Eli's Western Adventure III

July 20, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

This adventure is out-of-sequence from Eli's actual travels, but that's the way I choose to do it.  The actual adventure was tied to a trip to Gillette, Wyoming, to see a swim meet in which his cousins, Connor and Collin, were participating.  We went to Devil's Tower, shown below.  This is likely a familiar view for many of you.  The "tower" is the core of a 50 million year old volcano whose surroundings have long since eroded away, leaving this beautiful and stark monument standing out amongst the surrounding, rolling hills.  To Native Americans this was a sacred site, and the name "Devil's Tower" is not to their liking.  But economics and politics being what they are, we all know it by the anglo name.

After passing a swarm of motorcycles and motorized tricycles at the Trading Post we gained entrance to the site.  It would be easy to get a "crink" in one's neck as you walk the one and a third mile trail around the base of the tower and marvel at the columnar shapes of the tower's walls.  Here are Eli, his aunt Mary Beth and his cousins Connor and Collin at the beginning of the trail.  OK, just another tourist photo!  But what's also interesting about this shot, taken with a 15-30 mm wide angle lens, is that by zooming the image, you can see three climbers about 3/4 of the distance, left-to-right, across the tower (you can see one in a white shirt without zooming).  There were actually four climbers, but one was in a recess between the columns.

Another interesting feature of the Gillette area is coal mining.  There is one huge, open-pit mine east of Gillette and a bigger operation in the Thunder Basin National Grassland east of Wright, Wyoming.  Wright is little more than a cross-road site on highway WY59 and built around coal mining.  For a perspective, use Google or Apple maps and follow WY450 (south of Wright) eastward and you will find the mining operation.  

How do they get the coal to their markets?  Trains!  Lots of trains, and thousands of coal cars.  Here is one train snaking its way out of the mining area having just crossed under WY59.  The end of it is beyond the scope of the image.  If it's like all of the others, there are two more engines pushing, and this front pair was "puffing" to get up the incline.  How long is it?  We checked the car's odometer against two sitting trains: one was 1.2 miles long and the other was 1.3 miles long.

What are the logistics for loading these thousands of coal cars? Plug these coordinates into your Google Earth and zoom the location: 43.470760, -105.349252.  They will take you to the south end of the mining operation and you'll see a loop of track and a big conveyer operation for filling the cars.  On my Google Earth and Apple Maps there are trains in the loop.

The good news/bad news is that the coal companies are beginning to feel an economic pinch resulting from cheaper natural gas prices, lower demand, and divestment efforts.  What this means for Wyoming is uncertain, but change is coming.


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