Some days, and some roads, were just made for each other. This one, on August 9, was just right, a little cool, but OK as long as you had a sweatshirt to go under your leathers. The weather out west, especially when you get up high, can call for all sorts of clothes you might not need down in, say, Georgia that time of year.
I was two days out of Sturgis, having come south from Buffalo, Wyoming that morning, down Interstate 25 to Casper. There, to get off the slab, I dodged west, then south down Wyoming 270 and 487. A lot of central Wyoming is pretty dull, but that's not a bad route overall.
Wyoming 487 joins up with US30/287, the old east-west route across southern Wyoming, at Medicine Bow. If you ever read The Virginian, the classic western novel by Owen Wister (the phase "When you call me that, SMILE!" comes from that book) or watched the series on TV, this town is where it took place.
This picture is of The Virginian Hotel and restaurant in Medicine Bow - click it and you'll go to the Medicine Bow town web page. T'ain't much left in town now, but it's a decent spot to stop for lunch or even just coffee. The hotel is kinda interesting, with and old dining room and bar from way back when.
Medicine Bow might provide a spot to stop but it's still not anywhere in particular, so you gotta move on. Head west through about 35 miles of empty and you'll come upon Interstate 80 and a Texaco Shop'n Rob as I recall, but no town. The map shows Walcott being there, but I think it probably dried up and blew away back in the '50's.
Just keep going on south on Wyoming 130 for another 30 miles or so. You'll go through the village of Saratoga, another frontier town from the old days, where I'd suggest that you gas up. No point having to worry later as you are coming down the pass wondering where the next gas it. And if you're hungry, grab a bite, 'cause the next lunch counter is in Centennial. That's not too far off in miles, but the road is such a great ride it's be shame to have to hurry 'cause your stomach's growling. Or better yet, buy some picnic stuff and eat up on top of the pass.
South of Sara a few miles you'll then turn east at the junction with Wyoming 230. You'll actually be staying on Hwy 130 as you make the turn.
Here's where the riding gets really good. All the way down from I-80 you've been riding down a broad valley at about 7,000 feet elevation. The road is good, with decent shoulders and sweeping, gentle turns. It's scenic ranch and farm country.
But when you turn east the road gets narrow and loses its shoulders. It starts to climb into the Snowy Range, and within eight or ten miles you find yourself in the Medicine Bow National Forest, surrounded by evergreens at 8,000ft. It keeps climbing, and not far beyond that you come into the genuine subalpine zone that looks like this picture.
If you didn't put your sweatshirt on before, you may be tempted to now. I hadn't been on this road since the same time of year back in the early '60's, and I recall that it actually snowed so hard at that time that the pass was closed at 4pm or so, and stayed that way overnight. Mostly though, you'll just see snow on the peaks, and run into a windy chill at the summit.
The road is still very good, narrow, but even this time of year there's next to no traffic. This is not on the major tourist routes, although one of the websites devoted to beautiful roads rates it among the top ten scenic routes in America.
As you approach the summit you encounter three beautiful alpine lakes. Lake Marie, shown here, and nearest the highway, has a great spot to stop for a break. There's a picnic ground handy; when I stopped there was only one car there, so I made myself up a cup of coffee and enjoyed the view. Kept my coat on though. The temperature was only about 55 degrees with a light breeze just to remind me that this ain't Miami Beach.
The tree shown to the left is a typical victim of the harsh winter winds that blow around the summit; it's actually a few hundred feet below the high point of the pass. The tendency for the branches to grow away from the wind is called "flagging" - I expect I'd flag too, up here in the winter.
There aren't a whole bunch of paved highways in the country that take you over passes above timberline, the point where the climate is too tough for trees to grow. This is not one of them, but it's right there at the edge. By the time you reach the pass, and the observation point at Libby Flat, you are at 10,800 feet, and at this latitude, timberline is typically around 11,000ft. I took the photo that leads off this article from Libby Flat looking deep into Colorado to the southeast. The evergreens you see in that pic are actually fully-matured trees; at about 10' tall, that's as big as they get up here on top. Although the picture is not real clear, you may be able to see that they don't have much in the way of branches on top, although there is some growth around the base. That's because the snowpack shields the lower branches, but the harsh winter wind actually keeps the part above snowpack from growing branches.
Heading on east out of Libby Flat the road stays beautiful, running along the top of the high country in all its alpine glory for a few miles, before starting down the east side of the pass. While you are never aware of a steep dive down, somehow the road manages to drop 2,600 feet in the next 11.5 miles to the village of Centennial.
Centennial is a very small place, but because it is the nearest village to the Snowy Range ski area, and all the year-round recreation the mountains allow, it has a number of B&B's, lodges, and restaurants in vicinity. Don't know that I'd count on finding a room though, just dropping in late of an afternoon in the summertime.
If you are an old fart like me, who thinks that the high point of American travel came about 1955, or if you are just a nostalgia freak, then I'd suggest you go on to the next place I tell you about if you have another couple hours of daylight. It'll only take an hour or less to get there, but if you can't get a room when you arrive you'll need to go on down to Walden, Colorado for the night.