We will remember Rawlins, Wyoming for two things: high winds and the Wyoming scones. Scones at Hungry Miner Cafe Unlike scones elsewhere, these are rounds of buttermilk bread dough, fried and dusted with cinnamon sugar, and served for breakfast at the Hungry Miner Cafe. Delicious! (Better, we have to say, than the fried dough in Olancha, California.) Two scones make a complete breakfast, or better yet, three make a good breakfast for two.
We headed south from Laramie, passing through mountain valleys surrounded by Curious antelope forested slopes with patches of snow, past herds of antelope and then down the long eastern slope of the Rockies to Fort Collins. Every bit of the road was scenic. It's amazing what a few trees will do to improve the appearance of a bald grasssy hill.
Colorado Highway 14 is probably best known for winding through the Rocky Sheep in feed lot Mountains west of Fort Collins, but we took this road east. With the aid of the snow melt from the Rockies the irrigated land grows sugar beets, onions, carrots, along with a huge feedlot of sheep (unfortunately, not Katahdins). When we discovered the highway was given a distinguishing blue sign and named the Pawnee Pioneer Trail, we followed this Trail along dirt roads through the Pawnee National Grassland.
The Grassland came into being because this had been dust bowl country in the Pawnee Buttes, Colorado thirties, and about half of the land has been returned to short-grass prairie spotted with short clumps of opuntia cactus. We kept seeing signs for Pawnee Buttes, and scoured the horizon, but didn't see any. Then we drove up a mesa and lo! there were two gigantic buttes, just as advertised. We declined the three-mile round trip hike to the observation point, because you could see the buttes just fine, and besides, it was a raptor nesting area and we thought we'd give the eagles and hawks some room. You won't find Pawnee Buttes on an AAA map although the tour book had a brief description of this Byway. Another thing you won't find on the maps is the cluster of missile silos along the trail.
We had picked Sterling because our latest tour book, Off the Beaten Path Overland Trail Museum display (published by Readers' Digest) mentioned the Overland Trail Museum. We had really liked the Sweetwater County Museum in Green River, and the Overland Trail Museum was much better. It's one of those historical museums with a little bit of everything - clothing, arrowheads, fossils, dolls, guns, tractors, windmills, musical instruments, china, racks of old newspapers, doctor's offices, barber shops, saddles, old tools, badges -- the list goes on and on. Started in 1936, the museum had begun by collecting the old junk from pioneer families, and has now expanded to include an annex and outbuildings depicting shops and stores and a church from the nineteenth and early twentieth century. It's a favorite day trip for schoolchildren.
Sterling is the birthplace of David Hamil, who went into politics, became Rural Electrification cartoon speaker of the Colorado legislature and a candidate for governor, and was appointed by President Eisenhower to be head of the Rural Electricification Agency, a position which he held for twenty years. When he retired, he showed his head was not turned by the glamour and power of Washington, and returned to his home town of Sterling where he engaged in voluntary public service. Hamil died in 2002 and his wall of testimonials is on display in the museum.
We wondered what the secret was -- how could a town of 11,000 people (albeit the "fastest growing city in Northeastern Colorado") have such a wonderful museum? Apparently it started out as a project of the Historical Society and now Charles Russell illustration is a town-financed project. But there's more to the story than that -- the entire community of Logan County in Northeastern Colorado supports the museum, and even when the kids know this or that would fetch a pretty penny on Ebay, the parents leave it to the museum for the whole community to enjoy. The city of Sterling has a great website, and the museum is featured at http://www.sterlingcolo.com/parks/pr_mus.htm.
Inside the museum is a print of a postcard drawn by Charles M. Russell,
depicting a skeletal cow confronting coyotes. The explanation says: 'The picture
that made Russell famous. In 1886 he was an unknown cowboy helping tend a great
herd of cattle owned by Stadler and Kaufman in Montana. A series of blizzards that
by Bradford Rhea winter caused the "Big Die-up" on the Northern Plains when thousands of sheep and cattle were lost. His employers wrote from their warm city hotel to inquire about the condition of their cattle. In answer Russell sketched this picture on a post card and sent it to them. It was immediately copied by newspapers all over the country. The terrible snow storms of the middle 1880's spelled the end of the great cattle barons and helped to open the west to the homesteaders." (Those storms also ended the ambitious career of Elsa's great-uncle Jack Cadwell in Ellsworth, Kansas, not too far from Sterling).
Another famous artist, Bradford Rhea, lives in Sterling today. We almost didn't go to see his work, because we (mistakenly) thought they were chain-saw sculptures. You see, Sterling had a lot of elms which were dying off from Dutch Elm disease, and we were reminded of Truro, NS, which had indeed transformed the trees into chain-saw sculptures. Truro's trees were pleasant and humorous, but Skygrazer, by Bradford Rhea Rhea's trees are breathtakingly beautiful, romantic and inspirational, and range from angels and wild animals to butterflies and the Minuteman, in front of the National Guard Armory. As the wood decays, Rhea is transforming his sculptures to bronzes, which is giving Sterling some civic art of which large cities might be jealous. Rhea, it turns out, spent three months in Florence, where he was inspired by the work of Michelangelo. He has lately been working in white marble, and was selected by President Clinton to carve a staff to be given as a present to Pope John Paul II. Bradford Rhea's website is www.thesculptor.net
Here is his poem to accompany Skygrazer (the giraffes): Just beyond the clouds of doubt and chaos they appeared -- a congregation of spingling appendages fused in a mass of true belief, with heads reaching all directions in a quest for the elusive, intangible faith. Only a glimpse of the creature was visible as it hovered for a millisecond in space and time before galloping with long legged strides toward the heavens.
What gives a city like Sterling its energy and creativity, while other towns seem dreary and empty? It's the people.