ABC Guide to Wyoming

Only a few days left until I leave for Edmonton, Alberta and I thought I’d share some wisdom for future travellers to the Equality/Cowboy State. Hope this comes in handy for the next people who come this way (like the new engineers Doug’s been training!)…
Adobe Town. A very cool, and very hidden place in southwestern Wyoming for a hike or camping trip.

Book & Bean in Green River has awesome service, tasty drinks, and neat local and hard-to-find gifts and books. Say ‘hi’ to Sarah or Misti for me next time you’re in!

Curry. If you’re a curry fiend like me, you’ll have to be a little creative while you live here. You can get great Thai curry at the Siam King in Rock Springs and can even buy the fixings at the grocery store, but for Indian curry you’ll need to buy it, naan, and pappadums at Whole Foods in Park City or ‘import’ it when you visit other major city centres. Or learn to make recipes from scratch like I tried on occasion.

Dog park in Rock Springs. They just built it in the spring of 2009 and it’s one of Riker’s favourite spots. If you live here and have a dog, you’ll want to stop by.

Escape Day Spa in Rock Springs. Don’t be frightened off by the cluttered boutique you first walk into. There are some great products in there and when you go through the door into the back you step into another world. It is calm, quiet, the staff is very professional and the treatments are lovely.

Fiery Hawaiian Pizza from Domino’s is amazing. It’s like the company combined my fave (Hawaiian) with Doug’s (italian sausage and hot pepper) to create a feast of fruit, roasted red peppers, and tasty meats. I will miss Steve, our pizza guy in Green River. So will Riker.

Green River Farmer’s Market. One of my favourite things to do last summer was to wander down on Wednesdays to pick up fruit and veg from Grand Junction, CO and other areas. I also committed carbicide at the Bread Lady’s stand and sure enjoyed the buffalo sausage on our hiking trips.

High altitude: Sweetwater County is a good 6000 feet above sea level, so you’d better believe you’ll be working harder if you’ve just arrived from lower ground. Keep this in mind before going off to climb the Wind River range or Tetons!

I-80. This is the second longest interstate highway in the U.S. and will get you from San Francisco to New Jersey. I’ve heard the section linking the sister cities of Green River and Rock Springs is one of the busiest. My best advice: watch out for the ‘semis’ (i.e. tractor trailers), consult WYDOT frequently during the winter, and if you can make it to Utah you’re alright because they salt the roads.

Castle Rock perched high above I-80 in Green River.

Jalapenos, tortillas, and margaritas. There are some great Mexican (and Tex-Mex) restaurants around here (Don Pedro’s and Mi Casita), the fresh salsa at the supermarket is delicious, and in the summer time you can pick up roasted peppers at road-side stands. Even at Bonzai, a Japanese restaurant in Rock Springs they have a stuffed-Jalapeno sushi on offer (and the portion sizes are definitely Texan)!

Killpecker Sand Dunes. I’ve never seen anything like it before!

Lunatic Fringe Salon in Park City. I tried to get my hair done locally and it was not pretty, so I found Karly at Lunatic Fringe. She’s a junior stylist (so the price is very reasonable) and knows how to cut, colour, and style. You get free Voss sparkling water, a luscious wash and massage in their lather lounge, and they validate parking.

Mormon Church aka Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS). For anyone not familiar with this religious group you should read up before coming to the area as it’s one of the dominant ones. Otherwise you won’t understand terms like Jack Mormon, Jesus Jammies (pejorative), etc.

National Public Radio. This might be an oversimplification, but I have discovered there are two types of people in the U.S. – those who listen to NPR and those who don’t. And Doug and I definitely have focused our friendship-making on those who do. NPR brings in BBC broadcasts and the Wyoming program Open Spaces is terrific. So much better than the screaming pundits mixed in with oversensationalized crap on CNN, MSNBC and Fox. In fact, the only TV news I watch is the Daily Show and the Colbert Report.

Organized religion. Actually, if you’re coming from a large city or place where religious beliefs are not something you discuss regularly (or that you’re used to discussing/debating at all) you might be a little shocked when you move here. I was. Rent Religulous for research purposes.

Pubs. Your best bet is to go to the Bittercreek Brewing Co. in Rock Springs for a pint of their microbrews (Doug’s fave is Bob’s Beer and mine is the Coal Porter) but don’t stay for food – it’s good but the service is abysmal. Better yet get a Growler to go. In Green River go to the Red Feather to enjoy a smoke-free drink.

Quaaludes, Methamphetamine, and other drugs are a problem in this area as the newspaper stories and drug counselling centres indicate. People also like their chewing tobacco and have drive-thru liquor stores. There is an ongoing joke about whether it’s the churches or bars that are winning the numbers game…

Recycling. I had to work a little harder to do this while I was here, but Green River has a drop-off centre that takes just about everything except glass, hard plastic, and some metals. So then you take the hard plastics to Rock Springs and the rest of it to Park City or Jackson Hole – a great excuse for a road trip!

Sweetwater County Libraries are terrific. The library staff work incredibly hard to put on exciting programming, support local artists/authors, and share their love of the written word. Take advantage of inter-library loans, online databases, and the staff’s good natures for your research needs!

Tanger Outlets in Park City, Utah. The best and nearest shopping destination to SW Wyoming. Yes, it’s a 2 1/2 hour drive away, but it’s totally worth it. Stop for lunch at the Red Rock Brewing Co. or the Hapa Grill. You won’t be disappointed.

Umbrella. Don’t bring it ’cause you won’t need it here much, which I love. It is sunny almost every day and big storms blow in and out in the summer so quickly you’d hardly have time to open your ‘brelly anyway. You’ll hardly use a snow shovel in the winter too!

Vicki, Evonne, Chris, and Christine all rock! They are great fitness instructors at the Green River Rec Centre (GRRC). Without them I never would have fallen in love with spinning, weight training, or be able to do ‘man’ push-ups!

The Green River Rec Centre

Weather. Wyomingites, like Canadians, love to talk about the weather. And it’s a safer topic of conversation than say, politics or religion!

XXX entertainment in the region: The Mast in Green River (which has a better website than most businesses in the area, I was just surprised to discover!) and the Astro in Rock Springs. Even small towns have their ‘dens of iniquity’!

Yoga is on offer five days a week at the GRRC with the lovely and soothing Shannon. These sessions helped me stay centred, stretched, and relatively sane through the craziness of the past year. Namaste.

Zumba, the dance-aerobic craze that’s sweeping the nation! And the Green River Rec Centre has just started offering it every other Friday night at 6pm. Lots of fun and a great workout.

A Poem of Parting

Last night I went to my last Rock Springs Poetry Slam hosted by my good friend, Janice Grover-Roosa (yes, another hyphenated last name!) of the local library system. While my first passion is writing books, there is something about the instant gratification of poetry that I love, and that has kept me coming back to the form over the years.

This is one of the pieces I read last night:

Wyoming Love Song

A sweet country
Ignored by most
Lost on the map intentionally.
A place of rough necks
And oil widows
The wispiest of rainbows perched atop
Precarious citadels.
Sandstone slipping down
Adobe towns
Full of swallows
And swallowed hikers
Led astray
By intermittent appearances of civilization.

Deer staring with children’s eyes
When surprised at first light
Hawks fan above
Dodging wild winds
Air currents that
Rip at clothes
Hit at houses
And make skin so raw.

A heart-stopping flap of wings
Erupting from sage brush
0 to 60 in a coyote’s breath
A countryside of death
Of Malthusian midnights
Where bones are picked clean
By the sun
By everyone
Everything fighting for a bit of green
A hint of happiness
Barest survival.

No bucolic panoramas
But people always try
Always irrigate
Now irradiate
Grasping for biblical splendour
In what some might call
The land of Cain.
The land of rocks
Of sky
Of little ties to populations
Of bigger size.

Peopled by antelope
Running from predators long gone
White rumps still flashing
Shouting urgency
While humans saunter
Heads up, nods exchanged
A currency of grudging respect
Where fancy doesn’t fuel you
Like a big buffet
Like cheap gas, bud light
Or half-strength coffee
Like slow friendships
Lengths of prairie grass tucked together.

This Is Wyoming (Part Two)

For those of you who read my original post, This Is Wyoming (TIW), you probably have an inkling of what is to come in part two…

Preparing for an overseas journey is always a little stressful. You want to get ahead on your work – clear your desk physically and mentally. Then you need to figure out what the weather will be like, what you need to pack, and what you need to buy. You need to make arrangements for the pets, the mail, and the plants. A bunch of small things that can be a bit of a hassle, but usually work themselves out quite easily.

But this is Wyoming. This is a rural place with a small population that has largely been forgotten by the rest of America – and the world – except for a small blip of notoriety when Brokeback Mountain came out (if you’ll pardon the pun).

In a week and a half I am leaving for the United Kingdom to visit Doug, who’s in training in Edinburgh (Scotland) and then down south to Kent and London to visit good friends. Because I will be doing a fair bit of travelling on planes, trains, and buses, I decided it would be far easier to get a big backpack than have a rolly suitcase (been there, done that – the wheels broke and I almost died walking uphill to my B&B; in Ireland). Off to buy a multi-day camping backpack! Well, nothing in Green River, nothing in Rock Springs, and nothing at the outlet centre in Park City, Utah. Okay… thank goodness for the internet! I shopped around and found one half price through Eastern Mountain Sports last Friday. It shipped today from Massachussetts and should arrive in the nick of time next week.

Next step: clothes (because I do not want to show up in the uber-fashionable UK looking like a country bumpkin). The shopping selection here is very limited. While I like Herberger’s quite a bit (as you may have noticed with my Christmas post), it’s nice to have variety. So off I drove the two hours to the closest shopping area to me – Park City, Utah. I personally believe that the Mormons back in the nineteenth century went too far: they should have stopped about 30 miles east of Salt Lake City. At the risk of sounding sacriligious the Tanger Outlet Centre is my Zion, my temple square.

But one trouble with outlet stores is that you’re often getting the overstock from the retailers and special items – swimsuits, for example – are tough to come by out of season. So I checked out the local stores: the J.C. Penney website convinced me I didn’t want their swimsuits even if they had any; the local Sears, the man who answered the phone told me, only sells appliances and tools; and no one even answered the phone at Herberger’s. I was NOT driving 2 1/2 hours to Salt Lake City on slippery roads for a swimsuit. Time to do the unthinkable: shop for a bathing suit online. After poring over several websites I decided to order from Land’s End. So I ordered a whole mess of tops and bottoms and hopefully something works – then I can return whatever I don’t like for a flat fee of $6.95 shipping and handling… (Doug – probably best if you don’t look at the account until then!)

This morning, sitting at the computer, I decided to order my last online purchase: British Pounds. Doug’s company has a great system – in theory: you can order foreign currency online, they fed-ex it to your house, and deduct the amount from your account. Well, like everything else with The Company if it seems simple and straightforward it probably isn’t. Half an hour after I put in my online order, someone telephoned from a call centre in Toronto, Ont. to inform me that my request had been denied. Apparently they have a limit of $1500 US in any 90 day period from one account. If you’ve been watching the exchange rates, that’s lots in say, Zimbabwean dollars but zilch in GBP. The lady kindly informed me that I could take the money out of a different account or credit card. I informed her back that we had only just moved to Wyoming from Canada and were trying to keep the number of accounts and cards to a minimum. Then she suggested I get family to order the money and I could pay her back. I referred her to my last statement, sounding out the words: just moved to Wyoming = family in Canada.

Okay, fine, I’ll try and exchange money locally. So I call the branch I bank at and after speaking with two people discovered they do not exchange money (what?!!). Then I called US Bank; it would take them 10 days to order in British Pounds. Then I called Wells Fargo; you can only exchange money if you have an account with them. (At this point I think I felt a blood vessel burst somewhere in my brain.) Then I called the Rock Springs National Bank. After two people failed to be able to tell me if they exchanged money at the bank I finally spoke to Jan, my new best friend, who told me they could order in GBP in two days and I didn’t have to have an account with them (just had to pay $20 in fees for the service). So now I’m sitting on a wad of American cash waiting for my sweet Jan to call and tell me that my pounds have arrived.

But I’m not resting easy yet. After all, as my friend Anna discovered while she was here – it ain’t over until you are on that Dash-8 and out of Wyoming.

This is Wyoming (TIW)

If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, then you know that my friend, Anna, was here visiting last week. Anna is from Canada: she grew up in Ottawa, we met in Montreal, and she’s been living in Edmonton the past year. In short, she knows winter, and knows how traveling in winter can be a bit of a gamble.

She has also travelled extensively in Latin American and lived off and on for a year in Africa (Kenya and Mali) doing AIDS research and treatment-related projects for her Master’s in Public Health Policy. In short, she’s had to deal with travel SNAFU’s in rural areas of developing nations.

Apparently Wyoming combines the ‘worst’ of all these experiences.

Last Saturday I left the house for Rock Springs early in the day to volunteer at the Humane Society’s Santapaws event. I looked out the window at one point and saw it was snowing so asked someone what it was like outside. “Oh, it’s just wet on the roads,” he said. Within a few hours our customers had dwindled and people were talking about cars sliding through intersections. Apparently the temperature was dropping and any precipitation was turning directly into black ice.

At 4pm I got into my car and cautiously headed back to Green River. I never got above 60km/h (half my normal speed on the I-80) because I was concentrating so hard on staying in the dry grooves between ice patches so that I might stay on the road. Tractor trailers and other vehicles were whizzing by me in the left lane, and I was worried one of them might spin out and hit me but luckily that didn’t happen. I did notice a tractor trailer completely totalled in the ditch, though, and was so happy I hadn’t been on the road when that happened! [read Green River Star article “Winter Weather Brings Crashes“]

Someone else’s fun experience on the I-80 in winter conditions

When I got home, completely exhausted, I told Anna how bad the road conditions were. After checking the net, I also discovered that Salt Lake City was in the middle of a winter storm warning. I told Anna I wasn’t sure I would be driving her to SLC if this kept up. A resourceful traveller she said that was fine and checked into the Greyhound bus. According to the website it left from Rock Springs at 6:35pm and arrived in SLC at 10pm. Sounded good.

So we headed into Rock Springs Sunday at 3:30pm to try and get her ticket ahead of time to discover that the Greyhound ‘offices’ are closed on the weekend – so you’d just have to wait outside in the freezing cold to catch the bus. There was a sign in the window, though: “If the bus don’t come, its cause of weather. Call SLC.” (I heard this with a red-neck accent in my head, personally.)

Okaaay. So Anna’s worried now and not trusting the bus system much with good reason: after trying to talk to multiple people on the phone, she received varying departure and arrival times and no one seemed to know if the bus had left Denver en route to Rock Springs. If you asked Anna after getting off the phone, I think she’d have told you they didn’t know their heads from another part of their anatomy!

So she decided to rent a car and drive herself instead. We stopped in the local Holiday Inn and borrowed their yellowpages and phone. We discovered that because it wa Sunday only the rental places at the airport were open. Anna didn’t have any luck on the phone there, so we head back to my place for a marathon phone session of calling every single rental place in Green River and Rock Springs. It turns out that a) 75% won’t do one-way rentals (even if they have offices in Salt Lake City and b) no one had any cars anyway because there had been so many accidents over the weekend that all the cars had been rented by people whose vehicles were in the shop.

After hearing this I was really not going to drive my little Mini Cooper on a 5-hour round-trip on the truck-full I-80 to Salt Lake City! So I suggested she change her itinerary and fly out of Rock Springs, because at least we knew the roads around here weren’t horrible. After being on hold for far too long with United and Expedia, Anna finally had a new itinerary (which only cost an additional $250 or so – about the same as a Greyhound, taxis, and hotel would cost in SLC). Monday morning I drove her to the airport, made sure she was able to check in and get through security – because with the way things were going I wasn’t too confident in anything!

Anna couldn’t believe the amount of hassle she had to go through just to leave Wyoming. She told me, “I expect this kind of thing in Africa, but at least there there is always someone who wants to make some money and is willing to chauffeur you to wherever you want to go. And if it doesn’t work out, I just say TIA – This IS Africa.”

Well, everyone, This Is Wyoming.

*We just got a bunch more snow this morning and it’s been super cold the last few days. Check out the Rock Springs I-80 webcam on the WYDOT website:

The life of a field engineer’s wife

I thought it was tough when Doug was away at training in Houston, TX and Kellyville, OK for two weeks. It turns out that when a field engineer is out in the field it’s actually much easier on his or her family. When the field engineer is at home, chaos reigns.

This isn’t Doug’s fault. There is absolutely no structure to his work ‘schedule’. His first day on the job he went in at 8am and discovered no one else showed up until 10am – although they stay until 7pm or so. He met his manager and then discovered she’ll be gone for the whole month of November, and he met his mentor engineer – a seasoned, cynical man who has been working in the field for a few years. He went and watched the operators work for awhile and then he came home around 4:30pm because, he said, there really wasn’t much for him to do or learn on-site so he might as well come home and take care of some paperwork.

Then at 8:30pm he received a call on his new company cell phone. He would be going out on his first job the next morning and had to be in by 4am. Because the job could last a few days (and you can’t survive in this place without a vehicle), I said I would drive him in. He was excited and nervous and woke up at 2:30am. I finally stumbled out of bed at 3:15am. I drove him the half hour in through pitch-black desert, with a confused and sleepy puppy in the back of the car, and me artificially wired on coffee.

It turned out the job didn’t take that long after all and that evening I was driving back to Rock Springs to pick up my hubby, who reeked of diesel from the rigs. After a late dinner (by then it was 8pm) we fell into bed.

The next morning at 5:50am he was sitting at the edge of the bed gently shaking me: “I have another job this morning and I need to be there by 6:30am.” Not knowing if he’d be gone one day or four, puppy and I piled into the car and drove him in. 9pm that night he called me again – he was back and ready to be picked up.

Of course throughout this I’m trying to work on my book, my article, care for two pets, and retain some modicum of sanity. Not working so well. Wednesday I had a mini-breakdown and vowed that I would figure out a way to do without the vehicle because, gosh darnit, I was not going to be a slave to this crazy schedule.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I crave routine punctuated by planned recreation and spontaneity. The field engineer’s life is not for me and I knew that. I didn’t realize what an impact Doug’s choice of work would have on me, though. In fact, initially I was really sad at the idea of his going away for training from December through February but now I’m not-so-secretly looking forward to it!!

And when he gets back in March, we are so getting a second vehicle!

Preached at in a Pet Store

Saturday was a warm and sunny day and I was feeling particularly fancy-free because Doug had just gotten home from training and could puppy-sit while I escaped the house.

One of my errands was to go pick up another dog bed for Riker because I was sick of carrying his bed from room to room as The Shadow followed me. So off to the new pet store in Rock Springs I went.

It all started off well. A pleasant employee approached and asked if I needed any help. We chatted a bit about the store and how it and the Humane Society would be cooperating in the coming months. All very cheery and nice. I picked out a bed and a couple of toys and carried them over to the cash. Then it all went wrong.

I had just finished signing the receipt when I saw her reaching for a plastic bag. “Oh, I don’t need a bag, I’m just parked outside. Besides, the bed won’t even fit in one of those!” I said pleasantly, a smile on my face. Big mistake.

“Oh, are you an en-vi-ron-men-ta-list?” She said, spitting out each syllable while her face contorted in disdain.

Completely thrown off by this sudden Jekyll-and-Hyde routine, I tried to be light-hearted, saying something along the lines of: “well, I just try to make sure the planet’s going to be ok in the future. Besides, I always end up with way too many plastic bags at home.”

Apparently she was not going to let this go. With fire in her eyes she announced to me: “Well, I don’t worry about that because the Lord Jesus Christ is going to come down to earth soon.”

Wow. What do you say to that? Here you’re standing at a pet store, little bunnies on the corner of the counter, and she’s talking about the Apocalypse? I was completely flabbergasted and just grabbed my purchases and hustled out to my fuel-efficient car (which wasn’t running, unlike two other empty pick-ups in the parking lot).

When I got to the Humane Society to put in a couple of volunteer hours, I told the director, who is from Michigan, is not an Evangelical fire-and-brimstone Christian (actually she’s not Christian at all), and is pretty level-headed. “Well,” she said, “People around here hate environmentalists. They are all about oil, except for the hunters and other people who want to protect the Elk and Antelope herds from interference by oil rigs. And some of those environmentalists are horrible, putting spike bombs in trees to hurt loggers.” Then we got into a discussion about the difference between “I like to compost and recycle” environmentalists like me and eco-terrorists who think nothing of killing people to save animals (hypocrisy be damned).

As soon as I got home I of course told Doug. He just stared at me open-mouthed. “I know,” I said. “I’ve heard of a lot of excuses for being wasteful, but the Apocalypse is a new one to me!” Then we proceeded to think of all the things you could use the Apocalypse-card for: “I’m not going to pay my taxes – Judgment will come before the IRS!” “I’m not paying my parking tickets – Jesus will judge me!” “I will never do anything ever again – the end is near!”

All joking aside, I know the owner of the store through Humane Society dealings and fired off a little note to him suggesting he go over the concept of customer relations with his employees before his grand opening on November 1st. After all, the customer is always right and probably doesn’t want to contemplate Revelation while picking up a squeak toy.

Since this is all so new to me, I of course had to research it. This is what some links on the topic have to say:

  • Argues that the Bible and Christian teachings are inherently anti-environmentalist because they tell us that time is linear at that the end of the world will come; also, the earth is there for humanity’s pleasure and so is antithetical to any idea of sustainability. Well, the author obviously doesn’t know anything about Hinduism or several First Nations oral histories that discuss cycles of destruction and rebirth. Hmm… moving on.
  • says that some Christian fundamentalists believe the destruction of the earth is a good thing – it will hasten the coming of Judgment Day. This is confusing: so half the right-wing Christian fundamentalists deny that Global Warming and other environmental catastrophes are taking place and the other half say yes it is occurring and it is a sign of impending Apocalypse? Hmm…
  • This Christian website denies that Christianity is inherently anti-environmental. In fact, the author argues: “The Bible says that those who destroy God’s creation will be judged and destroyed themselves.” I wish I’d had that up my sleeve when pet store lady went nuts on me!

Rapid-fire house hunting

Sunday, September 7th: Initial Optimism

Doug and I arrived in Rock Springs at approximately 2pm on Sunday, September 7th. Since then, we have spent practically every waking moment trying to find ourselves a place to rent. Before we left Ottawa we were in touch with Doug’s “relocation coordinator” who I assume was supposed to do some legwork for us. Instead, we were given the website for the Rock Springs Rocket Miner classifieds and the number of a local property management group. So we didn’t have a whole lot to go on, but we figured we’d be able to find something relatively easily. After all, we’re both pretty experienced student apartment hunters, we’re not that picky, and we’ve got money to spend. This should be pretty easy, right??

So Wrong.

After a nap and bite to eat I was feeling pretty energized and decided I would start calling the places in the classifieds that looked promising. It quickly became apparent that this is a hot rental market where places are snatched up as soon as they become available. The high numbers of transient workers (like us) and the volatile sales market means everyone is looking to rent. And most of them have housing allowances and good salaries from the mega-companies like Schlumberger, Halliburton, etc.

This means that not only can landlords drive up their prices, but they can dictate terms. Often this means that units are non-smoking because it decreases the landlords’ property insurance premiums. This is a big yay for us since we are rabid non-smokers. The other restriction many landlords have implemented, though, has been a serious hurdle: NO PETS.

After briefly considering releasing Guinness into the wild, Doug and I buckled down and went through the list of 10 or so classified ads that fit our basic needs: three of them had already been snatched up within a day or two; four did not allow pets; and the remaining three, even though they didn’t sound like what we wanted, we immediately made appointments to go see. After spending several hours on the phone (and speaking to a former mayor of Rock Springs who is now an elementary school teacher/landlord), I went to bed on Sunday with a lot less optimism regarding our housing prospects. All avenues had not been exhausted, though!

Monday, September 8th: Off the Grid and Beside a Gun Shop

Monday dawned and after a breakfast planning meeting, we called one of the big local property management companies in the area that handles hundreds of units. Surely they would have something for us? When I spoke to the nice lady on the phone, though, my dreams were crushed: they do not allow pets in any of their units.

Feeling despondent, I nevertheless launched my next offensive. A kindly landlord who felt sorry for me had suggested I contact the Realty offices because landlords often send them listings (Funny that the realtor/landlord I had spoken with the day before had not mentioned this! conflict of interest perhaps?). I called Rock Springs Realty and the lovely receptionist told us to come on down to pick up a copy of a contact list of property managers, housing units, etc.

Glory be! The list was three pages long and covered both Rock Springs and nearby Green River – surely somewhere on this list lay our future home!

Well, upon closer inspection I had to cross out half the places because they had a no pets policy. Then there was the one the former mayor told me to stay away from at all costs: “It’s dubbed the Jerry Springer Motel or Crack Palace,” he warned. Then there were a couple of places with peaceful-sounding names that turned out to be seniors’ residences (apparently enjoying knitting, baking, PBS, and going to bed at 9pm didn’t qualify me. darn!).

Bachelor #1:

This all happened before 10am. At 10, we hopped in the Mini (so much more manoeuvrable than the Uhaul!) and went to see our first place. It was a little tricky to find since the housing development had been built so recently that the streets are not on any maps yet (even the Googlemap satellite image was taken when they just had the dirt roads in). The place was lovely: a brand-new attached home with three bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths and a fenced yard. It was also a little pricey and way more home than we need (after all, Doug will be away on sites or for training a lot of the time). But it was an option!

Bachelor #2:

Our second stop was to drive by a pre-fab home in the older part of town. The home itself was quite nice. It was another brand-new unit the owner had planned on selling, but had decided to rent instead because no one was buying. Again a little too much house and money for us; too much concrete outside; and the neighbours looked a little frightening (a sign that said “drunk driver” was affixed to the neighbour’s fence. Lovely).

Bachelor #3:

Still, that place was much nicer than the third. The landlord had warned me on the phone that she had had to evict the former tenants and that the place was in the midst of a major overhaul. I determined to go in with an open mind, but even I have my limits. First off, it was on Rock Springs’s busiest street and had two tenants above. Secondly, it was right next to a gun shop that had a sign outside screaming “Ammo Sale!” (after we left Doug asked if I’d seen the bullet casings on the sidewalk. OMIGOD!). The inside was a total disaster: the bathroom floor was being ripped out, the walls were stained yellow from nicotine, and the carpets were irreparably stained from owners/pets or both. As one of the workers inside (whom I would have probably labelled one) told us, “Red necks should stay out with the horses!” All this for $1300/mth!

The Grass is Greener?

After these experiences in Rock Springs we decided to focus our efforts on the nearby town of Green River. It doesn’t have the same level of shopping or services but it has walking trails, less industry, and seems to be more Doug and my speed. I found an ad for a townhome, got in touch with the property manager’s agent who was in town from Utah, and we were there within a half hour.

The place looks great and we were immediately taken with it. There will be ongoing construction around the units, but it’s right across the street from a park and rec centre, and backs onto a really cool-looking set of hills that I would love to climb. Best of all, we don’t have to permanently put Guinness in a kennel!

We emailed the application in yesterday and hopefully things work out. I figure we have a pretty good chance: there are already two people in Rock Springs who have told me they will pray we find a place. How sweet is that?

How could anyone say no to this adorable kitty?

Grabbing Hold of Wyoming

We arrived safe and relatively sound in Rock Springs on Sunday afternoon after what seemed like the longest four hours of our lives. In 2005 when we drove cross-country to go to grad school in Vancouver, BC we experienced similar feelings of excitement and trepidation on the last leg of the trip. At least back then we had an apartment lined up (albeit we had only seen photos online) and we had been exposed to so many images of Vancouver that we had a pretty good idea what we were in for topography and climate-wise.

Driving the I-80 between Cheyenne and Rock Springs doesn’t inspire the greatest of confidence in the traveler. This is pretty wild, desolate country out here: in many places there are great long snow fences lining the Interstate and we came across quite a few “if lights are blinking the highway is closed” checkpoints. Apparently Wyoming gets very windy and in the wintertime the light, dry snow can be buffeted around by gales of over 70mph (112 km/h)!!! That’s faster than we could get the Uhaul to go if there was any kind of incline!!

That 4-hour trip also illustrated why Wyoming is the least-populated state in the Lower 48: other than a few towns/small cities like Laramie and Rawlins, we saw next to no signs of habitation. We did have the chance to stop in the hamlet of Elk Mountain when the gas-guzzling Uhaul swallowed up the last of its fuel. It seems the local gas station was where all the locals hang out and Doug overheard a particularly amusing conversation.
An older man was telling a younger man about his most recent find on a garage sale-ing trip. “It’s a grabber and I got it for 25 cents,” he said with a drawl.

“What’s a grabber?” His young companion asked him.

“It’s a stick, with a claw on the end for grabbing things.” The older man patiently explained. “You can pick stuff up without bending over.”

“That sounds like it would be good for fishin’.” The young man considered, scratching his chin.

“Yeah, you could pick up some fish with the grabber.”

So now of course Doug and I are always thinking of things we could use a grabber for. I’m still not sure if it would solve all our problems, but it sure sounds useful!
(Not necessarily the exact model of ‘grabber’ the Elk Mountain gentleman bought, but it gives you the idea!)

Crossing Over

The impending move to Wyoming is finally at hand.

We first found out about the posting for Doug’s new job back in early July, but it’s taken two months to get all the paperwork squared away and to convince them that we’d actually prefer to move sooner rather than later. Bouncing from family home to family home is not a long-term solution as far as we’re concerned…

Doug’s Work Visa application arrived last Friday after we’d gone away on a sanity-seeking mission in Merrickville, ON. We stopped watching the pot for one day and it finally boiled! Now we’ve launched into overdrive: the U-haul truck is booked (we’ll be towing our Mini Cooper behind it on a flat-bed trailer); the hotels en-route and at our destination are reserved; and we’ve set up new US dollar bank accounts. We knew that it would be a game of wait…..wait… now HURRY!

Now, I am a little worried that we’ll get down to the border at Sarnia, ON next Thursday and be turned away. Apparently how it works is we bring Doug’s Visa application and all our supporting paperwork there and then we’re interviewed by an immigration officer. Technically, he or she can reject us, but Doug assures me this is not likely.

Actually, Doug has had to reassure me a lot the past couple of days. Yesterday when I was trying to book us a hotel in Rock Springs, WY (where we’ll be living for the next 19 months or so) for a week, I discovered that many of the hotels were booked up for long-term stay. One of the reservation agents I spoke with who lives in RS says he’s had one fellow living in the hotel for SIX MONTHS! The agent told me that he was looking to rent an apartment and the cheapest he could find was $1000 for a “crappy loft” amd that housing prices were basically double what properties were worth. Sounds like another Fort McMoney (otherwise known as Fort McMurray in northern Alberta)!

As Doug reminds me, though, we are getting a a housing stipend (unknown amount at this point) from the company, and that should put us in a competitive position to rent a decent place for our time there. In fact, the company is going to reimburse us for our moving expenses, a 7-day stay in Rock Springs while we house-hunt, and will give us money for meals and household goods while we’re there. Mothers: tell your children to become mechanical engineers!!!

Moving to Wyoming!

For the past few months, as many of you know, Doug has been on the job hunt. After 2 ½ years in a Master’s program, he launched into the rollercoaster ride of finding gainful employment “out there” – outside the known world of universityland. There were ups and there were downs. On the one hand he was flown exotic places for interviews (Rossland, BC! Texas! Edmonton!) and taken out for fancy dinners. On the other, there were rude interviewers and weeks spent waiting for the phone to ring or an email message to appear in his inbox.

All that is over! For better or worse, Doug and I have accepted a job offer from Schlumberger (the huge multi-national oil services company I mentioned in the last email). They have approximately 80,000 employees in 80 countries and an annual operating budget of over $20 billion. Doug jumped through all manner of hoops during the 3-month recruiting process. In the end, he was offered an elite position in the company’s Tech & Field program.

This means that Doug and I, for the next 19 months, will be living in Rock Springs, Wyoming where Doug will work as a field engineer! He will divide his time between on-site work at oil rigs and in the local office. As he’s been telling everyone, he’s most excited about wearing a hard hat, steel-toed boots, and blue coveralls. Oh, and driving the big truck 🙂 During those 19 months, he’ll also be periodically going to a training centre for courses – at one point, for about 1-2 months. (I figure that’s when I’ll finish my novel!) After the field portion of the program is done, he’ll apply his experience to developing better technologies in the Edmonton research office.

At this point, we have very little information about where we’ll live and how we’ll move down there. I have – as you can imagine – done a ton of research on Rock Springs. As one of my friends who grew up in the region told me: “It’s not the prettiest or hippest part of Wyoming, but it’s not that bad if you like hanging out with cowboys!” Not the most encouraging start, but after checking out the web and emailing with some locals, I’ve found there’s a nice community of historians and writers I’ll try and join. We’ll also be within striking distance of Salt Lake City (Utah) as well as Denver and Boulder (Colorado). Not to mention all the national parks in the area. At the very least, we’ll have some open spaces and fresh air after living in downtown Toronto this summer!

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.