What it takes to call Wyoming home
October 9, 2019
This past weekend was one of those rare times when there wasn’t an event that I needed to cover nor were there any home games. With that in mind, and my birthday on Monday, my family and I decided to head out of town.
Whenever we get a chance to take a road trip, Telitha and I often end up talking about the various towns one finds along the way. Some of them, like Jeffrey City and Bosler, are essentially ghost towns. Others, like Bairoil and Medicine Bow, continue on.
Before moving to Saratoga, I grew up in Bairoil. The best way I can think to describe it is as a town on the edge of oblivion. The Green Mountains run along the back of the town while a large expanse of desert is in front. While technically in Sweetwater County, it is on the very edge of it and was included in Carbon County School District No. 1 up until the school closed. A trip for groceries was a planned event as it was 40 miles—one way—to Rawlins.
Even while I grew up there, people were predicting the “death” of Bairoil. It was assumed that, with the first oil well being drilled in 1916, it would eventually dry up like other towns on the Wyoming prairie. That has yet to happen and the population of Bairoil is still around 100 people.
On the long drives to Casper or Riverton I have been tempted to take a small tour of the town, but always opt to stay on the highway.
When we left town this last weekend, we decided to go to Laramie and Cheyenne. Normally, our route consists of taking Wyoming Highway 230 down into Colorado and back up through Woods Landing. If the weather is nice, and it’s open, we take Wyoming Highway 130 over the Snowy Range. This time, we took United States Route 30. We weren’t in any hurry and it had been a while since we had gone that way.
One could argue that 130 and 230 are much more scenic drives. Whether in spring, summer or fall they have an allure to them as you are engulfed by the mountains and the forests. I would argue, however, that 30 has its own charm and part of that is seeing the towns that have survived despite their distance from Interstate 80, as well as those that haven’t.
While the Saratoga Sun has covered events in Medicine Bow, I will admit that I have never spent much time there. When I went to cover the final sermon at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, however, it was a great experience. I had never before stepped foot into The Virginian and, that day, I was invited to a post-sermon lunch at the historic location. The food was phenomenal.
Medicine Bow is a very interesting place. One might expect there to be more activity due to it being a central location for Carbon, Albany and Natrona counties. With the number of wind energy companies coming in and around the town, that may just happen in the near future.
Mere miles from Medicine Bow, and across the county border, is Rock River. I have yet to stop in and explore Rock River, but the differences between this town and its neighbor in Carbon County seem stark. While both towns have their agricultural histories, I always marvel that one of the biggest buildings in Rock River is an ag store. In fact, it almost seems that because it is that much closer to Laramie it is able to use its orbit of the college town to its benefit.
Drive a little further to the east, however, and that theory seems to be challenged. While Rock River has a population of 245, just 40 less than Medicine Bow, Bosler is the definition of “blink and you’ll miss it.”
Nearly every location has something that serves as a landmark. For Bosler, it’s the abandoned school just outside of town. A collection of rusted out cars also serves as a type of landmark, but the two story brick schoolhouse jutting up from the prairie is the most recognizable.
Despite how barren it may seem, Bosler has a post office and a population of 38. Jeffrey City, by comparison, has just under 60 residents and no post office. The latter also has its own landmark, many who make the drive through may recognize. A monolith of a recreation center, built during the uranian boom, sits just outside the town.
When Bairoil still had a basketball team—the Wildcats—we played in the recreation center against the Jeffrey City Longhorns. From my memory, the gymnasium was humongous and only a portion of the lights were on.
It goes without saying that driving anywhere in Wyoming can be a tad exhausting. Miles of highway between towns can be monotonous. These drives, however, are a great way to see what makes Wyoming the place that it is. Seeing towns that, despite being a considerable distance from interstates or main highways, survive in an environment that doesn’t always lend itself to survival is awe inspiring.
It reminds you that it takes a special type of person to call this place home.