It’s one of those pit stops along Interstate 70 where tour buses stop just long enough for passengers to stretch their legs and empty their bladders. Tourists waiting impatiently in line to use the rest room look around and ask, “Is this where Aron Ralston cut off his arm with a pocketknife?” Then they reboard the bus and move on to wherever it is they’re headed, unaware of all there is to do in Green River, Utah, besides sawing one’s arm off with a pocketknife.
For instance, Green River is the home of a small colony of artists and architectural designers known as The Epicenter. Painted on one side of the building that serves as The Epicenter’s headquarters are the words YOU ARE HERE. But when I was there yesterday, no one else was. In front of the building stood a portable table laid with brochures, booklets and postcards and a jar chockfull of currency. Checking my watch, I realized it was lunchtime, and so I moved on to the Chow Hound, where a burger with tater tots set me back seven dollars. Next stop was Durham’s Melon Stand, where two small watermelons, one honeydew and a canary melon came to exactly five dollars.
Why are all prices in Green River rounded off to the nearest dollar? Probably because the most impressive building in town, The Bank, has been shuttered for years. If you live in a town without a bank, making change becomes a problem. In fact, if you live in Green River, making money of any kind is a problem—just look at all the boarded-up businesses and derelict motels along the main drag. Here and there you see evidence of previous economic booms: radioactive uranium tailings from the Nineteen Fifties, remnants of a missile launching base from the Nineteen Sixties. The town’s premier tourist attraction, an exploratory gas well known as Crystal Geyser, has been losing water pressure for years. About the only local industry not in decline is melon-farming. No one should ever leave Green River without at least one cantaloupe in the cooler.
But I WAS THERE last weekend not to shop for melons but to check out Steve Badgett’s amazing pyramid pontoon boat. His girlfriend in Chicago had given me a cell phone number I could call; however, when I called it, I was informed that the number is no longer in service. So it took me awhile to track down Steve, who’d been camping in a riverside tamarisk thicket “along with the rabbits.” He was dressed, appropriately, as Bob Denver, star of Gilligan’s Isle. “A three hour tour, a three hour tour…” he hummed as he hauled anchor.
Badgett’s innovative watercraft was just one of several installations on display. Another was an array of chairs and a sofa overlooking the non-erupting Crystal Geyser. However, at the time I hadn’t realized the chairs constituted a work of art, because works of art in and around Green River aren’t labeled as such. Instead, you just happen upon them, and because there is no informative literature to tell you what it means, you have to figure out for yourself what it means. If nothing else, you should be surprised. And delighted, as I am, to know there are people in this world who create wonderful things out in the middle of nowhere, just for the fun of it.