That’s Dubois, Wyoming, pronounced as “Dew Boys,” emphasis on the dew.
Born in the 1960s, I was a little too young to enjoy the era of television westerns. The 1950s and 60s were thick with them, but the only one I watched was Bonanza. Oh, those handsome Cartwrights, riding and fighting and oh so unlucky in love. And The Big Valley, with the equally handsome Barkleys, and the strong, tough Victoria Barkley, as played by Barbara Stanwyck. It was a pretty limiting look at the old west. My family never traveled much father west than the Mississippi River, so my view of the modern west was non-existent, too.
As I write this, Jim and I are in Dubois, Wyoming. Dew Boys. It’s a convenient stop on our route back to Iowa, after several days in and around Yellowstone National Park. (Yellowstone is breath-taking, and so postcard-perfect that parts almost look fake.) Dubois shows a slice of the west that is both unique and typical of this hard-living part of the country.
Surrounded by national forest, national parks, and national wilderness, the town represents some of the small portion of Wyoming that is owned privately rather than by the government. It serves and survives on the summer tourist trade as they move into and out of the parks. Several establishments provide lodging, while others dish up food, alcohol, or art.
hotel motel is long and low, settled on the highway for decades, across the street from the Wells Fargo bank. Guarding the driveway is a giant black bear, at least twelve feet from snout to tail. The owner’s son told us the bear has always been there, at least since his grandparents owned the place. It’s a remnant of other days, along with the jackalope, the giant steer skull, and a huge trout hanging at the other end of town.
Speaking of hanging, the gallows loom above the main street, tucked behind a bar and on the side of a cliff. I doubt it’s used anymore.
The town’s population swells from a few hundred in the winter to about five thousand in the summer. All the lodging is fully booked through July and August. One of the motels boasts 100% customer satisfaction, at least since Tuesday. Today is Tuesday. Perhaps it’s a whole week of satisfaction. Perhaps just today.
Restaurants are already working at full capacity. The Cowboy Cafe, where we had dinner, makes a mean plate of fish and chips. They don’t call it that, though. It’s “Pubhouse Cod and Fries.” After talking with the motel owner’s son, I wonder why we didn’t have trout for dinner. The fast-running Wind River at the back of the property supports fly-fishing guides and supply shops across the area.
After our dinner we walked a few more blocks across wood plank sidewalks to the liquor store. (It turns out a small bottle of Jose Cuervo is just enough for two of us to have two short shots each.) On our way back, rain started to spit and the wind came up. As we looked over the mountain, a thick curtain of rain hung from the clouds. Our bare legs stung as the wind blew dust against them. But by 8:15, when the motel has S’mores and a campfire out back, the clouds were gone and the bats came out.
We sat for about an hour around the campfire, visiting with another couple and the owner’s son. The bats swung through the trees, their swift bodies in silhouette against the evening’s solstice light. According to the young man, the bats control the mosquito population, so they never have problems with the mosquitoes there, even next to the river.
Dew boys are not cowboys, but cowboys can be found all over town. Metal and wooden cut-outs of cowboys decorate numerous businesses. Friday nights mean rodeo, and rodeo means cowboys. And Tuesdays are for square dancing, the genteel part of the cowboy’s repertoire. We opted out of the dancing. Instead we returned to our motel room and joined the bears. There is a bear on our bed, a bear in the bathroom, a bear on the desk, and a bear on the table next to me. We have a glut of bears. What we don’t have is hot water.
A cold wash of the face is enough for tonight. Tomorrow’s drive should get us to another town, another motel or hotel, another opportunity to meet the west. It isn’t the Cartwright’s west, and it isn’t the Barkley’s. It’s our west. It survives and sometimes even thrives. It’s a little too realistic to be pretty. And it’s unlike Yellowstone, which is a little too pretty to be realistic.
If your only experience with the west is 1950s westerns, or time in the national parks, venture out. Spend some time in the towns. Talk to people who live and work there. See the real west. Meet the Dew Boys.