Thursday, June 11, 2009
The Extinction of Another Dinosaur
4 June 2009
Years ago 1,200 people lived in Dinosaur, Colorado, though someone in town told me it was as high as 8,100. Just over 300 people live here today in Colorado’s westernmost town—only three miles from the Utah border. Up until 1966, the town was named Artesia, but changed to Dinosaur— hoping to capitalize on its proximity to nearby Dinosaur National Monument.
According to the Colorado Historical Society: In addition to oil, the Rangely Field rigs dredged up a sense of Colorado's gold-rush past. The drilling frenzy of 1945 brought a torrent of fortune seekers, quite a few of them cruder than the oil itself. Many landed in Artesia, a brand-new supply center twenty miles north of Rangely. Within a year of its founding in 1945, the community had 1,200 residents and seventy businesses. The high-octane boom could not last forever, of course; in 1965, its population down to 400, Artesia changed its name to Dinosaur and began serving visitors to the nearby national monument. The 1980s brought another growth industry—oil shale—and another surge of new residents, but by the 1990s Dinosaur was once again fighting to stave off extinction.
In the past three years, the local kids have attended an on-line school. Sadly, there are no athletic teams in Dinosaur either. Think of the unique mascot name possibilities for a town called Dinosaur that remain idle now. If any kids want a setting within a traditional education system, they travel 18 miles to nearby Rangely, Colorado—an ugly company town surrounded by oil and gas rigs and all of its residual junk strewn about haphazardly.
For $13 I slept on the ground in my tent at the quiet RV park. I dreamed of my cousin Ricky whom I haven’t seen since I was a teenager. He had returned to take over his brother Ronny’s business following his death.
Everything is for sale in Dinosaur—old motels, restaurants, stores, etc. and many of the streets have dinosaur names like Triceratops Terrace and Brontosaurus Boulevard.
Several old-timers visit one of the local restaurants in town—the B&B. It’s typical small-town talk: something about someone’s dog, high gas prices, winning the lottery, today’s crossword puzzle, health issues, hard-luck-son-of-a-bitch stories, hunting, and fishing—all with the rasp of a smoker’s voice.
Nowadays they go outside to smoke. A picnic table is provided near the front door. A few years ago they must have smoked freely inside the restaurant. I bet they despise these new anti-smoking laws. I can understand their perspective, but I’m thankful I don’t have to breath cigarette smoke while I have my pancakes and bacon—I did plenty of that when I was growing up. It seems like anyone of them could drop dead in the next year—perhaps I should include myself even if it seems more unlikely.
I wonder now, is this a part of America that is disappearing? Is the gathering of old folk in the local diners of America on the brink of collapse? Despite my less-than-complimentary observations, I feel lucky to come across this sight—life beyond the internet, shopping malls and posers living in à la mode towns like Jackson, Telluride or Moab.
I’ll take Dinosaur any day.