Rawlins, the quiet boomtown

Plastic bags flutter in the wind outside a trailer park in Rawlins, Wyo. These parks sit wedged between historical downtown and new neighborhoods being built. (Photo/Morgan E. Heim)

Plastic bags flutter in the wind outside a trailer park in Rawlins, Wyo. These parks sit wedged between historical downtown and new neighborhoods being built. (Photo/Morgan E. Heim)

Along the eastern edge of the Red Desert lies a town whose welcome mat includes a sun-crisped golf course and signs encouraging visits to the Wyoming Frontier Prison. On Sundays, most shops are closed and streets quiet. Homes bake under a summer sun and brace against the punishing winds so characteristic of southern Wyoming. Here in Rawlins, I pulled into a gas station, and that is where my car broke down.

New neighborhoods are being constructed on the outskirts of town. (Photo/Morgan E. Heim)

New neighborhoods are being constructed on the outskirts of town. (Photo/Morgan E. Heim)

If that wasn’t enough, as if God decided to play a cosmic joke on me, the gas station caught on fire.

Sign painted inside the courtyard of the Wyoming Frontier Prison. (Photo/Morgan E. Heim)

Sign painted inside the courtyard of the Wyoming Frontier Prison. (Photo/Morgan E. Heim)

The car and I managed to make it to a nearby Comfort Inn, where we promptly parked ourselves for the next few days, at least until I figured out what had happened to my radiator.

The seeming mishap afforded a chance to see a town I would normally visit only in passing. What I found is a place that deserves much more care from people like myself, a lonely place by all appearances, but one with quirks and life cultivated from decades of boom and bust. In my brief time there, I saw a town that was both growing and falling apart. Maybe sometime I will get to go back, and actually learn what life is really like at the edge of the desert._mg_01022_mg_0123_mg_01121

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2 responses to “Rawlins, the quiet boomtown

  • Janice

    Morgan,
    I stumbled across your blog while looking for information on Adobe Town (I visited the landscape last year with the BCA and also found it intriguing).

    After reading your post, I noticed the silent, blue link that read, “Rawlins, the quiet boomtown.” Of course, after living there for two years to work for the local newspaper, I had to click and see what a Colorado outsider had to say.

    I very much appreciate your last paragraph, where you freely admit it’s a town you’d normally pass through (it’s how I describe its location to people who ask). But you also give it the credit it deserves when you write, “What I found is a place that deserves much more care from people like myself, a lonely place by all appearances, but one with quirks and life cultivated from decades of boom and bust. In my brief time there, I saw a town that was both growing and falling apart.”

    You hit the nail on the head. The city is not a city by most people’s standards. The trees planted around town give it the sense of being an oasis in a desert – but let’s face it, it’s desert, as you say.

    And the concept of growing and falling apart is a confusing paradox even for the people who live there. Should we have pride in what our town can become or shame in how it appears to the rest of the state and surrounding ones? seems the constant question. Do we invest time in making the town not just liveable, but thriving? Or do we accept that it’s a boom-bust cycle and leave when things get rough?

    I did leave, and now live in Colorado like yourself, pursuing journalism on a freelance basis. But I appreciated your recognition of Rawlins’ quiet character, hidden from the eyes of unsuspecting passersby. Careful, though, we like to keep our little secrets in that part of the world.

  • moheim

    Janice, thank you for your thoughtful comment. This is something I strive to do, even if I don’t get to spend much time in a place, try to see it more for what it really is. And it’s good to hear from an insider that I didn’t totally muck it up. Good luck with your journalism!

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