Hanging tight to the steering wheel, Melissa Cook is focused on the road ahead.
She has to be.
“That is a narrow road,” she says, gritting her teeth. “On a cliff. And I’m driving it!”
A few moments later, she announces, staring resolutely ahead, “I’m just not looking.”
Her Rubicon four wheels on, but a drone, flying above her teal jeep, nicknamed The Bikini Pearl, pans out to show the sheer cliff wall right by the road Cook is crawling along, as well as a panoramic view of the Bighorns.
It’s a breathtaking, fun moment, and just one of many adventures captured on the YouTube Channel, Wyoming Jeepers.
The episode is called Two Tracks of the Bighorns. It’s just one of 48 Jeeping adventures in the Bighorns that Cook has recorded and shared with the world on social media.
The channel follows Cook and her husband Elgin, who are often accompanied by Elgin’s sister and husband, Elaine and Dan Flores, as well as other Jeeping friends that visit from time to time.
There’s been geologists, grand-daughters, and ghost-town explorers, just to name a few.
Not Just A Pandemic Thing
Jeeping started for Cook and her husband during the COVID-19 pandemic, though it wasn’t just a pandemic thing.
The couple had spent the past 20 years in Alaska as teachers, but retiring didn’t end their adventures.
After spending two decades in the Alaskan Bush as teachers, they’re accustomed to a certain amount of adventure in rugged country. Cook has written about that in her book, “The Call of the Last Frontier: The True Story of a Woman’s 20-year Alaska Adventure.”
Just before leaving Alaska they bought a Jeep — a regular old sports Jeep at first — already having in their mind that, now and then, they’d need a little reminder of their Alaskan adventure years.
The idea became more solid, though, after the pandemic shut down the world. So many indoor venues for fun were closed, amid health officials warning people to avoid prolonged close contact in enclosed spaces, until more was known about COVID-19.
“We just wanted to get out,” Cook said. “So, we did 48 trips on the weekend, just to get out of the house.”
A Virtual Scrapbook
It didn’t take long for the Cooks to realize they weren’t going to be able to keep up with the Flores with the jeep they’d bought. They needed a Rubicon, so they bought a teal-colored Jeep. The color is Bikini, which is how their Jeep got its nickname, The Bikini Pearl.
With a Rubicon to keep up with the Flores’ orange Rubicon, Cook began posting video clips of their travels on her own social media pages.
The response was so tremendous, she decided it really needed its own Youtube channel. The couple also started to do more elaborate, 30 to 40-minute episodes. It became a weekly show, chronicling the adventures, the jokes, unusual finds and/or happenings — like the time an eagle attacked their drone — all set against the beautiful Bighorns.
“People just loved (it) because it showed the roads that they were on when they were younger,” Cook said. “And they would tell me, ‘I rode my horses up that horse and jeep trail when I was in my 20s.’ And it’s a little old lady in her rocking chair, you know, watching the Wyoming Jeepers with a huge smile.”
Those are the kind of responses that made Cook realize that Wyoming Jeepers was onto something special.
“(It’s) for people like that, who want to see where they can’t get to any more,” she said. “And it’s for people who are wondering where they can go who live here, or for tourists who are just coming through here.”
It’s also become Cook’s own little video scrapbook, fun-filled and alive with adventure and memory.
“My husband would say, ‘Oh yeah, remember the last time we were on this road and this happened,’” Cook said. “And I’d say, ‘It all starts to blur unless there’s a video about it.’ So this is my way of being able to remember the fun times that we did when we were young enough to get out and do it.”
The Tourism Connection
Cook has particularly liked the educational aspect of their videos, teaching others how to safely go Jeeping on the two track dirt roads that are so common on public property in Wyoming.
The couple have put together videos that explain how to “air down” tires to better go over things like slushy snow and over great big boulders, and what kinds of kits can be added to make Jeeps get around better, such as a sway bar disconnector.
But there’s a tourism aspect to what she’s doing as well, which she feels is also important.
“This shows what the Bighorn Basin looks like to people who live there and to people who want to come and see it,” she said. “I know that there are people who watch our show who have decided to come and go through the Bighorn Basin to drive some of the roads that we’ve been on because (of Wyoming Jeepers).”
Part of what makes these treks doable are the unofficial roads, referred to as two tracks. They’re not official roads necessarily. They’re more like established roads, or roads that are no longer used, like the two track that leads into the ghost town of Kirwin.
Not all two tracks are on public land, though. Cook uses a mobile app called Gaia to avoid straying onto private property.
She’s planning a book of maps that will show the routes for the first 30 of Wyoming Jeeper
’s episodes, which she hopes will make the Bighorns more accessible to tourists.
On her videos, she also takes care to highlight local businesses in free commercial spots, to help visitors know where to go for things that they will need.
“We don’t make any money off those,” she added. “ We mainly did that to control what ads get shown with our videos. But it’s also so that people know what businesses have in the community, so people will know where to go. And they can experience some of the fun things that we experience.”
The group has won the couple lots of new friends. Which Cook says is ironic for a group of introverts that initially were pretty content to Jeep alone.
In fact, so many people have contacted the couple asking to take rides with them, that Wyoming Jeepers has begun organizing fan trips, to take more people through the Bighorns, and the group has just continued to grow.
“A lot of people have mistaken us for a club,” Cook said. “But for the first couple of years, especially with it being the pandemic, it was just the two Jeeps. And we never Jeeped with anybody else.”
Now that the group has attracted so many fans, Wyoming Jeepers is actually thinking about becoming more like a club instead of just a show.
“The last show we actually filmed, which isn’t out yet, My husband said, ‘Wouldn’t we rather just go with a group? Do we have to go out here as Wyoming Jeepers with just two Jeeps?’” Cook said. “So it’s changing. We’ve met a number of Jeeping friends through it, and we’re actually thinking about whether it should be a club.”
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.