A Nest In The West

Every second of travel comes down to a decision—to stop and get out of the car, or to carry on, foot pressed hard on the pedal, to the destination we first had in mind.

I was doing fifty when I saw the small cabin at the edge of the road, prim and square, with windows like eyes that watched the highway. Route 89 follows the Salt River in a straight line along the Wyoming-Idaho border, through brown ranches and a handful of small towns that pop up every ten miles. Each sign that tells me everything I need to know: Thayne, population 356; Grover, pop. 147.

Only in Etna, pop. 164, did I slow down and swing back around in huge U-turn, parking next to the tiny cabin at the side of the road. The old door was painted a dull grey-blue that matched the stern skies. Spots of rain flicked down and the wind seemed to make everything creak just a little.

Rusted horse trailers, half-collapsed barns, and RV’s with missing windows and wishful For Sale signs—all this junk jittered in the wind, while the land itself sat silent and autumnal, brown and yellow but for the black cows that peppered the hillsides.

Baker Cabin, built in 1889 by Alonzo and Anna Baker, the oldest standing building in Star Valley, Wyoming. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)
Baker Cabin, built in 1889 by Alonzo and Anna Baker, the oldest standing building in Star Valley, Wyoming. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

I forget if it was a funeral parlor or the hardware store whose plastic-lettered sign read, “STAR VALLEY: A WONDERFUL PLACE TO LIVE.” Aside from the horses that hugged the fences, I had yet to meet a living soul out here in Wyoming’s far western fringe, but standing in front of the tiny cabin in Etna, I heard a voice call out at me.

Lloyd Baker, age 102, born and raised in Star Valley, Wyoming. His grandparents were among the first European settlers in the area. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)
Lloyd Baker, age 102, born and raised in Star Valley, Wyoming. His grandparents were among the first European settlers in the area. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

The man wore red flannel and sat in the front sat of his car, engine running.

“Excuse me?” I approached his window, asking him to repeat his question. He was an older man, with the whitest finest angel hair and a face as weathered as the valley itself.

“I said,” he barked, “Do you need any help?” and he stretched his neck towards me for a better look.

“Oh no,” I smiled, “I’m just looking at this cabin here,” I replied and pointed back to the small and solid log structure.

“Oh yeah?” he smiled back, “That’s my cabin—I was born here.”

“Really? You were born inside this cabin?” And with the engine still running, the old white-haired man told me the story of his grandparents, Anna and Alonzo Baker, who came to Star Valley with a herd of dairy cattle in 1887. Two years later, they built the two-room cabin, which remains the oldest permanent building in the valley. With only two rooms, the frontier couple raised twelve children—their son William had eight children, one of whom was Lloyd.

“Lloyd—Lloyd Baker,” the man introduced himself, and we shook hands through the car window.

“Do you remember your grandparents at all?” I asked him, excited for this living link to the valley’s first settlers.

“No—Grandma died before 1900, and I was only born in 1911, so I never met her,” he explained, but I was already guessing his age.

“Wait—You’re 102 years old?”

“Yep,” he quipped, as if this was no big deal at all, and then he reached in his pocket for a business card to show me: Lloyd A. Baker Associates, Surveyor.

“I surveyed most of Star Valley,” he said proudly, and then handed me another business card, much more colorful, which offered his musical services for parties and events, including a list of songs that he could sing, among them “Danny Boy” and “Home on the Range”.

“You sing?” I asked.

“I’ll sing you a song right now if you like!” and before I could even say yes, Lloyd began to sing in a clear and practiced voice, “With someone like you, a pal good and true . . .”

And though were total strangers, his eyes opened wide and sparkled as named me his pal, in song, one hand touching his chest, as if he needed only to press on a button near his heart, and a song would tumble out.

I’d like to leave it all behind—and go and find,
A place that’s known to God alone,
Just a spot to call our own!

The centenarian sang louder and louder to me, with a manly vibrato, and I listened, crouched against the car door.

We’ll find perfect peace,
where joys never cease,
Out there beneath the starry skies

A few minutes ago I was just passing through town, and now here I was, crouched up against a car window, feeling the hum of the engine while a man (who retired before I was born) serenaded me outside the little log cabin where he was born more than a hundred year before.

We’ll build a sweet little nest,
somewhere in the west,
and let the rest of the world go by!

Lloyd lingered on the last line, then closed his lips in a smile having delivered the perfect song.

What song is that?” I wondered.

“I dunno—it’s just a song,” Lloyd said, and then he tapped his steering wheel.

“You’ll have to forgive me, but I gotta get going. I have an eye appointment in Afton,” he nodded down the road. Afton was more than 40 miles away and Lloyd was not wearing any glasses.

“Well it’s nice to meet you, Sir,” I said, “And thank you so much for the song—that was a great song.” Then I imagined this very spot in the late 1889, with Alonzo and Anna in their teeny cabin, half-buried in snow but warm and lovely inside, alive with so many children. Just like Lloyd’s song, Baker Cabin was their nest in the west, and a century later, here I was—part of the rest of the world that was going by, or passing by their little western dream.

To think that I might have just zoomed past this place and missed it forever—missed meeting Lloyd and knowing the story of the people who made Star Valley—reminded me that every moment on the road is fragile and important. While we might concentrate our efforts on preserving the parks, it’s equally important to preserve the past and never rush across any landscape too quickly.

But my new pal was in a rush, so we shook hands once more, he lifted his brakes, and let his car lurch back into the road. Then, with squealing tires, Lloyd sped off towards Afton, soaring through Star Valley like a wild Wyoming teenager on a Friday night.


  1. Monica
    October 4, 2013, 12:44 pm

    This is the perfect travel story. Spontaneous blessings along life’s pathway. I love the blessings life sends our way, things like this just can’t be planned but are meant to be thoroughly enjoyed AND shared. Thanks, Andrew for the journey! Traveling mercies!

    October 6, 2013, 3:52 am

    What a special blessing indeed. That’s what I call a Divine appointment!
    It was very well written, too.

  3. Marvin A. Jones
    Salona, Pennsylvania
    October 8, 2013, 2:08 pm

    I am indeed honored that I was born in the small town of CUDZELBURG, Pennsylvania. I am quite sure you have never heard of the place. It’s just a small town located 1/2 mile North of SALONA , PA. I left there to join the USAF in 1948.

  4. Ken Tannenbaumn
    NYC & Catskill, NY
    October 8, 2013, 9:29 pm

    ARE YOU SERIOUS??? (as Johnny Mac would say). That is one hot damn cool story. Good for you.

    By any chance, are you married to Elizabeth? Thought I’d ask on the off-chance that you inquired about staying in our farmhouse!

    Either way, great story.
    Best, Ken

  5. Ken Tannenbaum
    October 8, 2013, 9:30 pm

    Oops, my name’s Tannenbaum, not Tannenbaumn.

  6. […] a bird facing winter, I headed south, through Star Valley, across Idaho, and into Utah, where I quickly learned to keep my mouth shut when asked the most […]

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  8. Smithf561
    March 26, 2014, 8:00 pm

    Very nice! dkcfeddkdb

  9. Idaho wildflower
    Pocatello, I'd
    May 11, 2014, 11:19 am

    I’ve had the pleasure of dancing with Lloyd at some of our local dances. He is still quite a spitfire and can dance like a man 40 years younger. This year he will be 103 and will celebrate his birthday with a dance in his honor. I googled his name to see if I could find more info on his party and came across this article. I knew some of the facts about Lloyd, but this article had some I had not heard. Lloyd is a local legend and we plan to honor him appropriately! Thank you for you heart-warming article and the great advice to always enjoy the journey.

  10. Missy
    February 4, 2015, 1:17 pm

    Thank you Andrew for this wonderful story! Lloyd has been a member of the Credit Union I work for since I believe 1988. He always makes it to our annual meetings and most often drives down himself! It has been so interesting to read about Lloyd and his family. Thanks again for sharing this!

  11. Al
    West Jordan, Utah
    February 5, 2015, 12:10 am

    Missy has written about how we know Lloyd. Last year he was here for the Utah Federal Credit Union Annual Dinner and he drove all the way by himself. He sang for us and did some cowboy poetry. When he left that night he shook my hand and put his arm around me and said “see you next year”. Mind you, he was 103. We hope to see him on February 27, 2015 and he will be 104. The is a GREAT man, a WONDERFUL man. I asked him how he keeps living. He said he every week he sings Karaoke and teaches people to dance. He still goes to work every day. What a nice tribute you have given to one of Americas wonderful people.

  12. Kelly Transfield
    Orem, UT
    March 1, 2015, 12:09 am

    Thanks for the article. That is my grandpa you wrote about. Yes, he’s quite the character and it’s hard to believe the things he’s seen over the past 103 years! Fun that you got to meet him and the family cabin. One thing you missed though, it was actually his grandmother who built the cabin with some of her children! Anna Eliza Telford Baker decided she was not spending another miserable Wyoming winter in a tent. While her husband and son were away eorking, she and her daughter fed trees dragged them to the site and built that 2 roomed log house, complete with woodenfl

  13. Kelly Transfield
    March 1, 2015, 12:11 am

    …wooden floor! That’s what i get for trying to comment on my phone!

  14. Brigham Baker
    March 1, 2015, 11:06 am

    That’s my and Kelly’s(above) grandpa alright, and he does have some great history to share. As long as his physical body holds out, he’ll be seen zipping around Star Valley doing this or that, but always staying busy until the day he leaves this world, which will probably be further away than any of us can imagine based on his age. I remember once when I was a kid we re-chinked the logs of the cabin for a family reunion activity, while someone grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, and everyone had a great time. I hope it will always stand as a landmark of some real and tangible family history! Thanks for such a great article, Andrew! And, just so you know, he’s not retired at all, he’s the primary field surveyor for his civil engineering business through all seasons of the year, which means you will find him riding an atv and digging through the snow to check his points even in the middle of winter…

  15. Che Tibbets
    March 1, 2015, 4:35 pm

    What a fun article about grandpa! Yes, I’m another granddaughter! He is definitely a character, always has been. Something funny I remember as a kid about him is all of his healthy and weird stuff he would eat like bee pollen out of a Baggie. And yet a few years ago he came for Christmas and told my kids the secret to a long and happy ore was to eat as much candy as possible! Ha! Maybe that and dancing? 😉

  16. Sara M
    Afton, Wy
    November 24, 2015, 6:53 pm

    Lloyd Baker is still alive, going strong at 104, just in case any of you were wondering.

  17. Sara M
    November 24, 2015, 6:54 pm

    I just happened on this story and thought I’d share that with you all. He also rides his 4 wheeler in the 4th of July parade every year. I’ve never met him but everyone in the valley knows Lloyd Baker.

  18. Amy Cox
    April 26, 2016, 9:21 am

    I am from Star Valley! It’s a great place to grow up, with the best school system in Wyoming and one of the best in the nation! Three years later, Lloyd is still alive and well and I believe he is still working full time as a surveyor! He also hands out candy to the kids (and teenagers) at church and still rides his four-wheeler in the parades every year!