It was summer; the fields to my sides are dried and yellow with broken patches of low scrub and brush, the earth hard and rusted. A road drove east for a good while, and then wound its way up a low hill as it set its sights in a more southern direction. I was coming up and around this curve when I recognized where I was. I was just outside Price, just beyond the city whose sole excuse for existence was to tag speeders driving between Salt Lake and Grand Junction, and at the head of an hour and a half of the most beautifully desolate desert drive in Southern Utah.
To call Price the speed trap capital of Utah is a bit unfair. The real city worthy of this distinction is actually just south of Price: the township of Wellington. Nothing around Wellington is clearly or well-labeled, so it is not surprising that most visitors miss the subtle transition in communities. This is by design, I am sure, it is part of the nature of this municipality and how it deals with its visitors.
The main drag through town– Highway 191– is a straight-arrow shot, bearing due east when it enters the city limits from Price. The road is two lanes in each direction, well shaded from giant, hundred year old oaks. There are no stop lights, there are none needed in this town of sixteen hundred. Some of the residents work in the nearby coal mines, most commute up to Price for employment; those that actually work in Wellington you could count on two hands. The town has two gas stations, a couple of fast food stands, a library, the post office, and a police officer. One very hard working officer; more about him later.
As you might imagine, Wellington is nothing more than a quick blink and a blur at sixty miles per hour. The Wellingtonites do not take well to being so easily overlooked; they would prefer you to stop and smell the Wellington roses. More than anything else, they would love to keep some of that beautiful out of town money in their citizens’ pockets or in their city’s coffers.
Thus, each side of town has one name brand fast food franchise (strangely, there are no McDonalds). As a traveler, you would be well advised to take a break here. The road to Green River has no other stops for the next hundred or so miles. If you do not take advantage of the Wellington facilities, you might well be protecting your dignity by ducking behind a very small bush to the side of 191 in a half-hour or so; Wellington really is the last outpost on the very desolate route ahead.
The powers that be in Wellington are not content to just let you choose to stop there; they have a well-worn plan to make you spend a little time– and more than a few dollars– in their town. Remember that “You Are Entering Wellington” sign I told you about, that was so hard to see? Just behind it, and equally inconspicuous, is the sign that changes speeds from the highways’ normal 65 mph to the Wellington dictated 35 mph.
There is nothing wrong with lowering a speed zone when a highway goes through a populated area. In fact, it is common in the smaller towns that have a busy highway bisecting their little burgs. Perhaps this model was based on the example of the mother road, Route 66, and perhaps it is just good practice for us to slow down and notice the smaller towns around us. But Wellington does it a bit different, and with wholly different intent and outcome. No slow down zone, no warning that speeds are going down, just an abrupt drastic drop in speeds, enforceable immediately.
Those immense oaks that line the main street, with their copious branches heavy with cool, dark leaves have a second purpose to the city beyond the shade they provide. Their substantial trunks are well suited to screening the Wellington squad car from the approaching, unsuspecting vehicles.
When you get to the other side, outside the town proper and past the furthest reach of the shadows of the giant oaks, the sky opens up and the buildings fall away. But you are still not safe; in fact, you are in more jeopardy here. The broad horizons make you feel you are safely out of the grip of the town, but Wellington has one last surprise for you. They have annexed the land around the highway for a mile clear of the east edge of town, and they enforce their limited speeds for that whole mile. There is no legitimate claim to keeping the speeds slow here, this last mile is more rural than Aunt Bee’s south forty. Wilmington either feels the need to keep the speeds here to a safe 35 mph, just in case the town was to magically to extend east overnight, or is trying to trick you into contributing to their police benevolent fund.
I have never driven through that town without seeing its hardest working citizen out practicing his profession. For Wellington’s lone law enforcement officer, it must be like shooting fish in a barrel. All the odds are in his favor, all the circumstances bent to his advantage. If it were legal to collect fines at the time of the infraction, I am sure they would do that, too. After all, other than this and taxes from the fast food joints, Wellington has no income.
I have been lucky in my limited exposure to Wellington; I have a good eye for spotting speed traps. They have not caught me yet, but I am also wary when I drive through the town. And when I saw that curve in the road ahead in my dream last night, I knew where I was. And I knew I was safe from Wellington, too. That hill and that curve mark the start of the open road again, and means that once more, I have held my own against Wellingtons finest.