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1431 - Lincoln`s highway had huge Wyoming effect

Besides ending the Civil War, freeing the slaves and launching a national railway, President Abraham Lincoln also thought it important to have a designated highway crossing the country from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

         And although Wyoming would not become a state for another 25 years, that road has crossed from one of our borders to the other for the past 151 years.

         From the 1860s to the 1930s, it was often known simply as “Lincoln’s Road.”

         The highway did not handle automobiles until some 50-plus years later.  With most of the population of America living east of the Mississippi, their logical route was going west on the Lincoln Road.

         It is hard to find a travel historian in Wyoming of the equal of Cheyenne’s Randy Wagner, who not only knows about the Lincoln Highway but also, in my opinion, is our state’s number-one historian of the Oregon-California-Mormon trail. 

         Wagner wrote a chapter on the highway for my upcoming book, MY WYOMING 101 Special Places, in which he pointed out the highway first opened for business on Oct. 31, 1913. He writes:

“Automobiles had been around or several years but were thought of as playthings for the rich and the adventure seekers.  Now there was an actual road that stretched beyond the horizon.

“The Lincoln Highway, like the legendary transcontinental covered wagon trails and railroads of the nineteenth century, conquered the Rocky Mountain barrier of the Continental Divide via a route through southern Wyoming.  Here, and only here, was a break in a mountain chain that stretched from Canada to Mexico.  The southern Wyoming corridor offered manageable grades and reasonable elevations between the towering Snowy Range to the south and the impassable Wind River Range to the north. 

"Names like Gangplank, Laramie Plains, Red Desert and Great Divide Basin were now on the national map.  In the following years, the U. S. Air Mail Service would follow the same route.

“The Lincoln Highway was the mother road of the American tourism industry.  Along its route grew a plethora of tourist camps, auto courts, motels, cafes, diners, garages, filling stations and other new businesses invented to serve the needs of the automobile traveler. 

“New roads would branch off from the Lincoln Highway to places like Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Park and Devils Tower.  What started as a private enterprise supported by members of the Lincoln Highway Association, soon forced both state and federal governments to get involved in road building.”

With that, travelers back east headed west.

Advice was plentiful for these intrepid adventurers and lists of equipment suggested included the following: Since gasoline stations were still rare in many parts of the country, motorists were urged to top off their gasoline at every opportunity, even if they had done so recently. Motorists should wade through water before driving through to verify the depth. The list of recommended equipment included chains, a shovel, axe, jacks, tire casings and inner tubes, tools, and a pair of Lincoln Highway pennants. Also the guide offered this advice: Don`t wear new shoes.

         Not sure what those early tourists thought when they hit Wyoming but we know our state did not bore them.

         They were already bored out of their minds by traversing the vast prairie lands of Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska.  By the time they got to Wyoming, there was actually a chance to see a mountain!

         They entered at Pine Bluffs with an eye on getting to that most famous of all wild-west towns, Cheyenne. Then it was onward to Laramie, which included some their first mountain experiences. Then it was over the high plains to Rawlins, which was a sleepy railroad town back in those days. Getting across the Platte River must have been a doozy.

         From there it was across the Red Desert country, which surely was amazingly scary to folks used to seeing water all around them. Nary a drop for miles. Rock Springs probably looked like an oasis.

         From there the road travels through more high desert country into Kemmerer and then it split into 30N to Burley, ID and 30S which went to Evanston and out of the state.

If they thought Wyoming was dusty and dry, what do you think they thought when they entered southern Idaho, Utah and Nevada?

         Today, we cover Wyoming in a half-day. Some spots even let you go 80 mph as you compete with 16,000 semi-trailer trucks.

         Hmm. Maybe being all alone back then was not so bad after all?




1430 - My 2014 Wyoming Bucket List

By definition, the term “bucket list” stands for those places you want to visit or those things you want to do before you die.

         For some time now, I have been publishing my own version of this list and have gradually been checking a few off my list.

         And yet, there are so many other places to see and my list seems to be getting longer rather than shorter.

         For example a dinosaur dig or a buffalo jump have zoomed to near the top of my list.  Our family has never been to either and Wyoming has some of the best in the country.  The dinosaur dig north of Thermopolis and the historical one near Como Bluff near Medicine Bow are two of the most prominent dino digs in the country.  The Vore buffalo jump near Sundance is amazing, I hear.  Before seeing that one, I just want to get out in the Red Desert and see the stark stole-fashioned one on the summit of Steamboat Mountain between Rock Springs and Farson.

Among the things that I wanted to do, and did do, included finally seeing Sybille Canyon between Laramie and Wheatland and driving the back road over the Snowy Range Mountains between Saratoga and Laramie.  Also, I finally took that Red Desert back road from Rock Springs to South Pass and visited Boar’s Tusk and the Killpecker Sand Dunes. On my earlier list was a visit to Bill, Wyoming, which I managed to do one Sunday afternoon while listening to a Bronco football game on the radio.

         Also finally I drove that fantastic Wild Horse Loop from Green River to north of Rock Springs above the White Mountains. We also re-visited the fantastic petroglyphs just south of Dubois. Amazing.

         But I still have not made it to some very important events. So here goes by 2014 Wyoming Bucket List:

• Am hoping to take a closer look at Vedauwoo area outside of Laramie.  Again, I have driven by it hundreds of times. It is time for a closer look.  Also, to spend some time at Curt Gowdy State Park.

         • There is a man-made rock arrow in the Red Desert called the Hadsell site.  It is between Jeffrey City and Wamsutter and will make a nice jeep trip with my friend Jim Smail.

         • Between Jeffrey City and Muddy Gap is an odd rock formation I call Stonehenge.  Reportedly it has names written in it including John Sublette.  Sometime this year it will finally get checked off.

         • Our family lived on Squaw Creek for 23 years outside of Lander and our view looked out at Red Butte.  Hope to climb it this summer.

         • If Fossil Butte is not on this list, my friend Vince Tomassi will scold me about it.  He serves incredible meals every Thursday night in Kemmerer-Diamondville at Luigi’s.  Perhaps a tour and dinner, Vince?

         • Enjoy a Scotch tasting part at historic Miner’s Delight in Atlantic City, just above Lander.

         • In 1993, I spent a very nervous time hunting a bighorn ram in the Double Cabin Area northeast of Dubois.  Would love to go back for a more relaxed trip this time around.

         • I still need to take the time to tour UW with a knowledgeable guide and see first-hand all the new buildings and new programs.

         • Some 43 years ago, I photographed what looked like a horrible scar on Togwotee Pass where the area was clear-cut. Would like to go back to those areas and see if the timber has recovered or not?

         • Historian Phil Roberts says he will give me a tour of the “breaks” north of Lusk?   I flew over that area by private plane many times and looked down in awe at this rough country.

         • Would like to spend some quality time around Devil’s Tower, too.

         • A tour of Wyoming’s giant coalmines makes sense.

         • On the Wind River Reservation, I would like to visit the Arapaho Ranch and also visit the mountains at the extreme north end of the rez.

         To wrap this up, my friend Tom Hayes does not like the term “bucket list” and calls his a “leap list” for a list he does every leap year to plan their visits over the next four years.

         Jim Hicks always offers perspective on these kinds of lists when he says he always wanted to break par, then he always wanted to break 80. “Now I just want to be able to get out there and play,” he concludes.

         So that’s my Wyoming bucket list.  What’s yours?




1429 - Wyoming is 124 years young

Should women work in coal mines?

         Should there be a severance tax on coal?

         Should you be literate in order to vote?

         Should women be allowed to vote?

         Should the state own rights to all the water?

         How many people do you need to become a state?

         Those were six of the vexing questions that befuddled early members of the Wyoming State Convention who were preparing Wyoming to be voted on to become a state by the U. S. Congress in 1890.

         That was 124 years ago this month.

         Each year the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic site in Laramie holds a statehood birthday celebration on July 10. I was one of the speakers at this year’s event and part of my job was to go back in time and be able to tell the crowd some of the earliest history of the state.

         Back during that first state convention to consider the application to Congress to become a state, the members were nervous about whether their idea of allowing women to vote should be carried on in their petition.  It would be 30 more years before the nation passed an amendment allowing women to vote.  Wyoming had been allowing it for over a decade.

         After much debate the men (no women were involved in that first state convention) decided they should keep that in their petition.

         Perhaps one of the more crazy questions was should women be allowed to work in coal mines? After much debate and a strenuous argument from one of the new Wyoming men who had moved here from Kentucky, it was decided that women could not work in coal mines. It would be 1978 before the law was changed so women could work in the ultra-modern strip mines that are so ubiquitous in Wyoming today.

         Perhaps the most amazing and perceptive issue to come out of that convention was the idea of putting a severance tax on coal that is shipped out of state.

         It had a lot of support until a legislator (who also happened to be an attorney for the railroad) successfully argued that it would be bad for the state to collect so much money. He argued it was more important to keep government “lean.” So it was 79 years later before a severance tax was finally enacted on the state’s coal.

         Today all across America there is a continuing effort to allow people to vote without making them take literacy tests.  In early Wyoming territory such tests seemed like a good idea.

         Then it was proposed that there were lots of newcomers coming into the state that could read and write.  Meanwhile, a great number of the old ranchers in Wyoming were illiterate.  A persuasive argument was presented that this was not fair to those old cowboys.  The measure failed.

         A lot of the delegates felt strongly that the state should own every drop of water inside the state boundaries.  Sure, individuals could have various junior rights but the state would always have senior rights.

         This prompted a number of vicious fights over the years which prompts me to repeat the old adage: “whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.”

         But the water right issue passed.

         And finally, the biggest issue that could have prevented Wyoming from becoming a state was the lack of population. Like today, the state was destined to become the least populated state in the USA if it achieved statehood.

         Leaders claimed to Congress that more than 60,000 people lived in Wyoming, about the population of today’s Cheyenne area. However, one of the former territorial governors, Thomas Moonlight, was on record as saying there were just 55,500 people in the territory.

         Somehow Wyoming’s leaders convinced Congress that hordes of people would soon be swarming into the Cowboy State (it was not named that, yet, by the way) and everything would be fine.

         F. E. Warren, who was probably the state’s most important leader, was cracking the whip on the folks at the convention, stating repeatedly that “time was of the essence,” if they were going to get Congress to act on their request.

         As much as we all love our state constitution, we learn that much of it was stitched together from different articles of other states’ constitutions.

         The proposal was finally finished and submitted to Congress who approved it and Wyoming became a state on July 10, 1890, almost a century and a quarter ago.


1428- Mother Nature rears up in Wyoming

Mother Nature can take on some ornery appearances across America this time of year – even here in Wyoming.

         Although tornadoes are rare in the Cowboy State, dust devils and waterspouts are quite common.

         Recently an amazing image of a waterspout was photographed by weather spotter Kathy Milton Raper along the Green River Lakes in Sublette County at 7,782 feet above sea level.

         The National Weather Service staff went to the archives and was unable to ever ascertain a report of anything like this at this elevation in the history of recording weather.

         Raper and her husband Charlie were four-wheeling in the area when the incident happened.

         Also in the area were Amy Hemenway and her three daughters. She also took photos of the waterspout and, like the Rapers, endured a hailstorm with stones the size of coins. Kathy was quoted on Pinedale Online that even though they were wearing helmets, heavy gloves and heavy jackets, the bombardment “hurt.”

         Raper further stated: “On May 31, it started hailing hard. We parked in the trees on the bench above The Bend trying to avoid the hail. Then we spotted this waterspout in the sky. When we first saw the funnel it was down the river towards Dollar Lake. We could see water being sucked up out of the lake and then red dirt flying. We watched the funnel move directly above us.”

         More info can be found on National Weather Service web sites or on Pinedale Online.

         Just north of that area in the heart of booming Jackson, folks have been dealing with another act that might have been caused by Mother Nature or perhaps with an assist from developers.

         A landslide threatened homes, apartments and businesses back in April. One home was split in half by the sloughing off of a massive amount of dirt.

         Estimates for the repair range from $8 million to $30 million, which would be daunting for most communities in Wyoming, but probably not for Jackson, which boasts the highest home prices in the country.

         When the slide first started, it was hoped it was just a little slip. But on April 9, the town evacuated residents of more than 40 homes and apartment units.  On April 17, the slide made national news when big chunks of land peeled off from the near 100-foot hillside. 

         The fact that over 50 people were killed in a massive landslide just a month earlier in Oso, WA gave everyone involved the jitters.

         Best story to come out of the slide was by Jackson Hole News and Guide reporter Cindy Carcamo who wrote:

         “Just a few years after Thomas Ralston moved to town, a chimney fire burned down his home. Last month he was driving when a 3,000-pound boulder fell from a mountain onto the roof of his brand-new truck.

         “So when police visited his condo to tell him he had an hour to evacuate because a landslide was threatening the building, he responded the only way he could.  He sort of laughed.”

         She quoted him as saying: “What are you going to do? That’s part of the game when you move to a place like this. Things like this happen. We accept that. We’re at 6,000 feet in the middle of the Rockies. That’s why we live here. We don’t wallow in self-pity.”

         Folks in Cheyenne were clobbered by a monster hailstorm in recent weeks that knocked out windows and ruined roofs. I am sure it brought back memories of 29 years ago on Aug. 3 when a record rain fell on that city, causing flooding and killing 12 people.

         Some six inches of rain fell in less than four hours, which sent five-foot walls of water surging through the capitol city. Several of the victims were trapped in basements where they were hiding from potential tornadoes.

         That storm struck at nightfall with lots of lightning which caused some fires plus two inches of hail that piled into drifts six feet high, according to media reports.

         Then-mayor Don Erickson denied that it was a 100-year flood event. “Cheyenne should not have another one of these for 2,000 years.”

         One of the heroes of that day, according to news reports, was Robert van Alyne Jr., 33, who tied himself to a utility pole so he could free three people from a car. The rope broke after he rescued two of them and he ended up drowning along with the third person, a young girl, that he was trying to rescue.