the drive up to Gillette, Wyoming from Salt Lake was relatively uneventful, yet altogether beautiful through the high plains of the western United States. i wish i had taken more photos of the grasslands, but i really just wanted to get in to Gillette and scope out the town that i will be staying in for the next 2 months.
the main drag coming up from Salt Lake is Wyoming State Highway 59, and it runs north-south through town. it is a plethora of commercial America with strip malls and just about every retail chain store that you could imagine or ever want (although, it was pointed out to me by the clinic manager that there is not yet an Olive Garden Restaurant, and that she is quite disappointed by that fact). but there is a Perkins and an Appleby's, so i'm sure that 90% of all residents are fairly happy with those choices. and there is not yet a Target, but there are side-by-side Walmart and K-Mart if you feel so inclined.
the morning after i arrived, my first order of business was to find maps. it seems that this is what i do when i get to a new place--find maps, look for trails, see where there is a sweet spot that i can pass my free time. sadly, the local bike shop had none. they pointed me to the Visitor's Center: closed until 2:30pm. i went to the sporting good store in town: "sorry, we don't have any." me: "do you know where i might get one (a map)?" girl with heavy eye-liner and blue eye-shadow: "uhm... not really." so i left. a Google search revealed the nearest BLM office 2 hours away in the town of Sheridan. (note to self, as i passed the BLM regional field office in Rawlins yesterday, i realize now that i should have stopped and gotten some maps and info. i swear, i will never flippantly drive past another BLM field office as long as i live... )
i looked on my Rand McNally Atlas and saw the "Thunder Basin National Grasslands" off to the north. maybe there would be some trails or even a dirt road to run on with the dogs. the dogs seriously needed to run after been in the car all day yesterday (8 hours) and i was feeling like i needed to loosen up a bit as well. well, needless to say, after an hour and a half of driving dirt county roads, all we found was a 1/2 mile section of two track going to a cell tower. but i refused to get frustrated...
i did some business on the phone for a half an hour pulled over on the side of the road and then drove back south towards I-90 to Moorcroft. the scenery was rapidly changing from open grasslands to conifer-studded hills, and i was feeling more optimistic. i drove on the freeway to the next town of Sundance, their claim to fame being the stepping-off point to Devil's Tower to the north and also the Sundance Kid Museum. and like a shining pearl just off the frontage road... Bearlodge Ranger District, Black Hills National Forest Station. i nearly cried. the ranger-woman inside was most helpful, and i left with a handful of maps. topo maps even. for free. thank you Dept. of Agriculture.
the nearest trailhead was about 3 miles down the road. Sundance trail. an hour and a half of delightful single track through pine forest and rolling hills, sweet sweeping vistas of the plains in all directions (even a couple of dead deer carcasses for Artie to munch on). it was an indescribable feeling of peace and happiness. i would have run all day, but was feeling lightheaded from only having eaten a light breakfast before setting out. i stopped at the gas station on the way home for SunChips, beef jerkey, and sweet tea. i clocked the mileage home, and the trailhead is only 65 miles away.
so hopefully, with this gem and with many more trails to explore in the Black Hills, i will survive my two month stint here. i start work on Thursday, which means that i have another day of exploring to do tomorrow. (little does the clinic staff know that "settling in" for me means pounding out some quality miles on the trails. funny thing is, i was so delighted to be on the trail with the dogs today, that i felt like i was floating rather than pounding.)