I had the opportunity to send a real nice day with my friend who grew up in this region and now sells real estate. She knows a lot about all the little places around here. We began the day at a local art in the park festival which was a lot of fun, but then we had to hit to road so she could show some property to clients. We spent the rest of the day in Sundance, Wyoming. We got to explore the place quite a bit because her clients were scheduled more than two hours apart.
I had been to Sundance before because it's one of the possible gateways to Devil's Tower. For what I remembered, I had not been particularly impressed. But I came away thinking a little better of the place this time. It's bigger than I had thought and has more "stuff" in it than I realized.
Sundance was founded as a stage stop. The historical outlaw Sundance Kid spent some months in the local jail there and later decided to take (or was given) the name of the town as his nickname. We did not see any evidence of the railroad in town, but surely it must have come through there. Must have been something in between the stage coaches and I-90.
A lot of the county is federal land, forest service or BLM, plus the National Monument (Devil's Tower). The map shows the county is checker boarded with squares of federal, state and private lands. It's considered part of the Black Hills, just in Wyoming, not South Dakota. Many paces have drop dead gorgeous views of Sundance Mountain and the surrounding plains to the south. Sundance has plenty of big, big, sky.
Sundance ought to have stuff in it because even though the population is only around 1,100 people, it's the county seat and the only town of any size in the whole of Crook County. So you can find a full service hospital, a clinic, a dentist, a mental health center, a family crisis center, a senior center, a library along with the county courthouse and administrative building. (The city and schools also had admin buildings). We saw a couple of nursing homes / senior living places.
We found these churches: Catholic, Mormon, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal, Christian, Community. There are probably a couple more Christian ones, but I doubt that we missed a Jewish synagogue or a mosque.
The town has a full service IGA grocery store. There are a few gas stations /C-stores, a liquor store, a couple of auto parts stores, a flower & gift shop, a decent sized hardware store and a small drug store. There was a implement dealer just outside of town. I saw some people selling a few used cars, but no auto dealers.
There are 3 real estate offices. Locals run these kinds of businesses: hair salons, a fitness center, meat processing, photography, chiropractic care, printing & copying, law, accounting, insurance, construction, tree care, auto repair, funeral services. There is a local newspaper, radio station and a local bank. There are several motels ... it's right off I-90 so I'm sure they get a lot of weary travelers.
There were a couple of bars plus the VFW, a Subway sandwich shop, an ice cream and hot dog local seasonal drive in, and 2, perhaps 3, other restaurants (it wasn't clear of one was still in business or not). The C-store clerk highly recommended Etta's Fine Dining. I did not see a specialty pizza shop ... I guess you get pizza from the C-stores.
There is a nice, pretty new, Harley gear shop and two art galleries which were both closed, but clearly had things to see inside. And there was local coffee shop...the espresso kind... that also rented videos.
Dish Network is clearly how people stay in touch with the rest of the world. Everyone had the little satellite receivers on their buildings.
Sundance has the three levels of schools plus a building labeled "Beartooth High School" which must be some kind of private school. There is a 4-H center, a rodeo arena and very nice little city park. There are no theaters now, and we didn't notice any buildings that clearly looked like "used to be theaters" but I imagine back in the first half of the 20th century there must have been one. We did not see a cemetery, but there must be one some place.
We saw only two remaining, beautiful, old, local sandstone buildings. One was an old school and there are efforts to turn it into a museum and community center. The coffee shop sold tee shirts that said "I'm an Old Stoner" which support thee effort to save the old stone building. I hope they are successful because the building is just grand and well worth saving.
The whole town was very quiet. If you don't count the people attending a rodeo that afternoon, we saw almost no one outside doing anything. No one was out walking, no one was doing yard work. There were only a couple of cars parked near the downtown stores. I kept wondering, where are the people? Have they all been captured somehow by close encounters? Or maybe Dish Network has them all totally enthralled. (maybe Dish Network is how we have close encounters these days without realizing it. Maybe Dish Network is part of the evil plot from our new masters from other worlds.)
The house we showed to the clients was in an interesting location about 7 miles out of town. It was a decommissioned Air Force radar station (Sundance Air Force Radar Station, known for being the first totally nuclear powered radar station). It was a teeny, tiny Air Force base. I didn't know there were such things, but once my friend told me what it was, I could see it clearly because it was totally that Cold War style of federal architecture.
The houses were all small and had the same floor plan. Over time under civilian ownership, the outside appearances had changed a lot, but you could still see the bones. And when I went inside the house for sale, it was deja vu for reservation housing...I recognized everything. There were also a few common buildings in the development...one story offices, a two story either single enlisted men's quarters or possibly a BOQ, a community building which probably housed a mess, rec rooms, meeting rooms and maybe a chapel, buildings for vehicles and equipment.
The actual radar station was some ways away from the living area. It's supposed to be all gone, but still has a chain link fence all around it that says something like "federal property, keep out." The nuclear generator was portable, so presumably it did not contaminate the land, but really, who knows?
So, as I always do when I visit a new place, I asked myself, if life took me here, how would I feel about making Sundance my home? I don't think I would pursue it, but I think I could live there. The setting is drop dead gorgeous. The actual town has the basic stuff a person needs for ordinary living and working. It's clean and safe. There were nice homes (and some not so nice, of course. There didn't seem to be much zoning.) You could walk everywhere you needed to. Bicycling would be easy on deserted, wide, not very hilly streets. There's Dish Network. Cell phones work. I-90 eventually connects to everywhere. Bigger places like Spearfish and Rapid City are really not very far away. You can get public radio. All the different trucks deliver there. I could wear an "Old Stoner" tee shirt.
But I would be a spinster blue lady in that red town. How many others eat tofu, do Zen meditation & tai chi, walk, avoid driving, always recycle, save electricity and water, despair over global climate change, want lots of gun control, and vote for Obama happily? Whom would I talk to? Who would be my friends? Possibly I would stand out so much that the five other people there already like me would find me in a heart beat after I arrived in town. It could work.