On the road in lonely Wyoming

 

Here's a typical Wyoming story: One night last week, I was heading down a lonely highway, driving the 100 miles from town to home.  I had seen the dentist, bought cement so that we could repair our cattle-working pens, gone to the grocery store and checked on a friend who had just moved from her summer cabin back to town for the winter.  My dad, 88, was with me, as well as my 3-year-old grandson.

Dark comes early now that the fall equinox has long since swung by, and we are well on our way to winter solstice, even without daylight-saving time's early nightfall. The guys were both sleeping, and I was tired of listening to another debate over health care on satellite radio.

Only a year ago, this stretch of road was abuzz with traffic scurrying around the oil fields that patchwork the surrounding countryside. Now, the boom times have busted, and few vehicles passed by. I was driving a three-quarter ton, four-wheel-drive pickup, its folding sheep rack sandwiched up against the cab, and the resulting flatbed loaded down with bags of Sakrete and boxed groceries. Paper bags full of bread rode in the back seat next to my grandson, so they wouldn't blow out the back in the bitter wind. 

The two-lane road was mostly all mine and looked much the same as it always has for most of my life -- a blacktop stretch crossed by more deer than fellow travelers. A half-moon threw feeble light through gathering clouds, and a snowstorm is predicted for tomorrow.  Tonight, though, the road was dry and clear. The rare oncoming car flashed its brights at me since the heavy load tipped my lights upward. 

With things calm, I punched my cousin's number into the cell phone and started visiting about friends and family. Our other cousin had just had a triple bypass operation that nearly killed her. We'd followed her progress on Facebook, where the ill cousin's daughter-in-law reported that she was on the mend -- as evidenced by her giving the finger to irritating visitors. That's when I noticed the dreaded red and white lights flashing in my rear view mirror.

"Oops, I'm being stopped," I reported. "Could it be the cell phone?"

After pulling over, I rolled down the window and saw a young man about my son's age.  My dad startled awake, having gone from a snooze to flashing lights and a strange face peering in the driver's side.

"Your tail light is out," the patrolman reported.

"Gosh, I didn't know," I said, truthfully.

"Your license plate is unreadable, due to mud," he added.

That didn't surprise me since I had moved sheep camps up muddy roads the previous two days. I figured the mud would fall off before spring.

"And, you don't have license plate lights." Also not a surprise. Finally, some good news: "But you weren't speeding."


He seemed cheerful enough, so I didn't think I was in for a ticket, even though the insurance card was last year's and it took a thorough search to come up with a registration. I mentioned that my son-in-law was a deputy sheriff in the county, and that I tease him this only doubles my fines. No comment from the officer, who left bearing my driver's license. 

We sat there next to the Oregon Trail, where so many had passed through only a moment in time before.  I could almost draw aside a curtain and see those souls, westering.  My great-grandparents came by wagon from Missouri, but stopped before they hit the Oregon Trail.

He came back.  "So how is the elk hunting?" he asked.  My dad brightened. 

"Pretty good, this year," dad told him.

"My wife drew a tag in the north part of the county," he told us.  "But I know the hunting is supposed to be good by Battle Mountain." We allowed as how most of the elk hunters seemed to be having luck. My dad went on to ask about his family, where he lived and where he was stationed.

When I learned that he was based in a town we frequent on our way to and from our winter sheep country in the Red Desert, I said, "I'd better get that light fixed because we'll be going through there a lot starting next month." With that, he wished us well, and I told him that it was nice to meet him.

We headed back out into the blackness of the desert night, 55 miles still ahead of us.

Sharon O'Toole is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). She ranches and writes in Savery, Wyoming.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • WILDLAND FIRE INSTRUCTOR
    Needed: instructor with 5 years *documented* instruction experience, current qualifications, M-410 or equivalent, and able to work as-needed for NM non-profit working with at-risk youth.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Seeking passionate full-time Executive to lead the oldest non-profit organization in Idaho. Must have knowledge of environmental issues, excellent organizational, verbal presentation and written skills,...
  • COLORADO PROGRAM MANAGER
    The National Parks Conservation Association, the leading non-profit conservation organization protecting Americas national parks, seeks a Program Manager for its Colorado Field Office located in...
  • CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR WATER PLANNING WITH WRA'S HEALTHY RIVERS PROGRAM
    Founded in 1989, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is dedicated to protecting the Wests land, air, and water to ensure that vibrant communities exist in balance...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED BIGHORN RIVER BASIN PROJECT MANAGER
    The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • NON-PROFIT OPERATIONS MANAGER
    One of the most renowned community-based collaboratives in the country seeks full-time Operations Manager to oversee administrative, financial, fund development, and board development duties. BS/BA...
  • RUSTIC HORSE PROPERTY
    in NM. 23 acres, off the grid, rustic cabin, organic gardens, fruit trees, fenced, call 505-204-8432 evenings.
  • DIRECTOR OF VISITOR SERVICES & BOOKSTORE OPERATIONS
    The San Juan Mountains Association in Durango, CO is seeking a Director of Visitor Services & Bookstore Operations to lead our visitor information program &...
  • SOLAR POWERED HOME NEAR CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
    1800 sf home on 4.12 acres surrounded by Natl Forest and recreational opportunities in a beautiful area (Happy Valley) between Torrey and Boulder. [email protected], www.bouldermoutainreality/properties/grover/off-the-grid-in-happy-valley,...
  • 40 ACRE ORGANIC FARM
    potential fruit/hay with house, Hotchkiss, CO, Scott Ellis, 970-420-0472, [email protected]
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 25-year legacy of success...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.