Tuesday, June 7, 2011


The Buckhorn Bar?  Saloon? in Laramie.  Est. 1900.  Has a legitimate bullet hole in the mirror above the bar.  And endless piles of taxidermy.  Apparently usually filled with a heady mix of ranchers and university students.  As we were there at 2 pm on a Monday, we had the place to ourselves.  My two companions- Wyoming boys both- looked on indulgently while I stood on bar stools and photographed everything in sight, with the unseemly enthusiasm of an east coast girl coming across a visual "find."  

Two-headed calf at the Buckhorn Bar.

The majority of the photos above were taken outside of Gilette, in Northeastern Wyoming.  We were there visiting some folks, and the photo directly above is pretty much the view directly outside their back yard.  The grasslands are wonderful- eerie, with a constant scouring wind and a sky so enormous it becomes elemental, a substance that you are swimming through and its own presence, the subject of things rather than the background to other things.  The songbirds on the grasslands are surprising- they are everywhere, and singing constantly, and their songs have a more piercing sweetness rising over the lonely wind, and heard against such bleak views.

The strange thing about the photo directly above- do you see the very low, dark hills on the horizon?  If you were to walk to these hills, and climb over them, you would see the other Wyoming landscape; a similar emptiness, but dotted with strange massive structures, often with a curved belt dropping away from them and strange smoke puffing up.  The mines are so active in these ares, it is possible to stand in one spot, perhaps a couple of miles outside of Gilette, and see maybe five separate mining operations at one time.  You can drive quite close to them on the dirt roads, but with trepidation; these places do not like to be photographed.  There are odd things, too- signs that tell you to avoid the "orange cloud" and to beware because you are in a blasting area.

Partner grew up in this part of the world, which partly explains our visit.  He is the one who makes work about these things, and he has many really quite astonishing photographs of the mines and mining equipment.  Am trying to pursued him to do a guest post...

Ursa Major as depicted in Urania's Mirror, a set of constellation cards published in London c.1825.

Ursa Major, the largest mining dragline in the world.  Photo found on tradewinds.com.gr.

I should write about Wyoming, and the road trip, before the last of it slides out of my memory (which has all the retentive capacities of a wet cheese-cloth, the sieve metaphor being overused).  

As Colorado segued into Wyoming, the landscape became a touch more lonely, though still retaining its green forest and farmland bent- but the wide fields now bore the occasional power plant, quietly breathing vapors in the golden late afternoon light.  This was, I think, the beginning of my way of understanding this trip-  I seemed to repeatedly find myself in wide open spaces, natural spaces, which had mysterious man-made things left on them.  Massive things- coal mines and power plants and refineries and forgotten wreckage of various kinds.  Occasionally tiny, far-away movements could be seen in these massive, dour landscapes- a bright hardhat bobbing far away in the grayness, a plume of smoke, or the movements of a dragline in the distant carvings of a mine face.  We drove past Ursa Major outside Gilette in Wyoming- such a romantic name, and I may need to adopt it for some creative title or project.  Especially now that I know how the names of the stars have been applied to heavy industrial equipment- Ursa Major, the largest dragline in the world, lives in Wyoming.  No longer Callisto, the girl seduced by Zeus and turned by him into a bear to protect her from Zeus’s jealous wife- but a massive piece of mining machinery used to scrape the overburden away, revealing the coal seam underneath.  I must admit that I don’t quite understand the mechanics of it- how does a bucket dangling on a cable have the power to move tones of earth?  But clearly it works- the mines, terraced like some eastern rice field, plunge down to giddy depths, pits on a scale that is not to be believed.  We could not get a good photo of Ursa Major, this so romantically named beast that ponderously chews its way through thousands of feet of soil and minerals.  She was too far away, on the other side of the Black Thunder Mine, and obscured by rain. 

She weighs slightly under fifteen million pounds.

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