This Open Road

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" -Mary Oliver

Noticing History

Everywhere I walk in Laramie, there are glimpses into the past. Of course Laramie isn’t unique in this aspect. Every town has its history revealed in buildings, homes, streets, back alleys and monuments. Being new to a town allows one to see with fresh eyes. I’m constantly gazing about and wondering what that corner looked like 100 or so years ago. Businesses come and fill in vacant spaces, but the energy of a place remains. If walls could speak, indeed…

Sometimes being at the right place at the right time adds a helpful dimension. Last week I happened to be walking near two people going in the same direction that I was. I overheard one comment to the other, “I love the windows in some of the older buildings in Laramie.” I followed his gaze and noticed large glass block windows set in symmetrically-arranged dark bricks in an art deco style, high on the wall of a building across the street. It was something I normally would notice and appreciate, but hadn’t seen until this random stranger drew my attention to it (unbeknownst to him). Now I look at those windows every time I walk down that street.

My parents came for a visit last week. While walking along the Garfield St. Bridge, which goes over the train tracks, and looking back across downtown, my dad told me about a trip he and my Aunt Barb took from Denver to visit relatives in California when they were young. He said they went on the UP (Union Pacific) and what an adventure it was to travel so far by themselves. Their train came through Laramie on its way west, and although they didn’t exit, he remembers the stopover. We contemplated what Laramie must have looked like then; certainly most of the same buildings that we were viewing were there at that time.

As I walk around, I notice places that evoke a sense of life here from earlier days. The old train depot fascinates me. Not used as a passenger depot anymore, it can be rented out for events. The day I visited, it was quiet, no one around. I imagined a bustling, turn-of-the-century transit stop, women in long dresses, wearing hats; men in ranch wear or business suits of the time period. Many of these folks were probably making routine commutes to and from Denver, or to other destinations much further away. I wondered how many people got off at the depot and stayed, raising children whose descendants are still here.

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Union Pacific.

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The Laramie Depot.

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Just freight, no (known) passengers.

Just freight, no (known) passengers.

A look through the windows.

A look through the windows.


I’ve spent time in countries where train travel is common practice and wish it was more prevalent in the western U.S. Even though this route is for freight now, and no longer for people, I still like living where the trains comes through.

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Other landmarks…

The local Elks Club.

The local Elks Lodge.

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The Ivinson Mansion is one block from my apartment building.

Former home of one of the early settlers of Laramie.

Former home of one of the early families of Laramie.


I’m a temporary resident, but have rapidly burrowed into my life here, taking in as much of the local culture as possible. I think years of travel and relocating have honed this skill. If I like a place, I want to learn about it as deeply and quickly as possible, making it mine for the time that I’m there. Laramie has made this process easy.

A Walk Around Laramie. All the Way Around.

Over two very different days, I walked the perimeter of Laramie. Just to do it, and to get a better sense of the lay of the land. I love the topography of this high prairie plain and it draws me out. I can see the rise of the land to the east and west, and both beckon. I think about the pioneers who traveled through here on their way to California and how many of them probably decided this was good and far enough.

There's so much history in this area. Walking the land is a good place to begin to learn about it.

There’s so much history in this area. Walking the land is a good place to begin to learn about it.


As I walked, I tried to imagine what those early travelers saw. I looked out and away from the border of suburban neighborhoods and knew this was the same view those early wayfarers had (minus a few lingering telephone poles and a modern structure or two).

The first day was chilly and lightly snowing. I filled my daypack with snacks, water, an extra jacket and my camera. I headed west toward the downtown district and crossed the Garfield St. Bridge, connected with the Laramie River Greenbelt and continued north, skirting the housing developments as much as possible.

Started here - Garfield St. Bridge.

Started here – Garfield St. Bridge.

On the edge of suburbia. Looking back to Highway 287 as a truck goes north.

On the edge of suburbia. Looking back to Highway 287 as a truck goes north. I walked east.

The eastern plains socked in.

The eastern plains socked in.


I traversed the boundary between fields and pavement and came upon this square dance hall across from a golf course.

Square dance club. Here's a little-known fact about me. I took square dancing in college for a P. E. credit and it was a blast!

Little-known fact: I took square dancing in college for a P.E. credit and loved it!


A mile or so later, I followed a road which turned into the university grounds and saw the cone-shaped roof of the art museum in the distance. (This is where I visited the Japanese art exhibit which I wrote about in this post.) I decided this would be my last stop for the day before getting a late lunch in the cafe at the library.

Don't judge an art museum by its concrete: this nondescript entrance belies the significant and beautiful exhibits on display inside.

Don’t judge an art museum by its concrete facade. This nondescript entrance belies the significant and beautiful exhibits on display inside.


We’ll continue this tour, but first, a few facts about Wyoming:

* Wyoming has the lowest population of all 50 states (576,626).

* Yellowstone National Park, located in the NW corner of the state, was the first national park in the world, established in 1872. (Sections of the park extend into Idaho and Montana.)

* Devils Tower was the first national monument, established in 1906, and was one of the locations for the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

* In 1869, Wyoming became the first state to give women the right to vote.

* Nellie Tayloe Ross, of Wyoming, was the first woman governor in the United States.

There were a lot of firsts for women in Wyoming.

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Part II of my perimeter walk occurred a few days later with much better weather.

I returned to the east part of the university to continue where I left off. It was a fantastic day for walking.

Looking east.

Looking east toward the southern end of the Laramie Mountains on the horizon.

And west.

And west – the Medicine Bow Mountains are beyond.

I passed through a few parks.

I passed through a few parks.

And walked through neighborhoods with contrasting appeal…

With character.

some with character…

Maybe not so much.

others not so much.

I looped south toward I-80 and returned to downtown on 3rd Avenue.

Light on white.


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(Actually, Big Hollow Co-op.)


It’s only fair to warn anyone with such inclinations:

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I walked about 3 1/2 hours each day, and a total of 22-24 miles. I celebrated with a coffee at Coal Creek Coffee Co. and felt that I had a much better understanding of the layout of Laramie.

* * *

Several nights later, I walked into the deep twilight and was struck by the profound beauty of the darkening western horizon. The black and glittered sky and the stillness that descended over the streets were reminders that these, for me, are the signposts of home. And, for this season, that will be on these wide open acres.

Still Connected to Japan

I’ve had my moments of doubt. I think about the job in Tokyo I’m not returning to (at least not this term), the positive work environment, the familiar places and those yet to be discovered. I think about the kindness of the Japanese people, the ease and efficiency of traveling and the beauty of the city lights at dusk, Mt. Fuji silhouetted against the sky.

I remember the rain and wind of early spring, the cherry blossoms that embody all that is beautiful about Japan and the importance placed on this season. I also remember the incredible sunsets after a typhoon blows through and the deep blue skies the next day. Spring in Japan is something special.

And then I remember that everything that has become part of my memories, everything that is Japan to me, is still there. It will be there and still be special when I go back.

For Westgate teachers, spring is also the beginning of new friendships and a new job or the returning to these things.Two years ago I arrived at Narita Airport and began to meet people from all over the world that have become good friends and kindred spirits. Friends that had already taught and traveled extensively and would continue to.

While missing Japan, I’m also content with my decision to remain stateside (notwithstanding the occasional glimpse over my shoulder). Living in Laramie feels like another adventure I wasn’t planning on. I never knew it was the eccentric, historic town that it is. Rarely have I landed in a place and so easily and quickly felt at home. I’ve also rediscovered my love of the West (in the U.S.).

And there’s plenty here to remind you that this is the real McCoy: the vast prairie surrounding Laramie; the trucks pulling horse trailers; the locals, many of whom have lived on nearby ranches for generations.

And yet, I’ve discovered connections to Japan, as if Laramie knew I may be missing the place I could have been this spring.

In this town of cowboy bars, saloons and dance halls, I was pleasantly surprised to see this:

01-Wyoming 035I have yet to try this restaurant (which serves Japanese and Vietnamese food) but I will. Click on the photo for the restaurant’s website.


KRC had told me about a Japanese exhibit that is going on at the art museum on the UW campus, so I made a visit last week. I was impressed and felt a deep sense of nostalgia for Japan. I spent quite a while looking at these old wood blockprints, especially the ones by Katsushika Hokusai, who is known for the iconic image of Mt. Fuji and the Wave.

This wall displayed the Japanese woodblock images.

The far wall displayed the Japanese woodblock images.

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(I didn’t get the descriptions for the following two:)

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I also discovered that there is a Japan-America Society of Wyoming that is located in Laramie, although it doesn’t appear to be very active. Also, Japanese courses are offered at UW through the Department of Modern and Classical Languages.

So, in ways I never expected here, I’m not completely alienated from Japanese culture.

I can’t help but feel a little left behind knowing my Westgate colleagues are packing to return to their lives in Japan and will soon be working with our Japanese friends. But the doubts that sometimes surface quickly subside when I remember that I’m fully into a new life that is unfolding each day.

Running in Laramie

Since April 2010, I’ve moved to a new living situation every three to nine months (not including the multi-week backpacking trips on the AT and the Long Trail). One of the first things I do in my new temporary city is establish my running route. It helps me adjust to the time zone, learn about my neighborhood and banish travel fatigue. Through every transition, I’ve managed to maintain my schedule.

Running at least four times a week for an hour (more if I’m training for a race) has been part of my life for years and is essential to my mental – and, of course, physical – health. Wanting to run is instinctive for me. When I see other people running, even if I’ve already run that day, my automatic response is: I wanna run!

On those mornings, I wake up excited to get out the door. That is when my energy is best, and for the rest of the day I feel the contentment of post-run bliss.

On a visit to Laramie with KRC, months before I knew I’d be living here, she introduced me to the Laramie River Greenbelt, a 6-mile path that follows the local section of the 280-mile river. The greenbelt is located on the west side of town and is protected from roads and the hazards and annoyances that go with them. Once I moved here, I knew this would be part of my route.

Garfield St. Footbridge.

Garfield St. Footbridge.

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To access the greenbelt, I run a few blocks west from my apartment through the old downtown, cross the footbridge over the rail yard and go three more blocks through another neighborhood. Then I can choose to go north along the path for a few miles to the terminus, turn right on the road bordering the north end of town and make a big loop back to my street. Or I can go south and stay on the path much longer, following it to the loop at that end. To make this long enough, I run the loop twice before returning. Although I haven’t clocked this distance yet, I usually maintain just under an 8-minute mile for an hour run.

Along the Laramie River Greenbelt.

Along the Laramie River Greenbelt.

This is my favorite direction since I’m on the path much longer and don’t have to deal with street crossings except downtown. It’s straightforward with few options to make it more challenging. The path is paved and there are no hills except for the up and down of the rail yard footbridge. But I love the easy access to the unimpeded trail. I also love the open views of the plains, and on clear mornings I can see the Medicine Bow Mountains on the horizon to the southwest. (These photos were taken while I was on a late afternoon walk last week.)

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The local running club is the High Plains Harriers. I’ve never been part of a running club but I’m thinking about this one. They sponsor several races a year and it would be a good way to learn about other local trails with knowledgeable people.

It’s been over a year since I ran a half-marathon (my favorite distance), which was the Crossroads HM in Ft. Collins, and I’m planning to register for the Medicine Bow Half-Marathon that takes place at the end of May. I’ll be logging a lot more miles on this path in the coming weeks.

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My Little Town

Driving north to Laramie on Highway 287 from Fort Collins, the elevation gain is almost imperceptible. It’s a two-lane road most of the way, undulating through open ranchland, cresting over rocky terrain and swinging past locations with names such as Ted’s Place, Virginia Dale and Tie Siding. Closer to Laramie, the highway becomes all business, leaving the roly-poly behind. The land flattens and the broad expanse which characterizes Wyoming is laid out in a barren, wind-swept tableau. It’s only when you pass the city limit sign that you realize the reason for the pop in your ears.

At 7165 feet, Laramie is only 357 lower than Estes Park, Colorado, the gateway town to Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Laramie is laid out in thirds, from west to east:

1/3 Old-fashioned cowtown indulging in a makeover, with a trendy coffee shop, a food co-op, a Thai restaurant and a vegetarian restaurant, all within two blocks of each other.

03-Wyoming 011(The restaurant/bar on the far corner is Born in a Barn… what are ya? Born in a Barn?!)

1/3 University, with almost 14,000 students, the beautiful Coe Library and several museums.

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1/3 Everything else – chain restaurants, big box stores and few strip malls.

Surrounding this triptych grid are unassuming neighborhoods, interspersed with local businesses and scattered apartment buildings that cater to the student population.

The building I live in is only two blocks from campus (and a couple more to the Coe Library), one block from the public library, and is diagonal from the local hardware store (which comes in handy when you move into a new place). It’s a 10-minute walk to the aforementioned downtown, and a 20-minute walk to a large grocery store.

Also nearby is an Enterprise location so renting a car is convenient when I need transportation. Annndddd, there is a free shuttle that runs through town, stopping at convenient places every half-hour. My bike will also provide easy transport. My car-free life continues to thrive.

And there’s a local theater. When was the last time you saw a first-run feature for $3.50?

The ole Wyo...

The ole Wyo…

* * * * *

My apartment continues to feel more like home every day. It’s spare and simple and I like it that way. I feel safe, comfortable and am enjoying slowly personalizing it.

Still new and needs a chair or two.

Still new and needs a chair or two.

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I love this little storage room, although I have nothing to store here.

I love this little storage room, although I have nothing to store here.

Life in my new town is feeling good. I’ve mapped out my running route which goes through the old downtown, across the railroad tracks and along the Laramie River. I’ll show pictures of that in my next post.

Love my cowboy coffee. (Thanks, Chris!)

Love my cowboy coffee. (Thanks, Chris!)


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