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Core Samples

"And in the good days coming, when John Barleycorn will have been banished out of existence along with the other barbarisms, some other institution than the saloon will have to obtain some other congregating place of men where strange men and stranger men may get in touch, and meet, and know."

-Jack London

In the sense that there is a profound absence of light, it is a dark place — even for a watering hole. And it is during those times when absolutely nothing but darkness will do that the attraction becomes an obsession and hitting the trail becomes the only option. It’s a border crossing feeling and, once the state line recedes in your rear-view mirror, a state of tranquility spreads across your windshield.

Outside the saloon it’s just you and the cold and a breeze that turns up your collar — and then there’s that ever-so-slowly-waxing crescent moon that stops you dead in your tracks. Overhead there are "line spaces" that snow clouds will fill-in by the time you amble out, so you stand for a spell, gazin’ upward in wonder.

It’s funny how the slightest misalignment of neck upon pillow can bring about day-long discomfort, but that standing with feet apart and head tossed back staring at a Wyoming night sky induces nothing more than thirst. Especially when you’re construing constellations and the stars are hiding out. It’s like interpreting a poem with only the vowels to guide you.

The organic landscape out front where pronghorns play and habitués park their pick-ups has its accumulated snowfall interrupted mostly by rubber tire and boot tracks. Imprint analysis also shows that not only snowplows, but black bears, burrowing owls and the quite illusive swift fox have also been boycotting this habitat.

Moseyin’ through the door that’s been swung open so many times before is like steppin’ from the Old West into an older West. Even the dust creaks. There is an instant sense of familiarity, however. Both bar and barkeep are in exactly the same state of polish that you left them last time through.

With books and bottles stacked everywhere, it’s the kind of place where the wandering pilgrim can get cultured and crocked and call it multitasking. There’s a bunch of history in these parts, of course, that can be dissected and picked through and, when the discussions begin to border on the academic or the contrary, well, there’s always red-eye, rotgut, and swill to add perspective.

Not that the savage beasts are ever in need of soothing, mind you, but seldom do seekers of the unholy grails cloistered within this roadhouse arrive who are not totally capable of holding their own during one of these intellectual rodeos. So it follows that with the maximum saddle occupancy being what it is, every now and then, due to one gravitational malfunction or another, one gets bucked-off a barstool.

As they were back in the day, they are acolytes of Stan-the-proprietor and they wear the cachet of time spent within his aura upon their sleeve as they bound through the door. The fact that they can include such high-modernist-slumming on their itinerary for the eve of the Eve cloaks them in both eminence and warmth.

A cathedral and a monument to some of the more interesting events the past two centuries have had to offer, that’s Pete’s Roc N Rye, the sanctuary in question. Eye candy in the form of wall hangings covers the interior, inviting curiosity and comment and, oftentimes, consternation. Art, by definition, confronts.

There, that picture on the wall near the door past the bar — the one of Indian women sitting around playing cards in 1869 near the mouth of Echo Canyon. That image was taken by A. J. Russell while documenting the Union Pacific leg of the Transcontinental Railroad between Laramie and Promontory Summit.

Had Stan’s joint been in operation at the time, possibly the photo-op might have gone missing. As might the one from the end of Russell’s trek — the making of what would become one of the most famous photographs in American history — that of the "Joining of the Rails" with steam locomotives from the Union Pacific and Central Pacific pulled nose-to-nose at Promontory.

To put this time frame in context, it would be only two weeks later that Major John Wesley Powell and his crew would disembark from Green River on the first of his two expeditions to investigate "terra incognita" along the Green and Colorado Rivers and into the Grand Canyon. The way they navigated, you would have thought they had maxed-out their weekend bar tab at the Roc N Rye before shoving off.

The evening wore on with chunks of music and politics being added to a gumbo already thick with literature, art, horseflesh and Scotch. Then the darkness took on the perfectly melancholy glow of a wolf-howlin’ campfire. We may have been sequestered within walls, but at our end of the bar, it was open range.

Park City stories were a dime-a-dozen. They’d seen Taj Mahal as a solo act keepin’ the dance floor packed at the old Cowboy Bar. And they’d also caught John Prine and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott on that now-legendary evening at the Egyptian Theatre. They’re as hip to the town and its changes through the years as us locals. They, too, knew it when it was special.

The absence of light remained profound, yet elegant. The stretches of silence kept pace. Around this fire, there was no need to fill verbal voids. The comfort zone overwhelmed as, once again, Stan’s mental-health spa had worked its magic, gently massaging the minds and spirits of strange men and stranger men. London would have loved it.

Outside, the cold glistened with impending snow while the Scotch continued to warm. The clouds were in place as the breeze blew softly. The poem, now without words of any kind to lean upon, had become a blues-harp moan. It spoke of a room with a bed looming just down the road.

The wind died and the night became silent and peaceful. There may have been an echo of a star set to rise in the eastern sky the following night. No doubt, it would shine brightly upon both sides of the border.


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