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1626 - My favorite Wyoming mountain roads

Wyoming’s back roads and mountain roads are some of the best-kept secrets of our great state.

         These are the places favored by the locals and cherished by visitors who can’t help coming back to them again and again.

         On Fathers Day Nancy and I drove up the winding switchbacks of the famous Loop Road that starts at the end of Sinks Canyon just outside of Lander. It was busy up there that day. On one big switchback, we encountered a bicyclist, a motorcyclist, a big SUV and a large pickup towing a fifth wheel trailer.  We all converged at the same location and, well, it was almost like a traffic jam. Almost.

         I envy the folks in Thermopolis, Worland, Greybull, Basin, Powell and Lovell on the west side of the Bighorn Mountains and Buffalo and Sheridan on the east. They have three spectacular U. S. highways (16, 14 and 14A) that cross this towering mountain range from one side to the other. 

  And breaking off from each of these highways are those favorite backcountry mountain roads that locals just treasure.  I know when I drive over these mountain passes on those main highways that the real joy comes from just taking off on one of the side roads. Usually I am in a hurry like everybody else but on my bucket list is the goal of taking the time to drive down each and every one.

         Contrast the Bighorns with our Wind River Mountains.  We have a distance of more than 120 miles between South Pass and Togwotee Pass.  Some of the wonderful mountain roads into the Winds between the two passes and their main highways include the afore-mentioned Loop Road, the Shoshone Lake Road, the Dickinson Park Road, the Dinwoody road, the Torrey Lake road and lots of wonderful little roads taking off in all directions from Dubois.  The Union Pass gravel road northwest of Dubois goes over the mountains and comes out in Sublette County.

         The views of the towering Wind Rivers are much better on the Sublette County side and thousands of folks from that county plus Sweetwater County have most of the great little roads memorized.  Some amazing lakes can be found at the end of these roads.

         In Carbon County, the roads around the Sierra Madre Mountains are spectacular especially near Saratoga, Encampment, and Lake Marie.

         Over in Afton, there are many wonderful mountain roads into the Wyoming Range.

         We used to boat at Flaming Gorge south of Rock Springs and Green River and the monolithic Uintah Mountains loomed over that giant lake.  There are lots of nice roads that start in Wyoming but end up in Utah.

         Wheatland residents have their secret roads into the Esterbrook area near Laramie Peak.  That 10,000-foot behemoth always impresses me because was the first real mountain seen by some 350,000 flatlanders traveling the Oregon-California-Mormon Trail back in the 1800s.

         In northeast Wyoming, you have the under-rated Wyoming Black Hills.  Although lacking the towering peaks of major mountain ranges, this area offers terrific roads into the backcountry. They also have active logging going on over there so a lot more country is accessible than in places where logging has been discontinued.

         Cheyenne and Laramie folks have a myriad of canyons and mountain roads to drive on to their favorite places.  One of the best is old U.S. Highway 30 from Cheyenne to the Summit.  Incredible scenery can be found.

         Perhaps I purposely left Jackson at the bottom of this column. There are not too many roads and trails into the Tetons but the ones that are accessible are truly visions of glory.  There are also lots of mountain roads on the east side of the valley. As you climb that view of the Teton Mountains over your shoulder is perhaps the most beautiful (and most famous) mountain view in the world.

         All these places are here in Wyoming and they are places you need to visit on a hot summer day. I guarantee you most of these places are pretty uninhabited and the cool mountain air will remind you why you live in this wonderful state one more time.

         When I submitted this column to my network of folks who live all over the state, their responses were overwhelming.

I think I can get most of them into my next column – amazing stories about fantastic back roads places.  If you want to participate, email me your favorite back road or mountain road at

1625 - 40 years hence, what will Wyoming look like?

It could be argued that many of the core values and traditional activities cherished by most Wyoming people do not match up with the values of the majority of American citizens.

         If not so today, how will those values match up in the distant future?

         This column is being written looking ahead to the year 2040, when another generation has approached middle age.

         Trends concerning hunting, guns, rodeo, treatment of animals, gender stereotypes and our love affair with fossil fuels that are rapidly taking hold across the country often do not seem to be catching on here, at least not yet.

         My premise is that Wyoming in 2040 could be a lot different than today. The year 2040 is when my oldest grandchild will be 50, and, if I am still around, will be approaching 95 years old.

         Let me be more specific:

         The 47 percent factor. Most Wyoming folks want to believe they are self-reliant conservatives and are opposed to federal government programs providing so much to citizens. The stern reaction by the recent legislature to turn down $33 million in federal Medicaid funds reflects this mind-set.

         Here in Wyoming, we have a huge federal land footprint and low population. Yet the statistics might show, as some critics suggest, that Wyoming citizens are among the biggest welfare beneficiaries in the country when it comes to federal money doled out on a per-capita basis.

         But off in the future, 24 years hence, perhaps the Europeanization of America will have been completed.  It looks like a lot of Millennials are “feeling the Bern,” meaning they are followers of the socialist programs espoused by Bernie Sanders.

         Man’s dominion over animals. This is somewhat biblical but we are a state whose residents love hunting and whose official statewide sport is rodeo.

         Big national groups like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) are making headway in establishing that animals have rights and in some cases, feelings, too

         One example is that some radicals want to give personhood to apes and the higher forms of primates because they exhibit human characteristics.

         Not long ago, a major news organization featured a story where some scientists claimed to have proved that dogs have feelings. As a result, they posited that dogs should not be “owned.” 

         Such attitudes toward the rights of animals are in full glory on both of our coasts, so get ready.  As a pet owner, I wonder what will be different in 2040 than back here in 2016?

         This carries over to rodeo.  These groups feel rodeo animals are being exploited and purposely subjected to injury. Will there be rodeos in 2040? I hope so.

         To me, right now, the biggest group needing protection during a rodeo are the bull riders.  Got to be the toughest sport in the country. Any man who would strap himself on the back of a 2,000-pound belching behemoth is taking his life in his hands. At least give him an airbag, a roll bar and a parachute.

Hunting is popular. In some parts of America, serious animal activists are making headway against hunting wild animals. Hard to believe, but hunting is losing popularity around the country.

Gun ownership in America is always under attack. In the wake of school shootings and terrorist attacks like Orlando, anti-gun folks argue against gun ownership. By 2040, we will definitely have two populations in America, one armed and one unarmed.

         Sexual and gender boundaries are being pushed across the country.  It just seems like an over-reaction that all schools are going to be affected by a small percentage of conflicted transgender kids. Most of Wyoming is resisting this today. But what will be the national norm in 2040?

         I heard a boy mention during his valedictory speech at a graduation this year that one of his most anxious moments of his high school career was “whether to invite that cute boy to the prom.”  Yes, things are changing.

         Wyoming folks appreciate fossil fuels. Most of our state government leaders deny the advent of worldwide global warming.  Much of the country wants to move on to renewable energy. People on both coasts dislike the thought of all that smelly smoke coming out of coal-fired power plants. Sorry, but I cannot help myself, in repeating this old joke on this subject:

         After all, most of these folks would say if you want electricity, why do you need coal? Duh, just plug your cord into the wall.  



1624 - Wyoming is about as green as Ireland

After visiting six states in the last three weeks, it is abundantly clear that we are no longer in the pesky drought that affected western states in such a dire way over the last two decades.

         The greenest state, though, is Wyoming. The Red Desert now has a new name: The Green Desert.

         Our famous foothills outside of Lander that protect us from the awesome beauty of the bare Wind River Mountains, known as the Lander Front, are as green as my front yard.

         Rivers and creeks are running high. By the time this column gets published, I would predict flooding will be occurring at various places around the state.

         I am writing this on Sunday, June 5, where the thermometer reads 93 this afternoon.  Whew!  It was so cold and so wet for so long, it is hard to believe that real summer is bearing down on us.

         One of my trips involved fetching our old motorhome, which has been stored in Las Vegas.  Even Nevada and Arizona were green.  Even parched St. George, Utah was verdant.

Here in Wyoming, Baggs and Rawlins were amazingly green. Rivers and creeks are running muddy and high. They are over the banks in many of the places we passed through.

The North Platte was running high east of Rawlins on Interstate 80. The Sweetwater River was over its banks near Sweetwater Station between Lander and Jeffrey City.

Places in Sheridan, Johnson and Campbell counties plus other NE Wyoming counties are not nearly so green. In fact Gov. Matt Mead signed a drought resolution earlier in June.

Another of my trips took me through Yellowstone and up to Montana. On the way home, Powell is like one giant garden.  Worland was dizzyingly green. Boysen Reservoir between Shoshoni and Riverton was high. Badwater Creek, which is always dry and always “bad”, was running over its banks between Shoshoni and Wind River Canyon.

I remarked to an experienced forest firefighter that we probably were not in any fire danger this year, right?

He was cautious.

Well, yes and no, he said. Because of all the rain, we have had tremendous growth of grass and weeds in the mountains. If it gets crazy dry this fall and high dry winds come up, we could have a monster conflagration.  However, he really was hoping this would not happen.

During our motorhome trip back from Las Vegas, we spent the night in Mesquite. The couple next door was from Alberta, Canada. They were very familiar with that monster fire at a place called Fort McMurray.

They said it was truly hell on earth but luckily they lived 50 miles away.  They said growth of foliage from wet weather that had dried, then the fire went wild, consuming all that fuel, aided by high winds featuring very dry air. Sound familiar?

I made a trip to Jackson May 25 and encountered a snowstorm on 9,500-foot Togwotee Pass. It was a typical Wyoming meeting. Three hours over, attend a one-hour meeting and three hours back home. Again, rivers and creeks were running high and everything was as green as could be imagined.

Down in Casper, the overflow at the Pathfinder dam has been amazingly impressive.  Biggest flow in years.

When I surveyed some friends around the state, here is what they reported:

“It’s beautiful in and around Wheatland,” says Linda Fabian. “Green and lush. No flooding up on the mountain but those people did have a couple weeks of way too much water!  They are always thankful for it, though.”

Ray Hunkins, from the same area, said: “The northern Laramie Range is as good as I have seen it, and I have owned our ranch for over 35 years. It is located just south of Laramie Peak. The flooding Laramie River has made transportation and access difficult for the second year in a row.”

Chuck Brown, also of Wheatland, reported creeks and rivers are at maximum capacity.

Ann Pendley of Cody emailed me a photo that showed just how green her part of the state looks.  Her picture showed a scene that looked like Ireland.

Vince Tomassi in Kemmerer-Diamondville said: “It is very green but drying out a little now with the recent winds and no rain for 10 days or so. Sure looks great right now.”

Up in Buffalo, local columnist Sagebrush Sven was asked by wife Maudie to put the snow shovel.  Sven was protesting, though, saying you never can tell . . .