Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ten Sleep

Ten Sleep, Wyoming, population 260, is a dusty, tiny town that sits on a stretch of prairie surrounded by dry grass, livestock, and open air. Every 4th of July, Ten Sleep doubles its population for one night, hosting the best Independence Day celebration I have ever had the pleasure to attend. The main road, which takes less than five minutes to drive the length of, closes down to host a crowd of drunk cowboys and their dates, all whirling wildly to the country tunes of a six piece band playing on a semi-truck trailer in the middle of town. Throngs of men in cowboy hats and boots and women dressed in their country best pour forth from the Ten Sleep Saloon, drinking Budweiser cans adorned with American flags.

This seems like an unlikely place for climbers, yet each year you can find a gaggle of semi-awkward out-of-towners hanging round the edges of the dance floor (i.e. the dirt road), perhaps adding to their strangeness by miming beta or indulging in other odd climber behavior. While they come for the beautiful swathe of limestone cliffs in the nearby canyon, anyone with any sense will head down to town for the cultural experience of the Ten Sleep Hoedown. This year was particularly memorable for me, as I had the golden opportunity of riding a mechanical bull for the first time- it was extraordinarily hard, by the way.

Red, white, blue and Budweiser. 
Mechanical bulls and Budweiser aside, I had an incredible time in Ten Sleep. The crew of climbers there included many of my favorites, and I somehow succeeded in sending a few great routes, including Esplanada, 12d, and Dances with Cows, 13a.  

Esplanada, 12d. Dan Brayack image.

And... more Esplanada... Eric Horst image.
Jenn Flemming on Dances with Cows, 13a
Ten Sleep Limestone.
On a rest day, we visited the Wyoming Whiskey distillery, the first of its kind in Wyoming. It was in an absolutely miniscule town of 96 people. The arid, hot plains and rocky plateaus of the high desert stretched out in all directions around the small smattering of houses and the few dirt roads that joined them together into some semblance of a town. It was sweltering, dry, and dusty, the distillery being the only commercial building in town, besides a run down bar which was closed on account of it being Monday. I wondered at what it must be like to live somewhere like this, or even more, to grow up there. How intensely we are shaped by the place we spend our childhood- or at least I was by the forests and beauty of Boulder and the Front Range. 

On another day, while climbing, a giant tree spontaneously emitted a thunderous cracking sound, like an avalanche of rocks, and snapped at its base. As it feel, it smashed into the trees surrounding it, erupting with a cloud of splinters of various sizes, some small enough to rise in the breeze and billow in the air. The sound and sight were frightening and beautiful, as so many things in this world simultaneously are. 

Trying in vain to capture the beauty of the full moon reflecting on an alpine lake.
Another Wyoming memory: Early one morning we awoke in the back of the truck to the sound of hundreds of bellowing cows, moo-ing intently as they ran up the dirt road we were parked just a few feet off of. Baby cows trotted quickly and bawled loudly, trying to keep pace with the parade of mahogany colored bovines moving up the mountain on their own accord. The sound went on for so long that somehow it became like white noise, lulling me back into a sleep that consisted of dreams of cows.

mornings by the river

 And another day- As we drove back to our campsite one evening, the sand-colored limestone canyons  were washed red by the simmering light of the prairie sunset, the colors intensified and saturated by the smoke of the wildfires burning down the plains. The land seemed to be saying something over and over, repeating a message like a mantra, and I strained my ears to hear it, leaning into the wind and listening with my whole body. The canyons and cliffs and plateaus and trees and sagebrush and rocks and hardy wildflowers were all saying it together, this repetitive sentence or word, speaking of existence and living and being on this planet, under this sun, beneath this sky, within this pocket of space and stars, enfolded like a letter in an envelope, safe but blazingly bright and utterly intense. I kept trying to listen, to understand, because I know that my life is no different than that of the rocks and shrubs and prairie birds, and whatever truth they're proclaiming with every moment of their being must also be my truth, and I have only to hear it and recover it in order to live in such genuine harmony and honesty as they do. 

I left Wyoming feeling full of experience, washed clean by the dust and wind, purified by the rock, cleansed by the plains. Until next year, and the next Independence Day.  

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