Mike Romano has always loved the outdoors and wildlife, but as a busy top executive for a global corporation, he didn’t have much time to get out among the critters.
But now that he’s retired, Romano has time to get to know more about some of his neighbors on his 326-acre ranch near Devils Tower, Wyoming — especially the mountain lions.
“I’d found some of their tracks following me when I was out hunting. And that wakes you up, realizing that you might be the prey,” he told Cowboy State Daily.
He vividly recalled seeing one up close for the first time on his property.
“I looked up, and sure enough, there’s a mountain lion sitting there in the V-notch of a tree, just staring at me,” he said. “Their fur is the most beautiful golden color.
“On one hand, they’re beautiful, but on the other hand it can make your hair stand up on end, realizing that this creature isn’t intimidated by you.”
The grandson of Italian immigrants on his father’s side, Romano grew up in a tiny town in western Pennsylvania. It was there that he learned hunting and woodsmanship, and fell in love with the outdoors.
Like many young men in Keystone State, he went to work in the iron and steel industry. Eventually, he became a top executive with Dyno Nobel, a premiere manufacturer of industrial explosives.
That job took him all over the world, and he saw many amazing places. But as far as he’s concerned, nothing compares to the Devils Tower-Black Hills region of Wyoming.
The scenery is second to none, and the people are amazing, Romao said.
“This is like 1947 America. I wish my dad could see this,” Romano said. “It’s the America he always talked about. I love the people here because they love to teach you and show you things.”
Dyno Nobel was a great company to work for. But after purchasing his property near Devils Tower, Romano decided he just needed more time to spend outside while he was still young enough to fully enjoy it. So he decided to retire while still in his 50s.
One of the first things he did was install numerous trail cameras around his property, which borders the Bear Lodge section of the Black Hills National Forest.
He also took to posting regularly on X (formerly known as Twitter), under the name “Iron Mike.”
That moniker is a throwback to his youthful days in the iron and steel industry, as well as his reputation for giving his all on the athletic field.
Mountain Lion Central
Wyoming has a robust population of mountain lions, but the Black Hills region is particularly thick with them.
“It didn’t take long for me to realize that I’ve got a heck of a lot of mountain lions,” Romano said.
Lifelong locals told him it’s not unusual to go without ever actually seeing one, so he felt lucky to have had his close sighting.
But his wife got even a closer look at a mountain lion while walking along the mile-long main drive into their property.
“My wife came face-to-face with one in our driveway,” Romano said. “She hasn’t gone out hiking without a gun since then.”
Luckily, the big cat in that instance simply turned and walked casually away from his wife. He added that although they’re always cautious and aware, they’re not particularly worried about mountain lion attacks.
“They’ve got plenty of deer to eat around here, they don’t seem particularly concerned with what you’re doing,” Romano said.
He’s had a lifelong passion for learning new things, so Romano set out to learn as much as he could about the local mountain lions. He observed their tracks and asked old-timers about the best spots to set up trail cams to catch images of them.
He also got to know some local houndsmen — people who use hounds to hunt mountain lions — and invited some on to his property.
“I have a whole lot of respect for those guys who run those dogs,” he said. “For them, it isn’t even really so much about the hunting, it’s about the sheer joy of getting to watch their dogs work a lion track.”
Romano figured out that mountain lions wander far and wide, but also follow particular routes.
“The have huge territories. They have quite the area that they travel, but they’re repetitive in where they go,” he said.
The cats seem to be fond of rock outcroppings from which they can survey large swaths of land for prey, so Romano strategically placed cameras at such locations.
“At 10 a.m. I’d get a picture of one at on outcropping at the top of a ridgeline, then at 10:15 in a middle spot, and then at 10:30 down in a hollow,” he said.
Other images revealed the sheer variety of wildlife in the area. Romano loves getting photos of golden and bald eagles.
“I’ve also got three bobcats that are quite funny,” he added.
Two of the bobcats are usually wrestling or running about but the third one “will just sit and stare at the camera as if to say, ‘Hey, you idiots, stop, we’re on camera!’” Romano said.
‘A Friendly Guy’
A photo that Romao took of the moon over Devils Tower was featured in Cowboy State Daily. He said friends and family from around the country appreciated it, but have also teased him.
“They’ll ping me and say, ‘Hey, where are the aliens in that photo?’” he said.
It’s a sly reference to the sci-fi film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” in which aliens touch down and establish contact with Earthlings at Devils Tower.
Romano said he plans to keep enjoying as much time outside as possible and will keep sharing the wonders of Wyoming on X, hoping that brings appreciation and joy to others.
“I like to be remote and away from the rest of the world. But I’m also a social creature and a friendly guy,” he said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.