- The Washington Times - Friday, September 24, 2004

BUFORD, Wyo. — At 8,000 feet above sea level, this little town is not only the highest community on Interstate 80 between New York and San Francisco, but, perched as it is along a notorious white-

knuckle stretch of road, it may also be the one travelers are most grateful for.

Once a railroad town with 2,000 residents, Buford is a shadow of its former self. But its convenience store, recently rebuilt after burning to the ground a year ago, still beckons winter travelers wrung out from blinding blizzards, and it looms like an oasis for summer motorists who failed to check their fuel gauges or appetites before leaving Laramie or Cheyenne.

Buford sits on the high plains of southeast Wyoming along a stretch with few other signs of civilization for 50 miles, where the highway can quickly become glare ice and snow driven by 70 mph winds can obscure everything but the dashboard.

Don Sammons, owner of the Buford Trading Post, has seen the wind blow out windows on cars parked at the pumps. He once operated a towing service, a lucrative business when it’s time to rescue the countless motorists from winter storms.

Because Buford has no motel, many stranded travelers over the years spent the night in Mr. Sammons’ home. No one ever complained about sleeping on the floor.

“They were just happy that it was warm,” Mr. Sammons said.

On a recent summer day, a trio of 60-ish tourists from Louisiana pulled up and barraged him with questions.

“Why do you have that funny-looking fence by the side of the road?” a woman asked.

“Those are bleachers, so the wildlife can sit and watch the cars go by,” Mr. Sammons told her.

“Really?” the woman asked, somewhat disbelieving.

Eventually, Mr. Sammons explained the theory behind snow fences, designed to force moisture-laden air to drop snow next to the fence instead of drifting on the highway.

“How cold does it get here?” another visitor asked.

“Forty-two below,” Mr. Sammons answered, drawing gasps.

Mr. Sammons, 53, a transplanted Californian, wouldn’t want it any other way. He fell in love with Wyoming’s wide-open spaces, sparseness of population, abundant wildlife, even its capricious weather, while driving a moving van across the country.

“I had a young boy, and I wanted to get off the road and spend more time with him,” he said. “I always liked this area, and one day, I decided to move.”

He bought a home near Buford in 1980, purchased the store 12 years later and settled in with his family to enjoy the Western landscape and lifestyle.

Prairie dogs skitter a few feet from his front door. He often sees deer, elk and fox, and occasionally lynx. Mountain lions roam the nearby Laramie Range, a rounded-off evergreen-pocked ridge to the west.

To the north lie the odd-shaped granite formations known as Vedauwoo, a popular climbing and picnic spot, and to the south looms Colorado’s Mummy Range and 14,255-foot Longs Peak.

Though pastoral, Buford certainly is not quiet. Semitrailers roar down the highway a few hundred feet from the store.

“You tend to ignore it, just like the trains back here,” Mr. Sammons said, nodding to the tracks 200 yards to the south on one of the busiest Union Pacific lines in the country.

As traffic picks up, so does business, which had been good in Buford — until last year. Then, at 1 a.m. on Aug. 18, a trucker banged on Mr. Sammons’ door to inform him that his store was on fire. Lightning caused the blaze, which destroyed the structure.

“I lost everything,” he said.

In November, a heart attack put him in the hospital for three days.

A friend talked him into rebuilding the store but leasing it to someone else so he could “semi-retire.”

Placed at a different angle and with a steeper roof, the new store opened June 25.

“We changed it so it was more pleasant to come in the front door, so the wind wasn’t beating you to death,” he said.

Mr. Sammons retained the rustic log style for the new building, which his lessee, Dean Daywitt, has stocked with Western goods and souvenirs.

“We’re mainly an Indian store,” Mr. Daywitt said.

Indeed, besides the usual array of beef jerky, chips and soft drinks, one can find American Indian-style souvenirs — peace pipes, mandalas, dream catchers, blankets, pottery and jewelry.

Although the store was closed nearly a year, business is returning. “Once we got the state signs up, and now I have my billboards, it’s picking up,” Mr. Daywitt said. “Don had a real good business here before it burned down.”

• • •

Buford Trading Post: 2 Buford Road, Buford, Wyo.; 307/632-3999. Located off of Interstate 80’s Exit 335, about a half-hour drive from Laramie or Cheyenne.

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