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Get there before the rest do

Letter by Slim Wolfe

Growth – February 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

Research Reveals Growth-Free Region in the West!

Let’s All Pounce before the other guy finds out!


Son of a Gun! I thought this last road trip might cure me of the journalism habit but here I am in your face again. Like your other journalist Hal Walter, I was thinking about a move. He’s lucky he’s being crowded out by a trophy home. I’ve got trophy modulars sprouting like mushrooms, and yuppified hot springs, and road rage in the summer. I remembered a rural region that might still be stuck in the 60s. I went to take a look.

To get there I drove Highway 50 and its even lonelier offshoot, Highway 395, across northern Nevada and into Oregon. Nevada is the fastest growing state in the United States, but that depends on how you define “is.”

Most of the Great Basin region (where the rivers run inward, rather than oceanward) is so empty it makes the San Luis Valley look downright cosmopolitan. I never thought, having once worked at Climax, that I’d ever be glad to see a mine coming up ahead, but after hours of not even a fencepost, the vision of industry relieved me of the fear that I was driving an endless loop on an unpopulated planet.

So while Colorado Central’s editor was rubbing elbows with John Nichols’s Marxist perspective on the ruination of the West, this old radical was having the converse image: where the money’s so big and the ranches so immense as to create America’s most exclusive neighborhood.

Environmental degradation appears not to exist. Few people make few problems. Grazing lands might get overtrampled, and toxic tailings might have spilled, but again that depends on your definition of the word “is” — is there a mess where there are no eyes to see it? If you want to get a notion of the exhilarating helplessness felt by the first horse and wagon headed for the unknown, try this highway.

You’ll come to a working mining town with espresso and baguettes, then west a few miles on the Interstate to Winnemucca, where the city fathers still divert Highway 395 through the heart of downtown as they once did in Salida with Highway 50. But you’ll still be glad you spent your dollars at that Winnemucca gas station because the next gas is 225 miles. Where else can you find 225 miles of highway with no petrol and just one cafe? The owner claims to be the most recent immigrant. He’s been there 24 years.

So anyone wanting another hundred years’ grace from the encroachments of yuppie growth who doesn’t mind a 100-mile drive to the nearest loaf of bread might think about the Great Basin. But be warned: You may not find 35 acres or even 350. You might want to start the bidding at $15 million. Maybe there’s a low birthrate there on account of being downwind of some military shenanigans. Come to think of it, an anthrax facility in Maysville might be just the thing to slow the growth rate in Central Colorado.

Slim Wolfe, Villa Grove