I get back to the “Hitching Post” just in time for delicious hors d’oeuvres inthe cocktail lounge -sloppy,juicy barbecue chicken – lots of napkins required. I retire to the spacious lobby to hear a folk singer serenadean attentive, good-size audience reclining on sofas and easy chairs. There’s an ambiance of relaxationset in textures of carpet, rustic wood, and stone – like being a guest in someone’s living room.
I can’t help but notice a familiar figure sitting in her favorite chair off to the side of the entertainer’s proscenium. Her features and attire make merealize that she’s unmistakably the same diminutive human figurine who I saw a yearago, and several years before that. Her calve-high leather boots, gray poncho, chiseled native American countenance, and long gray electrocuted hair are all a deadgive-away. Her serenity purports an aura asif there was a “Do Not Disturb” signhanging around her neck. Discretion is the better part of intrusion. My back teeth are beginning to float, so I head to the men’s room;
I glance into the lounge area andthere are couples two-stepping to a C & W duo, and the sound of “Rack ’em” from theadjacentpool tables. What a cross-section of clientele…the red-necks in one area,the introspectives in another. This action goes onall week, every week of the year,probably since this fine establishment was built back in the 1940’s or50’s. What Ilove about this place is that it has survived despite the motel chains that have proliferated along the outskirting interstates. Thanks again, “Hitchin’ Post Inn”.
The next morning I awake to the drone of the diesels pulling in and out of theUnion Pacific yards, a pleasurable sound compared to the cacophony of rubber onconcrete. As I’m shaving with my battery-powered razor, I’m remembering the accidental encounter with the changing of the crews while I was caressing one of their locomotives.
I was just curious as to where they had pulled the freight from (i.e.Seattle, Oakland?), and how far was the new crew going – Chicago, New Orleans?I also inquired as to where I could visit the maintenance and operational facilitiesof the U. P. One typically overalled crewman answered my rhetorical question (I knew they were in Nebraska) by saying, “North Platte or Grand Island, take your pick”.He was a cordial man, the elder of the crew. The rest wandered off, obviously notpiqued by my interest in railroading. I asked the gentleman if U. P. still ran “Big Boy” on excursion trips on the main line, that being the largest steam locomotive ever built – a 4-8-8-4 in railroad vernacular. He answered, “Yep, all summer longbetween Grand Island and somewhere out there”. He was anxious togetto the dispatchroom, so I bid him a good-bye thanks. What an enjoyable day it was, all around.Gee-mo-nee, I really, truly like Cheyenne. It’s so unpretentious, friendly, and laid back…no hurrying and scurrying, no bumper-to-bumper traffic. So civilized.
Before I leave, I have to makea stop across the highway at an auto repair shopwhich had a lottery of discarded autos strewn about. The head mechanic was veryobliging when I asked if I could browse around the back bumpers for some old plates.Sure enough, one of the clunkers had an old white-on-maroon Arizona license – a newone for my collection. I thanked the man with a small gratuity, and headed west.
My objective was to follow the U. P. tracks, so at Laramie I took old U. S.287 out and into wild and wonderful Wyoming where distances seem so insignificant. Dirtroads that seem to lead to nowhere. A mobile home sits like it was dropped from thesky by a transport helicopter in the middle of a sagebrush wasteland. An abandoned farm house is accompanied by a stagnate windmill. These are just bits and pieces.This state is rich with coal, grain, and cattle. What confounds most tourists isthe sparseness of human “civilization”…Wyoming has a density of two people per square mile, as opposed to 1,000/sq. mile in New Jersey! How about that?
In the middle of all this grandeur is Medicine Bow, a forlorn relic of what was once a major stopping point for travelers on their way to see the new national parks ofYellowstone, Teton, Yosemite, and Glacier. As a testimony to national (or maybe local) preservation, the former grand hotel and busy train station are still intact,though only asa vestige of a grander era. I get back on the Interstate – Ruin-Another-Small-Town System near Rawlins, and head towards what portends to be one of those glorious Wyoming sunsets. Off to the north, the tail end of the previous “spaceship”storm clouds still remain, spawning sheets of tantalizing virga towards the arid earth.
The wondrous Wyoming weather is so varied and unpredictable. It sure keepsmy eyes wide open. I cross the Continental Divide twice at a relatively low 7000feet as I traverse the Great Divide Basin. You’ll need a map to figure out thatphenomena. It’s dark when I reach Rock Springs and peel off at the U. S. 191 exit.Just a block away is a familiar Best Western with another one of those likeable, indigenous brands – “The Outlaw Inn!’. Similar to its sister inn in Cheyenne, the structure is one story of stone and wood with a sloping, deep overhanging roof. Neither one will ever be acclaimed a National Register Property, but they both exudea charm and character of the West that says: “Come on in. Don’t be ashamed to spenda night with us”.
I creep through the parking area, noticing the plethora of pickups parked in the proximity of the front entrance. The local good ol’ boys are throwin’ back a few at their favorite watering hole. Yeah, I have some memories ofthat lounge. Back in 1981 I was right there in that bar watching the Detroit Lionsbeat the Cowboys in the final minutes on aMonday Night with Frank, Howard, andDandy Don. I shrank on the barstool, hesitant to voice any disapproval…the entire joint was in a raucous uproar over the ‘Boys losing. I was unfairly outnumbered. I slide around to a rear parking space. I give thanks to the Lord again for a safe trip, and wonder where I will be the next night. Such is my itinerary.
While pumping petrol the next morning, I decide to head north to Jackson in search of Serena, a first cousin (my Dad’s niece). As I’m entering “Eat Junk andGet Gas” Quickie Stop, I notice a well-worn welcome mat which I’ve seen at a numberof establishments across the state…a brown buckin’ bronco on an ochre background with a “Welcome to Wyoming” emblazoned across the fabric. Ah yes, the rearing equestrian silhouette is obviously the official state symbol. Where else but Wyoming.