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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

Big Country Little Car Tour II, Day 11: Ogallala, NE to Green River, WY

Submitted by on August 6, 2011 – 7:17 PM5 Comments

I've had Grandma on my mind a lot since Tuesday, the anniversary of her death. Thanks to the revelation the other day that the swimming hole is not an artifact of Twain's America, but still active, I've also been remembering her ways of putting things that you don't hear anymore — "looking at television," "cleaning your teeth" — and how she used to warn me not to act high-strung, as if I could choose. I think I shouted that once, fed up: "It's not an act!"

On a not-unrelated note, here's what happens when a degree in literature is conferred upon a New Jerseyan: the Romantic concept of the sublime is applied to things like the industrial corridor of the northern New Jersey Turnpike, crinkle-cut French fries, and fields of dandelion. I like to find beauty and terror coexisting in the great dead dinosaur bones of Kearny's blue shipping elevators, rising mighty and lost above the reeds and buses. Other people have grown-up jobs, which is nice for them.

But that "skill," such as it is, comes in handy in the Mountain Time Zone, where my heart could not decide: break, or seize with dread? Stand in awe of nature's faultless palate, balance, sense of narrative — or flee back to the starter hills of the Delaware Water Gap? The fruited plain is big. The purple mountain is majestic, and by "majestic," I mean "big." To know that Elk Mountain exists, and that I (we, any of you) can go look at it and stand on it and dig it, is to have hope. To try to get past Elk Mountain in a three-cylinder kidney bean is to see the truth of a situation in all its facets, i.e., to wit, and viz. that the country is vast and does not care to joke around, and nobody who likes me is near. Nobody who dis-likes me is near. There is no "near," anymore.

After a while, I forgot to worry. It's that amazing out there. It's also kind of impossible to fret about that snow-capped behemoth you see in the distance, because said distance is ungaugeable. It's like Vegas-Strip distance — the hotel next door is, you know, next door, but when you try to walk over there to meet a friend, it takes 45 minutes. The farms became ranches, and then merely land. I passed Buford, population 1; an oil derrick; the Continental Divide. I blew my nose to clear the altitude.

The gas stations had nature trails stretching away from them, with the informational podiums talking about the Road to Zion. A sign outside the ladies' reminded us about rattlesnakes. It cooled off a bit higher up, and I failed to take a satisfactory photograph of the cloud rumble taking place over my head — puffy postcard cumuli straight off to the west, but then, curving away in a funnel shape to the south, a flat yellow-grey jellyfish with tentacles of moisture and prehensile lightning trailing down. Campbell managed the hills, and I managed the semis; they don't like us at all, the mouse to their elephants, but I've learned them pretty well, which ones bomb and which ones chug (Wal-Mart and C.R. England trucks go exactly the speed limit, but Knight is the jam, usually set at the same speed I've got and good for blocking crosswinds).

My hotel was nailed into a hillside in Green River, with signs by every exit door about the "natural wildlife area." I considered asking for specifics, then realized I didn't want any. If a coyote could come down and eat the car, better not to know in advance.

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5 Comments »

  • MAL says:

    Elk Mountain! I spend my summers teaching in the shadow of Elk Mountain – we use it as a key landmark to keep our students oriented so they don't get lost on the prairie. The locals in dying towns along the old Lincoln Highway (30) anecdotally blame Mamie Eisenhower for plotting I-80's current route up by Elk Mountain, bypassing their formerly bustling highway refuges. If that's true, I guess you can also blame her for your car's trouble climbing that hill – the story goes that the Lincoln Highway wasn't "scenic" enough in the stretch between Laramie and Hanna, so they plotted a route through the northern end of the Medicine Bow Mountains instead. That stretch is often closed in the winter/spring, as you might expect, much to the amusement of the locals.

    Hope you enjoyed your trip through Wyoming. It's an amazing state.

  • Susan says:

    Wyoming really is amazing (and I say that with total bias because Laramie is my hometown), but unfortunately I-80 is not the most scenic drive. I'm glad to hear Campbell is staying strong against the semis though.

  • Matt says:

    Lots of semis have governors installed so the drivers can't go any faster than the speed limits in their areas. If they do, they'll get a text from their dispatcher and probably have some pay docked…

    Old trucker joke: What do you call a JB Hunt thinking cap? A condom.

    Have fun!

  • Kaijsa says:

    I live in Laramie, and I-80 is really not the prettiest way to drive the state. But the skies here are gorgeous no matter where you are!

  • Kat from Jersey says:

    Hee, "kidney bean"! I'm now picturing you powering up and down majestic mountains in The Bean!

    I wonder, does the one person in Buford get lonely?

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