Day 30, Part 1: Jeffrey City

Split Rock again. It kept appearing in the west, like a lighthouse, pointing the way.

Yesterday’s post left off with me checking into the Green Mountain Motel. But there’s a part before that I omitted. That would be Split Rock.

Split Rock was the next natural wonder for the emigrants after Devil’s Gate. It is not a split in the mountain, but from the east, it shows as a distinctive break in the pattern of the rocks, and as such, is a perfect landmark to guide you west across the terrain. I followed it most of the day. Looking back from the west, after you’ve passed it, I’ve read it looks like the notch in a gun sight (especially if you’re from Wyoming, I imagine).

The terrain between Devil’s Gate and Split Rock is mixed. Hills, cliffs, buttes, and other hindrances to travel intervene. So rather than run straight at Split Rock, the trail winds around to conform to the topography . . . But always comes back to line up with Split Rock whenever possible.

How do I know this? Because the road I was on most of yesterday paralleled or was on the emigrant trail, but I think I covered that pretty well yesterday.

Green Mountain Motel, Jeffrey City, WY

So, back to the motel. I checked in with Lisa, who owns it with her husband. While I was checking in I told her I’d like to wash some things and asked if I could hang some laundry outside to dry. This is not the Hilton, okay? This is a very low key motel of modular units and a gravel lot and a dog named Tuffy who loves to have his tummy rubbed, so I didn’t think there’d be an issue. Instead of giving her okay, though, Lisa offered to wash them. For free.

Jeffrey City, WY instantly became my favorite spot on the trail.

I showered and started charging devices and gave Lisa a few things to wash and a ten-dollar bill. She shook her head and pushed it back at me. I explained that I didn’t expect her to do laundry for free and that it’d cost me half that much anywhere only I’d have to do it myself. She gave me a sweet, grateful, very unexpected hug and said thank you. 

A little while later I wandered an eighth of a mile down the highway to the Split Rock Cafe (see why I brought up Split Rock now?). I took my iPad thinking I might get something to eat and start blogging there. I didn’t see a sign for the cafe, but I saw beer signed in a window and there was nothing else around that looked like it had been open in a decade, and the door was unlocked, so I stepped in.

Three locals (guys, all wearing the same safety-green t-shirt, so I assumed they worked together and were having an after-work drink) were sitting at the bar (one smoking, which is either legal in Wyoming or just widely practiced and tolerated) and there was a woman behind it; early-40s, kind of tough looking. Behind her on the mirror was a sign: “I am a respectable business woman. Don’t fuck with me.” That pretty much fit her look exactly.

“Is this the Split Rock Cafe?” I asked.

She looked at me like I was stupid. “Yes, what can I get you?”

“Can I order food?”

“Maybe. I have to see if the ten pounds of hamburger I ordered arrived yet. Or the twenty pounds of pork chops.”

“Actually, I said, I’d like something without meat.”

“Like what?”

“What do you have?”

“What do you want? I can make you anything you want.”

The place has menus; I’ve seen pictures online. A menu at this juncture would have been really useful.

“How about some kind of sandwich?” I said.

“I can make you a chef’s salad without meat.”

“Sounds good.”

“Or I can make you a grilled cheese with onion and lettuce.”

“Sounds even better, I said. Can you add tomatoes?”

Long thought. “I think I have some tomatoes back there.”

None of this with so much as a hint of a smile. Not like I was bothering her, but more like I was a little slow in the head for not knowing what I wanted to order. She gave me a can of cream soda and disappeared for about fifteen minutes. It seemed clear to me that this wasn’t the kind of place to offer table service, so I stayed at the bar and gave up trying to write.

Breakfast at the Split Rock Cafe, Jeffrey City, WY

In the mean time I started talking to the guys. A lot of cross-country road cyclists come through here, so we talked about that a bit. The guy next to me said riders usually order the pork chops and other high calorie food, which may explain why the owner mentioned all the meat she’d ordered. We also talked about the lakes I passed last week (Glendo and Guernsey), and the guy at the far end walked over and showed me pictures of them on his phone. The guy next to me got up once or twice to go behind the bar and refresh his drink. It was that kind of casual.

During our conversation of Glendo, the picture-shower talked about going there to drop his daughter off at college in Torrington. I said, Hey, I spent the night there, it seemed like a nice little town. The picture guy and the self-pourer both scoffed, apparently not caring much for Torrington. Rather than pursue the issue, I glanced around the bar, which, putting it mildly, was a disaster. Some western TV show played overhead in the corner as kind of an aural backdrop. The floor was red and white-patterned linoleum squares and covered in dirt, which probably started as mud and dried in place. This was not sawdust, or dust. Dried Wyoming mud. No five-second rule here. If it hits the floor it’s gone. The booth chairs were all torn with exposed stuffing sticking out like broken bones. There were cowboy hats hung on the wall, and a wood-burning stove between the bar and a pool area. After scanning the bar, I glanced outside through the dusty windows and thought about the fact that this was one of three businesses the town had: Green Mountain Motel, this bar/restaurant, and a pottery studio across the highway that looked like the inspiration for the set of Sanford & Son. And I thought, Really? You live here and you’re dissing Torrington?

In fact, after taking a closer look at the place, I was starting to wonder whether it was safe to have ordered food. But I have to say that when Isebel, the owner, came back, she brought a beautiful sandwich which I think I ate in about 30 seconds. It was wonderful. I mean, yes I was hungry. But even still, she’d browned the bread just so and had the right balance of ingredients and even sliced it in half diagonally. It looked as good as it tasted. I should have ordered two. Or three!

After I was finished, she charged me eight dollars (I’d also had a second soda and some Fritos), a number I’m guessing she just made up. I asked if she’d be open for breakfast the next morning, and she said, Of course I’m going to be open. I open from seven in the morning until nine at night every day. Why do people ask if I’m going to be open in the morning?

Went back to the motel, stayed up way too late trying to get the balance of yesterday’s blog done, and had a decent sleep.

(Now, normally, this entry would stop here. But I think for continuity’s sake, I will continue to get through the rest of my Jeffrey City experience and pick up the thread  from the time I left the town in my next post.)

Mock-king Bird Pottery, Jeffrey City, WY

So, decent sleep. I knew I had a short day today—only 20 miles—so I slept in until seven. Packed up, got ready to go, and Lisa (the motel owner, not marriedtothenut-Lisa) came to see me off and gave me a hug goodbye and wished me safe travels. I told her I was going to stop by the cafe for breakfast; she said she’d notify Isebel. Small town.

I went to the Cafe, but the doors were locked. Isebel poked her head out of another set of doors, so I followed her inside. Turns out there is a cafe side and a bar side. Who knew? No one else was there, but this time Isebel handed me a menu. I ordered pancakes.

One or two?

I looked at the menu; no mention of numbers of pancakes.

Are they large?

She looked at me and her look said, What kind of a stupid question is that? They are what they are. Now do you want one or two?

Yes, it was that expressive of a look. I told her I’d take two, along with some eggs and coffee. 

She started a pot on the coffee maker and disappeared into the back for about twenty minutes. After the coffee was brewed I found a mug and filled it, then refilled it while I waited. I was thinking I should have just made my instant coffee and instant oatmeal back at the Green Mountain Motel, but when Isebel came out with the breakfast (apologizing for the delay because her grill took a long time to warm up), again, the food looked great. I would say the pancakes were a perfect size, say, 3/4 of a plate, and fluffy; the eggs were perfectly over easy, with a just a little browning around the edges. The dog (I don’t learn its name) lay next to me on the concrete floor and didn’t beg exactly, but made its wishes known in a patient, though unrewarded, way. Isebel dropped the check, which was $10 . . . Again, a number I’m guessing she just made up, but very reasonable.

Filled up on a large breakfast, I finally got going around 9 am. The sky was clear, the wind light, and knowing I only had a two-to-three hour ride, depending on terrain, I rolled out at an easy pace on the shoulder of the highway with very light traffic. It was a pleasant start to the day.

[Note: many of the pics below should have gone with yesterday’s post, but I was too tired to add them.]

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Thomas Norton

    We love those kind of eating establishments!!

    1. Scott Alumbaugh

      I would have to say that if you ever find yourself in Jeffrey City, WY, it’s worth the stop. Just allow for the time. And don’t look at the floor.

  2. Anonymous

    LOL. Lisa & Isabell sound like serious business women. Nice pancakes & no clouds.

    1. Scott Alumbaugh

      Short term weather forecast looks good. Can’t say the same about pancakes, though. It could be a week or more. Life’s tough in the Wyoming outback.

  3. Kurtis

    I think you accidentally stepped into a Cohen brother film shoot and just didn’t know it. Just be very careful if you run into a Spanish dude name Chigurh who makes his decisions by flipping a coin.

    1. Scott Alumbaugh

      Actually, that describes the scene pretty perfectly. Francis McDormand could play that woman perfectly. My only fear is that it could turn into a David Lynch movie.

  4. Lisa (MTTN)

    Gorgeous landscape and not a cloud in sight.

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