A couple of summers ago I was headed into Utah on my bike Angus, taking a back road down from Burley, Idaho, which runs way west of the Interstate I was on. I was being chased by a summer thunderstorm when I came across an abandoned cabin out in the sage and scrub. I stopped to photograph it for my "Western Storms" series and it has proven to be one of my favorite and best selling images.
There ahead of me was the little cabin -- a dark dot in a blinding white landscape with no line marking the boundary between the earth and sky. The wind was blowing and it was 15 or so degrees so I bundled up and trudged over, walking around a few times and taking a number of shots. If it were possible the little cabin seemed even more desolate, more remote, and more foreboding than before. I can't even imagine living here in this remotest corner of Utah back when the original rancher or homesteader built this structure so many years ago -- how lonely and cold it must have been.
Mollie's sits at the only intersection in Snowville. Lord knows how long it's been there. The mini-van crowd on I-84 doesn't venture beyond the safety of the McDonalds at the truckstop if they stop in town at all. But the ranchers who live in this desolate remote corner of Utah all come in, their 4x4 pickups parked outside like cowboys used to tie up horses in front of the saloon.
The food was good as expected and Beth came by and asked how I was. We got to talking about life in this remote corner of the Intermountain West and working at this little cafe. She said she was born in Snowville and went away for a few years to Logan, Utah. I guess its a matter of perspective but to her Logan was a big city. It's home to Utah State University but has a population of under 50,000. She said she felt like a "number" in Logan -- just another person. But in Snowville she said, "it's family. I know everyone, they know me and if I'm sick or don't come into work, someone will check and see how I am." About that time one of the ranchers had finished up and needed to pay his check and so she excused herself to take care of him, and then she hollered at me from down the counter "you want some Chocolate Cream Pie, Jack just baked one?" "Don't have to twist my arm" I said.
She came back with the pie and sat down. I asked her how business was. "Mollie retired, and sold it to Jack this summer, he's back there cooking, and business is great. Other than the truck stop we are the only game in town and our customers love us." "I can see why" I said. I told her that I'd photographed her place before and showed her some shots I'd taken of the cafe and the area from my phone. I said I passed by a few times a year but this is the first time I'd come in. "It better not be the last" she said. I assured her it wouldn't be.
By then it was 3pm and I was the only customer there. The snow had stopped and the sky cleared as the sun started its early afternoon descent as it does this time of year. A song by Don Williams called "Maggie's Dream" kept running through my mind. It's about a waitress who spends her life working at a diner outside of Ashville, NC, dreaming about what's down the road but never going. "The mountains around Ashville, she's never seen the other side, she's closer now to 50 than to 40...when the business starts to slow down she plays the saddest tunes and stares off down the highway and wonders where it goes, with nobody to go home to and it's almost time to close." I left a $20 on the table for a $9 meal and a slice of wonderful chocolate pie that she didn't put on the tab. "Merry Christmas" I said as I put my heavy coat back on "Merry Christmas -- drive safe and come back again!" Beth called as the bells on the door jangled as I opened it and stepped out into the cold.
Looking both ways down the street there wasn't a single vehicle to be seen. The wind was blowing and it was 20 or so degrees. I climbed into the truck and headed towards the Interstate, turned left and onto the eastbound on ramp and headed up over the hills outside Snowville and out of this remotest corner of Utah and down the highway towards my hometown and my family -- Snowville and the neon lights of Mollie's receding in my rear view mirror. Just another person drifting down the Interstate into a big city. Although unlike Maggie, the waitress in the song, Beth doesn't seem to stare off down the highway wondering where it goes, she's gone and returned to her diner and is quite content there. And me? I still play the sad songs and stare off down the highway and wonder where it goes. And I've seen the other side of the mountains too. I'm home on either side, as well as on the road. I'm lucky.