Abandoned farmhouse and cows north of Manville, Wyoming. January 2016/
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In January, before classes and teaching started again, I drove from Laramie to Eastern Wyoming, spending the night in Lusk, where my friend, Doug Scambler, works for a couple of days every other week as a child psychologist, before circling back home via Guernsey the next morning. Doug generously shared his hotel room and the inside information that Lusk: population 1,567, has a pizza place, called The Pizza Place, with perhaps the best pizza in Wyoming, thanks to its pizza-savvy owners, transplants from Chicago.
I started the trip in early morning light, driving first through Sybille Canyon and then to Wheatland for less superlative food--a fast food burger--before heading north and then east to photograph the small towns of Shawnee, Lost Springs, and Manville along Highway 18. I arrived in Lusk with a little time to spare before meeting Doug for dinner.
Ten miles to the east, a dark cloud of smoke billowed up from the prairie, so I drove out to investigate. The smoke originated from a ranch, recently purchased by a rancher who, with his son, stopped to talk with me while I took some pictures (none great) of the evening light streaming through the smoke. His family had been in the area for generations, but he had purchased this place recently and was burning brush and old piles of junk that the previous owner had left behind he told me, shaking his head.
The conversation circled around to all of the abandoned farms in that part of Wyoming and the hardscrabble history of the place. He recommended a book called “TheChildren’s Blizzard,” about a sudden prairie storm in 1888 that killed hundreds of children trying to get home from school. I related my experience of seeing the impact of the flu of 1918 memorialized in rural cemeteries across Wyoming. He told me that during that flu, his grandmother had walked with his mother to a neighbor’s house to check on her, afraid to go in for fear of germs but shouting through to the open window to ask if she was alright. The neighbor replied that she was fine, but her child was dead. It’s hard to imagine that life could be so raw and desperate just 100 years ago, though I know that people today have their own struggles.
Chance encounters on road trips are often the most memorable and interesting, and I’m often surprised by how willing locals are to tell stories to strangers passing through. If I weren't such an introvert, I'd spend more time trying to seek out these encounters. Instead, I take pictures of places where there are very few people.
Old boxcars south of Bosler, Wyoming, with the Laramie Range in the background.
Piles of dirt along the Union Pacific Railroad.
Fallow field, Sybille Canyon.
Shawnee, Wyoming: Established in 1887 and now nearly abandoned.
The Lost Bar in Lost Springs.
Lost Springs, settled in the 1880s and named for a spring that nobody could find was originally a railroad town with 200 residents. In the 2010 census, it's population was 4 (Wikipedia).
Classic architecture in Lusk, Wyoming.
Lusk is named for a cattleman named Frank Lusk, who established a ranch in the area in 1880 when Colorado got too crowded for him. He had contemplated moving farther east in Colorado towards the Nebraska line, but on an earlier trip had been impressed with the people living in Wyoming, so he decided to go there instead (Wikipedia).
A shed in Lusk. A catastrophic flood damaged Lusk in June 2015, and perhaps is responsible for this end of the shed being bowed in.
Flood damage, Lusk.
Flood damage and bathtub rings, Lusk.
House and barns, Jay Em, Wyoming
Jay Em was originally a watering hole along the Texas Trail, and the town was established between 1912 and 1915 to support ranchers in the area. It's named after a ranch called the J Rolling M, owned by Jim Moore and established in the late 1800s (Wikipedia).
Garage, Jay Em.
Railyard, Guernsey, Wyoming.