An intense heat baked the endless road ahead as we headed toward the uranium mining ghost town of Jeffrey City, with a population of 50 people living within the ~600 square miles of the city limits. After riding 40 miles without seeing any shops, stores, or signs of life, we were out of water and stopped at the first building which neighbored the first tree we’d seen all day. At the Wyoming Department of Transportation highway maintenance facility, we just happened to catch several guys who were on their way out for the day, and they let us refill our bottles with gloriously cold H2O. We sat in the heavenly shade of the tree, eating our last PB&J and ravenously consuming the last of our food rations in tense silence. The water-shortage scare had rattled us both and there was still a long way to ride.
In the late afternoon, we passed Cave-In Rock, a site of some historical significance for western settlers, trappers, and Native Americans.
As the daylight waned, we couldn’t see any signs of civilization on the horizon and began to wonder just how much farther this place could be. Just an hour before sunset, a tiny row of a few buildings came into view, some long-abandoned and some similarly neglected. The map listed one resource in town and had to add a new icon for the service type: “bar with food.” A few high-spirited locals were perched on bar stools having their beers and burgers. We asked the sole staff person there for a menu and when we tried to order from it, they said they didn’t have any of that available, so we decided to do as the Jeffrey Citians did and have burgers and fries.
Across the street was a wild-looking building with a storefront littered with old cars, RVs, and heaps of twisted metal and junk. Hand-lettered across the facade were the words “MONK King BiRd POTTERY,” a slightly mystifying name made even more intriguing by its owner, Byron, a congenial thirty-something artist in a brown felt hat with bloodshot eyes. He shuffled over to kindly introduce himself and invited us to camp there, even offering to let us stay in one of his permanently-anchored RVs.
The locals decided that “since there was a girl in town,” this was cause for a big gathering. As the daylight ran out, millions of mosquitoes swarmed and forced us to cover ourselves in DEET as Byron’s front yard bonfire consumed plastic bottles and gave off plenty of heat and noxious fumes. At one point, he heated a glass bottle and shattered it over his head. But when I exclaimed, “are you alright?!” the small assembly simply laughed at the question.
“He’s definitely not alright!”
Byron’s pottery is unique in that before he fires the clay or other pieces, he shoots many of them on his property and the bullet creates an unusual looking piece of pottery with an entrance and exit hole.
As the night carried on, more men showed up to talk and drink around the campfire, and I went into the RV to check on Petunia and found myself locked inside, as the door handle on the interior had been broken off. Deciding that this was the safest place for me to be and it was time to get some rest, I listened to the voices swirl into the night air, discussing their cowboy politics and then the health effects of their work reclaiming uranium mines.
The next morning, with the dust from the previous evening’s commotion settled, we had breakfast at the bar with food, deciding on platters of eggs and toast, plus one of their pancakes. The breakfast cook asked if we were really sure that we wanted to order the Dude Pancake. “It’s about 15″ across and 3″ deep and it takes three men about all day to eat it.” Challenge accepted.
Stuffed to maximum capacity, we rolled on toward Lander.