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1643 - Flatlands and mountains in all western states

Is it possible that you can learn more about your home state by spending some time in and traveling through some adjoining western states?

         Maybe.  Here goes:

         In Wyoming, a person often contrasts the flat high prairie of southeastern Wyoming with the mountainous high country of the northwest part of the state.

         It is almost as if a diagonal line were drawn across our big rectangle with the goal of making the place half prairie and half mountain.

         Folks involved with agriculture on the high prairies sometimes have different attitudes and different agendas than those who come from the higher climes.

         So, is Wyoming unique in this geographic layout?

         Come to find out, most western states share this 50:50 breakdown like Wyoming.

         Lately, we spent time in some western states driving our motorhome from a granddaughter’s wedding in Colorado to a visit with other grandchildren in Washington State.

         Such an extended trip took us through Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington. Each of these states has vast areas of high prairie country. And each has vast areas of mountainous terrain. It is almost like whomever designs states came up with this formula for how a western state is supposed to look like – half prairie and half mountain.

         It might have been expected that those old-time state-makers and mapmakers would have combined eastern Wyoming with Nebraska so it would have been a harmonious flat place. Or combine eastern Colorado with Kansas. Or eastern Montana with the Dakotas. Or western Montana with western Wyoming.  Or northwestern Wyoming with northern Idaho and southwest Montana.

         But nope.  Each state has its prairie component and each has its mountains.

         During our travels in these western states, we saw some eye-popping sights.

         It is easy to be impressed by the amazing engineering wonders in our state. A future column will detail what I think are our “Wyoming’s 7 greatest man-made wonders.” But for now let me tell you about some of the amazing things we saw traveling around the west.

         The bridges on Interstate 90 between Missoula, MT and Spokane, WA are jaw dropping.  There must be seven huge bridges, alone, that cross the Clark Fork River. This huge river is not to be confused with the Clark’s Fork River near Cody. Both rivers are named for William Clark of the famous Corps of Discovery expedition.

         Interstate 84 has some monumental highway passes up and down some the biggest hills I have ever seen in western Oregon around Baker City.

         The Grand Coulee Dam in northern Washington is a masterpiece of concrete workmanship. It created Lake Roosevelt that runs 150 miles all the way into Canada.

         Interstate 70 west of Denver is a marvel of tunnels, bridges and elevated cement highways.

         Highway 191 from Vernal, UT to Rock Springs has impressive views from all the switchbacks and scenic areas.

         One of the more ironic events that occurred was when we were driving over Lookout Pass on the border between Idaho and Montana on Interstate 90.  I was going slowly when a vehicle came barreling up behind me and zoomed on by.

         I could only glimpse, but sure enough it was a Wyoming pickup.

         Wyoming pickup drivers are the fastest drivers in the country, especially those pulling horse trailers. In all my years in the state and all the miles I have driven, I swear that I have never had to pass a pickup pulling a horse trailer.  They have passed me probably a hundred times in all kinds of weather.

         They are all driving one-ton, diesel monsters equipped with high torque engines.  They can pass you going up a hill as easy as on the flat.

         One time a few years ago, we were driving slowly on icy roads on Interstate 25 between Casper and Douglas when one of these guys went flying by me.  In the distance ahead, I saw him lose control and skid into the center median, throwing up a huge rooster tail of snow.  As we went by, I slowed to see how he was doing.  He looked over, then gunned the rig and managed to drive it back onto the Interstate and went barreling right by me again.

         Those guys have no fear. They really know how to cover some miles in a vast place like Wyoming.

         And I think they travel the same speeds up and down the mountains as they travel on the high prairie, which pretty much rounds the entirety of this column today.



1642 - A visit to my Wyoming Bucket List

When you have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world, why would you then spend so much time wandering around Wyoming?

         I get that question a lot.

         The answer is simple – there is just so much to see and do in our great state and we want to experience all of it.

         Earlier in our lives, we were fortunate to visit Canada and Mexico.  I earned a Masters Degree in Cardiff, Wales. We used to own a company that promoted the Rocky Mountain States in Europe. We visited Hong Kong to line up getting some publishing work done. In 1989, Gov. Mike Sullivan invited me to go to Taiwan, by way of Japan, on an international trade mission. We even did pilgrimages to Rome and Lourdes, France.

         But now that we are in the motorhome stage of our lives, it just makes sense to wander around our home state as much as we can.

         A few years ago I put together my “Wyoming Bucket List” and, despite traveling all over the state, there are still a number of items that need to be accomplished. 

         So, here is my updated Wyoming Bucket List.  And, yes, please let me know if there are places and events on this list that you think we should plan to get to in the next few years:

         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 world

• Am hoping to take a closer look at the Vedauwoo area outside of Laramie.  Again, I have driven by it hundreds of times. It is time for a closer look.  Also, we hope 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, which most folks call Castle Rock.  Reportedly it has names written on its walls including Sublette.  Sometime in the next 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 next 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?

         • 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. Probably need to take a lot more bear spray this time.

         • 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 46 years ago, I snapped aerial photographs of 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, with Ogden Driskell as my guide.

         • Perhaps one of these days, we can tour that vast area north of Gillette with Tom Lubnau showing me around.

         • I would like to spend an afternoon talking about the Johnson County War with author John Davis of Worland.

         • Also on the list is visiting Adobe Town in the Red Desert with either Dan Hayward or Paul Ng, two outstanding photographers.

         • A tour of Wyoming’s giant coalmines and trona mines 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. Would love to climb to the top of Crowheart Butte.

         • One of the biggest wind farms in the world is getting ready to be built south of Rawlins.  Should would be a nice trip to check it out before all those towers get built.

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



1641 - Wyoming, The Big Empty, is not alone

There are stretches of Wyoming that seem to go on forever. Our tongue-in-cheek state motto of the Big Empty really makes sense when you are driving across these vast places.

         My late dad used to complain about that stretch of Highway 26 from Casper to Shoshoni as “96 miles of nuthin.’” There have been some boring afternoon trips that would qualify for that assessment.

         Recently, we were in the Eden-Farson area, which to those who do not know, is between Rock Springs and Pinedale.  North of Farson is about a 30-mile stretch where it appears to be flat as a pool table.  Of course, over your shoulder is the vast Wind River Mountain Range, which on that side, shows off all its glory.

         On the other end of the state, north of Cheyenne toward Wheatland, is another big stretch of our high plains.  A similar swath also covers a huge chunk of land north of Laramie.

         There are some big ranches nestled out there and where there is occasional water, there is a lot of activity.

         The Thunder Basin National Grassland, which stretches north of Douglas up to Gillette, is another of our high plateau wonders. Talk about Big Sky! The horizon just cannot get any bigger than that.

         And when you talk about Big Sky, people usually think about the state of Montana, which has greedily adopted that fine moniker. I happen to be currently listening to an audiobook version of A. B. Guthrie’s famous book The Big Sky and most of its story occurs in Wyoming.  I am right now listening to a big section about mountain men heading to Rendezvous where the Wind River and the Popo Agie River turn into a river he called the Horn (the Big Horn).

         Now this is a classic book and a wonderful read if you love the West like I do.  But I wonder if it is allowed in classrooms any more? I doubt Guthrie’s book can pass muster in schools that today are monitored by the Political Correct police.  But wow, what a great book. It could be assumed that some edited versions are in some libraries.

         I would also recommend that people buy it as an audiobook – it has so much more color.  It just comes alive.

         The first and among the greatest of all the western novels is The Virginian, written in 1902 by Owen Wister at a hotel in little Medicine Bow, Wyoming. Its portrayal of the protagonist of the book as an honest, straight-shooting cowboy set the stage for an image that became standard for such books for decades. Wyoming’s Code of the West could have come from that book.

         Another great book, which is immensely informative, is Wallace Stegner’s Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, written in 1954.  It is a true story and a wonderful read.  Its later chapters detailed how the conservation districts were formed in the USA and were a little tedious. Not nearly as interesting as the earlier chapters about how one-armed John Wesley Powell conquered the Grand Canyon, departing from Expedition Island in Green River.

         Again, though, as wide open as much of Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, Utah and Idaho are today, when I am listening to The Big Sky, it is inconceivable to imagine our part of the country without cities or towns.  Guthrie’s novel takes place around 1830 and some of the older mountain men are already complaining  “there are just too many white people out here now. They have ruined the place!”

         Besides Wyoming, lately I have been in Montana, Colorado, Utah and Idaho and those same vast expanses that grace the Cowboy State also exist in these other places.

         If you took all the land available in the Rockies, we could probably have a billion people in the USA.  Not a good idea, just a gentle speculation.

         But I digress.

         One of my favorite drives is highway 191 from Vernal, Utah, to Rock Springs.  There are a lot of switchbacks and the color when I came over it the first week of October was brilliant.

         Course, once we got to the Wyoming side of the mountain range, it started snowing.  Sort of took the fun out of what was shaping up to be a very pretty fall drive.

         Earlier on that same trip, we traveled over South Pass and in all my years of living in Fremont County, I have never seen that fall color more beautiful.  The yellows, golds and reds were dazzling.