By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist
Unless you’re roaming western Wyoming’s sagebrush steppe, during May and June I’m rather hard to find. That’s when our family spends most of our time taking turns staying in a camp in the sagebrush as our ewe flock gives birth to their lambs in an annual cycle of renewal. It’s a beautiful time of year to be out on the range, and I savor it.
We generally finish lambing and docking before Independence Day and get the flock ready to start trailing north toward the high country, and my schedule opens up for travel and meetings during the hot days of summer while the flock slowly grazes under the care of another herder. I packed my bag for four days of mingling with humans and left the ranch last Monday.
Frontman Brent Smith of the rock band Shinedown had some celebrating to do last week, and it just so happened that the band was slated to perform in Casper on the same day the Billboard rankings were released.
Shinedown’s new album, Planet Zero, hit #1 on the charts for top alternative album, top hard rock album, top rock album, and a variety of other honors. So when Shinedown took the stage in Casper last Monday night, fans were in for an exceptionally energized performance.
After grunge guitarist Ayron Joes warmed the crowd up, Shinedown absolutely rocked the Ford Wyoming Center for more than two hours, and fans like me left with our ears ringing and smiles on our faces.
The switch from my quiet days on the range where I rarely stay awake long enough to watch a sunset, to jamming at a rock concert that started around my normal bedtime was both odd and welcome. It’s good to mix things up, to have adventures.
Both elated and exhausted, I fell into bed at the hotel room a little before midnight, but when 4 a.m. rolled around, I was up drinking coffee. You can take a sheep herder off the range, but the herder still can’t sleep past 4. I ran a few errands in Casper and washed my filthy truck before setting off to Wright for the next stage of my journey.
Have you been to Wright lately? I spent the next few days in this busy little Campbell County town for the Wyoming Wool Growers Association’s summer meeting. We were there to talk sheep and managed to tour a couple of sheep ranches while we were doing it. Coming from sagebrush rangelands, I’m fascinated by grasslands and the differences in our sheep operations based on the ecosystems in which we range.
The Wool Growers’ festivities included a dinner featuring lamb prepared by the University of Wyoming Food Sciences team that was simply divine. The highlight of the evening was the honor bestowed on Campbell County native John Hines, now in his mid-80s.
John served in the Wyoming Legislature for 30 years and is a third-generation rancher who has provided unwavering support for Wyoming’s sheep industry. He was honored as with the WWGA’s Harold Josendahl “Patron” Award for his substantial contributions to the Wyoming sheep industry and the WWGA, and for his “dedicated volunteer commitment and service above and beyond the call of duty.” Such a well-deserved honor for this remarkably humble gentleman and statesman.
The Wright Hotel made for a pleasant and comfortable stay alongside energy industry workers staying at the hotel. Although semi-tractor trailers lined the street outside at night, their arrivals and departures were largely unheard from inside the hotel.
During the day, the hotel made for a quiet and cool oasis from the heatwave outside, and the food and service at the Open Range Steakhouse was excellent. I especially appreciated the outside porch, looking out over the vast grasslands in the area.
I watched a young family catching fish at the pond located at the rest area across the street, and discovered green benches placed in the shade under trees adjacent to nearby walking trails, and took a peek at the Wright Centennial Museum located just up the road as well as the beautiful public library. What a nice, welcoming town.
Late Thursday afternoon, as I turned the truck back toward the ranch, I thought about the contrasts of the week as I caught up on the news broadcasts on the radio.
From poisonous political debacles to honoring statesmanship, from warring factions on the international stage to local ranchers sharing their knowledge and experience, the contrasts reaffirmed why Wyoming is our home on the range.
And my sheep-to-Shinedown, and back to sheep adventure was a pretty good way to experience some of Wyoming’s contrasts – excellent contrasts at that.
Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.