We’re up to Saturday, 8/16, which seemed a quintessentially Western U.S. sort of travel day. Long. Hot, because it’s summer. Superficially boring, unless you are tuned to subtleties.
We started the day in Nampa, Idaho, and ended it in Rock Springs, Wyoming. We’d aimed for Rawlins, but the day ran out before we got there.
We set out after the least pleasant of our trip’s motel stops. The motel was the most locked-up and least secure-feeling of the four we used on this trip.
We determined to locate either a TCBY or a Dairy Queen during the afternoon, partly as a bow to my grandfather, who used to stop at DQ in the 1950s and 1960s. He was a superb cook with excellent taste, and the DQ of that era was something he enjoyed. I’d be interested in comparing the DQ soft-serve of then with the present-day version, if that was possible. Ultimately we failed at this quest, although the borrowed GPS led us to what might once have been a source. Maybe the GPS unit was having a hallucination, like the mirage of water that appears across the highway on roads out here.
Instead of sticking with the interstates, we shifted our route to go by way of Pocatello, Idaho, and then traveled along US 30 through Soda Springs and Montpelier.
This set of photos was all taken after 4 p.m., after we’d given up on our hunt for pseudo-ice-cream. I was struck by the variety of landscapes we traversed, all “Western rangeland.” My daughter took the photos, because I was driving . . . she took all the shots from the car throughout this trip.
4 p.m., colors and textures like quilts
Sometimes out in this part of the world you come up over a rise and feel like you’re in a low-flying airplane, with patterns stretched out in front of you that are more surprising than during flight because they are unexpected.
Half an hour later, different textures:
And another shift . . . I’m especially fond of this photo:
Waiting patiently for Little America:
5:30 p.m., dreams of paint and canvas
These images don’t show the shadow-drama that caused me to ask my daughter, “Can you catch that for me?” The light shifted, of course. But scenes like this one, of Wyoming mountains viewed from just before we left Idaho, made me wish I had more time and my oil paints.
6:30 p.m., pilot car
We were first in line at this stopping point. We turned off the engine, opened
the windows, and got out our books to read. The guy in the pickup
behind us walked around his truck a few times before
pulling out his cell phone and calling someone to say he’d be late.
After a chapter or two, the pilot car showed up with its cluster of westbound vehicles, turned around, and started back east.
Yup. A pretty thoroughly closed road. The pilot car led us through rocky single-track.
And here’s the traffic at the other end, waiting for us to get out of their way:
7:30 p.m., Little America
We rejoined Interstate 80 just west of Little America. The first Little America opened in 1934 in Wyoming. One of the big things about Little America was that you could get your car or truck fixed, which could be really important. You still can, 24/7. The Little America we stopped at is marked on standard maps, even though its population in the 2000 US Census was only 56. Everybody else is just passing through.
It looks like a misplaced island of green floating in a dry sea:
We walked the dogs around the perimeter, along the sharp line of demarcation between irrigated and natural areas. Cup-shaped dirt craters around the trees direct water to their roots. Where the grass ends, there’s also a wire fence, either to keep the real world out or the cultivated world in.
Wyoming is sometimes described as a “small town with really long streets.” It has fewer people than any other state (even than the District of Columbia). The 2006 population estimate was about 515,000. [Edited August 13, 2018: That link for the 2006 population estimate is now dead, and the 2006 population estimates have been replaced by 2010 numbers, which were just under 564,000. There’s a guide to using Census information here.] The whole state contains about 6.25% of the population of New York City (2007 numbers). In population density, only Alaska has fewer people per square mile. Wyoming’s score is 5.1 (Alaska’s is 2.6, but the total population is about 670,000).
The state motto, “Equal Rights,” reflects the fact that women in Wyoming obtained the right to vote early: in 1869. That was the year that Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton established the National Woman Suffrage Association to work on getting a national amendment to the Constitution to do the same thing throughout the U.S. (it took 51 years: 19th Amendment, 1920).
Dig into Wyoming history more deeply and you find puzzles, contrasts, and the unending wind. It seems like every 5 miles along the highway a diamond-shaped sign says “high wind warning next 5 miles.”
The Chamber of Commerce says Rock Springs is “known as the home of 56 nationalities; a true melting pot.” Not only could I not find a list of those nationalities, it turns out that Sweetwater County (which contains Rock Springs) has been unable to obtain accurate population counts from either the State of Wyoming or the U.S. Census. The county’s “official” number is a guess, based on how many utilities hook-ups there are, multiplied by an average family size (2008 demographics PDF).
Wyoming: slowly but steadily stretching the traveler’s thoughts like stiff taffy, mile after mile.