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Bill Sniffin: Is It Time For Bold Action In Cowboy State?

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

Even though the idea of Wyoming spending a billion dollars on a gigantic swath of land had some of us scratching our heads about one year ago – well, at least you had to give the project (and Gov. Mark Gordon) high marks for bold imagination.

That deal went away when a company outbid Wyoming.

But thinking back about that, it makes me wonder if Wyoming should be just a little brash.  Be a little bold. Just a bit?

Our leaders sometimes act like the proverbial guy who was up to his waist in alligators and forgot all about draining the swamp.

We are so consumed with worries about our faltering economy and where to cut, cut, and cut some more  — well, there is no inclination to think about bold plans.

So, what would be an example of a bold plan?

Now I do not claim to be the author if these ideas. These are just ideas people have mentioned to me over the years. For example:

Should Wyoming take control of the coal-fired power plants before they are finally closed?  Could they be more converted to natural gas?  We have lots of gas in Wyoming.  And if you believe electric car maker  Elon Musk, no less, there is no way the future can provide enough electricity for the needs he is envisioning.

If Musk is to be believed, this big rush to shut down coal and natural gas plants and replace them with wind and solar projects just does not provide enough juice to power the future. 

My friend Dan Brophy of Wilson says Musk is right. “I have a friend with a utility who tells me coal plant power is 95% available, wind power 30%. Plus, when you account for end to end costs, wind energy is massively more expensive and massively more destructive environmentally. The industry exists because of subsidies. Until cheap energy (battery) storage technology is developed, wind and solar will remain uncompetitive.”

Or, should we be bold and implement a huge statewide plan for more wind and solar?  Obviously private companies like Power Company of Wyoming and Rocky Mountain Power are shooting for the stars with their gigantic wind projects. Can it be even bigger?  We have the best wind in the country and maybe in the world. Is there even more we can do to promote it?

For a long time, Wyoming was the country’s largest producer of uranium.  What about a commitment to putting in some nuclear plants?  I am not talking about those massive Three Mile Island-type plants. We have had nuclear powered submarines and aircraft carriers for over 50 years using small nukes.  Should we be pushing for small nuclear installations using these super-safe small nuclear plants so Wyoming can continue to provide energy to the rest of the country?  Providing power to the country has been our bread and butter. Should we continue to try to fill that position, using nukes this time around?

We are a perfect location for massive computer server centers. Cheyenne already has several.  We also could serve as a great location for super computers.  They require cool weather. Cool wind is good. And Wyoming, especially around Cheyenne, has huge trunks of internet fiber. These will not employ so many people but cold provide tax monies.

It is hard for Wyoming to attract big 500-employee plants.  But it is easy for Cowboy State to attract 500 people who each individually work for their individual companies and bring their big salaries with them?

We need reliable internet service, good airline service, and nice small towns that are safe and forward- thinking. I think most Wyoming towns fit this description like Evanston, Afton, Cody, Powell, Lander, Riverton, Douglas, Buffalo, Sheridan, Newcastle, Gillette, and the bigger towns like Rock Springs, Laramie, Casper, and Cheyenne plus other places.  Our cities and towns are wonderful places with low taxes, good medical care, and wonderful places to eat.

Again, my friend Dan chimes in: “I think private capital and private innovators will see Wyoming for the advantages which fit into their plans and interests. It’s more important to create and continue an environment of low regulation and low to zero taxes than it is to decide which industries to court and subsidize.

“The federal tax burden will soon increase gigantically, making no state income tax more important than  ever and low regulations the same. Wyoming should make sure it is at the top of the list of the low-tax, low-reg destinations. Too many people fail to understand the importance of low regulations – it is a giant influence in decisions where to locate businesses.”

Another friend offers up a fairly powerful last word on this subject: “Wyoming isn’t likely to progress until we face the hard cold fact that SANTA (minerals) has gone away forever. As long as the ‘no tax pledge’ people dominate, there will be a steady decline in what Wyoming has to offer. Cutting budgets can go only so far.

“Regionalized medical services can reduce health insurance cost. School administration costs can be centralized with huge savings. This could result in specialization for different sized schools, finding ways to take advantage of technology to improve educational opportunities whether the senior class numbers 300 or seven.

“Right now, we are on a route to create a state with substandard services, no reserve funds, and damn little to attract anyone in terms of business.  Why attract a company with 500 employees if each one will consume more services than results from the taxes they will pay?”

These are just some musings from me and my friends.  What bold  ideas do you think would work for Wyoming?

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Bill Sniffin: Wyoming’s Long, Long, Long, Long, Long Year Of Plague, Economic Distress

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

The first big bombshell occurred almost exactly a year ago when the state high school basketball tournaments in Casper were cancelled because of a new virus on the world stage.

From then on, folks we have been on a long, strange journey. 

Last March, we were terrified by the TV images of horrific scenes in hospitals in New York City and in Italy.  If that was the plague it certainly appeared to be coming for us!

Wyoming put in lots of restrictions and cancelled just about everything and then we just stayed put – we sat around and waited for the apocalypse.  And waited. And waited.

My column on May 10, 2020,  pointed out how spectacular the statistics were in Wyoming with just eight deaths, lowest in the USA. We had more traffic deaths than Covid deaths. Our numbers of sick people were tiny compared to other states.  In a burst of bravado, I speculated this might be the biggest over-reaction in history.  

Few people had predicted that the Cowboy State would be so much safer than the rest of the world. 

Wyoming is a big, lonely empty place with six people per square mile.  New York City has 27,000 people per square mile. The Big Apple is full of crowded apartments and subways. New York City is a claustrophobic place for most Wyomingites. Watching the horror on TV of their emergency rooms and listening to the daily beseeching from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, well, it was easy to believe the world was coming to an end. This plague was coming for us, too. 

Milan, Italy, has 19,000 people per square mile.  Have you been to Italy? People there live long lives. These are truly the most loving and sociable people on the planet with many three-generation family units. Italian life span is 83.2 years. This compares to 78.5 in the USA. Watching the carnage on TV was awful. Yet 80 percent of the people who died in Italy were over 60 years of age and most had underlying health conditions.  Was this our future?  Back during the spring of 2020,  it looked like it could be.

It was not.  Most definitely. At least not right away.

With Wyoming being such a big open place, it was logical that it would be a magnet for tourists.  Everything here was shut down at first but then the dam burst in mid-June.  

We had record tourism in August, September, and October and despite 5 million visitors over the tourist season we saw no spike in Covid cases. It was almost an innocent time. How could Wyoming dodge this bullet?

Back on May 17, 2020, we made national news when a Cheyenne club became the first strip club in the country to reopen. I assume the dancers wore masks on their faces, despite little else.

Wyoming received some $1.25 billion in federal CARES aid. The Wyoming Business Council did a fantastic job of making grants to state businesses under guidelines developed by the legislature, which met by Zoom.  Zoom became one of the hottest businesses in the country as everybody jumped on the remote meeting bandwagon. 

While Wyoming remained one of the states with the fewest health-related restrictions in the nation through the spring and summer of 2020, that changed in the fall and winter as the number of active cases in the state skyrocketed from 3,266 on Oct. 24 to 11,861 one month later.

The increase prompted Gov. Mark Gordon and state Public Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist to impose a requirement that people wear face masks in public.

In the late fall of  2020 we peaked with 11,861 cases. Even Gov. Mark Gordon tested positive. On Dec. 7, he issued a statewide mask mandate. People were hunkering down. The plague had arrived in Wyoming with a vengeance. 

Because of Covid, Wyoming, in several ways, has been forever changed.

Many of the new systems and techniques put into place during the last 200 days  will continue on into the future. Biggest things will be state-wide meetings being held with Zoom, distance education, and telehealth medicine.

Wyoming people drive more miles per year than people in any other state, on a per-capita basis.  We have good roads.  We are small in population but have been almost desperate to get together for meetings, it seems. 

For 50 years, my typical Wyoming day often meant driving three hours to Casper or Rawlins or Rock Springs or Jackson or Cody or Pinedale for a two-hour meeting and then driving three hours home.  In the summers, we even would make the 4.5-hour trip to Cheyenne for a meeting and then drive back home in the same day.  

Not anymore. We will Zoom those meetings. 

Our legislators have been meeting almost non-stop by Zoom and I predict that whenever this darned pandemic ends, that option will continue.  The computer-generated meetings are not as comfortable as in-person meetings but they certainly work better than anything else I have ever seen. 

The months of December and January were rough but then the vaccines arrived. As I write this on March 12, 2021, times are good. Cases are way down. The mask mandate comes off this week. 

But sadly, the death toll almost hit 700 on the one-year anniversary. 

It has been a very long year.  Now in 2021, we can again  appreciate what normal life is all about. What a relief!

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Bill Sniffin: Only Trump Can Beat Cheney Out Here In Cowboy State

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

If you had asked me three weeks ago if U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney was beatable in her quest for reelection in 2022, I would have said “no way.”

Today, the landscape has shifted.

Former President Donald Trump has retaken charge of the national Republican Party.  He did that at the big CPAC meeting Sunday.

From that podium, he singled out Cheney as a “war-monger” and made it clear he is holding a world-class grudge against Wyoming’s sole U.S. Representative. Nobody holds a grudge better than Trump and he is putting Liz into a special category. Like a crazed pit bull, he says he is coming for her.

When the U. S. House voted to impeach Trump in January, just ten Republicans joined their 222 Democrat counterparts voting in favor. Cheney was the most prominent and has been vocal since then in defending her vote.

Trump is not alone in his disdain for Cheney. Almost half of Wyoming’s county Republican committees have censured Cheney (plus the state committee) and some even demanded she resign.

Trump wants to make an example out of his war with Cheney and Wyoming will be that battleground.

So, could the normally unbeatable Liz Cheney be defeated in 2022?  It all comes down to Trump.  First he would have to designate a single Wyoming candidate he wants to support early, perhaps in the next few months.  Then he would promote that single candidate and will come to Wyoming and hold a rally (or two) for that candidate.

He will also send in surrogates like Donald Trump Jr. and others to stump for this mystery candidate.

And, he will open the floodgates of campaign money to support this one, single Republican candidate for U.S. House in the Wyoming primary again Liz.

This strategy will see this mystery candidate’s popularity grow as he or she travels the state pressing the flesh and slamming Cheney over the next 16 months.  Much of that Trump money will be used to finance the best ground game the state has ever seen – this is where the campaign literally goes door-to-door convincing every Wyoming citizen one-on-one to support this person.

By the time August of 2022 comes around, the polls could show the race a dead heat.  Then Trump will fly back into Wyoming to administer the coup de grace. On election day, the mystery candidate will have defeated Liz with 43,000 votes to her 42,000 votes with a group of wannabes picking up the other 15,000 votes.

So, who will be the mystery candidate?

State Sen. Anthony Bouchard of Cheyenne has already picked up some national money as he is going full-bore into an anti-Cheney campaign at warp speed. As the founder of the WYGO (Wyoming Gun Owners) group, he has access to thousands of die-hard supporters, state-wide.

Rep. Chuck Gray of Casper has created a flashy TV ad on YouTube and is running full-tilt.

State Rep. Ocean Andrew was thought to be the beneficiary of U. S. Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-Florida) anti-Cheney visit to Cheyenne recently.  Not sure if he is running but do not count him out. Any Republican who can win a House seat in liberal Albany County has some pulling power.

Brian Miller of Sheridan touts his military credentials.  He ran a statewide primary campaign last year for U. S. Senate that was won by Cynthia Lummis in a landslide.  

Darin Smith of Cheyenne has run for U. S. House before and is popular statewide. He also was campaign manager for Foster Friess’ gubernatorial race in 2018, when Friess finished second to Mark Gordon in the GOP primary.

Jillian Balow has expressed some interest.  She has handled a difficult time as Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Two smart guys from Jackson with access to big campaign money would be Dave Dodson and Bob Grady. Dodson ran hard against John Barrasso for the U.S. Senate seat a few years ago and has that experience behind him. Grady is well-connected and savvy.

Without Trump singling out one of these guys or gals out or if another mystery candidate comes forward, all these candidates will engage in the oh-so-common Republican firing squad. They get in a circle and start shooting. And Liz would emerge as a big winner in the end.

Whoever runs, Trump will need to open up his treasure chest. Cheney spent over $3 million last year defeating Democrat Lynnette Grey Bull.  This was one of the highest amounts ever spent in a Wyoming race.  Would a 2022 race cost $5 million?  $10 million? 

We are seeing lots of anti-Cheney sentiment around the state but it will be to no avail without Donald Trump, himself, directing traffic.  Stay tuned, folks. This could be momentous.

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Bill Sniffin: Modern Wyoming Parable: Who Moved My Severance Tax Cheese?

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

Wyoming’s current economic situation reminds me of the famous business book Who Moved My Cheese?

After living off severance taxes from the energy industry for half a century, the Cowboy State is enduring a time when the state is trying to maintain services without the money to pay for them. As fossil fuels decline, severance taxes paid by energy companies for coal, oil, and natural gas extracted from Wyoming are diminishing rapidly.

In a few short words, we are trying to pay for a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget.

That famous Cheese book by Spencer Johnson is about how people react to unpleasant change. It stars some mice and what happens when their regular supply of cheese suddenly disappears. It’s a lot more interesting than that, but the book is helpful in showing how people cope with loss of something they were used to counting upon.

Here in Wyoming, our economy had been based on fossil fuels for decades before we even became a state. Ever since the wagon trains used oil from the Dallas Dome oil field south of Lander in the mid-19th century until the present.

Some estimates have pegged our economy as based on 60 percent on fossil fuels.  Alaska, North Dakota, and Texas all have a similar reliance on fossil fuels, but no state earns as much severance tax percentage-wise as Wyoming does. Or did.

Wyoming is in a statewide bust when it comes to tax revenue. And since decades ago we chose to funnel all local and school money through the state, this means local communities and school districts are just as financially strapped as the state government is short.

Never mind that we have over $20 billion in the bank.  We are not destitute like we once were when Gov. Stan Hathaway looked around in 1967 and found the bank accounts empty.  Or when Gov. Mike Sullivan saw the state going broke in 1990 until a wealthy Jackson woman died, leaving millions to the state in taxes.  Now those were two very desolate times. 

We are not broke.

Like thousands of Wyoming ranchers, farmers, and small business people, we have lots of assets. We just do not have enough cash.

The federal government acts a lot like the caricature ditzy person who claims as long as he or she has checks in the checkbook, he or she can keep spending.

But our state constitution requires us to have a balanced  budget.  We cannot go into debt without violating state law.

Thus, our elected representatives in Cheyenne are digging in their heels and proposing draconian cuts to programs all across government.  Outside of paying for the highway patrol and plowing the roads, just about everything else is on the table.

Some legislators are so serious they signed pledges to oppose ANY new taxes.  I am against new taxes, too, but this seems a little extreme. But I digress.

Perhaps the simple solution is to diversify the economy and find new ways to pay for state government, right?

 Or why not just increase property taxes, fuel taxes, sales taxes, and other taxes.  But wait.  Can’t do that.  Too many legislators signed that pesky pledge. 

So, the only way out of this mess is to cut expenses.  Cut programs, cut services, and lay off state employees.  Cancel projects that both make sense and do not make sense. It may not matter.  We have to balance the budget.

Just like any middle class household in Wyoming, there are only two ways to make it work.  You increase your income.  Or you cut your expenses.

I predict this legislature will be brutal with its cuts. There will be no new taxes levied this time around.  Education will get hit the hardest. The various school associations have already sent to the trustees of all districts in the state a blueprint of where and how to cut.  Lobbyists will try to save programs, but get ready.

During Wyoming’s 1980s bust, the legislature had to cut its way to a balanced budget.  It pretty much worked but state government was a fraction of what it has become. During the go-go decade of 2002 to 2012, Wyoming was rolling in dough.  The money that energy companies paid in severance taxes provided for spectacular new schools across the state, plus huge new buildings at the University of Wyoming, the Hathaway Scholarship program, and many other forward-thinking programs. We also put a boatload of money away in mineral trust funds and rainy day funds.

In today’s bust, there could always be opportunities to be creative but, alas, the mood of this year’s legislature is just too dour. 

Our severance tax cheese may have been permanently diminished. Many of our leaders are in a state of shock over how to replace it.

One legislator told me that when it comes to reducing costs of programs, the fat is gone. Most of the muscle has been gnawed away. And now they are chewing on the bones.  That is a spectacularly accurate way to describe what our legislators are dealing with in Cheyenne during the 2021 session.

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Bill Sniffin: Cheney’s Trump Snub Sparks Opinions Down At Coffee Shop

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

A dozen gray-haired guys in Lander meet every morning for coffee and political discourse. Here is what three of them had to say about the recent events concerning Wyoming’s lone member of Congress Liz Cheney’s vote to impeach then-President Donald Trump:

Dave Kellogg, a retired IBM representative and chairman of the Wyoming Catholic College board: “As I reflect on the actions of Wyoming’s lone U.S. Representative, Liz Cheney, I have come to a somewhat more modified view of her part in the impeachment of former President Trump. 

“I do realize and believe that her vote was retribution for Trump’s attack on her of a couple of weeks prior, even though it was contrary to the wishes of the majority of her constituency. Human nature being what it is, I at least understand that.  

“What I do not understand is her willing participation in what can only be called a corruption of due process.  An impeachment is an accusation of wrongdoing (not a conviction).  The House of Representatives took the impeachment action on a mostly partisan and arbitrary vote without any basis of facts. It was all based on dislike for Trump, false assumptions, and misrepresentation of facts (or at least of the facts that have so far been presented in the media).

“It concerns me that a person with a legal background, as has Liz Cheney, would take part in an accusation that had prepared no formal evidence, had conducted no open hearings, and had refused to review any defense.  It gives me pause when I consider this might be some kind of pattern of snap judgments and vindictive actions that, at some point, could be detrimental to her sober and reasonable consideration of other controversial issues, especially ones that have an emotional side to them. 

“I am sure this lapse of judgment will reflect on her future which might consist of an opportunity to be Speaker of the House if the Republicans do take control of the US House of Representatives in 2022 (or perhaps a 2024 or later run for the Presidency).  It might also, however I doubt it, have an impact on her future as the US Representative from Wyoming.”

Another coffee shop attendee County Commissioner Mike Jones said:

“Good points Dave, I have a few thoughts rattling around.  Whether this was a corruption of the process or not is unknown, nor can it be known without judicial review. 

“There are lots of opinions but for a layman to decide on the issue is difficult.  I think there is a case to be made that this was very strategic decision for her, for whatever she sees as an endgame.

“I don’t see her taking impulsive actions. Strategically, she called for a secret ballot vote regarding her leadership with house Republicans because she knew she would win it (rather than a roll call). Kevin McCarthy is a B player at best and she outplayed him.   

“As a lawyer, she knows that the only true decisions regarding  legal opinions of law are made and proven in court. I also believe she knows Trump is not, nor will be the leader of the party as he was during his presidency, at least for the next four years. If one wants to modify the conversation of the party, now is the time.

“Trump simply does not have the office to wield pressure. She also knows that McCarthy is weak.  Who else would force a direction of the Republican conversation?

“I would also bet she is willing to push the pro-Trump part of the Republican party to the brink of divide to expand the more traditional moderate base.  She knows, and they know, a split Republican party is a dead Republican party in Presidential politics. Again, she has the strategic high ground.  I just don’t see snap judgements in her make up.  As for the Wyoming Republican party, a little less extreme would not hurt us.

“Congress is a stage.  From what I have seen of her, she plays it very well and 95% of the time represents the Republican party and Wyoming well.  To try and punish her for one bit of theater is, in my humble opinion, part of this black and white view that seems so prevalent in the U.S. today.  No one is 100% of anything. The litmus test our Wyoming Republican party wants to hold  everyone to is completely counterproductive.  

“I don’t support her action of impeachment.  I just don’t see the sense in the censorship or recall direction.  If a strong candidate shows up in two years, I will consider, as always.  In the meantime, she has not stopped supporting the conservative POV, and I support her for that.”

“Dead on, on all points,” said John Brown, an IT specialist and Republican activist: “Liz is definitely playing a longer game here.”

“It might help to look at the situation and why she did what she did if you consider what her long-term strategy might be.

“For example: If you were going to run for President in 4 years, what would you try to do to win that Trump couldn’t do? Maybe try to pick up more Independent votes, win those soccer moms over in the Virginia suburbs, and appeal to those more moderate GOP votes in purple swing states like North Carolina and in the Industrial Midwest.

“What does voting to impeach Trump get you? A lot of those Independent voters as well as those soccer moms and moderate GOP votes. It also denies the Democrats a campaign issue they could throw in a competitor’s face if the Republican candidate for president was seen as being ‘too cozy’ with Trump.

“FYI, the scenario I just painted above is derived from my own thoughts. I do NOT have any special “inside” information regarding her motivations.”

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Bill Sniffin: Dumb Idea With Bad Timing — Canceling Newspaper Public Legal Notices

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

Using both tight budgets and a Covid pandemic as excuses, the dumb idea of limiting printed public notices in Wyoming newspapers has reared its ugly head again in the Legislature in Cheyenne. 

Wyoming citizens should be both outraged at this proposal plus the fact that their taxes are paying for the lobbyists who are pushing for it. Crazy. 

Here is a fact: There are some people in government who like working out of the public’s eye. They do not like reporters or, worse yet, pesky citizens poking their noses into their work. To many of our city and county officials, the idea of not having to disclose what they are doing to the public sounds like a dream come true. 

Here is another fact:  The cost of printing public notices is a tiny fraction of city or county budgets. Often it is less than one-half of 1% of their budgets. Wouldn’t you assume that letting the public know what its government is doing is worth being publicized? Especially in difficult times?

Here is the most disturbing fact:  The lobbyists who are working to convince the legislators to do this are being paid for by your tax dollars. Just about every town, city, and county in Wyoming pays dues to organizations (the Wyoming Association of Municipalities and Wyoming County Commissioner Association). These dues pay for lobbyists who then lobby the legislature to pass laws covering up what they are doing. This has a foul smell.

Luckily, not all legislators are fooled by these arguments by lobbyists. 

All citizens in Wyoming should be upset about this and should contact their legislators and tell them this bill (SF 17) is bad legislation. Urge your lawmaker to not be an enemy of the people by hiding what the government is doing from its citizens. 

As recently as the 2018 gubernatorial race, transparency was one of the biggest issues of the campaign.  Following that race, the new Gov. Mark Gordon and the new State Auditor Kristi Racines put into place some amazing new systems to help citizens find out where their money was being spent on state government.

As much as their efforts were a forward move for Wyoming, bills like this one are backward moves. We are better than this.

Public notices are the best way for the state’s public entities — groups allegedly working on behalf of the people who pay their bills — to report on what they’ve been up to. The notices they put in the state’s newspapers are their reports to their stockholders. 

They cover salaries, minutes of what has been done in their meetings, public calls for bids so the public can see what work is being planned, plans for zoning so people know if a livestock barn can open up next to their homes, and many other items. 

Public notices are put into newspapers because newspapers are tangible, permanent things. They don’t change at someone’s whim. They are a permanent record of our world. You can go back to the 1890s and find records of what happened in Cheyenne. Public notices published in the 1950s have been read in court as recently as the 1990s. 

Public notices are put into newspapers because newspapers are invited into the home. Placing notices into a newspaper allows them to be seen by even the most passive reader. 

Placing notices on websites makes it much less likely they will be seen by the casual reader. Very few people peruse their local government’s website for fun. It is a fact that the most popular government website in any community has far less views than the local newspaper has subscribers — or even than the local newspaper’s website has views.

When you’re confronted by an unprecedented budget crisis, the worst thing you can do is make government spending less obvious. WCCA and WAM are arguing that it isn’t “fair” that they have to publish salaries and minutes when school districts follow less stringent rules. It’s crazy that it hasn’t occurred to the legislature that school spending has been harder to control – in large part – because school districts don’t have to publish things like minutes.

This ill-timed piece of legislation comes at a time when the people need to know more about what their government agencies are doing – not less.

Citizens should let their legislators know they oppose this attack on transparency.

The legislative committee that passed this bill should be ashamed for contributing to future cover-ups.

(Note: Sniffin’s columns appear in many newspapers in the state. He provides those columns for free.)

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Bill Sniffin: It’s time to hit the road to travel around Wyoming again

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

In my business column called the “20 things I’ve learned in 50 years of business,” three rules seem to have dominated my life over the past three years. 

The first is that you sell to the customer what the customer wants to buy.

Second is that someone is looking for you as hard as you are looking for them – you just have to knock on enough doors.

Third is you make money when you travel.

Today I am focusing on the third rule – it is time for me to hit the road!

Readers of this column know that we travel a lot. What we do not write about is the fact that often, we are doing some business while we are traveling. 

This past year was pretty much the year of no travel. We made a quick one-day trip to Yellowstone, a trip to the Sheridan-Buffalo area (hosted by Jim Hicks, Bob Grammens, Pat Henderson, and Kim Love), and we took a longer trip  that saw us visit Las Vegas, Arizona and Colorado. 

The COVID was not so bad when we made these trips. Before and after, though, we were pretty much house-bound like everyone else. 

As I write this, both Nancy and I have gotten our Pfizer shots, the car is warmed up, and the highways are dry – let’s roll!

My favorite places to travel are all inside this wonderful state.  We have discovered amazing things, people, and places in diverse locales like Evanston, Newcastle, Worland, Rawlins, Rock Springs, and so many others.  

Right now, I am excited to re-visit Carbon County.  Folks who blast through Rawlins at 80 mph really are missing out on all the unique things to see and do in that wonderful place. Leslie Jefferson who heads up the Carbon County Visitor Council has lined up a number of places for me to visit. 

Vince Tomassi of Kemmerer-Diamondville is still frustrated that we have not really visited the Fossil Butte National Monument.  Vince, it’s on my list. Really it is!

Up north, Dave Peck, publisher of the Lovell Chronicle, is anxious to show us Big Horn Canyon and all the wonderful sites around it. 

In southeast Wyoming, Cheyenne is a wonderful place. But there are fabulous places in Goshen, Platte, and Niobrara counties as well. 

Cowboy State Daily is probably the fastest-growing news media in Wyoming.  We are adding 1,000 new subscribers each month.  It is my intention to meet a whole bunch of our loyal readers during 2021.

The plan is to go to an area and mingle with some folks, visit some current and future advertisers, reconnect with our many donors, and, in general, focus on all the good things about Wyoming’s amazing places. 

In 2012 to 2015, I produced three of the best-selling coffee table books ever done about Wyoming.  One of the main reasons Wyoming readers loved the books so much, or so they told me, was that the books did not focus on just Jackson and Yellowstone. 

In my half-century in the Cowboy State, I have been privileged to see the entire state. And this state is full of wonderful and unique places. 

Each year I write a column called my Wyoming Bucket List.  It lists the places that we have still not seen.  Hopefully, we can go see a bunch of the places this year that are still on my list.

Wyoming is unique because many of our residents live in areas where they can be easily lured to neighboring states to see the unique places in those states.

One of my goals all these years has been to get Wyoming people to go visit their own state – to have folks from Newcastle visit Evanston, for example. Or folks from Cody and Lovell visit Saratoga and Green River. I know some folks who still haven’t visited Yellowstone yet. 

Just last week, we heard from some folks who finally got to visit Devils Tower. They were flabbergasted by the magnificence of it. 

Back when my companies produced tourist magazines about Wyoming, we traveled the state learning about all these unique sites.  Then when we did the coffee table books, we worked with 54 Wyoming photographers and writers like Pat Schmidt, Jim Hicks, Phil Roberts, and others who are scattered all over.  What a joy it has been to travel from one end of the state to the other – and to get paid for doing it!

Thus, my motto about making money when I travel.  Now as publisher of Cowboy State Daily, our job is to “knit this very big state together” and that is my goal.

We will see you on the road. Happy Trails.  

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Lander Lil Sees Shadow – Wyoming Will Get Six More Weeks Of Winter

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

For the past 37 years, a prairie dog in Lander has been predicting the future of winter weather for Wyoming. This year on Tuesday, Feb. 2, she saw her shadow, which means six more weeks of winter.


Let’s see, in six weeks it will be March 15. Now that might be spring in most parts of America but here in Wyoming, that date often signifies our heaviest accumulations of snow. Sub-freezing temperatures can occur throughout the rest of March and even into April.

Famed Lander sculptor Bev Paddleford sculpted a larger than life bronze statue of Lander Lil, which stands lookout from her perch on the grounds of the local Post Office. This year, she is wearing a mask, due to the COVID pandemic.

Back in 1984, some Lander folks felt that too much attention was being paid to Punxsutawney Phil, a ground hog, in Pennsylvania. It seemed that the Rocky Mountains needed its own weather sentinel.

Local businesswoman Mary Ann Atwood and local economic developer Alan O’Hashi, came up with Lander Lil. There really was a real Lander Lil who lived in a prairie dog town located on the site of the Post Office, hence the bronze replica that now stands there.

The sun rose clear on Tuesday, Feb.2, in Lander and there were shadows everywhere.

The forecast, according to famed meteorologist Don Day, predicted the mercury might even hit 50 degrees on this day. As nice as the weather has been in Lander during this mid-winter thaw, Day’s forecast did include snow at various times during the rest of the week across Wyoming.

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Bill Sniffin: Relief Of Vaccination And The Ugliness Of ‘Mask Trash’

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

As a newly-vaccinated person, it’s easy to feel inspired to write another column about the coronavirus known as COVID-19. 

Perhaps the least important piece of news about the year-long pandemic (which we will now simply refer to as COVID) is the increase in litter of face masks.

My wife and I are walkers and during this mild winter, we have walked dozens of miles all over our little town of Lander.  Then, I started noticing all the used masks lying in the gutter or frozen to the ground

We often wear our masks so this is not an anti-mask column.  But we generally pick up trash that is laying around.  Over the past three months, especially, we have seen an abundance of masks strewn all over the place.  Some we can pick up but most are stuck to the ground.

It will be wonderful when masks are no longer needed and we also will not see them as litter.  

But on to more important topics. Back on Dec. 17, we had what seemed like a unique data point for Wyoming when it came to covid infections. On that day, we hit a milestone of 351 deaths in Wyoming and we also showed a marker of 35,113 laboratory-confirmed infections. That translates exactly to one death per 100 infections.

Since then, we surged to 596 deaths and 51,152 infections as I write this on Jan. 27. This means that slightly more than one out of 100 people who get infected have died since this virus arrived. It also means that less than one-tenth of 1% of Wyoming residents have died from the disease.  Here in Wyoming these numbers don’t sound like too big a deal, but the national death toll of 416,000 deaths is just intimidating. It is equal to 72% of the population of Wyoming.

During this past year I wrote a number of columns taking some bold stances and making some self-important statements. I was sure that COVID was over-blown.

With more than 416,000 people officially dying from COVID across the country, I now believe this truly is a disaster. 

The Spanish flu killed 675,000 people a century ago.  A while back, I argued that Spanish flu killed a whole lot of young healthy people where the current scourge seemed to kill mainly old people.  Well, these old people are people, too.  This death toll is just too high to not be as careful as possible.

Pat Schmidt of Cheyenne argued with me about the total number of deaths that would occur in the U.S. in 2020. I contended even with the COVID, the numbers would be similar to 2019.  I was wrong. There really were 300,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019.  I owe Pat a Big Mac for that one.  I also owe a burger to former Gov. Dave Freudenthal for the same bet.

My biggest concern was whether extreme efforts we saw to contain the virus were worth the destruction of our economy.  In places like California, which had the most restrictions of any state, about one in every 10 people are being infected with the virus. So, did all those restrictions mean nothing?  History will have to judge that. But for now, it is hard to tell.

First time we ever saw large groups of people wearing face masks was in 1989 on a trip to Taiwan.  Lots of folks riding motor scooters wore masks because of the pollution. But you also saw people walking around the streets and in the buildings wearing masks. Why? “Those people are sick,” we were told. “Our culture says you wear a mask to protect others.” 

Back in February and March of last year, you could see images on TV of people in South Korea and Vietnam. Everybody had a mask on. Every single person. Those countries came through the pandemic in spectacular fashion compared to the U.S. We’re told those countries had a terrible time with the SARS epidemic in 2003 and learned to wear masks then. That 17-year-old scare had little effect in our country.

Those countries already had a culture of people wearing masks when they are sick or to avoid getting sick.  Thus, being told to wear a mask was not viewed as denying personal rights. They also were veterans of social distancing and contact tracing because of the earlier SARS epidemic.   

In 2020, in the U.S., mask wearing was politicized.  Wearing one was a badge of honor for Democrats and not wearing one showed you had an independent spirit and were probably voting Republican.

A better system would have been to somehow make wearing or not wearing a mask not be a political statement.

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Bill Sniffin: Tired Of The Plague And Politics? How About Some Good News!

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

Enough already.  Enough about politics. Enough about the deadly virus. Enough about complaining. 

Today, folks, this column will be totally devoted to GOOD NEWS.  And there is plenty of it.

First of all, the days are getting longer. Our long winter of discontent is over in many ways.  And our dawns and sunsets are spectacular with brilliant reds.  Stop and take in these wonderful and colorful marvels.

The weather this winter has been relatively mild in most parts of the state.  Interstate 80 has not been closed as much as last year. This is great news for all of us.

As I write this on Jan. 21, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills have had an amazing run in the National Football League. Boy, is he fun to watch. Dang it, I wish the Broncos could have had him.  But keep in mind the only NFL team named after a Wyoming person (Buffalo Bill Cody) has our Wyoming Cowboy at the helm.

Charitable works across the Cowboy State have been at an all-time high.  Food banks are working overtime. I sincerely hope it is difficult to find a hungry person in Wyoming.  And thanks to First Lady Jennie Gordon for her efforts on this front.

It’s good news that the economy hasn’t cratered in the first days of a Joe Biden presidency. The stock market is actually going up.  Now that is good news!

Gasoline prices are low which is great news for folks across the land. Usually that is not good news for Wyomingites since low retail gasoline prices normally translate to sluggish employment in our energy sector. But Wyoming people drive more miles per-capita than any other state – so, on a personal level, we benefit.

And despite predictions to the contrary the Wyoming energy sector, in the form of oil and natural gas production, is steady.  Thanks to efforts by Sen. John Barrasso, uranium might be surging again.  He got a bill passed to increase the national stockpile of uranium. Wyoming produces more yellowcake (the byproduct of uranium mining) than any other state.

Longtime Powell publisher Dave Bonner loves libraries.  I do, too. He says during these COVID-19 times: “I wonder if there is some good news in libraries in the state? I had that thought after we did a story with our new Park County library director who talked about libraries becoming a place where even chatter is in.  A gathering place for kids.

‘Libraries aren’t silent any more,’ she said. Have libraries become something of a refuge in this COVID time in our life?”  Sounds good to me.

In Sheridan, Kim Love writes about a new business: “We have a new business starting here in Sheridan called Western Heritage Meat.   It is a new USDA approved packing plant.  As things stood, there wasn’t any USDA approved plant in the area, and the other packing plants had about a 6-month waiting period to get an animal processed.  Thanks to Taylor and Cathryn Kerns,” Love said.  Good news for folks hungry for local meats.

Mike Jones of Lander says he thinks it is good news that nobody got killed at the inauguration in Washington, D. C. on Jan. 20. He also said sales and use taxes are going up, which he appreciates, since he is a County Commissioner for Fremont County.

This year should be a big one for tourism, the state’s second largest industry.  In an industry-wide zoom meeting Wednesday, it appears that the record-busting visitation numbers that struck Wyoming from August through October of 2020 will continue. 

Like I wrote back during that surge: “Thanks to the plague, the people of America want out.  And out means Wyoming.  We are way out west.  We are the least populated place in the lower 48 and that has a big appeal to folks after what they have been through.” The most common refrain spoken by Wyoming folks this summer, I predict, will be “who the heck are all these people?  And where did they come from!”

It should be pointed out that we probably have fewer troops stationed around the world than in many years and we have no current wars. Boy, does that have a nice sound to it.

We are thankful for the strong housing market. If the value of everyone’s home goes up, it is a huge benefit for all people.

And finally, we have a vaccine for the plague. Thank God.

Yes, folks, it is all good news today.

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Bill Sniffin: Liz Cheney Puts Trump In Her Rear-View Mirror

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

The shocking announcement that Wyoming’s lone U. S. Representative voted to impeach President Donald Trump was devastating to thousands of Cowboy State residents.

Wyoming supported Trump to a larger extent than any other state, with more than 70% of its voters casting ballots for the incumbent president. 

When Cheney voted against Trump, it truly made national headlines and was the lead story on the nightly news. As the third-ranking Republican in the U. S. House, her vote was seismic.  It sent shock waves from one end of the country to the other. It was an earthquake back here in Wyoming.

The reaction to her announcement was swift and critical. Cowboy State Daily put its version of the Cheney announcement on Facebook, and it had 889 mostly negative comments, 67 shares, and 1,111 likes.

This is an amazing reaction when you assume that every other news organization in the state was also putting the same story out on social media. It goes to show the amount of interest in her decision.

She said her vote was a matter of conscience but others had more cynical views.

A lot of observers have always seen Liz as having higher national ambitions.  Like being the first Republican woman to run for president. Or to emulate her father Dick Cheney, who served eight years as vice-president to President George W. Bush. It was easy to be proud of her for her ranking as third-most powerful Republican in the House and she seemed perfectly set up to seek even higher national office. 

Interestingly, while her stock fell sharply here in Wyoming, her stock may have risen across the country.  Not every state has been as loyal to Trump as Wyoming. 

The media elite was almost unanimous in running the story as their lead, heaping high praise on her for her courage.

Back here in Wyoming, there was some support for her decision.  Most was from Democrats and Independents but there were also some from more moderate members of the Republican party, like former Gov. Jim Geringer, former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson and former U.S. House candidate Rod Miller. A group of prominent lawyers and judges also supported it including former Democrat governors Dave Freudenthal and Mike Sullivan.

As I write this on Jan. 17, there are 25,000 names on a petition to recall her.  This is futile, since Wyoming does not have a method to recall elected officials, but it shows the level of negative feeling out there about her decision.

Her biggest critics came directly from the state Republican Party.

The party condemned Cheney’s vote, stating that in recent memory, there has never been as much feedback from Wyoming Republicans as there has been against Trump’s impeachment and Cheney’s vote.

The  statement attributed to Wyoming Republican Party leadership listed a number of comments the party has received since the vote, none of which were supportive of Cheney’s position.

“The consensus is clear that those who are reaching out to the Party vehemently disagree with Representative Cheney’s decision and actions,” reads the statement.

“Representative Cheney has aligned herself with leftists who are screaming that what happened (Jan. 6) is the ‘worst thing ever in our history’ (or similar such claims). That is absurd and shows their lack of knowledge of history as well as their willingness to skew the facts to further their corrupt agenda,” reads another.

In an interview with media, Cheney addressed what she saw as the historical significance of the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, stating that this is a “very dangerous moment for our nation” and noting the presence of U.S. troops in the Capitol.

“Some of you have probably saw the pictures of the troops sleeping on the floor of the Capitol Visitor Center,” she said. “It was a scene reminiscent of the Civil War, when troops were housed in the Capitol.”

Cheney emphasized the gravity of the situation many times during the 15-minute phone call, mentioning that the vote to impeach was done with a “heavy heart” but adding that for her, there was no other option.

“This is a moment when it’s important for all of us to recognize that our Republic is very fragile, and that we all have an obligation to ensure we’re doing everything that we’re compelled to do by our oath to ensure the survival of that Republic,” Cheney said.

“There are times when those of us as elected officials are called on to act in a way that does not take politics into consideration,” she said. “Dealing with something as serious and as grave as the attack on the Capitol is one of those times.”

Cheney’s actions sure looked like she really was trying to put President Donald J. Trump in her rearview mirror.  But to thousands of Cowboy State voters, it looked like she was also putting Wyoming in her rearview mirror.

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Bill Sniffin: Darin Smith Fought To Protect D.C. Barricades From Invaders

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher 

Cheyenne’s Darin Smith said Wednesday’s riot in Washington, D.C, was caused by a “mob mentality” among a small minority of the 50,000 protesters attending a rally.

He said it was a situation that was poorly handled by security forces at the U.S. Capitol.

Smith, an attorney and former chair of the Laramie County Republican Party, was in Washington, D. C. with his friend Rob Statham, also of Cheyenne, in support of President Donald Trump’s protest of the outcome of the Nov. 3 presidential election. 

He said most of the more than 50,000 people attending the rally were peaceful one moment, and “then everything got weird.”

“We were in the front of the Capitol and some agitators headed for the barricades,” he said. “There was about a (quarter-mile) of barricades set up and not many Capitol police manning them.” 

Smith was in the Washington, D. C. airport getting ready to fly home when I chatted with him on Thursday afternoon.   

He said when the agitators starting pushing down the gates, he picked up a bullhorn and started the chant “back the blue” as a way to get folks to help the police keep the agitators back. 

“I tried to tell people not to go in but it was like trying to hold back water after the dam had burst,” he said. “Then I saw the Capitol police open the barricades and let these people in (and) I thought ‘What the heck am I doing trying to help them.’  I think a couple of rednecks with some bear spray could have held them back but there was little official resistance. Maybe they were just moving back to establish another perimeter, I don’t know. But it was weird.” 

He also thought it was odd that there were so few law enforcement officers.  What he said really bothered him, though, was the gravity of the situation.  

“Here we have the most important body in the world making the most important decision in the world and these people are disrupting them!”  

He was stunned. 

“It was insane,” he said. “It was a wild and crazy time. The mob mentality kicked in. Again, I was just shocked at the lack of resistance from Capitol police.”

He said among the giant crowd there was a group he called the “geriatric folks” who were huddling near the front of the capitol because it was so cold and windy.  

“Just before the riot, the agitators moved in front of them and suddenly they seemed to be running things,” he said. “These punks were dressed in outfits that seemed like they were ready for combat.” 

Smith still supports Trump and believes the Nov. 3 election was stolen from him by supporters of President-Elect Joe Biden. 

“I am not sure what else the president could do to stop the invasion of the Capitol once it started,” he said.  “But a much bigger issue is how all these different things came together: first, the impotent response by the Capitol police; second, the sudden appearance of these agitators who had not been that visible during the earlier rally; and third, the police opening up the gates so the agitators could rush on in. I saw these things with my own eyes.” 

Smith summed it up by saying the security forces were guilty of “massive incompetence.” 

And finally, he heaped praise on the 99.9% of the more than 50,000 people who protested peacefully. 

“Heck, we were outside singing the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ and ‘God Bless America’ when these punks were inside stopping the most important government business in the world,” he said.

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Bill Sniffin: Here’s How Good It Feels To Get The COVID-19 Shot

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

By some kind of stroke of luck and good timing, my wife Nancy and I received our COVID-19 vaccinations today (Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021).  We got the Pfizer shot, administered by the nice folks at the Lander Medical Clinic.

Over a month ago, I called the clinic and asked when we could be considered for a shot?  They did not know but said they would put us on a waiting list.

Then we got a call from the clinic saying that while they are giving shots to health care workers, sometimes there might be left over shots available.  Would we make ourselves available on a moment’s notice?  Yes, I said, we would.

Because we fit the age requirements and I had called early, when doses showed up, the staff at the clinic called us yesterday with good news. They said if we were available, could we show up today at a new clinic they were setting up?  Yes, we would.

Nurse Randi George gave us the shot (with assistance from Billie Martinez) and said when she got hers two weeks ago, she felt a little tired the next day. She suggested we take it easy the next day. She also said that unofficially it appeared that the first shot will give you 50 percent immunity against the virus while the second shot pushes it to 95 percent.

The staff took all our vitals before and, afterward, had us rest for 15 minutes. Then they took our vitals again.  We were given a card and also set up for the follow up shot in three weeks.

We are ecstatic.

The Lander Medical Clinic, according to CEO Ryan Hedges, has 3,100 patients over the age of 70 and they had been calling them setting up appointments.  On this day they planned to give 75 shots.  We felt very fortunate.

And yet despite us (and many others) now getting shots, there has been a glitch at some of the nursing homes in Fremont County. Because big national pharmacy chains were charged with this job, a lot of old folks in nursing homes still had not gotten their shots.  I must admit this made me feel a little guilty but I did not hear about this until after I got my shot. Hedges said they could not give the shots to the nursing home residents because of the rules they are working under.

Coincidentally, my younger brother in Broomfield, CO, also got his shot today. His was a Moderna shot.  He works part-time at a Thornton, CO golf course and the city were giving shots to all their employees. He never left his car as Thornton set up a drive-through operation.

As I write this Tuesday night, we are 12 hours into our shot experience. So far so good. It feels wonderful to have this protection.

Good luck to everyone out there in getting your shots. I can only hope that cities and towns around the state are being as efficient as our clinic in Lander was today.

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Bill Sniffin: New Year Prompts Reflections On Blessings From Years Passed

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

It is impossible to forget the way we celebrated the arrival of the Millennium Dec. 31, 1999.  At midnight, I was standing outside our home with our dog Shadow watching the fireworks over the golf course hill. I was sipping a glass of Spumante.  Our adult children had gone to a party with friends and I was babysitting my wife Nancy and our three-year old granddaughter Daylia, both of whom were sleeping.

My wife Nancy had been diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 1999 and had been very sick as a result of chemotherapy.  She ended up in the hospital with the flu and I had just gotten her home in time for New Year’s.

When midnight struck, I quietly sneaked into Nancy’s bedroom and gently awakened her.  She was groggy.  “Happy New Year, sweetie,” I said, and I gently let her take a sip of my bubbly wine.  Then she rolled over and went back to sleep.  I walked back to the center of our darkened house and rather ominously pondered what kind of year we were going to have in 2000?

Now, twenty years later, I can report it has been quite a journey. Let me tell you about it.

It was in the early fall of 1999 when we found out my then-52-year-old wife had a tumor in her left breast and cancer in one lymph node. Nancy’s oncologist, Dr Michael Parra, was a good man with an honest sense of irony.  “I’m going to use some terms with you today,” he said, at our first meeting, “that will sound strange to you. Believe me, by next year, they will become very common to you.”

And so, our journey started.

Thank God we had sold our newspapers in Fremont County and on Maui.  When we got the news, we also still owned interests in five businesses, but all had capable managers, which meant we could fight this thing with all the strength,  energy, and faith we could muster. And the Lander community was wonderful. 

Have you ever had someone cook dinner and bring it to your home?  At first, I really fought against this idea. After all, I was healthy and could either boil an egg or run to McDonalds with little problem.  But then you realize that your friends are reaching out and they want to help you out. So, we relented. And the food was great, by the way.

During the following year we learned a lot about those things the oncologist talked about, such as Cytoxan, Adriamycin, Taxotere, neutropenia, Leukopenia, Zophran, Neupagen, CBC, and thrombocytopenia, etc.  These are chemicals, medicines or medical conditions related to the effort to cure breast cancer.

As of today, we like to think that we’ve long put cancer in our rear-view mirror for a long time.  But there are no guarantees. We have been blessed.

Nancy had a breast cancer surgery procedure called a lumpectomy in October, 1999 and decades later still looks great.

Her oncologist said that after her chemotherapy, if she did the radiation her chances of getting breast cancer again is three percent.  Without the radiation, it is 30 percent. We chose to do the radiation with Dr. Robert Tobin of Casper. Back there in 2000, her upper torso was covered with black markings and three small tattoo dots, which direct the radiation technician, where to irradiate on her body.

After that first surgery, she had a port surgically installed into an area just below the shoulder. All of her blood testing and her chemotherapy were done directly through this port.

The chemotherapy was as bad as people said it would be.  There are now drugs, which prevent much of the nausea that occurred in the past. Plus, it wreaked havoc with her white blood cell counts. She lost all her hair.

She got through her chemo sessions by the following April but developed a bad infection in her leg, which was the result of the low blood count and accidentally bumping it on an open desk drawer.  This led to a quick trip to Casper to meet with an infectious disease specialist Dr. Mark Dowell and then a deep surgical procedure to drain and repair her thigh.  She didn’t walk for weeks.

Finally, we got the word from the oncologist that she could start radiation with Dr. Tobin. 

On Oct. 13, 2000, we got up at 4 a.m. and went to Casper for that first radiation treatment and then headed to Cheyenne where Gov. Jim Geringer and his wife Sherri were hosting a reception for breast cancer survivors.

It was fun and I enjoyed watching Nancy mix with the other women there. Gov. Geringer got the party started and then left. I ended up being the only man present and I quietly excused myself, saying, “I was a thorn amongst all these roses.”

As I departed, I looked back and while there were many lovely ladies at the function, for me, my rose stood out from the others.

And so here we are today. I am writing this on New Year’s Eve on Dec. 31, 2020.

This is a favorite column because of my vivid memories of standing there in the dark on New Year’s Eve pondering what our fates would be over the course of the next year.

Ever since, New Year’s is a somber time for me.  I always try to find a quiet place to reflect on all the blessings of the past year and look ahead to what might happen in the upcoming year.

We head into 2021 with our heads up and our spirits high.  Let’s make it a wonderful year.  We can only hope that readers of this column have been as blessed as my Nancy and I have been blessed. Happy New Year!

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Bill Sniffin: Predictions – Not All Doom But No Boom Either– But What Am I Missing?

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

Okay, now that we have 2020 in our rear-view mirror, what do we foresee for 2021? This is my annual prediction column.

First, we are not done with COVID-19. Not by a long shot.  A few thousand doses of vaccine have reached the state and it might take a lot longer to get our folks vaccinated than originally thought.

Meanwhile, news of a new strain of the virus that is even more contagious makes 2021 look even scarier. There are cases of this new strain already in Colorado.  So, folks, hang on to your hats.

The mandatory mask order is still in place in Wyoming along with some restrictions.  Financially, some more federal CARES money is on the way, which will help our ailing businesses.  And each Wyomingite adult will be getting $600 from the federal government.

But let’s move on to another depressing piece of news in looking at 2021 – the state’s economy.  With Joe Biden the new president things are going to be tougher for fossil fuel companies.  With Wyoming relying so much on fossil fuels, this bit of news will force the people of the Cowboy State to diversify if they are to grow and prosper.  This is long overdue.

Despite valiant efforts by the governors and the Wyoming Business Council in the past decades, the level of diversification will need to be ramped up. This is great news for the excellent economic development groups in our cities and towns.  So, get busy folks. Not since the horrible 1980s have the people of our state needed you like they need you now.

And finally, some good news in 2021 – tourism.  From July on last year, tourism exploded in Wyoming.  Well, the dam will truly burst in 2021. People in this country want to get out and “out there” will mean Wyoming.

Despite all their troubles of the past 12 months, folks in the motel and restaurant and attraction businesses should have a banner year. They deserve to have one, too.  Now this will be fun although we might find ourselves complaining about the crowds. Who are all these people and where did they come from?

With what the legislature has to deal with, you would have thought nobody would want that job?  Yet dozens of folks campaigned hard and spent a lot of money last year trying to get in. 

In a big shift, some pretty darned far-right conservatives knocked off some powerful Republicans that they perceived as moderates. This will mean cuts, cuts, and more cuts will be occurring whenever the Legislature meets in 2021.  I say “whenever” because there is some talk about postponing much of the session due to the COVID-19 virus.  It might be a good idea to have a delay so a clearer idea might emerge about how much money the legislature will be short.

Spending on education will be in the sights of these conservatives. Education has been a sacred cow in Wyoming for decades thanks to earlier court decisions, plenty of severance tax money, and pride in providing good educations for our children.  But all bets are now off.

It is easy to predict this is where the biggest fights will be occurring. The State Senate, especially, will be a minefield for folks wanting to avoid cuts or, heaven forbid, actually raise taxes.

I see 2021 as a big year for Gov. Mark Gordon, U. S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, and University of Wyoming president Ed Seidel.

Gordon has spent a hellish year dealing with the virus in 2020 and he can look forward to a breather as he deals with the worst financial crisis the state has faced in 30 years.

Lummis will be a conservative star in the Senate if the Republicans can hold their majority.  She will stir things up.

Seidel had a baptism by fire at UW with the plague in 2020.  Now all he has to do is somehow keep everything going while incomes have been cut drastically.

Biggest economic boost in Wyoming in decades hopefully will kick off at F.E. Warren AFB in Cheyenne as billions of dollars are scheduled to a big retro-fit for the missiles.

In the world of wildlife, the big news will be how bad is the infestation of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).  It is a serious issue and it will be getting worse.

As the windiest state, the proliferation of windmills in Wyoming will continue as these 60-story tall giants continue to dot the landscapes.

When it comes to high tech, telemedicine will continue to grow. The expansion of high-quality broadband in rural areas would be a boon for everyone.

So, have I missed predicting the biggest story?  Last year when I wrote a column predicting what was going to happen in 2020, there was no mention of a plague.  Hmmm?

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Bill Sniffin: What A Year 2020 Has Been! We Are Fired Up About Improving Cowboy State Daily In 2021 With Your Help

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Dear Cowboy State Daily reader,

Wow, has 2020 been a year to remember or what?

We know you are tired of being bombarded this time of year for donations but in our case, the cause is real and we really need your help. 

We have big plans for Cowboy State Daily in 2021 but we need your help and your donations to improve this product that you already love. 

Please consider making one more tax-deductible donation in 2020 before we venture into the future – 2021.

And if you already made a donation, great!  Our small staff has been tied up with year-end projects.  Thank you notes will be sent soon. Thanks for your patience. 

Wyoming people have endured a helluva year, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but you know a lot more about it now than you did before you started reading Cowboy State Daily. 

At last count, we have published 905 stories about the epidemic! That number just blows us away, too.  But this was the biggest story of this century and one of the biggest of our lifetimes.

It deserved this kind of coverage and our staff believes no other news media in Wyoming covered it as extensively as Cowboy State Daily did – and we did it for you!

The future of Wyoming is uncertain.  And having access to a FREE daily digital accurate news media is essential during these times.  

You can do your part in helping to ensure our good work continues on into 2021. 

Remember, Cowboy State Daily is owned by YOU.  It is a 501 (c ) (3) non-profit.  And with ownership comes responsibility.  Please do your part to help us do our job of keeping you informed. 

We think 2021 will be our greatest year yet. Don’t just watch us grow, join us!

Happy New Year from our staff Jimmy Orr, Jim Angell,  Ellen Fike, and yours truly. 

Please let us know what you like (or dislike) about Cowboy State Daily and ideas you would share with us about improving our product. Just email with your ideas. Thanks!

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Bill Sniffin: Empty Streets And A Busy Holiday Outside In The Cold

in Column/Bill Sniffin

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By Bill Sniffin, Publisher

Like most house-bound Wyomingites, one of things that my wife Nancy and I like to do during this time of COVID-19 is go for an occasional ride around our little town.

On Christmas Day, we experienced an amazing sight.  Our super-long Lander Main Street did not have a single car or any other kind of vehicle parked along that street for its entire 2.7-mile length. Not one. From the golf course on the SE to the veterinary hospital on the NW, there was nary a single vehicle parked on either side of the street. 

Wow, it does not take much to get us old codgers excited but this was truly extraordinary. You know the old saying that it was so quiet you could shoot a cannon down Main Street and not hit anyone? Well on Christmas Day, that was true in Lander. 

Lander has a historic Main Street.  It was the original stagecoach road from the railroad station in Rawlins to the military post at Fort Washakie.  It also is the road to the southern entrance of Yellowstone National Park. 

Our Main Street is also extremely wide.  It has always been this way. Back in the day when big wagons were pulled by huge teams of oxen that needed to turn around, they could do it easily on our Main Street. 

The street is maintained by the Wyoming Dept. of Transportation (WYDOT) as U. S. Highway 287.  Now this federal highway is one of the most famous “diagonal” roads in the country.  

I used to be on the board of the Mountain West AAA, which had its main office in Helena.  When we would go to Helena for meetings, what was their main drag?  Why it was U. S. Highway 287. I think it continued on up to Canada, ending in Choteau, MT. 

When I would visit my late mom in Lafayette, CO, yep, there was U. S. Highway 287 as that little town’s Main Street. 

Here in Wyoming, this highway is also the main drag through Laramie, Rawlins, Fort Washakie,  and Dubois. 

When we visited our daughter Amber Hollins in Dallas, TX, again one of its main drags was U. S. Highway 287.  From Northern Montana to Texas, this road goes NW/SE for over  1,700 miles.  It is the longest federal highway with a three-digit designation. It ends up in Port Arthur, TX.

But anyway, it was quite a sight, COVID-19 or not, to see the usually busy Main Street in our town totally devoid any parked vehicles. Wow.

Also, on Christmas Day, we enjoyed a barbecue outside.  The weather was 29 degrees.  The air was calm and there was some snow still on the ground. The sky was blue and a brilliant sun shined on us and our daughter Shelli and her family as we ate outside on our deck.  

Our grandson Fin had shoveled out a space so we could set up a cornhole layout and after our dinner, we enjoyed playing this beanbag game.  Son-in-law Jerry brought over a fire pit so we had a campfire to keep us warm, which was a luxury. We also had s’mores (marshmallows, chocolate, graham crackers), which made it more special. 

Our little outdoor celebration provided a special end to the strangest year in my memory.  Despite the COVID-19, which prevented the Johnsons from coming inside our house, we had a Christmas that will be remembered forever.  It was just wonderful! 

We enjoyed Facetime with our other three kids, who live in Texas, Colorado, and Washington, so we got soaked in family love.  We can only hope that everyone else out there were able to make the best of a crazy situation with the crazy 2020 year. 

Daughter Alicia Haulman, who lives in Montrose, is very diligent about mailing holiday packages early.  Since my wife Nancy’s birthday is Dec. 15, Alicia always sends our “Christmas box” early, as it will have something special for Nancy’s birthday. This year she mailed it Dec. 10.  Today, as I write this on Dec. 26, we still have not received it! 

She was told that the Aurora, CO Post Office facility was so overwhelmed by packages that they truly could not tell anyone how soon their items would be delivered.  Reportedly FedEx and UPS were so overwhelmed with their own delivery issues, the USPS could not call on them to fill in. Thus, a huge logjam of packages is sitting in some huge postal warehouse in the Denver area. 

Happy New Year everybody. Thanks for reading this rather personal but not so exciting missive about our Christmas!

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Bill Sniffin Memory: A Cross At Christmas On Top Of Crump’s Mountain

in Column/Bill Sniffin

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

(Note: This column first appeared in December, 1988 when my son Michael was seven years old. It is featured in my book The Best Part of America. It’s reprinted here in the spirit of Christmas.)

The idea of creating a Christmas Cross on top of Crumps Mountain was not in our original plans.  All we wanted to do was explore the Squaw Creek area three miles south of Lander on a Saturday afternoon and perhaps check out some deer.

We had lived at our home near Squaw Creek outside of Lander since June, 1976. And although we had always enjoyed the view of the spectacular bright red Crumps Mountain, I had never set foot on that property.   

We decided a hike was a good idea and after making the appropriate phone calls for permission, we headed out. The excellent weather was perfect for it. 

We left at 2:18 p.m.  I believe the Denver Broncos were ahead 7-0, and darn it, I wanted to see that game!  But my young son had pulled this promise out of me that we would take this hike, so away we went. 

Our trip would cross a large pasture until we could cross the creek.  Our original intentions weren’t to climb the hill (or mountain, as Michael referred to it). The day was glorious, about 30 degrees, no wind, and sunshine.

We  followed some deer tracks to the creek and tried to find a way across. The creek was just a little too wide for my son’s seven-year-old legs.  Finally, we found a place where the deer tracks revealed they used to get across.

We were originally going to hike down the creek, but he didn’t want to. He wanted to climb straight up.  As we marched up the hill, we took note of the creek, the houses and the road getting smaller beneath us.  Our view of the huge Wind River Mountains off in the distance kept getting better as we climbed.  We saw lots of animal tracks, mainly deer. 

Occasionally, the snow was about 18 inches deep and other times, the snow was gone and red mud stuck to our boots.  The contrast of green bushes, white snow and red rocks was striking.  The sun was peeking through the clouds just off the towering Wind River Mountains to our left. 

We climbed about two thirds of the way up the hill, where we found a nice place to rest.  My son decided we should mark this place as it probably was going to be as high as we were going.  He was getting tired. Slogging through the mud had taken its toll. 

Down in the valley, seven deer were crossing the creek where we had crossed it.  They hopped across the field to the north entrance to the Boulder Loop drive, jumped the fence and headed up to our neighbor’s  bird feeder.

There was a trail that led up the mountain going the other way. It was a deer trail.  We wondered where it went? So, we followed the tracks and it switch backed the rest of the way up. 

Just like that, we were on top! 

Our view was a panorama of most of the Lander Valley to the north, Table Mountain to the east, the Wind Rivers to the south, and Red Butte to the west.

We saw two beautiful little birds chattering around in the five-foot high evergreens.  They were multiple colors — white, gold, dark blue, etc.  This was the day of the Lander Valley Christmas Audubon bird count – perhaps we should have participated.

We climbed on over the mountain ridge toward the southwest and came into a clearing almost exactly north of our home.  We each found a “thinking rock,” which is my name for those rocks that are perfect for sitting on and thinking.  I sat, while Michael immediately got up and wandered around.  There would be little sitting for him this day.

We dragged a flat rock up to the top of the clearing and said we would use that as a marker, but he wasn’t satisfied.  Instead, he wanted to tear out a root, but couldn’t quite coax it out of the ground.

I tugged at it and was surprised to see that it broke loose.  So, there we stood with a 10-foot-long white root.  We could use it for a marker.  Without thinking, I placed it vertically against a dead tree — how about that?  Michael disagreed and not really realizing what we were doing, he insisted we lay it out horizontally, which we did.  And it suddenly became a cross. 

We decided to call it our Christmas Cross. 

The sun started to go under a cloud and the warm weather disappeared. As we shivered, we looked way down at our house. We decided it was time to head home.  The trip didn’t take long at all.  

Little boys like to get muddy and it was difficult keeping this boy from getting dirty from head to toe.

I kept looking back to see if our cross was visible, but it wasn’t – not to us, anyway. 

Once home, we got out the binoculars and scanned the hill from our kitchen window. 

And there it was.  We had gone all the way up there and created this cross.  It was our little way of celebrating Christmas.

Our little trip certainly didn’t measure up to the all the good charitable works people around Lander did that day delivering Christmas food baskets to the needy. But it will go down in our memories as the day we climbed Crumps Mountain and created a Christmas Cross.

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Bill Sniffin: There Are Good Reasons Subscribers Are Donating To Cowboy State Daily Right Now

in Column/Bill Sniffin

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

Dear friend,

This has truly been a crazy year. During tough times, it helps to have someone to turn to. This year, Wyomingites turned to Cowboy State Daily in record numbers of subscribers.

We anticipated your questions and we provided the answers. You asked us about COVID-19, hospital capacities, school issues, government tax proposals, remote learning, the failing economy, and yes, the 2020 election, too. 

Our staff anticipated and answered these questions by publishing over 2,000 stories, photos, videos,  and providing a daily newsletter to thousands. That journalism helped thousands of people better understand how our state’s policies would impact their lives. 

Thanks for helping us continue our mission of keeping Wyomingites informed. In a year when information literally saved lives, we came through. Your loyalty means so much. 

Cowboy State Daily is owned by YOU.  And with ownership comes responsibility.  We are reaching out to our 10,600-plus subscribers and asking you to donate now.  If you do it before Dec. 31, it is tax-deductible on your IRS return.

With a crucial legislative session ahead of us in 2021, Wyoming people’s need for quality journalism remains at an all-time high. Will you chip in to help our nonprofit newsroom prepare for the year ahead?

We love it when people tell us how much they like Cowboy State Daily. Here are some examples:

Joe Glode in Saratoga says: “I sure like your daily news feed.  It sure beats Cable!”

Judy S. in Buffalo says: “I sure enjoy Cowboy State Daily. I look forward to it every day.”

Dan T. of Centennial says: “Your updates on the Mullen Fire have been particularly important since I was one of the people who got evacuation notices. Thank God for the snow. Keep up the good work and I plan to donate annually.”

Mary Paxson made a nice donation and said: “I love Cowboy State Daily. I love the writing especially. I think you are the last stand of journalism in Wyoming! I do enjoy the news along with the humor of the delivery.”

Janice S. of Jackson heaped a bunch of praise on Cowboy State Daily. She said: “I have enjoyed the daily briefings of happenings around the state, which helps me feel more connected with the goings-on in Wyoming. I am a Wyoming local and have lived in several Wyoming towns.  I also enjoy the bit of humor and lightheartedness that each report bring – the daily bears and the daily dancing men. Thank you for the tasteful humor which adds a chuckle to my morning and thank you for providing updates on news around our beautiful state and the people of Wyoming. I‘ve recommended that friends and family sign up to receive the Cowboy State Daily!”

These are just five of so many wonderful comments and notes we have received. Our motto: Don’t Just Watch Us Grow – Join Us!”

Whether you can chip in with a donation or with your continued attention, we’re so grateful for your support and wishing you and yours a wonderful Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

To folks who do not want to use a credit card, please send your check to Cowboy State Daily, box 900, Lander, WY 82520.  Thank you!

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Bill Sniffin: Here Are Some Ideal Wyoming-Themed Christmas Gifts: Wool Pullovers, Sausages, Books

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Financial advisor Bryan Pedersen.

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

Okay, it’s Christmas and it’s time to buy gifts.

The year 2020 has been so difficult to Wyoming business people, it just seemed to make sense for us to reach and support Wyoming-made products.

Here are some suggestions from some friends around the state:

Bob Grammens of Sheridan Media suggested: Jake’s Lures.  Known worldwide but made in Sheridan. Website: and Kim Love recommends Tom Balding Bits and Spurs.  Known worldwide and all made in Sheridan.   Website:              

Jim Hicks of Buffalo wrote: My annual note would be about Mountain Meadow Wood Mill {} — (a wool mill located here).  They have the best winter pullover I’ve ever seen. The quality of the wool makes them so comfortable and warm.  Check out their web-site to see other products offered.  Knitters from all over the world buy their yarn because it comes from the very best local area wool producers.

Rock Springs Editor Caleb Smith said he reached out to Trina Brittain, who is part of the downtown-promoting Rock Springs Main Street/Urban Renewal Agency. Here is what she shared: 

“There is a pop-up store, Wildflower and Company, at 517 Rennie Street in Rock Springs that specializes in homemade Wyoming merchandise. Bi-Rite/Sweet Sage/ Hallmark is the home for Wyoming gear and more at 409 Broadway Street.

“The Rock Springs Historical Museum, 201 B Street, has a selection of Wyoming literature and souvenirs. New in the community is Wyoming Raised Apparel & Gifts, (The Band and The Brand), located at 204 Center Street. This business has a good clientele since they’ve been popular at Farmer’s Markets, county fairs, craft shows, etc. Move over Hickory Farms, it doesn’t get any more Wyoming than a good old-fashioned Kronski from Boschetto’s European Market, 617 Broadway Street.”  Caleb chimed in: “I too vouch for the Kronski sausages.” 

Lisa LeVasseur, publisher of the Weston County Gazette in Upton suggested Wyoming Silvers, owned by Jill and Dennis Hendrix. “They do beautiful work and so all their own silver-smithing.” 

Josh Wood at the Saratoga Sun said: “As for Wyoming-themed gifts, Saratoga has more makers than you can shake a stick at. Here’s just a few examples: For the leather lovers who love to accessorize, check out Pure Dixie ( owned by Dixie and Kirby Berger.

If spent brass and Wyoming stones are your niche, check out Bandita Bones, owned by Jamie Waugh (  Strong Tower Design also specializes in jewelry while having a little something for everyone ( owned by Ray and Jamie Bernal and soon to open in Saratoga is County 6 Clothing Company ( owned by Firewater Public House owner Danny Burau.

Penny Merryfield, publisher of the Pine Bluffs Post, recommended: “Allwayz Manufacturing is a local company, and they do so much with metal and metal art. Check them out at The cross with the Wyoming flag is awesome. Dean and BJ Bowman, have it.”

Steve Steiner of the Laramie Boomerang and Rawlins Times reported the following: “I believe like so many other communities and newspapers, the Christmas spirit is muted. What I have been doing for our paper is at night I drive around town looking for homes and some businesses that have gone all out decorating for Christmas. I have taken a slew of photos and starting next week (or maybe even this week), will start running at least one photo a day.”

Books by authors such as Craig Johnson, Ron Franscell, CJ Box, John Davis, Karen Schutte, Steven Horn, Sam Lightner Jr., and others make wonderful gifts. Be sure to shop in local book stores and other local retailers this year.  Support your local merchants!

Pete Illoway of Cheyenne suggests folks check out the Made in Wyoming Directory on the state’s web page, which lists some 120 items made here.

Former long-time Wheatland rancher Ray Hunkins suggests Foothills Cellar jams and jellies by Henry Poling, a paraplegic rancher, who obviously has great taste.

Queen Bee Gardens of Lovell sells amazing honey candy items according to Darin Smith of Cheyenne.

Former long-time Wyomingite David Kathka loves Serendipity Confections of Laramie.  “Wonderful chocolate caramels and fudges,” he says.

Mike Jensen of Cheyenne raves about Maven products of Lander. This outfit was founded by Cade Maestes, Mike Lilygren, and Brendon Weaver. They sell the best binoculars I have ever seen and just came out with a line of spotting scopes and rifle scopes. Amazing optics.

Jerry Kendall of Hudson says here in Fremont County that Jess Forton makes pine furniture, Cleve Bell does metal sculptures to order and Dubois artist Marty Dorst paints custom Christmas bulbs. I believe Jerry produces some amazing walking sticks, too.

Central Wyoming College President Brad Tyndall recommends Farmer Fred’s Famous Sauerkraut sold in Lander and Jackson.

Cody Beers of Riverton recommends Wonderful Wyoming Honey, as does Tony McRae of Lander. Dean McKee of Lander touts Wyoming Whiskey, distilled in Kirby, as the perfect gift.

Amy Surdam raves about Alexis Drake handbags, belts and jewelry made here in Wyoming. Jean Haugen recommends beadwork by Shoshone and Arapaho tribal members.  She especially like works by Tom Lucas.

The State Museum in Cheyenne is loaded with Wyoming products, according to Tucker Fagan.

John Davis wrote me the following: “I’ve got some Worland area local Wyoming products for you.  We have an active honey company, Bryant Honey, which has been producing honey and distributing it for three generations.  Amish Origins is another Worland company, one that makes a salve for ‘Deep Penetration Pain Relief.’  And some of the local ranchers are specializing in custom grass-fed, hormone-free beef.  That includes Carter Country Meats (R. C. and Annie Carter of Ten Sleep) and Kendrick Redland of Manderson.

Nancy Guthrie of Jackson recommends David Fales’ Wyoming Gourmet Beef of Cody.  Tom Satterfield of Cheyenne likes buffalo products from Terry Bison Ranch.

Pat Henderson in Sheridan sent me the following: “Legerski Sausage gift box. – Fabulous tasty and such a unique product and Koltiska Distillery – Sampler gift box of locally made crafted alcoholic beverages.  King’s Ropes – Ropes, Ropes, Ropes.” 

Pat also said a: “Special shout-outs to Bill Sniffin on his beautiful work including our picks of Wyoming’s 7 Greatest Natural Wonders and Wyoming at 125– a great gift for all who love our Wyoming.”  Thanks, Pat.

Best gift you can give, though, is to reach out and help the needy.  Support your local food bank programs and reach out to people who have suffered big losses this year.  A kind word or an invitation to a lonely person means a lot this time of year.

Mainly, I think people need to support their downtowns.  Local merchants were hit hard this year and this is the season when they might be able to get their economic situations helped a little.  Plus, when you go shopping downtown you will see a lot of old friends and make a bunch of new ones. Happy shopping and be sure to wear your mask and social distance. It’s the mandate!

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Bill Sniffin: COVID-19 Might Just Mean The 19 Pounds We’ve Each Gained The Past Ten Months

in Column/Bill Sniffin

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

Folks, it’s time to be hopeful. Both out here in Wyoming and across the world.

I am hopeful despite the fact that it is 2 degrees outside and our Lander Valley is covered in fresh snow. The nights are very long. Hardly a light streak in the sky as I type away at 6:03 a.m. Brrrr. We are deep in the heart of Wyoming Winter.

My late dad dreaded these long nights, but this time of year he would remind me that in a few weeks, the shortest day of the year would be here (Dec. 21) and then tell me: “Guess what? The days will be getting longer. Now that’s good news.”  I agree with him.

The big struggle at our house right now is my wife Nancy and I arguing about getting out all the Christmas decorations.  Because of COVID-19, we will not have any of our kids or grandkids inside our house – probably will do a “drive-by” or, if the weather is nice, do something outside.

Last month for Thanksgiving, our daughter Shelli Johnson and her husband cooked up everything and brought it over and we ate it on our deck under sunny skies with 40-degree temps.  Could we luck out on Christmas with similar weather?

At our ages, we are following the guidelines and trying to stay safe.

So normally at this time of year our grandkids haul all the different giant Santa Claus statues and big nutcrackers up from the basement to the main floor.  It’s a big job and one that I do not want to do myself.

I grew a big white beard during “no shave November” to recognize the battle against cancer but also because I am lazy.  But instead of saying” Ho-Ho-Ho,” it appears my wife thinks I am saying “Humbug” when it comes to getting out all the decorations.

“But I do it for me. It makes me feel good.  I want that Christmas feeling in the house, whether anyone else sees it or not,” she concludes.  Any guess how this is going to turn out?  Just hope I don’t fall down the stairs with a life-size nutcracker on my head.

Gaining weight during this pandemic has been a huge issue for most people. The explanation is that the “19” in COVID-19 really means the 19 pounds you have gained in the past 10 months. One of my brothers joked with me the other day that he is now eating ice cream right out of the box and using the scoop, rather than going to all the trouble of finding a spoon. Now that is giving in, bro!

Lately readers of this column have been chastising me for being gloomy. Really?

Yes, I worry about Wyoming’s economy. And there are hundreds of small business people in our state that are either gone or hanging by a thread. And they are going into the worst time of year economically.  We all need to try to figure out a way to shop local and to support our restaurants.

In the big picture, a great number of the state’s cities and towns seem to be pretty economically diversified. Let’s hope so.

After battling the ubiquitous scourge of the COVID-19 virus since March, folks are getting weary. But help is on the way. Vaccinations will be starting before Christmas and hopefully by spring, a lot of danger from the virus will be in our rear-view mirror. I sure hope so.

Looking ahead to 2021, it appears the Legislature may postpone its two-month general session from January to maybe March.  Not sure, but that might be a good idea. I know it sounds like we are giving in to the virus, but it would just be a one-time change.  With our crazy revenue picture, having an extra month or two to see how the year is coming along might be helpful.

State Sen. Hank Coe up in Cody just retired and is now sick with cancer. Keep him in your prayers. He is a great friend to all in Wyoming. Hang in there, Hank!

On a national level, President Donald Trump’s campaign has sure found some interesting examples of funny balloting.  The idea of truckloads of phony mail-in ballots being hauled around the country does not seem too far-fetched to me.  The total voting numbers are astonishing when you compare the Trump-Biden race to the Trump-Clinton race four years ago. Did almost 22 million more people really vote this time over 2016?

Meanwhile, where is that ice cream?  And that scoop?

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National Museum of Military Vehicles, One Of America’s Great Museums, Is Now Open Just South Of Dubois

in Column/Bill Sniffin

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

DUBOIS – When it was first announced, the National Museum of Military Vehicles was viewed as one of Wyoming’s next great museums.  Now that it is open, it is obviously much more than that. It is one of America’s next great museums. 

 Boasting 140,000 square feet of space, the $100 million project had to postpone its official opening on Memorial Day because of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.  Thus, it did a “soft” opening in August with more than 1,000 attending each of three days. 

 Founders Dan and Cynthia Starks have self-funded the project entirely on their own.

 They are passionate about how the United States won World War II.  During one of the rare tours that he presents, Dan starts off his tale by describing the state of the American military at the start of the war.

“We just lost most of our ships in Pearl Harbor,” he says. “Our Pacific army was in the Philippines.  Pretty soon, the Japanese bombed the heck out of them and forced them into surrender.  We lost 75,000 of our finest young men,” he said.

 “Across the other ocean in North Africa, we joined the British in an attempt to attack the German General Rommel.  He routed us.  He captured 183 American tanks and just destroyed our expeditionary force. We retreated over 50 miles to get away from the Germans, leaving all our equipment behind. It was a disaster.”

 But from that lowly beginning, Starks said, America figured out a game plan to defeat enemies at two fronts, the Germans in Europe and the Japanese in the Pacific. How they did it is described in great detail in his new museum. 

 Starks has huge murals detailing how America used its vast manufacturing capability to gradually provide enough tanks, trucks, airplanes, and other items to keep a 12-million-member Army supplied. Plus, the USA was supplying other countries like Russia, Britain, and Australia.  Examples of all this are on display.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Masks are required. Admission is $15 for adults and seniors. Youths 8 to 17 are $10. Kids 7 and under are free. All military veterans and active duty receive free admission. The museum is located eight miles south of Dubois on Highway 287/26. More information is at www.

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Bill Sniffin: The Biden Bust Will Severely Damage Cowboy State

in Column/Bill Sniffin

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

It’s been reported in this column before that often Wyoming’s economy reacts to the national economy much like a teeter-totter.  When Wyoming is booming, the country is struggling.  When the country is booming, Wyoming struggles. 

During the energy booms and busts of the last 50 years, this teeter-totter symbolism made sense. Today, I am not so sure. 

But I do know one thing for sure – elections count. Whoever is president really does make a difference for a state like Wyoming, whose economy is so dependent on a single feature like fossil fuel energy. 

Had Al Gore won the 2000 election, I am convinced that the subsequent boom that drove Wyoming would have been muted. Gore and Clinton-era Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt had fossil fuels in their sights heading into that presidential election two decades ago.  

Instead, we got George W. Bush for eight years with our own Dick Cheney at his side as Vice President.  With Bush from oil-rich Texas and Cheney from energy-rich Wyoming, the floodgates were opened for amazing energy development and massive job creation.  Wyoming never had a boom like that before and may never have another one again. 

The previous year in 1999, our state was so broke state leaders were seriously considering a personal income tax. From that, we saw ourselves salting away billions of severance tax dollars in various funds that have helped keep the state afloat these days and into the future. 

If Joe Biden gets sworn in as president we will finally see what that Gore-Babbitt model would have looked like. We will be living that reality here in Wyoming for the next four years, at least. 

The reason for that teeter-totter analogy is energy prices.  When they are high, Wyoming booms and the country suffers. When they are low, Wyoming suffers and the country prospers.  

Right now, energy prices are low and much of the country is faring well, despite the COVID-19 epidemic. The stock market just hit 30,000. Now that is amazing. 

But with Biden in there, will my teeter-totter theory hold up?  

He will kill energy development on public lands, which will diminish the Wyoming energy economy.  And when those jobs go away, they probably are not coming back. Could this mean the flight of 50,000 people from the state? 

I think our real estate market is attractive enough to urban folks fleeing the big cities, that we will see lots of lone eagles coming to Wyoming. These are folks who work from home. They can live anywhere they want. So fortunately, we will not have a housing slump. 

Whole neighborhoods will change.  Where today a house has dad, mom, three kids, and a dog in it. In the future it will probably have dad, mom, and a dog. 

Even here in Wyoming, I had a lot of friends who could not wait to get rid of President Donald Trump.  Well, they got their wish. This is much to the dismay of a whole bunch of hard-working Wyoming families.  These folks will put the Cowboy State in their rear-view mirrors as they leave the state seeking opportunities in other places. 

Some of these same friends also contend that it is time for Wyoming to wake up and realize that the days of fossil fuels are over and it’s time to embrace a new reality of renewable energy. 

I actually like wind energy and I don’t even mind windmills in most places on our high plateau country. But job creation?  Not sure what Joe Biden is talking about when he says he plans to create 50,000 “high paying union jobs” in the renewable energy sector. 

Wyoming is the windiest state.  In most places, the wind dies down when it is needed the most to create energy – in the afternoon. Here, it is often the opposite. We have high winds in the afternoon, which makes our wind energy potential among the best in the nation. 

The last big bust in Wyoming ran from 1982 to 2002 – 20 years. It ran so long that most of us began to think this is “normal.” You had to figure out how to survive and perhaps even prosper during lean times. 

Chuck Guschewsky, CEO of the Fremont Motors auto dealership network, told an economic group 20 years ago that “you learn how to run your business in the good times by how you ran it during the bad times.”  Pretty good advice. 

To many folks here, bad times are coming. Brace yourself, the Biden Bust is on Wyoming’s horizon. 

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Bill Sniffin: Thankful For Readers, Donors, Writers, And That COVID Is Almost Over!

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

Just think, 2020 is almost over.  Now that is something to be thankful for.

This has been a year to remember. And to forget!

This year has been a long, strange journey. But better news is on the way. New vaccines are coming and in 90 days, most of this pandemic could hopefully be a memory soon. We will permanently put it in our rear-view mirror.  Now that is something for which to be thankful!

It is easy to be thankful for all the good work that has been done by health care workers and EMTs here in Wyoming and around the world. A lot of you have gotten sick and some have died. We are so thankful for your service at this time.

We need to be thankful to all those folks working in essential jobs from stocking shelves in supermarkets to keeping our plumbing unclogged. And everybody else, too.

Back in July, one of every 67 people in Wyoming who tested positive died. Today that number is one in every 125.  Now that is something to be thankful for.

We are thankful that the 2020 elections are apparently behind us. Talk about a long, strange journey.

Besides COVID-19 the other big story was the election. I am so thankful to have it behind us although the results were not pleasing to many Wyomingites.

As the state that saw one of the nation’s highest percentages of its votes go to President Donald Trump (70 percent), we are chagrined that the final tally does not appear to be going his way.  But how does someone get 73 million votes in this country and still lose? Amazing.

I want to thank all you subscribers for your loyalty.  At latest count, there were 10,056 of you and new ones are joining us at a rate of 1,000 per month.  We also have some readers who have not yet subscribed (it’s free) and we welcome them to our site, too.

Many folks do not know that we are a 501(c)(3) non-profit, so if you donate to Cowboy State Daily, not only are you helping us cover the news but you get a tax deduction for your donation. So, here is a big shout out to our donors who have helped sustain us in our 23-month life here in Wyoming.

I want to personally thank our Executive Editor Jimmy Orr, Editor Jim Angell, and reporter Ellen Fike for their dedication this year. They have done a wonderful job.  No other news team can match ours for Wyoming know-how and years of service to Wyoming.

A huge shout-out goes to Wyoming’s best weather forecaster Don Day.  We, literally, could not publish a daily newsletter without him. Occasional reporters Wendy Corr, Jen Kocher, Tim Monroe, Tim Mandese, Ike Fredregill, Laura Hancock, Cody Beers and many others also receive my appreciation for their work.

Our weekly columnists and occasional columnists have been terrific. They really give Cowboy State Daily that daily dose of insight that our readers just love.

I tip my hat to Dave Simpson, Jim Hicks, Jonathan Lange, Ray Hunkins, Doug Gerard, Rusty Rogers, Foster Friess, Frank Eathorne, Rod Miller, Matt Micheli, Tom Lubnau, Cody Tucker, Tom Jones, Ray Peterson, Darin Smith, Amy Surdam, Karl Brauneis, John Davis, John Waggener, and many, many more.

Thanks for Annaliese Wiederspahn for launching this site with financial help from Foster Friess.  And to our board Tucker Fagan, Haley Davis, and Kristin Walker.

But on personal note, this has been one of the most exciting years of my life, serving as publisher of the Cowboy State Daily. 

Who would have thought that after 56 years in the news business, that I would be able to help a news organization at this age and cover the biggest story of my life?  How cool is that!

But I have to admit that shortly after taking over the reins of this wonderful operation, I was greeted with the twin negative dynamos of the COVID-19 epidemic and the Wyoming economy going into free-fall.

It’s stunning to me that after taking those two hits last spring, Cowboy State Daily is not only still standing – but thanks to the help of all the people mentioned above – we are growing and thriving!  And thanks to our advertisers and to the entities that have given Cowboy State Daily grants in 2020.

And finally, I am thankful for my wonderful wife Nancy of 54 years and our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and all our friends. Happy Thanksgiving! 

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Bill Sniffin: COVID-19 Vaccine Is A Moon Shot! The Nation Should Celebrate

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher, Cowboy State Daily

A vaccine in a little over 10 months for a deadly virus – amazing.

Everybody alive today should be celebrating this amazing achievement. It could be argued that not since the landing on the moon in 1969 has this country had a milestone quite like this. And in such a short period of time!  

If you consider that almost 250,000 people have died this year, alone, from the COVID-19, the race to get a vaccine developed has achieved what initially seemed an impossible goal.

President Donald Trump deserves credit for his Operation Warp Speed but so does everyone else involved.  He started this process on Jan. 13, some 10 months ago. The government approved billions of dollars in emergency funds to private drug companies like Pfizer and Moderna to get vaccines developed in record time – truly at warp speed. And Johnson and Johnson is reportedly almost ready with its vaccine, too.

As I write this, President-Elect Joe Biden is criticizing President Trump for not cooperating with members of the Biden team on how to distribute the vaccine.  My guess is that Trump’s folks don’t trust how Biden’s team could get the vaccine out.  After all, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is on the record as saying she will not use a vaccine developed by the Trump team. What an irresponsible thing to say.

Trump has always said he plans to use the military to handle the distribution and it appears there is a plan in place – it is just waiting for final FDA approval.  The assumption is that the vaccine will be given to health care workers on the front lines first and then, hopefully, to the most vulnerable senior citizens. I know a few of those folks.

But rather than cuss and discuss the political ramifications, let’s just bask in the glory of what this means.

I reached out to a bona fide expert on Pfizer and vaccines, Henry McKinnell of Jackson. He was CEO of Pfizer for many years. Here is what he said concerning the whole subject of vaccines:

“A few days after the 9/11 attacks, I met President George W. Bush on his first visit to New York following the attack.  He asked me how long it would take the industry to develop a vaccine against biological weapon?  I replied that under the then-current regulatory regime it would take 12 to 14 years.  He smiled and said, ‘I hear you.’  I then said the best case was four to five years primarily because such a vaccine would be given to healthy people including children and risk versus benefit had to be our highest priority.

“Against that background and the fact that over 80% of new vaccines and therapeutics fail in development, the preliminary look at the effectiveness of two novel vaccines in large scale clinical studies within ten months of the identification of the Sars-COV-2 virus is truly impressive and truly historic. 

“While the early efficacy signals are extremely positive, the hard parts lie ahead.  The first rule of medicine is ‘Do No Harm.’  Harm is defined as risks of adverse events exceeding benefits for the patient.  

“While the benefits of a vaccine to prevent Sars-COV-2 infections are indisputable, the risks attached to any vaccine are as yet unknown, except maybe to the independent Data and Safety Monitoring Boards of these studies. Hopefully, the new vaccines will be well-tolerated and as effective as the early looks at the data imply. 

“If not, hard decisions lie ahead.  Should we accept a vaccine with adverse events for one in 10,000 people?  Should we accept a vaccine with serious adverse events for one in a million people?  With 330 million people needing vaccination, these are not trivial questions.  Hopefully, the new vaccines will provide benefits exceeding risks for all.

“The final hurdle is not distribution as you hear from the media.  We have overcome more complicated logistics problems in the past.  The final hurdle is to be effective in halting the pandemic a vaccine needs to be safe, effective, and used by the vast majority of the population.  Vaccines don’t stop pandemics, vaccination programs do.  

“The news here is not good.  The ‘Anti-Vaxers’ are a threat to their own families and to us all.  A major communication challenge lies ahead. Hopefully, the enormous disruption to our lives brought on us all by this pandemic will convince us we need to fight this virus with all the tools available to us, not to fight each other.

“I will end with a very sincere thank you to those on the front lines of this fight,” he concluded.

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Bill Sniffin: Active Cases Went From 608 In August To 9,897 Today; Emotions Run High About Potential Covid-19 Restrictions

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher, Cowboy State Daily

It looks like a whole lot of people in Wyoming are fired up about the recent spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths here in the Cowboy State.

As the weather turns cold and people huddle indoors, the chances of spreading COVID-19 increases.

Could today’s weather in Wyoming be any different than this summer?  We probably hosted 5 million tourists this summer yet our total numbers of COVID-19 remained super low.

In August, when the state was being over-run by tourists, we had 608 active cases.  Today we have 9,897 active cases.

Gov. Mark Gordon was about as emotional and angry as we have seen him during his press conference Nov. 13.  He referred to a portion of our state’s population as “knuckleheads” for not practicing social distancing and wearing masks.

Meanwhile in Casper, infectious disease specialist Dr. Mark Dowell and various elected officials were hooted off the stage recently by angry citizens when the officials tried to emphasize the dangerous state of health that they felt the people of Wyoming are dealing with right now.  It was an ugly scene.

The anti-maskers feel statistics do not bear out the drastic measures being considered by Gordon and state officials.  They look to neighboring South Dakota and how Gov. Christi Noem has kept her state open. 

Noem’s detractors claim that South Dakota is now one of the worst states in the country for COVID-19, noting the state is sending patients to Wyoming hospitals.

Gordon and his staff have reached out to business organizations for their input on the situation.  Should he impose a mandatory mask mandate?  Should he impose the same health restrictions that forced restrictions on businesses seen last spring?  

My prediction is that members of these state groups will support a mask mandate but not a business shutdown.  I am writing this on Nov 15. By the time you are reading this, some of decisions may have happened.

Meanwhile, my friend Steve Mossbrook died in the Casper hospital one day after his 74th birthday from lung disease complicated by COVID-19.  Now that spooks me.  Steve was a slim and fit guy.  He was a terrific golfer.

He was one of Wyoming’s early Internet pioneers, creating, and I had known him for 30 years.  He had been in the hospital for two weeks and kept going downhill.  He had been a lifelong smoker and in recent years had been vaping. His lungs were not healthy.  Still, the last time I chatted with him he was full of energy and anxious to launch some new programs. 

Another good friend is Glenn Arbery, 69, president of Wyoming Catholic College. He caught the COVID-19 and told me that for the past week, he has had occasional headaches, chills, and very low energy. But he is on the mend. He plans to get back to work next week.  His case, although not ideal, made me feel a little better.

Long-time Powell Tribune Publisher Dave Bonner, 80, tested positive a few weeks ago after attending a University of Wyoming football game. “I have completed my public health COVID-19 quarantine and am just easing back into circulation,” he says. He says he has not smoked since college and that may have contributed to his good result.

During the recent presidential campaign, it seemed like Joe Biden followers all wore masks and stayed out of harm’s way.  Donald Trump backers wore baseball hats, no masks, and lived a normal life.

On a national level, the whole idea of mail-in ballots totally reflects the Biden-mask ethic while the walk-in voters on election day reflected the Trump ideal.  It truly was a visible image of a classic division in our country.

Here in Trump Country, where Wyoming voted 70 percent for the incumbent (more than any other state), you can understand why there could be so much resistance to mask wearing and a mask mandate.

So, what to do? 

Gordon is going to make a decision and it will be a doozy, either way.  If he imposes a mask mandate, who will enforce it?  If he doesn’t, has he shirked his responsibility to keep Wyoming folks safe? 

Meanwhile on Sunday morning’s Meet the Press show, Biden’s new chief of staff indicated that a four- to six-week national shutdown may be on the table as soon as Biden is sworn in.  That, plus a national mask mandate.  These folks are serious.  A whole bunch of folks out here in Wyoming will rebel. It won’t be pretty.

These are difficult times for Wyoming when it comes to COVID-19. Be safe and be careful out there.

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Bill Sniffin: COVID Victim Steve Mossbrook Was A True Wyoming Internet Pioneer

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One of the first true internet pioneers in Wyoming was Steve Mossbrook, 74, founder and owner of Wyoming.Com in Riverton. He died Nov. 5 of lung disease and COVID-19.

Steve and I were friends for 30 years.  He was the guy who acquired the rights to the name “Wyoming.Com,” when nobody else was smart enough to snatch it.  A great many people in the state used for their email addresses initially until other competitors moved into the state.

He built a nice sized company and diversified into other product lines besides just the internet business. He had pretty much retired and he and his wife Sandi spent their winters in California where they golfed and played croquet. Steve was excellent in both sports. He returned to Wyoming.Com full-time in July and was excited about some new directions for the company. 

I always liked Steve although he could be sarcastic. He could tease with the skill of a professional. When I saw him this summer he looked in wonderful health. 

The state has lost a true visionary with his passing. He died a day after his 74th birthday.

Here is his obituary information

Steven Alan Mossbrook was born November 4, 1946 in Rochester, New York. He died November 5, 2020 in Casper of lung disease complicated by COVID.

Steve was the second of five children born to Polly and Bill Mossbrook. He grew up in a rural setting near Lake Ontario. He attended Oberlin College in Ohio, graduating with a BA in Economics. Several years later, he earned a Master’s Degree in Business Administration at Georgia State University.

He considered himself an entrepreneur, working in diverse areas such as selling copiers and commercial real estate, plastic bag manufacturing, cabinetmaking, and providing technology. Steve was proud of two abilities: he could sell, and he could count. He always said he was better at starting companies than running them, but in the past 25 years he pioneered and created successful growth at Wyoming.Com, Cerento, and Contact Communications, all technology companies in Riverton Wyoming.

Little round white balls held great fascination for Steve. He was competitive in many sports, especially soccer, volleyball, pool, croquet, and golf. He was very proud of being a ‘single digit handicap’ golfer, as well as a tournament level croquet player. In addition to playing the sports well, he also contributed by coaching, being an officer in the organizations, and organizing tournaments.

Steve enjoyed some finer things in life that fed his adventure-seeking side. He owned and piloted a single engine plane, owned a fast boat for water-skiing and camping, and had a lifelong love of fast luxury cars. He was comfortable with being in control and also with taking a risk. Steve was an enthusiastic, outspoken, occasionally outrageous person. He was always a presence. He was one of a kind. He was one of the good guys.

He is survived by his wife of 48 years Sandra; daughter Alexa Nowland (Eric) and four grandchildren (Lilly, Stasia, Sophie, and Oliver), all of Riverton, Wyoming; sisters Kathryn (New York) and Barbara (Florida); and brothers David (Kentucky) and Douglas (New York).

Due to COVID and traveling difficulties, no services will be held at this time. Instead, several smaller celebrations with friends and family in various parts of the country will take place as the year goes on, including a golf gathering next summer in Riverton.

Bill Sniffin: Where does Wyoming fit in a President Joe Biden world?

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

As residents of the most Republican Donald Trump-loving state in the country, many Wyoming folks are reeling in the face of the apparent election of their arch-nemesis Democrat Joe Biden.

As I write this on Nov. 8, Biden has been declared president by the AP and all the major news media, including Fox News.

What are some of the realities connected with that result?  Here are some thoughts:

First, nothing is going to happen until Jan. 20 when Biden takes the oath of office. It will be interesting how President Trump deals with issues between now and inauguration day.

Second, January will be a huge month for politics.  Both Georgia Senate races will go to a special runoff during that month. It will be a donnybrook, as control of the Senate will depend on the results.

Third, since the presidency is now in the hands of the Democrats, the key to a return to some kind of normalcy will be if the Republicans continue to control the Senate. But the GOP has to win at least one of those Georgia seats.

Fourth, the reality is that in the big picture Wyoming is going to be hit hard by energy programs proposed by the new administration, especially when it comes to fossil fuels.

Fifth, Wyoming will have continued clout in Congress, but only on the Republican side.  The GOP needs control of the Senate to be able to use that clout.

And finally, sixth, some smart GOP operatives think Trump should come up with a plan right now to give a path to citizenship to a whole bunch of Hispanics. One of the big surprises of the 2020 election was how many Hispanics voted for Trump. This could bode well for the GOP going forward on a national level.

A look at who Biden picks as his Cabinet members will speak volumes about how his administration would treat Wyoming’s fossil fuels.  Will he pick a Green New Dealer to head up Interior and other sensitive posts? So far, he is emphasizing moderation and cooperation.

Biden backed off during the waning days of the campaign on his original vow to end oilfield fracking.  Ultimately, he clarified that he meant fracking “on federal land,” which affects Wyoming greatly. Most of the fracking in eastern states is on private land.

Hard-core Democrats have to ask the question:  Why did so many of the big-money Wall Street bankers back Biden?  Will money continue to rule this country?  Can Democrat idealism survive this big-money influence?

Let’s talk about the national news media. It was shameful how one-sided their coverage has been for four years against Trump. Can we expect to see a fair media again or will it continue to be the public relations arm for the Democrat Party?

Exit polling showed the two biggest issues in the presidential election were President Trump himself and the COVID-19 epidemic.  Millions of voters were weary of the drama. 

When it came to symbolism, the biggest identifiers of the two parties were a MAGA hat for Republicans and a face mask for Democrats.

Back here in Wyoming, the election saw an amazing transition finally occur in Sweetwater County.  Long considered a Democrat bastion, pundit Island Richards in Rock Springs pointed out that his county voted 70 percent Republican.  This sounds more like Park County than Sweetwater, frankly.

Two popular and effective Democrat legislators were dislodged when Lisa Anselmi-Dalton lost her Senate seat and Stan Blake lost his House seat. Both of these results were considered upsets by outsiders looking in at the Sweetwater County elections. But as Richards points out, to folks living there, the trend lines showed way more GOP voters, which helped explain those results.

Both Wyoming statewide candidates received national support but not to the same extent.  It appeared that Senate candidate Merav Ben-David got 10 times as much national financial assistance as House candidate Lynnette Grey Bull. 

Yet all that extra money made no difference. Grey Bull got 24.6 percent of the votes among four candidates for U. S. House.  Ben-David got 26.7 percent of the vote among just two Senate candidates.  Those races were runaway victories for Senate by former U. S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis and for House by current U. S. Rep. Liz Cheney.

In an earlier column, I mentioned how often we were getting phoned by Ben-David’s campaign. I erred in referring to someone as speaking in a “non-Wyoming” sounding voice.  Four people complained loudly to me that I was not sensitive enough.  I agree. But I am learning. Please be patient with me as I navigate the current world we live in.

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Wyoming 2020 General Election Campaigns Were Exciting — Here Are Some of The Most Interesting Results

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

Millions of dollars later, the results of Tuesday’s general election in Wyoming ended up being pretty darned predictable. 

After Nov. 3, two-thirds of the state’s national delegation will be female, which is truly a wonderful testament to a place called The Equality State. 

Also, some legislative races were hard-fought with lots of money spent and lots of nastiness on display. 

But the big races were predictable: 

Cynthia Lummis became the first woman senator in the state’s history, as she earned the right to take on U. S. Sen. Mike Enzi’s seat with an easy win over Merav Ben-David. 

Unofficial results had Republican Lummis defeating Ben-David by 176,102 to 67,387.  The Ben-David campaign spent unusual amounts of money as the national Democrat Party and its various supporters spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in an attempt to knock off Lummis. 

Incumbent U. S. Rep. Liz Cheney easily defeated Lynnette Grey Bull, 240,547 to 61,552, according to unofficial results. 

Looking ahead to the next legislative session, there appears to be a trend toward “no new taxes.”  Yet, in the face of that trend, the voters in Fremont County have twice voted to tax themselves over the last 90 days.

In August, Fremont County voters narrowly voted to add a half cent tax for economic development. 

Tuesday, those same county voters voted to continue a one cent tax that is used to repair local roads.  Perhaps this trend shows that Wyoming people, while being opposed to statewide income taxes and other taxes like that, might be willing to tax themselves on a local basis where the money is going for local projects. 

Some local legislative races drew statewide attention:

State Sen. Anthony Bouchard of Cheyenne easily turned back what was anticipated to be a strong challenge from Democrat Britney Wallesch, 6,707 to 3,702 during Tuesday’s general election in Wyoming.

Bouchard is the founder of the Wyoming Gun Owners organization which campaigned aggressively for him.  He won a difficult Republican primary race back in August and it was anticipated that this would be a close race, too.  

Some observers had thought a large contingent of Cheyenne Democrats could have propelled Wallesch to an upset win. But that did not happen. Bouchard also polled well in part of Goshen County that is included in his Senate District 6. 

In Riverton, Republican Ember Oakley squeaked to a 30-vote victory over Libertarian Bethany Baldes Tuesday in a highly-anticipated election for House District 55.

Oakley, a former deputy prosecutor, had been aggressively attacked by the Wyoming Gun Owners organization, but still managed to squeeze out the win. 

The seat had been held for 19 years by Dave Miller of Riverton, who decided to retire.  He had narrowed defeated Baldes two years ago. And in a surprise, Miller endorsed Baldes in this race. 

During the August primary, WYGO was successful in just about every race where they championed one candidate over another.  But this time their efforts in Riverton fell short by a whisker.  

Unofficial vote totals showed Wyoming going strong for President Donald Trump with 181,257 votes. Joe Biden got 69,623.  Two lesser candidates got 5,414 and 2,090. 

As this story was being written, the national result of the presidential election was still unknown.  It could be days before a final call will be made.  Some observers feel it might take months.  Hold on to your hats. 

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Who is The Smartest Election Winner Picker in Wyoming?

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher Cowboy State Daily

When it comes to picking Wyoming election winners, I think I have a pretty good track record. But there are there are others who are uncanny with their abilities. Steve Peck of the Riverton Ranger comes to mind.

Thus, we are launching Cowboy State Daily’s 2020 election contest. Let’s see who really knows Wyoming and knows how to pick winners.

Besides bragging rights, I will send the winner one of my coffee table books.

The contest is simple. We have six races plus a tie breaker.

Election quiz for 2020: Please mark winners

National race
Donald Trump (R) _____
Joe Biden (D) ______

U.S. Senate (WY)
Cynthia Lummis (R) _____
Merav Ben-David (D) _____

U. S. House (WY)
Liz Cheney (R) _______
Lynnette Grey Bull (D)______

Cheyenne Senate District 6
Anthony Bouchard (R) ______
Britney Wallesch (D _______

Riverton House District 55
Ember Oakley (R) _______
Bethany Baldes (L) _______

Laramie House District 45
Roxie Hensley (R) ______
Karlee Provenza (D) _______

Tie breaker: How many votes will be unofficially cast for president in Wyoming in 2020: _________. (In 2016, the total was 248,945)

Note: If Trump-Biden goes to court, we will not count that presidential result as we want to know right away who wins this contest.

My name: __________________
My email address: ____________

Please fill this in and email it before noon on Tuesday, Nov 3, 2020.

Feel free to add comments:

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Bill Sniffin: OK, Who Is Going To Win? Nov. 3 Election Looms

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher, Cowboy State Daily

Trump wins! Well, at least we think he will win in Wyoming.

Elsewhere in America, however, the outcome of the Nov. 3 election is a matter of some debate.

I always tended to believe polls and thought Donald Trump would lose four years ago. Those same polls again predict he will lose the national election. This time, I am not so quickly going to believe these polls.

For four years, Trump has faced unprecedented opposition. If he wins, it will be the biggest upset since Truman topped Dewey back in 1948.

Here in Wyoming there are three legislative races that have caught people’s eyes.

First is in Fremont County, where the Riverton House seat held by David Miller since 2001 is up for grabs in a race between Republican Ember Oakley and Libertarian Bethany Baldes.

Both are popular candidates and the assumption was the Oakley would easily cruise to a win. That is, until Riverton Mayor Rich Gard endorsed Baldes. And the biggest surprise was when Miller endorsed Baldes, who came within a whisker of defeating Dave two years ago.

Ember’s sister Debbie is married to Colin Simpson up in Cody. So former U. S. Sen. Al Simpson knows Ember well and has been running ads in support of her candidacy lately.

The ultra-right WYGO (Wyoming Gun Owners) is campaigning hard for Baldes. That group had a lot of success in the primary. We shall see if this carries over to the general election in this case.

The founder of WYGO is state Sen. Anthony Bouchard of Cheyenne who just cannot catch a break when it comes to finding an easy opponent to beat. He outpolled a tough challenger in the August GOP primary but now faces an aggressive Democrat in the general election in Britney Wallesch.

Does that Cheyenne district have enough Democrats to replace Bouchard with Wallesch? Bouchard has been a winner for many recent elections by seemingly always by narrow margins. WYGO is pushing hard for him, so we can see how strong their influence is this time around.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Ed Buchanan is investigating WYGO. That could yield some interesting news.

A third legislative race that offers some statewide interest in District 45 in Laramie between Republican Roxie Hensley and Democrat Karlee Provenza. The winner will replace retiring Democrat Charles Pelkey, who unfortunately is enduring a new bout of cancer. Our best wishes are with Charles, who is an attorney and a former newspaperman. It will be interesting if the Democrats can hold this seat.

Cynthia Lummis should easily earn a trip back to Washington, D.C., where she represented Wyoming in the House for four terms. Her longtime service to Wyoming as a legislator, State Treasurer, and U. S. Representative has earned her the right to win this election. I think she will be a terrific U. S. Senator. She is opposed by Democrat UW professor Merav Ben-David.

It is fantastic that we have four women running for the two top national seats. Incumbent U. S. Rep. Liz Cheney should defeat Lynnette Grey Bull, but we are proud to see a Native American Arapaho woman competing in that race. Lynnette has done some wonderful work calling attention to missing Native American women and girls in her other work.

To a lot of folks, the big test is how mainstream media will react after this election is over – will its members return to trying to be impartial or will they permanently become the de facto public relations arm of the national Democrat Party.?

Critics (mainly Republicans) feel it appears that CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC, NPR, and the New York Times all have become totally partisan for the Democrat side. It is extremely unnerving. The last four years have been very unfair. Fox News and its pro-conservative agenda could also be more balanced.

An unfair national media could be the most dangerous trend confronting our country of all the dangerous things threatening it.

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Bill Sniffin: Wow! Here Is Exciting Travelogue About Six Empty States

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

The Big Empty.

Some decades ago, somebody came up with that motto for Wyoming in a contest to provide a not-so-complimentary nickname for the Cowboy State. It was a takeoff on The Big Easy, which is the motto for New Orleans. (Fellow columnist Dave Simpson is fond of using the term, The Big Lonesome.)

Well, I can confidently say that Wyoming is not the only state in the West that has lots of empty spaces.

Our recent 2,000-mile, six-state road trip found us traveling through lots of empty places similar to our long spans of apparent emptiness. For example, my late dad always called the Shoshoni-Casper drive “96 miles of nothing,” but he could be forgiven. He grew up in Iowa, where there is a road and a farmhouse every quarter mile or so. 

And to Lois Herbst and Phil Roberts, please do not remind me of all the wonderful things to see and do between Casper and Shoshoni. I know, I know.

Sometimes I think my columns about my trips are like subjecting my friends to an old-time photographic slide show.  But please be patient. I will try to sprinkle this column with some interesting tidbits.

On the other hand, is there any way possible to write about empty spaces and make it interesting?  Well, here goes:

Our trip was from Lander to Las Vegas with the motorhome, where we put it in storage. Then from Vegas to Sedona. Then to Petrified Forest National Park enroute to Farmington, NM and Durango, CO.  Then to Montrose, CO and finally, home to Lander. Whew!  Did that in 12 wonderful days. 

The temperatures were amazing.  It was 100+ in Vegas.  In Sedona it was just 92 but the TV newscasts said Phoenix just set a new record of 144 days over 100 degrees in 2020. Now that would be uncomfortable if you were cooped up for six months in that heat during this COVID-19 epidemic, but I digress.

First empty space is from Salt Lake City to St. George on Interstate 15. Lots of interstate with an 80-mph speed limit for passing by very few towns. Luckily, a great many Dairy Queens are on that route, though.

Utah’s roads were not great. We already know Wyoming is behind on maintenance. So is Utah.

St. George to Las Vegas is EMPTY, except for the beautiful Virgin River Gorge. I should say it is daunting in a big old motorhome, going downhill through that scary canyon.

Interstate 40 in Arizona is a mess. Every bit as bad as our interstate highways or probably worse. And empty?  How about a place with signs warning you of sand storms?

Sedona is an island of beauty surrounded by vast areas of . . . nothing?  Just mediocre hills and valleys covered in scrub.

An immense expanse of nothing greeted us as we left Flagstaff east on Interstate 40 looking for the Petrified Forest National Park. It is well worth the visit but is 30 miles off the interstate.  Lots of interesting places along there including Newspaper Rock, which unfortunately I did not stop by to read. We were in a hurry.

From there to Farmington, NM, it was very empty. Not a convenience store for 50 miles (and we really needed one!). I thought Farmington was a little town. It is 50,000 people. Took forever to drive through it.

Can’t complain of the scenery from Farmington to Durango and on to Montrose.  Bob, Steph, and Summer Bonnar (of Newcastle) hosted us for a fun time in Durango.

This Durango-Montrose stretch offered lots of wonderful alpine scenery, including the truly amazing Million Dollar Highway north of Durango. The towering San Juan Mountains offer spectacular views.

Road quality again was spotty. Lots of great roads. And many roads needing lots of maintenance. Sound familiar? Wyoming is not alone with this problem.

While in Montrose, we spent two wonderful days with our daughter and her husband and our three grandchildren.  Plus, two great-grandchildren, too. Nice family times.

Last few empty spaces on our trip home were from Craig, CO to Baggs and on to Creston Junction west of Rawlins.

Of course, that 120-mile stretch from Rawlins to Lander is one of my favorite places on earth but to many folks, well, it looks like the Big Empty.

So, there you have it.  Yawn.  Another Sniffin travelogue.

Since most people are holed up and we weren’t, thought it might be worth sharing.

Happy Trails.

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Bill Sniffin: 2020 Will Be Remembered As A Whirlpool Of Strange Events

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

So, there I was, standing around some odd juniper trees that were all twisted and turned in odd shapes – I was in the middle of a vortex.

Well heck, it seems like we all have been in the middle of a vortex during this crazy year of 2020.

That’s it!  The year 2020 is the “Year of the Vortex.”

Nancy and I were standing next to these twisted juniper trees outside Sedona, Arizona, recently trying to feel the natural energy of the earth streaming up from the ground and entering our bodies. 

We were a long way from Wyoming, but the surroundings looked familiar. We were in high desert country, surrounded by red mountains, mesas, buttes, and knolls.

Sedona is a beautiful and busy place. Its traffic reminded me of Jackson Hole. A whole lot of people have discovered this place and were coming to this valley from all over the world.  If not coming for the vortices, then for the ambience of a beautiful place.

In Wyoming, we know all about beautiful places.  And we have thousands of such places from Newcastle to Evanston and from Powell to Cheyenne.  And everywhere in between.  All our wonderful spots do not automatically have to include the words Yellowstone or Jackson.

So, what about these vortices?

My late friend Jimmy Smail liked the idea of a vortex and he knew of locations in the Wind River Mountains and the Red Desert that seemed to emit some kind of energy.  He took me to many places in the desert where members of ancient Indian tribes created what he called vision circles.  They looked like teepee rings but these always had an opening that did not match up. He felt that was there so swirling energy could come in and go out.  Is that true?  Heck, who knows. Jimmy was a wise old desert rat and he made a convincing argument. 

Earlier in this column, I used the word vortex in a negative way, as a way to describe this crazy year 2020.  That was probably wrong. A vortex is about positive energy and enlightenment. 

So, with that in mind, maybe we will never figure out what 2020 was all about until sometime in the future.  At some point, we will be able to look back at all this with 2020 hindsight and make sense of it. 

Right now, making sense of some of this stuff is maddening.  

Biggest story of 2020 was and is the international pandemic that started when a virus was unleashed in China in late 2019.  The term COVID-19 stands for Corona Virus Disease 2019. 

The virus has infected millions worldwide and over 200,000 deaths in the U.S. have been blamed on it. 

During our recent visit to Las Vegas, we were stunned to see how that state was enforcing mask wearing. Just about everybody was wearing one. Later in Arizona everyone also seemed to be wearing masks. 

Nancy and I almost always wear our masks and try to protect ourselves and those around us. 

History will tell us if it made sense to watch the national economy come crashing down for a disease that kills one out of a hundred.    In Wyoming with 570,000 people, we have had 57 deaths. Yes, I know this is a serious and sometimes deadly disease but the statistics are actually telling a different story. 

I know. I know. This is a terrible pandemic and we need to be safe. And overreaction is almost always OK when you do not know just how deadly your enemy is. 

And then you have this year’s political race.  Has there ever been a presidential election with so much going on at the last minute? Too many October Surprises.  

First, there was a new Supreme Court justice nominee in Amy Coney Barrett.  

Then we saw an overweight President Donald Trump catching COVID-19 at the age of 74 – and he seems to have found a cure that was instant and left no lasting effects?  

And next, on the Democrat side, you had Hunter Biden accused of getting millions of dollars from Ukraine and China when his dad was vice president. Evidence of this came in the final throes of a national election.

Meanwhile our trip is over and we are safely home. Back here in Wyoming, voters are already going to the polls.  Soon this campaign season will be over. Thank God. 

I just noticed how much the word VOTE is similar to VORTEX.  Yup, this has been an odd year all around. 

(Note: Bill Sniffin is publisher of the digital daily news service Subscriptions to a daily newsletter sent to your email address are free.)

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Bill Sniffin: Mulling Wyoming’s Future With Or Without Trump As The Miles Go By

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

It was an ideal time for some serious thinking and pondering. We were enduring extensive windshield time recently as Nancy and I hauled our 2005 motorhome to its winter home in Las Vegas. In a car that trip makes for a long 12-hour day. In a 34,000-pound motorhome towing a car (about 58 feet long, in total), well, this trip takes two days and involves slow driving. During this trip, I was thinking about politics. 

Am I the only Republican who felt President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence did not do so well in their debates?  Democrat Joe Biden, especially, far exceeded the low expectations set for him in his debate with the president. 

Meanwhile, as I am driving along it is easy to notice how dry various reservoirs are. This has been a dry year and most water supplies are used up. Our motorhome is pretty much self-contained.  We packed enough food and drink to get ourselves to Vegas. The rig holds enough diesel fuel to go 1,000 miles and this was a 700-mile trip. We had checked with Wyoming’s leading weatherman Don Day and he assured us Oct. 7 was a perfect day.  The windmills near Evanston were still.  The smoke/steam rising from the trona plants floated straight up.

My support for Trump-Pence just makes sense to me.  But it is also parochial.  Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris support the Green New Deal, which sees limiting drilling on public lands. They want to restrict fracking. Wyoming is a fossil fuel state. Perhaps the end of fossil fuels is inevitable but a Trump-Pence victory could give us four extra years. And during these chaotic economic times in Wyoming, we need those extra years. 

When on Interstate 80, we set the cruise control at 67.  Works very well except about one out of every 20 semis have their cruise control set on 61 mph.  I hate passing anybody. But about every 40 miles, I have to pull out and drone on by a very slow semi. Perhaps these guys get paid by the hour instead of by the mile?  Who are these truckers?  Makes no sense. And, I know folks reading this groan that I have the nerve to complain? They are the ones usually trapped behind me on these 80 mph roads. Oh well. 

So, if Trump-Pence would lose Nov. 3, would the world end?  If the GOP loses the Senate, does that mark the end of times for practical folks like us Wyomingites? I have grandchildren who totally buy into the Green New Deal. Is this reflective of most young people across the land?  Baby Boomers have elected four presidents. If the Millennials and Gen Xers muster enough votes, the presidency will belong to the choice of these younger generations

We always bypass Salt Lake City by heading around to Heber City and coming out on Interstate 15 in Orem, south of Salt Lake City. This is a gorgeous drive but on this trip was much busier. Not sure why. Three big reservoirs along that route were almost dry.

If Trump wins, it will be good for Wyoming’s economy.  You could also anticipate a bright political future for the Trump family.  But if he loses, will the national GOP re-group around folks like George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, Colin Powell, and others? There might be a GOP bloodbath between the Trump crowd and those other guys. 

We spent Wednesday night at a rest area north of Cedar City, UT. A bad idea. We were surrounded by huge trucks with their engines and generators running all night long.  It was easy, convenient, and cheap but not conducive to a restful night. Luckily, we were not in a hurry. Slept in the next morning. 

Wyoming will be a predictable Republican stronghold during this election but if the rest of the country goes Democratic, we could find ourselves on the losing end of most every Congressional proposal over the next four years. We are already in economic pain, but this will make it worse. Sorry to be so glum, but I am worried about how this election is going to go on a national level. 

As we pulled into Las Vegas, it was quiet.  This is no longer the high energy city we were used to.  While Vegas seemed empty, Wyoming’s Yellowstone Park just saw its biggest September visitation ever. Looks like people are avoiding crowded casinos and heading to our uncrowded wide-open spaces.  With COVID-19 and elections, what a topsy-turvy year this has been. 

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Bill Sniffin: Trump’s COVID-19 Diagnosis Proves Campaign Could Not Get Any Stranger

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

In some ways, we should have seen it coming.

Early this Friday morning, it was announced that President Donald Trump and the first lady have COVID-19.

Our TV literally blared that announcement at 3:45 a.m. today. What news to get at that hour!  My wife Nancy is a light sleeper and likes to have the TV on. I heard the news and rose up. What?  Could this campaign get any crazier?

In 58 years of covering news, I have never covered a candidate like Trump and never covered campaigns like the ones he has conducted. This one had already taken a strange twist with the bitter debate Tuesday night, but now – the virus?

It’s too early to tell, but my prediction is he will come through this bout with COVID-19 just fine.  He is an older man at 74 and is overweight, but his lungs are obviously fine since he never smoked, and his energy level is legendary. He will get the best medical treatment available.

Not sure how he caught it but looking back over this past year, it seems like it may have been almost inevitable.  His refusal to wear a mask and his desire to hold in-person rallies obviously made him vulnerable for catching the disease. 

So, early this morning, as I write this, I think we might be able to make some predictions. Here goes:

First, if he shows few symptoms, it might actually encourage the re-opening of the economy.  If he shows bad symptoms, it could cause just the opposite.

Second, Trump loves his rallies. Despite being quarantined at the White House, I can see him continuing to do them by TV to large enthusiastic crowds.

Third, could he get a sympathetic bounce from this?  His detractors must actually give him a break, you think?  Naw, no way.

Fourth, with a month to go, what else could possible happen to make this campaign even more interesting? 

This election was already close with Biden slightly ahead.  Most pundits expected Trump to close the gap as Nov. 3 approaches, making it a horse race. But to do that, the president would need to continue to do one of his legendary political sprints around the country rallying folks to his cause. Can he do that while quarantined at the White House? And what if he fails to exhibit his normal super-human energy? Lots of big risks right now for the Trump campaign.

Out here in Wyoming, Trump should win easily.

Sorry that this column is full of so many question marks, but wow . . .

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Bill Sniffin: Finally, a Road Trip! Fall Colors in Wyoming Spectacular

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher, Cowboy State Daily

After six months of behaving ourselves, my wife Nancy and I finally broke away for a road trip to Buffalo, Sheridan, and Casper.  And boy, was it liberating!

The COVID-19 plague has forced folks of a certain age to pretty much stay home over the last six months.  Now, we weren’t totally house-bound. We traveled all over our Wind River Mountain backyard and even ventured away from Lander to Riverton once in a while.

But a road trip?  Not until now. And It was overdue.

We wore our masks, avoided crowds, used lots of hand sanitizer, and stayed in a very safe motel.

Retired lawyer and author John Davis was our first stop in Worland. He and his wife Celia live in the original Worland house, built by the man the town was named after.  What a classic home. 

They offered up great conversation and tasty coffee as Democrat John explained to me how important it was for the country to elect Joe Biden. This theme would continue on this trip as I kept visiting anti-Trumpers. Oh well.

The Davis-Worland home is magnificent. Once the plague is over, we plan to go back. Plus, I need to give them a tour of the Oregon Trail when they come visit us.

We then headed over the mountain through Ten Sleep and up through the magnificent canyons and wonderful fall colors.  The traffic was light, but all the parking spots appeared to be taken up by hunters. 

Lots of bow hunters out there.  Road signs said watch out for elk and moose, which were the prey of the hunters. Some 15 moose licenses had been issued in the Johnson County area of the Big Horn Mountains.

In Buffalo, we felt safe at the super-antiseptic Hampton Inn. Timberline Hospitalities does a great job with their motels. The staff wore masks all the time and sanitizer was everywhere.

Newspaper legend Jim Hicks picked us up and we headed off to Crazy Woman Canyon. Visiting that area has been on my bucket list and Jim had been encouraging us to come over for the tour. He announced he is  definitely disgusted with President Donald Trump.  Not again?  We decided to not talk politics.

The canyon was named for Crazy Woman Creek, which itself is named after a legend told in the book Jeremiah Johnson. Great yarn.

The canyon just keeps getting narrower until a vehicle can barely squeeze by between rocks the sizes of houses. Very BIG houses. It gets eerily dark at the bottom of this narrow canyon. The road was thankfully built by CCC crews back in the Great Depression. Nobody would allow such a road to be built today.

Colors were brilliant and the quiet was deafening.  Just the gurgling of the stream and a breeze rustling the Aspens.

Jim says there isn’t much game deep into the canyon because even the animals realize that it can be inaccessible.

We popped out of the top of the canyon and then visited the Sheep Mountain fire station overlook. On this day you could see 70 miles out to some of my favorite bumps, the Pumpkin Buttes.

It was a wonderful tour and can now be scratched off my Wyoming bucket list.

Next day we went to Sheridan and had lunch with radio legend Kim Love and his wife Mary Kay.  Kim wore a face mask that read BIDEN on it. Oh Lord. Here we go again.

The Loves own Frackelton’s Restaurant and the food was wonderful.

They had taken a Russian rail tour in February and barely got back to the USA ahead of the virus. What a trip. They ended up in Siberia on that long rail trip, which benefitted from a mild winter.

Later that afternoon, I visited with an old friend Pat Henderson who runs Whitney Benefits. What a huge asset to Sheridan County and Sheridan College to have that foundation providing so many spectacular things for the area.  He gave me some books about Mr. Whitney, which I intend to read.

Also, Pat favors Trump’s policies, so finally I was around someone of sound mind. Ha!

That night Nancy and I watched the presidential debate in my room. I thought Joe Biden did well, easily clearing the very low bar of expectations that had been set for him. It was discouraging to watch President Donald Trump be so rude, as if he was trying to get his opponent to start blubbering.  Not a good strategy on this night.

In Buffalo, we also visited with Roger Maertens at the Prescription Shop. He is going strong at 81.  Later I found out that Hicks, at age 85, had split a cord of firewood that day. Wow, these guys are my heroes.

The weather and the roads could not have been better on this trip.  We got home tired and very satisfied to have finally escaped from plague bondage.  The colors of Lander had seemed to change in just three days – it was now fall. It was beautiful. And it was good to be home.

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Bill Sniffin: Cowboy State Outback Took A Beating During The Summer

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s gigantic back yard — its national forests and wilderness areas — took a mighty beating this summer as Americans tried to escape from urban areas and get away from the scourge of the COVID-19 virus.

From one end of Wyoming to the other, campgrounds, isolated trails, and hidden lake areas were discovered by a new kind of visitor.  These were folks desperate to find pristine mountain places away from the dreaded virus that has claimed 200,000 people in the USA since March. They wanted open air where they could breathe without masks and could socially interact with their families without worrying about getting sick. They were looking for Wyoming’s famed Outback. 

My friend Jim Hicks in Buffalo said he heard local reports that the campgrounds and restroom areas in his Big Horn Mountains were littered with human droppings, toilet tissue, and miscellaneous junk left over by people not used to showing respect for the back country.  

He said you look up at the mountains and see camper trailers and pickups in places you had never seen people parking before.  It must have been crowded up there.

Some 200 miles to the southwest, the obscure backcountry trail head at Big Sandy, east of Pinedale, had its parking lot filled with 400 vehicles on the last weekend in August, according to noted photographer Dave Bell. 

Bell said he counted 300 vehicles at the Elkhart Park trailhead lot at the same time. 

He said: “It’s been quite a summer.  Never seen anything like it. Reports are all major trailheads were like this—Green River Lakes, Spring Creek Park, Scab Creek plus the two mentioned earlier.”  

Bell also lamented: “And now with the incredible blowdown which occurred, the trails are in very bad shape with downed timber. It looks like pick-up-sticks.”  

My daughter Shelli Johnson, who roams the Wind River Mountains all summer, remarked on the numbers of people in formerly empty areas plus increased amounts of litter, which just was not seen in previous years.

Former longtime Fremont County Sheriff Skip Hornecker said: “I experienced the same thing while riding for cows up the Popo Agie River. It was very common to run across two to three groups of backpackers each day. Unfortunately, it appeared that some were not prepared for the adventure they were on. The early September snow storm caught several unprepared and the Sheriff’s Office had over seven rescue situations as a consequence.”

Mountain Journal founder and columnist Todd Wilkinson wrote: “At Forest Service campgrounds near Jackson, piles of human waste and toilet paper were ubiquitous and so was litter. The smelly messes were spread throughout an area in the middle of public land frequented by bears, including at times the famous Jackson Hole Grizzly 399 and her cubs.

“When talking with managers of state and federal public lands these pandemic days, two issues popped up: what to do about large amounts of human feces deposited in wild places and how to handle far too many visitors,” he continued. “Both issues have served as a wake-up call to both land managers and environmentalists about the downsides of recreation.”

Let’s hope this summer was an exception.  If these folks liked what they experienced and plan to come back, then we need to educate them.

Facts show that tourists did come to Wyoming in near-record numbers, which was a shock.

The season started slow because of the COVID-19 epidemic but then about July 4, the floodgates opened and they came to Wyoming from all directions. 

Yellowstone National Park had its second largest August visitation ever, which is truly remarkable because of the lack of Asian tourists.  In recent years, the park has been flooded by Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and other Asian folks.

And yet, the park visitation numbers soared. 

These were Americans escaping the bondage of social distancing and strict laws concerning social gathering and travel.

Besides the folks visiting the main tourist attractions, the numbers who wanted to escape to the hills was an all-time record, too.  Records were set at campgrounds all across the state. It was hard to find a camping spot without a reservation.

This would have been a great summer to sell an RV. Companies that rent motorhomes and campers were sold out.

We love tourism. It is our No. 2 industry and certainly the brightest spot in the Wyoming economy going forward, virus or not. But perhaps we need to somehow let our visitors know that just because they are out in the wide-open spaces, it does not give them the right to practice bad habits. 

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Bill Sniffin: One More Column About COVID-19. Are We Sick Of Talking About It, Or What?

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher, Cowboy State Daily

What a slog the last six months have been, as we have had to deal with a mysterious worldwide viral pandemic called COVID-19. 

Do I really want to write about COVID-19? Is everybody out there as tired about talking about the coronavirus epidemic as I am?

Now, let me be clear. I am not saying this is not a big story.  And for sure, it is a gigantic international health emergency.  When it started, I thought this might be the biggest news story of my career. Across the country, the number of deaths approaches 200,000. But covering the story has become somewhat wearisome. 

In my day job as publisher of the Cowboy State Daily digital news service platform, we counted 550 stories about coronavirus that we produced so far in 2020.  What an extraordinary number! 

And how people react to the virus is so political.  There has been many a dispute across the Cowboy State in the past six months where mask wearers have been upset with their non-mask wearing brethren. By the way, at my age, I try to always wear my mask.

The country is torn apart.  Most recently there has been rioting in the streets.  These protests have crossed over to the pro football, basketball, and baseball leagues.  

A whole bunch of ornery sorts have given up watching pro sports because of it.  In that group of coffee drinkers that I call the Fox News All-Stars here in Lander, nine out of 11 guys recently told me they gave up watching professional sports.  

I am still watching. Hard to give up pro sports. But these formerly dedicated sports watchers have given it up because of all the distractions. They do not watch pro sports anymore – except hockey and golf, I guess.

Apparently, the disease is rampant across the country. There is one prominent Wyomingite in his 50s who got really sick and is still reeling from the consequences. Based on what he went through, yikes. This is not something to sneeze at, literally.

But then again, a few years ago a good friend of ours died of flu complications and she was in her early 50s and in good health. There are lots of bad bugs out there.

Our state statistics are amazing. Wyoming’s coronavirus numbers just blow my mind. As I write this on Sept. 17, 2020, here are some numbers to ponder:

Wyoming population – 551,000.
Folks tested – 42,402.
Tested positive – 3,866.
Probable cases – 700.
Deaths – 49.
Persons sick now – 603.
Recovered – 4,000.

The statistics show 7.6% of the Wyoming population has been tested, with the percentage of people of Wyoming dying from COVID-19 being so small it almost does not register. Just one out of 11,700 people in the state have died from the virus.  In comparison, there have been 79 traffic deaths so far in 2020.

Outside of Alaska, Wyoming appears to be the safest place in the USA if you do not want to die from COVID-19.  Alaska has 44 deaths.  Wyoming is sitting at 49.

I now fear we are living in a time of great over-reaction.  As I wrote in an earlier column, when we watched those scenes of emergency rooms in Italy and New York City last spring, well, it just scared us to death. Most everyone wanted to shut things down to protect folks.

Original estimates of deaths for Wyoming were over 150.  Did our social distancing really save us from that outcome? There are a lot of doubters here.

The Cowboy State has now passed its biggest test with flying colors.  We hosted 6 million tourists this summer and lived through it with very few infections from such a big influx of out of staters.

I asked in a column several months ago how does the virus fare in Wyoming’s windy and hot wide-open spaces that tend to be very, very dry? It appears that the virus definitely did not thrive. And that is good news.  Also, maybe Wyoming people really are healthier. 

Plus, folks here have been practicing social distancing since 1890. At first, it was easy to stay put, especially during wintry March and April days. Despite the smoke, we then enjoyed a fabulous summer. Our Wyoming economy probably did not need to be shut down to the extent that it was, but who knew? Maybe it was better to be safe than sorry.

I am glad the economy is continuing to open up and I can see much better days ahead.  Two years from now, we will look back at these times in amazement and wonder. 

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Bill Sniffin: Wyoming Mountains Jammed Over Labor Day Weekend

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

All across Wyoming, folks fled the valley heat to head to the mountains over this Labor Day weekend.

Just about every public camping spot and everyone’s secret mountain spot is occupied as a Cowboy State tradition continued this weekend.

With snow predicted Monday night and Tuesday in many parts of the state, this truly signaled the end of the summer in many people’s minds. 

We all know that a nice Indian Summer will be coming after that bad weather but superstition prevents us from not taking advantage of the cool weather high above us this weekend.

There are more bow hunters than ever and they were in abundance in the mountains, too. 

In my case, it could not have been more beautiful in the Wind River Mountains above Lander on Labor Day weekend than it was Saturday.

With near-record temperatures of 97 in Lander Valley, the lure of the mountains was almost intoxicating.

We started by attending a dedication of a plaque for a modern Wyoming back country hero, Jimmy Smail, at Grannier Meadows. A wonderful memorial was placed on a big rock there in front of a crowd of 200 friends and family.

In the tradition of old-timer explorers like Jim Bridger and John Fremont and more modern-day Finis Mitchell, Smail was a pioneer in snowmobiles, trail bikes, jeeps, and just about any all-around exploring.

He once estimated he had driven over a million miles in lonely Wyoming places astride back country vehicles.

Jim was a good friend of mine for 50 years. He died from complications of Alzheimer’s in February.

My wife Nancy and I love the Loop Road above Lander. It is one of the few nice roads that allow folks into the towering Wind River Mountains.

On this day we started from the Louis Lake turnoff from Highway 28 and drove the almost 30 miles to Sinks Canyon State Park outside of Lander.

We followed a caravan of three side-by-side ATVs that were jammed with young folks and old folks having a fun time. They looked happy but, frankly, it looked dusty and pretty uncomfortable. Good for them.

The beach at Louis Lake was jammed and lots of boats were on the lake. It was a wonderful day with little wind, which is not normal in the afternoon in a place called the Wind River Mountains.

A family was swimming in the Little Popo Agie River.  That water was melted snow not that long ago. It was a hot sunny day and that river water must have been really refreshing.

 Kudos to the U. S. Forest Service for the wonderful work they have done to the Loop Road in recent years. 

We were driving our venerable 2004 “Big Blue,” a diesel Ford Excursion 4WD but we could have driven our Lincoln on that road.

Few places had the traditional washboard effect and overall, the trip was very pleasant.

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Bill Sniffin: Code Of The West Author Shows How To Age Gracefully, On PBS

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

Jim Owen is one of the best-known, least-known people in Wyoming. 

The author of both Cowboy Ethics and The Code of the West, Owen had a huge influence on the state in the last decade by helping Wyoming adopt these codes, which seem to make more sense here in the Cowboy State than anywhere else in America. 

I talked with Jim Saturday about his latest project, which has a lot of interest to me. 

His three-stage career as a successful investor, then a proponent of Cowboy Ethics, has now turned to “aging well.”  He has produced a documentary with Jim Havey called The Art of Aging Well which follows his journey as he tried to re-invent his physical self at the age of 70.

Now, ten years later, he says he is in the best shape of his life and he wants to share his journey. The program will be on Wyoming PBS Friday, Sept. 4 at 7:30 p.m. and at noon on Sept. 6. 

Owen traveled the world giving talks about Cowboy Ethics to places like West Point, the FBI Academy, Navy Seals, and onward.  He was flying around giving 35 speeches a year and found himself in the worst physical condition of his life.  He weighed 205, his knees creaked, and his lower back was killing him. Through a number of changes in his life, which he is anxious to share, he now weighs 150 and feels no pain. Earlier he wrote a book called Just Move! published by National Geographic.

I am looking forward to seeing his documentary but his history with Wyoming really piqued my interest. 

It all started with the ubiquitous late Mick McMurry of Casper. McMurry wanted to start his Jonah Banks and had seen a copy of Owen’s book Cowboy Ethics.  McMurry thought his bank needed an ethic guide and with his bank president Mark Zaback, they met with Owen about incorporating it into the bank’s system of operation. 

The late McMurry, who died in 2015, was probably Wyoming’s biggest booster, with his wife Susie, during this last decade and pretty soon, the idea of Cowboy Ethics was speeding all across the state.  Ultimately, it was even adopted by the Wyoming Legislature as a code of conduct. Wyoming is the only state in America that has such a code. 

During his visits to Wyoming, he recalled one dinner with former U. S. Sen. Al Simpson in Cody. “I never met a man more interesting,” he said.

Owen, who now lives in San Diego, has a special affinity with Wyoming that goes back a long way.  In the early 1980s, Jim and his wife of 52 years adopted two children.  Their son was born in Sheridan and his wife had to be a Wyoming resident in order to complete the adoption, so she lived in a ranch outside of Sheridan for six months. 

From that date years ago, they came full circle ten years ago when Mick McMurry made that fateful phone call. 

“Wyoming is a great place,” he says. “Cowboy Ethics really matter here. They just do not anymore in Texas, Colorado, or Montana.”  He paused. “But, Wyoming, is the real home of the cowboy. And it is the home of the mythology of the West.”

He recalled being on a panel at the University of Wyoming and being nervous that he might be stumped by the professors on the panel with him. But when he started talking about the mythology of the West and how all great systems in mythology have to have heroes – well, in Wyoming, the cowboy is the hero. “When I was growing up, cowboys were always my heroes,” he says. “We need heroes in our lives today more than ever.”

“Heroes always live by a code of honor, loyalty, honesty, bravery . . . think of the Knights of the Round Table or the Samurai, for example. In every culture, there are noble heroes.   They all have ethics they follow,” he says,” and it is the same for Cowboys.”  

But now he has moved on from cowboys. 

“I am trying to inspire.  I guess I am in the inspiration business. I want people to reach for the best in themselves,” he said. “to do that it means taking care of yourself and taking on a healthy lifestyle.”

He doesn’t like the word exercise but believes the first step is to just move.  “My wife and I call our workouts training, which seems to fit us better. We like to do our exercises together.”

So like Jim, it appears the best thing we can do is just move!  

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Bill Sniffin: What Is Wyoming’s Worst Tourist Attraction? Well, Think Again!

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher, Cowboy State Daily

Cowboy State Daily just published a list of the worst tourist attractions in America and here in Wyoming, the Intergalactic Spaceport in Green River topped the list


I have actually landed my airplane at the spaceport.  Yeah, it was a bumpy gravel strip but it sure was handy when visiting the Green River Star, a newspaper where I was the publisher. 

Now this was back in 1976.  I am not sure it was even considered a spaceport then.  Living in Lander, it was a 2.5-hour drive to Green River and a 40-minute flight.  The then-new Rock Springs airport is about five miles east of Rock Springs, which made flying in to it and then lining up a car to drive to Green River was almost more difficult than just driving the entire way.  

And let’s be honest, driving over South Pass can be thrilling just about any time of year because of wind, rain, fog, snow, and wild animals. But I digress.

Sometime after 1976, the clever folks in Green River decided they wanted to create a more interesting name for their lowly, pretty much abandoned airport and came up with the idea of it being Wyoming’s “only” intergalactic spaceport.  Very clever.

The site is largely abandoned except for the signs. The views, though, from the strip on top of South Hill, about four miles from Green River, are spectacular.  And a neat road into Firehole Canyon is not far. I like the place very much. 

Instagram recently did a survey and then published a map of the 50 states which listed the worst tourist attractions in each state. 

Heck, I have been to 14 of them including Hollywood, Route 66, Grand Canyon, Mormon Temple, Casa Bonita, Corn Palace, Carhenge, Field of Dreams, Bourbon St., Wisconsin Dells, Disneyworld, Myrtle Beach, Times Square, and Alamo. Check out the story on Cowboy State Daily and see how many you have been to. 

So, if the spaceport isn’t the worst attraction in Wyoming, what is?

For some reason I was always suspicious of going to the Vore Buffalo Jump near Sundance.  But it is the real deal.  Really an amazing site. You can learn a lot there, so count that one out. 

To folks who don’t get it, getting to the Medicine Wheel high in the Big Horn Mountains between Lovell and Buffalo-Sheridan would seem to be way too much work for not enough satisfaction.  Again, not true. It is a truly spiritual place.  At 10,000 feet in elevation it literally takes your breath way in more ways than one. So, scratch that off the list. 

Maybe a third over-rated site would be Ayres Natural Bridge. It is a little county park along Interstate 25 between Glenrock and Casper. Again, wrong.  It is a wonderful place. On a hot summer day, it is very cool.  Don’t miss it. 

Well, later on I might add some other names to this list. 

Maybe the Spaceport really is the worst tourist attraction in Wyoming. Heck, it isn’t even the only spaceport.  Everybody knows that Devils Tower is the main spaceport on the entire planet.  Back in 1977, Stephen Spielberg arranged for a huge craft full of aliens to make the first official contact with humans there. Right on that spot. Right here in Wyoming!

So, that leaves the spaceport with the “worst” designation. Sorry Green River folks. 

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Bill Sniffin: Four Women In The Headlines After Wyoming Primary Elections

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

National history concerning women was made in Wyoming last Tuesday – and it occurred on the 100th anniversary of national suffrage for women. You just cannot make this up.

The four major party candidates for U. S. Senator and U. S. Representative will all be women come the general election on Nov. 3. 

This is simply amazing.

And one of the women brings another amazing statistic to the table – Lynnette Grey Bull of the Wind River Indian Reservation, is the first native American woman to run for a major national race in Wyoming.

The two best known winners Tuesday are Liz Cheney and Cynthia Lummis. Cheney is the incumbent Republican U. S. Representative, who won her primary and will be a heavy favorite in the general against Grey Bull. 

Lummis was a four-term U. S. Representative and will be a heavy favorite to defeat Democrat Merav Ben-David from Laramie.

Cheney and Lummis are both Republicans in a state that is overwhelmingly Republican.

Reporter Tom Coulter did an excellent article on this and quoted Ben-David: “This is an unprecedented time, and (this election) will be unprecedented in so many ways. I will be the first female Wyoming senator, the first scientist in the Senate since 1982 and the first climate scientist ever elected to the Senate,” Ben-David said. “I think there will be so many firsts if I win, and I intend to win,” she added.

Coulter’s story also reported: In a historic step for Native American representation in Wyoming, Lynnette Grey Bull secured the Democratic nomination to run in the November general election, making her the first Native American person to secure the federal nomination of a major political party in Wyoming.

Grey Bull, a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe and vice president of the Global Indigenous Council. Grey Bull won a vast majority of the vote, with roughly 12,328 ballots cast for her.

After her victory Tuesday night, Grey Bull said she looked forward to continuing her campaign’s momentum into the general election. As a woman and as the first Native American person to secure a major-party nomination in Wyoming, Grey Bull said the experience has been emotional.

“I know the suffering that my people have gone through,” Grey Bull said. “I know the long history that we have here, not only in Wyoming, but in the Northern Plains region.”

“Something like today, out of all the ‘no’s’ I’ve received in life, this ‘yes’ really means a lot, not only for myself, but for my people,” she continued.

The general election will be held Nov. 3.

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Cowboy State Daily Is Expanding! Will You Help us Grow?

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By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Dear reader and friend,

Cowboy State Daily has been really hitting it out of the park lately.

Just 20 months ago, when we launched Wyoming’s newest statewide digital daily news service, we didn’t expect to grow this rapidly. But we have.

In the last three months alone, our readership has more than quadrupled. We’re seeing a big increase in readers who come directly to our site, who visit us from Facebook, and those who come to us from the daily newsletter.

It’s been particularly fun to watch the engagement on Facebook.  Just last week, one of our posts had nearly 5,000 shares and that resulted in 300,000 readers!

Daily subscribers to our FREE newsletter have grown tremendously as well.  We’ve tripled our subscribers in the last few months. Here’s how you can sign-up.  It’s easy and it’s FREE.

People are coming to us because we provide lively news and commentary from Wyoming journalists and columnists. We never close down. We’re always up.

On the coronavirus story alone, we’ve published over 550 stories! Nobody has covered it like we have.

The feedback we are getting from our dedicated readers has been fantastic. Let us know how we are doing, please.

But you haven’t seen anything yet. We are ambitious. We want to greatly increase our coverage from all across Wyoming. This will require money to hire new employees and to provide the technological know-how to get it all done.

With all this success in the future, would you be able to give us a hand today in the present?

We are a 501 C 3 non-profit corporation and depend on donations to pay our outstanding staff, compile a fantastic daily newsletter, and maintain our exciting web page.

In the past six months, we have had donations ranging from $25 to $20,000. 

We did a small practice fund drive over Memorial Day which generated a nice sum that has kept us going up to now. We also have sold some wonderful advertising packages to outstanding companies like Black Hills Energy and Timberline Hospitalities plus created and ran promotions for Carbon, Goshen, and Sweetwater Counties.

Cowboy State Daily is working well on so many levels but between the COVID-19 crisis and the Wyoming economy crashing, we sure would appreciate it if our loyal readers would consider giving us some financial support?  

You can donate by credit card through our web site or our free daily newsletter or send a check to Cowboy State Daily, Box 900, Lander, WY 82520.  Feel free to call me at (307) 349 2211 if you have fund-raising ideas or if you want to sponsor a certain type of story or column.

We are an excellent advertising medium. Please consider us for your next ad buy. Just contact me. 

 Also, if you are involved in a charitable foundation or family foundation, please let me know. We would very much appreciate being considered for a grant. Thanks in advance.

 Don’t just watch us grow, join us!

 Thanks again for your support.

 Bill Sniffin, Publisher

Wyoming Election Recap: Tuesday Was Big Day For Conservatives; GOP Shifts To The Right

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

After the primary election Tuesday, it sure looks like the conservatives won the soul of Wyoming’s Republican Party.

During the primary campaign, it was obvious the Cowboy State seemed to be moving toward a three-party system, with Democrats, far-right conservative Republicans, and Republicans, who are labeled moderate or RINO (Republican in Name Only) by their opponents.

If you are keeping score, it sure appeared to be a wonderful night for the conservative Republicans.  The primary election battlefield was littered with the carcasses of stalwart candidates who had been labeled moderate.

In Wyoming, what the heck does moderate mean?  After Tuesday, it appears that if you show that you might consider raising any kind of tax, then you are a moderate.  Based on these results, it also appears that if you do not sign a pledge for Wyoming gun owners, you could face stiff opposition.

And based on these results, it would appear that the next session of the Legislature could be a truly cantankerous battle between pragmatic moderates who might consider anything to balance the budget versus staunch conservatives who prefer cutting government programs as their way to balance the state budget.  And based on Tuesday’s results, it would appear many of Wyoming’s voters support that position.

Let’s look at some of the results:

Wyoming’s State Senate became more conservative as a result of contested elections in Tuesday’s Wyoming primary election.

State senate races in Cheyenne, Gillette, Riverton, and Cody generated much of the excitement,      

In Campbell County, Incumbent Sen. Michael Von Flatern lost big to Troy McKeown, 1,507 to 626.  Von Flatern had literally been in the sights of the Wyoming Gun Owners, who campaigned vigorously against him. Von Flatern was viewed as a moderate.  A last-minute endorsement by retiring U. S. Sen. Mike Enzi could not save him.

In Laramie County, Sen. Anthony Bouchard held on to his seat, despite heavy opposition from Erin Johnson.  Bouchard’s margin of victory of 2,064 to 1,903 was typically close, as have been almost all of Bouchard’s races.   This result was a surprise to many observers as moderate Wyoming politicians like Sen. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) openly campaigned against Bouchard.

In Fremont County, State Rep. Tim Salazar moved up to win retiring State Sen. Eli Bebout’s seat with a 2,882 to 1,738 win over businessman Mike Bailey.  Bebout had been in the legislature for decades and was a former Speaker of the House and President of the Senate.

In Park County, Hank Coe was retiring after 31 years in the legislature.  County Commissioner Tim French defeated Rep. David Northrup, 2,174 to 1,442. Stefanie Bell got 1,205 votes. A lot of outside money went into this race.  French was considered by many to be the most conservative of the candidates.

In the House, the biggest upset occurred in District One in Crook and Weston Counties where Chip Neiman defeated Majority Whip Tyler Lindholm, 1,812 to 1,593. Neiman was considered the conservative in this race.  

In Park County, a mud-slinging campaign saw incumbent Sandy Newsome defeat Nina Webber, 1,237 to 868.  It was a hard-fought battle. Webber was considered the conservative with Newsome seen as a moderate.

In somewhat of an upset, Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr finished third in the primary and will not compete in the general election for a second term. Patrick Collins 8,451 and Rick Coppinger, 2,959, finished first and second.

In another upset of a kind, a one-half cent sales tax to support economic development won in Fremont County by a vote of 5,132 to 5,001. With the state economy in the toilet, observers thought this tax would never pass.  The funds would be used for job development, airport funding, and local shuttle buses.

The two biggest guns running were former U. S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis easily winning the primary for U, S. Senate to replace retiring Mike Enzi and Incumbent U. S. Rep. Liz Cheney, who easily won her primary election.

When the smoke cleared, it clearly was a good night for the most conservative of Wyoming’s Republicans.  Earlier this year they dominated the GOP state convention and pretty much controlled the state platform, too.

As for the moderates, it might be back to the drawing board for them. They took a pretty good licking Tuesday, Aug. 18.

Editor’s note: Anthony Bouchard’s votes were updated to include the numbers for Goshen County at 11:15 a.m. on Aug. 19.

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Bill Sniffin: Recalling 15 Brave Firefighters Who Died In A Wyoming Fire 83 Years Ago

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher Cowboy State Daily, (Photos and illustrations from

It was the worst of the worst. Good young men. Running for their lives. Nowhere to hide. The fire was relentless.

This month marks the 83rd memorial anniversary of the worst forest fire disaster in Wyoming history when it comes to loss of firefighter lives.

In an obscure and difficult place to reach called Blackwater, a group of forest rangers and Civilian Conservation Corps firefighters lost their lives on Aug. 21, 1937.

Lightning started the fire that burned some 1,700 acres in the Shoshone National Forest west of Cody.

Although the fire began on Aug. 18, it slept and was not detected until two days later. Some 58 men were deployed in the area.

A weather event called a “dry cold front” was instrumental in the fire blowing up and engulfing the crew that died.  Nine men perished immediately and another six died later of their horrific burns.  Another 38 men suffered injuries as almost the entire crew was injured or killed in the conflagration.

Cause was later specified as an undiscovered “hot spot” that was rapidly expanded by this weather condition that can move into an area so fast. Back in 1937 before satellites, technology was not in place in helping to predict weather.

Lander’s Karl Brauneis is a national expert on forest fires and cites several changes to firefighting brought about by tragedies like the Blackwater.

 “The development of a fixed lookout detection system coupled with aerial detection and the ‘Ten Standard Fire Orders’ all helped keep fires smaller and safer for the men who fought them,” he said. “The 1939 Smokejumper program of fast aerial initial attack by parachute was in direct response to the Blackwater tragedy.  Soon a very aggressive system of prevention, detection and control was in place nationwide.”

Karl laments the loss of so many fire lookout towers in recent years and believes that many should be rebuilt to help provide for early detection.

But the key to better firefighting management, according to Karl, has been the loss of our federal timber sale program. Federal timber not only provided for American jobs and reduced fuel loads but also paid for school districts, county roads and bridges and most importantly the large Forest Service crews that planted trees, piled brush and built trails. Those crews were all financed by the timber sold and were not linked to the appropriated federal budget.

The recollection of this horrible Cody-area fire was also on my mind seven years ago as more than 200 firefighters dealt with a fast-moving fire that ripped through Sinks Canyon State Park and the southern end of the Shoshone National Forest just outside of Lander.

Smoke covered our town and we could watch the flames from our deck. 

A development called Homestead Park with about 30 homes and cabins came within 50 yards of being burned.  A huge DC10 jet tanker that was based in Casper that year dropped about 11,000 gallons of slurry on the fire during each pass and appeared to be the decisive factor in saving the subdivision.

To me, the power of that fire was relentless.  I was worried it might follow the river bottom all the way to Lander.  The fire was limited to about 2,000 acres.

Such losses by fire have been detailed in two of the best books that I have read.  They are just amazing works.

Young Men and Fire is a book by Montanan Norman Maclean, who also wrote A River Runs Through It. 

Maclean is an amazingly conservative writer who labors on each word.  It takes him over 10 years to produce a book. His book is the story about a fire in the Gates of the Mountain area of Montana in 1949 that killed 13 smokejumpers.

Author Timothy Egan wrote The Big Burn, which detailed a massive fire that covered the state of Idaho in 1909-1910 and killed more than 100 brave but ill-equipped firefighters.

Those fires and the politics behind its non-suppression helped preserve the fledgling U. S. Forest Service, which was being attacked and decimated by powerful members of the Congress working for the big lumber companies. It took a mighty effort by President Teddy Roosevelt and USFS head Gifford Pinchot to keep the service in place.

In 2020, we are primed for a horrible fire season in Wyoming. Pray for rain and if you live in the trees, you may want to create a nice clearing around your property.

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Bill Sniffin: Lummis Will Excel; I Thought Michelle Obama Would Be Veep Pick

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher, Cowboy State Daily

Former U. S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis should be celebrating on Tuesday, Aug. 18, as she easily wins the Republican primary to run for the U. S. Senate seat left open by the retirement by Sen. Mike Enzi.

I think Lummis will be a good senator who will represent Wyoming’s conservative interests well.  She had the misfortune of serving as one of 435 Representatives during the eight years of Democrat Barack Obama’s presidency.  It was not a position where you could get much done and Lummis has been criticized for that. Nobody was more frustrated than Lummis, herself, during that time.

But the Senate is a totally different place.  If President Trump wins and if the Republicans hold the Senate, she will instantly become a player.  Her knowledge of energy and other interests close to the hearts of Wyomingites will serve us well.

Sen. Mike Enzi cannot be replaced. History will show that he was one of the most effective U. S. Senators of all time.  Well done, Mike.  You and Diana deserve a rest!

 I sure thought Michelle Obama would be Joe Biden’s pick for his vice-presidential running mate.  That decision could have propelled him to the presidency.  

Meanwhile, what does a Biden-Kamala Harris ticket look like against a Trump-Pence ticket?

With all the recent riots and the uproar over Black Lives Matter, there is a huge silent majority that might just tilt toward reelecting President Donald Trump when he uses “law and order” as his main theme.  

It is easy to predict that thousands of folks who might not vote for Trump but may just not vote for president, at all, as a protest against the bad behavior being seen in Portland, Minneapolis, Seattle, and other places with Democrat mayors and governors.  This helps Trump.

The 2016 election was very close.  A few changed votes in key states would have given the election to Clinton.  This time around, the election will be just as close. 

Among my Facebook friends, other friends, and family who favor Biden (and there are a lot of them), the fever against Trump is like nothing I have ever seen before. They literally hate him.

I thought my hard-nosed Republican friends really seriously hated Obama, but this hatred toward Trump is off the charts.  

On a more local note, I think a Biden election could do more economic damage to Wyoming than 2020’s COVID-19 or falling energy prices. This conclusion has nothing to do about favoring Republicans over Democrats. It just reflects the facts of what Biden is saying through his progressive consultants like AOC.

We could see good middle-class jobs disappear and an entire generation of folks move out of the state.  It could be total devastation to the fossil fuel industry, which drives the economy of the Cowboy State. It could be predicted that the state would lose 50,000 to 100,000 people as middle-class jobless families move out and are replaced by retirees or young couples. 

We would not have a housing glut but rather see over and over a situation where a home with dad, mom, three kids, and a dog are replaced by dad and mom and a dog. Do the math.

I thought the 2016 was the most interesting election in my lifetime.  Now, it looks 2020 will top that for drama.  And nasty and mean – this one will be a drag’em through the gutter race from now until Nov. 3.

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Bill Sniffin: Lummis Will Excel; Watch Out For Michelle Obama

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Former U. S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis should be celebrating on Tuesday, Aug. 18, when she will easily win the Republican primary to run for the U. S. Senate seat left open by the retirement by Sen. Mike Enzi.

I think Lummis will be a good senator who will represent Wyoming’s conservative interests well.  She had the misfortune of serving as one of 435 Representatives during the eight years of Democrat Barack Obama’s presidency.  It was not a position where you could get much done and Lummis has been criticized for that. Nobody was more frustrated than Lummis herself, during that time. 

But the Senate is a totally different place.  If President Trump wins and if the Republicans hold the Senate, she will instantly become a player.  Her knowledge of energy and other interests close to the hearts of Wyomingites will serve us well. 

Sen. Mike Enzi cannot be replaced. History will show that he was one of the most effective U. S. Senators of all time.  Well done, Mike.  You and Diana deserve a rest!

Drum roll please!  I think Michelle Obama will be Joe Biden’s pick for his vice-presidential running mate.  That decision could propel him to the presidency.  

That could be the only reason he earlier announced he was picking a Black woman as his running mate.  I am not the only one making this prediction but I wanted to get it on the record before Biden announces his pick later this week. 

Meanwhile, Biden painted himself in a corner by narrowing his choice to a Black woman – unless this was his way for the country to get used to the idea of Black woman vice president. 

Michelle Obama is the best of all possible picks for Biden.  It is no-brainer. 

Across the country, a lot of Republicans helped make Michelle’s husband Barack a two-term president. Plus, we know that having her on the ticket will galvanize millions of Black voters who voted for Obama twice but, for some reason, stayed home when they had the chance to vote for Hillary Clinton four years ago.

A Biden-Obama ticket makes sense for the Democrats despite a recent series of events that will hurt the Democrat cause mightily.

With all the recent riots and the uproar over Black Lives Matter, there is a huge silent majority that might just tilt toward reelecting President Donald Trump when he uses “law and order” as his main theme.  

It is easy to predict that thousands of folks who might not vote for Trump but may just not vote for president, at all, as a protest against the bad behavior being seen in Portland, Minneapolis, Seattle, and other places with Democrat mayors and governors.  This helps Trump. 

The 2016 election was very close.  A few changed votes in key states would have given the election to Clinton.  This time around, the election will be just as close. 

Among my Facebook friends, other friends, and family who favor Biden (and there are a lot of them), the fever against Trump is like nothing I have ever seen before. They literally hate him. 

I thought my hard-nosed Republican friends really seriously hated Obama, but this hatred toward Trump is off the charts.  

This brings me back to my original premise.  Michelle Obama will be Biden’s ideal vice-presidential pick. She will be a strong campaigner.  She is the most admired woman in America. Her recent book sold zillions of copies and made her a boatload of money.  

So why would she do it?  Like so many anti-Trumpers, she and her husband have had a bellyful of seeing the programs passed by President Obama over eight years being trashed.  

Plus, the Obama kids are pretty much grown.  And yet Michelle is still a young woman at 56.  Compared to Biden, 77, Trump, 74, and white-haired Vice President Mike Pence, 61, she would look like a single-person youth movement. All the Gen Xers and Millennials will gravitate toward her as she drags Biden along with her. 

On a more local note, I think a Biden election could do more economic damage to Wyoming than 2020’s COVID-19 or falling energy prices. This conclusion has nothing to do about favoring Republicans over Democrats. It just reflects the facts of what Biden is saying through his progressive consultants like AOC.

We could see good middle-class jobs disappear and an entire generation of folks move out of the state.  It could be total devastation to the fossil fuel industry, which drives the economy of the Cowboy State. It could be predicted that the state would lose 50,000 to 100,000 people as middle-class jobless families move out and are replaced by retirees or young couples.  

We would not have a housing glut but rather see over and over a situation where a home with dad, mom, three kids, and a dog are replaced by dad and mom and a dog. Do the math. 

The names Biden and Obama have a familiar ring to it when it comes to a presidential ticket.  A ticket of those names won two national elections and very recently ran the country’s executive branch for eight years. 

Biden’s pick is the most important vice-presidential pick since Harry Truman was selected to be FDR’s running mate in 1944.  It is easy to predict he will not squander it on anyone except a sure winner — Michelle Obama. 

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Bill Sniffin: Wilford Brimley Represented Wyoming Well

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher Cowboy State Daily

In 1988 I watched as the grizzled ex-Marine Wilford Brimley approached the microphone at the One-Shot Antelope Hunt in Lander. He was one of the shooters that year and had entertained everyone with his jokes and stories.  We all thought he would make us laugh.

Without much fanfare, the grizzled movie veteran stepped up to the front of the audience.

The crowd readied itself for some sage advice or wicked humor from the actor.  The actor of such hits as Cocoon, The Thing, The China Syndrome, and Absence of Malice had been entertaining people for three days and expectations were high for some more western humor.

But not this time.  Brimley, who is a real ex-rancher, had talked sincerely throughout his weekend in Wyoming of his earlier lives as a ranch hand and blacksmith in Utah and being an unsuccessful sheep rancher in Idaho. He had known hardship and he appreciated the good life he was enjoying now as an actor.  He had been emotionally affected by his experience in the towering Wind River Mountains and the vast Red Desert.

It prompted him to recite some words, which moved the audience immensely.

Brimley recited four lesser-known verses of the song Home On The Range as a poem. Those verses were as follows:

How often at night when the heavens are bright with the light from the glittering stars, have I stood there amazed and asked as I gazed if their glory exceeds that of ours.

Oh, I love these wild flowers in this dear land of ours, the curlew I love to hear scream, and I love the white rocks and the antelope flocks that graze on the mountaintops green.

Oh, give me a land where the bright diamond sand flows leisurely down to the stream, where a graceful white swan goes gliding along like a maid in a heavenly dream.

Then I would not exchange my home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play; where seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day.

He recited those verses with such love and intensity, nobody who witnessed it would soon forget it. You could hear a pin drop in the big room.

Brimley, 85, died this past weekend in St. George, Utah. He had been living in Greybull and Santa Clara, Utah, since 2006.

The curmudgeonly actor seemed to always play roles older than himself.  “I played fathers to guys 25 years older than me,” he once exclaimed.

In 2009, Brimley founded the nonprofit organization Hands Across the Saddle (HATS) in the Big Horn Basin. It has helped many impoverished families over the past decade.

Internet reports listed the following in telling about Brimley’s death Saturday: Anthony Wilford Brimley was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on September 27, 1934.  Prior to his career in acting, he dropped out of high school to join the Marines, serving in the Aleutian Islands for three years.

He also worked as a bodyguard for businessman Howard Hughes, as well as a ranch hand, wrangler, and blacksmith. He then began shoeing horses for film and television. At the behest of his close friend and fellow actor, Robert Duvall, he began acting in the 1960s as a riding extra and stunt man in Westerns.

His first credited feature film performance was in The China Syndrome (1979) as Ted Spindler, a friend and coworker of plant shift supervisor Jack Godell (portrayed by Jack Lemmon). Later, Brimley made a brief, but pivotal, appearance in Absence of Malice (1981) as the curmudgeonly, outspoken Assistant U.S. Attorney James A. Wells.

In the movie The Thing (1982) he played the role of Blair, the biologist with a group of men at an American research station in Antarctica who encounter a dangerous alien that can perfectly imitate other organisms.

Shortly thereafter, Brimley secured his first leading role in Ron Howard’s Cocoon (1985), portraying Ben Luckett, leader of a group of geriatrics who encounter a magically reinvigorating swimming pool by their retirement home. Brimley was only 49 when he was cast in the role, and turned 50 during filming; he was at least 20 years younger than any of the actors playing the other retirement home residents. In order to look the part, Brimley bleached his hair and moustache to turn them gray, and had wrinkles and liver spots drawn on his face.

Brimley had a supporting role in Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009), making witty exchanges with star Hugh Grant. This movie purportedly takes place in Wyoming.

Brimley frequently appeared in commercials, notably a series of commercials for Quaker Oats Oatmeal throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Brimley was also known for appearing in numerous television advertisements for Liberty Medical, a company specializing in home delivery of medical products such as diabetes testing supplies.

Although not a native son, Brimley personified the Wyoming way of life. He made us proud.

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Bill Sniffin: Alder Bugs Are Bugging My Trees This Summer

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher, Cowboy State Daily

Heck, who ever heard of an Alder tree?

I have heard of aldermen who are usually dishonest city councilors in Chicago.  We have an altar at our local Catholic Church.  For some reason I have heard of alderberries, but not sure where.  The empire of Alderaan was featured in Star War movies.  Oh well.

We live along Big Dickinson Creek in Lander and have an abundance of what I thought were River Willow trees along its banks.  They are junk trees.

My grandson Hayden Johnson calls them giant weeds. But my wife Nancy will never let me cut down a tree. We even have groves of Russian Olive trees, which are considered a noxious weed in Wyoming. Yes, that is true.

But lately my River Willows are dying.  Thank God. It is about time. Some kind of tiny ugly black worms are swarming all over them and apparently causing them to wither and die. 

So, what to do? 

Retired Professor Jack States, who know everything about trees, was brought in to consult.  I took some photos and emailed them to him with my question: “What to do?”

First, these are not River Willows, he said to my surprise.  They are “Alder” trees.  In fact, his exact comment was: 

“I think I have an ID on the black worms– the larval state of the alder flea beetle. I’ve copied for you an internet photo and description of them here. As you will note, they do not generally feed on willows but specialize on river alder, Alnus incana, that grows along the Popo Agie River and its various tributaries. The leaves of nearly all of the Alders on my property have be skeletonized this summer by these devils. Your photo has one of these beetles on what looks like alder bark to me.”

So, the aforementioned grandson Hayden, who is quite handy with a chainsaw, came in and removed seven of these Alder clusters. Often one root had a dozen trees growing up and out of it. 

An amazing result of that is that the stump turned a bright orange, almost as if it had been sprayed with some kind of hunter safety orange glow paint. 

Anyway, if this column has not put you to sleep yet, here is some other information that Jack sent me concerning this situation:

Alder flea beetle, Macrohaltica ambiens (Altica ambiens), is a chrysomelid beetle which can eat the leaves of its host trees.

Both adults and larvae feed on the foliage. There is one generation a year. The adult beetles overwinter in the duff at the base of the plants.

They emerge in the late spring/summer (mid-June in 2007 and as early as the beginning of May in 2013), mate, and lay their eggs on the undersides of the leaves.

The larvae appear shortly after, reaching maturity in August. The larvae then drop and pupate in pupal chambers in the soil below the leaf litter. The pupal stage lasts about 10 days. The adults emerge and feed on the leaves in August.

Alder is listed as the main host of this insect. Although management in landscapes is probably not required, nursery growers might approach alder flea beetle management similar to management of other skeletonizing flea beetles such as elm leaf beetle.

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Bill Sniffin: Cowboy State Crammed Full Of Odd Sites, Curious Sights

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher of Cowboy State Daily

Want to go see something odd and different – well, you live in the right place.

Wyoming is such an interesting place.  Even when you omit Yellowstone, Grand Teton Park, and Devils Tower Monument, the state is jammed with interesting sites to visit and sights to see.

These places are both natural and man-made.

Here is a partial list of some to be among the most interesting:

The oldest house in the world is located five miles from  Medicine Bow.  It is the famous ‘dinosaur house,” made out of 100 million year old fossil bones from nearby Como Bluff. Many of the great dinosaur fossils on display around the world came from that area in the 1890s.

Near my hometown of Lander is the famous Sinks of the Popo Agie River. The river goes into the side of the canyon and reappears a quarter mile downstream.  More water comes out than goes in, which indicates there are many other sinks in the surrounding area. A state park surrounds this amazing site.

Periodic Spring near Afton is another of these remarkable water sites. Hot springs in Thermopolis, Saratoga, Jackson, Dubois, and Fort Washakie are oddities, in their own rights.

West of Cody is the surprisingly stunning  Smith Mansion, an odd log building that is six stories high and, built like an Chinese pagoda. Its builder died creating it many years ago.

Between Cheyenne and Laramie is the Ames Monument, celebrating two brothers who were instrumental is building the transcontinental railroad.  The huge pyramid is built near the highest point of the railroad line. It is 60 feet high and 60 feet square. It is easily accessible.

In the same area along Interstate 80 is the towering statue of President Lincoln. It signifies the highest point of the Lincoln Highway, which was the first transcontinental road in the USA.

Fossil Butte is a national historic site near Kemmerer. There you can see ancient fish fossils that are millions of years old. 

Between Douglas and Glenrock is the Ayers Natural Bridge. A cool place to see, but especially nice on a hot because of all the shade. 

There is a new state park north of Cheyenne that is an old missile base.  A relic of the Cold War. 

The interpretative center beween Cody and Powell for the internment camp where US citizens of Japanese heritage were locked up during World War II.

Between Greybull and Shell is the amazing Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite.  Real tracks of dinosaurs have been preserved for millions of years. 

The Vore Buffalo Jump near Sundance along Interstate 90 is well worth the trip. 

A few of the wonderful forts to see in Wyoming include Fort Laramie, Fort Washakie, Fort Bridger, and Fort Caspar. 

The Big Horn Medicine Wheel is a national site and well worth visiting high in the mountains above Lovell and Sheridan. 

There are also various rock arrows around the state that seem to point to the Medicine Wheel including near Jeffrey City, Greybull, and Meeteetse. 

Two places that seem to defy gravity are Gravity Hill on the Casper Mountain Road and the highway through Wind River Canyon between Shoshoni and Thermopolis.

Gravity Hill makes you think you are on the level but if you stop, your car will roll forward.

In Wind River Canyon you swear the river is flowing uphill as it flows north because the massive canyon walls are tilted at odd angles. 

Just north of Rock Springs is the amazing Boar’s Tusk, which juts out of the desert floor. You can see it from 40 miles away.

Around it are the equally amazing Killpecker Sand Dunes. If you have not seen these places, you need to. There is also a spectacular petroglyph site there. You can also find hand holds carved into the soft rock where Native American women gripped while birthing their babies over the centuries. 

Several amazing sites in Wyoming are not very accessible.

To see these, you better be rich or fit. I doubt if I will be able to see them in my lifetime, but I hope that you may. 

Space aliens? There are huge rocks balanced on three little rocks in at least eight places deep in the Wind River Mountains.  I have seen photos of them and they are called “Dolmens.” Again, you need a guide to find them. It would take a very big forklift to create these oddities. And the fact there are last eight similar ones rule out an accidental creation by glaciers.

In the mountains around Thermopolis there is an odd round formation, which does not look naturally created by Mother Nature. Leading up to it is an old rock ladder, which has the appearance of being man-made, although it is eroded and very old. I have seen photos of it and it looks plausible to me. 

This is just a small smattering of sights and sites. People can send other oddities to I intend to compile more in the near future. We have only scratched the surface here.

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Bill Sniffin: In The Shadow Of A National Forest That Yearns To Burn

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By Bill Sniffin, Publisher, Cowboy State Daily

During a normal hot summer fire season, the gorgeous red sunsets and haze in the air scare the heck out of people in my part of Wyoming. We live next to the Shoshone National Forest.

Lately, the air has been so perfect and pristine, you can almost see 100 miles. It has not been this haze-free for years.  But based on how dry it is, all this can change quickly. Precipitation this year was the lowest in years and it is already getting very dry. 

The Shoshone National Forest is a jewel and so remarkable that it was the first national forest created by Congress. The mountains in this 2.4 million-acre reserve in west-central Wyoming are the tallest in the state. The views in the area are breathtaking, and I am lucky enough to live within 5 miles of its border.

But like most people who live close to the Shoshone, I fear that it will burn up. Who would be affected? Folks in towns including Lander, Riverton, Dubois, the Wind River Indian Reservation, Cody, Powell, and Meeteetse, to name just a few. 

We all know the major reasons: Firefighting efforts have successfully prevented blazes in the forest over the past 60 years, leaving huge amounts of deadfall. The northern Rocky Mountains are again in the midst of drought. Add to that increased visitation by campers, hikers and horseback enthusiasts, plus the subdivisions that have cropped up close to the forest and within the forest as well – it is recipe for an inferno.

And then sometimes, there are those oddball situations you can’t predict, such as the huge Colorado fire started a few years ago by a Forest Service employee who was upset over a letter from her husband. So, she burned the letter and thereby ignited the forest, destroying 100,000 acres before the fire was subdued. 

A fire in Sinks Canyon a few years ago was suspected to be started in a similar way. One of the more damaging fires in recent years was a controlled burn that got away from the firefighters. 

Some years ago, a colleague and I were headed back to Lander from Jackson late in the evening when an out-of-control wildfire was burning between Thermopolis and Riverton, near Wind River Canyon. It was the Kate’s Basin Complex fire, and it would go on to burn 180,000 acres. 

We stopped the car and stood there in the quiet to watch a mountainside send plumes of fire into the night. Even though we were 50 miles away, the air smelled of smoke. One fireman would die in that blaze; another was severely injured. 

As we stood there, I had this eerie feeling that behind me was the potential for a much worse fire. I recall looking over my shoulder at the huge blackness of the Shoshone National Forest and the Wind River Mountain Range. 

Not a spark of light. When would it erupt into flames? The sight in front of us was awesome and frightening. 

But the potential of that fire was small compared to what was possible in the Shoshone.

Over a decade later, the Shoshone still has not burned. But this year does not bode well. We had a dry spring, so grass is turning brown early. Then June and July were hotter and windier than usual. It could be dry as tinder in some places up there. Despite brief showers recently, the stage is set for serious fires all over Wyoming, but mainly in the Shoshone. 

Many of us will never forget when Yellowstone National Park burned, with fires starting in late July and burning into the fall of 1988. 

Jon Horton, both a journalist and ex-firefighter, was there: “I had experience on fires and years with helicopters,” he said, “so I was qualified to go to the remotest fire lines. During the height of the fire activity, one veteran that I worked with told me how awed he was by a 30,000-foot-high column of smoke. Nothing in his experience had prepared him for the scale of the Yellowstone fires. Millions of acres seemed to be in the process of being wholly consumed.”

Firefighters returned with stories of whole drainages on fire and smoke obscuring the trails so badly that horses stumbled blindly in the dark of noon. That Yellowstone fire season took on the form of something outside of anyone’s experience; outside the accumulated knowledge of generations of fire management professionals.

Horton’s recollections characterize the Yellowstone fires about as well as anything printed. And they describe all too well what will probably happen when the Shoshone decides it wants to burn.

I am holding my breath – literally. 

(Photo of the Shoshone area by Shelli Johnson in the Shoshone National Forest.) 

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Bill Sniffin: Yellowstone Beckons! Big Park Ready For Your Visit Now

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By Bill Sniffin, Publisher, Cowboy State Daily

After a quick visit this past week, I can honestly say my Yellowstone National Park is a different place than from any other time I have seen it in the last half century.

Yellowstone is my favorite place on earth. Our family has never missed going to the park each of the last 50 years.  

Over the last 30 years, one of the biggest changes in Yellowstone has been the huge influx of foreign tourists.  I was even involved in that by co-founding an international tourism company back in 1991. 

This year it seemed like I did not hear those European accents that were so common over the last three decades.  Perhaps they were there, but with people wearing masks, conversation might have been muted. 

The biggest group missing was the Asians.  In July 2019, when I last visited, it seemed like one-third to one-half of everyone there was an Asian family. And that is just fine. But this year, I saw just one Asian family in my visits to Old Faithful, Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone Canyon and Yellowstone Lake.

At Old Faithful there was a big crowd, but considerably smaller than normal for this time of year.  The Xanterra staff was doing a magnificent job of making sure people maintained social distancing.  They all had their masks on and occasionally we had to shout at each other to make ourselves understood.  It took three tries for me to communicate to the poor gal shoveling out pulled pork sandwiches, that no, I did not need anything else. We both laughed and I gathered up our grub and moved on.

The inside of the big Old Faithful Lodge cafeteria was almost empty while outside, the line to get in stretched out. Only small groups of people were being allowed inside. Social distancing was being enforced.  The restroom experience was crazy. The big restrooms were limited to a capacity of four or six people.  

There were some crowds, but not the overwhelming masses normally seen in early July. Traffic was steady on all the roads. A great many people were wearing masks.  And social distancing played a big part in everything about visiting this wonderful place.

This time of year, at the world’s first national park, normally the traffic is bumper-to-bumper and the crowds are wall-to-wall. It is the closest thing Wyoming will ever see to Disneyland-type crowds and lines.

During this visit, the traffic was fine.  The lines were manageable.  Most Wyomingites have learned their lesson and avoid the park during the mid-summer months because of the crush of all those out-of-state tourists. 

This year, it is different.  Go to Yellowstone.  It is an international treasure, and it is OUR treasure, right here in the Cowboy State.

It had been hot in Lander with temperatures in the 90s.  We were going to wear T-shirts and shorts on this trip to Yellowstone but a check with Weather Guru Don Day from Cowboy State Daily showed we might need to reconsider.  The high was going to be just 65, and the weather was clear.

We were glad we packed some jackets and hoodies.  The elevation in the park is over 7,500 feet in most places and the air is crisp. A cool breeze can make you really appreciate that jacket most of the day.

The purpose of our trip (besides my annual “fix”) was to introduce Taylor Benevides of Dallas, who is the boyfriend of our granddaughter Daylia Hollins, to the park. As a pair, they are known as Tay and Day.  On this day, they were our guinea pigs and I wanted to show off my favorite place on the planet. Taylor had never been to Yellowstone and had never heard of the Teton Mountain Range.

On our way to the park, we were hoping to see that big old grizzly bear that hangs out along the Togwotee Pass highway.  Not on this day.  But the view of the Teton Mountain Range was breathtaking. Taylor was blown away by that billion-dollar view.

Last year, I went through the park on July 3 and had to wait a half-hour as a quarter-mile long line of cars waited to get into the park.  This year, it took five minutes and we had four cars ahead of us. So far so good.

My friend Bob Tipton had remarked earlier this summer how he had left Lander at 7 a.m., viewed the park and got home at 7 p.m.  That was the trip I was trying to duplicate.

We had a lot more traffic than he did a month ago and our passengers wanted to take some extra hikes, like to the bottom of Yellowstone Canyon, which is magnificent. The only problem is that you have to go back up to the overlook, which is uphill all the way!

Going and returning on our trip, we passed through one of my favorite mountain towns, Dubois.  The new National Museum of Military Vehicles is almost ready to open. What a treat that will be.  Thanks to Dan Starks and his family for building it.

We finally got home at 9:15 p.m., tired but totally content with our annual Yellowstone visit. 

Now my plan is to go again later this year and spend a few days up there – this trip was entirely too quick. Luckily, our group this time had an experienced tour guide.

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