There’s a sign somewhere along I-70 that describes Colby, Kansas as “The Oasis of the Plains,” which isn’t far from the truth. Colby’s a long way from nowhere, though there are several small towns along the road leading to it. On our recent trip west, we stopped for the night there. Hot and tired from the long stretch across sunny Kansas, the promise of food, drink and rest was more than a little welcome. When the town finally appeared, it did so all at once, an abrupt burst of shadow and moving lights on the horizon, like aliens had dropped the whole kit and caboodle from a hovering saucer. Wyatt picked up the mythic oasis nickname and applied it to his favorite current myth, The Lone Ranger, patiently explaining to me as we carried our bags to the hotel that this was indeed the Colby of the TV show.
Again, I was reminded that in the west, you don’t sneak up on cities the way you do in the east. In the west, you’re outside the city limits and there’s little to see. You hit the edge of town, and like it was measured out and drawn up for a plat book (which, naturally, it often was), you cross the line from there to here. I saw that abrupt sense of boundary more than once on the trip, and can’t remember really noticing it since we drove across the desert to Las Vegas many years ago.
From Colby, we drove to Limon, Colorado, then to Colorado Springs on Hwy. 127, and it was much the same. Open range with no shortage of residents in traditional farmsteads, new family homes and doublewide trailers, but all planted far apart. Plenty of space for everybody. And as the mountains appeared, I started watching for the city to materialize. When it did, with it’s clearly defined edge, it seemed closer than it was. We drove forever to get there, but there was little mistake when we arrived, cruising through a buffer that was only a few blocks wide.
After our various Colorado front range adventures, we turned northwest onto Highway-287 and followed it all the way to Laramie, past Red Mountain, an imposing old landmark (called “Fred Mountain” when we lived there in honor of our basset hound) and the unincorporated town/junk shop that is Tie Siding. All the photos on this page came from H287. When Laramie appeared, it was as a smattering of buildings in the distance that coalesced as we passed the welcome sign, a different experience than coming over the pass from Cheyenne, a view I would only get in the rear view mirror this time out.