I woke early and found the sun prying apart the curtains of our sleeping room. Peering outside, I saw first light scouring the town of Gillette, Wyoming. Big trucks and a single motorcycle hummed westward on the nearby interstate.
Gillette is burrowed into the Powder River Basin. The basin is comprised of red and white hills carved by hard seasons and rain that falls hard when it comes. Here—halfway between the Big Horn Mountains and the Black Hills—badlands and grasslands try to mix together and end up looking like stacks of Neapolitan ice cream.
This is big oil and big coal country.
The economy is boom and bust.
Driven by energy markets, the town of Gillette saw a booming economy in the 1960s, the 1970s and again in the 2000s. During each of these boom cycles, the town essentially doubled in size overnight. Some of my friends came here to work in the 1970s. My nephew is here now.
In the 1970s, a psychologist named ElDean Kohrs explored something he called the Gillette Syndrome. The Gillette Syndrome describes what happens socially in boom towns such as Gillette during the boom cycles. It’s not all good.
Money and opportunity: yes
But comes with boom these: drifters and crime, artificially high cost of living, schisms in the established social fabric. Eventually, as is occurring now, the energy market changes and the boom economy retracts. People begin leaving again.
All that said, Gillette is a decent town surrounded by painted hills. Nothing wrong with that.