On the Run

On the Run

On the Run
Dispatches from the front lines of travel.
Oct. 17 2002 5:07 PM

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Today's  audio update: Alexandra Fuller revisits the land of trophies in Wyoming

If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I did not come here of my own accord, and I can't leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have to take me back.
—from "Who Says Words With My Mouth," by Jalal Al-Din Rumi

The morning horseback ride.
The morning horseback ride.

In the morning, we saddle up a couple of horses and head out for a ride—it seems a pity to leave the Willow Creek Ranch at the Hole-in-the-Wall without getting at least a little saddle sore. The ranch's main cowboy, who accompanies us, is a Mexican whose name I understand to be O'Hooligan (but I don't think it is). He doesn't speak much English, and my Spanish is limited to the beer list at the Vista Grande Restaurant, but we still manage to agree with each other (at least I think we did) that there are a lot worse things a body can do than travel this country on the back of a horse.

That having been said, there are only so many days in a row a body can expect to live without beer. So it is with mixed emotions that I hug Gene farewell and head, with all due haste, to the nearest bar en route to Thermopolis.

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Kaycee, Wyo.—or what is left of it after the flood of two months ago—is home to the Invasion Bar and is the current reservoir of an ever-diminishing pool of genes passed on by the famous outlaws (or, as they call them around here, "alleged rustlers") of a century ago. Gene has told us that "the residents of Kaycee are all related to the rustlers, and since then they have all intermarried." Which might explain why hardly anybody in this town, that I can see, has a gluteus maximus. This is pancake-ass country.

The residents of Kaycee still refer to the cattle barons of a hundred years ago as "the invaders" (even though the cattle barons were here first), and I have the uncomfortable sensation that tourists fall under the same label. We shuffle into the bar (dimly lit, no windows, football on an oversized TV screen) and order a couple of Coors. (This goes against the grain, but what to do? Microbrews have not yet reached this part of the world, and it's my bet that it'll be a cold day in Zambia when they do.) In the absence of an actual shootout (in fact, the cowboys here look downright sedated), we finish up our beers and head for Thermopolis, home (as massive writing on a hill on the outskirts of town declares) of the World's Largest Mineral Springs (which, if you ask me, is just their excuse for having a town that smells powerfully of rotten eggs).

We eat at the Safari Club—a place that should be avoided by vegetarians (I am one) at all costs on account of the hundreds of dead animals adorning the walls and the mass-murdered salad bar. No matter, we drink wine and leer at the pretend stuffed rhino and for a moment all is right with the world. Until morning that is.

I have a small, celebratory release-from-dry-ranch hangover, but I am an African and used to such hardships. I manage to feign a steel gut and can ignore my headache until Christian and I are inspired (having seen the old Hole-in-the-Wall Bar now in the Thermopolis Museum) to visit the Wax Museum. It is I who insist on the visit (having developed a posthumous crush on Butch Cassidy, whose waxen image is rumored to lurk within) but Butch is just a teaser at the Thermopolis Wax Museum. The winner of the most-riveting-in-show ribbon is an exhibition of a doctor, scalpel in hand, leering over a dead man under a sheet. The write-up reads (in part): "Dr. Osborne pickled, dismembered and skinned the body [of outlaw, George "Big Nose" Parrott]. The skin was tanned and made into a medicine bag and a pair of shoes. The shoes were on display at a bank in Rawlins for years. His skull was cut in half. Half was used as an ashtray, half as a doorstop."

That's all it takes. Hangover or not, Christian and I are driving a day out of our way to a bank in Rawlins to see what kind of people can skin an outlaw and exhibit the shoes made from his hide in the town bank until well into the 1970s.

Check back tomorrow for the next stop on the Outlaw Trail, leather-loving Rawlins, Wyo.

Alexandra Fuller is the author of the best-selling memoir Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood.