I realized something of great importance this past Saturday while traveling Iron Mountain Road in Wyoming: I love Wyoming. The way you love something you hadn’t realized at first you loved. The way it kinda sneaks up on ya when you’re not looking then bam – there it is and you wonder how long its been going on.
I love Colorado too, but Colorado’s easy to love – everyone loves Colorado. Wyoming’s different; it’s the less-polished version of Colorado – where wild still lives.
I love the people of Wyoming too. Having pulled over on the side of the road loading film and making notes, next to me appeared a Laramie County Sheriff. “You OK?” he asked, rolling down his window, towering above me in his lifted, heavy-duty pick up. “I never see anyone on this road,” he said. We chatted a bit, I thanked him for stopping and assured him I was fine.
There’s literally no end to the maze of dirt roads running through southern Wyoming. My Delorme Atlases travel with me everywhere I go. Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. I have a single, plastic sleeve I slip on which ever one is being used most heavily at the time. Scouring these maps with a headlamp in a dark car in the middle of nowhere trying to figure out just where on earth you are… one runs into another and another and another – then you look at the time, and you look at the fuel gauge and you make hard decisions to turn around and save that next turn for the next time. The inside of the car smells like a dirt road, the cabin filter having been changed so many times the service center knows me by name.
I climb out of the car and scamper up an embankment looking for a view. Prickly pear tries to stick in my boot soul and I’m glad I’m not wearing sandals. The smell of sage is heavy in the air. In the distance the railroad cuts south through the broad, flat center of the valley. Miles and miles of barbed wire note ranch boundaries punctuated with “No Trespassing” signs. I never, ever trespass. Not only because it says ‘No Trespassing,’ but because a lot of these guys are a pretty good shot, practiced by picking off coyotes and prairie dogs. A six foot human is a layup.
Just before the sheriff stopped I’d been tracking antelope, following small herds in the car. They’re wary of vehicles; rifles emerging from rolled down windows. If their sharp eyes or ears pick up any sudden motion from the road – they’re gone. And they’re fast. I slow, they lift their heads. I stop, they stop. I open the door and have three, maybe four steps – and they’re off. Getting one to sit still long enough for a portrait is never going to happen.
Late in the day the light came up just a bit. There was a gorgeous, rolling anticline bisected by the road running south. Greens were sage and junipers; muted and soft, mixed with ochers, siennas and other no-name earthen colors imposible to describe. There was no wind. I pulled over for the twentieth or thirtieth time then approached the fence line to watch. As the light hit, the internal debate whether it would last long enough to set up the tripod ensued. Deciding to try, a few frames of color slide film clicked off before clouds once more swallowed up the sun. One of the sweetest parts of the day followed. Sometimes there’s no clear indication when it’s over. There’s just this transition as the sun fades away – sometimes dramatic and flamboyant; sometimes quietly drifting behind distant clouds, slowly disappearing. You stand and wait, wondering if it’ll come back. Hoping it will, but OK if it doesn’t.
Finding some water and an unopened bag of Bar Mix buried in the car, I stand off the dirt road in a peaceful high. A quarter mile up the hill a small herd of mule deer stand in the middle of the road, silhouetted against a gray sky, unafraid.
After a bit I pack up and head south, tired of being in the car but deeply in love with the country I’m in. It’s difficult to write well about something one is so fond of. There’s this feeling like – if you try to put it into words, somehow – it feels trite. Like you haven’t even come close to describing what stirs inside. And yet I keep trying, because to express it somehow feels as though I’m not keeping an important secret to myself.