The falling flakes followed me through the mountains south of Jackson. It was like a winter wonderland. I stopped at another one of those homespun commercial habitats, only its specialties were general merchandise and pumping gas. All I really wanted to do was stretch the legs and tilt my head back so as to feel the feathery flakes falling on my face (nothing tasted as fresh as snowflakes on the tongue). I was well aware that I appeared absolutely farcical, but my deep-felt delight in the experience completely overshadowed any self-consciousness I might have had.
Before entering the establishment, I again tested my all-knowing, all-seeing abilities, a la Mr. Carson’s character “Karnak, the All…”, by predicting what manner of mood the interior held for me. I envisioned a hardwood floor buried beneath shelves stocked with every conceivable non-perishable food item, every crook and nanny crammed with nick-nacks, and two empty rocking chairs in front of a pot-bellied stove. Well, Mr. Ed McMahon, you could not have retorted with, “Wrong, ALPO-Breath”, because my mighty imagination proved its invincibility again. The one incongruous item in the house wares emporium was the “by now, I should’ve known better” counter-top, black and white TV, which at that particular moment, was screening the heralded landing of the herculean Shuttle Craft a thousand miles away at Edwards AFB in California. What great timing! There I was, with a complete stranger in an isolated general store in the wilds of Wyoming, raising a clenched fist and exclaiming, “Al’ right!”. We both realized that we had witnessed an extraordinary technological achievement, that is, an ordinary piece of aircraft (wings, rudder, elevators, landing gear, etc.), having been launched into outer space under the belly of a mega-ton rocket, was making a successful three-point landing look as simple as Delta Flight #135 touching down at Stapleton.
The initial flight of the Shuttle Series had been catapulted beyond earth’s gravity only six or seven months earlier, so we could still be mesmerized by the new space age exploits. The store owner was so overjoyed to have someone with whom to celebrate the auspicious occasion, that he called for “drinks on the house”, which meant that we triumphantly toasted with two 80¢ cans of beer. I left there with a Rocky Mountain High, not from the suds, but from having the good fortune of what seemed like an uneventful wayside stop revolve into such an exhilarating experience. Timing was everything, it seemed.
U.S. 191 stretched south just west of the Great Divide Basin. I felt like the High Plains Drifter as I passed a town limit sign reading: “Parson — Elev. 6417”. The soupcon of winter had been superceded by a chill wind and swirling snow, the latter of which had ceased by the time I pulled into the parking lot of The Best Western Motel, aptly dubbed The Outlaw Inn. Were Butch and Sundance holed up there? I hitched up Baleau and got a room on the first floor near the entrance (and exit, in case I needed a fast getaway). The Inn was located in Rock Springs, a town that the oil corporations had all but abandoned about a year earlier.
The aspirations of an energy self-dependency by means of oil-shale explorations in the adjacent western corners of Colorado and Wyoming had been dashed by the deflated oil prices of OPEC. Rock Springs felt the full brunt from the vacillations of petroleum prices. Mobile home communities depressed me enough, but the sight of block after block of empty “wheel estate” was even bleaker (the undisturbed power poles magnified the moribund mélange). The roustabouts and roughnecks had pulled up stake. No grassy lawns…just plain ol’ dirt everywhere. Rock Springs was perpetually either dusty or muddy. I followed the muddy boot tracks through the swinging barroom doors in to the Outlaw Saloon to sip some suds and watch Monday Night Football. Pick-ups with bronco-bustin’ plates permeated the parking lot, giving the hint that The Inn was a favorite haunt for the local genre.
The gridiron game featured Detroit and Dallas and the mostly male audience were, oddly speaking, Cowboy-haters. I figured that the proximity of Denver made them Bronco-lovers. Well, at least, that made sense. I still had some home-grown loyalty to the Cowboys and I couldn’t help but show my exuberance when Dallas scored, even at the risk of being pummeled with pretzels and popcorn. It was an exhaustingly exciting evening, with the Lions kicking a last-second field goal for a 27 to 24 victory. I brushed off the kernels and left the barroom with a wave and a retaliatory, “Hey, it was a great game, right?”