Days 163-166/ Aug 16th-19th – Rock Springs, WY to Lyman, WY: Mine, all mine

“I am now writing in a country, dreary and desolate and from appearance, waterless at a great distance, but whilst I write a number of mosquitoes are singing around…” – William Quesenbury, journalist, in Sweetwater County, WY, July 2nd 1850

Mountain bluffs in Wyoming

Wyoming: Bluffs, buttes, mesas and sagebrush. And sagebrush.

When it was announced in 1994 that the newly-discovered Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 would collide with Jupiter, there was little excitement outside the astronomical community.  One small town in south-western Wyoming, however, felt compelled to act.  The Green River city council passed a resolution ‘allowing any citizens of Jupiter to take sanctuary in their town’ and encouraging residents to ‘prepare themselves to make welcome any refugees who might cast themselves upon our mercy’.  (Who says America has turned its back on immigrants?  At least, those from Jupiter rather than from Mexico.)  Green River changed the name of its dusty little hilltop airstrip to the Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport, and so it now appears on maps, in atlases and on interstate signs, hinting at a town of charm and quirk.

Wild Horse Canyon and Flaming Gorge Road in Wyoming

They don't mess about with place-names in Wyoming

The reality of Green River was a little more prosaic: it’s a small mining town, lying between two low mountain ridges and split down the middle by a railway line that separates Main Street from the leafier suburbs.  Postcards of the town tend to ignore all of this, though, and instead depict the Twin Tunnels at the edge of town, where I-80 vanishes abruptly into two holes in a cliff-face.  But after days in the grim oil, meth and sagebrush corridor of central Wyoming, we had no objection to the lack of excitement.  It was a delight simply to be back in a town where homes were constructed from neither corrugated metal nor plastic, and where smart little houses sat on neat lawns instead of endless ranks of trailers in scrubby yards.  Green River also had public buildings that were neither diners nor Wal-Marts: there was a sleek, modernist county library, a fine little museum in a thriving historical district and a cosy second-hand bookstore selling ‘Experienced Books & Espresso’.

“Green River thinks they’re better than us,” our taxi-driver Christine had complained to us a few days ago in Rock Springs.  “They call us oil-field trash.”

Pioneer monument in Green River, Wyoming

Another day, another pioneer trail

We had left Rock Springs on a bone-dry morning, with air that cracked our lips and snapped with so much static that we could barely pick up a spoon at breakfast without getting an electric shock.  We walked out of town through a depressing stretch of industrial yards and trailer parks, and came to Green River along the old Lincoln Highway, here little more than a stony track through chalky hills, running alongside I-80 and the Union Pacific railroad.

Sally sitting above I-80 in Wyoming

Resting on the cliffs above I-80 outside Rock Springs

The town is named, of course, after the Green River, which flows from the Wind River Range in western Wyoming and into Utah, where it falls into the Colorado River in a spectacular canyon landscape.  Almost every part of its length is magnificent, except, of course, for this stretch across the plains, where we crossed it.  It was the epicentre of the early 19th-century fur-trade, the engine of western American exploration; six of the trading ‘rendez-vous’ that were held between 1825 and 1840 took place on the Green River.

We left Green River through the bar district on Railroad Avenue.  A poster in the window of the Green Gander bar was advertising the River Festival this weekend, which promised a Cajun shrimp-boil and ‘dog-fetching contest’.  But it wasn’t all fun and games: the door of the local police station was plastered with posters displaying the photographs and addresses of local sex offenders, laid out as matter-of-factly as houses in the window of an estate agent.

Sex offender mugshots in Green River, Wyoming

Not the men to bring home to meet your mother

Green River was built on coal-mining and the railroad, but today depends heavily on the mining of trona, a crushingly dull but essential mineral of the kind much beloved by the makers of educational science videos.  To cut a long story short, trona is important in glass-making, and 90% of the world’s supply of it (roughly 100 billion tons, give or take the odd ton) is to be found around Green River, giving the town’s sons steady – if very dangerous and unpleasant – jobs for the foreseeable future.  The next morning at James Town, a dusty straggle of sheds and trailers spread out along a curve in the river, we passed minibuses slowly filling up with trona miners, who stared at us groggily through the windows while they waited to be driven off to start their shifts.

Dawn over Green River in Wyoming

Dawn over Green River

We were ready for some creature comforts, and we found them at Little America, one of the oddest places we’ve stayed on our walk.  It’s as though someone took a large truck-stop – in this case, one slapped down on the high plains of western Wyoming, thirty miles from anywhere in every direction – and said to themselves, ‘You know, this would make a wonderful family resort.’  For tired cross-country drivers, it must be a pleasant surprise – rooms more reminiscent of English country B&Bs than an American motel, neat lawns and playgrounds for the children.  For two long-distance walkers who have just hauled themselves across two days of parched sagebrush scrub, it was heaven.

It’s a commonplace observation that many US states are the size of entire countries, but in Wyoming, we were discovering, even their counties could be too.  Sweetwater County, which we were leaving at last, was a monstrous patch of brushy desert roughly the size of Belgium, studded with gas tanks and the tiny white stems of distant wind-turbines.  We walked out of it in pelting rain, sheltering occasionally under interstate bridges, from which we peered out across the bleak plains to a lone chimney stack on the horizon, flaming like the eye of Sauron under a canopy of glowering cloud.  If Purgatory exists, Wyomingers are going to feel right at home there.

Plains in western Wyoming

Welcome to Sweetwater County

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One Response to “Days 163-166/ Aug 16th-19th – Rock Springs, WY to Lyman, WY: Mine, all mine”

  1. Dan Wilson Says:

    There is a bleak beauty in the geological landscape of Wyoming, I’d say. Great pics.

    Also, so many superb unused Doctor Who locations. ;o)

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