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Yellowjackets are carnivores – they don’t want you; they want your barbecued steak!

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Bees
2027

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

What a strange critter! 

This time of year a yellowish bee-type critter and its buddies swarm down on you just as you sit down to eat a newly barbecued steak. Or hamburger. Or chicken.

But these bees are not after you – they may be a type of critter called a Vulgar Bee, which are really members of the wasp family. And they love meat.

They will buzz right by you and head for your delicious steak. The more freshly cooked, the better, it seems.

Apparently as your mouth is watering, so is theirs.

Monday night, Nancy and I were barbecuing kabobs.  Two were beef and two bacon-wrapped chicken. They cooked up nicely and smelled with that tantalizing odor. We were hungry and anxious to dive into this wonderful meal.

As we sat down on our picnic table, we were descended upon by six of these guys.  They buzzed and swarmed all around us and landed on our plates faster than we could shoo them away. Who are these buggers?

According to Wikipedia: Yellowjackets are social hunters living in colonies containing workers, queens, and males (drones). Colonies are annual with only inseminated queens overwintering. Fertilized queens are found in protected places such as in hollow logs, in stumps, under bark, in leaf litter, in soil cavities, and in man-made structures.

Queens emerge during the warm days of late spring or early summer, select a nest site, and build a small paper nest in which they lay eggs. After eggs hatch from the 30 to 50 brood cells, the queen feeds the young larvae for about 18 to 20 days. Larvae pupate, and then emerge later as small, infertile females called workers. Workers in the colony take over caring for the larvae, feeding them with chewed up meat or fruit. By midsummer, the first adult workers emerge and assume the tasks of nest expansion, foraging for food, care of the queen and larvae, and colony defense.

From this time until her death in the autumn, the queen remains inside the nest, laying eggs. The colony then expands rapidly, reaching a maximum size of 4000 to 5000 workers and a nest of 10,000 to 15,000 cells in late summer. (This is true of most species in most areas; however, vespula squamosa, in the southern part of its range, may build much larger perennial colonies populated by scores of queens, tens of thousands of workers, and hundreds of thousands of cells.)

At peak size, reproductive cells are built with new males and queens produced. Adult reproductives remain in the nest fed by the workers. New queens build up fat reserves to overwinter. Adult reproductives leave the parent colony to mate. After mating, males quickly die, while fertilized queens seek protected places to overwinter. Parent colony workers dwindle, usually leaving the nest to die, as does the foundress queen. Abandoned nests rapidly decompose and disintegrate during the winter. They can persist as long as they are kept dry, but are rarely used again. In the spring, the cycle is repeated; weather in the spring is the most important factor in colony establishment.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books. His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Wyoming Bucket List: Driving Through Carbon County Over Battle Mountain

in Column/Bill Sniffin
The famous Aspen Alley is a narrow road off WYO 71 from Battle Mountain Pass. This photo was taken during the height of the fall colors of the Aspen Trees. Photo credit: Randy Wagner of Cheyenne.
The famous Aspen Alley is a narrow road off WYO 71 from Battle Mountain Pass. This photo was taken during the height of the fall colors of the Aspen Trees. Photo credit: Randy Wagner of Cheyenne.
1978

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

If you blast through Carbon County on Interstate 80, you begin to think that all there is to see is high desert and the towering Elk Mountain.

But that part of Wyoming offers so much more.

Last week, I fulfilled a bucket list item by driving State Highway 70 over Battle Mountain Pass for the first time.  Wow, what a gorgeous trip!

Thomas Edison plaque
This 1949 plaque recognizes the place where Thomas Edison went fishing on Battle Mountain in Carbon County.

Near the top of the pass, almost 10,000 feet, is a prominent plaque placed where the famous inventor Thomas Edison went fishing and reportedly came up with the idea for filament to use in the invention of the light bulb. It occurred while he was messing with flies during a wonderful fishing trip. That very impressive plaque was mounted on a big brick podium back in 1949 by a statewide historical group.  More on that later.

There are massive groves of mature aspen trees all along the way and I kept looking for the famous Aspen Alley.  This is a narrow road cut through a mighty grove of aspens that shimmers like gold in the fall. Famed Wyoming photographer Randy Wagner of Cheyenne has the best image I have ever seen of that site.

The famous Aspen Alley is a narrow road off WYO 71 from Battle Mountain Pass. This photo was taken during the height of the fall colors of the Aspen Trees. Photo credit: Randy Wagner of Cheyenne.
The famous Aspen Alley is a narrow road off WYO 71 from Battle Mountain Pass. This photo was taken during the height of the fall colors of the Aspen Trees. Photo credit: Randy Wagner of Cheyenne.

On this day, I missed it because it is a few miles down WYO 71, which goes north from Battle Mountain Pass all the way to Rawlins. Hopefully next time.

The name Battle Mountain Pass came from a famous fight between Indians and some trappers on Aug 21, 1841. Mountain Man Jim Baker, just 21 at the time, had to lead his men after Captain Henry Frapp was killed. After a six-day fight, the trappers left. However the formerly named Bastion Mountain has been re-named Battle Mountain for the past 178 years. Baker went on to become one of the more famous mountain men exploring Wyoming mountain ranges.

To get to this famous pass, we drove south from Interstate 80 to Saratoga and briefly visited with Joe Glode. He is an extraordinary community leader for that area. We were going to eat some of the best prime rib in Wyoming at Doug and Kathleen Campbell’s Wolf Hotel, but they were not open yet. We had to get to our granddaughter’s wedding celebration in Montrose, Colorado, so we soldiered on.

After passing through the beautiful towns of Encampment and Riverside, we climbed up the Sierra Madre Mountains.  I can only imagine how that area must look in the fall.  All those aspen trees must make the place look like it is on fire.

Cody’s Rev. Warren Murphy’s first assignment was Dixon and Baggs.  He writes about the area: “Route 70 is indeed one of the most amazing and unknown highways in the state. Especially in mid- September when the golden aspen leaves fall. They cover the highway and when driving along you are riding on a carpet of gold. There is so little traffic. Aspen Alley is a unique piece of ground but sadly the alley trees are aging out. However, the young ones are growing fast.”

John Davis of Worland tells this story about his early experience on Battle Pass: “When I was first married, Celia and traveled to the Sierra Madres to hunt deer.  We didn’t get any deer, but proceeded toward Baggs and Savery.  Celia got worried about the amount of gas we had, but I wasn’t worried, because most Chevrolet vehicles (we were traveling in a 1955 Chevrolet sedan) still had 5 gallons when showing empty. 

“Well, this one didn’t, and just before the pass, it coughed and died.  We caught a ride down the mountain, got some gas, returned to the vehicle, and proceeded home. 

“But this incident had long term consequences.  Ever since, Celia gets nervous whenever the gas gauge in one of our cars is just a little past half full.  We never again ran out of gas as we did on Battle Mountain Pass, but I’ve heard complaints about getting gas about a hundred times since.”

After enjoying the beauty of the aspen-covered pass, Nancy and I started our way down the mountain. We drove through Savery and Dixon, two pleasant little towns.

My friend radio station owner Joe Kenney said his dad grew up in Encampment and his mom, Maudie Lake, grew up in Savery. He recalls visiting those towns as a little kid and marveling at how high the snow was.  When I asked him how his dad and mom got together, since the highway was closed all winter, he said, “they always met up in Rawlins.” 

I grew up in a very small town and these towns reminded me of home. My wife calls these little towns “peek and plumb towns.” She says, “you peek around the corner and you’re plumb out of town!”

I always said my hometown was so small that both “resume speed” signs are on the same post, just on opposite sides.

Growing up in my little town, we had a public restroom, which was an outhouse.  The toilet tissue consisted of the town’s yellow pages. Unfortunately, the yellow pages only consisted of one page.

We always like getting to Baggs. This is a pretty little town with a great museum along the Little Snake River. Again, the roads north and south of Baggs go through high desert country, which lack scenery. But Baggs area residents have a lot of fun places to visit in their little bit of heaven.

Zane Bennett of Powell
Zane Bennett of Powell was riding his motorcycle from Wyoming to Colorado.’

Rocky’s Quick Stop is a wonderful convenience store which has a fine restaurant attached to it at the north edge of Baggs.

We should mention that our trip to Montrose was hot, hot, hot. We chatted with Zane Bennett of Powell at the motel in Montrose and he said he drove his motorcycle through a hailstorm south of Green River.

Oh yes, about Thomas Edison and how he discovered filament for light bulbs.

Historian and author Phil Roberts of Laramie says the story is a wonderful tale but is just not true. Edison was just 31 but already a famous inventor during his visit to Wyoming.

He joined a group that traveled to Wyoming by train in 1878 to watch a total eclipse of the sun.  Edison had a device that he wanted to use to measure temperatures during an eclipse, which did not work at all.

Edison had a great trip, killing elk and deer. Reportedly his fishing party caught 3,000 trout.

He returned to Menlo Park, New Jersey, rested and ready to invent. After experimenting with 6,000 different materials, he was able to get a filament to work in his light bulb.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books. His coffee table series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com

Sniffin: Linkages over the ages of time

in Column/Tourism/Bill Sniffin
Bill Sniffin
1950

By Bill Sniffin, My Wyoming column

From 1989 to 1994, I was a member of the Wyoming Travel Commission. Gov. Mike Sullivan appointed me to the post. I was chairman of that wonderful entity in 1992-1993.

The Director of Tourism was a wonderful man named Gene Bryan, a true legend in the travel business here in Wyoming. His life is full of great Wyoming stories. He even recently wrote a detailed book about the history of tourism marketing for the state.

But that’s another story for another time.

During my time on the Travel Commission, there was a bright young guy in Cheyenne who handled international travel for the Commission. It was the now famous author CJ Box. Coincidentally 28 years later, he is now vice-chairman of the state’s current version of the Travel Commission.

But that’s another story for another time.

Box and I formed a company to promote international travel as a result of that, which was called Rocky Mountain International.  Around 1997, I sold my interest to my partner, CJ Box.

I had founded it  in the early 1990s and well, we did some amazing things. Box did some even more amazing things after I sold him my interest.

But that’s another story for another time.

I took the money from the sale of my interest and bought a newspaper in Maui.  Wow, was this going to be fun!

My wife Nancy and I loved going to Hawaii and we thought a Wyoming-Hawaii connection could be just about the best thing ever.

The editor of our Maui newspaper was a part-time protestant minister named Ron Winckler.

Our adventures in the People’s Republic of Hawaii, were, well, partly good and mainly bad.

But that’s another story for another time.

Ron is a friend of mine on Facebook. He just posted the most amazing item, which I would like to repeat here:

“So, this is about is my mother-in-law, Charlotte. She’s 95, having been born in 1924.

“We were talking a couple of days ago. I asked about her childhood in San Diego. She brought up a man that used to come to her mother’s diner. She remembered his name, ‘Daddy’ Hayes and his age, almost 100-years-old.

“Daddy Hayes drove a horse-drawn wagon and collected scrap. He was born into slavery. Daddy Hayes, also told her that as a young adult, he had been present at President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in 1863.

“In 2019 I was talking on the phone with a woman who once talked with a former slave who actually heard Lincoln speak!

“Beyond amazing!”

Now that’s another story I can read about any time.

Amen, Brother.

* * *

How many old-timers are there in Wyoming these days?

When I wrote a column some 18 months ago about the oldest people in Wyoming, we had folks ranging from 104 to 107 all over the state. Today, we are not sure if there is anyone over 102?

If you know of someone over 100, please let me know at bsniffin@wyoming.com.  I would like to include them in a future column.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Wyoming’s Second Four-Year College – Wyoming Catholic College – is a True Wyoming Success Story

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Wyoming Catholic College
All the Wyoming Catholic College students, faculty, and staff get together after the Convocation Mass in front of Holy Catholic Church in Lander. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)
1934

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

LANDER – Wyoming’s second four–year college had an exciting weekend recently when it welcomed 54 new freshmen back to ground level after they spent three weeks bonding in the towering nearby mountains.

Wyoming Catholic College, entering its 15th year of existence since its incorporation in 2005, welcomed its 13th freshmen class during convocation and matriculation ceremonies Aug. 25-26.

WCC President Glenn Abery
WCC President Glenn Arbery (right) stands with Chef Bruce Lee at a barbecue for students returning from their mountain experience. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

The Catholic school is unusual in many ways. One of the most distinctive is its outdoor program.  Each fall, all the incoming freshmen go on a 21-day wilderness expedition in the mountains. This year the freshman women went into the Wind River Mountains near Lander and the men traveled into the Teton Mountain Range outside of Jackson.

Another unusual aspect is that all the students take the same liberal arts-based curriculum through their four years at WCC.  The program is based on the “Great Books” — a collection of books considered to be classic literature — and on Catholic Theology.

A third unique aspect of the college is its horsemanship program. All students are required to learn to ride and it is an integral part of their learning.

The student body now has 179 students who come from all over the country.  Enrollment should surpass 200 students within a few years, with an ultimate goal of no more than 400.

There are 19 faculty members, with Dr. Kyle Washut of Casper serving as the acting dean. The school contributes about $4 million a year to the Lander area economy, according to Paul McCown, the controller. The school uses buildings all over Lander for its housing and activities. The main location is in downtown Lander, where it leases three large two-story buildings.  It also uses a classroom building that formerly housed students of Central Wyoming College. A former Legion Hall has been re-named Frassati Hall, and serves as a dining room and student union.

Most religious activities are at Holy Rosary Catholic Church, but the College also has its own small chapel inside the Baldwin Building at 306 Main Street.

Wyoming Catholic College Oath
The faculty at WCC line up to be recognized during Matriculation ceremonies recently in Lander. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

The idea of a four-year Catholic college in Wyoming was first conceived by former Wyoming Bishop David Ricken, now of Green Bay, Wisconsin.  He mentioned the idea during a summer program on Casper Mountain in the early 2000s called the Wyoming School of Catholic Thought.

Bishop Ricken was joined by Casper College Professor Dr. Robert Carlson and Casper priest Fr. Bob Cook in figuring out how to bring the school to reality. They, along with a committee that included Ray Hunkins of Cheyenne, entertained 49 different statewide proposals for where to locate the college before settling on Lander, Wheatland, and Cody. The final choice was Lander, partially because a ranch was donated to the effort by Francine Mortenson in memory of her late husband Chris. Chris Mortenson had been a prominent real estate developer in San Diego and had purchased their Lander ranch from Johnny and Jeanne Lee some years earlier.

The Lander community also raised $300,000 in donations, which a group called the Cornerstone Committee gave to the school with no strings attached. The local Knights of Columbus donated $100,000 of that total.

In 2007, the school had hired a small faculty and enrolled its first class of 35 students. It took just two years from its first public mention to when students were taking classes. On May 14, 2011, history was made when 30 of those original students received the first diplomas from Wyoming Catholic College.  Wyoming could honestly say it now had two four-year college campus programs.

Folks at the college are not shy about referring to some amazing coincidences (miracles?) or at least, answered prayers, which have occurred along its amazing journey to reality. 

Wyoming Catholic College Freshman Signing
All freshmen sign a big leather book indicating their beginnings of their education at WCC during Matriculation ceremonies. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

The school does not participate in any federal student loan programs and refuses to be beholden to anything from the federal government. It survives on student tuition and a large national base of donors. Without any alumni or even an established donor base to draw upon, the college succeeded because of thousands of people believing in the need for such an institution.

By 2011, with the help of millions of dollars in donations from more than 10,000 families across the country, the college achieved its goal of providing graduates with a high-quality education.

Fr. Cook, the first president of the college, liked to point out that although the first name of the college is Wyoming, it was truly a national college with students from 37 different states by 2011.

Although just about everything involving WCC is conservative in nature, what it provides for its students is a “liberal, classical education” based on the Great Books.

Current president Dr. Glenn Arbery says that all students take the same courses.

“Our mission is to form the whole person, physically, mentally, and spiritually. We want our students to take away as much as they can carry of the great wealth of the tradition of Western civilization. We need young people confident in their faith and capable of independent thought, and we know that each of them will have the ability to think clearly and to speak effectively. They will be leaders out in the greater world,” he says.

Wyoming Catholic College
All the Wyoming Catholic College students, faculty, and staff get together after the Convocation Mass in front of Holy Catholic Church in Lander. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

The college received its full accreditation last fall.  From day one, perhaps the most interesting things about the college, among many unique aspects, has been the outdoor leadership program.

WCC originally teamed up with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in Lander to provide an outdoor education course for incoming freshmen that educates them on the outdoors, teaches them leadership plus bonds them together as they continue their studies for four years.  In recent years, the school had enough faculty and graduates that it now provides its own leaders for these expeditions.

It is easy to write a column about the nuts and bolts of the college but the key thing anyone discovers when involved with WCC is the quality of the students.

My wife Nancy and I know these are the finest young people.  Incredibly smart and pure of heart, they are almost impossibly optimistic.  When you deal with these future leaders, you know the future is in good hands.

As a disclaimer I should point out that I was on the original local committee that helped get the college started.

This is a true Wyoming success story.  This is the story of how a miracle can occur out on the frontier, even in pessimistic times. 

President Arbery reminds that the college is always looking for donors and this would be a wonderful time to give.  The college web site is www.wyomingcatholic.edu and its mailing address is Box 750, Lander WY 82520.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Craziest race ever might before House seat next summer

in Column/Bill Sniffin
1894

By Bill Sniffin, My Wyoming column

While a lot of media attention is focused on next year’s race for Wyoming’s open U. S. Senate seat, the real action might occur for the Cowboy State’s lone House seat.

Most pundits believe that current U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney will seek that U. S. Senate seat against already announced former U.S. House member Cynthia Lummis and a host of others, including possibly GOP megadonor Foster Friess.

It might be wishful thinking, but a lot of Republican leaders are sure hoping that Liz stays in the House.  

Jean Haugen, a Lander historian, was excited that if Lummis and Cheney both win, the Equality State would have two women in its three-member delegation.  That would be worth bragging about, she exclaimed.

Personally, I believe the even bigger prize that Liz Cheney wants is to be the country’s first female president.  Now that is an aspiration. And don’t count her out.

But first, everybody has to get by this next campaign.

The topic of this column is a potential future House race like none we have ever seen before. If Liz jumps — and that is a big IF — then we will see one heckuva donnybrook in the race for her House seat.The names I am hearing are some familiar ones and some not so well known.

For example, Cheyenne Attorney Darin Smith ran before and really got to know the state again last summer when he was Foster Friess’s campaign manager.

Another possible candidate, often referred to as “Bush’s banker guy” out of Jackson, is heavy hitter Bob Grady.  He has a big resume nationally and although not known statewide, he is very well known among the state’s bigwigs. Economist and expert on just about everything, Jonathan Schechter of Jackson, says Grady “is all in.”

Up in Park County, GOP worker Geri Hockhalter says she keeps hearing good things about current Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow as an ideal replacement for Liz in the House.

Republican go-getter John Brown of Lander mentioned a lot of the same candidates but also said:

“Hell, Frank Eathorne (current state GOP chairman) might even throw in his hat . . .”

Several of my sources mentioned the ubiquitous Jonathan Downing, who had headed up the Contractors Association, the Mining Association and the Liberty Group. Most recently he has been working for Vice President Mike Pence.

Another candidate who ran before is Tim Stubson of Casper. His name came up a lot, along with Cheyenne legislator Affie Ellis. Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper) is also a possibility.

State Rep. Tyler Lindholm (R-Sundance) sure has been looking a lot like a candidate lately, based on his Facebook postings and penchant to get into the news. Check out his spiel on gun control on the Cowboy State Daily.  One of the best explanations I’ve heard.

Former legislator Randall Luthi recently moved back to Wyoming to work in state government.  Was this a way to get back into the action so he could run?

Former State Sen. Jayne Mockler of Cheyenne is impressed by State Sen. Tara Nethercott.

“Brilliant, competent young woman,” she says.

Two names from last year’s GOP primary came up, Harriet Hageman and Sam Galeotos of Cheyenne.  Consensus was that Harriet might do it, Sam probably not.

Several of my sources mentioned political operative Bill Novotny of Buffalo. He certainly knows how to run a campaign and has incredible knowledge of who’s who in each county.

Novotny, though, sent me this:

“Hope all is well in Lander.  I understand you are sniffing around for a story on the U.S. House race.  Here are three folks you shouldn’t overlook:

“Majority Floor Leader Eric Barlow.  He has the conservative bona fides and the legislative skills to make a real argument for the job.  Won a contested race for leadership against a conservative darling while maintaining his libertarian leanings.  

“Superintendent Jillian Balow.  Track record of winning in contested primary and general election races.  Scared everyone out of the field on her reelection.  Popular, tenacious, and has the ability to clean up messes.

“Rep. Cyrus Western.  Intelligent, hardworking, and ability to deliver on campaign promises.  Lots of new legislators haven’t passed a bill. He passed the Dayton-Ranchester gas line bill on his first try.  Don’t count him out.”

On the Democrat side, the expectation is that frequent candidate Gary Trauner of Jackson will run for either the Senate or the House.

Last year’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Throne was also mentioned by a number of people. Although she lost to Mark Gordon in the general election, she made a lot of friends on both sides of the aisle during her campaign. She was recently appointed to the Public Service Commission that might rule out a run.

Pete Gosar of Laramie was also mentioned, as was Milward Simpson, who currently heads the Nature Conservancy in Wyoming.

Former legislator Scotty Ratliff of Riverton suggested Rodger McDaniel of Laramie, Rich Lindsey of Cheyenne, and Michelle Sullivan of Sheridan.

It is early and these are just a few of the names that have bubbled to the top. Stay tuned. It’s going to be a fun political year in Wyoming!

(Disclaimer:  Cynthia Lummis is the mother of Cowboy State Daily publisher Annaliese Wiederspahn. Foster Friess is an investor in Cowboy State Daily and Bill Sniffin consulted for Foster Friess’s governor campaign last summer.)

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books. His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com

Way out West! Evanston is unique gateway into state of Wyoming

in Travel/Column/Bill Sniffin
Evanston paddle boarding
A paddle boarder slowly works her way across the Bear River Ponds in the middle of Evanston. The ponds are used year-round for recreation by the 12,500 residents and visitors. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)
1867

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

EVANSTON – Most Wyomingites think of the city of Evanston as more of a gateway than a getaway. But upon closer examination, many might find their opinion changed.

Community leaders in the Uinta County seat have done a magnificent job of transforming their city into one of the nicest spots in Wyoming.

With a beautiful state park, perhaps the state’s best river walk, a gigantic railroad roundhouse complex converted into convention space, first-rate airport, 18-hole golf course, a towering mountain range plus nearby lakes – well, it could be argued that Evanston has just about anything that anyone might be looking for.

The Bear River only travels about 100 miles as the crow flies as it flows from the Uinta Mountains to the Great Salt Lake. Much of that flow is in Wyoming and because of its twists and turns, it covers probably over 1,000 miles, according to Mark Tesoro, publisher of the local newspaper, the Uinta County Herald. 

Bear River Evanston
The Bear River features elaborate landscaping along its banks as it flows through downtown Evanston. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

That river provides a spectacular greenway complex that includes some busy downtown ponds, which are full of fish,  paddle boarders, canoes, and kayaks. That river also flows into nearby Bear Lake in Idaho, a popular recreation area for residents of Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah.

Historically, Evanston was first and foremost a railroad town. It was the last “Hell on Wheels” outpost of the Union Pacific as its crews worked their way west to create the most fantastic engineering feat of the 19th century, the transcontinental railroad. This is one of the state’s oldest towns, with railroaders working here in 1868. 

Evanston River Walk
The Bear River is spectacular has it flows through downtown Evanston. Local leaders have created a scenic River Walk that criss-crosses the entire area. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

Evanston was home to huge railroad repair facilities, most notably the massive roundhouse.  When the Union Pacific abandoned these structures, the community took them over and now they serve as venues for statewide and national conventions and events.

Most folks zip through Evanston on their way to Salt Lake City, Las Vegas or San Francisco. They can see big hills around them as they go, but they have little idea of the size of the mountains just over the horizon.  Utah is famous for mountain ranges, but the state’s biggest mountains actually border Wyoming.

The Uinta Range is one of the most unusual ranges in the country as it runs east and west, rather than the more typical south to north. The highest mountain in Utah, Kings Peak, towers over Wyoming’s Uinta County at more than 13,000 feet.  

A climb up the hill northwest of Evanston to the municipal airport reveals a view of mountains that rivals that of Pinedale, Buffalo, Lander, or Sheridan.  There, laid out in front of you, is a full vista of snow-capped silver-gray mountains.  

Wyoming State Hospital
Construction is underway at the State Hospital in Evanston. This is part of a $182 million project that includes work in Evanston and also at the Life Resource Center in Lander. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

Evanston has both enjoyed and endured the booms and busts typical to Wyoming.  In the 1970s and 1980s, the town doubled in size with an oil boom as companies discovered the Overthrust Belt, a unique formation full of oil.  Oil is still big but not as dominant as back in those hectic times. 

The Wyoming State Hospital was established in Evanston in 1887 and currently is undergoing a massive expansion. Its expansion, along with a shared expansion at the Wyoming Life Resource Center in Lander, will cost $182 million.  The State Hospital sits on a small hill overlooking the town.

Spankys Bar Evanston
Marsha Redding is the owner of Spankys Bar in Evanston, which features a comfortable patio setting. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

Two local establishments stood out recently.  The philly cheesesteak and chicken fried steak at Jody’s Diner were treats, as was the patio atmosphere of Spanky’s Bar.  There are over 1,000 hotel rooms serving the traveling public. 

Most Wyomingites will speed through Evanston many times over the next few years either leaving the state or coming home to it. Spending some quality time in Evanston would be well worth the stop.

For more information future visitors can contact www.evanstonwyo.com

Sniffin: Flying above my Cowboy State is unique and cherished experience

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Fly Wyoming
1832

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

There is probably no better way to appreciate this land we call Wyoming than seeing it from the air.

And looking down right now is just about as good as it can possibly get. The green valleys are glistening with new growth while our purple mountains bask in the sunshine with still enough pearly white snow to sparkle in the distance.

Our lakes are as blue as our blue skies. And no skies in America are as blue as Wyoming’s.

Ah, what a sight.  Just love seeing Wyoming from the air. Nothing like it in the world.

I write these words as a person who piloted his own airplane for 30 years.

Legendary flight instructors Les Larson and Larry Hastings taught me to fly in 1976.  I bought an airplane with local accountant named J. Ross Stotts.  The plane we bought was an old Piper P-28 that had been owned by the late Mable Blakely. She was famous as one of the original “99s,” the name given to the first women pilots in the country.

That plane was heavy but fast — any landing felt like landing on an aircraft carrier. Later I flew Cessna 182s, which landed like a leaf falling from a tree. I loved flying. Every bit of it.

As a little boy, my first flight was in a two-seater.  I was jammed between my dad and my Uncle Dick Johnson, both big men. We took off and flew all over the hills and valleys of northeast Iowa. I can remember how my stomach felt as we turned and climbed and soared. I even remember the smell of the hot oil coming from the engine. 

When we landed on a grass strip I recall saying to myself, “Someday that is going to be me, flying my own airplane.”

It was 19 years later when I became a pilot.

I was part of a small newspaper company that had newspapers in Lander, Greybull, Cody, Green River, and Gillette.

Wyoming is so doggone big; there is just about no way to make it smaller. But flying an airplane instead of driving a car definitely works.  Flying from Lander to Greybull took a little over 30 minutes. It was a three-hour drive.

That view of flying over Boysen Reservoir and looking down on Wind River Canyon, well, it was spectacular. To the northwest, the Absaroka Mountains were high and rugged. The airport at Greybull was a piece of cake. The runway is wide and long because of all the old converted bombers being used as fire-fighting tankers that were based there. Plus Greybull gets very little wind.

Cody, on the other hand, always had a nasty crosswind that blew down from Rattlesnake Mountain right about the time you thought you had your landing in the bag.  “Oops” or words to that effect usually accompanied my landings at Cody.

Later on, we got involved with ownership of newspapers in Montana and South Dakota.  Thus, we flew over the entire state of Wyoming on these journeys. It was fun flying around the southern tip of the Big Horn Mountains.  Huge herds of domestic sheep could be seen. Outlaw Canyon near Buffalo was spectacular.

I fell in love with buttes during these flights.  The Pumpkin Buttes southwest of Gillette were probably my favorite although Pilot Butte near Rock Springs comes close. One of the Rawhide Buttes outside of Lusk is sure an odd piece of rock. Looks more like a pyramid.

The historic Oregon Buttes on South Pass were so significant in our history. When those 500,000 Oregon Trail emigrants reached these buttes, they knew they had crossed the Continental Divide and were more than halfway home.

Crowheart Butte southeast of Dubois is a landmark that you can see from a long ways off.

And flying over Devils Tower is unforgettable.  What a monolith!  I learned to love the Wyoming Black Hills from flying over them so many times.

I rarely flew directly over the top of mountains. But I could look out the window and see the jagged peaks of the Wind Rivers or the impressive canyons of the Big Horns.

Flying over Elk Mountain and Kennaday Peak between Rawlins and Laramie could be frightening.  Crazy odd winds along that route, known on the ground as the Interstate 80 Snow Chi Minh Trail.

Here is part of a wonderful poem that I love, which talks about the love of flying. It is called High Flight by John Gillespie McGee Jr. Its final lines go like this:

Up, up the long delirious burning blue,
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
And, while silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space.
Put out my hand, and touched the Face of God.

Bill Sniffin: Recalling my daughter’s first day of school

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Wyoming Back to School
1829

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

In the next few weeks, thousands of little children in Wyoming will be marching off to school.  Especially for those parents of kindergartners, it is a poignant time.  It sure was for me back in 1976 when our daughter Amber marched off to her first day of school.

Here is a column that I wrote about how I felt about that event. The column won a national award and was originally published in our newspaper, the Wyoming State Journal in Lander. It was included in my first book, The Best Part of America, which was published in 1993. Here is the column. I hope you like it:

It’s been five years of diapers, dollhouses, skinned knees, pony tails, Barbie dolls, tricycles, sparklers, double-runner ice skates, Big Wheels, kittens, and hamsters.

Today, I’m sending our youngest child out into the great unknown. She will leave our nest and find out there’s much more to life than just that which she has learned from her folks.

For five years now, she’s believed that anything I told her was true. That all facts emanate from Dad. I’ve been her hero as her life has revolved around her mother, two older sisters, and me.

Now it is somebody else’s turn. Today, we trust an unknown teacher to do what is right for this little girl. This five-year-old, who is so precious to us, yet is just like any of thousands of other little five-year-olds here in the Cowboy State.

I suppose there are scores of other little girls with blond hair and blue eyes right here in Lander.

But, please, I’d like you to take a little extra care with this one.

You see, this is our baby. This is the one I call “pookie” when she’s good and “silly nut” when she’s bad. This is the last of my girls to still always want a piggyback ride.

And, this little girl still can’t ride a bike. And she stubs her toe and trips while walking in sagebrush. She’s afraid of the dark and she doesn’t like being alone.She’s quite shy. But she is a friendly little girl, too. She’s smart, I think. And she wouldn’t hurt a flea.I’ll tell you what kind of kid this is.

Twice in the past month, she’s come crying because the cat had killed a chipmunk. She buried both chipmunks, side-by-side. She made little crosses for them too.

This is the child with quite an imagination.  For example, she calls the stars “dots.”  And once when we were watering the yard, she assumed we were washing the grass.She told us that telephone lines were put there so birds would have a place to sit.

She’s just five years old.  I’m trusting her care in someone else’s hands and I’m judging that they will be careful with her. She’s a fragile thing in some ways and in other ways, she’s tough as nails.She’s not happy unless her hair is combed just right and she might change her clothes five times a day. She likes perfume, too.

She also likes to play with toy race cars and Tonka Trucks.

This is the one who always called pine trees “pineapple” trees. And when we visited our old home state of Iowa and she saw the huge fields of corn, she said “what big gardens they have here.”

And like thousands of other little girls here in Wyoming she’s marching off to her first day of school this week.

I know how those other parents feel.

There is tightness in their chests. Their world seems a little emptier. The days are a little longer.

And when our little girl comes home, waving papers and laughing about the great time she had at school . . . when she tells us about the stars and pine trees . . . and how the farmers raise crops, well . . . she’ll have grown up a little bit, already.

And I’ll have grown a little older, too.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Sound off: Converse County leads state’s boom

in Economic development/Column/Business/Bill Sniffin
Sound off Wyoming's local economies
1816

Other counties report good news, too

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Of Wyoming’s 23 counties, why is Converse County leading the way economically?

The county boasts an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent, the fourth-lowest rate in the state behind Teton, Crook and Weston counties. It is in the midst of an energy boom bringing new workers to the area. Who better than the local newspaper publisher to explain what it happening in Douglas, Glenrock and Converse County?  

Douglas Budget Publisher Matt Adelman says:

“Converse County is at the apex of a massive oil and gas exploration boom that appears to be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

“While we have huge amounts of exploration and development activity underway already, indications are the next few years will see an even bigger explosion of development as more wells are drilled – as many as 17,000 by some estimates based on those permitted. Those wells in the permit pipeline and the 5,000 wells being proposed are the subject of an environmental impact statement that is nearing its conclusion – and many more come into their own.”

Adelman says that all this oil and gas activity eclipses other energy-related activity.

“The Cedar Springs (phase 1) wind farm is beginning work this year, and phases II and III are already well into becoming realities concurrently and consecutively with phase I.

“Rocky Mountain Power’s multi-billion dollar Gateway West transmission line project is underway, with its starting point outside of Glenrock, and those and other wind farms will tie into that and other lines.”

Adelman notes that even though the coal industry has been hit with declines in demand and production, the industry — along with the railroads — is still responsible for most of the long-term energy employment in the area.

He sees development of other energy sources causing the Converse County economy to soar in a short time span.

“Of course, such a surge in growth – with employment spikes, drastically falling unemployment and the accompanying shortage of housing – is not without its struggles, but it is certainly a welcomed relief from the 2016-2018 crash in oil and gas prices and near-standstill in new exploration here,” Adelman concludes.

Converse County Bank President Tom Saunders echoes:

“Those of us that have lived through energy economic cycles remember how quickly the spigot can turn off when commodity prices fall out of bed and the workers spools their rags overnight and head back to Houston.

“When dealing with fossil fuel economies, 12-month budgets are considered long-range planning. Oil and gas economies are good until they’re not. The best cross on an Angus cow is a Lufkin pump.

“Our growth seems manageable at the present time, but the seams on our jeans are starting to get stretched tight. Any help in adding lanes to State Highway 59 would be welcomed. Those of us in energy counties understand the importance of mineral taxes paid in to the State’s coffers, as well as the strains our cities and towns undergo to meet the needs and costs of their development and production… we hope all our citizens of our wonderful State understand as well.”

The situation is different in Fremont County, where the unemployment rate in June was 4.7 percent, the highest in the state.

But in Fremont County’s seat of Lander, business owner Joe Quiroz said he sees opportunities ahead:

“I think we’re holding and have potential for growth. Last week in Jackson, three people asked me quietly and seriously about life in Lander. In fact, they’re all prosperous people who earn and spend, and are tired of the glitz and glam of a ski town.

“And the traffic. But they also need fast connectivity and transportation by a reliable air carrier. 

“I’m encouraged by the arrival in Lander of an interventional cardiologist and a vascular surgeon. These are people who will draw patients from around the state. Our future is not going to be based on employment of a large skilled workforce, but of small operators working in a knowledge based economy. 

“Lander has physical advantages that many places in Wyoming do not have. The sense of community is paramount. My wife Andrea runs a global enterprise from Lander, a place that will be our base camp as long as we are able to live here. We may have an apartment in London or Paris, but Lander is home.” 

Albany County is keeping steady with the University of Wyoming as a stabilizing anchor:

“The Laramie area economy is holding on, which is about all it ever does,” says John Waggener, an archivist for the American Heritage Center. “The tax base here is low due to the fact the largest employer, UW, is a public entity.”

UW historian Phil Roberts says:

“Hard to read the Laramie economy without reference to UW and, so far, I detect a ‘wait-and-see’ feeling about the interim and forthcoming new leadership. The mystery on departure of Laurie Nichols still spawns rumors. We’ll see in the next few weeks what the new semester holds.” 

Up on the eastern slope of the Big Horns, things are green and growing, according to retired community leader and former state Rep. Doug Osborn:

“I feel like the Sheridan-Buffalo area is doing well. The towns are clean and well kept, people seem generally happy and there seems to be building going on throughout.”

Retired Buffalo Bulletin Publisher Jim Hicks largely agrees, although he acknowledges the difficulty posed by the deterioration of coal-bed methane in the region:

“I believe Buffalo is holding its own economic issues.  The area has seen a sharp decline in Coalbed Methane activities and a lot of those jobs and supporting industries have gone away. Buffalo expects to see some negative spin-off from the decline of coal production, but that should be minor.  Tourism is up this year and cattle prices remain at a level to keep at least a small smile on the faces of ranchers.”

Pat Henderson, executive director for Whitney Benefits in Sheridan, describes his town:

“Our Sheridan area is doing very, very well.  Tax receipts are up.  Housing prices continue to increase. Lots of people moving here.  California, Texas and Colorado. We have diversified a lot with our economy. 

“One big dark cloud is Cloud Peak mine operating up north of here in Montana. Most of the employees live in Sheridan County. Very good wages but great uncertainty with them staying open. Going through bankruptcy currently and looking for a bidder.  If this mine closes, it will be a considerable loss.  Need to pray for them and their families.”

Gillette attorney Tom Lubnau II, a former Speaker of the Wyoming House, remarked on oil’s temporary ability to mask the struggles of the Powder River Basin’s coal economy:

“I live in Gillette.   The economy is average to below average.   Oil is covering for the slump in coal, for awhile.”

Up in Park County, things are plugging along:

Powell real estate agent Dave Reetz says, “Our area is holding its own in my opinion.”

Powell Tribune Publisher Toby Bonner added:

“I would say our economy here in Powell has been holding its own… but unfortunately we’re beginning to see a downturn due to closings of key retail stores like Shopko and others. Amazon and other e-commerce have really hit our Main Street hard. Closings of these retail stores locally have really put a damper on retail advertising in the Powell Tribune as well. We have more doctors, dentists, legal and insurance offices now than retail.”

Snuggled up against the Idaho border, Lincoln County’s Star Valley is benefitting from spill over of the robust tourism economy in Teton County plus agriculture and agribusiness operations.

“The Star Valley area is doing well economically, says Sarah Hale, editor of the Star Valley Independent in Afton.

Up in Newcastle, Newcastle News Letter Journal Editor Alexis Barker says:

“Economically I think we are holding fairly steady, we have had low unemployment rates, a recent increase in our valuation and increases in our taxable sales. I wouldn’t say that these increases necessarily make us above average but are definitely making Newcastle not have to struggle as much as we have in the past. We are also looking at an increase in new businesses in the area with a new grocery store being built, a new travel center (truck stop) and a new private practice (doctor’s office) opening locally.” 

John Davis, a retired Worland attorney and author, says:

“We are below average. Worland has not recovered from the oil slowdown of a few years back, when all activity in the oil field slowed.  Especially ruinous was the closing of the Worland Schlumberger office.”

Cheyenne attorney Jack Speight says:

“Economy is very good here in Cheyenne thanks the government, Walmart distribution plant, and the other warehouse giants on the east and west side of town. You can’t forget F.E. Warren Air Force Base, which is huge boost to the economy and to the volunteer base for Frontier Days.”

Tom Satterfield, a retired member of the Wyoming Board of Equalization in Cheyenne, says:

“Cheyenne is doing above average thanks to the college, the air force base, good medical hospital and being the center of Wyoming government all contribute. The new renovation of the Herschler/Capitol complex was a big factor for the last four of five years.  Good little theater and a great symphony orchestra as well as a very active arts group and a fine Civic Center add to the enjoyment of every one. Also a very active economic organization LEADS are all factors making Cheyenne an enjoyable place to live.

But the former director of one of the state’s most visible business advocates is glum:

“I think the state is in serious trouble given future spending obligations and current revenue streams. Tourism is fine; coal–a transitional mainstay– is getting hammered,” says Bill Schilling. 

Former Sweetwater County Commissioner Paula Wonnacott says:

“I think our economy is OK. But, there are uncertainties and I think everyone is worried. There are numerous homes for sale.”

Cowboy State Bucket List covers 97,000 square miles!

in Travel/Column/Bill Sniffin
1799

By Bill Sniffin, My Wyoming columnist 

What is on your ‘Cowboy State Bucket List?”

By definition, the term “bucket list” stands for those places you want to visit or those things you want to do before you die.

For some time now, I have annually been publishing my own version of this list and have gradually been checking a few off my list. 

In a land of 97,000 square miles full of mountains, canyons, rivers, historical trails and outposts, Native American sites, and modern marvels, it is easy to compile such a list. 

And yet, there are so many more places to see it seems like my list is getting longer rather than shorter. 

For example a dinosaur dig or a buffalo jump have zoomed to near the top of my list.  Our family had never been to either and Wyoming has some of the best in the country. The dinosaur digs near Thermopolis is of the most prominent dino dig in the country.  The Vore buffalo jump near Sundance is amazing. I also want to get out in the Red Desert and see the one on the summit of Steamboat Mountain between Rock Springs and Farson.

Among the things that I wanted to do, and did do, included finally seeing Sybille Canyon between Laramie and Wheatland and driving the back road over the Snowy Range Mountains between Saratoga and Laramie.  

Also, I finally took that Red Desert back road from Rock Springs to South Pass and visited Boars Tusk and the Killpecker Sand Dunes. On my earlier list was a visit to Bill, Wyoming, which I managed to do one Sunday afternoon while listening to a Bronco football game on the radio. 

Also finally I drove that fantastic Wild Horse Loop from Green River to north of Rock Springs above White Mountain. We also re-visited the fantastic petroglyphs just south of Dubois. Amazing.

But I still have not made it to some very important events. So here goes my Cowboy State Bucket List for today: 

  • Am hoping to take a closer look at Vedauwoo area outside of Laramie.  I have driven by it hundreds of times. It is time for a closer look. Also, to spend some time at Curt Gowdy State Park. 
  • Between Jeffrey City and Muddy Gap is an odd rock formation I call Stonehenge. Locals call it Castle Rock.  Reportedly it has names written in it including John Sublette. Sometime this summer I hope to have it finally checked off.
  • I want to spend more time in extreme western Wyoming from Afton to Evanston. Lots to see there. 
  • Our family lived on Squaw Creek for 23 years outside of Lander and our view looked out at the imposing Red Butte.  Hope to climb it this summer.
  • If Fossil Butte is not on this list, my friend Vince Tomassi will scold me about it.  He serves incredible meals every Thursday night in Kemmerer-Diamondville at Luigi’s. Perhaps a tour and dinner, Vince?
  • In 1993, I spent a very nervous time hunting a bighorn ram in the Double Cabin Area northeast of Dubois.  Would love to go back for a more relaxed trip this time around. There were petrified forests above timberline and a place that included a meadow full of vertical rocks standing on end. 
  • I still need to take the time to tour all the new parts of UW with a knowledgeable guide and see first-hand all the new buildings and new programs. 
  • Some 48 years ago, I photographed what looked like a horrible scar on Togwotee Pass where the area was clear-cut. Would like to go back to those areas and see if the timber has recovered or not.
  • Historian Phil Roberts says he will give me a tour of the “breaks” north of Lusk?   I flew over that area by private plane many times and looked down in awe at this rough country.
  • A tour of Wyoming’s giant coalmines makes sense.
  • On the Wind River Reservation, I finally visited the Arapaho Ranch and also visited the mountains at the extreme north end of the rez. Saw the Legend Rock petroglyph site in that neighborhood –fantastic. 

To wrap this up, my friend Tom Hayes does not like the term “bucket list” and calls his a “leap list” for a list he does every leap year to plan their visits over the next four years.   

Jim Hicks always offers perspective on these kinds of lists when he says he always wanted to break par, then he always wanted to break 80.

“Now I just want to be able to get out there and play,” he concludes. 

So that’s my Cowboy State bucket list.  What’s yours?

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

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