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The Pinedale Puzzle

Every now and again I roll into a town that is more than the sum of its parts. On paper Pinedale, with its 1400 inhabitants, appeared to be just like any other small-town in America. I knew it would have one supermarket, a post-office, a library, a school, a gas-station and at least one bar. I expected a quick stop-over before launching my bike towards the lunar landscape of the Great Divide Basin but upon reaching the outskirts of town I quickly understood that I had underestimated the place. There were recently constructed hotels and plenty of bars and restaurants around. I had no idea why but I could smell money.

I arrived to a party atmosphere. The town was painted in the colours of the local high-school football team. Cars had banners spray-painted on them and kids were walking around town in green and orange football shirts. It was Homecoming Night. Typically schools have a night each year towards the beginning of term where the alumni return home for the weekend to toast the local high-school. I'm guessing what fronts as a fun evening amongst old friends is simply a game of one-upmanship among the alumni and a chance for the school administration to rattle its foundation's begging bowl against the school railings. The evening typically centres around a high-school football game making it is easy to conjure up images of vain jocks, the picture-perfect homecoming king and queen, underage drinking in the local woods after the game, disenfranchised school-kids who hate Homecoming weekend and all the typical high-school scenes that Hollywood has made us familiar with. As a football fan I was keen to watch the game and support the Wranglers. However, I was forced to skip it as I was camped 8 miles from town on Freemont Lake. It turned out that they are a bunch of losers. However, as I rode up the hill away from town towards the lake I was able to look down on a perfectly floodlit high-school football field with a beautiful new pitch and nice bleachers. My jaw dropped in disbelief at the amount of money it must have cost to construct. This was only a school playing field, there was definitely something odd going on in this town but what?

When I dropped into the library to get online I was sitting in a very cosy building with rows of Mac computers. What the hell? What public library can afford to install Macs? While it was a treat to work with Apple again it seemed a little surreal. Of course, the folk in the library were as friendly and helpful as ever and pointed me towards the new $17mln Pinedale Aquatic Centre. As the campground did not have have any facilities I used the showers in the aquatic centre and enjoyed the spa and pools for a mere five bucks. What a winner, how could something that cost so much to build be so affordable? I ended up having the pool all to myself for some laps. It felt odd, it suggested overspend. As I pottered around town and enjoyed the nice bars and restaurants I came across the recently opened $23mln elementary school. Indeed all the municipal facilities were new and state of the art.

For a vagabond Pinedale was pure luxury. I realised then that my few days off in Jackson had been anything but. I wasn't able to relax in that town but here I could. It definitely warranted a day-off so I stayed another night to catch my breath and enjoy the friendly locals. The next section of my route would be exceptionally remote so I wanted to stock up on civilisation as much as good food. Tourism is important to Pinedale but they are not swamped with the same number of tourists as Jackson despite their proximity. Pinedale is a place to sit back and relax. You can sit on your boat on the lake above town, you can sit on a horse and ride through the beautiful countryside or you can sit by the banks of a river and fish. The town is bathed in the calm of nature that surrounds it. This sense of serenity is reflected in the locals making it a great place to visit if all you want to do is relax.

Of course, the wealth that exists here can't be explained by tourism. It turns out that the road from Pinedale to Rock Springs is flanked by lots of gas-fields. The sun doesn't set on these 24 hour mining operations in what is the biggest Trona deposit in the world. Trona is the primary source of sodium carbonate or soda ash. A quarter of the world's soda ash is mined in south-west Wyoming. Half of this is transformed into glass and a quarter is used in chemical manufacturing. The rest goes into soaps and detergents, pulp and paper production and water treatment. The concentration of mining companies in Sublette County generates huge tax revenues for the state of Wyoming. As Sublette is (or at least was prior to this tax-year) the biggest contributor of taxes in the state they get the most pay-back. If the county doesn't spend the money it has been allocated than it won't get so much again. The need to spend this windfall led to the incredible infrastructure spend that is concentrated in Pinedale; a town of a mere 1400 people. Whether the money has been spent wisely is not for me to say but it is clear that the collapse in the Federal tax-take will put more pressure on the Wyoming state coffers going forward. I'm guessing the time of Pinedale plenty has now come to a close.

I'm off to the moon next. Chat soon.


recently relaid High-School football fieldtown skate-park

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Reader Comments (1)

Hi Mark,

Enjoyed the ghost town photos, wild stuff, I've never seen the real thing like that before. Remember to wear something orange if you wander into hunting country. Loren says hello. Maybe I'll see you in Dublin over Christmas.

John D

December 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn D
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