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1846 - Local lodging taxes good for all

Times sure change.

         Forty years ago, the main tourism destinations in Wyoming were Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks with a smattering of interest in Devils Tower, the country’s first national monument.

         Also large crowds would come from all over the world to special events like Cheyenne Frontier Days plus a few others.

         But all that has changed. Today, every nook and cranny of Wyoming enjoys the benefits of tourism.

         Main reasons for this change has been a desire on the part of the people of USA to come West and see for themselves what all the fuss is about.  A few million radio, TV and printed images of Buffalo Bill, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Yogi Bear, Clint Eastwood, and others have also boosted this movement.

         The rise of the American middle class after World War II also saw the newly mobile families wanting to load up the station wagon, pack the tent, and head towards the setting sun.

         Growing up in the Midwest, my siblings and I all yearned to head west and see mountains, Cowboys and Indians, national parks, and feed the bears.

         With this in mind, it is notable to report that there are 27 local lodging taxes in place in the state. 

         Using the tagline “it’s the tax you do not have to pay,” many of these lodging tax issues will be on ballots in November.  I enthusiastically encourage you to vote YES on any in your area.

         Local lodging taxes have provided money that is used to promote areas as out of the way and diverse as Cokeville, Diamondville, Pine Bluffs, and Hulett.

         And all these places have seen a surge in visitors over the last few decades.

         Interestingly, a true gold mine for Wyoming state tourism has been international tourism. Millions of people now come to Wyoming from every corner of the world.

         For decades, the biggest group of visitors were Europeans, who often get six weeks of paid vacation and would spend three or four weeks touring the USA.

         These folks would still focus on the big attractions but some of their favorite experiences would be heading over to Kemmerer or Newcastle or Worland or Rawlins.  Once there, they would dress like Americans and talk and act like us.  Their biggest thrills were making locals think they were just fellow Yankees passing through.

         Most recently, we see thousands of Asian tourists coming to America and spending lots of money.  Plus all these foreign tourists pay lodging taxes.

         Voters will go to the polls on Nov. 6 to approve lodging taxes in Afton, Albany County, Carbon County, Cokeville, Converse County, Diamondville, Evanston, Fremont County, Greybull, Hot Springs County, Johnson County, Kemmerer, Laramie County, Lovell, Natrona County, Park County, Sweetwater County, Teton County, Washakie County, and Weston County.

         As I travel around Wyoming it appears that lodging taxes are favored by an overwhelming majority of voters from Weston County to Uinta County and Laramie County to Afton.

         Only place where there is pushback is Teton County.  There are some nasty newspaper ads being published in the local papers raising cane about all the traffic jams and gridlock. We passed through Jackson on a beautiful October day recently and the volume of cars was surprising.  This is off-season?  There appears to be a true rage there among some locals who feel Jackson Hole has enough tourists.

         With that said, though, the lodging tax in Jackson is used to promote shoulder seasons. Plus they probably spend way more money on helpful programs like mass transit and walking paths.

         Back in 1989-1993, I was a member of the Jackson Hole Visitor Council board and even then, there were complaints about too many tourists.

         On a side note, construction is nearing completion on a roundabout at the Kelly Road intersection north of Jackson. This road has been a source of gridlock every summer. It will be interesting to see if this new-fangled traffic mover will help or hinder the problem.

         Cheyenne has jumped into the roundabout program for years now and it seems to work although I still hear an occasional whine from an old-timer or two.

         We first encountered them in Great Britain in the 1980s and were baffled.  Seemed we would get on one and never get off.

         Getting back to local lodging taxes – they are wonderful and I encourage voters all over Wyoming (including Jackson) to vote YES when you go to the polls. It really is the tax that you do not pay.



1845 - Candidates reaching finish line

By now, Mark Gordon has managed to do a perfect eye roll, shoulder shrug, wry smile and deliberate head shake when other Wyoming gubernatorial candidates accuse him of all sorts of omissions including being a RINO (Republican in Name Only).    Gordon, a rancher from Buffalo and the current State Treasurer, is the Republican nominee and is a lead pipe cinch to be our next governor.

         Although just about everyone calls Gordon a moderate, he relentlessly calls himself a conservative. And it must be noted that Gordon is a gentleman and has run a first-rate campaign.

         These kinds of accusations against Gordon came out often in the most expensive and craziest primary election in Wyoming history. It ended on Aug. 21, with Gordon topping Foster Friess, Harriet Hageman, Sam Galeotos, Taylor Haynes, and Bill Dahlin.

         A recent disclosure by the Secretary of State’s office showed that more than 10,000 voters in the GOP primary changed their affiliation from Democrat or Independent over to Republican. This confirmed what a lot of conservatives had suspected. They believed there was an organized effort by non-Republicans to cross over and vote for Gordon and against Friess. Gordon was viewed as more moderate on abortion than Friess.  Also Friess was endorsed by President Donald Trump, which brought out Anti-Trumpers.

         In the general election, Gordon is dealing with Democrat Mary Throne of Cheyenne (a former legislator), Rex “T-Rex” Rammell of the Constitution Party, and Libertarian Lawrence Struempf.

         Rammell took one look at the crowded Republican primary and wisely decided to run as an independent for an obscure party.  He has the best or worst nickname for a candidate since Hugh “Bigfoot” Binford ran back in 1978 against U. S Senator Al Simpson.

         As for all those crossover votes in the primary, Rammell got off one of the nastiest jabs of the campaign during a PBS debate filmed in Casper.  He answered a lightning round question on supporting a law preventing election day crossovers when he looked over at Gordon and said: “You should not be here. Foster Friess won the majority of the Republican votes!”  Gordon just rolled his eyes.

         Throne has been aggressive and has support among the liberals and moderates in the state.  She has worked hard and likes to tout her childhood in Gillette as giving her the chops to be a pro-energy governor.

         Her biggest issue is Medicaid expansion, which she says would bring millions of dollars into Wyoming, help rural hospitals and provide health care to thousands of people.  Wyoming conservatives in the legislature have never supported it because they fear federal over-reach.  This means that it might work well at first but pretty soon the feds start cutting their contribution and the state ends up paying a lot more money than they originally bargained.

Medicaid expansion program was supported by just about everybody a couple of years ago, including Gov. Matt Mead, but the vote was not even close in the Legislature.

Meanwhile Wyoming Republican conservatives are still grousing about how that gubernatorial primary turned out.  Rather than vote for Gordon, many may write in the names of their favorite candidates or vote T-Rex. He is a conservative but many of his ideas are off-the-wall.

On Oct. 23, I tuned in to a town hall meeting hosted by Gordon and State Auditor candidate Kristi Racines. Both talked a lot about transparency, which was a big issue during the primary.

Gordon and Racines have appointed a four-member committee to work on transparency, which includes John Masters of Cheyenne, Sen. Cale Case of Lander, State Rep. Tom Walters of Casper, and Gail Symons of Sheridan. Gordon and Racines are serving as co-chairs of the working group.

According to their campaigns, “the working group will identify and develop specific solutions to improve transparency and accessibility to state financial data that can be implemented efficiently and expediently.” That is a mouthful of gobbledygook.  Hope these good folks really take this seriously.

I also hope they also get involved. This outfit has done a magnificent job of opening the books all across the country. Wyoming is one of only three states that has yet to open its books completely.

To their credit, Gordon and Gov. Mead have opened the books in their offices.

Budget shortfalls may still be a big problem for parts of Wyoming state government when the Legislature meets next year.  A healthy dose of transparency would show where all the money that the state is already collecting is being spent.

1844 - Measuring trips by the six-pack

Way back in 1970, I recall being startled when respectable folks would measure their trips around Wyoming by how many six-packs of beer it would take to cover all those long miles.

         Thankfully, those days are long gone. My respectable friends no longer do it, I can assure you.

         Back in those days, we drove cars and pickup trucks that had bench seats in the front and in the middle often was a cooler full of ice and refreshments.

         Later on, I measured my trips in packs of cigarettes.  I was never a heavy smoker and could do just about anything without smoking – except driving.

         There was something about getting behind the wheel that caused me to want to smoke.  My daughter Shelli Johnson, even as a junior high kid, would go through my bags and find my cigarettes and destroy them.  She finally got me off them and I have not smoked cigarettes since.

         Readers of this column know that Nancy and I travel a lot and now, during all that windshield time, we measure our trips by how many packs of gum we chew. 

         We just got back from a 2,100-mile jaunt to the northwest and went through ten packs of gum. That is a lot chewing! But I digress.

         Wyoming’s brilliant fall colors were just fading as we started our trip. Wind River Canyon was brilliant in places and Thermopolis was spectacular. As we drove into Montana and down to lower elevations we caught the fall colors at a perfect time.  I had an AAA Auto Club board meeting in Helena.

         We welcomed Debbie Disney of Casper to the AAA board replacing the late Leslie Blythe of Casper who died of flu complications earlier this year.

After the meeting, we took US Highway 12 west through some amazing stands of yellow trees.  

         Interstate 90 through Montana, Idaho and Washington offered a full view of fall colors. Sorry to have been missing Wyoming’s but we got our allotment of leaf-turning beauty to satisfy our needs.

         Went by funny-named places like Smelterville, Idaho and Fishtrap and Steptoe, Washington. We traveled to Pasco and Leavenworth, Washington, with our son Mike, his wife Lisa and their four kids. I was stunned to see it was only 380 feet above sea level in Pasco in the Columbia River Gorge. Quite a drop from our 5,300 elevations in Lander.

         My son lives in Grant County, Washington, which is one of the major Ag counties in America.  Lots of potatoes. Most of McDonald’s French fries come from there.

         The county is about 70 percent Hispanic as generations of immigrants worked that area as Ag workers. Now they are involved in all walks of life.

         It got me thinking of some recent conversations during the Wyoming gubernatorial campaign about adding value to our Ag products here.  Sounds like a good idea.  But who would be doing the work? Would we end up importing workers?  I know of places in Iowa and Kansas where local economic developers built huge Ag processing plants but then watched in dismay, as no local people would work in them. 

         Those communities were changed culturally when immigrants came in to do the nasty work. There is nothing wrong with this but it can serve as a cautionary tale.  The Grant County experience shows that after a couple of generations of assimilation, everything turns out just fine.

         Wyoming’s fuel prices were about the lowest of any state. It appears that Washington just taxes the heck out of fuel. Montana and Idaho are not far behind.

         Speed limits were inconsistent. Washington has a speed limit of 70 for cars and 60 for trucks on Interstate 90. Idaho also had a limit of 65 for trucks. Made me wonder whom the lobbyist is in Wyoming for truckers where semi drivers get to drive so much faster?

         So there we were, driving 70 mph across one of the flattest places on earth in Washington and off in the far distance was this bump on the horizon?  Is that a local butte? Nope, it was Mount Rainier, the giant volcanic mountain one hundred miles off in the distance. Interesting.

         We came home through Jackson Hole on a beautiful day when the Tetons glistened in the sun.  We were too late for the fall colors on Teton Pass and Togwotee Pass but sure enjoyed the vistas on a perfect Wyoming Indian Summer day.  It was good to be headed home. And we were tired of chewing gum!


1843 - October is end of Wyoming`s convertible season

If you love Wyoming, you love seasons.

         Sometimes you can enjoy all four seasons in one day. Especially during this time of year.

         It is not unusual to wake up to chilly weather, suddenly feel a Chinook-type wind warm up the place, then a big cloudbank appears and by nightfall, a wet snow is falling.

         This is common in all corners of Wyoming from Newcastle to Evanston and from Cheyenne to Powell. And everywhere in-between including Worland, Greybull, Rawlins, Rock Springs, Kemmerer, and Riverton.

         This is the time when you run your furnace and your air conditioner on the same day.

         Veteran Wyomingites wear layers – you start out in jeans and sweaters and by mid-afternoon, you are down to a short-sleeved shirt . . . some times even shorts.

         My wife Nancy gets frustrated when we run errands because I insist on putting the top down on our ancient 2002 convertible.  She thinks it’s cold and it musses her hair. My excuse: “This might be my last chance to drive with the top down. Sit back and enjoy!”

         The above story reminds me of when I was attending a Greater Yellowstone Coalition event in Cody and managed to get loose from the activities early.  I had always wanted to drive through Yellowstone Park in a convertible with the top down. So off I went.

         The sun was shining but that infamous Wapiti Zephyr was blowing cold air and there were storm clouds on the western horizon. No matter. “This might be my last chance to drive with the top down. Sit back and enjoy!”

         As I worked my way toward the park (my favorite place on earth), through the wondrous Wapiti Valley, the weather became threatening. I had on a sweatshirt, stocking cap, and heavy coat.

         Yellowstone Lake was gray with whitecaps. No matter. The Lake Hotel is a place where I feel centered, especially in its famous sunroom.  After a 15-minute dose of tranquility then I was off.  Huge bison were hanging out around the hotel.  The road north was clear of tourists but had become the main track for herds of buffalo.

         The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is one of the marvels of nature. The name “Yellowstone” comes from its rugged yellow walls. Its thunderous waterfalls were overflowing at this time of year emitting clouds of water vapor. I love that place but the way the sky looked, there was no time to linger.

         Next stop was the most hellish place on the planet – the Norris Geyser Basin. There probably is nowhere else on earth with such sights. The warm steam felt toasty against the chilly wind as I did a quick hike along the boardwalks.

         Besides Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon the most photographed place in the park is Grand Prismatic Spring, my next destination. It is the largest such spring on earth. It is normally a brilliant turquoise blue but on this day it was shrouded in hot fog blown around by continuing swirling winds.

         In recent years, the park has become so busy you often cannot get in to see this famous spring because of a lack of parking. Not on this day.

         The most popular place in the park is Old Faithful Geyser Basin. At Old Faithful Lodge, you can buy lots of interesting treats. It is the biggest log building on earth and narrowly escaped burning down in the devastating 1988 fires. I love its spectacular fireplace and the huge open lobby. But it was time to move.

         It was getting dark as the sun was hiding behind some heavy clouds and dusk was in a hurry.  So was I.

         I paused by the Yellowstone sign at the south entrance of the park and snapped a selfie. I was shivering with my hoodie pulled down around the face.  You could see my breath.

         The top was still down on the car with the heater going full blast.  I had made it around Yellowstone National Park in a convertible with the top down. In October, no less.

         Then it started to spit rain.  I reluctantly put the top up and headed south down the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Parkway on my way home to Lander.

It appeared that I had experienced all four of Wyoming’s seasons during this trip.  It was sunny when I left Cody. It was cold and windy throughout the park with rain spitting.  As I left the National Park area and headed over Togwotee Pass, it even snowed a bit.

1842 - Rocktolder was fun, but brief here is a nice story

This month is now known as Rocktober. – Sign held by fan at Coors Field in 2007.


When I wrote the first draft of this column I was still tired from staying up late watching the 2-1 Rockies nail-biter win over the Chicago Cubs, Oct. 2. The Rockies qualified for the National League playoffs with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Alas, that series was a disaster as they scored just two runs in three games. Was it pathetic?  Yes, even for a die-heard Rockies fan such as myself, it was a crushing disappointment. 

Now it is back to the old refrain: “Wait until next year.”

One of my all-time favorite Rockies stories is about another dedicated fan, 95-year old Art Schutte of Greybull. His son Mike tells the following about his old man:

“So, my father loved sports. Because of his situation raising nine children, he never played but became a great sports fan when we kids started playing. My first baseball coach was the great John Kosich, who played both football and baseball for the University of Wyoming.

“Dad probably attended 4,000 ballgames over the next 50 years. He umpired baseball for years, helped with concessions and worked the fields that were located right across the alley from our home in South Greybull.  Because of his contributions to Greybull sports, the town council named the sports fields, the Art Schutte Sports Complex.

         “Dad and I went to Denver several times to watch the Denver Bears, at one time a Yankee farm team and went to Billings to watch the minor-league Mustangs.

         “At some point, I told dad that if the Rockies ever got to the World Series, I would take him to a game in Denver.

         “In 2007 the Rockies basically played 50:50 ball for most of the season so no one was thinking about the World Series.  In August of 2007, dad was in a bad car accident and his injuries were such that we thought he probably wouldn’t survive much longer.  He did survive his hospital stay but came out in a wheel chair. He was hanging on.

“Then an amazing thing started to happen. On Sept. 16 the Rockies were 76-72 and started one of the greatest stretch runs ever.  The Rockies won 14 of their final 15 regular season games. The stretch culminated with a 9-8, 13-inning victory over the San Diego Padres in a one-game playoff for the wild card berth. The Rockies then swept their first seven playoff games to win the 2007 National League Pennant — the franchise`s first-ever pennant. At the start of the World Series, the Rockies had won a total of 21 out of 22 games.

         “During this amazing run, my dad seemed to be getting a little better and more excited after each win.  When they won the pennant I knew I had to fulfill a promise that I had made years ago.

         “God had come through for me many times and came through again! I knew Mike McGraw because we both played for the Wyoming Cowboys and had become close friends.  Mike was running a ranch for Jerry McMorris, one of the Rockies’ owners.  Mike didn’t let me down.  McMorris, at Mike’s request got me two seats in the wheel chair area about 13 rows up from the dugout for the fourth game.  A wheel chair space for dad and a chair for me right beside him.

“I will never forget how excited he was to be going to a World Series game.  I drove up to Greybull and picked him up for the ride back to Colorado on the day before the game. We talked baseball and other sports for 400 miles. He never even took a nap. By game time the next day, the Rockies had lost the first three games of the series but that didn’t hinder his great excitement of finally being at a World Series game, my first also.

“I watched the game for a while and then I would watch my father as he was in his favorite element of being at a ball game, but this time in a Major League ballpark at the World Series.  He never quit smiling the whole game, even as the Rockies were losing. 

“And about every three innings he would say quietly, ‘I can’t believe I’m at the World Series!’  Dad passed away in 2009 but not before he told everyone in Greybull and anywhere else he went about going to the World Series. I miss that great sports fan!”