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1938 - Sinks and Loop Road are magnificent

Folks who live on the east side of the Wind River Mountains have a tradition of getting “looped,” as often as possible. This is my term for driving the spectacular Loop Road.

On a recent Sunday, there was plenty of fall colors as we headed for the mountains.

We were re-visiting a magical place that cast a spell on us exactly 49 years ago.  Sinks Canyon and the Loop Road outside of Lander are what caused my wife Nancy and me to move to Wyoming from Iowa almost a half century ago.

It is every bit as beautiful now as it was then. I recall telling Nancy about being totally impressed by how the Popo Agie River was so picturesque. It looked liked color photos I had seen on calendars but never dreamed that these places really did look like this in reality. It was a transcendent experience.

Sinks Canyon is the primary gateway to the Wind River Mountain Range from the east. Located just south of Lander, the canyon’s sheer cliffs and magical river make it a haven for sightseers.

The remarkable reason for the name of Sinks Canyon is that the river disappears into the side of the canyon wall and reappears a quarter mile downstream on the other side of the canyon.  If you have not visited this eighth wonder of Wyoming, you should. There are wonderful visitor centers there to explain things.

Then you climb out of Sinks Canyon and head up the Loop Road. The highway up the paved switchbacks and pretty soon you are climbing up to the saddle below Fossil Mountain and Windy Point.  I always thought Windy Point should be called Chief’s Head, as it looks like old Chief Washakie looking up to the heavens.

Beautiful lakes in the form of Frye Lake, Worthen Reservoir, and Fiddler Lake greet you along this first section of the Loop Road, which is graveled but passable for sedans.

The gigantic form of Wind River Peak at 13,192 feet looms over this entire scene.  It is the tallest mountain in the southern Wind Rivers.  It has plenty of snow on it now and glistens in the distance.

Another monolith that shows up in your rear view mirror is the massive hunk of rock known as Lizard Head Peak, which is 12,842 feet high.  It is one of the signature mountains in the famous Cirque of the Towers.  It is amazing that you can see it so well from the Loop Road, but you need to know where and when to look.

Highest point of the road is Blue Ridge, which sits at 9,578 feet above sea level. A short hike farther up and you can climb stone steps to an old Forest Service fire lookout station. Again, well worth the trip and the view is breathtaking for 360-degrees. A two mile stretch of this road will be closed on weekdays in October for some road work. It is open on weekends.

There is a spectacular spot where the road crosses the Little Popo Agie River.  I stopped and snapped some photos and then saw a gal swimming in the frigid river. She climbed out of the water onto a big rock and started to sun bathe.  It must have been very invigorating. She was from Washington state, according to the license plate on her small car parked nearby.

Louis Lake (pronounced Louie) is the showpiece of the Loop Road. It is a very deep lake. It has nice beaches on its east end and is a favorite place for boating, canoeing, fishing, and just enjoying life.

From Louis Lake to WYO Highway 28 on South Pass, the Loop Road goes by Grannier Meadows and up and around Dead Horse Curve.  The reason it is called the Loop Road is that you never need to backtrack.  You just keep going and complete the loop drive back to Lander.

As you get to South Pass, you look off at the vast Red Desert, which is one of Wyoming’s seven legitimate wonders.  Continental Peak and the Oregon Buttes stand out in the distance.

On the way back down the mountain back to Lander the most stunning sight is the vast Red Canyon. This is a huge box canyon, which is striking by all the red rock of the Chugwater Formation. It is one of the most photographed places in this part of Wyoming.

And then we were back home, having enjoyed a wonderful three-hour drive that reinforced all the wonderful reasons of why we live here.

Another of our reasons for this particular trip was that we had not driven the entire Loop this year.  We ALWAYS drive the Loop at least once each year.  Time was running out. What a great pleasure it has always been; it was this time, too.

 

 

 

1937 - Wyoming`s next great museum in Dubois

Wyoming’s next great museum is under construction and will open next May.

         The National Museum of Military Vehicles is a massive facility located just south of Dubois in Fremont County.

         The $100 million self-funded project has been a dream of Dan Starks, who bought his first Wyoming property in 2011. Construction on the new museum started in May of 2017. It is a 140,000 square foot facility, which is designed to hold 150 military vehicles.

         But it is much more than a display of vehicles.

         Starks, 65, who is not a veteran, has such a high degree of respect for those who served, he sees this project as his life work. And what a life it has been.

         He worked 32 years at a medical equipment company in Minneapolis and was CEO before retiring in 2017. The company was doing $6 billion in revenue per year. He had 28,000 employees working on life-saving devices for the human body, with a specialty on heart catheters and other devices. “At one time, we figured our devices were saving a life every three seconds around the world,” he says.

         His company was acquired by Abbott Laboratories in 2017. Their web site shows Starks owns over $600 million in stock in the big international company and serves on its board.

         Dan and his wife Cynthia’s life dream was to settle in Dubois and do some project to recognize the service of America’s veterans. 

         And boy, is this ever some project.

         Using Richardson Construction of Cheyenne as a general contractor, the project has hummed along on schedule.  And although the gigantic size of the facility, (you can almost put three football fields inside its walls), Starks now worries that it might be too small.  They own more than 400 of the most pristine historical vehicles from World War II and other conflicts. He thinks he might only get 150 of them inside the walls. It is assumed to be the largest and best private collection in the world. 

         The Starks’ daughter Alynne is the executive director of the facility.

         Their plan for the museum has gone far beyond just a place to display vehicles. “We want to create displays that show the landing at Normandy, the surrenders in Germany and Japan, the Battle of the Bulge, and other great moments in our country’s military history,” he says.

         Dan sees the facility having three components:

         First, to honor the service and sacrifice of millions of Americans.

         Second, preserve the history of what happened during these wars.

         Third, provide an educational experience.

         The vast array of vehicles goes beyond the killing machines of tanks, artillery, and flamethrowers.  It also includes dozens of the machines that made the wars winnable.

Starks likes to discuss how the Red Ball Express helped secure the victories. This was the supply chain that seemed to provide endless amounts of food, ammo, and war machines as Allied troops marched toward victory.

         He wants to show how America was able to convert its massive manufacturing expertise to enable the Allies to fight two different wars in different parts of the world and win both in just three and a half years. 

The new museum will show how the American ability to mass-produce cars and trucks was converted to produce tanks, jeeps, airplanes, and other war machines in record amounts that just wore down the enemy. 

“Germany built beautiful machines, but they did not understand mass production like Americans did. It was impossible for them to keep up when it came to replacing and resupplying their troops at key moments in World War II. We want to honor everyone who participated in this great victory. This museum will showcase that effort but showing the machines that were built and how they were utilized,” he said.

Alynne, as executive director, said the project will probably employ about 15 people.  They have not decided on what admission will cost but one thing is sure: “Veterans will get in free!  My dad insists on that,” she said.

Near the middle of the building’s interior is an amazing vault, unlike anything west of the Smithsonian.  It will hold his $10 million collection of historical weapons, including a rifle fired at Custer’s Last Stand and a pistol used by General Pershing in World War I. The collection includes 270 Winchester rifles.  The vault has a safe door that would look just right at the national mint.

The facility will have meeting rooms and members of the Wyoming legislature are convening there in October.

It also has the Chance Phelps Theatre, named for the brave Dubois Marine who died April 9, 2004,  in Iraq.  The movie Taking Chance was about that soldier.

There will be large library with one of the world’s largest collections of manuals and other information about military vehicles.

There are over 100 tanks and other impressive war machines parked in row after row in a big field next to the new building. His other machines are in downtown Dubois, on his ranches, and stored in Salt Lake City. There is even a Russian-built MiG 21 parked in the field that was used in the Viet Nam War against American soldiers. It is flyable. 

Besides the main museum facility, the Starks built a large building just off Main Street in Dubois to hold many of their vehicles and to be a shop to keep them running.

Eight years ago, their first home in Dubois was an old homestead. More recently they have purchased a 250-head cattle ranch. Recently they bought a third ranch, which now has 36 bison grazing on it.

“We love Dubois and we love Wyoming. This is our great adventure,” Starks concluded.

 

 

1936 - Pain the neck and cancer scare - yikes!

Like a great many Wyomingites, I suffer from persistent pains in my neck and back. More particularly, my neck has bothered me for 12 years, ever since I herniated a disk.

Earlier this summer, I offered to help my wife Nancy move some heavy plants and, yowsir, something popped and I was in awful pain.

Now my neck does odd things when I mess it up – this time, it resulted in horrible spasms in my lower back. Until I put my trusty neck brace on, I was gimping around. A pathetic sight.

Anyway, zoom ahead to mid-September in Casper, where a pain wizard named Dr. Todd Hammond gave my neck a shot of steroids and things are on the mend. His crew of TJae, Lydia, Oneta, and a couple of other pleasant nurses, wheeled me into what looked like the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise. Within 20 minutes, I was done.

But the journey was an interesting one with many twists and turns.

First my Physician Assistant Jim Hutchison at the Lander Medical clinic recommended physical therapy with Tom Davis at Fremont Therapy here in Lander.  Some stretching, some heat, and some “dry needling” (now that is a unique pain) got me back on the feet, literally. 

It took awhile to get the appointment for my shot, as first as there was the need for an MRI procedure.  Jim lined it up at SageWest Hospital in Lander. It showed problems with my neck vertebrae but it also showed a suspicious lump on my thyroid – oops.  If it was over 2 cm, it needed a biopsy. What? Cancer? Not the BIG C?

Later it was another trip to the hospital for that procedure Radiologist Perry Cook is an old friend and she is always enthusiastic. As I was lying there waiting for the biopsy, she came roaring in the room and said these nodules were usually benign. “But if it is cancer, you’ve got the best kind of cancer!”

Perry finished #1 in her class at Duke Medical School. I trust her and I expected her to be forthright with me. Somehow this conversation was getting disconcerting, though.

When it comes to cancer, I come from a blessed family. My parents never had cancer.  My 10 siblings (aged 56 to 76) have only had one cancer exposure, which my younger sister Mary seems to manage very well about 10 years ago. For us Sniffins, there is supposed to be no cancer. No BIG C.  What the heck! Why me??

Then they did the biopsy and Perry was right, it was benign. Whew! I kept thinking how fortunate it would have been to catch this possible cancer while doing a routine MRI of my neck vertebrae. Thanks to her colleague Dr. Edwin Butler for spotting it.

So now it was on to Casper.

When I first hurt my neck 12 years ago, Dr. Hammond had given me two separate steroid shots after I had been scheduled for surgery. Luckily I healed fast, came to my senses, and avoided the surgery.

This time around, perhaps there may have been another reason for my neck pain. Our brilliant daughter Shelli Johnson (and she is brilliant – check out www.yourepiclife.com). She routinely goes on 30-mile hikes in the Wind River Mountains. As a life coach, she also leads high-powered business gals from all across the USA on trips to Zion and Grand Canyon. She twice won first in the world for best tourism web site with www.yellowstonepark.com. These awards are called the Webbys.

But this column is about her smartphone. And mine, too.

When I told her about my neck, she said there is a national epidemic of “tech neck,” caused by people arching their 10-pound heads at a 4 0-degree angle checking their smart phones for 3-4 hours a day. She said she suffers from it and is trying to wean herself from looking at her phone that way. My wife said that I must have been suffering from it, too. I hate to admit that she is right on this.

Ether way, my neck is better (thank-you Doc) and I now hold my phone straight out in front of me.  I think my head might weigh more than 10 pounds and I know I have a tender neck, thus “tech neck” might hurt me even worse than the average person. In the meantime, I hope this column helps cure a whole bunch of stiff and sore necks among my readers.

 

 

1935 - Looking for old folks and linkages thru time

How many old-timers are there in Wyoming these days?

When I wrote a column some 18 months ago about the oldest people in Wyoming, we had folks ranging from 104 to 107 all over the state.

Most of those really, really old pioneers have since passed away. Not sure there any really old ones around any more.

Today, we are not sure if there is anyone over 102.

If you know of someone over 100, please let me know at bsniffin@wyoming.com.  I would like to include them in a future column.

 

* * *

 

Everybody in the Cowboy State has been dealing with a grasshopper infestation in their yards and on their ranches – except me.

My two big stud ducks, Trump and Buck, are so fat they are literally dragging along the ground as they waddle from one tender morsel or another. They are eating grasshoppers during every waking hour. Although crunchy, it appears the ducks are just slurping the hoppers down their gullets whole.  Wow!

Meanwhile, they are actually turning up their noses at corn treats put out by my wife Nancy.  “The grasshoppers are just fine,” they seem to indicate as they waddle away from the corn.

Most recently we have had large flocks of birds flying around – reportedly because of the large number of grasshoppers and bees and wasps.

Various Wyoming news reports stated the infestation was predicted last March before the Legislature’s Joint Agriculture, Public Lands, and Water Resources Committee in Cheyenne.

With over 97,000 square miles of space, Wyoming can host a lot of grasshoppers and they arrived this spring in biblical hordes in some places. Nearly three million acres have reportedly endured the infestation.

But not in my yard.  To anyone needing help, I might loan you my ducks. But then again, they are already mighty stuffed.

 

* * *

 

From 1989 to 1994, I was a member of the Wyoming Travel Commission. Gov. Mike Sullivan appointed me to the post. I was chairman of that wonderful entity in 1992-1993.

The Director of Tourism was a wonderful man named Gene Bryan, a true legend in the travel business here in Wyoming. His life is full of great Wyoming stories. He even recently wrote a detailed book about the history of tourism marketing for the state.

But that’s another story for another time.

During my time on the Travel Commission, there was a bright young guy in Cheyenne who handled international travel for the Commission. It was the now famous author CJ Box. Coincidentally 28 years later, he is now vice-chairman of the state’s current version of the Travel Commission.

But that’s another story for another time.

         Box and I formed a company to promote international travel as a result of that, which was called Rocky Mountain International.  Around 1997, I sold my interest to my partner, CJ Box.

         I had founded it  in the early 1990s and well, we did some amazing things. Box did some even more amazing things after I sold him my interest.

         But that’s another story for another time.

         I took the money from the sale of my interest and bought a newspaper in Maui.  Wow, was this going to be fun!

         My wife Nancy and I loved going to Hawaii and we thought a Wyoming-Hawaii connection could be just about the best thing ever.

The editor of our Maui newspaper was a part-time protestant minister named Ron Winckler.

         Our adventures in the People’s Republic of Hawaii, were, well, partly good and mainly bad.

         But that’s another story for another time.

         Ron is a friend of mine on Facebook. He just posted the most amazing item, which I would like to repeat here:

“So, this is about is my mother-in-law, Charlotte. She`s 95, having been born in 1924.

“We were talking a couple of days ago. I asked about her childhood in San Diego. She brought up a man that used to come to her mother`s diner. She remembered his name, ‘Daddy’ Hayes and his age, almost 100-years-old.

"Daddy Hayes drove a horse-drawn wagon and collected scrap. He was born into slavery. Daddy Hayes, also told her that as a young adult, he had been present at President Abraham Lincoln`s Gettysburg Address in 1863.

“In 2019 I was talking on the phone with a woman who once talked with a former slave who actually heard Lincoln speak!

“Beyond amazing!”

Now that’s another story I can read about any time.

Amen, Brother.

 

1934 - Battle Mountain, Aspen trees, and Thomas Edison

If you blast through Carbon County on Interstate 80, you begin to think that all there is to see is high desert and the towering Elk Mountain.

But that part of Wyoming offers so much more.

Last week, I fulfilled a bucket list item by driving State Highway 70 over Battle Mountain Pass for the first time.  Wow, what a gorgeous trip!

Near the top of the pass, almost 10,000 feet, is a prominent plaque placed where the famous inventor Thomas Edison went fishing and reportedly came up with the idea for filament to use in the invention of the light bulb. It occurred while he was messing with flies during a wonderful fishing trip. That very impressive plaque was mounted on a big brick podium, back in 1949 by a statewide historical group.  More on that later.

There are massive groves of mature Aspen trees all along the way and I kept looking for the famous Aspen Alley.  This is a narrow road cut through a mighty grove of Aspens that shimmers like gold in the fall. Famed Wyoming photographer Randy Wagner of Cheyenne has the best image I have ever seen of that site.

On this day, I missed it because it is a few miles down WYO 71, which goes north from Battle Mountain Pass all the way to Rawlins. Hopefully next time.

The name Battle Mountain Pass came from a famous fight between Indians and some trappers on Aug 21, 1841. Mountain Man Jim Baker, just 21 at the time, had to lead his men after Captain Henry Frapp was killed. After a six-day fight, the trappers left. However the formerly named Bastion Mountain has been re-named Battle Mountain because of that fight for the past 178 years. Baker went on to become one of the more famous mountain men exploring Wyoming mountain ranges.

To get to this famous pass, we drove south from Interstate 80 to Saratoga and briefly visited with Joe Glode. He is an extraordinary community leader for that area. We were going to eat some of the best prime rib in Wyoming at Doug and Kathleen Campbell’s Wolf Hotel, but they were not open yet. We had to get to our granddaughter’s wedding celebration in Montrose, CO, so we soldiered on.

After passing through the beautiful towns of Encampment and Riverside, we climbed up the Sierra Madre Mountains.  I can only imagine how that area must look in the fall.  All those Aspen trees must make the place look like it is on fire.

Cody’s Rev. Warren Murphy’s first assignment was Dixon and Baggs.  He writes about the area: “Route 70 is indeed one of the most amazing and unknown highways in the state. Especially in mid- September when the golden aspen leaves fall. They cover the highway and when driving along you are riding on a carpet of gold. There is so little traffic. Aspen Alley is a unique piece of ground but sadly the alley trees are aging out. However, the young ones are growing fast.”

John Davis of Worland tells this story about his early experience on Battle Pass: “When I was first married, Celia and traveled to the Sierra Madres to hunt deer.  We didn’t get any deer, but proceeded toward Baggs and Savery.  Celia got worried about the amount of gas we had, but I wasn’t worried, because most Chevrolet vehicles (we were traveling in a 1955 Chevrolet sedan) still had 5 gallons when showing empty. 

“Well, this one didn’t, and just before the pass, it coughed and died.  We caught a ride down the mountain, got some gas, returned to the vehicle, and proceeded home. 

“But this incident had long term consequences.  Ever since, Celia got nervous whenever the gas gauge in one of our cars got just a little past half full.  We never again ran out of gas as we did on Battle Mountain Pass, but I’ve heard complaints about getting gas about a hundred times since, he concluded.”

After enjoying the beauty of the Aspen-covered Pass, Nancy and I started our way down the mountain. We drove through Savery and Dixon, two pleasant little towns.

My friend radio station owner Joe Kenney said his dad grew up in Encampment and his mom, Maudie Lake, grew up in Savery. He recalls visiting those towns as a little kid and marveling at how high the snow was.  When I asked him how his dad and mom got together, since the highway was closed all winter, he said, “they always met up in Rawlins.” 

I grew up in a very small town and these towns reminded me of home. My wife calls these little towns “peek and plumb towns.” She says, “you peek around the corner and you’re plumb out of town!”

I always said my hometown was so small that both “resume speed” signs are on the same post, just on opposite sides.

Growing up in my little town, we had a public restroom, which was an outhouse.  The toilet tissue consisted of the town’s yellow pages. Unfortunately, the yellow pages only consisted of one page.

We always like getting to Baggs. This is a pretty little town with a great museum along the Little Snake River. Again, the roads north and south of Baggs go through high desert country, which lack scenery. But Baggs area residents have a lot of fun places to visit in their little bit of heaven.

Rocky’s Quick Stop is a wonderful convenience store which has a fine restaurant attached to it at the north edge of Baggs.

We should mention that our trip to Montrose was hot, hot, hot. We chatted with Zane Bennett of Powell at the motel in Montrose and he said he drove his motorcycle through a hail storm south of Green River.

Oh yes, about Thomas Edison and how he discovered filament for light bulbs.

Historian and author Phil Roberts of Laramie says the story is a wonderful tale but is just not true. Edison was just 31 but already a famous inventor during this visit to Wyoming.

He joined a group that traveled to Wyoming by train in 1878 to watch a total eclipse of the sun.  Edison had a device that he wanted to use to measure temperatures during an eclipse, which did not work at all.

Edison had a great trip, killing elk and deer. Reportedly his fishing party caught 3,000 trout.

He returned to Menlo Park, NJ rested and ready to invent. After experimenting with 6,000 different materials, he was able to get a filament to work in his light bulb.