Searing silent heat broken only by the weary hum of a small garden fountain motor elicited notions of other landscapes. Staring at the shadow patterns cast from the glowing orb above a patio chair, an idea was formulated: let’s explore majestic Wyoming where snow can still be found in some mountain patches and pine saturated forests provide vivid sensory exploration.
In the “dreaming phase,” as artist Kathleen Wille calls the logistical and thoughtful planning of an adventure, images of France crept into mind. Initially, these visions included the tall mountain peaks of the alpine region bordering Switzerland, then expanded to the vineyards of Provence leading to the sea. This first adventure would celebrate the bounty of Wyoming with an infusion of French artistry in a day trip to the southeastern part of the state.
Safety and gratitude were foremost thoughts, as family, picnic basket, watercolors and pencils, sketchbooks, and sunscreen were packed into the car. Fortunate to have an adventure, I have recently strived to approach any free moment with perceptive consideration of the space around me.
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Whether stopping mid-walk to glean the various materials birds use build their nests to looking for patterns of light and shadow while sitting on the back step, this is an attempt to cultivate an appreciation for any space inhabited. Vincent van Gogh, the 19th century Dutch painter who famously painted the French landscape in Post-Impressionistic explosions of color contrasts and aesthetically pleasing lines, believed that the birds were artists, too, in the building of their nests.
The first stop on our itinerary was Fort Laramie National Historic Site, where the historical buildings fostered a home for the bulbous swallows’ nests in the gables of the rooflines. What a delight to see the little birds constantly swooping to and from their dwellings, standing in a landscape also viewed by multiple tribes, pioneers, soldiers, trappers, and those seeking their fortunate situation.
Reflecting upon the convergence of all of these cultures, and their triumphs and losses, made the walk around the excellently interpreted site quite poignant. The staff was available for any questions and the buildings’ signage provided opportunity to learn more about the meaningful history of this site. After savoring the riparian landscape and monuments where I could have sketched all day, we set off toward Torrington, where the Bread Doctors bakery offers pastries such as croissants and pain au chocolat, and then into the country.
Errant thistle and sage line country roads filled with green rows. Salubrious warmth envelopes this southwestern corner of Wyoming where the white horizon washes to the blue, patterned with white horizontal clouds stretched thin to cotton candy wisps crowning the open vista. At Table Top Mountain Winery, found by following two unassuming white “winery” signposts, the building is situated in an expanse of green with hay bales stacked on distant fields.
Patrick Zimmerer, whose family began farming this land in 1924, welcomed us and offered tastings of reds and whites, my favorite was the rosé. Generous and informative, Patrick provided a history for the business and each wine. His devotion to this craft of winemaking was evident and charming. This most enjoyable experience was followed by a picnic on the shaded patio. Here, birds sang as they dove from rows of vines with bundles of grapes still green. The light flooded the fields, reminiscent of van Gogh’s paintings where purple shadows on the bare French earth provided stark contrast to the amber color compliment of the wheat sheaves. The glorious Wyoming landscape, drenched in white glow, provided a picturesque backdrop evocative of visions of a Mediterranean country garden where bees hover and land on lavender and giant sunflowers.
Inspired by this musing, the picnic included homemade quiches, olive oil brownies, mint sun tea, grapes and cherries, and cheeses such as Brie and Lavender Coffee (from the excellent offerings at Grant Street Grocery in Casper). The day was savored, a respite and memorable, and I am most appreciative of living here, in this extraordinarily beautiful place with all the opportunities afforded by the Cowboy State – including this “bon voyage”.
Fort Laramie National Historic Site, 956 Gray Rocks Road, Fort Laramie, www.nps.gov/fola
Follow I-25 to Fort Laramie. Parking and admission are free. While rest stops are closed along the highway, the historic site offers facilities and a welcoming staff can provide a map of the grounds that also provides a limited history of significant notes. Confirm availability of open structures on their website; for example, the visitor center is currently closed. The Fort is open every day, with longer hours in the summer.
The Bread Doctor, 2017 Main Street, Torrington, WY,
A bakery with French sweets including croissants and pain au chocolat. Call to confirm hours, currently listed Thursday- Saturday until 2 p.m. each day.
Table Top Mountain Winery, 5933 Road 48, Huntley, WY
The Wyoming winery featuring wine tastings in their spacious event area where painting classes and events are held. Picnic on their patio and for those who may want to stay overnight, the winery is part of the Harvest Host program. Contact Patrick, via the website for more information.
Want more? Historical markers and other small museums, such as the Homesteaders Museum in Torrington, abound in this region of Wyoming. The Main Street of Torrington appears perfect for a small town stroll and shopping.
Valerie Innella Maiers explores the history of art around the world, from Moorish architecture to Impressionist painting, as an instructor in the Visual Arts Department at Casper College. It is hoped that this exploration enhances support of businesses encountered and prompts ideas for local travel in Wyoming.