticed several cars coming from the opposite direction. I also noticed one of those cars was in my lane speeding toward me The guy had every right to pass the slower cars as long as there was no oncoming traffic. Unfortunately for me, I was the oncoming traffic. Not only that, I’m driving at 78 mph (the speed limit was 75). As the distance between us narrows (I’m guessing he is doing over 80), I eased off the accelerator and glided over to the shoulder. He breezed by, and whether he was back on his side of the road or not, I’m still not sure. I’m glad I drive defensively.


The rest of the trip was uneventful. After an overnight at one of the two Fairfield Inns in Cheyenne, I visited 3 counties in southwest Nebraska and 3 more in northeast Colorado before heading back to Denver for my flight home. Over the course of the 3-day weekend, I covered about 1,600 miles and documented 17 more county seat visits, 10 in Wyoming, 3 in Colorado, 3 in Nebraska, and 1 in South Dakota. Here are the before and after maps showing my progress. Eastern Wyoming is looking pretty good after this trip. 

My next county trip is in early November when I will be flying to St. Louis and then driving south through eastern Missouri and into northern Arkansas. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and there will not be any additional close encounters, especially of that third kind . I doubt I’ll see any jackalopes either, but I’ll be on the lookout for Ozark Howlers.


Until then…


Happy Travels