Days 159-162/ Aug 12th-15th – Red Desert, WY to Rock Springs, WY: Another fine meth

 “They tell people that we’re runnin’ outta oil.  It’s a lie.  They just found another well, offa the Gulf coast of Texas, that will heat the entire United States – I mean cars, houses, everything – for the next 160 years.  And that’s just one well.  Period.  End of discussion.”

We hadn’t even realised that we were having a discussion.  After another 25-mile day across the sagebrush plains of central Wyoming, we were driving into Rock Springs with Christine, a former oil-field worker, whose decade of employment with Halliburton had left her a confused but vocal advocate of the virtues of fossil fuels.  She sustained an uninterrupted monologue on the topic for the full half-hour of the drive into town.

Oil terminal in central Wyoming

Oil and sagebrush, symbols of central Wyoming

“If you go down 191 towards Vernal, Utah, there’s actually a natural formation in the land that holds oil, and that will hold somewhere in the neighbourhood of three million years’ [sic] worth of oil.  There’s a few things that people really don’t know.  Honestly – and this is no joke – cows produce more methane and do more damage to the ozone than the oil-fields ever could even attempt.  We spent ten million dollars to figure that out.  They lie so much to people about fossil fuels, it’s not even funny.”

Empty I-80 in central Wyoming

The interstate stays largely empty for an hour or two after dawn

Christine had worked as a safety officer in the oil-fields, and despite being a card-carrying believer in the infallibility of the industry, favoured us with a fund of fantastical anecdotes about accidents she had been involved in.

“I been life-flighted off a rig twice, I’ve had my fingers crushed,” she said, holding out an utterly unblemished hand for us to inspect.  “Last year, I got life-flighted off a rig, they thought I had a massive head-injury, but I didn’t.  I was in a medically-induced coma for six days.  Then I went back to work, like, 24 hours later.”

That would explain a lot, we thought to ourselves – perhaps the injury had damaged the part of Christine’s brain that distinguished fact from fiction.

“I’ve been on location when a guy got his arm ripped off, and I kept him from bleeding to death.  Watched a 19-year-old lose his head – literally.  Leaned over the drilling hole, the pipe slipped.  Took us three days to fish his head out.”

There was a snort from the back seat, and I turned around to see Sally shaking with silent mirth, struggling to suppress the urge to laugh.  I shot her a warning look, but Christine was in full flow, and utterly oblivious.

SO2 gas – you take one whiff of it, you’re dead.  In a second.  I’ve seen my friends die, I’ve come onto a rig, told my crew to back off, put on my full-face respirator, everybody on the rig was dead.  SO2 gas – by the time the alarm goes off, you’re dead.”

Union Pacific train outside Rock Springs, Wyoming

The 2:15 from Omaha comes winding through the bluffs

As she dropped us off at our motel, we asked Christine what Rock Springs was like.

“It’s an oil-field town,” she said.  “And there’s mining.  It’s a boom-town.”

To be fair, it wasn’t much of a boom-town.  Rock Springs sits on a shallow plain, overlooked by the pale massif of White Mountain to the west, and split by steep ridges into three or four distinct districts, each cut off from and largely invisible to the others.  The mansions of oil and mining executives are scattered along the clifftops, but their double-height panoramic windows look down onto a charmless town of dingy trailers, Sixties motels, petrol stations and bars seedy even by Wyoming’s high standards.  Although it was barely seven in the evening, the streets were almost empty save for a few battered pick-ups, cruising the town in steady circles, each carrying two or three wolfish teenage boys who gave us slow, predatory stares as they passed.

Crushed police car in Rock Springs, Wyoming

Rock Springs: A tough place to be a cop

Rock Springs has always had a bad reputation.  Coal-mining began here as early as the 1860s, even before the railroad arrived.  The original white miners were steadily replaced by cheaper Chinese labourers, fomenting anti-immigrant feeling that eventually erupted on September 2nd 1885, when its Chinatown was burned down and 28 Chinese inhabitants massacred.  No one was ever convicted of the murders, and it remains one of the worst race-riots in America’s history.

Nearly a century later, Rock Springs achieved infamy again, in a Sixty Minutes expose in 1970 called ‘Sin City’, which detailed corruption in its police force and local government.  Eight years later, the town’s police chief, Ed Cantrell, eloquently confirmed the essential accuracy of this portrayal by shooting dead one of his own undercover officers, who was about to blow the whistle on corruption in the force.

Religious truck in Wyoming

... insured by AIG

We were driven back out to our finishing-point the next morning by Kayla, a pretty, hard-faced girl, who had the great advantage in our eyes of not being Christine.

“I think this is the second most meth-filled town per capita in the United States.  There’s a lot of rude people, there’s a lottuv conniving people, a lotta thieves,” she said.

Candidly confessional, Kayla told us about her childhood, drifting with her mother between twenty-odd towns in a dozen different states.  She had recently bought her own trailer in Rock Springs, using compensation money she had received after her brother had been killed by a drunk driver.

“My mom got fifty grand, but she went crazy after my brother died.  She just went on a meth binge.  Within four months we were broke.  She got busted for the fifth time, and she finally quit.  But every time she comes to this town, it’s so toxic, she messes up, she drinks.  She can’t come to this town sober.”

Far from being a boom-town, Kayla told us, Rock Springs was going through a period of bust.

“We had a big oil-field boom, but it went away about two years ago.  Now it’s a ghost town.  Oil-field people, they were making thirty, thirty-five an hour, they had a lottuv money to blow, and a lottuv it went on meth.”

Kayla was still only nineteen, but very clear about her priorities.

“My number one goal is just to get outta here.  ‘Cos it just makes me feel depressed.”

Telegraph pole by railroad in Wyoming

Old-fashioned glass resistors on a railroad telegraph pole


5 Responses to “Days 159-162/ Aug 12th-15th – Red Desert, WY to Rock Springs, WY: Another fine meth”

  1. myself Says:

    i live in Rock Springs this write up makes it sound horrible. it is not that bad there are great things here. if you distance yourself from the tweekers and the low life people you can make a good life for yourself here i work in a coal mine and make good money.

    i have lived here since 1989 went to school here and grew up here.

    if you are weak minded and want meth yes you can find it but i have lived in many places before here and seen the same thing everywhere i have been if you want it you will find it.

    yes Rock Springs is a hard place if you are weak but so is every other place i have ever been. from northern idaho to tennesee and new jersey and everywhere i have seen inbetween tweekers are everywhere.

    Rock Springs is what you make it i call it home and i have never even tried meth and i use to run around with some of the worst people in this town. i was just not weak minded i new what meth does to people it will beat you down and rob everything from you.

    people that blame this town for their weak minded moments need to wake up pull their heads out of their ass and put the blame where it belongs quit blaming Rock Springs WY.

    Rock Springs WY is what you make of it keep your head on right and live a good life this is a good place to live.

  2. myself Says:

    and Rock Springs is not all dirty trailers yes there is a couple dirty trailer parks.

    but there is alot nicer areas with really nice houses and some older areas with older homes but still great areas

    and that sheriff suv was a wreck on the highway not a attack on the cop.

    if you are around Rock Springs just take a drive around if the area looks bad keep driving until you get to a better area you will see a great town.

    and i worked in the oilfeild for many years and i never got hurt at work. i threw chain on some drilling rigs and i still have all my fingers none ever got crushed.

    stupid people doing something that they should not be doing or somewhere they should not be is how people get hurt.
    sorry but if you get hurt its your fault.

    ya if you blame this town for your bad life and choices then move the FUCK out we don’t need you here anyway its a better place without your weak minded ass here anyway. grey hound will take you anywhere you want to go cheap.

  3. myself Says:

    reading your story you did not even get to see the good things this area has to offer. and your taxi driver was all wrong.

    you seen the east side of R.S. just along the interstate before you say how bad an area is maybe you should get to know the area.

    you are all wrong about WYOMING altogether you should dellete all this bull shit

  4. Yvonne Lopez Dukes Says:

    I lived in Rock Springs from 1980-87. It is the ABSOLUTE worst place to live. The wind never stops blowing, the weather sucks, nothing grows there naturally except for the sage brush and weeds. I still have nightmares of being trapped in that windy hell hole. If hell froze over, it would look like Rock Springs. And where the hell did they get “Springs” from? The only thing that resembles a creek or spring is Bitter Creek, a disgusting polluted mud hole. Got I hated that town.

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