Last Saturday was beautifully sunny as we finished up lunch. With no plans for the day, the afternoon seemed to stretch out too long before us. Charlie had been at work for the past three days – days that had crept by painfully slowly as I waited for various volunteer contacts to move forward.
Me: “I just need to get out of this apartment.”
Charlie: “Well, let’s just go for a drive and enjoy the sunshine.”
Done. We grabbed the camera and our Wyoming guidebook just in case and were out the door in five minutes. We thought we’d drive up towards Farson and turn off on one of the highways that intersects there. We had loose plans to explore the little ghost town of Atlantic City and then come home mid-afternoon. Little did we know we’d end up dancing in the streets a stone’s throw from the Continental Divide and falling in to bed ten hours later!
We made a deal that anytime we went through Farson, we were required to stop for ice cream. I love deals like this – so easy to fulfill! As we sat outside eating our giant cones in the warm sun, we kept saying this was turning into the perfect summer Saturday. Back in the car, we headed east in search of Atlantic City.
All of a sudden, the sagebrush flatlands began to rise up in front of us. A quick check of the atlas and we realized we were entering the Wind River range of the Rocky Mountains. I’d read about the beauty of this range and thought we’d first encounter it on our trip to Yellowstone in a few weeks. It was a fun surprise to realize we were driving further than anticipated, especially when we found ourselves crossing the Continental Divide. We passed several trailheads and look forward to exploring some of these this Monday when we head up to Pinedale. I can’t wait to see the hidden lakes and peaks that are just beyond the ridges we saw from the road.
At the sign for Atlantic City, we turned off the main highway and onto a dirt road for a few miles. It felt like we were driving straight into the open range, and I imagined all the wagon trains that must have come through this area a hundred years before. Atlantic City, with an advertised population of “about 57,” is nestled in a narrow valley between the foothills of the Wind River range. It was founded by miners and goldseekers in the 1860s, but became a virtual ghost town by the 1890s. The original settlements are still there, interspersed with a few more recent log structures. At the 2010 census, the population consisted of only eight family units.
We pulled up to the Grubstake Diner – more like a small general store with a bar – and got a Coke. There was a band setting up outside, and the lady behind the bar told us it was for a “street dance” happening later that evening if the rain held off.
Count us in.
Charlie thought about that for two seconds and declared he didn’t care if we were trying to be frugal before some upcoming trips – we were having dinner at the saloon next door and dancing in the streets that night.
Since it was just mid-afternoon, we decided to keep exploring east and then return to Atlantic City for dinner later. This was a great decision! In the forty miles to the next town of Lander, we experienced the jaw-dropping beauty of the Wind River range with its fire-red canyons, lush valleys and majestic peaks. Around every bend in the road was another picture-perfect scene. I haven’t seen the rest of Wyoming yet, but this stretch should definitely be on the visitor guides. It’s been there this whole time, waiting for us to drive just a little further and discover it.
We pulled onto the main street of Lander and browsed through the local book shop and general store. After wandering through downtown for awhile, we enjoyed the whole drive in reverse as we made our way back to Atlantic City for dinner. Though the Grubstake Diner serves food, it seemed like the real place to go (actually, the only other place to go) was next door to the A.C. Mercantile saloon.
Built in 1893, it doesn’t seem to have changed much. It’s the kind of place where you just have to order a big plate of meat and go for it. Charlie got a huge pork chop with applesauce while I went to town on a half rack of ribs. All of that was preceded by “cowboy beans” and followed up with a slice of house made apple pie a la mode. The service was a little slow, but that allowed us to see just about the whole town stop by for a beer or dinner before the music started up. Talk about some interesting people-watching!
We headed outside as the band began to play, and people began arriving on their 4-wheelers (seriously..where are you coming from?!). What else could be played at a street dance deep in the Wyoming Rockies except country music? The band was actually pretty good, and Charlie took me for a spin right in the street as the sun was starting to set. Dancing with my sweet husband in a tiny Wyoming ghost town is definitely one of my favorite travel experiences.
We started out for home a little early to avoid finding our way through the prairie in the dark and to catch the sunset on the way back. There was no one else on the highway, and it seemed like the pink sun was going down in our own personal Western movie. We were pretty jealous of the small homes we passed who get to see that sunset from their back porch each night.
So the lesson in this is to just start. Start driving, start moving forward. Just go. Head out without a plan, take the roads that seem interesting, and don’t worry about changing plans. Forget the online recommendations and itineraries and be guided by your curiosity.
The same is true of travel and in life. Don’t wait to be so sure of where you’ll end up that you forget to begin. We had no idea (still don’t!) of how our travel nursing journey will end up, but we knew we had to start. In deciding to head out and pursue what seemed interesting, we’ve ended up dancing in the streets along the way to wherever we’re headed.
Of course we’re guided by the Lord’s will above all, but sometimes I think we don’t realize He’s calling us just to take the next step without worrying about the destination.