Bill Sniffin: Wow! Here Is Exciting Travelogue About Six Empty States

Our recent 2,000-mile, six-state road trip found us traveling through lots of empty places similar to our long spans of apparent emptiness.

Bill Sniffin

October 23, 20204 min read

Sniffin 1
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

By Bill Sniffin, publisher

The Big Empty.

Some decades ago, somebody came up with that motto for Wyoming in a contest to provide a not-so-complimentary nickname for the Cowboy State. It was a takeoff on The Big Easy, which is the motto for New Orleans. (Fellow columnist Dave Simpson is fond of using the term, The Big Lonesome.)

Well, I can confidently say that Wyoming is not the only state in the West that has lots of empty spaces.

Our recent 2,000-mile, six-state road trip found us traveling through lots of empty places similar to our long spans of apparent emptiness. For example, my late dad always called the Shoshoni-Casper drive “96 miles of nothing,” but he could be forgiven. He grew up in Iowa, where there is a road and a farmhouse every quarter mile or so. 

And to Lois Herbst and Phil Roberts, please do not remind me of all the wonderful things to see and do between Casper and Shoshoni. I know, I know.

Sometimes I think my columns about my trips are like subjecting my friends to an old-time photographic slide show.  But please be patient. I will try to sprinkle this column with some interesting tidbits.

On the other hand, is there any way possible to write about empty spaces and make it interesting?  Well, here goes:

Our trip was from Lander to Las Vegas with the motorhome, where we put it in storage. Then from Vegas to Sedona. Then to Petrified Forest National Park enroute to Farmington, NM and Durango, CO.  Then to Montrose, CO and finally, home to Lander. Whew!  Did that in 12 wonderful days. 

The temperatures were amazing.  It was 100+ in Vegas.  In Sedona it was just 92 but the TV newscasts said Phoenix just set a new record of 144 days over 100 degrees in 2020. Now that would be uncomfortable if you were cooped up for six months in that heat during this COVID-19 epidemic, but I digress.

First empty space is from Salt Lake City to St. George on Interstate 15. Lots of interstate with an 80-mph speed limit for passing by very few towns. Luckily, a great many Dairy Queens are on that route, though.

Utah’s roads were not great. We already know Wyoming is behind on maintenance. So is Utah.

St. George to Las Vegas is EMPTY, except for the beautiful Virgin River Gorge. I should say it is daunting in a big old motorhome, going downhill through that scary canyon.

Interstate 40 in Arizona is a mess. Every bit as bad as our interstate highways or probably worse. And empty?  How about a place with signs warning you of sand storms?

Sedona is an island of beauty surrounded by vast areas of . . . nothing?  Just mediocre hills and valleys covered in scrub.

An immense expanse of nothing greeted us as we left Flagstaff east on Interstate 40 looking for the Petrified Forest National Park. It is well worth the visit but is 30 miles off the interstate.  Lots of interesting places along there including Newspaper Rock, which unfortunately I did not stop by to read. We were in a hurry.

From there to Farmington, NM, it was very empty. Not a convenience store for 50 miles (and we really needed one!). I thought Farmington was a little town. It is 50,000 people. Took forever to drive through it.

Can’t complain of the scenery from Farmington to Durango and on to Montrose.  Bob, Steph, and Summer Bonnar (of Newcastle) hosted us for a fun time in Durango.

This Durango-Montrose stretch offered lots of wonderful alpine scenery, including the truly amazing Million Dollar Highway north of Durango. The towering San Juan Mountains offer spectacular views.

Road quality again was spotty. Lots of great roads. And many roads needing lots of maintenance. Sound familiar? Wyoming is not alone with this problem.

While in Montrose, we spent two wonderful days with our daughter and her husband and our three grandchildren.  Plus, two great-grandchildren, too. Nice family times.

Last few empty spaces on our trip home were from Craig, CO to Baggs and on to Creston Junction west of Rawlins.

Of course, that 120-mile stretch from Rawlins to Lander is one of my favorite places on earth but to many folks, well, it looks like the Big Empty.

So, there you have it.  Yawn.  Another Sniffin travelogue.

Since most people are holed up and we weren’t, thought it might be worth sharing.

Happy Trails.

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.