19 July 2008


What can you say about a town whose only highlights include a gas station, a soda fountain and a company that makes chilli? Well if you're talking about Chugwater, a not quite ghost town just off Interstate 25 in Wyoming, the answer is it's the place to be.

We’ve seen our spirits knocked a little by Colorado. Not that Colorado isn’t beautiful, it is, but it’s not what we came looking to find on this trip. This morning our John Wayne alarm clock fired off both bells at 7am and after checking in with work and phoning my main client in the UK, we were unplugged from our hook-up in Fort Collins and heading north via Interstate 25 into Wyoming.

Douglas in Wyoming was our ultimate destination today, but by leaving at the same time as the geese were on their own journey towards the nearby lake, we knew we had plenty of time to stop along our way and poke our noses into anything we fancied. An hour or two up the road and past Cheyenne, where we smiled at the slightly incongruous combinations of Happy Jack Road and Missile Drive, the road turned from grey to red and then to grey again. With the fuel gauge lurking just under half full and a fair distance to the next signposted services, we pulled off the road at Chugwater to fill up the RV with petrol and ourselves with brown coloured water claiming to be coffee.

I asked the lady behind the petrol station counter what I could find if I turned right into Chugwater rather than left and back towards the interstate? There ain’t much she replied, but ignoring her advise to pass Chugwater by we turned right. There really was nothing in Chugwater beyond a dusty straight road lined with little more than an abandoned hotel, a soda fountain that according to the owner was very old (it was built in 1914) and the one-roomed Chugwater museum. We passed on the museum and instead I walked up and down Chugwater’s main street making photographs of this barren, but somehow charming collection of not very much at all.

As I walked back towards our parked RV, past several residents had come out to take a look at it as if an alien spaceship had crash landed in their town, I had a huge smile that lasted the rest of the day.

What is Chugwater famous for, apart from its chilli? Probably not a whole lot. What do its residents do, apart from drink at the soda fountain, work in the petrol station and fill their front yards with car wrecks? Probably not a whole lot. But I loved it.

This was the America that I came to see. If I could have bought a Chugwater souvenir t-shirt, I would have. Maybe it would have read My Dad went to Chugwater and all he brought me back was this lousy chilli.

God bless you Chugwater, you made my day.

By Andy Clarke

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What a wonderful sign that is, the colors, the weathering. It almost looks intentional.

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