Days 151-153/ Aug 4th-6th – Arlington, WY to Rawlins, WY: Snicks on a plain

Cows and wind-farm near Elk Mountain, Wyoming

Bovines and turbines in southern Wyoming

After lunch in the Crossing Café in Elk Mountain, we plucked up the courage to ask our waitress, a no-nonsense woman in her fifties, a question that had been playing on our minds all day.

“We’re hiking up Rattlesnake Pass Road this afternoon,” we explained.  “Are there any, er, rattlesnakes on it?”

She gave us a look that was both pitying and withering at the same time.

“Of course.  You often see ’em lying in the road, or on rocks.  But it’s been pretty cool, so they may not be movin’ around as much.  But yeah.  Road’s crawling with ’em.”

Elk Mountain, Wyoming

Sally goes ahead to check for rattlesnakes near Elk Mountain

Elk Mountain lay in a small bowl of cottonwoods on an otherwise treeless plain, sandwiched between the interstate and the mountain itself, a glowering purple mound that took us two full days to walk around.  Little families of antelope skipped away from us as we approached the town, or hid themselves behind the high slatted fences that stop snow blowing across the highway in winter.  The Crossing Café was the only place to eat – indeed, the only functioning business of any kind – in Elk Mountain, but after two days of criss-crossing I-80 along dirt service roads and sheltering from the relentless wind in truck-stop rest areas, the glowing ‘Bud Light’ sign in the window drew us in like the Star of Bethlehem.

The Crossing Cafe, Elk Mountain, Wyoming

Helpful warnings at the Crossing Cafe

Rattlesnake Pass Road followed the course of a creek along its winding valley through the mountains and over a pass to the west, and proved mercifully serpent-free.  We followed it for well over ten miles, with no sound but the crunching of our feet on the dirt, out onto a plain of sagebrush, which filled the air with the faint scent of Christmas dinner.  Here, to our delight, we caught sight of three actual cowboys, picking their way along a dry gulch below us.  One of them, a young woman wearing a fetching sky-blue neckerchief, peeled off to come and see what we were doing.  We asked her what she was up to.

“Oh, just putting cows back where they’re supposed to be.  They’re always gittin’ out.  The fences just get weak and some of these old cows just walk right over ’em.”

Cowboys at work in southern Wyoming

Cows, cowboys and cowgirl

The creek – and, more alarmingly, the road – petered out on the plain in a small meadow next to a stack of pale grey beehives, leaving us to cover the next ten miles by dead reckoning, making our way through the scrub along a fence-line, an old rail-bed and eventually a line of gas-pipe markers, and hoping vaguely that we were heading north-west.  Three barbed-wire fences and at least a dozen ‘No Trespassing’ signs later, we came out in the yard of a trailer home next to the highway.  An elderly woman, wearing one enormous orthopaedic shoe at least eight inches high and with a wheezing pit-bull in tow, emerged to meet us.

“Oh, my.  You come outta them hills?  Y’know you’re not s’posed to be out here, doncha?  There’s a whole lotta snicks out there.”  She pointed down at the dog.  “He got snick-bit real bad last year.”

She pointed us towards Highway 130, and left us with some final advice.

“Whaddever you do, don’t drink any of the water around here.  It’s all bad!”

Fenceline path in Wyoming

'Let me ride through the wide open country that I love... Don't fence me in'

We stopped in for a cold drink at the first petrol station we came to.  The owner held court from a small daïs behind the counter, inhaling lustily from an oxygen cylinder by his side.  We were the only customers – quite possibly all day.

“You’re walkin’ across America?  Well, I ain’t got nuthin’ for ya.  There’s a stepladder out back.  Sit down on it if you want.”

We walked on alongside I-80 on the old Lincoln Highway.  It was in a forlorn state here, with sagebrush trees growing nearly waist-high out of the cracked asphalt, and its central dividing line barely visible as it ran from bush to bush.  There were no cars on it at all.  Within another decade or so, it will have vanished entirely into the desert floor.

Overgrown Lincoln Highway in Wyoming

The Lincoln Highway... going, going, gone

The views in Wyoming are at least nine-tenths sky, and all day we had been walking under a stupefying blue bowl that induced a sort of vertigo if you looked up at it for too long.  We could say with some confidence, therefore, that the sole black cloud for several hundred square miles around was directly above us as we walked into Sinclair, sweating into our raincoats as we were bathed in sunshine and persistent drizzle at the same time.  We crossed an old iron bridge over the North Platte River, the very last river on our route that flows east to the Atlantic.

Sinclair refinery in Sinclair, Wyoming

Sinclair: The nicest town next to an oil refinery in America

Sinclair’s welcome sign described it as ‘Wyoming’s most elegant company town’, and although it wasn’t clear what competition there was for this accolade, it was hard to argue; it was a miniature Santa Fe, with every building, from the town hall to the Baptist church to the post office, constructed in a pleasing Spanish Colonial style.  Its charm was only marginally diminished by the oil refinery at its centre, a tangle of silver pipes, tubes, gangways, vats and silos that had accompanied our walk into town with a series of muffled whumps as some undesirable petroleum by-product was periodically ignited.  We’ve been kept in chocolate muffins and Vitamin Waters as we’ve walked across the Midwest by Sinclair’s eponymous chain of petrol stations – with their distinctive green dinosaur mascot – and it was obscurely satisfying to have reached the town where it had all begun.  ‘Life Without Mexican Food Is No Life At All,’ read the sign outside the Su Casa restaurant, and with six miles still to go to Rawlins, we decided not to argue, and went inside for dinner.

One Response to “Days 151-153/ Aug 4th-6th – Arlington, WY to Rawlins, WY: Snicks on a plain”

  1. William Makley Says:

    Hello, I’d like your OK to please use the pic with the Sinclair sign and refinery background. It’s for a case study I’m writing about the refinery. Please let me know. Thanks! Bill

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