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The Scenic Route to Law and Order


"A writer never has a bad day. Everything that happens is material."
---Garrison Kiellor

Lake City, Colorado

I want to play catchup and tell you about something that happened back in Wyoming, on the way here. After washing clothes in Casper, I took a scenic road to Rawlins that I thought might save some time. Wrong.

It's a 30 mph road. But if you are in a 30 mph mood, it shows off the high desert to advantage. It's a county road that runs from Alcova to Sinclair, crossing the North Platte right above the Seminoe dam. About a third of it is gravel, sometimes that familiar Wyoming washboard, but it's a lonesome road that runs along the altiplano just under the peaks. Most of it is over 7000 feet, and visits a number of small lakes, as well as the Pathfinder and Seminoe Reservoirs.

I couldn't recommend this trip for motorhomes, but the fiver had no real problems, though there is an unnerving sign I have never seen elsewhere: "This road does not meet minimum conditions for a public roadway. Proceed at your own risk." Of course by the time you see this sign, you have already come 50 miles. Something like that plays with your mind. In the end it was merely steep and narrow for a few miles going over the pass above the Seminoe Dam.

First gear only.

All along this road are perhaps a dozen large mailboxes bearing the message in red lettering: "Grouse hunters place one wing from each grouse here." For a moment I thought it said Grouch, and I feared for my wings. I am sure there is a good reason for this custom, but I can't think what it is. But then I've never been much of a hunter.

They can't treat chickens this way, or else there'd be only half as many hot wings.

Later, around 8 pm, I was coming through Baggs on Hwy 789, stretching it to get into Colorado and pull over for the night. The City of Baggs, Wy. is about 3 blocks long. There is no traffic. Nothing is open at 8 pm.

But there is a single traffic light, sitting partially in the road, on wheels, at one of the few intersections. It glowed red as I slowed to a stop behind a car already there. There is a sign attached to the base of this light: "Expect a 2 minute light. Wait for the green."

I waited.

On the other side of this light, a half block away, sat a nondescript green and white police car. It was parked at the nominal curb. It looked empty. Had it been full dark, I might not have noticed it.

It and the car that had stopped in front of me were the only automobiles I observed while passing through Baggs. We all waited. And waited.

Two minutes, my tapping foot.

Nothing to the left or right. Nothing ahead but this cop. It was getting dark.

Tiiime tiickked byyyye.

Then it occurred to me. This light was his life. It was on wheels. He could move it around, like a fisherman changing his cast. Somebody must've made him put that sign on it. It was painfully obvious that nothing ever happened in Baggs, Wyoming. Certainly nothing that could not be served by a plain stop sign.

Except maybe, sometimes, if he's lucky, some tourist or trucker loses patience, assumes the light is broken, and moves on through. And then life is his very own movie. There's a little danger, excitement, and perhaps income for the City of Baggs.

At last, after I don't know how long, that light turned green. I went through it at 15 mph. Going by the cop, I looked down. A short guy, slumped behind the wheel, playing with something in his lap. He looked up. I waved. He didn't wave back.

Two blocks later I was back on the open highway, having once more done my part for law and order.

I camped in a turnout north of Craig.


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