Yesterday took us from Salt Lake City to just outside Yellowstone. After visiting Yellowstone, today’s travels were meant to land us somewhere close to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. All that stood in our way was Wyoming.
Wyoming: Big Sky Country. Land of Wide Open Spaces. With air so fresh it was making us smog-accustomed Californians downright lightheaded. If this whole “pure air” thing had gotten any worse, I was going to have to stop every few miles to suck on a tailpipe just to restore the normal carbon dioxide level in my lungs. Really, Wyomans–how do you cope with so much oxygen in your air?
And then there were the cows. Sometime in the late afternoon, our little PT cruiser was climbing up yet another steep incline when we saw a cow standing bold as brass in the middle of the highway. I slowed to a crawl, passed around the bull, and continued up the hill only to be met by several more a hundred yards or so up the hill. More slowing. More weaving. And I was starting to feel pretty good at doing the Brahma Slalom when I noticed that the truck in front of me had come to a complete stop up ahead.
As soon as I got up behind him, I saw why: a steady stream of cows was clomping down the other land of the highway, occasionally veering to both sides of the road. “Man, I gotta get a picture of this!” I said, and asked Carolyn to hop out and grab my video camera from the trunk. No sooner had she returned to the front seat of the car with the camera than the true onslaught began: a full-on cattle drive was in progress, blocking the entirety of Hwy Alt-14 as 1200 head of cattle were herded down the road by three honest-to-God-cowboys…and a little dog.
In no time flat, our PT Cruiser was surrounded on all sides by huge cows shuffling down the hill, as well as between the cars. Amidst it all, there was a steady, unearthly wail of “MooooooooooooooooHHHHH!!!” from the cows as they moved this way and that, poked their heads in at the passengers, and occasionally doubled back on the drive. Most unnerving were the cows who’d cut between my little PT Cruiser and the weathered truck in front of us, some leaping over the highway fence as a shortcut down the hill. At the same time, I was getting more than a little nervous thinking what 3/4 of a ton of prime Angus landing on my hood would do to my insurance premiums.
Since we couldn’t see around the cows and the truck in front of us, we took to counting the tags in the cows’ ears as a way of marking the progress of the cattle drive. The highest number I remember was 973, but we found out later that there were a total of some 1200 cattle being herded along the highway by the trio of cowboys. After about 15 minutes of this surreal bovine roadblock, the cowboys managed to clear a gap so we could proceed up the hill.
As we did, we encountered another pickup from the other direction who’d been waiting for his chance to come down the hill. Out the open window, the cowboy-hat-wearing driver gave us a big grin and just said “Welcome to Wyoming!”