Thursday, November 14, 2013

Castle Gardens Wyoming

Castle Gardens

I loved Wyoming! I only wished I had had more time to explore further. I dropped down from the white blanketed Rocky Mountains to the painted canyons of pure rust-red, or striped rust-red and beige—postcard perfect scenes near Dubois. The Wind River winds through the canyons and hillsides, which are covered in huge boulders. My first destination would be Castle Gardens State Park.

Castle Gardens

As soon as I got off the main highway, I found that many side roads are unpaved. I discovered this the day I drove to Castle Gardens located on the Wind River Reservation. This isn't a garden surrounding a castle—it's a small canyon of pure white and red sandstone rock formations. I wanted to visit the petroglyphs that were chipped into the rock, so long ago. 

To get there it meant I had to travel twenty-nine miles on a dirt road with gravel and dust flying from the tires. The best speed I found to travel on this road was between 20 to 25 miles per hour. You can't speed over 40 miles an hour on any of it. On the more rustic parts, you seem to be travelling over tractor tire ridges that set your teeth chattering and the whole car vibrating. I felt like I was at a Motel 6 back in the day when you could put a quarter into a slot next to the bed and the whole bed would vibrate. That was supposed to simulate getting a back massage. When the vibration stops, your body wants to know, "What the hell was that?" As I travelled down the road receiving my faux massage, it seemed like it took forever to get there. However, the trip proved to be worth the time.

Encountered an antelope on the dirt road
Pronghorn Antelope Encounter

Along the way, I watched pairs of antelope running, or more like bounding away as quickly as possible. Accept for one loner, who appeared not to care that I was on the road close to him. I slowed down and then stopped. Fortunately, I had my camera in the front seat. What luck, to encounter such a beautiful animal! She nibbled brush on one side of the road, and then crossed over to the other side while I happily clicked the shutter hundreds of times. She then wandered back into the middle of the road and walked away from me. I slowly drove my car behind, being careful not to spook her. 

She stopped and looked back at me and I stopped and continued to photograph her! Eventually, she wandered off. I had enough photos in my camera to remember her by, so I too wandered on to my destination.

Big Sky

 Living in the land of tree-plenty, I’m not used to barren landscapes, so it struck me how much bigger the sky appeared. The flatness of the landscape except for outcroppings of rock magnified it even more. In spite of the barren land, I found a lot of beauty there.

Backside of the canyon doesn't give away its secrets.
You can't see the canyon from the road. For miles I looked for signs of it and finally spotted it shortly before turning the corner and dropping down into it. I drove down into a canyon surrounded by pristine, pure white sandstone rocks that stood as tall sentinels capped in rust. I stepped out of the car and into a magical land. The stillness made me a little nervous as Kono and I seemed to be the only living beings here.

Sky Signals Above Castle Gardens
I strapped Kono's backpack on him and loaded it with a couple of water bottles for us to drink. After strapping my gear on my back, we set out following the shrubs and small rocks marked with plastic ribbon showing the way through the steep walls, rocks and washes, eventually finding the ancient petroglyphs that the first people of this region left, eons ago.

Kono with his backpack.

Crossing the washes made me a little nervous. It’s definitely a place you don't want to be in when a flash flood occurs. A wall of water roaring down upon you without any warning could ruin your day quick! We crossed them in a hurry.

One of the washes that crisscrosses through Castle Gardens.

There were chain link fences placed around the petroglyphs to protect them. It's hard to believe that there are people out there that deface these historical and sacred treasures. It was difficult to photograph through the chain link wire with openings smaller than the width of my lenses. I spotted some areas cut out in the fence I could photograph through without wire interfering. That is, if I stood six feet tall! Whoever cut the holes in the wire grew a lot taller than I did. I didn't bring a step stool to help me reach the high places, and I left my bolt cutters at home. I would have to crop out the wire shadows on the edges, so I adjusted my compositions to accommodate what I couldn't change.

Chain link fence protects petroglyphs from being vandalized.
I soon forgot my nervousness of being by myself with Kono miles from anywhere. The birds sometimes sang, and the wind would occasionally whistle through the canyon. Surrounded by such serenity I didn't want to leave. I wondered what the ancient ones thought when they came to this place. Did they spend many nights camped out in the shadow of the canyon rocks? Did they come here alone, like me on a warm spring day? Did they hear only the sound of the birds, or the wind whistling through the canyon?

I let my imagination move with them. They walked the same pathways, sat next to these rocks, and chipped out expressions of their lives and visions.

 It is my hope that the state of Wyoming will one day replace this sign that says "made by indians" with something more respectful such as the tribe's name (if known) or at the very least use Native Americans.


  1. What a fascinating trip! I could feel your aloneness, and the alienness of the place. Kono is such a cutie, with his pack strapped to his back.

    1. Thank you, I am glad you could feel the surroundings that I felt. Although once I settled in and became more comfortable, I loved the solitude.