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1713 - Welcome to Wyoming Spring

Ah, spring.

         In much of the United States, spring is a time of tilling the soil, putting out flower plants and long walks in short sleeve shirts.

         Now here in Wyoming, spring often offers something quite different. Wyoming’s other seasons are quite predictable.  For example:

Summer features long sun-filled days, low humidity, the bluest skies in America and cool, wonderful nights. It is a time of golf and of camping. It is a time of enjoying five hours of daylight after work and birds chirping in the crispy, early-morning air.

         Fall is when the famous brown and gold of Wyoming comes to light. Many visitors and newcomers are often disappointed in the over-abundance of these colors in our landscapes.  Veteran Wyomingites feel just the opposite. Many people actually prefer fall as their favorite season.  It is time for the annual hunting trip, which means heading to the upper country or the high prairies.

         Winter is snowy with long nights, wind chill factor concerns and closures of mountain passes and major highways.  It is a time for snowmobiling, skiing and watching football and basketball on TV. It is a time when we all bundle up and make sure we are prepared for any emergency.

         But springtime in Wyoming. Normally it is mud season, but not so bad so far. Our fierce winds have dried things out in the valleys.

         Where I live in Fremont County, we just enjoyed a real abnormal “spring-like” first two weeks of March, as literally no moisture fell at all, until we got more than one inch of rain on March 23.

         Going into April, our mountain snowpack level is at 175 percent of average. On a recent drive back to Lander from Riverton, I actually envied the view from our Fremont County twin city.  They get to the view the entire mountain range and boy, was it glistening white in the bright sun against a blue sky. 

Temperatures then soared into the 70s and it was balmy much of the time. April is actually our wettest month of the year with lots of wet, heavy snow.  Cheyenne doesn’t receive as much snow in April although Laramie has seen many blizzards over the years during the fourth month.

         Former Lovell and Thermopolis publisher Pat Schmidt, who now lives in Cheyenne, has this take on the winter of 2016-2017 and our mild spring:

“The mild winter in southeast Wyoming reminds me of the winter of 1977-78 when I was in Lovell. That winter was tough in northern Wyoming and mild in the southeast. I can remember flying from Denver to Billings and observing no snow until I got to the almost snowbound Big Horn Basin.

“The next winter, 1978-79, was terrible for the whole state, as you recall. Wyoming was really snowbound; had it not been for modern snowmobiles, 4-wheel drives and other improved equipment it would have been as much of a disaster as the winter of 1949. In 1978-79 thousands of head of livestock died, cattle as well as sheep. The problem wasn`t giant drifts like 1949, it was one layer of snow crusting on top of another from repeated storms; animals couldn`t dig through. 

“Mustangs on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range along the Montana border were caught on windswept ridges. As the deaths mounted, it appeared that rare bloodline would be wiped out. We tried dropping bales of hay to them from a helicopter but later found out that only compounded the problem. Some were lost because they didn`t have the proper bacteria in their system to digest dry hay. Luckily somewhere around 75 horses were not caught on the ridges and survived in lower elevations.

“Remember how there was only one road to an oil well that allowed you to pull off US Highway 20-26 between Shoshoni and Casper? (The snow bank was yellow there because the highway rest stop hadn`t been built!)

“Unlike many Wyoming towns, Lovell has extremely accurate weather records because of the sugar factory. As the months dragged on, that winter broke most of the 1949 records for Lovell, so we started using their record winter of 1919 for comparison when it came to temperatures and many of the records still fell. 

“Why go into such detail about those two successive winters? Because it will be interesting to watch and see if the southeast dry, north and west snow-packed winter of 2016-17 is followed by a 2017-18 winter as severe as occurred then. If it is, look out!”




1712 - Some folks who died that we will miss

Recently, we have found ourselves saying good-bye to people who were influential to us and other folks around Wyoming.

         The Grande Dame of our hometown of Lander was Betty Kail, who died recently at 81.  She was an elegant gal with a strong backbone and an ambitious resolve to go where other women had never ventured before.

         In the Equality State, Betty truly proved that women are equal to men.  She may have proved they are superior.

         She was an attorney back when there were few women attorneys. She was the state’s first county court judge. Gov. Mike Sullivan appointed her the state’s first female district court judge.

         A tall, imposing woman, she always presented herself in a professional manner and had thousands of friends and admirers all over the region. She also was a former president of the board of trustees at the University of Wyoming.

         We thank Gov. Matt Mead for ordering the state’s flags to be flown at half-mast on March 16, the day of her funeral.

         Some other recent deaths that deserve mention:


         • A note-worthy person who recently died was former U. S. Rep. John Wold of Casper. At the age of 100 at the time of his death, he was the oldest surviving member of the U. S. House.

         Ever dapper and keenly involved in local and statewide politics, he was a force in this state for 70 years both in politics and the energy industry.  He was truly a giant.


         • When we moved to Wyoming from Iowa 46 years, I had never been to a national forest and only knew about Forest Rangers from childhood books.

         Hiram “Doc” Smith was the local ranger for the vast Shoshone National Forest out of the Lander office.  We became great friends and he took me on my first pack trips back in to the heart of the towering Wind River Mountain Range. To a former flatlander, those experiences were unforgettable.

         Most memorable was being surrounded by lightning in a snowstorm at the top of Bears Ears Pass in August with literally nowhere to go. Doc got us out of that mess.

         In his earlier career he was a smokejumper and had harrowing stories to tell about putting out fires all over the west. He seemed to always be smoking a corncob pipe, back in the day.

         Doc ultimately was transferred away from Lander and died Feb. 25 in Chandler, AZ at the age of 80. 


         • Carroll Orrison of Casper and I served together on the Wyoming Aeronautics Commission some ten years ago.

         What a colorful character!  He was the Wyoming Cowboys biggest fan and he had lots of friends since he also was a Budweiser distributor.

         He owned an antique Rolls Royce convertible, which he drove around during parades and other promotions. It was not unusual to see him dressed like a Rhinestone Cowboy with over $10,000 in various types of jewelry.

         He was everybody’s friend and was generous to one and all. He was 87 at the time of his death.


         • The first event I covered after moving to Wyoming as a newspaperman was the fall wrap-up banquet of the local golf club. A nice man with a big smile and friendly demeanor greeted me at the door. He was named Chuck Yardas Sr. and immediately took me under his wing and was a friend for the following 46 years. 

         He was going to turn 94 on March 20 this year and that was when the community turned out to say good-bye.

         A long time lumberyard owner, he was one of the most active members of an economic development group in Lander called LEADER, which held more than 1,000 meetings over a 30-year period. He loved our little town and he attended just about every one of them.


         • We were sorry to hear about the premature death of Debra Beck, 58, of Laramie recently.  She had fought valiantly against cancer during a four-month battle.

         Her husband is Wyoming news legend Bob Beck of Wyoming Public Radio. Our condolences


         • A local Lander ranching legend was Bill Ruby, 88, who died recently. 

His funeral must have been a hoot.  It is my understanding that the local ranching community gave him a first-rate sendoff.


• A Wyoming rodeo coaching legend, Tom Parker, lost his battle with cancer at the age of 69 on March 15.  He had done extraordinary things at Casper College and other schools around the state.

He was, coincidentally, a native of Lander.