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Few in Wyoming, is all

March 7, 2020

March 6, 2020

Back in Billings after a three-day jaunt into Wyoming.  First day, Heart Mountain Relocation Camp near Cody.  We saw tarpaper buildings where several thousand Japanese were interned during 1942-1945.  The hospital, with its huge smokestack, still stands in tatters.  Several hundred souls died there, perhaps 500 others, born.  I learned:

  • Each internee, in 1945 when being discharged from the camp, received $25 and a train ticket to anywhere in the U.S.
  • The experience was humiliating, like being in a concentration camp with barb wire and guard towers.
  • The children of the detainees could play sports, go to school, and join activities, like the Boy Scouts.
  • Heart Mountain was Wyoming’s third largest city in 1944.
  • A high school, complete with auditorium and gymnasium, was constructed at Heart Mountain.
  • Once discharged, the internees faced cruel racial discrimination.
  • The young male internees were subject to being drafted into the military.  Those who resisted were imprisoned.  At least two who were drafted received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
  • One internee built a photographic dark room beneath his tarpaper residence.  His enlarger is on display at the visitor center.

Because it is off-season for Yellowstone Park, we saw few fellows traveling the road from Cody on the Shoshone River road to the East entrance of Yellowstone.  We did see a herd of big horn sheep.  We saw a photographer, actually, then we saw the sheep he was pointing his camera at.  The East entrance was closed for the winter, until May 3, so we returned the same way.  There was the photographer, this time walking back on the hillside.  One of the young sheep had walked up to the photographer’s car.  I took a photo with my trusty telephone.

Just a kid.

I’ve taken pictures—and developed them in my darkroom—since I was in the fourth grade, but I’ve never had as good a camera as is on my phone.

We drove farther and saw a coyote walking across a frozen stretch of river.  

A jumble of add-on rooms and balconies on a ridge-top house was the Smith Mansion.  We stopped so P. could take a photo.  A mule deer grazed a few feet from our car.  A black SUV stopped across the highway, the man evidently watching us.  I waved and he waved back.  We drove on.

Smith Mansion

After perhaps 10 miles we saw a golden eagle picking at a carcass in the borrow pit.  I turned around the car to go back to take a photo.  Or rather, for P. to take a photo from the passenger window.  She felt bad that we disturbed the athletic-looking bird.  The magpies that took the eagle’s place at the carcass did not seem to feel bad, though.  We got back on the highway, again headed toward the park.

Golden Eagle

I needed to turn around again, so I pulled off the highway into a driveway.  Another car, right behind me, also turned into the driveway.  Now I was blocked from returning to the road.  A fat little man, a guy I later learned was named “Keith,” told us he had lived in the Cody area all his life.  He said he was the one watching us photographing the Smith Mansion.  “Lee Smith built the house,” he said.  He also helped design the Cody hospital, including an integral “peace sign.”  

Keith recommended a restaurant called “Our Place” in Cody.  We stopped there. We were surprised to see Keith again.

As we entered Keith held the door for us.  He sat a table away, but chatted with us and another couple, also a table away.  That’s when I realized that Cody doesn’t have many people; some have to do triple duty.  They were friendly, though.  I wondered if they would have been friendly if we didn’t look like them.

Although he didn’t look it, Keith was an accomplished skier, or used to be.  

Keith also recommended we explore the South Fork of the Shoshone River, so we drove to the end of the road 190, 40 miles.  We saw lots of deer.  Hundreds, probably.  No elk, no bears, no skunks, no porcupines, no wild sheep or goats.

We bought swim suits at the Cody Walmart.

Took us a couple hours to get from Cody to Thermopolis, purported to be the world’s largest mineral hot springs.  We remembered from long ago a great Mexican restaurant, “Las Fuentes,” and quickly found it.  The food was great, but I remembered fondly that perhaps 10 years before, when I had ordered a bottle of wine, the vintage was unusually old and the price unusually low.  So I asked for a bottle of merlot.  The waiter brought a bottle of “14 Hands” 2013 for $17.  Not as great a deal as I remembered, but still pretty good.

The waiter recommended we camp at “Wyoming Gardens,” a relatively short distance away.  I phoned a woman who had recently gotten cataract surgery by a Billings ophthalmologist.  Turns out she and her husband also own “Las Fuentes” so they gave us a discount.

We soaked in the state-run hot springs spa free of charge.  Twenty minute limit.  P. rented a towel for $1, for me to use.

Driving over the amazing Ten Sleep pass (our name for it) to Buffalo, then North to Billings took perhaps five hours, including lunch break.

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