By Joel Warner
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By Alan Prendergast
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Two dinosaurs stand across the street from the Dinosaur Loaf 'n' Jug, conveniently located on Brontosaurus Avenue. Just west is Terrace Liquors, where Greyhound passengers fear to tread.
"Unless they come in asking for water," says owner Debbie Morrill. "Otherwise, it's a no-no." Even the Loaf 'n' Jug can be something of a no-no -- Greyhound passengers are only allowed in five at a time, for fear of petty thievery. The store is almost always crowded with shift workers from the nearby Desiderata Coal Mine, and the clerks can't keep their eye on everyone, particularly not people from who knows where. Today's sale isn't hurting business, either: three cans of Skoal or Copenhagen at $3.33 each, provided you buy three.
"They're bombarded," Morrill says. "They make a lot of money off that bus. Imagine giving up on Highway 40! It will put a crimp on us all."
According to Morrill's quick and dirty summary of her home town, Dinosaur has a population of about 200, a town hall and a county building, a liquor store and two convenience stores. "A lot of people here don't have a car, which doesn't sound right, but it is," she says. "If a car breaks down around here and it's gonna cost a thousand dollars, well, some of our people wouldn't see a thousand dollars in three months. I like it because it's quiet and because a lot of neat people pass through."
Specifically, by bus. Morrill has met visitors from as far away as Japan, who've come to the town closest to the entrance to Dinosaur National Park. There's also the occasional recently released prisoner, the student from Colorado Northwest Community College in Rangely, a transient. "'Transient' may not be the right term," Morrill decides, "but someone who's working just enough to get to the next town. Odd jobs, then they catch the bus and head on. I know an older lady across the border in Utah who just loves to ride the bus."
"From Vernal all the way to Denver," confirms Stella Beacham of Jensen, Utah. "I had a tumor on my optic nerve, and I am not a candidate to drive real well. Besides," she says, with the same relish a seasoned trekker uses to describe conditions at the Everest base camp, "the road is always real bad from Dinosaur to Craig. The drivers won't let you distract them then because of that long, flat spot. It gets real icy and snowy and bad."
To pass the time, Beacham entertains other passengers. She points out wildlife and provides snippets of local history. Yet she is gracious when a driver decides to upstage her by telling "a little story or something," she says. Many of the drivers are pleasant, she says, but once in a while she gets a cranky one.
"I'm a smoker," she says, "and I got out of the bus to smoke, and I guess I wasn't far enough away. Me and that driver had a run-in. Then he got after some poor woman whose baby was crying. Another driver was giving us a little tour of Denver at Christmas time, and he told me I was looking out the wrong window! He told me I didn't know my right hand from my left! I wrote a complaint about that."
Despite such concerns, Beacham will miss her bus trips. "Especially the visiting with other passengers," she says. "I've never had any trouble, and it's all so different than here, where I was raised. I've even met people from Mississippi! I kind of enjoy talking to the black people, too, because there's none here."
Beacham will not make her annual Thanksgiving trip to Denver, not unless her optic nerve clears up or someone offers to give her a ride. She can't argue with Greyhound's economics, but she reserves the right to be disappointed.
"I'd been planning for it," she says. "I was excited. It was all so interesting and different. It's been an enjoyment to me all these years."