Wednesday, September 21, 2011
From Loveland With Love
Day 24: Sept. 19, 2011
Today just goes to prove, we have no idea where we will end up by the end of the day, even though I spend hours planning our route and itinerary. We went with serendipity today and what a great day!
We started out as planned, driving into downtown Cheyenne to the Union Pacific Railroad Depot, which is now restored as a museum and visitor’s center. I was interested in the Union Pacific Railroad because the company helped build the first transcontinental railroad, which followed the route of the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, the California Trail, the Pony Express, and… after the railroad, the Lincoln Highway and now, Interstate 80. We learned about all this last year when we went to the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument in Kearney, Nebraska. And the second reason I was interested is because of the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, when Butch’s gang kept robbing the same train and Mr. Woodcock wouldn’t open the train doors because, “I work for Mr. E.H. Harriman of the Union Pacific Railroad, and he ENTRUSTED me….”
When we got to the Depot, we had to decide exactly how and to what extent we were going to explore the city of Cheyenne itself. Cheyenne has no less than 3 museums which AAA gives a Gem rating to. But it was a beautiful sunny, not-too-hot day, and neither Joe nor I really felt like going to a museum (besides, how much cowboy, frontier and westerward expansion collections can two New Jersey kids be expected to take, anyway?) We decided to be relaxed and instead we got tickets to take a 90-minute trolley ride with a narration of the history of Cheyenne. The tickets included admission to the Cheyenne Depot Museum.
So after parking Mo and Roxy a couple of blocks away, we took a 90 minute trolley tour. Before it started, we had a little time to read some of the many historic markers in Depot Plaza, a park- like area with sculpture, seating, grass, and ambience. One thing that stood out was all the large painted cowboy boots--Cheyenne had a project like other cities, where they invited various artists to paint cowboy boots to tell a story. We always love that kind of thing--we’ve seen cows in Chicago, seagulls in Ocean City, MD, and some others of the same ilk. So I took photos of the cowboy boots whenever we saw them.
Our tour guide was really excellent--I think she was a frustrated actress, because she didn’t just narrate, she made a dramatic presentation of every story she told, even if it was just facts and figures. We saw all the historic buildings in downtown Cheyenne, and heard all kinds of fun stories. Cheyenne was a city which was founded and expanded in literally *months*, just before the railroad came to the town. It was wild and woolly and had the nickname “Hell on Wheels”, but so many wealthy folks from the east also came to the new town (to make even more money! Or because they were officers in the army, which guarded the town as a strategic position in the Wyoming Territory) that the city was quickly semi-civilized.
Many old buildings still remain and are being lovingly restored. And there is a lot of western influence everywhere--the city really trades on its image as home of the famous Frontier Days Rodeo. But the thing Joey and I noticed most was that although the city looked really nice downtown, there were so few people! So little traffic. NO congestion of any kind. It was really bizarre. I would have been comfortable driving Mo through the very center of town, right in front of the Capitol Building--there was just no significant traffic. This is what it’s like out here--so much room, and so few people compared to New Jersey, that everything looks “empty”.
After our tour, it was lunchtime, and then we went to the Depot Museum. I really enjoyed it--it was cool looking at all the old photographs of the city being built up, and the influence of the Union Pacific. This city literally was founded from scratch in 1867, so its growth is documented from the very beginning. I loved the quotes from the local newspaper, which started up almost immediately and chronicled everything of importance that occurred. The Depot itself is a historic landmark, and is really beautiful, in that old-wood, tiled and elegant way of public buildings from the beginning of the 20th century.
The trains are still very much present, although there are evidently no passenger trains anymore. But the tracks run right along next to I-80 (we saw a lot of trains while driving yesterday) and right through Cheyenne. We heard them all night from our campground, and probably almost a dozen went through while we were downtown. They say about 90 trains PER DAY (!!) go through Cheyenne.
By the time we finished with the museum, it was already 3pm, and we decided we needed to get going. So we found our way to I-25 South, and drove 7 miles until we crossed the state line into Colorado. We stopped at the visitor center in Fort Collins, because I wanted to see if there was anything fun we could do east of Denver--almost everything touristy in Colorado is based around the Rocky Mountains, which by the way showed up immediately in the distance and got closer and closer as we drove.
I have to say, when the people staffing the visitor center can’t think of ANYTHING to tell you to see in the eastern part of their state, it’s kind of discouraging. So I discussed how to bypass Denver and went back to Mo. Little did I know that serendipity had stepped in--Joe had picked up one brochure, for Loveland, Colorado. It seems that Loveland bills itself as a “work of art”--the entire city is full of public sculpture, including several parks and sculpture gardens. Loveland was only about 16 miles south of us, so we decided we would stop there and see some of the sculptures.
We used the brochure’s map and our GPS, and found Benson Sculpture Garden. It was in a residential neighborhood, a large grassy park with no vehicle entrance point. We simply parked by the curb, leashed Roxy, and started walking through the park. It was about 5pm, a lovely time for a stroll, and the sculptures were fantastic. The shadows made it hard to get good photos of many of them--which is probably lucky for this blog, since uploading photos is so hard!
When we found a plaque describing the place, we learned that the property had originally been a homestead which the Benson family had given to the city, to be kept as a wildlife and wetlands area. Indeed, the center of the park was a large pond, surrounded by cattails and other plants, and all of the grassy areas in the center were “natural”, not mowed or otherwise altered. Some of the statues made obvious use of the natural landscape.
But the entire perimeter was lush lawn, and many sculptures were set into the grass. As Joe said, we HAD to walk on the grass to look at them and read their titles and the artists’ names.
So we had the most delightful evening stroll for an hour or so, passing other families with children and dogs, and just relaxing and enjoying ourselves. There are over 100 scultpures in this park alone--there are other parks and places all over Loveland with sculptures. It seems to be a “lovely” place to live!
Now it was 6:30pm, and time to really think about dinner, and where to spend the night. And once again, Loveland was just perfect--there is a state park right at the edge of the city! No wifi, of course, but electric hookups, hot showers, and a lake next to our campsite. With a fantastic sunset just as we arrived. So that is where we are tonight, and when we woke up, we had no idea of spending ANY time here whatsoever. Just goes to show you. Joe’s angel of inspiration was directing us today.