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Wedding in Wyoming

Amber and I decided to have our wedding in Wyoming. Her (very large) extended family is already there, or was already planning to come to town for an all-class, class reunion, a birthday, an anniversary, etc. With so much family in town at nearly the same time, it made sense to have it there, and it is also close enough to my family in Denver and Kansas that several of them could make it, too. Wyoming it was to be, then, and everything went well, but road trips and weddings are always an adventure.

The first step was to get to Amber's parent's house which is located on the Thunder Basin National Grasslands just outside of Osage, Wyoming. To put it in layman's terms: you can't get there from here. You can fly to Rapid City, South Dakota and then drive two and a half hours west through the Black Hills, or you can fly to Denver and then drive six hours north. With three of us flying out, we could save a total of $900 by flying to Denver. Amber's Mom very generously volunteered to come and get us so we would not have to even rent a car. Also, our very kind neighbor, Mr. Campbell, volunteered to feed the cats and to drive us to the airport at 6AM.

It has been a rainy Spring in Wyoming, so the grasslands were green and beautiful. I really enjoy road trips and wide, open spaces, so I thought that the drive was great. At times during the drive it was just a bit windy in the same way that the South Pole is just a bit nippy. Yikes. Anyway, Amber's Mom is an excellent driver and made short work of the distance. We even had time to stop at the Black Thunder Coal Mine which is the largest open pit coal mine in the US. They have one of those giant dump trucks and a big tire out in the parking lot so tourists can stop for pictures. We drove past the active and reclaimed parts of the mine that are right next to the highway, and the reclaimed area looks like no one ever so much as poked it with a stick. Anyway, we arrived at Amber's parent's house late in the evening on July 2nd. It really just takes a whole day to from Seattle to Osage, no matter how you get there. Perhaps I shall have to look into flying lessons....

The nearest town of any size is Newcastle, Wyoming - the county seat of Weston County. On the third of July, the town hosted the All Class, Class Reunion. The classes are not really that big, so they just share a common class reunion every few years for all of the alumni. The reunion features a parade where they try to get a car for each graduating class represented in the parade. Amber's Dad drove her 1967 Ford Galaxy convertible in the parade. He also has a 1966 Mustang that he loans back to the original owner so she can drive it in the parade each time that she comes back for a reunion. After the parade was a BBQ in a park. This being beef country, the lunch featured barbecued beef. People in Seattle always look at me funny when I tell them that BBQ restaurants in Seattle are usually weird. There are some places that get close, but none of them make anything that is even close to being as good as that simple BBQ Beef sandwich that we had at the reunion.

I noticed another weird thing at the reunion lunch. When parents take their kids to the park in Seattle, the parents stay right next to the play area. You will see 10 kids on the playground and 10 parents, or sets of parents, watching. No one takes their eyes off of their kids, and for good reason. In Newcastle, Wyoming, the kids just go play in the play area, and the parents just let them. The kids are not going anywhere and no one is going to mess with them. If someone was dumb enough to try and grab a kid, all of the surrounding adults would probably realize it and the offender would probably not leave the park standing up.

One of the recurring themes of driving places around that area is wildlife. There are antelope, deer, and lots and lots of cows. Since Amber's parents live in an open range area, there are cows walking around on the roads and highways all of the time. One evening we went into town for the class reunion street dance, and Amber was driving. Since she grew up in the area she was very alert, and thankfully so. The road was dark, the moon was not out, and there, at the farthest reach of the headlights, appeared two, small, circles of light. I was still staring at them, wondering what they could be, when Amber was down-shifting and braking hard. The circles of light turned out to be the eyes of a Black Angus cow who had decided to nurse her calf in the middle of the road. Thankfully, she was looking at us so we could see her eyes, and she was on a straight piece of road, otherwise our trip could have been very different. On a trip back from Mt Rushmore on another evening, Amber drove through four or five herds of deer who were grazing along the twisty road that they call Hell's Canyon. Amber is a very good driver.

Another highlight of the trip was driving The Pink Jeep. When your house sits on a 2.9 million acre grasslands that is criss crossed with dirt roads, it is not really necessary to make your kids wait until they are 16 to drive. When Amber was eight, her Dad painted a 1947 Willys Jeep pink, taught her to drive, and told her to stay inside "the triangle" and off of the highway. "The Triangle" is made up of three roads that enclose hundreds of acres. Because her parent's house is slightly higher than the surrounding territory, and because the Jeep is pink, they could see her for miles around. Also, everyone who saw the Jeep knew exactly who it was that was driving it so Amber and her younger brother could not really drive somewhere they shouldn't without their parents getting a call. The Jeep has no power steering, no power brakes, a manual transmission, and a tiny fuel tank. It is brilliant. Starting at the age of eight, Amber drove that Jeep down every cow path and over every hill. Later, Amber and her brother graduated to dirt bikes, but the Jeep became the learning car for every cousin and grandchild. I got to drive the Jeep around a bit, and it is easy to see why it was a favorite for soldiers. It just irons out bumpy roads, visibility is perfect since there are zero pillars or even a windshield in the way, and on muddy roads it is perfectly controllable with the easy inputs from the throttle and just a bit of opposite turn on the steering wheel.

We did some tourist activities on our trip, too. We all went into Hot Springs, South Dakota one day and went to visit The Mammoth Site. It is the largest concentration of mammoth bones anywhere in the world. Pretty incredible. We also went to Evans Plunge which is a water park that is fed by a hot springs. Alexander's new cousins taught him how to maximize the distance that he could shoot himself out of the end of the waterslides. Very cool.

Normally it is hot and sunny in the Black Hills in July, but we brought a bit of Seattle weather with us. One morning we drove over to see Crazy Horse and Mt Rushmore, but when we got to Crazy Horse it was cool and foggy. We drove around a bit and found a kind of junk yard/rock shop/antique store where a perfectly friendly, and clearly crazy, pistol packing older gentleman was the proprietor. We found one of those triangles that you ring to call people to dinner and bought it for Amber's Mom who always seems to be cooking for an army. We then continued on, stopping at an unusual winery, and then found our way into Custer State Park. Our theory was to take the scenic route over to Mt Rushmore, but when we got into the park and looked at a map, we realized that the scenic route was a bit too scenic - quite long and ending in a dirt road down the mountain. We decided to leave that for another day when we were not driving Amber's old Cougar (where is the Pink Jeep when you need it?), and backtracked to the main highway. Along the way, however, I was able to get a cool photo of The Fingers in Custer State Park.

The next few days were mostly taken up with wedding preparations. More family and friends began to come into town. Amber's bridesmaids arrived and began to help and to have fun with Amber. Alex and I took off for an afternoon and drove go-karts and bumper boats and played mini golf. Many of the guests stayed in The Fountain Inn which features an interesting notice in all of the guest rooms. Alex and I stayed there on Friday night before the wedding. Everyone pitched in and was very helpful. The actual wedding was at the Flying V, or as it is locally known - The V. It is a historic landmark and very cool. We had planned an outdoor wedding and it was supposed to be sunny, but on the actual day there were thunder showers moving through the area. We would run out and take a few photos, then run back under cover, then back out again, etc. About an hour before the wedding, the rain stopped and the family ran out and dried off all of the chairs. My college roommate's Dad, and all around great guy, came up from Colorado to be our pastor. The ceremony was just perfect, and we had a very nice dinner and reception after. Amber and I got to dance to our song, cut the cake, throw the flowers, etc. in the great hall at The V. All of those photos will be posted later. After the reception, Amber and I climbed into her 1967 Galaxy and drove over to Jake's B&B in Custer, South Dakota for our wedding night. In hindsight, this was not a great plan. The bed and breakfast was excellent, but we had selected a 43 year old car to drive through Hell's Canyon at night. There are lots of deer, no shoulders, no guard rails, no airbags, no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, drum brakes, and lap belts - and lightening. The car is kept in perfect running order by Amber's Dad, and the rain and the deer kept their distance so we arrived at our evening's lodgings in good order. Whew.

The day after the wedding we returned to The V for brunch and the opening of presents and clean-up. Once again, everyone pitched in and was a huge help. After that we went back to Amber's parent's house to celebrate her grandmother's 80th birthday. There were lots of cousins for Alex to play with, and Amber's Dad, two uncles, and I invented a new game: Extreme Horse Shoes. Extreme Horse Shoes is just like regular horse shoes but you play it in a lightening storm with lots of dogs running around trying to trip you and catch the horse shoes.  The final score was 10 to 8 in favor of Amber's
Dad and Uncle Bob when we called the game before we drowned. Pretty funny.

On our last, full day in Wyoming Amber took us out on an adventure. She hopped on her dirt bike, Alex and I borrowed her Mom's 4-wheeler, and a bunch of cousins jumped into The Pink Jeep. We drove all over so I could take some photos, and then we found our way to Shark's Tooth Hill. This whole area was a sea floor some millions of years ago, and there is a sandstone hill where shark's teeth wash out of the stone when it rains. The kids all took ziplock baggies and Amber showed them where to look so they could all find some shark's teeth. Looking south from Shark's Tooth Hill over Thunder Basin National Grasslands it is hard to imagine that people have ever walked this area. It is difficult to capture the vastness of it. Every time we crested a hill we caught another amazing, impossible vista. I am very glad that places like this still exist.

The trip was epic. Wyoming and the Black Hills are amazing. Amber's family is terrific. My family and friends that could make it were very kind and pitched in to help. Not everything went perfectly as planned, but Amber and I worked together and I feel even better about the two of us, if that is possible.
Frankly, I can't believe what a gigantic, cosmic do-over the universe is giving Alex and I - to meet Amber and her incredible family and to make our own, little family. You may or may not believe in God, but I sure can feel His helping hand in all of this, and I am humbled and awed by it.


Kylee w said…
Congratulations Tod! Those are some great pictures. I can't wait to see the wedding photos. Alex, Amber and you look like such a happy, loving family. :)

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