Buffalo Bill Dam

I never thought I’d find a place that was windier than Bandon, Oregon. But such a place exists. It’s nestled in the canyons of Wyoming, just out of Cody on the road to Yellowstone National Park. And it’s on that spot that in 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt thought there ought to be a dam.

Clouds AheadI park my car in the lot for the Buffalo Bill Dam visitor’s center and am immediately thrown back by the wind. The sun is out and the air is bitter. An old man pulls up in a golf cart and asks me if I want a ride. He takes me and a few other recently arrived visitors over to the main center. On the way he warns me of a coming snowstorm.

“Look behind you,” he says. “That’s not rain.”

I look to the west and see the clouds he’s talking about. They do look like storm clouds but I’m not sure how he knows they’ll bring snow. I don’t say anything, but I secretly hope he is wrong. I have to drive that direction tonight.

The visitor’s center is small, and I cozy up to a few other guests to watch a short film about the making of the dam. At the time of completion it was the tallest dam in the world. Three contractors came and went over the course of construction, and the final cost was twice the original estimate. The Shoshone River floods every spring, meaning most work had to be done during the winter. The various contractors faced constant labor disputes over the horrendous conditions.

View DownI walk out onto the dam and it’s windier than before. I look across the beautiful lake and then down to the river punching out below. Somehow I find Buffalo Bill Dam to be more impressive than the Hoover Dam, despite being half the size. Perhaps it’s because the canyon is so narrow and the walls are so tall and steep. My fingers are freezing and the wind is bearing down. I can’t imagine trying to construct anything in such a place. I can barely hold on to my camera.

I hitch a ride on the cart and I see the storm clouds again. I sprint from the cart into my car. The wind has been pounding hard on my head and smacking my hair into face, and the stillness of the cab is a relief. I look towards the clouds on the horizon. They don’t seem so bad. All day I’d seen the beautiful and strange weather of the Wyoming landscape. I’d driven through sun and rain, and seen a dozen different storms on the horizon. This was just one more patch of gray rain.

Right?

Storym Wide Angle

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The Tiny Town of Ten Sleep

I stop for the night at Ten Sleep, a tiny town about halfway between where I’ve been (Devil’s Tower) and where I want to go (Yellowstone). The first motel I spot is made up of cabins, but there’s no office to check in to. I call the number on the sign but no one answers. I pull my car out of the lot and go two hundred yards over to the only other motel in town. This place has a front desk, but no one is sitting at it. I’m looking around wondering how obnoxious I’m willing to be when an older woman appears. I book my room and ask if she has a recommendation for where to get dinner.

Carter Inn“What day is it?” she asks, looking at the calendar on the wall.

“Tuesday,” I say.

“Well then you only have one option, so I recommend it.”

The Ten Sleep Saloon, like all of Ten Sleep, is only a few blocks away. She’s tells me I can walk to it. I casually mention what a nice night it is for a walk.

“They’re saying we got a big storm coming tonight,” she warns. I decide I better take a coat and umbrella.

I spend an hour or so in my room before heading to dinner, and on my way out I see that rain has fallen on my car. I hadn’t been paying much attention and I start to wonder if the storm has already come and gone.

I cozy up to the bar and order the Ten Sleep Saloon Burger, since I’m a sucker for anything that’s named after the establishment. My burger is pretty good considering it’s just bacon, cheese, and BBQ sauce. FOX News is on the TV and the two young people beside me laugh at the caption “A New Axis of Evil?” when it comes on the screen. I start to wonder how much the ideals of FOX News match the political climate in Ten Sleep when a man asks the bartender to change the channel. Two men play pool behind me. One of them seems to be a shoo-in for the win, until he scratches on the eight ball. A man smokes at the counter. Credit cards are not accepted.

Storm over the RoadIt’s still a nice night when I walk back to my room, though the wind is picking up. By the time I’ve crossed all three blocks, it’s strong enough to fight against. I’m in my room for only a few minutes when the lighting starts, then the rain. The Red Cross alarm app on my phone goes off, warning me that I’m about to experience severe thunderstorms. I peek out the window at the rain and wind, and I start to worry we’ll lose power.

I’m trying to go to sleep when I hear an incredible, loud bass noise. It’s a fast vibration, like someone running a jackhammer outside my door. I hop out of bed immediately, terrified of what’s going on. It’s the door to my room. The wind is so strong that it’s pushing against the door and causing it to shake ferociously against the frame. For the first time since I was seven I worry that the room I’m in can’t withstand the storm.

I take a wash cloth from the bathroom and shove it between the door and the frame. The noise stops and I can hear only the wind. I take a moment to settle back down. My worry serves no purpose. I’m in Ten Sleep, there’s no changing that. The storm is strong, and there’s no changing that either. I just have to get back to bed and hope nothing smashes through the window. I pull the covers over my head just in case, and fall asleep to the sound of howling.

The next morning the sky is clear and the ground is dry. I’ve become unaccustomed to the sudden changes in weather the rest of the country gets on a regular basis. On my way out of town I stop at the local bakery and order a breakfast sandwich. The bakery was recommended to me the night before by the hotel clerk. It is, after all, the only place that’s open for breakfast on Wednesdays.