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1910 - Vegas for UW basketball- escape bad weather

Some lucky Wyoming folks managed to sneak out of the Cowboy State March 10-16 and head to Las Vegas to attend the annual Mountain West Basketball Championships.  By doing so, they managed to avoid the biggest blizzard of the winter, which left most of the state buried and paralyzed.

         It is always fun watching the University of Wyoming basketball teams- - men’s and women’s.  We got to watch both teams play on Wednesday, March 13.

         Getting away from Wyoming’s blizzards was a break but Las Vegas showed off rain and 50-mph winds, which did not make it that pleasant. More importantly, there was nary a snowdrift in sight.

         The scores of those games were also not so hot, but the efforts were exciting and the games were fun.

         On that day, we saw our 10th-seeded men’s team play its opening game against New Mexico.  Later that evening, the third-seeded Cowgirls (who had already won two tournament games) played in the championship against the highly regarded Boise State team.  The Lady Broncos had won this tourney the past two years.

         New Mexico prevailed in the men’s game 68-58, despite 31 points by Wyoming all-star Justin James.  The Cowboys finished the season with an 8-24 record.

         Boise State led the entire game and defeated the Cowgirls, 68-51 with a balanced attack. The Cowgirls finished the season with a 22-8 record.  Earlier in the  tournament the Cowgirls had beaten Utah State 64-41 and San Diego State 75-70 (in overtime).

         University of Wyoming sports have a huge effect on the people of our state.  Our teams truly knit together folks from far-flung communities across the vast 98,000 square miles of Wyoming.

         We saw lots of Wyoming folks who had journeyed to Sin City.

         Mike and Jennifer Martin of Rock Springs had scooted out of Sweetwater County before the big blizzard hit.  Mike said he had heard reports from back home that Interstate 80 was closed from border to border. They were pleased to be in Las Vegas.

         But that first and only game by the Wyoming Cowboys left Mike disappointed. “Who were those guys out there in the second half?” he asked.  Wyoming led New Mexico by 14 points in the first half but ended up collapsing in the second half and lost by 10 points.  The game was a story to two halves.

         Stuart and Kathy Nelson of Wheatland love following the UW teams.  They showed me photos of the blizzard back home emailed to them by members of the family. Looked like a total whiteout in Platte County.

         Mark Anderson of Burns, who owns some fifteen Burns Insurance offices all over Wyoming, was dismayed by the play of the men`s team in their opener.  He follows the team all over the country and thinks guard Justin James could be an NBA player.  But this game?  “That second half was painful to watch,” he sighed.

         Kirby Walker and his wife of Green River were happy to be in Las Vegas but did not look too happy about having their seats in the middle of a whole bunch of New Mexico fans.  To their credit, those Lobo fans were very nice.  We ended up in that area, too, but moved over to some empty seats where we were surrounded by gold sweatshirts and hoodies.

         We also ran into Keener Fry who does a great job of running the UW Alumni Association.  He works hard and is a great ambassador for the Cowboys.

         The men played in the early afternoon and the women played in the evening game.

         The Cowgirls playing in the finals was a first. It was the first trip ever to the Mountain West finals for coach Joe Legerski, which was a great personal milestone for him.

         UW does a magnificent job of recruiting foreign players and nine of the 15-team members are from Europe.

         The five starters are from foreign countries: Spain, Croatia, and Colorado. Just kidding about Colorado.

         UW wasn’t the only women’s team with foreign players. Utah State had five players from Australia and one from Greece. Fresno State had four foreign players.

         The crowd for the women’s championship had a good solid representation of gold in the grandstands.  The Thomas and Mack Center is a wonderful venue that even features spouting flames at each end of the court at the start of the games.

         It’s always fun to go to Vegas. Watching the Cowboys and Cowgirls play hard at basketball is just about as good as it gets.



1909 - Why are Wyoming people so happy?

The diversity of our landscape and our people (and even our weather) were reasons given by some of my best friends about why they are so happy to live here in Wyoming!

       It is easy to understand why Wyoming was named one of the two “most happy” states in the country in a recent Gallup Poll, reported in USA Today.

       “People wave at you when you are driving down the street, even if they don’t know you,” says Mike Bailey of Riverton.  “Plus I love our 300 days of sunshine per year and the beautiful view of the mountains.  I like that people here are so honest, too.”

       Jerry Kendall of Hudson says, “I love Wyoming because of the amazing diversity of its landscape. I can climb into the Wind River Mountains and stand where perhaps no other human has ever stood,” he says. “I can wander out into the vast Red Desert and not see another soul for days on end. I can breath fresh air every day of my life.”

       John Davis of Worland reports, “My wife is from Toronto, and would have been quite at home in a large city.  What we both settled on was Sheridan; we thought it was the perfect blend of a town with a little bit of size, and, therefore, a lot of shopping and restaurant advantages, and still one that was right in the middle of one of the prettiest areas in the state. 

Well, Sheridan was not to be, and when I got out of the JAG Corps, the best opportunity seemed to come in my hometown of Worland. 

“What we liked immediately about Worland was how warm and friendly the people were.  Crime was unheard of and our neighbors bent over backwards to be, well, good neighbors. 

      “We found a house, a fine 1917 Arts and Crafts piece, one full of great woodwork, and, at least in the main floor, almost completely original.  It was built for Sadie and Charlie Worland, and was intended to be the finest house in town.  Well, the house became our grand project.  We were truly blessed to have it as our home for 38 years.”

       Jack Speight of Cheyenne says, “I enjoy the wide open spaces and the lack of concentration of people on top of each other.

       “We wintered this year at home in Wyoming instead of in a warm place. What you discover is it is the people that sets Wyoming apart in the middle of July or in mid-February.  Wyoming people care about their neighbors.

“I was out shoveling a fairly long half-block sidewalk on Eighth Avenue. The snowplows had dumped more snow on top of the six inches on the sidewalk to clear the street. A man in a pickup truck turned around in the middle of the block, pulled up, unloaded a snow blower, and gave me a helping hand. That’s Wyoming.

“That Good Samaritan didn’t know me. I had never met him until that morning, yet he was willing to give a helping hand to a 79-year-old out shoveling his own sidewalk. You’re not gonna find that in many states. People do care for each other in Wyoming more than other states because there are fewer of us. That is the true beauty of Wyoming.”

“Chuck Brown of Wheatland says, “Why aren’t we the happiest? I am!”

John Brown of Lander (no relation) says, “Fewer people, no traffic to speak of, mountains, and a clear sky at night that allows me to see the Milky Way!”

Jim Hicks of Buffalo says, “Most small communities around the country have people who do care about their neighbors, not just in Wyoming, but since most of this state is made up of relatively isolated small communities there is a stronger community spirit.

“We all talk about improving the economy by attracting new business and more people, but down deep for many of us we honestly don’t want that much change.

“Many of us remember when few people knew about that favorite fishing hole or the spot where we got our elk every season.  Now there is more competition for those treasures.

“We are happy because, for all the imperfections, we have a citizen legislature, our neighbors are members of the City Council or County Commission and there isn’t a constant urge to lock the door or worry about the kids walking to school.

       “Perhaps the environments in Hawaii and Wyoming are such that it dampens the desire for other things in life like lots of money or power?”


1908 - Wyoming baseball fans love our Rockies!

Sitting and shivering in the stands were Cheyenne residents Chris Boswell, Rick Boomgaarden, and former Wyomingite Gene Bryan watching the Colorado Rockies play a good game with the Seattle Mariners.

         The three men were in the shady stands at Salt River Field in Scottsdale, AZ where spring training is a ritual for major league players and their loyal fans.

         We were there too and enjoyed seeing the Rockies play two games, a 7-4 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks and that 4-2 loss to the Mariners.

         Wyoming, especially in Cheyenne and Laramie, has lots of devoted fans to the Colorado Rockies. 

         It was really cold in Scottsdale for the opener – we were bundled up with jeans and insulated vests, which helped in the cold shady seats. But it was comfortable in the sunny seats.  A high school classmate of mine who lives in Scottsdale told me, when I asked her if she was going to the game: “We don’t do cold.”  Ha!

         As unseasonably cold as it was in Arizona (record snows had fallen that week in Flagstaff and Kingman), back in Wyoming it was also terrible. 

Weather reports showed Interstate 80 was shut down and mountain passes were closed around the state with snow and wind.  The mercury was plummeting too. 

         No, although we shivered there in Arizona but we also realized just how good we had it.

          I would recommend attending Spring Training to just about anyone.  The weather is normally quite nice and the Salt River Park where the Rockies play is a spectacular venue.  It is a terrific big league experience except the stadium holds 10,000 people instead of 55,000 size at Coors Field in Denver.

         This was our second year attending it, and we loved it.

         About half of the major league baseball teams play spring training ball in Arizona and the others play in Florida. The Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks went together and built probably the finest facility in the state.

         I should also mention that my nephew Jeff Nelson works for the Rockies, which is a bonus.

         We also met with Foster and Lynn Friess of Jackson and enjoyed breakfast with them. They were off to a Rockies game the day after we attended our games.

         My history with the Rockies goes back a long way.

         When major league baseball came to Denver in 1993, there was no journalist in Wyoming covering the Rockies as much as I did.  As owner of the Wyoming State Journal in Lander, I had applied for and gotten full press privileges.

         Our readers in Lander probably saw almost as much coverage about the Colorado Rockies, which were 360 miles away, than any other baseball fans in the state.

         Plus we had a lot of Colorado connections back then. My folks lived in Lafayette.  I had younger brothers living in Broomfield, Longmont, and Boulder.  Two of our three daughters lived there.  We made that long round-trip to Denver constantly.

         As a rabid baseball fan, I was there on opening day back in 1993 and covered the team faithfully for the next six years.

         Colorado set an all-time record for most fans for a season. led the league with the most fans. A huge number of Wyoming people were among those fans.

         Those Rockies boosters still hold the record for most fans in a season, some 4.4 million plus the largest crowd in major league history, over 80,000 at Mile High Stadium in 1993. I was there.

         So Spring Training is special for me.  I love the current team.  Stars like Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, and Trevor Story are fun to watch.  Arenado was hitting home runs during the games we attended.

         Baseball is full of humor, too. My favorite baseball joke is a story about two old codgers who absolutely loved baseball. They watched every game they could during the season and spent the entire off-season reminiscing about the great games they’d seen and dreaming about the season to come.

One day their discussion turned to speculation over whether there was baseball in heaven. Finally, they made a pact that when one of them died and went to heaven, he would try to get a message back to the survivor.

Shortly thereafter, one of the two fellows had a fatal heart attack during the excitement of a doubleheader… and a few nights later, the survivor had a very vivid dream. In it, his dearly departed friend was sending him a message.

“Old buddy,” he said, “I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that there is baseball in heaven. The bad news is that you’re pitching tomorrow!”

1907 - Wyoming winter driving is scary - part 2

Lately, highways all across Wyoming have been horrible. In a recent column, I detailed how the Cowboy State was listed in one survey as the most dangerous place to drive in the USA in the wintertime.

         That report brought out some stories about some horrific experiences some widely traveled Wyomingites have had.  Here goes:

Cheyenne resident Tom Satterfield, who used to live in Riverton, recalls one harrowing trip:  “In the mid 1970s I was working for the Soil Conservation Service and had to attend a workshop in Rawlins. I picked up a co-worker in Lander and even though it was snowing fairly hard we were off.  About where the turn off to Bairoil is, the blowing snow was so bad that we were going from milepost to milepost and came upon an accident.  We slowed down but could not see much, just a few cars and some blinking red lights. 

“Going across Separation Flats was very slow going and I kept wondering where the snow plows were because there were many small drifts to go across.  It took several hours but we finally came to Rawlins only to find the road blocked by a Highway Patrolman who asked us: ‘Where the hell did you come from?’ We told him Lander and he said, ‘That is impossible, that road has been closed for three hours.’  We did not get a ticket but we were stuck in Rawlins for two days. Winter driving in Wyoming is not for the faint hearted.”

         One day after covering University of Wyoming football and basketball for TEN years for the Casper Star-Tribune, former sports writer Ron Gullberg was curious about how many times he had driven through Shirley Basin to and from Casper to Laramie for home games, practices and media days. He estimated more than 250 round trips.

Most times, like nearly any Wyoming highway, the trips were beautiful, save for the occasional jolts caused by wildlife crossings, he recalls. Then there were nights such as the harrowing drive home through blowing snow thick as smoke following a late-afternoon basketball game.

“I tried to use the delineator posts as guides, but sometimes the whirling snow was so thick, I lost track. I came to complete stops to wait for breaks to catch a glimpse of a post and reorient myself. During a couple of those stops, I found my car straddling the centerline - with no delineator in sight. A short while later, after inching my way down the road, a school bus passed from the opposite direction!

“The entire drive through the basin was disorienting, and the most fearful I had ever been in my life,” he concludes.

Another long-time Wyoming journalist and broadcaster, Bob Bonnar of Newcastle, writes:

“I got to see most of Wyoming by coaching and broadcasting sports in my early driving years. I once left Cheyenne at midnight under clear skies in January, and three miles later was greeted by a line of semi taillights along the shoulder at the same time as the blizzard descended on me. It took me over two hours to get to Laramie.

“I couldn’t stop because if I did I would have been instantly snowed in with my dad’s old rear-wheel drive Cutlass. If I went more than 20 miles an hour I couldn’t see well enough to stay on the road.

“I also once slid slowly off the highway in the middle of a snowstorm on the Big Horn Mountains above the Medicine Wheel on my way home from the final regular season football game in Lovell. I was by myself, but fortunately the rest of the Newcastle coaching staff came along. They had a couple of hefty linemen with them. The boys pushed me out and I made it down the mountain.

“I never ended up spending the night in the car- which is lucky for the guy who wears shorts 365 days out of the year- but those were two times I sure thought I would get a chance to enjoy the igloo experience!

“Now that I’m older and wiser - and still wearing short pants - if I sniff a bad one coming, I pull over and get a room.”

Cheyenne Attorney Darin Smith recalls a harrowing experience on Interstate 80: “On Jan. 9, 1997 I left my parents house in Rock Springs headed back to UW. As I was turning onto the Interstate I saw this hitchhiker freezing and clearly hoping for a ride.

“I felt compassion for him and picked him up. He had been laid off and was going to Denver to find work. He had two little kids and a wife back home in Rock Springs. They had run nearly out of food and rent money. The weather was horrid just east of Arlington and we got in a bad accident with a flatbed semi. My truck was totaled. I walked away unscathed. The hitchhiker was hospitalized and laid up for a month.

“The silver lining was that my wonderful mother, Margie Smith, was able to reach out to this man’s family and meet their needs for food and rent until they got back on their feet. She was like the Mother Theresa of Rock Springs!”

Vince Tomassi of Kemmerer-Diamondville says his worst trip was right in this back yard: “Driving from the turnoff of Interstate 80 at the Kemmerer exit at 10 p.m. when no snowplow had been on the road. (Big problem - 10 inches of unplowed road with wind blowing and no visibility, I had to stop 5-6 times to get the snow off my headlights.  It took one and half hours to go 37 miles.”  

         Dave Reetz of Powell tells this story:  “Glo and I went to the University of Wyoming as you know.  I went to Powell over Christmas break in 1967 to meet her family.  While there I asked her father for her hand in marriage. It was scary to ask him! 

         “I drove through a horrendous snowstorm.  I had never been to Powell.  I took the Medicine Bow to Casper route and had never driven the road before.  It was lightly snowing in Laramie when I left.  The road was a whiteout most of the way driving 20 mph from reflector to reflector.  It became scary to me because I did not meet one car on the way. There were no tire tracks in the snow.  Felt like I was on the face of the moon in a snowstorm! 

“But the trip was worth it.  Oh, the things (sometimes scary) young men do to go after a girl!” he concludes.


1906- Wyoming worst state for winter driving

Interstate 80. Separation Flats. South Pass. Muddy Gap. Antelope Flats. The list goes on and on.

         These are just a few of the places where people drive during Wyoming’s horrible winter weather.

         A recent SafeWise survey claims that Wyoming is the most dangerous state in the union when it comes to winter driving. This news appeared on a wonderful Facebook site called “Yep, I’m from Wyoming.”

         In my history, there are several places where we had literally horrible experiences. 

         One time in the 1970s, we were heading into Jackson on Antelope Flats. The ground blizzards were so intense, I drove from delineator post to post to get through this god-awful situation. I was driving this stretch with two daughters, aged 5 and 7, heading for a ski weekend.  I totally lost control of the car. My life passed in front of me as we twirled around.  We stopped next to a snow bank, scared to death.

         Like Antelope Flats, many of the worst places in Wyoming are north-south highways where our constant west winds just blow an inordinate amount of snow across the front of the car.

         Another spot is Separation Flats north of Rawlins. We have had countless trips heading home where we finally reached highway 287 and turned north to Lander thinking the worst was behind us on Interstate 80. Wrong!  That 20-mile stretch is among the worst.

Another road in this category is highway 191 north from Rock Springs to Pinedale. Truly treacherous in the winter with blowing snow. 

         The worst is the infamous Snow Chi Minh Trail along Interstate 80 from Rawlins to Cheyenne.  Besides all-time world-record horrible weather, drivers get to contend with thousands of semi-trailer trucks driven by men and women desperate to get their daily mileage quota finished.

         Once we were driving on black ice on Interstate 25 south of Wheatland when we were passed by a one-ton pickup pulling a big horse trailer.  In all my travels, the fastest drivers in the country (maybe in the world) are Wyoming folks driving pickups pulling horse trailers. Man, they really skedaddle down the road.  Do not worry about passing one – it is impossible to keep up with them.

         On this day, though, we went over a hill and there was that same pickup and its trailer jack-knifed in the center median. The people were okay and someone had already stopped. My assumption was the driver may have needed to change his pants after that hair-raising experience.

         By the way, the nine other worst states for winter driving were: 2. Vermont 3. Montana 4. Idaho 5. Maine 6. Michigan 7. Iowa 8. New Mexico 9. Minnesota and 10. Nebraska. Not sure why Colorado was missed from this list.

         Among the responses to that Facebook post was one by former Gillette resident Brett Cramer who called the survey B. S. He wrote:  “Wyoming crews clear roads better than any other state. It has the least traffic and the best roads.  I lived there for 40 years and loved it. Wyoming has lots of wind and snow but chances of running into someone else is pretty slim.”  Well said.

         Julia Stuble of Lander shared with me a winter driving trip she experienced in 2007:

“I was a brand-spanking new journalist at the Pinedale Roundup and was sent to a scintillating meeting in Marbleton. A storm was brewing.

“I was in my trusty pickup with my border collie. By the time the meeting had ended, the roads were blanketed with feet of new snow and visibility was zero.

“I tried to get through to Pinedale the north way, but couldn`t even see the mile markers on the side of the road and had no clue if I was on a road. Same for the southern route across to Sand Draw.

“I turned around back to Marbleton / Big Piney. It was a boom year, so there were no motel rooms available. None of the motels even had staff around. Envelopes with room keys were taped to the doors with the names of the future—all male— occupants. I considered taking one of these keys and stealing a room, but that seemed cruel to the rig workers and maybe a little risky. I knew no one.

“So I zipped the dog into my down vest, bought candy at a gas station (fatty foods would keep us warm, I figured) and crawled into the sleeping bag my Dad insisted be kept in the truck. We spent a cramped night, occasionally clearing away the exhaust pipe to run the heater. Early in the morning, with the rig workers headed out to Jonah, there would finally be tracks to follow down the highway, so we crept home to Pinedale.

“It took hours, but remains one of those hallmark moments of my early 20s, when I figured out I could survive most anything as long as I had the dog, a truck, a sleeping bag, and gas station junk food.”

Julia needs to also remember that great advice from her dear old dad, which is good for all of us driving these Wyoming roads in winter.