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Bill Sniffin: Is it Really 2020? Reflections on a Half Century in Wyoming

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Financial advisor Bryan Pedersen.
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Is it really 2020? Back at the turn of the century (yeah, 20 years ago at 2000), our little town put together Project 2020, which was a guide for the town’s future.

That Project 2020 is the topic of a future column, but my point here is that we are now at that far distant place that we used to identify as “the year 2020.” 

My wife Nancy and I are very active and I just continue to deny how old we are – we keep busy, we keep working, and we keep traveling.  No slowing us down yet.

But this column is about growing older and also watching my beloved Wyoming grow older.

Heck, I have been around so long I worked on the original Wyoming Futures Project back in 1986. That Futures Project was headquartered in tiny Ucross, Wyoming, and we were an optimistic bunch.

Our moderator was a youthful TV anchor from Casper named Pete Williams. He is now that mature, graying legal correspondent for NBC News.  During these times, he is on national TV all the time. He does a great job, but I digress.

Further back in 1974, Wyoming was starting to boom. Our Gov. Ed Herschler, a Democrat, won election with a slogan “Growth on Our Terms.” 

Wyoming’s chaotic economy, because it is tied to energy, was about to hurdle through eight more years of spectacular growth. It was a boom and we all loved it.

Crash!  Arguably the worst bust in Wyoming’s history hit in 1982. It lasted until 2002.  Everything went wrong.  Oil and natural gas prices plummeted. Coal was still in its infancy.  Uranium crashed after a huge boom and 2,000 jobs in Fremont, Carbon, and Converse counties disappeared. 

Gov. Herschler said our town of Lander was hurt the worst. We saw an iron ore mine close that had 550 highly paid workers.

The economy was so bad one year the Legislature would have had a tough time balancing the budget had not a wealthy Jackson woman died, leaving millions in estate taxes.

The year 2020 was just a far away gleam in peoples’ eyes.  Around 2002, we saw oil prices surge, and natural gas (and coalbed methane) really take off.

Congress put in regulations against smoky coal plants so Wyoming’s coal, which burns cooler and pollutes a lot less, suddenly became the fuel of choice for power plants across the country.

With 300 years of coal in the ground, it seemed like this was a gravy train that would never end.

Along about this time, a couple of drilling entrepreneurs named Mick McMurry and John Martin of Casper struck big time with a deep natural gas well in the Pinedale area in 1992. They used a new technique called fracking. Little did anyone know what that technology would mean to the future of energy.

Ultimately, because of fracking, natural gas could be drilled anywhere.  Besides natural locations like Wyoming, Texas, and North Dakota, new states like Ohio and Pennsylvania became leading producers.  Natural gas prices continue to plummet to lowest levels in memory, right here in 2020. Gov. Gordon announced to a group of press folks Friday that prices hit a low of $1.87 MCF.

Wyoming is not in a bust right now as these are a different kind time. Towns all over the state are benefitting from the local diversification that has occurred in the last 38 years – over a third of a century!

Although the above dissertation is about some past history, this story is prompted by where I am at writing this column. Holed up in my room at the beautiful Ramkota in Casper, we are getting ready to attend the early bird cocktail hour for the Wyoming Press Association.  This is my 50th year of being in the Wyoming press.

When I attended my first press convention, I was a 24-year old publisher, the youngest in the room. Unless Pat Schmidt or Jim Hicks shows up this year, I will be the oldest attendee at this year’s event.  What a life cycle.

Back in 1970, a majority of the newspapers operated with what is called “hot type,” a system of page formatting that actually is not that far removed from what Gutenberg invented in the Middle Ages.

Today, they all still print on paper but most of them also have digital and video offerings. 

Based on national contests, Wyoming has the best newspapers in the country.  This is something of which to be proud since our state has just 44 newspapers.

It’s always fun hanging around with the Wyoming journalists.  They are a confident and optimistic lot. 

Sure there are a few sour lemons here and there but most of these folks love their towns and cover them enthusiastically.

Wyoming is a far better place because of their efforts.  Happy 2020.

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

Ray Hunkins’ Book About Wyoming is a Delight

in Column/Bill Sniffin
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By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

At 224 pages, the new book, The View from Thunderhead by Ray Hunkins, is a delight. You almost wish it were even longer.

Hunkins is an iconic Wyomingite. He has had a varied career as an attorney and as a rancher.  He twice ran for governor and has been a champion for the University of Wyoming. Part of the reason for this book is to recognize our state’s amazing history with Women’s’ Suffrage.

He was the chairman of the Louisa Swain Foundation, of Laramie, from 2008 to 2010. This group celebrates the woman who was the first woman to legally vote anywhere in the United States.  As a result of the Wyoming territorial legislature’s decision to allow women the vote, Louisa was the first woman to cast a ballot in an election, doing so in Laramie, on Sept. 6, 1870.

Hunkins, 80, and his wife Debby had a ranch for decades outside of Wheatland near Laramie Peak called Thunderhead Ranch. They currently live in Cheyenne.  

Over the years, Hunkins has been a prolific writer with most of his articles appearing in the Casper and Cheyenne daily newspapers. This book contains some of his favorite stories and they are very good. 

Hunkins is a dedicated and experienced ranchers so many of his favorite stories are about ranching.

As a politician, he does not shy away from taking some serious stand concerning the issues of our time.

But most of all, Hunkins loves Wyoming.  It comes through again and again.  Whether he is talking about some upsets pulled off by the University of Wyoming football team or when talking with a Marine recruiter about why so many young people in the Cowboy State sign up for military careers.

He defends the traditions of Wyoming in one essay when he felt the state was unfairly attacked.  In 2002, Sam Western wrote a book called “Pushed Off The Mountain, Sold Down the River,” which was very critical of the state.  Hunkins eloquently defended Wyoming.  He and Western ultimately debated their positions on a Casper TV program later that year.

He even has an interesting piece about meeting with Pope John Paul II, which might make him unique among Wyoming people.

The book is priced at $55 and was published by the Swain Foundation. Copies are available at the Swain Foundation website.

Ray is a great cheerleader for Wyoming.  It is so fitting that this book got published so everyone can see for himself or herself.

Wyoming U. S. Senate Race Takes Interesting Twists Among Lummis, Cheney, Friess

in Column/Bill Sniffin
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By Bill Sniffin

This past week has been an interesting time for Wyoming politicians Liz Cheney, Cynthia Lummis, and Foster Friess.

For months, former U. S. Rep. Lummis was the only well-known Republican candidate announced as running for U. S. Senate in 2020.  Her successor, the current U. S. Rep. Cheney, was expected by many to move up for a Senate run, too.

Political pundits were salivating at the thought of a Lummis-Cheney race for current U. S. Sen. Mike Enzi’s senate seat. It would have been a doozy.  Literally, thousands of Republicans in Wyoming were debating which one of these two popular Republican women they would vote for in such a primary?

Then last Thursday, Jan. 16, Cheney announced she was staying in the House.

And then last Friday, former gubernatorial candidate Foster Friess reiterated that he is interested in the Senate seat and plans a “listening tour” of Wyoming. He has some things to say and wants to hear what are the key issues from Wyoming voters.

Could this mean in a 24-hour period, Lummis went from being a clear front-runner to possibly facing a hotly contested race against Friess? And who knows who else might be thinking of jumping into the race?

Friess is not to be taken lightly.  He is one of the best-connected Republican non-political office holders in the state. He is a friend of President Donald Trump and was the only gubernatorial candidate endorsed by Trump in the 2018 Wyoming Republican primary.  

Meanwhile, Lummis, who once was expected to run for governor in 2018, sat out that race and decided to wait Enzi’s decision on retirement.  Since Enzi’s announced retirement, she has been working hard.  Her appearance at the Wyoming Business Alliance in Cheyenne in November was impressive. She hit a home run with her participation in a program on civility.

Lummis and Friess know each other well.  In a big state with a small population, everybody knows everyone.  Their conservative Wyoming politics mesh well. Both preach civility, which is a welcome trend.

Friess has a personal set of issues that he and his wife Lynn have supported financially and promoted publicly.  These include transparency in government, posted prices for medical procedures, supporting the Rachel’s Challenge program to prevent school bullying, and teaching Civics in schools.  He also is a big proponent of school choice.

The Senate Conservative Fund has recently endorsed Lummis, which is a national group of heavy hitter Republicans.  On Facebook, her page is filled every day with endorsements by statewide Republican leaders.

“I am a dyed-in-the-wool Wyoming conservative and I share the policy goals and unapologetic, liberty-minded orientation of many Senate Conservative Fund candidates like Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Marsha Blackburn, and Tom Cotton,” she writes on her Facebook page.

Meanwhile, these twists and turns have caught this writer by surprise.  I was positive that Liz Cheney would run for the Senate.

Then when she chose to stay in the House, Friess reaffirmed his interest in the senate seat.

Meanwhile Lummis will keep on doing what she has been doing, which is traveling the state, listening to folks and rounding up endorsements. 

Former Gov. Matt Mead sure sounded like he was not interested in that Senate seat, but will Cheney’s departure from the race change anything?  Another Jackson Republican heavyweight, Bob Grady, was very serious about a House run if Liz moved up.

There are only 100 U. S. Senate seats in the country and they do not come up very often.  Wyoming’s two seats are the most powerful in the country complains the New York Times because they are equally as powerful as two seats from California. However, ours each represent 290,000 people while a senate seat in California represents 20 million people! By this math, it takes 68 people in California to have the clout in the Senate as one person in Wyoming.  Feels about right to me. But I digress.

Liz Cheney now has the chance to settle in at the U. S. House and some day move up to Speaker.  She already has set records at the speed at which she has gain influence, becoming the third-ranking member in just her second term. This is unprecedented. I think it is wonderful that she is staying put. 

So, Wyoming voters, sit back and enjoy the ride in 2020. Political races are fun for just about everybody, but it can be hard on the participants. So let’s give a shout-out to all those folks stirring the pot including Lummis, Cheney, Friess, and anyone else who wants to jump into the fray. 

My Wyoming: An Old Story About a Dog, a Lake, Ducks, Beer, Thin Ice, and Dynamite

in Column/Bill Sniffin
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By Bill Sniffin

In 2015, a 61-year old Green River man, John M. Henderson, fell through the ice on a frozen Flaming Gorge and drowned.

In 2016, a couple driving a Ford F-350 pickup at night across Boysen Reservoir east of Riverton broke through the ice. They narrowly escaped by kicking out the back window and scrambling out of the water-filled truck. Their pickup went to the bottom of the lake.

We’ve heard other unusual stories about going out on frozen Wyoming lakes.  Most will curl your hair.

There was a report from a Wyoming agency recently that told about how to save yourself or someone else who had fallen through the ice.  Their main lesson was – be super cautious about going out onto the ice to save someone else.  If you fall in, too, then you have two dead people instead of one.

Here is a supposedly true story about an event some years ago here in Wyoming where the ice reportedly gets really, really thick – about as thick as the skulls on these two unfortunate duck hunters. 

The title of this story is: “Too bad about the dog.”  I apologize to whomever originally told me the story and these details borrow liberally from some unknown source (probably on the internet). They swore this occurred in the Cowboy State and I did not check with Snopes to verify it.

This supposedly occurred on Flaming Gorge or Boysen Reservoir or Glendo Reservoir or Seminoe or near Saratoga or some other Wyoming body of water.  Here goes: 

 Back around 2013, a guy buys a brand new Ford Pickup King Ranch Edition for $49,000 and has $790 monthly payments. He and a friend go duck hunting and of course all the lakes are frozen.

They drive to this particular lake armed with beer, with guns, with beer, their dog, with beer, and of course the new vehicle. They drive out onto the frozen lake and get ready.

Now, after a few beers, they decide they will be needing a landing area for the ducks. A place where decoys can float in such a manner to entice over-flying ducks to come land on the water.  And get shot. In order to make a hole large enough to look like something a wandering duck would fly down and land on, it is going to take a little more effort than an ice drill can make.

So, one of these bright fellers disappears into the back of the new King Ranch and emerges with a stick of dynamite armed with a 90-second fuse.

Now these two Rocket Scientists do take into consideration that they need to place the stick of dynamite on the ice at a location far from where they are standing (and the new pickup). They don’t want to risk slipping on the ice when they are running from the burning fuse and possibly go up in smoke with the resulting blast. They decide to light this 90-second fuse and throw the dynamite as far away as possible.

(Remember a couple of paragraphs back when we mentioned the beer, the vehicle, the beer, the guns, the beer, and the dog?)

Yes, the dog: A highly trained Black Lab used for retrieving.  Especially things thrown by its owner. You guessed it, the pooch takes off at a high rate of doggy speed on the ice and snatches up the stick of dynamite in its mouth with the burning 90-second fuse aflame.

The two men yell, scream, wave arms and wonder what to do now?

The dog, cheered on, keeps on returning.  One of the guys grabs the shotgun and shoots at the dog. The shotgun is loaded with #8 duck shot, hardly big enough to stop a Black Lab. The dog stops for a moment, slightly confused, but soldiers on.

Another shot and this time the dog becomes really confused and of course is terrified, thinking these two Nobel Prize winners have gone insane.

The dog takes off to find cover, (with the now really short fuse burning on the stick of dynamite) and ends up underneath the brand new pickup.

BOOM!

The dog and pickup are blown to bits and sink to the bottom of the lake in a very large hole, leaving the two idiots standing there with this “I can’t believe this happened” look on their faces.

 The pickup owner calls his insurance company. He is told that sinking a vehicle in a lake by illegal use of explosives is not covered.

He still had yet to make the first of those $790 a month payments.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find them at www.wyomingwonders.com.

Nanobots, Fossil Fuel Issues, and the End of Work as We Know It

in Technology/Column/Bill Sniffin
Crowd of robots. 3D illustration
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By Bill Sniffin

With your arms around the future; And your back against the past  — the Moody Blues

One of the high points of our annual New Year’s trip to see Dallas relatives is my yearly visit with the smartest person I know.

Of the 301,000 employees at Hewlett Packard a few years ago, one special employee stood out, their lone futurist, Jeff Wacker.

He is retired now and working on a book.

He also used to live in the same neighborhood as our daughter in Allen, TX.

A Nebraska native, Jeff would fit comfortably in Wyoming. His values and those of the Cowboy State pretty much line up. If his wife Nancy did not have some health issues, he might be living right now on the family homestead in western Nebraska, which he calls “eastern Wyoming.”

He has the same typical bad news for fossil fuels we Wyomingites all are hearing.  But he blames it on an amazing future of batteries and even exotic fuel sources like anti-matter.

He feels strongly that the hysteria about global warming is over-stated. He is an expert on just about everything. He challenges folks who believe Al Gore to dig into where that “90 percent of scientists believe  . . .” story came from. He says we are in a 1,000-year cycle and the heating of the earth occurs 600 years after CO2 increases.   

As a futurist, he thinks on a global scale and in big pictures.  He worries about eternal life.  “We are very close to providing a path where people don’t have to die, that one of the biggest future problems will be should we die and how should we die. Suicide?”

He also says the future of work could be the biggest issue of the 21st century. Automation, unique robots including microscopic nanobots, and Artificial Intelligence will continue to erode the job market.  “I have a friend who says we will always need people to keep the robots running – really? We already have robots that repair other robots.”

He divides all the various technologies into five areas:

• Nanotech is the creation of super tiny robots that can float around inside your bloodstream and keep you healthy. He sees billions of nanobots taking care of the trillions of cells in the body.

• Biotech will see cures and inventions occurring at fantastic rates in the near future and far future. Again, he really believes a huge problem for the youngest people living on the planet today is how do they want to die? He believes young people in the near future have the potential to live as long as they want to.  

• Robotech is already changing the world. “What will people do when there are no jobs?”  Typical work week might be 26 hours or less. He says three-fourths of all manufacturing jobs are already  “gone and not coming back.”

• Infotech leaves him discouraged especially when it comes to social media. He quotes a favorite author who said, “When everybody is an author, there are no editors.”

He thinks amazing sensors will be developed on a the micro level while, on a macro level, the world will be covered with satellites similar to the doomsday prediction of the Terminator movies, which saw all those troubles caused by a structure called SkyNet.

• Energytech may see more change than any other sector. “Look back 200 years to 1820.  We have advanced 2,000 years in the past 200 years. This will just accelerate,” he concludes. He also credits it to the gradual warming of the climate over those two centuries. “We went from horse and buggy to planning a Mars launch today.”

In 1820, the most valuable material on earth was aluminum; because it was only created when lightning would strike bauxite.  A nine-inch pyramid-shaped piece of aluminum is used as the cap of the top of the Washington Monument, for example.

Having this chat with Jeff Wacker left my head spinning. We are heading into a strange new world that sounded both hopeful and daunting to me.

He really is worried about the robots with artificial intelligence taking over.  “When it happens, it will happen exponentially, so we probably will not know what hit us until it has already happened!” 

On that dreary note, Happy New Year and Happy New Decade.

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

Hurricane Winds Can’t Stop Commercial Air Service From Cheyenne to Dallas

in Column/Bill Sniffin
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By Bill Sniffin

Three cheers for that direct daily flight from Cheyenne to Dallas.

We took it for the second time over New Year’s and it is just so doggone handy. It is almost a miracle to me.

We live in Lander, some 250 miles from Cheyenne, so why am I am so psyched about this service?  Because, to me, it is personal.

Driving to Cheyenne works fine because we go through the capital city and head to Denver to see my 95-year old mother in a nursing home there.  We also have two brothers, a granddaughter, and a nephew living in the Denver area. It is fun to reconnect with them during the holiday season. 

Our youngest daughter lives in north Dallas, just 45 miles from the DFW airport, so they can come pick us up after we land. We enjoyed the New Year’s holiday and spent five days basking in 60-degree weather, while Wyoming was blowing and shivering.

Cabin of jet was full for the flight from Dallas to Cheyenne. 

Another reason for liking the flight is because it is a direct flight. However, we talked with two other Wyomingites who used the flight as part of more complicated trips.

Deb Hughes lives at Esterbrook near Douglas. Most recently her husband took a one-year assignment in Guernsey where they live right now.  She liked the service being so local. It was a springboard for her to visit relatives in Florida and Virginia.

Amber Rucker, a social worker at the Cheyenne Veterans Hospital, used the flight as a way to ultimately get to Mississippi. She flew out on New Year’s Day and came back Jan. 6. “Whew those winds were high in Cheyenne,” she said. She was impressed that the pilots handled the planes so well during the takeoffs and landings.

She said Interstate 25 was closed on the day she left, so had she booked her flight through Denver, she would have been unable to go. 

A little over a year ago, when I first heard about Cheyenne offering daily airline service to and from Dallas, I was skeptical.

With local, state, and federal help, a brand new terminal had been built in Cheyenne for what appeared to be non-existent airlines. It was seemingly a Wyoming version of the famous Alaska bridge to nowhere.

It was the airline terminal with no airline service.

Deb Hughes of Guernsey gets set to board plane in Dallas for the trip to Cheyenne.

Then some hard-working folks came up with the idea of non-stop daily service to Dallas, subsidized by local, state, and federal funds.

When I told my Lander friends that we were going to fly that route over New Year’s, they thought we were crazy. 

In recent years we have started a holiday tradition of celebrating an early holiday with our Lander-based daughter Shelli Johnson and her family. Then we plan our flight to Dallas over New Year’s, trying to be in two places at once over the holidays.

We chose to fly on New Year’s Eve day this year with two round trip tickets costing about $580.  It might have been cheaper flying from Denver but if you add in highway tolls, parking fees, and the hassle associated with DIA, well, it made going out of Cheyenne seem like a good choice. No regrets.

American Airlines uses 50-passenger jets. On our trip out of Cheyenne, they upgraded to a 70-seat plane for some reason. Lots of extra seats available, which made the trip super comfortable.

The trip home from Dallas to Cheyenne was on the smaller 50-passenger jet with 47 passengers.  Just two hours. Super convenient. The folks working the Cheyenne airport are great, too. Never seen TSA folks smile as much as that crew.

Overall, I would say this is a great experience.

It seems to me that Colorado’s Front Range folks might drive to Cheyenne to save money and avoid the big airport hassle.  Folks from all over Wyoming, Nebraska, and Colorado are potential travelers out of this airport. 

I’ve been told the next effort should be daily flights from Cheyenne to Salt Lake City and even Denver.  I wonder if they have made a pitch to Allegiant? Now that would be quite a coup. The airline future will be bright for Cheyenne with proper regional promotion.

Cheyenne’s airline past is storied.  United Airlines originally had its main maintenance facility here in Wyoming.  The very first flight attendant school started in Cheyenne in 1930 by Boeing Air Transport.

For over a decade, Cheyenne was headquarters for the large regional airline, Great Lakes Airlines.

Yes, there is a fantastic history of commercial aviation in Cheyenne. With flights like the one we took and future flights on the drawing board, it will be fun to see Cheyenne’s airline experience soar into the future.

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

Looking ahead: What 2020 will mean for Cowboy State

in Column/Bill Sniffin
2020
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By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

I can see clearly now – the year 2020 will emerge as one of the most important years in Wyoming’s history as various trends emerge.

Like the perfect score on an eye test, 2020 has the makings of perfect vision when it comes to trying to identify issues important to the state. But wait; there is both excitement and dread. Is this the year for some exciting innovations to catch hold in the state?  Is this the year when our spending excesses catch up with us?

State leaders are looking for some home runs in job development.  Maybe more firearm companies will move here. Can we slow down the devastating blows to the fossil fuel industry, especially for coal?

The Legislature meets for its biennial budget session on Feb. 10 and you can bet some hellfire rhetoric will be heard about how “robbing our rainy day fund” is driving the state to the poor house.

Yet the facts will show we have over $1 billion in that fund and some $20 billion in other funds stashed in various coffee cans from the permanent mineral trust fund.  Going broke?  Compared to other states, Wyoming is a beacon of good financial governance.

Gov. Mark Gordon is not one of the shrill voices as he suggests austerity will be with us for a while. Rather than across the board cuts, he likes each agency head to adjust his or her budget in ways that make sense to it and to the state.  Tough decisions are expected to be made and some folks will lose their jobs. 

I am looking forward to covering the Legislature in its brand new remodeled digs.  State Sen. Eli Bebout reminded me that I was wrong in my last column about how much was spent on the remodeling. The correct number is $301 million, or $500 for each man, woman, and child in the state. By the looks of the place, the future will show that it was a good investment.

Looking ahead to 2020, I hope the statues of Esther Hobart Morris and Chief Washakie are placed back outside by the entrance of the building, where they belong.

Some 300 miles northwest of Cheyenne, the huge National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois will open in May.  Dan Starks has created Wyoming’s newest great museum.  Folks, this is going to be a treat. You have no idea just how big and how impressive this museum is going to be. It is a game changer for tourism in the western part of the state.

Commercial air service made some big changes when Sheridan, Riverton, Gillette, and Rock Springs all became aligned with United-SkyWest.  We have seen some amazing experiments in state and federally subsidized air service in these communities over the past ten years.  This new plan should be helpful for everyone.

The national election in 2020 will have ramifications in Wyoming. A Donald Trump reelection could provide an economic boost through his support of fossil fuels and his reducing anti-fossil fuel policies from taking effect. Trump’s efforts to improve Ag trade with China would be welcome, too.

In Wyoming, we will elect a new U. S. Senator. The assumption is that current U. S. Rep. Liz Cheney will run.  Former U. S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis is already running hard.  Former Gov. Matt Mead says he is not and Jackson GOP Megadonor Foster Friess says he is weighing his options.

If Liz Cheney moves up to the Senate race, the race for her House seat could be one of the all-time donnybrooks in Wyoming election history.  For political observers, this will be an exciting year in Wyoming.

Two big important jobs will be filled in 2020. The University of Wyoming will hire a new president after trustees did not renew Laurie Nichols contract in 2019.  Also, the Wyoming Business Council will be seeking a replacement for Shawn Reese.

The move toward more transparency (like 2020 vision?) will soon be getting one of its first big tests.  State Sen. Tom James (R-Rock Springs), has requested a list of every Wyoming school employee and his or her salary as he goes into the Legislative budget session.  Lots of folks are complaining and do not want that information out.

Some years ago, the Casper Star Tribune annually published a list of the highest paid state employees showing his or her wages. This request by Sen. James opens the door for some media outlet to also disseminate the list. 

Gov. Gordon and State Auditor Kristi Racines have both showed initiative when it comes to transparency. Will 2020 be the most open year yet?  Let’s hope so.

I am a big fan of the Rachel’s Challenge program, which works with schools to prevent bullying, teen suicides, and school shootings. It looks like 2020 will be a banner year in Wyoming as more schools sign up for the program.

There will be a push to have Wyoming join the federal Medicaid program, which will save the Cowboy State millions of dollars and provide needed medical service to many needy people.  Also on the medical front, there will be efforts to have medical facilities be required to publish their “cash/self-pay” prices for procedures and medical drugs.

Gov. Gordon is also leading an effort in 2020 to have the Public Service Commission investigate Rocky Mountain Power’s new plan, which will close most of its coal-fired power plants sooner than expected. 

Gordon is also working hard to open some ports somewhere where Wyoming coal can be shipped overseas.  Again with a Trump administration, there is promise for this development in 2020.

Also on the energy front will be the development of thousands of new giant windmills, as we see the state slowly transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources in 2020.  The state’s biggest solar project is also due to be expanded, north of Interstate 80 in SW Wyoming.

Figuring out a way to pay for all the maintenance on Interstate 80 will see the beginnings of exploring a tolling system.  Meanwhile, it is hoped that Wyoming drivers pay better attention and fasten their seat belts more in 2020. The 2019 year was deadly on the state’s highways.

We can’t write a column like this without mentioning musical superstar Kanye West and what he is doing in Park County. Now that will be an interesting story in 2020 as he continues to expand his businesses there.

Let’s hope that with a year named 2020, we can maintain a clear vision for Wyoming’s future that improves the lives of its 580,000 citizens.

Happy New Year!

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

Just how wintry is it? Some of Wyoming’s coldest stories

in Column/Bill Sniffin
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By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

An old joke about the weather:

         “My feet are cold.”

         “Well, all you have to do is go to bed and have a brick at you feet.”

         “I tried that.”

         “Did you get the brick hot?”

         “Get it hot? It took all night just to get it warm.”

As I write this, it is 1 degree out and fog has enshrouded our town. It is pretty darned nippy out there. But it has not been nearly as bad as it could be or has been here in Wyoming.

Since getting dumped on over the Thanksgiving holiday, much of Wyoming has shivered and we all took a little consolation over having a white Christmas.

This got me thinking about what were the coldest temperatures in Wyoming’s recorded history?  Many folks sent me anecdotal stories, which I will mix here with a few facts.

Personally, I recall the winter of 1978-79. Again, here in Lander, the entire month of January was below zero, according to local radio legend Joe Kenney. Amazingly dangerous and bitter conditions.

What is the official coldest temperature ever? Historian Phil Roberts of Laramie says: “I think the record is still -66 recorded Feb. 9, 1933, at Moran. I heard the temperature was actually colder, but the thermometers didn’t have the capacity to register a lower reading!”

The late Clay James, who operated Jackson Lake Lodge at Moran for decades, recalls -54 one cold winter day in the mid-1970s. “Thankfully we woke up as the power went off.  We called all of our employees to turn on the faucets and start the fireplaces.  The power was off for several days.  Never have I been so cold,” he recalled.   

Former Cheyenne, Torrington and Sundance publisher Mike Lindsey recalled the blizzard of 1949, which history generally considers the worst ever in the state.   

“Up in Sundance, cattle froze standing up. Wind blew drifts into buildings through keyholes in doors. Machinery would not start. Kids who stuck their tongues to the door handle did not get thawed until their junior year!” Not sure about that last fact, which was reminiscent of the famous scene from the movie A Christmas Story.

Jim Smail of Lander recalled snowmobiling with a group that included Charlton Heston at Togwotee Lodge in 1964 where the mercury dipped to -64.  No, they did not go snowmachining that day.

Former Wyoming Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau of Gillette recalls playing Laramie in football when the wind chill was -65. 

Dewey Vanderhoff of Cody recalls: “It was New Year’s weekend of 1979 when Jackson Hole went -60. Friends from Meeteetse had gone to ski there but came back with horror stories of busted pipes, bone-cold motels, blackouts, everything closed, no skiing opportunity at all. Nothing fun except sharing beds for warmth and drinking a lot. Consolation prize I suppose. Was there a spike in babies born in September-October?”

Jody Coleman of Riverton says about that same ski trip: “I was in Jackson that New Years of 1979. The power was off and we woke up at the Antler motel with the walls inside covered with frost. We went outside and started our pickup every hour. The next day we spent the day jump-starting other people’s cars. My mom bought me a ski suit. But urged me to move home to California.”

The late Ken Martinsen of Lander was also in Jackson on that cold holiday. He recalled people going to convenience stores and buying charcoal grill packs, which they would put under the engines of their pickups and SUVs and set them afire to thaw out the engines.

 Worland can get pretty cold. Former resident Debbie Hammons recalled: “That super-duper cold winter of 1978-79 was when the weather was sub-zero.  I moved home to Wyoming in September 1978.  Best New Year’s Eve ever was Jan. 1, 1979.  All the young singles in town packed into the Three Bears Bar downtown and kept their cars running into the New Year. We knew if we shut off our vehicles, we might not be able to start them again until March!”

When Pat Schmidt was publisher of The Lovell Chronicle, folks there arranged a hay bale mission to rescue the poor wild horses in the Pryor Mountains. “The BLM and others organized a hay drop from a helicopter to bands of horses stuck on mountain ridges. I recall taking a picture with one hand as I was dropping a bale with the other. The effort only compounded the problems, we learned later, as the horses’ digestive systems were not used to the protein in the hay. Their systems compacted, causing death. Only 75 survived.”

These are some of my favorite “how cold is it” stories. What about yours?

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

Deadly highways, new capitol, coal collapse, new governor & UW president forced out

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Cowboy State 2019
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By Bill Sniffin, My Wyoming columnist

The year 2019 will go into the Cowboy State’s history books for a great many reasons – many of them not very pretty.

One big example was Wyoming’s normally benign highways turned deadly in 2019, as a nearly all-time record was set for people killed in traffic accidents.

As of this Dec. 15, some 142 people had died compared to 111 for the entire year of 2018. And getting close to previous all-time record of 150 set in 2014.

Worst economic news came with the bankruptcies of coal companies and the human toll that resulted from them.

In Gillette, companies are still sorting out the aftermath of the Blackjewel companies’ financial demise.  Two huge mines, the Belle Ayr and the Eagle Butte, were shut down by that financial fiasco by the national coal company giant, idling 600 workers.

On the bright side, it looks like many of the Gillette area jobs will be preserved for the near future.

A worse situation is in the small towns of Kemmerer and Diamondville, both a coal mine and a power plant are in the process of being shut down, leaving 300 workers idled. And even long time retirement benefits are threatened because of the bankruptcy actions.

On a bigger statewide picture, the Rocky Mountain Power Co. says it will be closing down giant power plants in Rock Springs, Glenrock, and Gillette sooner than previously expected. 

The demise of the fossil fuel industry both nationally and locally could be welcome news to folks who believe that industry causes climate change, but the harsh reality to Wyoming citizens is that this will be a cold, hard reality check to thousands of people relying on paychecks from that industry.

The Donald Trump presidency has seen the elimination of some onerous regulations such as one rule that resulted in a fine to a Wyoming rancher of millions of dollars for building a small pond. That rule was eliminated and the rancher was saved.  

Bad news hit the ag community when a major canal collapsed near Torrington during prime irrigation season.  High summer temperatures almost ruined crops before repairs were made and the water flowed again to 488 producers in two states.

As of the country’s most windy state, the good news is that thousands of huge turbines continued to be developed in 2019.  Plus there are more on the drawing boards. 

Squabbles over how, or whether, to tax these whirling behemoths will be a continual bone of contention going forward.

The year saw the installation of a new governor, Mark Gordon, who is arguably the most prepared person for the job we have seen in the last 50 years.  He had been the State Treasurer.

Our biggest state institution, the University of Wyoming, sustained a big shock when the trustees failed to renew the contract of President Laurie Nichols. It was all done in secret; no reasons were ever given. She has moved on to Black Hills State in Spearfish and UW is on the hunt for a new president. Lots of controversy swirled around that situation, including efforts by state media to learn the rationale behind the dismissal, but at this time, still no answers have been forthcoming.

In 2019, Wyoming citizens saw their state capitol building turned into a treasure. After fours years and $337 million ($581 for every man, woman, and child in the state), this amazing edifice opened in mid-summer to rave reviews. The facility rivals any museum or attraction in the state, according to former Thermopolis publisher Pat Schmidt, who now lives in Cheyenne.

Longtime geologist Ron Baugh of Casper has a dim view of our energy future: “The first thing that comes to mind about the high (low) points of the last year is the continued demise of the coal industry and the continued shrinking of Wyoming’s tax base,” he says. “This will have a continued negative impact on every person, town and county in the State. If not felt individually, it has and will continue to be felt collectively.” 

“I believe that Wyoming is on the brink of major changes the likes of which we old timers have not seen in our lifetimes. I hope that Wyoming can make the changes and still be Wyoming,” he concludes. 

Also in 2019, moves were made whereby the state’s seven community colleges can start offering four-year degrees in some fields. This was heralded by Brad Tyndall, the president of Central Wyoming College in Riverton.

Wyoming was founded because of the railroads. In 2019 we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the construction of the rails across the country. Wyoming and the nation celebrated the driving of the golden spike in Promontory Summit in Utah Territory on May 10, 1869.

 In commemoration of that, the biggest steam locomotive ever, the newly-restored #1404 Big Boy, left Cheyenne and traveled west and back again to celebrate the event, delighting crowds wherever it went.

And perhaps the biggest surprise of the year was Kanye West adopting Wyoming as his new home. The musical superstar bought ranches near Cody and Greybull and is planning on moving some of his business interests to the Cowboy State.

And finally, we all celebrated the 150th anniversary of Wyoming giving women the right to vote.  What a wonderful milestone that only Wyomingites can celebrate! It can be argued about the why and how it came into being way back when in 1869, but the fact remains it happened here first and it was real.

Next: Looking ahead to 2020.

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

Cowboy State-oriented gifts perfect for this year’s Christmas

in Column/Bill Sniffin
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By Bill Sniffin

So many gifts – so little time.

I reached out to my network of friends about their ideas for the best Wyoming-oriented Christmas gifts and it was an inundation!

Wow, what a great selection.  Let’s hope I can do them justice by listing a bunch of them here.

Books were mentioned a lot with Cheyenne’s Steve Horn having a new Sam Dawson mystery out that is getting rave reviews. Two former colleagues of mine published books.  Charlotte Dehnert published Lester Callaway Hunt, which started as a series she wrote for the Wyoming State Journal back in the 1970s.  Gail Schilling wrote a wonderful book called Do Not Go Gentle – Go to Paris, which has the great tagline “Travels of an uncertain woman of a certain age!”  Jean Haugen is pushing Sara Wiles’ new books about the Arapaho Tribe called The Arapaho Way. These are great gals and great books, too.

Jim Hicks of Buffalo touts products from Mountain Meadow Wool Mills in his hometown.

Also hailing from Buffalo is a State Poet Gene Gagliano, whose great book C is for Cowboy is promoted by Paul McCown, who says it was great for his kids and for him, too, since he is a newcomer to the Cowboy State. Susan Guy’s artwork is splendid. 

Thanks Paul for also suggesting people buy some coffee table books by some local named Sniffin.  Eric Molvar also touts his coffee table book called Red Desert, which is splendid. Lauren Throop suggests Wyoming Migrations, a terrific book that tells the stories of the work involved in discovering migration routes of Wyoming native animals 

A truly great book with international historical significance is From Fidel Castro of Mother Teresa by long-time AP reporter Joe McGowan, who served Wyoming for a long time.  Incredible adventures of our own.

Ray Hunkins’ new coffee table book is a great read, too. It is called The View from Thunderhead.  The Louisa B. Swain Society published it. She was the first woman to ever vote in an organized election, in Laramie 150 years ago.

Of course, any books by Ron Franscell, Craig Johnson, and CJ Box make wonderful Christmas presents.  Pete Illoway of Cheyenne also touts Doug Chamberlain’s new book Bury Him: A Memoir of the Viet Nam War. Chamberlain is a former Wyoming legislator.  Another terrific book about Vietnam is from former Wyomingite Bill Jones, called The Body Burning Detail. Riveting.  Former Wyomingite Scott Farris wrote an amazing book called Inga: Kennedy’s Great Love, Hitler’s Perfect Beauty, and J. Edgar Hoover’s Prime Suspect. He also wrote a great book about early Wyoming filmmaker Tim McCoy. 

Candy Moulton’s latest book is The Mormon Handcart Migration. Well received. A timely new book here during the state’s 150thanniversary of women suffrage is Esther Hobart Morris by Kathryn Swim Cummings. It is published by Nancy Curtis’ High Plains Press of Glendo. 

The recent blizzard reminds us of the Snow Chi Minh book by John Waggener, a true history of why Interstate 80 is built in such an awful place.  Jerry Kendall of Hudson is promoting his book Wyoming Treasures. A timely book is A History of the Wyoming Capital by Stanley Talbott Thompson and Linda Graves Fabian. 

Tammy Green of Lander promotes all good people, all good projects, and all good things.  Among her favorites are works by Joy Woods, Chris Hulme, Verna Burger Davis, Tina Brown Jones, Shawna Cargile-Pickinpaugh, Lennie Poitras, Bill Yankee, Lane Nelson, Scott Robison, and all the folks at Alchemy in Lander. 

Robb Hicks is promoting Margo’s Pottery and Fine Crafts in Buffalo. Bonnie Cannon loves mywyodesigns.com, based in Riverton. 

Nancy Ebbert raves about Sweetwater Studio with Jenny Reeves, Noelle Weimann Van Dijk, and JC Dye.  Christine Marie endorses Brown Sugar Coffee of Riverton.  

One of the state’s finest photographers Daryl Hunter of Jackson promotes lots of wonderful gift retailers from his web site fineartamerica/packstring-wyoming. 

Marsha Redding of the famous Spanky’s in Evanston touts Samantha Hartman on all her hand made items. 

Ron Gullberg of the Wyoming Business Council suggested you could always refer people to Made in Wyoming too: madeinwyoming.org. He also reached out to their regional folks who came up with this list: 

– Surf Wyoming-Big Horn Designs in Sheridan fulfills several Wyoming companies with logo apparel (and Big Horn Designs recently opened a shop in Cheyenne too).

– Bison Union in Sheridan roasts their own coffee beans and sells locally made gifts. Also Merlin’s Hideout in Thermopolis. 

Creativity-cards in Wright makes fun, snarky greeting cards and coasters on an antique paper press.

– Sheridan Soap Company sells locally made products, EK Jewelers in Gillette sells beautiful handmade jewelry, PDB Bear Pottery Art in Buffalo, Fish fossils from Kemmerer, and Casull firearms from Freedom Arms in Freedom.

Many craft brewers now around the state. Also craft distillers such as vodka from Cowboy Country Distilling, Jackson Hole Stillworks, and Backwards Distilling.

And finally, we need to support all our local merchants in our Wyoming cities and towns this season. I love the attitude taken by Central Wyoming College President Brad Tyndall: “I feel my broader family includes all the great folks in our county with small shops. It’s fun to try to make it to as many as I can to buy a thing or two for presents and stocking stuffers. In going up and down main streets in Riverton and Lander you can find so many good things that are either from Wyoming or our Fremont County neighbors.”

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

Antarctica? Cowboy State was a sea of blowing snow during Great Thanksgiving Blizzard

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Snow
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By Bill Sniffin

Travel in Wyoming was horrific on the days leading up to the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday. Heavy snow and high winds struck at least three-fourths of the state. It was a mess.

For a while, the state was land-locked. There were few people able to get in to or out of Wyoming.  Interstate 80 was closed. Interstate 25 was closed. And most other major roads were closed.

Of course, this was occurring on Thanksgiving week and people were on the move.  AAA estimated 55 million would be traveling more than 50 miles and a good number of them planned to head through Wyoming. The snow not only affected people with connections to Wyoming but also folks east and west of the state that were hoping to travel across the state. Not on this week, at least for a while.

Besides highways, there were businesses, schools, colleges, and the University of Wyoming closing early for the holidays because of the storm. 

Last I checked we had 21 inches of snow on the ground at my house in Lander. And yet, we had it pretty good compared to some folks around the state.

Cheyenne was a disaster zone. Pete and Chloe Illoway recently moved north of the capital city and found themselves battered by wind and snow.

“We live in an area they call the ranchettes just south of the Torrington Highway so there is nothing to stop the wind or snow except for shelter belts. Our drifts are hard and high. They may not melt until early spring,” Pete says.

“It was quite a storm for early in the season. I do not have a gauge to measure the wind but it was strong enough we never went outside. It was a Doozie,” Illoway concluded, as he spoke for most Cheyenne residents.

Saddest story I heard was about Dean and Kathi McKee of Lander. They were headed to Casper to catch a flight to Fort Lauderdale. They had intended to join their daughter and her husband on a Caribbean Cruise to Jamaica.  They were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

They made it to Casper but their flight was cancelled.  They could not make it to Denver on time so headed back home.  They ended up spending the night in a rustic nine-room motel in Jeffrey City.

When they went to get breakfast next door the next morning, the restaurant service was slow because the exhausted bartender had been serving drinks to stranded travelers until 4 a.m.  He was asleep in a lounge chair.

Kathi reported: “The people who own the hotel are the freaking best!”

She said: “A snowplow did come to escort us and eight other vehicles safely out of Jeffrey City on a closed road. Thank you WYDOT!”

Apparently there were a dozen carloads of folks stranded down the road at Muddy Gap, too.  Three Forks convenience center there takes good care of people.

Wyoming’s biggest heroes during the holidays were Highway Patrolman Sam Szott and an unidentified passing motorist who saved a person’s life in a terrible crash near Wheatland.

Just after midnight on Tuesday, Szott saw a pickup on fire down the embankment.  The driver was unresponsive and the two men got him out before the entire truck was engulfed in flames.  The driver recovered later. 

Press reports stated: “Without this trooper’s actions and the Good Samaritan’s actions, this guy wouldn’t be able to have the opportunity to be around for the holidays,” Lt. Kyle McKay said. “By their quick thinking, they saved this guy’s life.”

Kudos go out to Gary Michaud who runs the Wind River Transportation Authority in Fremont County. His crew sent a bus to Laramie to pick up Lander and Riverton UW students so these young people would not be out driving on dangerous roads.

One of those students was my grandson, so this is a pretty great service it seems to me.  Wonder if any other counties in Wyoming are providing this service?  If not, maybe they should.

Fremont County students headed back to Laramie Sunday in the safety of the bus, being helmed this time by Del Nelson.

Dave “Pop” Lukens was visiting Minneapolis prior to the storm. He says: “Donna and I were in MSP for Thanksgiving with our other two grandkids.  There is this web site called morecast.com where you can find out the weather for your route and we plugged in our trip back to Lander on Friday. 

“At 3 a.m. mountain time, we got an alert from this web site that said, “LEAVE NOW! And we did.  We drove those 970 miles in fog, snow, black ice, and heavy snow from Shoshoni to Lander. And with stops, somehow we averaged 66.8 mph including potty and gas stops.   

“Now keep in mind that all the signs said to turn off cruise control, so I did, but that resulted in much higher speeds. Happy we didn’t get stuck behind a big RV.” 

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

Thanksgiving thoughts: Sanctity of life: Stacy M and Baby M

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Baby M
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By Bill Sniffin

We live in unusual times when what defines life is under constant attack.  This got me thinking about two instances in my past that involved the dignity of life concerning two seemingly useless human lives.

There have been many people over the years who typified what this phrase means but two who stand out are a teenage boy named Stacy M and a tiny girl named Baby M.

They came into my life at two different times, almost 20 years apart, but both helped show that the real test of a civilization is how it treats the least of its citizens.

In the 1980s, we met a young man named Stacy Martell.  He was a neighbor to my parents in the Capital Hill section of Lander.

Our son Michael, who was about seven at the time, became great friends with Stacy.  

Stacy was a shrunken little shell of a boy stuffed somewhat crookedly into a wheelchair. He suffered from Muscular Dystrophy and was probably someone that a lesser civilization would have shuttered away. But in Lander, his high school classmates made him a hero. They had him give a speech at their commencement in 1989. The band played The Wind Beneath My Wings following his talk.

His talk that day was inspirational; so were his writings:

“There are times when I want desperately to be like everyone else. I’ve thought about marriage. There’s a void when I think this won’t happen, that I’ll never be able to have a family of my own.

“But I know a person can’t dwell on improbables. You have to take what you’ve got and go with it. I used to worry about what people thought of my body. But now I know it is a person’s inner self that is important, not your outer self. I’ve looked at my inner self: It’s healthy, strong, vibrant, and active. When I think of myself this way, I’m satisfied. I’m at peace with myself.”

Stacy wrote the following about life and death:

“I’ve lived, I’ve done my best, what happens, happens. I’ve seen an unspoken question in some people’s eyes. It’s ‘Do you wish sometimes you had never been born?’

“Absolutely not! It hasn’t always been easy but I’ve met the challenges and I’m here to say that life is worth living.”

A few years later, Stacy died. His life was a struggle and ended way too soon.

Almost 20 years later, we encountered Baby M, also known as Baby Miracle.  She was probably an example of what became known in Wyoming as “meth babies.” These were children born with profound disabilities as a result of their mother’s drug use while not realizing she was pregnant.

Our advertising agency had just earned the contract to do the anti-drug campaigns for the state’s Substance Abuse Division and we were introduced to the story of Baby M.

My wife Nancy, my brother Ron (a videographer), and I visited Baby M and her foster mother at a modest home in Douglas one fall day almost exactly 16 years ago.

We worked all day to create a video documentary, which we planned to use to promote the negative impacts of drug use.

State employees viewed that video but they never quite figured out how to disseminate it publicly, so it pretty much ended up on a shelf at the Department of Health in Cheyenne.

Baby M was a beautiful baby girl, who looked about six months old although she was a year old when we met her. She was blind, could barely hear, and had a terrible time breathing.  It was assumed she was profoundly developmentally disabled.

Did I say she was beautiful?

It was heartbreaking to think of the lost potential you were holding in your arms.  Because of the assumed high-risk behavior on the part of the biological parents, this child appeared to not have a chance.

But this was a human being.  And she was loved by her foster mother (the real hero of this story), loved by her foster siblings, and loved by everyone who came into contact with her.

At the time, a friend of the family wrote the following about the baby girl:

“Some people would define a miracle as something amazing, unexplainable, with bright lights or fluttering angels’ wings. Or simply, a glimpse of God.

“A special needs baby, Miracle, was born Sept. 29, 2002. Doctors gave her little chance of survival, but because of her will to live they considered her a miracle, hence the name. At five weeks old, Miracle was placed in the arms and the heart of her foster mom, who loved her so much that she later adopted her.

“Miracle’s family knew that she was not like other little girls and never would be, but she touched so many lives. Her innocence taught lessons in humility and her gentle little spirit gave people a reason to believe.

I wrote a note to myself, at the time, that: “You could not look at this beautiful child without catching a glimpse of God.”


And on a spring day in Douglas in 2008, Baby M passed away. She was six years old.

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

In hunting, who is at the top of the food chain?

in Recreation/Column/wildlife/Bill Sniffin
hunting
2376

By Bill Sniffin

One of the largest armed forces in the history of the world is taking to the field right now.  We are talking about the 36 million hunters who stalking the mighty deer and elk in the USA.

Here in the Cowboy State, hunting is a fall tradition.  It is viewed as an entitlement. But the biggest difference between now and 50 years ago is that often the human hunter is not at the top of the food chain out there in the wild. More on this later.

The first time I heard the phrase about the “fun ending when you pulled the trigger,” was from my old friend, former game warden Bill Crump, when he recalled all his Wyoming hunting trips. He, of course, was talking about enjoying the fall scenery. Once you pull the trigger and kill your prey, it is time for some serious work.

Not sure what all those thousands of wives and girlfriends get in return, but they seem eager to send their hubbies and boyfriends off armed to the teeth and loaded down with food in rustic old campers. Or super-fancy brand new RVs with flush toilets, plus quad runners, huge pickup trucks, and even portable satellite television receivers.

Oh yeah, and cards.  Lots of playing cards. And quantities of liquid refreshment.

Cigars used to be a big part of the equation but surprisingly a lot of the groups I talked to recently just do not smoke. Not even a celebratory cigar?

There are a lot of very serious hunters in Wyoming.  But even some of them have decided that that hunting trip is still going to happen, the rifle may not even be removed from the scabbard. 

Sometimes these old veterans are just tired.  Maybe their wives finally confided to them that they are tired of cooking elk, deer, antelope and even moose.

Other times these hunters are more interested in taking their sons (or daughters), or grandchildren on the big hunt and really just want to concentrate on those younger folks getting their first kill.

A big reason for that annual hunting trip is that weather in the mountains or foothills of Wyoming can be so darned nice in the fall. They are just wanting to get away from the humdrum of daily life and enjoy the paradise that God has put at our disposal called Wyoming.

Plus another reason the “fun ends” is that when you pull the trigger it often signals the end of the hunting trip. Darn it, we have to leave the mountains and go back to our regular lives.

Now let’s talk about the “real” hunters.  Those men and women who are truly serious about killing their prey and filling their licenses. Most of these folks have a strong ethic where they plan to eat what they kill. They deserve our respect.

In the northwest part of Wyoming, these hunters are discovering that they are no longer at the top of the food chain.

Many folks suspect that grizzly bears are reportedly stalking both human hunters and the game those same hunters recently killed. Several hunters told me that the most uneasy feeling they can recall is when they are gutting their animal and suddenly things get real still.  Sort of like maybe some big critter has smelled your animal and is sizing up the fresh carcass.  And yours, too?

A famous photo circulated around the internet a while back showing a hunter taking a selfie photo of himself with his kill. In the background was a huge mountain lion.  Yikes.

A Cody hunter considered himself the luckiest man alive in Wyoming after his close encounter with a grizzly in the fall of 2011.    

Steve Bates, ended up on the losing end of his scrape in the Shoshone National Forest. He was happy to be alive, despite fractured ribs and cuts on his face and scalp.

A grizzly rushed him on a dead run before Bates could react.  After he was knocked over, the bear worked him over, clawed him, and chewed on him, before ambling off.

Once he recovered his senses, Bates grabbed his rifle and aimed it at the bear, then paused.  He wisely let it lope off.  Game and Fish officials said they would not track down the bear because it was reacting normally to its perceived threat.

“Considering what happened, “ Bates, recalled at the time, “I think I came out pretty good.”

That same year, a grizzly bit an Oregon hunter on the hand, also in our Shoshone National Forest.  Now that hunter must have one helluva story to tell. Names were not released.

One of my favorite bear stories concerns an old grizzly bear known as “Old Number One” – a sow in Yellowstone National Park. She was the first grizzly to ever wear a radio collar in the park.

A long-time agent for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Roy Brown of Lander, told me this story.

When the bear died some years ago, Brown headed up a necropsy procedure on the bear and the team found a surprise. The bear had six .38 caliber bullets in her head.  It must have happened many years before because skin had even grown over the injuries.

Roy says people wondered: “Hmmm, what happened to the guy who emptied his revolver into this bear?”

That poor guy may have found out first-hand where human beings are finding themselves in the food chain these days.

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

Giant bronze horses created in Cowboy State, headed for Sicily

in Column/arts and culture/Bill Sniffin
Bronze horses
Eagle Bronze Foundry workers are dwarfed by the size of these bronze horses created in Lander by the Italian-American artist Arturo Di Modica. They were recently shipped to Sicily. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)
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By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

In a state where the cowboy culture of horses is almost a religion, it was fitting that two of the largest horses in the world were created here.

Artist Arturo Di Modica, one of the world’s greatest living sculptors, has been using the Eagle Bronze Foundry in Lander for many of his gigantic works.

The first efforts on this project started 13 years ago. In terms of all the projects undertaken by Eagle Bronze, this one might have set the record for its long time in their shop.

But first a person is impressed by the gigantic size of these horses. They are 26 feet tall. They dwarf the workmen who have been putting the finishing touches to the huge bronze work of art.

It is not certain how the horses will be placed in Di Modica’s native Sicily, but they will sure create a stir when installed.

Monte and Bev Paddleford founded Eagle Bronze in 1985 when Bev wanted to return to her hometown to sculpt and to create a small foundry to cast bronzes made by her late father, artist Bud Boller.

Bev Paddleford, one of the owners and founders of Eagle Bronze, shows the relative size of the horses by standing next to a hoof.
Bev Paddleford, one of the owners and founders of Eagle Bronze, shows the relative size of the horses by standing next to a hoof. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

They formed the business with the vision of being a Christian company. In the next decades it exploded into the largest bronze foundry in the country specializing in huge bronze monuments.

Work from the foundry can be found all over the world. Some of the more famous include the huge black panthers at the Carolina Panthers football stadium in Charlotte, N. C.

The largest bronze monument in Texas was created in Lander – it shows a bronze cattle drive through Pioneer Park in downtown Dallas. It features 40 cows and three cowboys.

The Paddlefords worked with a local committee in Lander to use three of those steers plus a cowboy to create what is called The Bronze Roundup – which might be the largest bronze monument in all of Wyoming. It was the millennium project for the Lander community.

For years, Lander has been known as the City of Bronze because of all the bronze monuments that line the town’s Main Street. Most of this effort was spearheaded by the Paddlefords. The first bronze sculpture on Main Street was by Bev’s father, Bud Boller, sponsored by the local Ambassador’s Club in the 1980s.

In recent years, both Casper and Sheridan have placed tremendous numbers of beautiful bronze statues in their cities. But no small Wyoming town has put as many statues on public display as Lander, although Buffalo and Thermopolis have lots of bronzes, too.

Monte tells their story on their web page: “We decided to move back to our hometown so that we could start a small foundry and for me to pastor a Vineyard Church. I guess the Lord had slightly other plans. Having redesigned the way we build and engineer monuments, we have been told that we are the largest producer of monuments in the world, and can do them quicker than most, keeping the integrity that the artist had originally produced.

“Beverly also started sculpting along the way and is a very gifted and talented artist. Her ability to create softness and life in everything she sculpts is truly a gift from the Lord. Her work has kept our vision of ministry going. I may not be the pastor I thought I was called to be, but I have been able to see the impact Bev’s art has had and been able to use this as a tool to minister to people along the way. God was calling me to ministry, just not how I had seen it!

“Along the way, we added some additional help to our facility. In 1999, our oldest daughter Heather and her husband Matt decided to help run our business. Heather studied accounting in college and is now our Controller. Matt, having studied Structural and Mechanical Engineering in college, is now our Vice President. With the addition of these two, we now have the ability to expand our operations and move in directions we never would have if they were not present.

“We have rebranded Eagle Bronze to move in a direction that has made us more than just a fine art foundry. We have become an art marketing group that can take conception to completion, help our artists find and place projects, and much more. We have become a facility that can do more than just recreate and manufacture art.

“Above all, it has always been about the relationships we have made over the years. It is about our everlasting friendships we have built and hope to continue to build.”

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

‘Rising from the Plains’ is classic Wyoming book

in Column/Bill Sniffin
John McPhee
(Photo courtesy: Office of Communications, Princeton University)
2247

By Bill Sniffin

It’s been said there are no boring stories, just boring writers.  And with that thought it mind, it would seem that a book about geology would be interesting only to geologists. 

The early 1990s book Rising From The Plains by author John McPhee ranks as one of the most interesting and most important books ever written about Wyoming.

McPhee uses the life of famed geologist, the late David Love, as the centerpiece of this book.  Love, of Laramie,  grew up in Fremont County and was long considered the dean of geologists in the Rocky  Mountain region.

McPhee captures the western spirit of Love’s life and that of his parents as they carved out a unique existence on a ranch in an area of Fremont County near Castle Gardens.

The book is full of references to the unique geology of Wyoming.  McPhee writes in a style that vividly lets you imagine the extreme risings of mountain ranges, the descent of valleys, and the rolling together of various land masses. 

Intertwined with the geological stories (told mostly through Love’s words) is the life story of the famous geologist and his mother, who came west in 1905 after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Wellesley College back east.

The book was serialized in three parts in the New Yorker Magazine 30 years ago.

In one part, McPhee writes about Love attending school in Lander (he and his brother were educated at home by their mother until they were ready for high school):

“Their mother rented a house in Lander and stayed there with them while they attended Fremont County Vocational High School.  One of their classmates was William Shakespeare, whose other name was War Bonnet.  Lander at that time was the remotest town in Wyoming.  It advertised itself as ‘the end of the rails and the start of the trails.’“

The Love Ranch was located in almost the exact center of the state. It was one of those outposts that was so far from everything else that anyone passing through would stop.  Often, people would sleep in the bunkhouse and join the Loves for dinner.

 McPhee writes about one memorable meal:

“People (with sordid reputations) came along with such frequency that David’s mother eventually assembled a chronicle called ‘Murderers I Have Known.’  She did not publish the manuscript or even give it much private circulation, in her regard for the sensitivities of some of the first families of Wyoming.  As David would one day comment, ‘they were nice men, family friends, who had put away people who needed killing, and she did not wish to offend them — so many of them were such decent people.’

“One of these was Bill Grace. Homesteader and cowboy, he was one of the most celebrated murderers in central Wyoming, and he had served time, but people generally disagreed with the judiciary and felt that Bill, in the acts for which he was convicted, had only been ‘doing his civic duty.’           

“At the height of his fame, he stopped at the ranch one afternoon and stayed for dinner.  Although David and (his brother) Allen were young boys, they knew exactly who he was, and in his presence were struck dumb with awe. 

“As it happened, they had come upon and dispatched a rattlesnake that day — a big one, over five feet long.  Their mother decided to serve it creamed on toast for dinner.  She and their father sternly instructed David and Allen not to use the word ‘rattlesnake’ at the table.  They were to refer to it as chicken, since a possibility existed that Bill Grace might not be an eater of adequate sophistication to enjoy the truth. 

“The excitement was too much for the boys.  Despite the parental injunction, gradually their conversation at the table fished its way toward the snake.  Casually — while the meal was going down — the boys raised the subject of poisonous vipers, gave their estimates of the contents of local dens, told stories of snake encounters, and so forth.  Finally, one of them remarked on how very good rattlers were to eat.

“Bill Grace said,  ‘By God, if anybody ever gave me rattlesnake meat I’d kill them.’

“The boys went into a state of catatonic paralysis.  In the pure silence, their mother said, ‘More chicken, Bill?’

“’Don’t mind if I do,’ said Bill Grace.”

And those stories are just a few that are included in this wonderful book.  It is must reading for people who are interested in a well-written story about Wyoming’s recent past and long-distant past.

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

Breast cancer awareness month: An old twisted tree taught me an important lesson

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Nancy Sniffin (right) raised over $250,000 for cancer research during her time as chairman of the Lander Relay for Life. Here she is honored with a proclamation during the 2005 Relay by then-Mayor Mick Wolfe. Nancy fought breast cancer from 1999 to 2001. She has been cancer free ever since.
2231

By Bill Sniffin

There was a twisted, ugly bushy tree in our back yard.  It was next to Big Dickinson Creek and had all kinds of limbs that had shot out in all directions.  

In a word, it was a tangle.

I found some real lessons of life as exemplified in that ratty old tree. Especially during October, which is breast cancer awareness month.

We hired some guys to help clear out that brushy area one fall and one of them attacked that messy tree with a relish.  He came to me with a big smile on his face to tell me that he had trimmed it up but had not eliminated it entirely.

Instead, he demonstrated how he had found two strong limbs pushing upwards. He had trimmed away all the rest and there standing proudly were two vertical limbs of this tree.

As I touched the limbs it became obvious they had twisted together and seemed to almost be holding each other up.  I thanked the guy for his good work and watched that tree bloom over the next year as it really grew over the following summer. 

By fall, the two trees were standing tall.  Then we got one of Lander’s rare windstorms. This one wasn’t a real cyclone but maybe 40 miles per hour.  When I next looked at that tree, it looked remarkably different.

Now, just one limb stood tall. 

The other was drooping. It was leaning over so much, perhaps it was broken?  I got out my small chain saw and decided that this would be best for the lone standing tree if we got rid of this other weak tree and left it alone.

Then another thought struck me.  Perhaps the wind had just untangled the trees?  All along the two limbs needed each other to stand tall like that.

I pushed the weak tree back up beside its mate and took the belt out of my jeans and wrapped it around the two trees so they were, once again, bound together. 

After stepping back and looking at my handiwork, it again looked splendid.  The two parts together made a much more handsome tree than the one lonely limb could have looked.

We watched that tree over the next few months and it just grew stronger and stronger. The limbs became fully entangled with each other again.

As I looked at that tree, was there some symbolism that people can use in their own lives?

In this case, out of all the different branches, two emerged on that one day.  They were already relying on each other to stand up strong. 

Perhaps this is how a man and a woman can come together and become one from their varied roots.  But sometimes things can go wrong with one partner or the other.   It can be a physical or mental ailment or any of many different things.

Maybe this is how married couples can live a long life together.  When one is weak and falling down, the other holds up its partner as long as he or she can.  And when they finally can’t hold on any longer, maybe an outside force  — in our case,  the Good Lord and his blessings — comes along to help them stay together. And in the end, they are standing tall together for a long, long time.

These tangled limbs are standing just outside my home office window.  I look out there a lot and see a strong tree.

And when I think of how strong my wife Nancy always was in our marriage – there is no doubt she held me up all these years.  And in the fall of 1999, when she was struck hard with breast cancer, I was at her side, holding her up during her difficult time.

We spent two years with chemo and radiation getting through this amazingly difficult time. Finally she was cancer free.

For 20 years she has been fine. We are standing together stronger than ever.

There was a lesson in that old twisted tree.  I think I understand.

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

Lies, damned lies, statistics; Here are Cowboy State facts

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Sniffin coach design
Bill Sniffin points to the back of his motorhome which shows the Cowboy logo and words from a song by Chris LeDoux.
2216

By Bill Sniffin

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

– Mark Twain

You could always find lots of cars and trucks around my home.  I am an admitted car nut and just love vehicles of all kinds.

Perhaps out here in Wyoming it is a throwback to a time when your wealth was tied to the number of horses you had. And if wealth were connected to the number of cars you own, my friend Joe Kenney would be a multi-millionaire.  I think he has ten vehicles, two motorcycles, a motorcycle, and an airplane at last count.

I am down to a Ford Excursion, an all-wheel drive Lincoln sedan, and a 17-year old hail-damaged Lexus convertible.  Oh yeah, we also have a 14-year old motorhome that we used to call Follow My Nose. Now it is emblazoned with the Wyoming Cowboy logo and the name of the song “Life is a Highway” by Chris LeDoux. The late Wyoming cowboy-singer was one of many folks who recorded that song. I like his version the best.

So here is my question for all of you: Wyoming has 579,315 people.  How many cars and trucks are there?  Do you think there are more vehicles than people here in Wyoming?

Our local Fremont County Commissioner Mike Jones sent me the current most updated 2018 statistics from the United States Census Bureau, which measures all these things. It has some surprising info about my own county and even more surprising data about the state of Wyoming.

If you guessed that, yes, Wyoming has more vehicles than it has people, you were right.  The 579,315 people in the state own 603,717 licensed cars and trucks.

 People (especially wives) repeat the old saw: “The only difference between men and boys is the cost and size of all their toys.”

Toys? Yeah, here in Wyoming, we have toys. And most of them are registered with the state government.  Besides cars and trucks, we have 294,164 “other” vehicles.

More importantly, this total includes trailers, lots of trailers. Including RVs, this amounts to an astonishing total of 207,413 trailers. It also includes 26,144 motorcycles.

Snowmobiles, boats, airplanes, and ATVs are not listed in this total but obviously would add big numbers if they were.

Wyoming people drive more miles per year than folks in any other state. That average is 16,800 miles for every man, woman, and child. Amazing.  No wonder my tires keep wearing out.

These miles are traveled on our 30,430 miles of highways and roads in our state. Of this total, 6,075 are federal.  Did you know that the longest highway in America is US 26?  Closely followed by Interstate 80, which I believe is the longest interstate highway in the country, stretching from New York City to San Francisco, closely following the route of famous US 30 Lincoln Highway.  It was Honest Abe who first proposed this national road along about 1863, when he was pretty much preoccupied with the Civil War and getting the transcontinental railroad built.

In Wyoming, we like to brag about our low taxes but the state collected $686,766,223 in sales and use taxes.  That is a pile of money.

Property taxes collected across the state amounted to over a billion dollars with a total of $1,344,432,107.  

My columns are usually limited to 750 words so I have to cherry-pick items here.  It would fill a whole bunch of pages to write about all of this detail.

In my business career, after starting out as a reporter and ad salesmen, I developed a love for data and numbers when I became an owner and publisher.  This surprised everyone. To me, numbers are not just numbers – they tell big stories.  I used to love the early IBM advertisements for computer systems where they pictured businesspersons pondering spreadsheets. The caption read: “Not just data – but reality.” Just love that concept.

School statistics could take up an entire column.  There are 48 school districts in Wyoming with one-sixth of them in my Fremont County.

There are 355 schools located from one end of the state to the other. There are 7,248 teachers and 736 administrators. According to these reports, there are 6,884 other staff to help keep things going.

Total enrollment is 93,647 students.  We have a graduation rate of 81.7 percent. The composite ACT score for juniors in high school was 19.5 in 2018.

Total general fund expenses for education were $1,493,600,712 for a per-student average of $17,694. This is one of the highest rates in the country.  In my county of Fremont (with its eight districts), the average per student cost was an amazing $22,299.

I will wrap this up by sharing that the U. S. Government owns 46,313 square miles out the state’s total of 97,093 square miles. The Bureau of Land Management controls 27,162 square miles of this total.

It is a big place with big numbers.

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

My chaotic college years of dodging Vietnam & chasing dreams; Half century later, two stories about young college students

in Column/Bill Sniffin
2191

By Bill Sniffin

Just about the most exciting time in a young person’s life is when he or her heads off to that freshman year of college.

In our family, we are excited about seeing two grandsons heading off on this big adventure.   Nancy and I are enjoying seeing these two boys are going to thrive prosper. We relish how well they are adapting to their new lives.

But it surely brings back memories of a different time.

Wolf Johnson, 19, son of Shelli and Jerry Johnson of Lander, is  now a student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Braley Hollins, 19, son of Amber and Craig Hollins of Allen, TX, is now a student at Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

Observing them also brings to mind some of the precarious experiences I had during my early college experiences exactly 53 years earlier.

Both Wolf and Braley are doing fine. Wolf is a standout poet, singer, and musician, and is benefitting from the Hathaway Scholarship. Braley is on a full-ride baseball scholarship at OSU after excelling in that sport at Plano Senior high in the Dallas Area.

If these boys behave and keep their grades up, they will have few problems.  Not so much like what I went through a half century earlier.

Let’s climb aboard my time machine and take a trip back to the stormy times known as the 1960s — 1965 to be specific.

In 1964, I obtained my first newspaper job after taking a six-week journalism short course at Iowa State in Ames.  Life was good. I was doing what I wanted and had even developed a relationship with a young chick, who was both the prettiest and nicest girl in the town of Harlan, Iowa.

Two of my friends had already been killed in Vietnam. After my draft physical, I was considered 1A, which meant I could be drafted any time.  A new college was starting from scratch in neighboring Denison. So it was off to the newspaper there with plans to enroll in newly minted Midwestern College. According to rules in place, I would then have a “college deferment” and be 2A, which would keep me out of the war. I would work at the newspaper and go to college.

My dad had lined up a very nice Ford Ranch Wagon for me to drive. It was a two-door station wagon. These are worth a fortune today.

My kid brother John came to visit me and promptly blew up the engine leaving me without wheels and literally walking when the newspaper’s company car was not available.  But I struggled on.

Two classmates, Preston VerMeer and Larry Carlson, were in just about as bad financial straits. Among us, we scraped up enough cash to buy a dilapidated 1949 Chevy torpedo-back sedan we nicknamed Myrtle. We kept her parked on the street near the house where we rented rooms.

One morning in the cold of winter, the car disappeared. Where could Myrtle have gone? Did someone steal her?

She had been impounded by the Denison Police Dept. as a “junked car.” Denison laws said you could not leave a junked car on a city street.  It would cost $50 to get it out of impound. We never got her out. We could not raise the $50.

Somehow I managed my full-time job at the newspaper driving its company car as much as I could, attending college full-time, and hitch-hiking the 25 miles down to Harlan to see my future bride, Nancy Musich, as often as I could.

Nancy and I were in love and we learned that I could get most of my tuition waived if we got married and my wife worked for the college. So on May 14, 1966, we tied the knot. I was 20 and she was 19.  Nancy had a 1959 Volkswagen and I finally had ownership of some wheels again. She always joked that I married her for her car.

Meanwhile, the Vietnam War was raging. Lots of young men were dying over there. Before it was done, some 58,000 men of my generation were killed. It was just awful.

When my new wife went to work for the college, my draft deferment went from 2A student to 3A married and we started our 53-year married journey together. The wind was at our backs or so  it seemed — finally.

We endured many struggles and we both worked very, very hard. Somehow, our destiny always seemed ahead of us. It just seems impossible to recall all that has happened to us over the years.

But watching Wolf and Braley head off to college with their heads high, their eyes clear, and with high hopes in their hearts – well, it just brought back some memories of a truly different but similar time when I was their age attempting to do the same thing.

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

Yikes, a cancer scare and a smart phone ‘tech neck’

in Column/Bill Sniffin
2153

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Like a great many Wyomingites, I suffer from persistent pains in my neck and back. More particularly, my neck has bothered me for 12 years, when I herniated a disk.

On June 15 I offered to help my wife Nancy move some heavy plants and, yowsir, something popped and I was in awful pain.

Sniffin in neck brace

Now my neck does odd things when I mess it up – this time, it resulted in horrible spasms in my lower back. Until I put my trusty neck brace on, I was gimping around. A pathetic sight.

Anyway, zoom ahead to Sept. 9 in Casper, where a pain wizard named Dr. Todd Hammond gave my neck a shot of steroids and things are on the mend. His crew of TJae, Lydia, Oneta, and a couple of other pleasant nurses, wheeled me into what looked like the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise. Within 20 minutes, I was done.

But the journey was an interesting one with many twists and turns.

First my Physician Assistant Jim Hutchison at the Lander Medical Clinic recommended physical therapy with Tom Davis at Fremont Therapy here in Lander. 

Some stretching, some heat, and some “dry needling” (now that is a unique pain) got me back on my feet, literally. It took awhile to get the appointment for my shot as first as there was the need for an MRI procedure.  Jim lined it up at SageWest Hospital in Lander. It showed problems with my neck vertebrae but it also showed a suspicious lump on my thyroid – oops.  If it was over 2 centimeters, it needed a biopsy. What? Not the BIG C?

Later it was another trip to the hospital for that procedure. Radiologist Perry Cook is an old friend and she is always enthusiastic. As I was lying there waiting for the biopsy, she came roaring in the room and said these nodules were usually benign.

“But if it is cancer, you have the best kind of cancer!”

Perry finished No. 1 in her class at Duke Medical School. I trust her and I expected her to be forthright with me. Somehow this conversation was getting disconcerting, though.

When it comes to cancer, I come from a blessed family. My parents never had cancer.  My 10 siblings (aged 56 to 76) have only had one cancer exposure, which my younger sister Mary seems to have managed very well about 10 years ago. For us Sniffins, there is supposed to be no cancer. No BIG C.  What the heck! Why me??

Then they did the biopsy and Perry was right, it was benign. Whew! I kept thinking how fortunate it would have been to catch this possible cancer while doing a routine MRI of my neck vertebrae. Thanks to her colleague Dr. Edwin Butler for spotting it.

So now it was on to Casper.

Nancy is not a football fan so she stayed in her room at the Ramkota while I sat in the bar during Monday Night Football with a bunch of oilfield folks watching the Broncos get beat.  That Texans-Saints game, which was on first, had one of the most fantastic finishes in NFL history. But I digress.

When I first hurt my neck 12 years ago, Dr. Hammond had given me two separate steroid shots after I had been scheduled for surgery. Luckily, I healed fast, came to my senses, and avoided the knife.

This time around, perhaps there may have been another reason for my neck pain. Our brilliant daughter Shelli Johnson routinely goes on 30-mile hikes in the Wind River Mountains. As a life coach, she also leads high-powered business gals from all across the USA on trips to Zion and Grand Canyon. She twice won first in the world for best tourism web site with www.yellowstonepark.com. These awards are called the Webbys.

But this column is about her smartphone. And mine, too.

When I told her about my neck, she said there is a national epidemic of “tech neck,” caused by people arching their 10-pound heads at a 40-degree angle checking their smart phones for 3-4 hours a day. She said she suffers from it and is trying to wean herself from looking at her phone that way.

My wife said that I must be suffering from it, too, since I have my face in my smart phone all day long, too. Boy, do I hate to have to admit she’s right. Originally, it was called “text neck.”

So, I couldn’t wait to ask Dr. Hammond if I had “tech neck” and if he treated others with the same malady? He will give injections to 30 people a day some times and travels the state seeing patients.

Sarah from his staff reported they treat lots of people for “tech neck,” and usually recommend stretching and people should hold their phones out in front of them. 

“We see it a lot. It is a lot more common because of the hand-held devices out there. We suggest stretches. Some can go to chiropractors and get good results. There are a lot of less invasive stuff you can do to correct it before it becomes a more severe problem.”

Either way, my neck is better (thank you, Doc) and I now hold my phone straight out in front of me when I look at it.  I think my head might weigh more than 10 pounds and I know I have a tender neck, thus “tech neck” might hurt me even worse than the average person. In the meantime, I hope this column helps cure a whole bunch of stiff and sore necks among my readers.

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

Bill Sniffin: Sinks Canyon and Loop Road are magical places this time of year

in Travel/Column/Bill Sniffin
Lander Wyoming Loop Road
Folks who live on the east side of the Wind River Mountains have a tradition of getting “looped,” as often as possible. This is my term for driving the spectacular Loop Road.
2094

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Folks who live on the east side of the Wind River Mountains have a tradition of getting “looped,” as often as possible. This is my term for driving the spectacular Loop Road.

Fall colors were already showing up on the Loop Road when this photo was snapped Sept. 15. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

On a recent Sunday, there was just a hint of color as we headed for the mountains. It sure felt like fall, but the colors were still green and summer-like. Soon it will turn totally golden.

We were re-visiting a magical place that cast a spell on us exactly 49 years ago.  Sinks Canyon and the Loop Road outside of Lander are what caused my wife Nancy and me to move to Wyoming from Iowa almost a half century ago.

It is every bit as beautiful now as it was then. I recall telling Nancy about being blown away by how the Popo Agie River was so picturesque. It looked liked color photos I had seen on calendars but never dreamed that these places really did look like this in reality. It was a transcendent experience.

A tourist from Washington state was swimming in the Little Popo Agie River on the Loop Road on this sunny afternoon before finding this nice rock for sun bathing. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

Sinks Canyon is the primary gateway to the Wind River Mountain Range from the east. Located just south of Lander, the canyon’s sheer cliffs and magical river make it a haven for sightseers.

The remarkable reason for the name of Sinks Canyon is that the river disappears into the side of the canyon wall and reappears a quarter mile downstream on the other side of the canyon.  If you have not visited this eighth wonder of Wyoming, you should. There are wonderful visitor centers there to explain things.

This huge rock formation called Windy Point towers over Sinks Canyon south of Lander. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

Then you climb out of Sinks Canyon and head up the Loop Road. The highway up the paved switchbacks and pretty soon you are climbing up to the saddle below Fossil Mountain and Windy Point.  I always thought Windy Point should be called Chief’s Head, as it looks like old Chief Washakie looking up to the heavens.

Beautiful lakes in the form of Frye Lake, Worthen Reservoir, and Fiddler Lake greet you along this first section of the Loop Road, which is graveled but passable for sedans.

Wind River Peak is the tallest mountain in the southern end of the Wind River Range.  This view is also showing Frye Lake along the Loop Road. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

The gigantic form of Wind River Peak at 13,192 feet looms over this entire scene.  It is the tallest mountain in the southern Wind Rivers.  It has plenty of snow on it now and glistens in the distance.

Another monolith that shows up in your rear view mirror is the massive hunk of rock known as Lizard Head Peak, which is 12,842 feet high.  It is one of the signature mountains in the famous Cirque of the Towers.  It is amazing that you can see it so well from the Loop Road, but you need to know where and when to look.

A huge mountain named Lizard Head Peak strikes a pose in the distance for tourists driving the Loop Road south of Lander. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin) 

Highest point of the road is Blue Ridge, which sits at 9,578 feet above sea level. A short hike farther up and you can climb stone steps to an old Forest Service fire lookout station. Again, well worth the trip and the view is breathtaking for 360-degrees.

There is a spectacular spot where the road crosses the Little Popo Agie River.  I stopped and snapped some photos and then saw a gal swimming in the frigid river. She climbed out of the water onto a big rock and started to sun bathe.  It must have been very invigorating. She was from Washington state, according to the license plate on her small car parked nearby.

Louis Lake on the Loop Road has nice beaches for families to enjoy at an altitude above 8,000 feet. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

Louis Lake (pronounced Louie) is the showpiece of the Loop Road. It is a very deep lake. It has nice beaches on its east end and is a favorite place for boating, canoeing, fishing, and just enjoying life.

From Louis Lake to WYO Highway 28 on South Pass, the Loop Road goes by Grannier Meadows and up and around Dead Horse Curve.  The reason it is called the Loop Road is that you never need to backtrack.  You just keep going and complete the loop drive back to Lander.

As you get to South Pass, you look off at the vast Red Desert, which is one of Wyoming’s seven legitimate wonders.  Continental Peak and the Oregon Buttes stand out in the distance.

A moose casually munches on lily pads in a small pond next to Fiddler Lake on the Loop Road. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin) 

On the way back down the mountain back to Lander the most stunning sight is the vast Red Canyon. This is a huge box canyon, which is striking by all the red rock of the Chugwater Formation. It is one of the most photographed places in this part of Wyoming.

And then we were back home, having enjoyed a wonderful three-hour drive that reinforced all the wonderful reasons of why we live here.

Another of our reasons for this particular trip was that we had not driven the entire Loop this year.  We ALWAYS drive the Loop at least once each year.  Time was running out. What a great pleasure it has always been; it was this time, too.

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

September Song: One Shot memories remind why I love this month so much

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Donald Trump Jr. One Shot
At the 2004 One Shot Hunt, Donald Trump Jr. got his bullet blessed by the late Darwin St. Clair, who served as ceremonial Shoshone Chief for the festivities. Chief Medicine Man Willie LeClair is pictured on the left. (Courtesy: One Shot)
2055

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

“Well, the sun’s not so hot in the sky today; And you know I can see summertime slipping on away.”

 – James Taylor

To me,  September in Wyoming means two things:

First, it is probably my favorite month, despite the occurrence of allergies and the ominous evidence of winter’s onset. And despite the need for an occasional jacket, the weather is usually quite predictable.

Second, it is when the annual One Shot Antelope Hunt occurs here in Lander.

Most Wyomingites keep an emergency travel kit in their cars year-around, but September is the time when you make sure you have re-stocked your trunk with this indispensable item.  Mountain highways across Wyoming can be very wintry in September.

Yellowstone Park is at its “yellow-est” at this time of year. It is fun to watch the locals in their wool shirts and jeans walking along a path next to a confused Californian, shivering in his tee shirt, shorts, and sandals.

Fall is the most colorful time of year in Wyoming. The leaves turn to breathtaking yellows, golds and reds.  Green lawns offer a nice contrast.  And the sky is as deep blue as always, the sun is shining its most golden and the high mountains glisten with early snow.

On the political scene, it often is the month where key decisions are being made.  Pundits always talk about “October surprises,” but the heavy campaign lifting needs to be done in September.

One Shot Antelope Hunt guide
The vast Red Desert and the High Plains of Wyoming served as a backdrop for Gov. Freudenthal’s 2004 hunt, here pictured with his guide Mike Yardas.

In my hometown, September also means it is time to go antelope hunting.  The 76th annual One Shot Antelope Hunt will be held during this upcoming weekend, Sept. 19-21. It is the Super Bowl of Shooting Sports.

I was the historian for the Hunt for decades before retiring some years ago.  While looking back on some of the hunts held this century, the one in 2004, some 15 years ago, sure was fun.

Then-Gov. Dave Freudenthal was the host and got his antelope with one shot.

One Shot Antelope Hunt
The 2004 One Shot Hunt featured some good shooting by then-Gov. Dave Freudenthal and U. S. Sen. Mike Enzi (right).

One of his fellow hunting competitors that year was U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, who also was considered a winner, shooting his buck with one shot. Sen. Enzi dedicated his hunt to his grandpa who always followed the One Shot.  He even used granddad’s old Springfield rifle that always “shoots four inches high and four inches to the right.”  Frankly, I cannot imagine anything to do with Sen. Enzi “moving to the left.”

The senator was so tickled with his success, he talked about it on the Senate floor the following Monday.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal’s team during the 2004 One Shot consisted of (l-r) Tony McRae of Lander, the governor, and Arch Coal CEO Steve Leer. Also pictured in their greeter Dave Kellogg.

One of the governor’s teammates was Steve Leer, then-CEO of Arch Coal.  Leer also nailed his buck with one shot. He spoke very highly about the quality of the Wyoming workers who work for his huge company. What a heady time that was for Wyoming coal.

Gov. Dave joined a group of hardheaded Lander Republicans called the Fox News All Stars for coffee that Friday morning prior to the Hunt.  I teasingly referred to them as  “Republicans for Freudenthal.” Although all were fond of the governor, not sure many liked him enough to join such a group.

As we left the restaurant, a passenger in a passing car flagged down the governor and appeared to recognize him. Was this an old friend? The governor walked over to the car.  A man opened his window and asked: “Hey, can you tell me how to get to Dubois?” Obviously the man did not realize who he was talking with.

After Gov. Dave answered the man’s question and the car started to pull away, someone yelled: “You might want to look at the picture on your highway map!”

Coincidentally, Donald Trump Jr. also shot in that year’s hunt.

He seemed to avoid the limelight during the weekend and was courteous to everyone around him.

This weekend Gov. Mark Gordon will participate in his first One Shot.  It is a fantastic tradition and I predict he will do a good job as host and will have a memorable weekend.

September is also football season.  As I write this, UW is boasting a 3-0 record and a seven-game win streak. I have great faith in coach Craig Bohl. 

This month, which used to be famous for containing the first day of autumn, is now known for other things since Sept. 11, 2001.  It will forever be recognized as the month when 3,000 innocent Americans died. 

And here in the Cowboy State, it will be recalled as the time when eight young Wyoming men died in their athletic prime on a dark highway south of Laramie. They were all killed when a drunk driver lost control of his big pickup and slammed into them head-on. An unbearable tragedy.

On a brighter note, around our house, it is wild bird frenzy time. My wife Nancy keeps two ducks around and this time of year, dozens of the wild ducks descend on our house to commiserate with our domestic fowl.

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

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

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Bees
2027

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

What a strange critter! 

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

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

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

Apparently as your mouth is watering, so is theirs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wyoming Bucket List: Driving Through Carbon County Over Battle Mountain

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

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

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

But that part of Wyoming offers so much more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sniffin: Linkages over the ages of time

in Column/Tourism/Bill Sniffin
Bill Sniffin
1950

By Bill Sniffin, My Wyoming column

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

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

But that’s another story for another time.

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

But that’s another story for another time.

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

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

But that’s another story for another time.

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

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

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

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

But that’s another story for another time.

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

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

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

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

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

“Beyond amazing!”

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

Amen, Brother.

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craziest race ever might before House seat next summer

in Column/Bill Sniffin
1894

By Bill Sniffin, My Wyoming column

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Brilliant, competent young woman,” she says.

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

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

Novotny, though, sent me this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Fly Wyoming
1832

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was 19 years later when I became a pilot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Wyoming Back to School
1829

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know how those other parents feel.

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

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

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

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

Sound off: Converse County leads state’s boom

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

Other counties report good news, too

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

Douglas Budget Publisher Matt Adelman says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Converse County Bank President Tom Saunders echoes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UW historian Phil Roberts says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up in Park County, things are plugging along:

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

Powell Tribune Publisher Toby Bonner added:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheyenne attorney Jack Speight says:

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

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

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

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

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

Former Sweetwater County Commissioner Paula Wonnacott says:

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

Cowboy State Bucket List covers 97,000 square miles!

in Travel/Column/Bill Sniffin
1799

By Bill Sniffin, My Wyoming columnist 

What is on your ‘Cowboy State Bucket List?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your take? Cowboy State Daily readers respond to traffic fatality story

in Transportation/Column/Bill Sniffin
Wyoming road fatalities
1787

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

My column about the increased danger on Wyoming roads this year generated some interesting responses from people around the state.

In that column it was pointed out that fatalities on Wyoming highway by Aug. 1 titled 92 compared to just 57 a year ago (in the intervening 10 days that number has climbed to 98). Why has it spiked so much?  My column (published on Cowboy State Daily) laid out some examples and possible reasons. Here is a collection of comments from some other folks around the state:

Vince Tomassi, Kemmerer-Diamondville:

“If the speed limit is 70, I get passed regularly by people going I would estimate 80-plus.Same for the 80 MPH sections (of Interstate 80), people are going 90. I agree with your friend about distracted drivers with cell phones, texting and driving.”

Jean Haugen, Lander:

“I have never seen the fatalities so bad, even back when my dad was a Patrolman.  A lot of the time, fatalities around here are either lack of wearing a seatbelt or falling asleep at the wheel and crashing. Wyoming used to have the reputation of having the best highways in the U.S.   It is very concerning.  It was certainly sad about those two ladies being killed that were from Riverton.”

Susan Gore, Cheyenne:

“Cheyenne Police Chief Brian Kozak cites striking Colorado statistics, re: THC marijuana increasing traffic fatalities. THC alters time-distance perception even after the high is gone.  That is a difference from alcohol. His tragic Wyoming example is a high school senior with great life prospects going home after a graduation party.  Brian was there.”

Tucker Fagan, Cheyenne:

“I agree with Steve Peck’s editorial about information screens in cars (that was reprinted in the column). The Air Force uses displays on the wind screen to keep the pilot’s eyes outside the cockpit. Saw this several years ago on vehicles I rented but the technology has not achieved widespread use. Also since Alexa, etc. can do so many things, voice activation should be incorporated in vehicles.”

 Geoff O’Gara, Lander:

“A couple of thoughts about the rising death tolls on the roads. I think we all agree that drivers are often distracted by social media devices, even when they are specifically to aid drivers, like route mapping. Quite a few years ago I was driving back from work at PBS in Riverton and a driver swerved out of the busy opposite lane and right across my path – she went off the opposite shoulder, lucky for me she didn’t try to recover or it would have been a head-on. From the way her head bobbed up, I’m quite sure she was looking down at a screen, or else asleep.”

Here are two other elements to consider, and I’m guessing there are studies out there that I’m too lazy to look for:

1. “The ridiculously big and growing vehicles that so many people drive these days, in our comfort-seeking over-indulgence – for tourists, sometimes rental RVs much bigger than what you normally drive at home. As a bicyclist, watching them weave around, I’m terrified.

2. “The aging American population, and the enormous number of retired oldsters with the wealth to wander around the highways. The driver in the Grand Teton crash was 65. The victims were even older. I’m in my 60s now and my reflexes aren’t all they used to be. Cognitively, older folks process more slowly, and may focus less intently. “It’s dangerous out there! Take the train! (Bring passenger trains back to Wyoming!)”

John Davis, Worland

“I think the usual reason for variation in highway deaths is simple statistical variation.  That is, when you have a large number of random events, there will always be a substantial variation of incidents, simply from the nature of the randomness of chances.  Sometimes you can trace the fact, of, say, extra highway deaths, to specific causes, but not usually.”

Phil White, Laramie:

“It is good you are calling attention to the carnage on the highways.  I’m hearing more and more often from various people, especially about the Front Range madness, that the roads are simply no longer capable of handling the traffic.  They cannot be upgraded fast enough to maintain even a minimal level of safety for a population growing so fast.

“I’m sure you are right about the distractions inside cars.  More important than motorhomes, I would think, is the explosion in the past 15 years of semis on Interstate 80.  Every time I do a casual count I find that semis account for about half of the vehicles on Interstate 80 and there have been a lot of wrecks involving semis.  One of them coming out of Telephone Canyon and onto the flats south of Laramie several years ago plowed into a vehicle stopped in a line of cars because of a previous accident between grand avenue exit and 3rd street exit.  Four members of one family were all wiped out in that one.  Even big heavy SUVs and pickups are no match for semis.  At 80 mph they have no chance to avoid collisions and their mass magnifies the damages.

“As to alcohol, I’ve been trying for years to get (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) and other parties to push the Legislature to prohibit drive-up liquor store windows.  I believe I read that Wyoming is the only state that still allows drive-up windows.  It’s an easy way for liquor dealers to avoid the responsibility to not sell alcohol to someone who, if made to walk inside, would display obvious impairment.  (Of course the Legislature and the Supreme Court also have refused for years to create “dramshop law” liability for liquor dealers who sell to obviously impaired adults.  As the law now stands, a liquor store owner cannot be held responsible for a drunk driver killing another motorist, even if the liquor dealer sells liquor to and then helps the buyer get into his car because he can barely even walk).

“As to speed, I am always amazed when the Legislature raises the speed limit.  Even before the recent increases it was already well established that at night going 70 mph it is almost impossible for a vehicle to stop in time after an object becomes visible in the headlights.  When they raise the limit they are simply saying ‘We are willing to sacrifice a few hundred lives or a thousand lives over time to save everybody else a few minutes in getting to their destination.’

“I often think of John Muir’s observation after touring Yellowstone in the late 1800s from his Our National Parks (1917): ‘The regular trips–from three to five days–are too short.  Nothing can be done well at a speed of forty miles a day.  The multitude of mixed, novel impressions rapidly piled on one another make only a dreamy, bewildering, swirling blur, most of which is unremembered.’”

Larry Wolfe, Cheyenne:

“I just rode my bike on 365 miles of the State’s road (a bit of that in MT). Those of us on bikes are scared to death of distracted drivers there were many stories of close calls. Good for you for bringing attention to this.”

Sniffin: Why are the Cowboy State’s roads suddenly so dangerous?

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Ashley Emma Skorcz
1772

MY WYOMING

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Two old friends were killed recently outside Jackson when a van full of tourists crossed the center line and hit them head-on. Carol Roemer, 68, Riverton, and Dorothy “Dot” Ashby, 78, Lander, were two of the nicest gals in Fremont County. On this day, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There was no explanation for why the out-of-state tourist driving the mini-van would have swerved into the oncoming lane. He was also killed with four of his passengers airlifted to area hospitals.  

This deadly crash took the state’s traffic death toll to 92 for the year, compared to just 57 at this same time a year ago. Why have traffic deaths almost doubled this year?

Steve Peck in his Riverton Ranger editorial July 24 thinks he has the answer.

“It’s hard to believe traffic safety is not being affected by the new visual stimuli competing with the road outside the car for the driver’s attention inside the car,” he writes.

The crash we described earlier here occurred in the shadow of the Grand Teton Mountain Range, literally one of the most beautiful views in the entire United States.  Yet, for some reason, a driver veered into the oncoming lane with deadly consequences.

Peck writes that it is not just cell phones that are causing the distraction.  He cited a TV ad for a new car touting the 13-inch display on the car’s dashboard that provides the driver with all kinds of information.  Hmmm. Perhaps the driver needs to be looking at the highway ahead rather than studying a monitor on the dashboard?

Two of the oldest reasons for people dying in car wrecks have not diminished much. Way too many people died because they were not wearing seat belts.  This is an easy fix – if people would just wise up. Slight injuries turn into fatalities when the seat belts are not used.

Second big cause is impaired driving from alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs. A lot of good work in public education and law enforcement has helped but it still is a problem. 

There are many reasons why Wyoming roads should be safer than they are. We have the lowest population of any state (7 people per square mile), we have very good roads, and most Wyomingites are veterans of all kinds of driving conditions. We also drive more miles per capita than any other state. 

It seemed like for years our traffic death toll had been going down, but not this year.

Could it be speed? I loved it when the legislature made the Department of Transportation increase speed limits from 65 to 70 on most roads and put in an 80 mph limit in many places on our interstate highways. Perhaps some of these accidents were caused by that, but I have not seen any conclusive evidence.

WYDOT has spent a lot of money on variable speed limit signs which slow traffic down below the posted limits under certain conditions, such as weather. 

One of my coffee buddies claims that out of state drivers pass more often and more recklessly than Wyoming drivers.  The increase in passing lanes should have dealt with that, you might think.

Perhaps it is caused by all those lumbering RVs and motorhomes (like me?) that clog the highways nine months out of the year and slow the traffic down. Not sure. 

WYDOT has also spent a lot of money on message boards which tell us to watch out for wildlife, motorcyclists, and bicyclists on the roads and other dangers. 

It also seems to me that we have seen a surge in deaths in motorcycle crashes.  More people are riding these days than ever.

One of the more recent fatal car crashes in Wyoming occurred July 28 and carried an old theme. At 4:44 a.m. a 2013 Ford Explorer left highway 191 and rolled. 

Killed was 23-year old driver Ashley Skorcz of Rock Springs. She was not wearing her seat belt. Her five year old daughter Emma was in the car but was also not protected and was life flighted to Utah for serious injuries. 

Miss Skorcz was the manager of a Rock Springs convenience store and grew up in Farson. A fund has been started in Rock Springs for her daughter. 

The fatality brought the state total to 94 deaths on highways in 2019. With the year barely half done, we are close to exceeding the highest annual total in the past 25 years when 102 people died in 1999.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find them at www.wyomingwonders.com.

Sniffin: How Wyoming schools are stopping bullying, school shootings, and suicide

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MY WYOMING COLUMN

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Earlier this year in opposite sides of Wyoming, students were overcome with emotion as they explored ways to stop school shootings, prevent bullying, and keep fellow students from committing suicide. 

In Cheyenne, Mountain View, and Lyman, the program called Rachel’s Challenge enjoyed a huge success with students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community members. 

I think that the idea of spreading kindness and positivity is just so important.

Jessica Gerwig, a Cheyenne East High School teacher involved in bringing Rachel’s Challenge to the school, told Cowboy State Daily earlier this year.

With school shootings rates and teen suicides rates both rising across the country, the good work being done by Rachel’s Challenge needs to be promoted.  Luckily, schools all over Wyoming are embracing it.

The non-profit Rachel’s Challenge organization claims that its good work prevents more than 100 suicides a year and has prevented seven school shootings in its 20 years of existence. 

Cowboy State Daily’s Robert Geha visited East High School to learn what impact the Rachel’s Challenge program has had on students. Listen for Michelle Puente and Keeley Cleveland’s comments at 2:30 in the segment.

In Cheyenne, East High students Michelle Puente and Keeley Cleveland promoted the program after hearing about it.

“I’ve seen students that typically sit alone at school, now they are sitting with other people. If they were sitting alone, now they have someone to sit with. There are sticky notes on the lockers to show others that it is important to be kind,” Michelle told Cowboy State Daily of the change in student demeanor after the Rachel’s Challenge assembly.

A Wyoming Tribune Eagle article on the assembly reported that East Sophomore Skyler Eidhead, his face blanched and wet with tears after hearing the program said he recently lost some people close to him. Hearing Rachel’s story gave him a sense of hope.

Some 20 years ago, the most publicized school shooting in history occurred at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. The first student killed was a 16-year old girl named Rachel Scott.  After her death, her parents found her personal journal predicting her death at a young age and her hope of ways to help people. 

In a school essay titled “My Ethics, My Codes of Life,” Rachel wrote that she wanted to start a chain reaction of kindness.

Six weeks later, she was dead, the first of 13 to be killed during the 1999 Columbine massacre.

For students at Cheyenne’s East High, who have grown up in an era where school shootings are at the forefront of national conversation, Rachel’s Challenge brought an unexpected twist to those discussions.

After Rachel’s death 120 miles south of Cheyenne in Littleton, her parents, Darrell and Sandy Scott, began reading through their daughter’s journals and papers, and found proclamations of kindness and compassion. They were so moved by their daughter’s words they began speaking to community groups and student organizations on behalf of their late daughter, using the words she’d put down in her journals as the crux of their message: kindness.

These speaking occasions grew into what is now called Rachel’s Challenge, a nonprofit organization that seeks to share Rachel’s message of kindness with high school students across the country.

They focus on a few key ideas. They ask students to fight prejudice, to intervene when somebody is being bullied, and to look for the best in others. Though inextricably tied to the Columbine shooting, the presentation hinges less explicitly on school safety and more on kindness and its byproducts – safer schools among them.

“It’s about students’ hearts and getting them to that place where they are connected,” said Nate Rees, regional partnership manager for the group. “A direct result of that is less violence in schools.”

MORE from Cowboy State Daily: Wyoming schools take Rachel’s Challenge: National anti-bullying program comes to state

Rachel’s uncle, Larry Scott, gave the presentation to East High students Tuesday. He is one of dozens of the group’s presenters, but unlike most, his own children were inside Columbine High School at the time of the shooting. They got out unharmed.

In a description of how this worked in Mountain View, the principal of the school, Ben Carr, wrote:  “Rachel had written about her desire to reach out and show kindness to everyone, but especially to three specific groups, including special needs students, students new to the school, and students being picked on and bullied.”

Carr quoted Larry Scott: “He said one particular student who was being bullied reached out to the Scott family to tell them how her kindness and efforts to defend him were directly responsible for saving his life when he decided not to follow through on a plan to kill himself.”

State Supt. of Public Instruction, Jillian Balow, is supportive of the program and has been encouraging schools to use it to prevent bullying, school shootings, and suicide.

Coincidentally, the biggest donors to Rachel’s Challenge have been Wyomingites Foster and Lynn Friess of Jackson. They gave $2.5 million to the program as a matching grant so more schools can afford to host this amazing program. 

Students who have attended this program in 30 Wyoming schools so far, say it changed their lives for the better.  It makes sense for all schools to use this program. What a great message!

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find them at www.wyomingwonders.com.

Massive military museum under construction near Dubois

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Dan Starks, National Museum of Military Vehicles founder, explains how the oil and gas industry helped the American military build a better tank.

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s next great museum is under construction and will open next May.

The National Museum of Military Vehicles is a massive facility located just south of Dubois in Fremont County.

The $100 million self-funded museum has been a dream of Dan Starks, who bought his first Wyoming property in 2011. Construction on the new museum started in May of 2017. It is a 140,000 square-foot facility designed to hold 150 military vehicles.

But it is much more than a display of vehicles.

Starks, 65, is not a veteran but has such a high degree of respect for those who served that he sees this project as his life’s work. And what a life it has been.

He worked 32 years at a medical equipment company in Minneapolis, serving as CEO before retiring in 2017. The company made $6 billion per year and had 28,000 employees working on life-saving devices, specializing on heart catheters and other devices. 

“At one time, we figured our devices were saving a life every three seconds around the world,” he says.

His company was acquired by Abbott Laboratories in 2017. Their web site shows Starks owns over $600 million in stock in the big international company and serves on its board.

Dan and his wife Cynthia’s life’s dream was to settle in Dubois and launch some project to recognize the service of America’s veterans. And boy, is this ever some project.

Despite the gigantic size of the facility, (you can almost put three football fields inside its walls), Starks now worries that it might be too small.  The couple owns more than 400 of pristine historic vehicles from World War II and other conflicts, presumed to be the largest and best private collection in the world.Starks thinks he might only get 150 of them inside the walls.

The Starks’ daughter Alynne is the executive director of the facility.Their plan for the museum has gone far beyond just a place to display vehicles. “We want to create displays that show the landing at Normandy, the surrenders in Germany and Japan, the Battle of the Bulge, and other great moments in our country’s military history,” Starks says.

Starks sees the facility having three components:

  • First, to honor the service and sacrifice of millions of Americans;
  • Second, preserve the history of what happened during these wars, and
  • Third, provide an educational experience.

The vast array of vehicles goes beyond the killing machines of tanks, artillery, and flamethrowers. It also includes dozens of the machines that made the wars winnable.

Starks likes to discuss how the “Red Ball Express” helped secure the victories. This was the truck-based supply chain that seemed to provide endless amounts of food, ammo, and war machines as Allied troops marched toward victory.

He wants to show how America was able to convert its massive manufacturing expertise to enable the Allies to fight two different wars in different parts of the world and win both in just three and one-half years. The new museum will show how the American ability to mass-produce cars and trucks was converted to produce tanks, jeeps, airplanes, and other war machines in record amounts that just wore down the enemy. 

“Germany built beautiful machines, but they did not understand mass production like Americans did,” Starks said. “It was impossible for them to keep up when it came to replacing and resupplying their troops at key moments in World War II. We want to honor everyone who participated in this great victory. This museum will showcase that effort but showing the machines that were built and how they were utilized.”

Dan and Alynne Starks led a handful of people on a tour of the facility Aug. 1, including Lander radio station owner Joe Kenney, Fremont County Commissioner Mike Jones and retired Lander business leader Tony McRae.

Kenney said he was impressed that Starks wants no grants or government money to help with the project.  

“He knows what he wants and he is going to get it,” he said. “Amazing.”

Jones said he was overwhelmed by Starks’ passion. 

“His enthusiasm is contagious,” he said. “This is going to be game-changer for tourism in Fremont County and Wyoming.”

McRae said he did not know what to expect. 

“I was just blown away by the scale of this project,” he said. “I can’t wait to see it after it opens.”

Alynne, as executive director, said the project will probably employ about 15 people.  They have not decided on what admission will cost but one thing is sure: “Veterans will get in free!  My dad insists on that,” she said.

Near the middle of the building’s interior is an amazing vault that will hold Starks’ $10 million collection of historic weapons, including a rifle fired at Custer’s Last Stand and a pistol used by General Pershing in World War I. The collection also includes 270 Winchester rifles.  The facility will have meeting rooms and members of the Wyoming Legislature are convening there in October.It also has the Chance Phelps Theatre, named for the brave Dubois Marine who died April 9, 2004, in Iraq.  The movie “Taking Chance”was about that soldier.

There will also be a large library with one of the world’s largest collections of manuals and other information about military vehicles.

There are over 100 tanks and other impressive war machines parked in row after row in a big field next to the new building. There is even a Russian-built MiG 21 parked in the field that was used in the Viet Nam War against American soldiers. It is flyable. Starks’ other machines are in downtown Dubois, on his ranches and stored in Salt Lake City. Besides the main museum facility, the Starks built a large building just off Main Street in Dubois to hold many of their vehicles and a shop to keep them running.

Eight years ago, their first home in Dubois was an old homestead. Then, they purchased a 250-head cattle ranch and recently they bought a third ranch, which now has 36 bison grazing on it.

“We love Dubois and we love Wyoming. This is our great adventure,” Starks said.

Fires burn historic lodges in Pinedale, Togwotee Pass

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Fire at Brooks Lodge in Dubois
Fire at Brooks Lodge on Togwotee Pass between Dubois and Jackson on July 28. (Photo courtesy of the Dubois Volunteer Fire Department.)
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By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

July was not a good month for beautiful mountain lodges in Western Wyoming.

On July 12, fire destroyed the lodge at the White Pine Ski Resort east of Pinedale.

On July 28, the historic Brooks Lake Lodge on Togwotee Pass between Dubois and Jackson suffered major damage from a fire.

Robin Blackburn, owner of White Pine, said the fire that ravaged the impressive building that contained virtually all of the operations of the ski area, was caused by a fire inside the building. Sublette County Unified Fire Public Information Office Mike Petty said the blaze was completely contained inside the lodge.

“There’s was no brush fire, there’s no damage to the forest. It was totally contained in the lodge,” Blackburn said. “The lodge is a total loss, but the people from the Department of Criminal Investigation are up there trying to determine the cause of the fire at this stage. Nothing has been said.”

Meanwhile, north of Dubois, an early morning fire damaged Brooks Lake Lodge on Togwotee Pass on Sunday, but a quick response rescued much of the historic structure.      

Lodge General Manager Adam Long discovered the fire and tried to put it out with a fire extinguisher. He also called 911 at 2:32 a.m., said Jeff Golightly, chief advisor to Brooks Lake Lodge owner Max Chapman.

Golightly said the fire is being investigated by Eric Siwik of the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Golightly said the fire is suspected to have started in an old fireplace in the historical building.

The fire comes on the heels of a July 2 fire at Cafe Genevieve, a historic downtown Jackson property also owned by Chapman, with other investors.

Meanwhile, back in Pinedale, emergency responders were notified of the report of a wild land fire at the resort at approximately 1:20 a.m. Emergency responders arrived on scene to an active fire in the lodge itself instead of a wild land fire. There were no injuries to responders and no extension of damage to the neighboring structures or forest.

The response included multiple personnel from Sublette County Unified Fire, Sublette County Sheriff’s Office, Sublette County EMS, Sublette County Emergency Management and Bridger Teton National Forest.

Fire crews contained the fire to the lodge building and monitored the surrounding areas to ensure the fire didn’t spread to the surrounding forest or buildings.

Blackburn said she was notified of the fire around 4 a.m. when the fire was all but put out. Now the process of taking the next steps begins.

Following inspections by the insurance company, Blackburn said she and her husband Alan intend to rebuild the structure. She also said it doesn’t appear that any damage was done to the ski lift lines either.

“We need to rebuild it. It’s a really important part of the community,” she said. “The ski area serves not only Sublette County, but Sweetwater and Fremont, and I think it would be a huge loss to everyone if we didn’t rebuild.”

Blackburn said the damage is extensive, including one corner of the lodge that contained the boiler below and extending up into the kitchen area.

Blackburn said they may consider putting up a temporary structure to get them through the winter. With contractors booked out repairing and rebuilding homes in the area following the Roosevelt Fire last summer, it might be some time before the project begins.

“I mean it’s really early days for us to know what to do or what to say. But our intent is to go forward and provide something again for the community,” she concluded.

Meanwhile, up at Togwotee Pass, the response to the Brooks Lake Lodge fire was amazing. “It’s just unbelievable,” Golightly said.

The Dubois Fire Department and Fremont County Fire Department responded in about a half hour and successfully extinguished the blaze over the course of several hours, Dubois Fire Chief Mike Franchini said. The response included eight engines, a water tender and an air unit.

“Firefighters attacked the fire from the interior and cut vent holes on the roof,” Franchini said. “The historic building was saved.”

Eric Siwik of the State Fire Marshal’s office said the fire started in a confined space. It very well could have smoldered for quite awhile before being discovered.

He said his office is working closely with insurance investigators in exploring the cause.

No employees or guests were injured, and damage was limited to the ceiling and roof of the “tea room” and part of the dining room. Golightly estimated about 10 percent of the building suffered damage.

“None of our cabins were damaged, none of our lodge rooms were damaged, the lobby, the bar wasn’t damaged,” Golightly said. “We’re lucky that our GM caught it, and we’re lucky that the Dubois Fire Department and the Fremont County Fire Department all showed up and got it put out in a pretty reasonable amount of time.”

The 98-year-old lodge is still hosting guests although the dining room and tea room are closed, Golightly said. The bar, lobby and lodging remain open.

Golightly said it was a close call, and he’s grateful the general manager spotted the fire in the middle of the night, and for the firefighters’ fast response.

“It was just an incredible job by those guys,” he said. “We were very fortunate. No guests and no employees got hurt, that’s what’s important to us.”

Built in 1922 and originally named the Two-Gwo-Tee Inn, Brooks Lake Lodge is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

(Reporting from Jackson Hole News & Guide, Buckrail, County 10, and other sources contributed to this article.)

Sniffin: Two Cowboy State road trips show state is green and clear

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Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
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By Bill Sniffin for Cowboy State Daily

Road trip! 

Is there any better place in the world to take a road trip this time of year than Wyoming?

Recently, we made two such trips and saw a bunch of wonderful sites in our great state. Two things stood out:

First, I have rarely seen the countryside as green as it is now this late in the year. 

Second, for the first time in a long time, you can see for 100 miles or more.  There are no smoky horizons blocking views because of California or Canadian fires. What a relief that is. 

The book The Big Sky by Montana author A. B. Guthrie Jr., was actually writing about the big sky in Wyoming, not Montana.  The state of Montana was smart enough, though, to grab that as one of their primary mottos. Our Big Sky has never been prettier than now here in the Cowboy State.

We took two trips, both of which ended up out-of-state. The first one headed north. The second headed south. Here are my observations:

Yellowstone National Park is my favorite place on earth. I have probably visited our country’s first national park 120 times. I just cannot get enough of it. This park is the main draw for tourists coming to Wyoming. 

There are three Wyoming entrances to the park.  The northernmost is the Beartooth Highway out of Park County—wow, what a ride that is!

Also, the east gate over Sylvan Pass west of Cody is one of my all-time favorite drives. The Wapiti Valley is a showcase in its own right.

We took the southern gate from Moran and worked our way through the check-in gates for Grand Teton Park and for Yellowstone Park. 

We were traveling on July 2 and the park was at near capacity over the Independence Day holiday.  People from all over the country and all over the world having a great time. We are so fortunate to have Yellowstone in our state. 

Ran into a Mr. and Mrs. Eisenheiner at the Old Faithful parking lot. They were riding a motorcycle to Alaska. They had started in Los Angeles. Wow, what a ride. I believe that the name Eisenheiner is German for “Iron Butt.” 

On this trip, we left Lander about 8 a.m. and took US Highway 287 north through the Wind River Reservation. The gigantic Wind River Mountains were looming on our left and were just awesome.  Next comes Dubois, one of the state’s prettiest little towns and it was jammed with tourists.

From there, we headed over Togwotee Pass, which tops out at about 9,600 feet near Brooks Lake.  As you head over the pass to Jackson Hole, the spectacular Tetons are shining in the distance – a million dollar view. As you descend into Jackson Hole, it is common to see a grizzly or two, but not on this warm day. 

This is one of the most beautiful drives in the state and is just keeps getting better, the closer you get to the national parks.  Then, on this day at least, it got a little crowded.

I was headed to a meeting in Bozeman, MT, one of the fastest growing cities in the country at 112,000 people. 

My trip home involved coming through Cody, Thermopolis, Shoshoni, and Riverton. Everything is so green! 

Our next road trip involved heading to Montrose, CO by way of Rawlins and Baggs. Then over to Denver to see my 95-year old mother and back home via Cheyenne, Laramie, and Rawlins.

Wyoming is famous for its wildlife. No other state in the lower 48 even comes close to the antelope, deer, elk, moose, bear, coyote, and jackrabbits you see along our roadways.

Some of the biggest antelope herds in the state can be seen along the route we took. Not sure we can call them wildlife, but the state’s biggest herd of wild horses roams the Red Desert between Lander-Rawlins-Rock Springs-Pinedale areas. 

Wildlife Worth the Watching was a program used for many years to promote folks visiting Wyoming to see actual wild animals, actually in the wild.  A great program.

We made the mistake of taking Colorado’s Interstate 70 going east into Denver on a Sunday afternoon. Spent an extra two hours jammed in bumper-to-bumper traffic.  Horrible experience.

Cheyenne was gearing up for Frontier Days, Laramie looked prosperous, as did Rawlins, as we sailed through on our way home.

Great trips, but a little too purposeful for me. I prefer to travel slowly and stop and visit interesting folks and interesting places. Will do that on our next trip.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find them at www.wyomingwonders.com.

Bill Sniffin joins team at Cowboy State Daily

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Bill Sniffin
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Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin has joined the  team at the Cowboy State Daily, the state’s foremost digital daily news platform.

The veteran Lander journalist will be writing a weekly column, assisting with the daily newsletter called Coffee Break and will help with strategic planning as the digital site continues to expand and grow.

“I have been impressed by the Cowboy State Daily,” Sniffin said. “Wyoming needs a dedicated statewide digital news source and I am glad to be part of their team.”

Sniffin has written a weekly newspaper column for over 50 years.  It turned into a statewide Wyoming column 17 years ago, after he lost in the 2002 Republican governor primary election.

His column currently appears in more than 20 newspapers and digital services in the state and is exposed to more than 100,000 readers each week. It is the most widely distributed column in Wyoming.

In recent years, Sniffin has published three coffee table books about Wyoming that have sold over 34,000 copies.  Prior to that he published three other books about his columns.

He and his wife Nancy have owned all or part of more than 20 newspapers, magazines, print shops, ad agencies, and internet companies.  They published the Lander Journal for 29 years.

Sniffin was president of the Wyoming Press Association in 1980 and has been awarded a Lifetime Membership.  In 1999, he was given the highest award the Wyoming Tourist industry can offer, the Big WYO award.

The Sniffins live in Lander and have four children, 13 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

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