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1532 - Crazy things happen during Dog Days

Some terrible crimes and some oddball happenings have been occurring here during the hottest time of our Wyoming summer.

         In many parts of the country, the hottest days of summer are referred to as “dog days” because canines cannot stand the heat and go crazy.  And so do people.

         Horrible, incredible crimes occurred in Riverton and Cheyenne during the hottest days of Wyoming’s summer of 2015.

         In Riverton, a 13-year city employee walked into a detox facility and tried to kill two American Indian men, succeeding with one and inflicting lifelong injuries on the other.

         Roy Clyde, 32, said he was tired of picking up after “park rangers,” which is the local slur given to drunks who have a tendency to gather at Riverton City Park. Clyde, a city employee, who spent a lot of his time picking up debris left behind, apparently snapped and went on his killing spree.

         Although the men he shot were apparently sleeping off their inebriation at the detox center, neither was homeless and both came from well-known Arapaho families on the reservation.

         Stallone Trosper, 29, was murdered by Clyde while Sonny Goggles, 50, is fighting for his life in a Casper hospital. Clyde shot both men in the head.

         Some 200 miles away, another horrible crime was being committed.

         In Cheyenne during Frontier Days, a killer walked into the Coin Shop and gunned down two popular local men.

         Dwight Brockman, 67, owner of the Coin Shop and George Manley, 76, were the victims.  Police are seeking a lone gunman, believed to be a Hispanic male, who they think did the killings.

         On the same day, Dave Doyle, a former long-time Cheyenne resident, was stabbed to death in North Carolina, where he had moved, further stunning the folks who live in the capital city.

         We were in Montana last week when a terrible story occurred up there involving two murders.  Two Good Samaritans, Tana and Jason Shane, saw a guy stranded near the town of Pryor so turned around and went back to help him.

         The stranded man said later he thought their daughter was laughing at him so he killed the husband and wife and shot the daughter, Jorah Shane, 24, in the head and back as she tried to run away. She is hospitalized in Billings.

         The killer was identified as a Worland man, Jesus Deniz Mendoza, 18. He had recently been released from jail pending burglary and drug charges.  He reportedly said he killed them because “he was tired of waiting around.”  He drove away in the couple’s car and was subsequently arrested in Wyoming eight miles north of Meeteetse. Mendoza is in jail in Cody.

         Sad stories and crazy times.  Condolences to the families of the victims.

         Craziness can even affect the weather.

         While July is normally Wyoming’s hottest month, the weather took an odd turn on July 28 when it dropped to 24 degrees in Laramie. Outside of Lander, it was 36 degrees. The guys at the Fox News All-Stars coffee klatch that morning were wearing jackets and long pants, after weeks ago switching to summer attire of tee shirts, shorts and sandals.  None on this cool day. Snow was reported in the Tetons, even.

         Remember that wet spring we had? In Carbon County, the drought is now over.  Banker Richard Chenowith said he is seeing his area flooded with cattle grazing on all that new grass.  One 30-year old son of a rancher had never seen grass as high as it has been this year.

         Last year when most of Wyoming was green, Carbon County was the lone dry spot.  Not any more.

         During a recent trip to northeast Wyoming and also to the Black Hills, we stayed at the fine Alex Johnson hotel in Rapid City.

         Funny thing about their management group is their corporate name is the ISIS Group and it has been a proud name for them for over 15 years.  No more. Wisely, they are changing it to Liv Hotels.  Odd how things work out.

         Six months ago I reported in this column about a Wyoming native, Doug Owsley, working to prove that an ancient skeleton called Kennewick Man was not American Indian but descended from some other race.

         Subsequent to that story, it was later proved that the skeleton was, indeed, that of an American Indian.  It was more than 9,000 years old but had facial characteristics that were different from traditional Indian skeletons found from that time.


1531 - Those fantastic Wyoming Black Hills

There is so much more to see than just Devils Tower.

         I am writing about the “Wyoming Black Hills,” which although lesser known than their South Dakota big brothers, still offer some wonderful visiting opportunities.

         Yes, Devils Tower is the center of everything.  This towering monolith was our nation’s first national monument back in 1906 and it is a totally impressive place.

         State Sen. Ogden Driskell has a historic ranch up there and also operates the KOA campground, which looks up at the tower. They love their country there and will spend lots of time talking about it to you.

         Another national historic place is the Vore Buffalo Jump, which is right next to Interstate 90. In fact, it was in the way of the proposed highway and that was when it was discovered.

         Luckily, they moved the highway. You can get a family tour for $20 from some friendly folks there. We were in a hurry and skipped the tour but peered over the fence at the big sinkhole.  Different groups of Indians would get together over centuries and stampede herds of bison to their deaths over the side.  It is estimated that 20,000 bison died in one 300-year period before white men wiped out the vast herds. Easy to get to and well worth the stop.

         Just up the road from the Jump is the new (well, five years new) Wyoming Welcome Center. This is an impressive place for tourists to visit.  It is also a nice place for Wyoming folks to visit, since it is full of educational and entertaining displays and television programs about the state.

         As a side note, it was always interesting to me that two of Wyoming’s most important welcome centers were on the wrong side of the highways for tourists coming into the state.

         We talked about this a lot when I was chairman of the Travel Commission back in 1993, this situation has been cured.

         The former welcome center in northeast Wyoming was on the left side of Interstate 90 for decades forcing tourists to cross over the Interstate to get to it.  Studies showed that tourists just did not want to do this and so, large numbers of them did not stop.

         Worst case was the state’s main welcome center in Cheyenne. Again, for decades, it was located on the left side of Interstate 25 for tourists entering Wyoming from the south. 

         Today, we have a spectacular welcome center on the inbound sides of the Interstate highways in both Cheyenne and in northeast Wyoming.  But I digress . . .

         Back to northeast Wyoming. The area is full of charming little communities like Newcastle, Sundance, Beulah, Pine Haven, Hulett, Aladdin, Moorcroft, Upton and other burgs almost too small to remember.

         Hulett is unique because of its small town charm with a big-time sawmill. There is a serious amount of wood being produced at the mill there.

         I always liked Sundance because you could see Sundance Mountain from 50 miles away.  It was always unique to be going east on Interstate 90 and look to the north and see Devils Tower in the distance and look straight ahead and spot Sundance Mountain.

         Newcastle is located at one of the prettiest sites in all of Wyoming.  By all appearances, you might think it is a “mountain town” except there are no big mountains around – just those beautiful hills.

         While we were in the area we ventured to Rapid City and stayed at the amazing Alex Johnson Hotel downtown.  Lots of nightlife.

         Mount Rushmore was its incredible self but the changes at the Crazy Horse Memorial were most impressive.  It is the biggest rock carving on earth and is taller than the pyramids. Worth a look.

         Our group swam at the Evans Plunge in Hot Springs a wonderful respite after a day in the hot sun.

         Earlier, we visited the venerable Reptile Gardens in Rapid City. Started in 1937, it continues to impress with the largest collections of its type in the country.

         Then it was back to Wyoming and heading home. Lots of road construction.  We hit a pothole so deep in Edgerton, thought it was going to wreck us. Who do I send the realignment bill to?  The town or the construction company?

         Despite that one literal bump in the road, the trip was excellent. It was capped off by my Texas grandkids being totally amazed by Hell’s Half Acre between Casper and Shoshoni.


1530 - Coal is in a fight for its life

The history of coal’s significance to Wyoming’s economy is being written today.  It is beginning to look like a swan song.

         Wyoming’s long love affair with coal can be written in five brief epochal paragraphs:

         First, plentiful underground coal in places like Hanna, Rock Springs and Kemmerer were key determining factors in the Union Pacific Railroad choosing a route through the future state of Wyoming in the 1860s.  Without the railroad, the state, as we know it, would have not come into being. Coal was a very big deal in our early days.

         Second, when the railroad switched to diesel, the coal mines dried up and Wyoming’s economy suffered. Suddenly this abundant resource had fewer large customers.

         Third, for decades everyone knew that the Powder River Basin in northeast Wyoming had the most abundant coal reserves on the planet.  But the coal was not as hot burning as coal from places like West Virginia and Kentucky so it remained buried in the ground.

         Fourth, an environmental outcry in the 1970s saw a nation hungry for cheap energy turn to Wyoming for coal that was “clean burning” and not nearly the pollutant that that black, smelly stuff from back east provided.  Wyoming embarked on a coal boom that lasted four decades and is still going.

         Fifth, today, even so-called clean coal is under attack because scientists claim the pollutants from it are destroying the atmosphere and causing climate change. Coal is under assault across the world. Here in Wyoming, growth is stymied and there is no easily growing market for our coal.

         The statistics are both grim and impressive. Some 17 percent of the coal-fired electrical capacity in the nation will disappear in the next few years, according to the Bloomberg New Energy Finance report.

         Worldwide, with places like India and China still building coal-fired plants, that same outfit predicts the peak usage of coal will occur in 2025 and then a steep decline will start. Here in America, it is already happening.

Internationally, some of the blame is focused on Australia. Australia?

         The dollar has surged against the Australian currency in the past two years, causing worldwide prices for product from that country to be much more competitive than American coal.

         This has put American companies in distress because their hole card in selling more coal has been a hoped for increase in exports as domestic demand goes down.

         But exporting coal is chancy as best. Bloomberg points out that China cut its coal imports by 34 percent since 2013.

         What is most depressing to Wyoming folks is that there still lies 300 years of coal in the ground, yet to be mined. Expensive infrastructure is in place to mine it . . . if there only was a market?

         Jim Hicks, a county commissioner and former newspaper publisher in Buffalo, is a funny guy.  And a clever one, too.

         With apologies to a guy named Sweat who first wrote this ditty 60 years ago and was talking about whiskey, we get to read what Jim has to say why we should love coal and why we may want to hate it, too.  Here goes:

          “If you are talking about the black scourge that is pumping out tons of monoxide into our atmosphere each day, creating global warming, violent weather, damaging the lungs of the young and elderly . . . the product of the greedy and wealthy people who run corporations placing stockholder profits above the future of the very earth where we live, and have a heartless view of our fragile environment with no concern of the many very species of animals and birds which inhabit the earth . . . then my friend . . . I am opposed to coal with every fiber of my being.

“However, if by coal you mean the God given blessing placed in abundance in this wonderful State of Wyoming, which has provided cheap power for virtually every kind of industry and commerce in our country, creating millions of jobs because that very power source has made our goods and services competitive on the world market . . . the resource in such abundance that it generates security for hundreds of years to come and generates the tax dollars which create quality education, health services, law enforcement, safety, good roads and highways, low unemployment and a higher standard of living for all . . . then my friend, I am absolutely, unequivocally in favor of it.”

1529 - How to harness powerful Wyoming winds

Although local Wyomingites are not surprised by this fact, out-of-staters are always stunned by the velocity of our wind. It is scary powerful. And it is probable that our wind is cursed more often than it is viewed as a blessing.

But when it comes to the future of renewable energy in America, Wyoming’s abundant, cool afternoon winds are viewed as a gold mine. And one of the biggest prospectors in this modern day gold rush is an incredibly patient Denver billionaire with some Wyoming history.

         Phil Anschutz has been trying to get the country’s biggest wind turbine project built for the past nine years and it is still stalled by regulations and environmental studies. All these cautions might guarantee that this most-environmental friendly project in the country may never come to fruition.   

If there ever was a project that deserved a fast track from the feds, this could be it.  But that is not meant to be.  Anschutz might as well be building a coal-fired power plant or even a nuclear plant.

         The plan calls for a 500-windmill project in phase one that would transport electricity along a proposed power line from Wyoming to California.

         California people have also been wondering what the holdup is with this project that long ago was designed to provide green clean energy for them.

         A media outfit called Pacific Standard sent reporter Gabriel Kahn to find out. His story focused on Greybull native Bill Miller who has worked at the 500-square mile property in Carbon County called the Overland Trail Ranch. It was Miller who first took notice of the ever-present monstrous winds that blew every afternoon. 

         Wyoming’s afternoon winds are of high value to California power brokers because power is generated here at the same time that it is needed the most out west.

         Some years ago, a map of Wyoming was distributed which showed the highest wind rates across the state.  The highest areas were in the Laramie Peak area.  Also along an area paralleling Interstate 80.

         It seems that not just Union Pacific trains and huge semi trailer trucks follow that Interstate 80 route – but brisk winds do, as well. Of course, we all know that.  Most anyone who has driven that Interstate has horror stories to recall.

         Anschutz’s horror stories are of environmental regulation issues.  He hired squads of observers because there was fear that the 32-story high windmills with their 200-foot long blades would obliterate eagles.  Some wind farm owners across the country have been fined large amounts and treated like criminals because of eagle kills. Few eagles were even spotted here, though.

         The Pacific Standard article included some very interesting insights, including:

“Roxane Perruso, the project’s general counsel went to an American Wind Energy Association convention where someone asked her how big the farm would be. Being modest, she responded that it was over 2,000 megawatts. ‘He put his hand on my shoulder, sighed, and said, Oh, sweetheart, I think you’re confused— you must mean 200 megawatts.’

“Confused, no. Audacious, yes. The wind farm, which Miller named the Power Company of Wyoming, would be so big that the construction phase would amount to a modern version of pyramid building. Just getting the first 500 turbines up and running would take two years. To get around the fact that the turbines were too large to bring in via standard 18-wheelers on the public roads, Miller’s engineers drew up a plan to build a two-mile rail spur leading to the ranch from the old Union Pacific rail line. Trains 100 cars long would haul the first batch of turbines to a special staging area where they would be unloaded.

“From there, they’d be moved into place along the ranch’s ridges and bluffs via 500 miles of newly constructed access roads. To build the roads, the engineers would first have to dig out limestone and gravel from a quarry on the ranch. Rural Wyoming lacks the manpower for such an endeavor, so workers would have to re-locate to the area. The project called for building a ‘man camp’ with up to 500 beds and an RV park that could handle 250 trailers.”

The ultimate bad news for Anschutz in all this is that these regulatory delays could cause the project to be much smaller than envisioned.  So much green power is now being generated by local California resources, the obvious need for Wyoming wind power of just a few years ago may not be as acute today.



1528 - Wish I didn`t know now what I didn`t know then

Charles Pelkey, a state legislator and attorney in Laramie, put a story on Facebook about the pitfalls of being a grown-up adult in today’s society:

“A bit of an existential crisis: I stopped by my favorite liquor store for a bottle of wine. A couple of folks were sitting at the bar as I ordered the Pinot Noir I planned to enjoy with dinner. One of them turned to me and asked ‘are you a lawyer?’

“’Yes. Yes, I am,’ I replied, perhaps thinking I had another client in the hopper.

"Cool," said the young man, "because you LOOK like a lawyer."

WTH?! I am now officially "The MAN?!" Not "Da Man," but "the MAN."

“In my heart, I am still that 21-year-old hippy-dirt-bag many of you knew back then and, suddenly, I am The MAN?! What would 21-year-old Charles Pelkey think of that? Fifty-seven-year-old Charles Pelkey has been sent into a serious identity crisis.

What next? Will they someday tell me that I look like a politician?

Oh. Never mind.”

         Pelkey’s post brought out 77 comments from people who both shared his image issues or remembered him as that 21-year old, and yes, wondered what in the heck happened to him?

         But I was intrigued more by his idea of what would that 21-year old version of himself say to that 57-year old version of himself?

         Sort of like the old TV commercial where a young man is visited by an older version of himself, who advises him that things are going to turn out okay and that he is on the right track.

         Would that not have been great to have our future self come back in time and advise us as young people?  How many times have we all said to ourselves “if only I would have know then what I know now.”

         But then if you twist all these words around, you come up with something else.  I love the following musical version of this similar line:

         “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then,” are the poignant words from one of my favorite Bob Seger songs.

         Perhaps another version of that “if I had only known . . .” could apply to folks driving back roads around Wyoming with these fancy new navigation systems in their cars or on their phones.

         Two New York women were found driving around the desert southeast of Riverton recently when their navigation system instructed them to take a two-track road. They ended up eight miles off the Sand Draw highway before getting stranded.

         Fremont County Sheriff’s officers heard about their plight and rescued them.

         I assume they might have taken a road known as the Hudson-Atlantic City BLM road, which is actually pretty good.  It is gravel and can be fairly narrow and, yes, there are no convenience stores or rest areas within a great many miles.

         Yet it will turn up as a real road on that navigation screen.

         Same thing happened to me one time in Colorado.

         I had just acquired a car with navigation and plugged in that I need to go to Montrose, CO where our daughter and grandchildren live.  It steered me halfway up this steep, snowy pass before I realized that it was a seasonal road and was closed!

         After carefully backing down a ways and turning around, I learned not to be totally trusting of these new-fangled things.

         Those of us who have experienced a lot of change in our lives can be excused for some times yearning back to a simpler time.  When our phones were used as telephones, for example.

         Folks who fight technology today are still known as Luddites, after a 19th century man in Great Britain named Ludd who fought valiantly against the progress brought about by the invention of various machines that reduced labor and improved efficiency.

         Lately I have been doing historical research in Wyoming and our early history of underground coal mines sure has its share of awful tragedies.

         One mine disaster near Hanna killed 169 men while another near Kemmerer killed 99.

         Men were literally taking their lives into their hands when they ventured down into the underground mines.

         Photos from back then showed men whose faces were completely black.  Many photos show them carrying their pails of beer, which usually was much safer to drink down in the mines than the local water that was available.

         Yes, we have made progress. Thankfully.