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Bill Sniffin: Cowboy State Crammed Full Of Odd Sites, Curious Sights

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher of Cowboy State Daily

Want to go see something odd and different – well, you live in the right place.

Wyoming is such an interesting place.  Even when you omit Yellowstone, Grand Teton Park, and Devils Tower Monument, the state is jammed with interesting sites to visit and sights to see.

These places are both natural and man-made.

Here is a partial list of some to be among the most interesting:

The oldest house in the world is located five miles from  Medicine Bow.  It is the famous ‘dinosaur house,” made out of 100 million year old fossil bones from nearby Como Bluff. Many of the great dinosaur fossils on display around the world came from that area in the 1890s.

Near my hometown of Lander is the famous Sinks of the Popo Agie River. The river goes into the side of the canyon and reappears a quarter mile downstream.  More water comes out than goes in, which indicates there are many other sinks in the surrounding area. A state park surrounds this amazing site.

Periodic Spring near Afton is another of these remarkable water sites. Hot springs in Thermopolis, Saratoga, Jackson, Dubois, and Fort Washakie are oddities, in their own rights.

West of Cody is the surprisingly stunning  Smith Mansion, an odd log building that is six stories high and, built like an Chinese pagoda. Its builder died creating it many years ago.

Between Cheyenne and Laramie is the Ames Monument, celebrating two brothers who were instrumental is building the transcontinental railroad.  The huge pyramid is built near the highest point of the railroad line. It is 60 feet high and 60 feet square. It is easily accessible.

In the same area along Interstate 80 is the towering statue of President Lincoln. It signifies the highest point of the Lincoln Highway, which was the first transcontinental road in the USA.

Fossil Butte is a national historic site near Kemmerer. There you can see ancient fish fossils that are millions of years old. 

Between Douglas and Glenrock is the Ayers Natural Bridge. A cool place to see, but especially nice on a hot because of all the shade. 

There is a new state park north of Cheyenne that is an old missile base.  A relic of the Cold War. 

The interpretative center beween Cody and Powell for the internment camp where US citizens of Japanese heritage were locked up during World War II.

Between Greybull and Shell is the amazing Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite.  Real tracks of dinosaurs have been preserved for millions of years. 

The Vore Buffalo Jump near Sundance along Interstate 90 is well worth the trip. 

A few of the wonderful forts to see in Wyoming include Fort Laramie, Fort Washakie, Fort Bridger, and Fort Caspar. 

The Big Horn Medicine Wheel is a national site and well worth visiting high in the mountains above Lovell and Sheridan. 

There are also various rock arrows around the state that seem to point to the Medicine Wheel including near Jeffrey City, Greybull, and Meeteetse. 

Two places that seem to defy gravity are Gravity Hill on the Casper Mountain Road and the highway through Wind River Canyon between Shoshoni and Thermopolis.

Gravity Hill makes you think you are on the level but if you stop, your car will roll forward.

In Wind River Canyon you swear the river is flowing uphill as it flows north because the massive canyon walls are tilted at odd angles. 

Just north of Rock Springs is the amazing Boar’s Tusk, which juts out of the desert floor. You can see it from 40 miles away.

Around it are the equally amazing Killpecker Sand Dunes. If you have not seen these places, you need to. There is also a spectacular petroglyph site there. You can also find hand holds carved into the soft rock where Native American women gripped while birthing their babies over the centuries. 

Several amazing sites in Wyoming are not very accessible.

To see these, you better be rich or fit. I doubt if I will be able to see them in my lifetime, but I hope that you may. 

Space aliens? There are huge rocks balanced on three little rocks in at least eight places deep in the Wind River Mountains.  I have seen photos of them and they are called “Dolmens.” Again, you need a guide to find them. It would take a very big forklift to create these oddities. And the fact there are last eight similar ones rule out an accidental creation by glaciers.

In the mountains around Thermopolis there is an odd round formation, which does not look naturally created by Mother Nature. Leading up to it is an old rock ladder, which has the appearance of being man-made, although it is eroded and very old. I have seen photos of it and it looks plausible to me. 

This is just a small smattering of sights and sites. People can send other oddities to I intend to compile more in the near future. We have only scratched the surface here.

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Bill Sniffin: In The Shadow Of A National Forest That Yearns To Burn

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By Bill Sniffin, Publisher, Cowboy State Daily

During a normal hot summer fire season, the gorgeous red sunsets and haze in the air scare the heck out of people in my part of Wyoming. We live next to the Shoshone National Forest.

Lately, the air has been so perfect and pristine, you can almost see 100 miles. It has not been this haze-free for years.  But based on how dry it is, all this can change quickly. Precipitation this year was the lowest in years and it is already getting very dry. 

The Shoshone National Forest is a jewel and so remarkable that it was the first national forest created by Congress. The mountains in this 2.4 million-acre reserve in west-central Wyoming are the tallest in the state. The views in the area are breathtaking, and I am lucky enough to live within 5 miles of its border.

But like most people who live close to the Shoshone, I fear that it will burn up. Who would be affected? Folks in towns including Lander, Riverton, Dubois, the Wind River Indian Reservation, Cody, Powell, and Meeteetse, to name just a few. 

We all know the major reasons: Firefighting efforts have successfully prevented blazes in the forest over the past 60 years, leaving huge amounts of deadfall. The northern Rocky Mountains are again in the midst of drought. Add to that increased visitation by campers, hikers and horseback enthusiasts, plus the subdivisions that have cropped up close to the forest and within the forest as well – it is recipe for an inferno.

And then sometimes, there are those oddball situations you can’t predict, such as the huge Colorado fire started a few years ago by a Forest Service employee who was upset over a letter from her husband. So, she burned the letter and thereby ignited the forest, destroying 100,000 acres before the fire was subdued. 

A fire in Sinks Canyon a few years ago was suspected to be started in a similar way. One of the more damaging fires in recent years was a controlled burn that got away from the firefighters. 

Some years ago, a colleague and I were headed back to Lander from Jackson late in the evening when an out-of-control wildfire was burning between Thermopolis and Riverton, near Wind River Canyon. It was the Kate’s Basin Complex fire, and it would go on to burn 180,000 acres. 

We stopped the car and stood there in the quiet to watch a mountainside send plumes of fire into the night. Even though we were 50 miles away, the air smelled of smoke. One fireman would die in that blaze; another was severely injured. 

As we stood there, I had this eerie feeling that behind me was the potential for a much worse fire. I recall looking over my shoulder at the huge blackness of the Shoshone National Forest and the Wind River Mountain Range. 

Not a spark of light. When would it erupt into flames? The sight in front of us was awesome and frightening. 

But the potential of that fire was small compared to what was possible in the Shoshone.

Over a decade later, the Shoshone still has not burned. But this year does not bode well. We had a dry spring, so grass is turning brown early. Then June and July were hotter and windier than usual. It could be dry as tinder in some places up there. Despite brief showers recently, the stage is set for serious fires all over Wyoming, but mainly in the Shoshone. 

Many of us will never forget when Yellowstone National Park burned, with fires starting in late July and burning into the fall of 1988. 

Jon Horton, both a journalist and ex-firefighter, was there: “I had experience on fires and years with helicopters,” he said, “so I was qualified to go to the remotest fire lines. During the height of the fire activity, one veteran that I worked with told me how awed he was by a 30,000-foot-high column of smoke. Nothing in his experience had prepared him for the scale of the Yellowstone fires. Millions of acres seemed to be in the process of being wholly consumed.”

Firefighters returned with stories of whole drainages on fire and smoke obscuring the trails so badly that horses stumbled blindly in the dark of noon. That Yellowstone fire season took on the form of something outside of anyone’s experience; outside the accumulated knowledge of generations of fire management professionals.

Horton’s recollections characterize the Yellowstone fires about as well as anything printed. And they describe all too well what will probably happen when the Shoshone decides it wants to burn.

I am holding my breath – literally. 

(Photo of the Shoshone area by Shelli Johnson in the Shoshone National Forest.) 

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Bill Sniffin: Yellowstone Beckons! Big Park Ready For Your Visit Now

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By Bill Sniffin, Publisher, Cowboy State Daily

After a quick visit this past week, I can honestly say my Yellowstone National Park is a different place than from any other time I have seen it in the last half century.

Yellowstone is my favorite place on earth. Our family has never missed going to the park each of the last 50 years.  

Over the last 30 years, one of the biggest changes in Yellowstone has been the huge influx of foreign tourists.  I was even involved in that by co-founding an international tourism company back in 1991. 

This year it seemed like I did not hear those European accents that were so common over the last three decades.  Perhaps they were there, but with people wearing masks, conversation might have been muted. 

The biggest group missing was the Asians.  In July 2019, when I last visited, it seemed like one-third to one-half of everyone there was an Asian family. And that is just fine. But this year, I saw just one Asian family in my visits to Old Faithful, Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone Canyon and Yellowstone Lake.

At Old Faithful there was a big crowd, but considerably smaller than normal for this time of year.  The Xanterra staff was doing a magnificent job of making sure people maintained social distancing.  They all had their masks on and occasionally we had to shout at each other to make ourselves understood.  It took three tries for me to communicate to the poor gal shoveling out pulled pork sandwiches, that no, I did not need anything else. We both laughed and I gathered up our grub and moved on.

The inside of the big Old Faithful Lodge cafeteria was almost empty while outside, the line to get in stretched out. Only small groups of people were being allowed inside. Social distancing was being enforced.  The restroom experience was crazy. The big restrooms were limited to a capacity of four or six people.  

There were some crowds, but not the overwhelming masses normally seen in early July. Traffic was steady on all the roads. A great many people were wearing masks.  And social distancing played a big part in everything about visiting this wonderful place.

This time of year, at the world’s first national park, normally the traffic is bumper-to-bumper and the crowds are wall-to-wall. It is the closest thing Wyoming will ever see to Disneyland-type crowds and lines.

During this visit, the traffic was fine.  The lines were manageable.  Most Wyomingites have learned their lesson and avoid the park during the mid-summer months because of the crush of all those out-of-state tourists. 

This year, it is different.  Go to Yellowstone.  It is an international treasure, and it is OUR treasure, right here in the Cowboy State.

It had been hot in Lander with temperatures in the 90s.  We were going to wear T-shirts and shorts on this trip to Yellowstone but a check with Weather Guru Don Day from Cowboy State Daily showed we might need to reconsider.  The high was going to be just 65, and the weather was clear.

We were glad we packed some jackets and hoodies.  The elevation in the park is over 7,500 feet in most places and the air is crisp. A cool breeze can make you really appreciate that jacket most of the day.

The purpose of our trip (besides my annual “fix”) was to introduce Taylor Benevides of Dallas, who is the boyfriend of our granddaughter Daylia Hollins, to the park. As a pair, they are known as Tay and Day.  On this day, they were our guinea pigs and I wanted to show off my favorite place on the planet. Taylor had never been to Yellowstone and had never heard of the Teton Mountain Range.

On our way to the park, we were hoping to see that big old grizzly bear that hangs out along the Togwotee Pass highway.  Not on this day.  But the view of the Teton Mountain Range was breathtaking. Taylor was blown away by that billion-dollar view.

Last year, I went through the park on July 3 and had to wait a half-hour as a quarter-mile long line of cars waited to get into the park.  This year, it took five minutes and we had four cars ahead of us. So far so good.

My friend Bob Tipton had remarked earlier this summer how he had left Lander at 7 a.m., viewed the park and got home at 7 p.m.  That was the trip I was trying to duplicate.

We had a lot more traffic than he did a month ago and our passengers wanted to take some extra hikes, like to the bottom of Yellowstone Canyon, which is magnificent. The only problem is that you have to go back up to the overlook, which is uphill all the way!

Going and returning on our trip, we passed through one of my favorite mountain towns, Dubois.  The new National Museum of Military Vehicles is almost ready to open. What a treat that will be.  Thanks to Dan Starks and his family for building it.

We finally got home at 9:15 p.m., tired but totally content with our annual Yellowstone visit. 

Now my plan is to go again later this year and spend a few days up there – this trip was entirely too quick. Luckily, our group this time had an experienced tour guide.

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Bill Sniffin: The Red Desert: Loneliest Place In Loneliest State

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By Bill Sniffin, Publisher, Cowboy State Daily

RED DESERT – Jim Smail’s Scottish grandfather came to America and homesteaded in Farson back in 1915.  

That old desert rat started taking Jim’s father to the Red Desert back then and that tradition continued as Jim’s father took his son to the desert shortly after Jim entered the world 83 years ago.

This column is a tribute both to my friend Jim, who died recently, and to that vast desert that he loved more than just about anybody that I ever knew.

It is also a companion story to the unveiling of a wonderful new map of the Red Desert produced by the Wyoming Outdoor Council, which printed 20,000 copies for distribution across the state.

A map such as this is long overdue.

Has this magnificent area known as the Great Red Desert changed in the more than three-fourths of a century that Jim roamed it?

Well, yes and no.

Just like today’s energy prospectors who look to Wyoming’s plains for sources of power, the desert was always seen as a place of opportunity.  In typical risk-reward activities, the stakes were high when you ventured out into this vast empty place.

Some folks think of it as a place almost devoid of permanent human habitation. But it has been provided a stage for American Indians, Oregon Trail travelers, gold prospectors, the Pony Express and other intrepid souls trying to conquer an unconquerable place. 

Geographically, some folks think the desert is a gigantic space that includes land crossed by Interstate 80 and extends up toward Casper, Shoshoni, Riverton, Lander and encompassing Rock Springs and Green River.

But to the purist, and I guess that includes me, the real Red Desert is found in the confines of the Great Divide Basin.  This, truly, is the loneliest place in the loneliest state.  A place with no permanent human habitation at the present time. Despite that, it is a place that has been occupied by humans for over 1,000 years.

In many ways the desert has not changed at all. 

Smail told me: “Among the high points of my life has been driving my jeep around the approved roads in the desert and visiting ancient sites of these early humans.  We always approach them with respect and with a vivid imagination to trying to figure out what was happening here?

“Perhaps this desert affection started with some family history.  My dad climbed up Boar’s Tusk north of Rock Springs and sat me in the notch high above the desert floor when I was just 18 months old.  Now that would whet anyone’s appetite!” Smail said.

To someone speeding by the desert on the highways, well, how can you describe to them the joys of White Horse Canyon?  Or the vast Killpecker Sand Dunes?  The magic of Steamboat Mountain and its wondrous buffalo jump? Adobe Town or the Honeycomb Buttes?  Continental Peak and the famous Oregon Buttes?  And so much more.

It is a vast area and once you start looking, well, it is almost impossible to comprehend it all.

Here’s a challenge: Turn on the Google Earth app on your computer, tablet or your smart phone and scan the Red Desert between Rock Springs and Lander.  What you see will look like the surface of some far-away planet.  Yet, it is right here in Wyoming.

Let me take you on a little journey that we took a few summers ago. Here are some of our thoughts and feelings.

Strange noises and odd winds abound in the desert. Was that sound just the wind or was it the noise generated by the ghosts of a vast herd of bison that roamed this place for thousands of years?  Or was that the cry of a lonely Indian brave in the center of a vision circle evoking whatever image he was trying to conjure?  

Maybe it was the plaintive cry of the gold miner lost in a snowstorm, knowing full well that his death was imminent?  Maybe it was the sound of a lonely white man trying desperately to work his way across this vast expanse alive?

Perhaps it was a combination of all of these? 

We were standing on a lonely knob about 25 miles southwest of Jeffrey City. 

Strange rocks covered this knob and occasionally, powerful gusts of wind would come from nowhere and almost knock you down.   My three companions and I all looked at each other following these gusts.  “What the heck was that?  Did you feel that?”  

Jim and I were driving around to some of these odd sites.  It was my first time out here to most of them.  The first time experiencing the odd feelings and powers that the desert emits. 

But we were not there to check out the wind.  Unusual ancient rock structures and symbols were our goals, commonly called “teepee rings.” 

I prefer the term “vision circles” and they can be found in old sites along old, worn Indian trails.

Smail’s theory was that young Indian braves or perhaps older Indian medicine men used these circles as ways to experience visions or to communicate with the spirit world.

Instead of perfectly round circles, often the rings of rocks would have an opening and most often, they actually had a spiral effect, as if “to let the spirits into the circle,” he speculated.

Although Smail did not qualify as a learned college professor, he spent much of his 80-plus years in this desert, having originally grown up in Farson and spending the rest of his life in the Lander area.

We continued on riding along the well-worn trail to a location rarely visited near the Honeycomb Buttes.  There, we found 19 of these vision circles, which were the best I had ever seen.

We were in the northern part of the Great Divide Basin, a vast 2.25 million-acre area where the Continental Divide splits in two.  Water inside that basin does not go outside of it, not East or West.

Wyoming is the lowest populated state in the country. And the least populated place in Wyoming is this basin.  

My favorite area in the Red Desert is the Oregon Buttes area, which is full of wondrous rock formations and strange canyons.

Aging hippie-types like to believe that certain places in the world have special energy fields called vortexes.  Not sure I believe it, but there are places in the Red Desert that sure give me a positive energy boost. 

Smail contended that if Wyoming had a vortex area, it might very well be right there.

Then another of our companions, Joe Motherway, told us about these weird circles he and his wife Bonnie had found.   We headed off to the east through this maze of old dirt roads and two-tracks. 

Occasionally there were roads blocked by signs listing that area as part of a wilderness study area.  We are not allowed to drive off the road with jeep or an ATV.

This new spot was hard to find and after a miss or two, we finally arrived.  And then the aforementioned wind really started to blow. Eerily so.

The place was littered with what Joe called “Flying Saucer Rocks,” which appeared to have been burned and had other little rocks stuck to them.  The site was a small barren knob surrounded by dozens of square miles of sagebrush.

It was obviously a special place. And it was full of these vision circles — only these really featured that spiral effect.  Doubt anyone would call them teepee rings because of the odd shapes.

Of course, we did not disturb them. Just took some pictures and tried to keep from getting blown over by the wind.

Then it was time to go home.  We traveled a few miles before stopping.  “Do you notice anything different?” Jim Smail asked me.  “No wind.” 

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Bill Sniffin: Covid Destroying Wyoming Traditions

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming, in several ways, has been forever changed.

The new systems and techniques put into place during the last 100 days, will continue on into the future, I predict. Biggest things will be state wide meetings being held with Zoom, distance education, and telehealth medicine.

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

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

Not anymore.

Some of the most impressive folks in doing these state meetings are members of the Legislature, who travel from one end of the state to the other for committee meetings. I have even attended legislative meetings in some of our wonderful towns like Newcastle and Evanston.  Both are four hours plus for me and eight hours apart from each other.

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

Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) showed me his calendar. It was crazy nuts with these remote meetings. We need to applaud our hard-working legislators for the time they are devoting to our current issues.

Years ago, the state created their own closed circuit TV system as a way to eliminate the need of all that driving.  The system was doable but way more cumbersome than Zoom. You would go to a centralized location in your county and watch other folks on this big old TV.  There were always bugs with it.

There is even a new phrase called “Zoom casual,” which means you can wear some kind of presentable shirt or even a sport coat and tie from the waist up.  If you have your boxers or pajamas on the bottom, well, it doesn’t matter.

Another tricky thing with Zoom is now you can put a scenic photo behind you, so it looks like you are out in the mountains somewhere. Nice touch. But I digress.

Secondly, Wyoming has built billions of dollars in new school buildings.  They have sat idle for the past three months, in most cases, and it can truly cause a person to wonder if they are needed? We had over $100 million in new schools built here in Fremont County over the past few years. They are impressive and I think they are great. But would they have been built in the wake of a COVID-19 crisis when the state is facing a $1.5 billion shortfall? 

Distance learning has affected just about every student.  Today’s kids are computer fluent anyway but now 95% of the students have the ability to stay home and take their classes.  What effect will that have on education planning going forward?  You can anticipate that members of the legislature are looking for places to cut expenses and the state’s big education budget is a looming target.

Thirdly, Telehealth is fantastic.  With modern cell phones, laptops, tablets and even smart watches, people are able to monitor their health from a distance. It is not as good as in-person, but health appointments will never go back to the old way. A frontier state like Wyoming is ideally suited for such a system.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 situation just keeps getting more interesting. 

Wyoming’s coronavirus numbers just blow my mind.

As I write this on June 28. 2020, here are some numbers to ponder:

Wyoming population – 550,000.

Folks tested – 42,402.

Tested positive – 1,112.

Probable’s – 296.

Deaths – 20.

Persons sick now – 343.

Recovered – 1,057.

The stats show 7.7% of the Wyoming population has been tested with just 1.7 percent of those testing positive and dying.  

Outside of Alaska and Hawaii, Wyoming appears to be the safest place in the USA if you do not want to die from the coronavirus COVID-19.  Alaska has 12 deaths and Hawaii has 17.  Wyoming is sitting at 20 deaths.

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

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

The Cowboy State is now facing its biggest test with 6 million tourists headed our way.  One Yellowstone employee told me recently that very few of the tourists are wearing masks.   That will tell the final story.

As the state opens up, are we looking at a surge in cases? How does the virus fare in Wyoming’s windy and hot wide-open spaces that tend to be very, very dry?

Answers to the COVID-19 questions are still waiting to be known.  But we are learning more each month as the days march on.

Stay tuned.

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Wyoming Humanities Awards Nearly $400K In CARES Grants

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By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Humanities has awarded nearly $400,000 in Cultural CARES Grants to 50 institutions and organizations throughout the state with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act economic stabilization plan appropriated by the U.S. Congress.

Wyoming Humanities’ Cultural CARES Grants provide operating expense and salary support to Wyoming nonprofit organizations that support humanities and cultural projects and have suffered financial losses due to COVID-19. These grants provide immediate funds to libraries, museums, historical and cultural organizations, and other nonprofits that comprise Wyoming’s cultural and creative economy to help stabilize this sector. 

This funding enables these organizations to maintain essential functions and retain core personnel during this public health crisis with the goal of ensuring their future success. These important organizations allow our communities to thrive and engage with public history, cultural heritage, and civic learning during this unprecedented time.

Cowboy State Daily, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, was one of the grantees, receiving $9,750.

“We knew the cultural sector would have a great demand for these funds,” said Shannon Smith, Executive Director and CEO of Wyoming Humanities, “but we were stunned when we received $590,000 in requests in five business days. Conversations with these organizations revealed stress and apprehension about the important summer months coming up and we are concerned that the funding we provided will barely scratch the surface of this sector’s financial issues.” 

These grants are the first grant line of the Wyoming Crossroads Fund, an initiative to help Wyoming explore solutions to its imminent social and economic challenges resulting from the energy sector contraction—challenges that have been compounded by the pandemic. 

According to Wyoming Humanities COO, Shawn Reese, there is an urgent need to stabilize the institutions that tell our state’s stories, “To protect and preserve the cultural network that will help us diversify our economy and form grass-roots conversations about our current and future issues, we must shore up those organizations that are being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Funding for these grants was provided by the NEH as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act national economic stabilization plan. 

Wyoming Humanities invested 100% of this federal funding into these grants going straight to communities in all parts of the state.

“Like the funding we receive from the State of Wyoming, we charge no administration expenses and invest the entirety into the creative and cultural sector,” said CEO Smith, “we believe the cultural arts should be brought to Wyomingites through a carefully arranged blend of public and private resources. As a statewide nonprofit, we are able to leverage public funds—both state and federal—to raise private funds in order to serve Wyoming. As we continue to face the challenges ahead, we will work with our state’s leaders to ensure the creative economy can be a major part of Wyoming’s future.” 

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Bill Sniffin: Covid Be Damned, We Sneaked Off On A Sin City Road Trip

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher Cowboy State Daily

We blew this popsicle stand. We skedaddled.  We flew out of our nest. We ventured cautiously out in to the world.  Hell, folks, last week, Nancy and I went on a real road trip, ha!

After being confined for exactly three months, we decided it was time to go rescue our 15-year old motorhome, which had been held hostage in 100-degree heat at a Las Vegas RV park. 

The poor thing, which we have named “Follow My Nose,” was in disarray as we left in a hurry on March 19 at the request of our children. We had been attending a Rod Stewart concert at Caesar’s Palace when we were told, under no uncertain terms, “get out of there and get your butts home!”

Our middle daughter Shelli Johnson, who lives in Lander with her husband and three boys, keeps a pretty good eye on us. But she says it’s challenging. 

Like many folks her age, she could be described as being in a “sandwich generation.” This means being responsible for their own kids and their parents.  She says the kids are much easier to manage!

Back then on March 17, I thought it would be fun to email some photos of a Rod Stewart concert in Las Vegas to our kids. Instead of them being thrilled, they told us to pack up and get home to Lander.  Now.

We dutifully complied and left our motorhome there, thinking we would return and get it in 30 days.

It was too cold to bring it home in March, as Lander usually gets two or three big snowstorms with freezing temperatures in April.  As time passed, we seriously wondered when we could go down and fetch the big rig.

As an aside, the only casinos in Wyoming are here in Fremont County. All four of them are still shuttered.  We heard that Vegas was going to be opening last week so we wondered what we would run into down there.

Our motorhome is 40 feet long and weighs 34,000 pounds.  It is also 13 feet high and that stretch of Interstate 15 from Vegas to Salt Lake City is notorious for terrible cross winds. 

Ace Weatherman Don Day from the Cowboy State Daily said the weather on Saturday, June 20, should be nice along that route. “Don’t you want to know about Wyoming’s weather?” he asked.  I told him that all I cared about was getting past that north-south stretch.

Wyoming’s South Pass, which is notorious for winds, was mild on June 18 when we left Lander. We always take the La Barge highway, which goes through the largest solar array in the state. It is huge and going to get bigger.

We stopped for gas at Little America.  This frontier outpost is amazing. I went inside wearing my mask and noticed about a third of the travelers had their masks on, too. 

There were several families and a bunch of truck drivers.  We didn’t linger. We were trying to make it all the way to Vegas in one long day, some 700 miles.

Interstate 80 was busy.  There were lots of cars, campers, and motorhomes. It seemed tourism counts were normal.  And semi-trailer trucks were everywhere. The Interstate 80 Railroad, which is what I call it, was operating at full-strength. Seemed like two semis for every car.

We stopped again in one of my favorite towns, Evanston. I was scouting for places I could park our motorhome on the way back, in case of high winds or even mechanical issues. We had not driven the coach since last October when we took it to Vegas and left it there in storage.

It was a beautiful summer day and we loafed along, getting to Las Vegas about 5 p.m.  We put on our masks and ventured to Sam’s Town, a nearby casino, and ate some dinner. 

It was at 20 percent its normal capacity and all the help were wearing masks. Every other employee was scrubbing things down with sanitizer.  We felt uneasy and left early. 

We were going to spend a couple of days but Nancy says, heck let’s go home. We hooked up the car to the back of the motorhome (now, we were 60 feet long) and started home. It was 99 degrees. 

Before doing that, I insisted we take one quick spin around Vegas. We checked out the new shiny Las Vegas Raiders stadium. It is a huge black dome just off Interstate 15 near the south end of the Strip. It looks magnificent. Locals call it the Death Star.

The strip was almost empty.  It was actually eerie on a Friday afternoon. Normally, it would be wall-to-wall with people and bumper-to-bumper for cars.  Not on this day.

We headed north and Don Day was right. No wind.  We got through Virgin River Gorge and made it to a rest area near Cedar City. Temperatures were 105 going through St. George and we discovered our air conditioning was not working.  Whew! 

We like the Heber City bypass around Salt Lake City through Provo Canyon. The road goes by a couple of lakes that were jammed with people. No masks or social distancing in sight.

Also drove by Coalville Reservoir and Jordanelle Reservoir by Park City – lots of folks on the lakes having fun. We were sweltering in our big, ponderous motorhome slowly working our way home back to cool Wyoming.

Then in Wyoming the wind hit us.  Uh-oh, what was Don trying to tell me a few days ago?

It is easy to appreciate those informational signs that WYDOT uses to let you know if bad weather is ahead. The sign leading up to South Pass in Lander had been reading “40 mph gusts on South Pass” every day for two weeks prior to our trip. That was on my mind at this point.

When we got to Farson, the informational sign was blank.  Blank? Was it out of order?  Forty miles closer to home, at the South Pass rest area, another informational sign was blank? The wind was howling. What the heck?

Luckily, just over South Pass the winds calmed and we headed down the pass for home. It was the longest day of the year so we rolled in at 8:30 p.m. with plenty of sunlight left.  The weather was wondrously cool.

We were home. We were back in jail. We plan to self-quarantine for a while, just in case we somehow got exposed in Las Vegas or at a rest area along the way.

It sure felt fantastic to be free again even if it only lasted 65 hours. 

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Bill Sniffin: Lots To Do In Goshen County, The Welcome Mat Is Out For State Visitors

in Bill Sniffin/Column

By Bill Sniffin, publisher Cowboy State Daily

TORRINGTON — Not long ago, I made a tour of eastern Wyoming was among the most fun experiences of a near half-century in the state.

Nestled between Devils Tower on the north end and Laramie Peak on the south end and the rugged hills and buttes of western South Dakota and Nebraska, is a very special place, stretching from up north to Hulett down to Pine Bluffs on the south.

One of our recent trips involved three wonderful towns, Torrington, Lingle, LaGrange, and Fort Laramie.

It is hard to find a small city in Wyoming that is more diversified that Torrington.

It has a thriving Ag community including the region’s largest sale barn Torrington Livestock Market plus a community college plus a large home for children and the state’s medium security prison. 

One the town’s biggest annual events is the 2-Shot Goose Hunt and we were there for the annual victory banquet Saturday, Dec. 9, 2018.

Then-Gov. Matt Mead was the biggest celebrity at the event, which he told me he enjoys very much.  Former Gov. Dave Freudenthal also competed that year.  And current governor Mark Gordon also competed. 

Hunters compete in teams of two. One year, Gov. Mead and his wife Carol were a team.  They camped out in their blind and saw nary a bird. Mead later quipped at the banquet that night that they had nothing else to do, so they repeated their marriage vows.

During my stay in Torrington in 2019, Director Bob Mayor gave us a tour of the St. Joseph’s Children’s Home, which was started as an orphanage some 89 years ago. Today, they serve young boys and girls who usually are sent to the home by the courts. They usually stay about six months.

The home is impressive.  Its grounds are beautiful and it has a solemn, beautiful chapel.  Its museum is one of the more distinctive in the state.  The home was founded by Bishop Patrick McGovern of Cheyenne.

Our friends Bryan and Donna Cay Heinz showed us around the area, including some fantastic historic homes.  These old homes had crow’s nests on the roofs where presumably you could watch for hostile Indians or just check on things for quite a distance.

It was fun visiting the Torrington Telegram and meeting publisher Rob Mortimore and then-Editor Andrew Brosig.  I have too much ink in my blood not to just love the smells and sounds of the local newspaper.  And the Telegram is a darned good one. 

The 2-Shot and other events were held in some of the impressive Goshen County Fair buildings.  Hard to imagine a town as small as Torrington having an indoor arena of such size. They host national roping events and you can see why. It is both enormous and impressive.

Another big thing in this small town is the Torrington Livestock Market. It is one of three biggest livestock auction barns in the country.  Hard to imagine the number of cows that go through that place each year.

While I was in Torrington, I gave a talk to the local Rotary Club about my trilogy of Wyoming Coffee Table Books. What an outstanding club.  And the meeting was at the clubhouse of one of the prettiest golf courses in the state. 

Eastern Wyoming College is going through a building boom, which we saw courtesy of one of the students.  President Leslie Lanham Travers is a Lander native, whom I had watched growing up in my town.  John Hansen, the director of institutional development, has a number of impressive projects underway.

The college is all-in when it comes to the trades with a massive welding teaching complex and an ample cosmetology facility.

As a student of Wyoming history, it has always been easy for me to assume that the only major railroad in the state is the Union Pacific, which runs across the southern tier of counties.

But the eastern side of the state was literally also built of towns nestled next to the railroad, which includes Torrington, Lusk, Newcastle, and onward north.

And it is important to note that for 50 years, Goshen County was the center of the entire west because it was home to Fort Laramie. Today it has been restored and is an amazing site to visit.  It is a national monument.  Watch your schedule because it closes at 4:30p.m. even though the sun doesn’t go down until 9 p.m. in June.

For a quarter of a century, my wife Nancy and I owned a newspaper in Winner, S. D. and often drove through eastern Wyoming on our way there from Lander.  Also, since we had relatives in Iowa, we often drove through Goshen County on our drives back and forth. The people were always incredibly friendly, the food was great, and the fields were lush.

During one of my stops in eastern Wyoming we also visited Jeff Rose at the Rose Brothers Implement Store in Lingle.  Last time I saw him, he was climbing Devils Tower with his daughter.  Now he is talking about climbing Gannett Peak.  Good luck on that!

Often the sites and sights of Goshen County are viewed more by out of state tourists than in-state tourists.  We would strongly recommend that this is a great time for Wyoming folks to visit other Wyoming folks.  A trip to Goshen County should be high on your list. I highly recommend it.

The Goshen County Economic Development agency put together a list of things to do:

Explore Goshen County’s Historical Markers

Ash Point Trading Post

California National Historic Trail

Cheyenne Deadwood Stage Route

Cold Springs Emigrant Camp

County Line Grave

Dickens Site

Fort Bernard Trading Post

Government Farm & State Station

Grattan Massacre Historical Monument

Griffin-Gardner House

Harvard Fossil Beds

Horse Creek Treaty

Indian Grave, Quarry, and Camp

Jay Em Bison Kill Site

John Henry Museum

Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail

Pony Express National Historic Trail

Rawhide Stage Station

Rawhide Wildlife Habitat Nature Trail 

Red Cloud Indian Agency

Sod House

Stuart Party Camp

Table Mountain Wildlife Habitat

Texas Trail

Texas Trail Marker

The Pioneer Community Center

Three Mile Hog Ranch

United States Postal Service

United States Postal Service

Whalen Diversion Dam

Woodworth Springs

Yoder Home Site

Torrington-Things to Do

Adam Walter Memorial Botanical Park

Basketball Courts

Bird Watching

Bounce City

City Park

Cottonwood Country Club 

Cottonwood Golf Course

Cross the state line

Dale Jones Municipal Swimming Pool

Fishing (90 bodies of water throughout the county)

Frisbee Golf

Geocaching (locations around the county)

Go Goshen Visitor Center

GoGoshen Visitor Center

Goshen County Fair Grounds

Goshen County Library

Goshen County Sportsman’s Club

Grass Roots Walking Trail

Gravity Rail Park


Homesteader’s Museum

Jirdon Park

Nebraska State Line

North Platte River

Oregon Trail Historic Trail’

Packer Lake


Pioneer Park

Pleasant Valley Greenhouse & Recreation

Rendezvous Center & Indoor Arena


Table Mountain Vineyards

Tennis Courts

Torrington Cruise Night,  June-September

Torrington Livestock Markets

Torrington Rock Shop

Torrington Skate Park

Torrington Sports Complex

TravelStorys Tour

Walk your Dog

Wyoming Theatre Two

Standing Events

2 Shot Goose Hunt

3rd Thursdays

Ag Breakfast

Car Show

Christmas Festivities

Christmas Parade

Comedy Night

Easter Egg Hunt

Forks Corks & Kegs

Goshen County Fair

Holiday Bazaar

Lions Club Summer Arts and Crafts Festival

National Circuit Finals Steer Roping

Parade of Tables

Pictures with Santa

Prairie Rose Vintage Garden

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

Rooster Booster

Rotary Wine Tasting

Sagebrush and Roses

The Polar Express at the Museum

Torrington Farmers Market every Thursday from June until October

Torrington Fire Department Fireworks Show


Yeehaw Daze

Enjoy a Bite at our Family-owned Restaurants

The 307 Bar & Grill

1500 E Valley Rd, Torrington


Family Variety, Bar & Grill

AJ’s Soda Shop

918 W Valley Rd, Torrington


Family Variety, Ice Cream, Coffee, Soda


128 W Valley Rd, Torrington


Fast Food

Bee Chilled



Mobile Ice Cream Truck

The Bread Doctor

2017 Main St, Torrington



Broncho Bar

1924 Main St, Torrington



Broncho Grill House

1918 Main St, Torrington


Family Variety, Bar & Grill

Bucking Horse Steakhouse

Hwy 85, Torrington


Family Variety, Fine Dining

Burger King

1020 E Valley Rd, Torrington


Fast Food

Canton Dragon

2126 Main St, Torrington



Cottonwood Country Club

2101 W 15th St, Torrington


Family Variety, Bar & Grill

The Corner Bar

202 Main St, Lingle


Bar & Grill

Cowboy Cafe

626 W Valley Rd, Torrington


Coffee/Cafe, Family Variety

Cowboy up Coffee

2702 W C St., Torrington


Coffee/food to go

Deacon’s Restaurant

1558 S Main St, Torrington


Family Variety

Domino’s Pizza

2741 W C St, Torrington


Family Variety


1915 Main Street



J & B Liquor

120 E Valley Rd, Torrington



The Java Jar

1940 Main St, Torrington



La Familia Prado

1250 S Main St, Torrington



The Mint

1914 Main St




800 E Valley Rd, Torrington


Fast Food

Open Barrel Brewing Company

1930 Main St


Bar/Snack food

Pizza Hut

1120 E Valley Rd, Torrington



Prairie Creek Books

and Tea

4392 US-26, Torrington 



San Pedros

2113 Main Street, Torrington


Scott’s Hiway Bar

1202 Main St, Torrington


Bar & Grill


1934 W A St, Torrington


Fast Food

Sweet Lou’s Bakery Café

120 W 20th Ave, Torrington


Coffee/Café, Bakery

Table Mountain Vineyards

5933 Rd 48, Huntley


Wine Tasting/Catering/Food Events

Taco Johns

224 W 20th Ave, Torrington


Fast Food

Lingle-Things To Do

Bird Watching

Ellis Harvest Home


Haven on the Rock


Historic Ban Shell 

Historic Jay Em

Jay Em Historic District Tours

Lingle Pool

Newcomb’s Arcade

North Platte River

Oregon Trail Historic Trail


Rawhide Wildlife Habitat Nature Trail


TravelStorys Tour

Walk your Dog

Whipple Park

Wyoming History Center

Standing Events

Car Show

Christmas Lighting Contest

Church in the Park

Fireman’s Ball

Fireman’s Burger Feed

Lingle Volunteer Fire Department – Easter Egg Hunt

Lingle, Mingle, Jingle

Movies in the Park


Trunk or Treat

Enjoy a Bite at our Family-owned Restaurants

The Corner Bar

202 Main St, Lingle


Bar & Grill

Lira’s Restaurant

E Hwy 26, Lingle



Fort Laramie-Things To Do 

1875 Iron Bridge

B.A. Cave

Bird Watching

Dr. Brownrigg House & Hospital


Fort Laramie Community Center

Fort Laramie Frontier Trading Post

Fort Laramie National Historic Site Audio Tour

Fort Laramie National Historical Site

Fort Laramie Visitor Center

Hell Gap National Historic Landmark


Interpretive Programs at the Fort

Mormon Initials Carved on Rock

North Platte River

Oregon Trail Historic Trail


Splash Park


Tracs and Traces

TravelStorys Tour

Walk your dog

Standing Events

4th Fridays (street fair and farmers market] from July through October)

Annual New Year’s Eve Dance

Halloween Party

Easter Breakfast

Easter Egg Hunt

4th of July Fireworks

Old fashion 4th of July activities at the Fort Laramie National Historic site

Christmas with Santa

Summer Street Dance

Enjoy a Bite at our Family-owned Restaurants

Ft. Laramie American Grill

302 Pioneer Ct, Ft. Laramie


Family Variety

The Gathering Place

101 Lawton Ave, Ft. Laramie



Vickie’s Saloon

115 N Laramie, Ft. Laramie


Bar & Grill

Yoder-Things To Do

Bump Sullivan 

Downer Bird Farm


Hawk Springs Easter Egg Hunt

Hawk Springs State Recreation


Oregon Trail Historic Trail


Springer Reservoir

Springer Wildlife Management


TravelStorys Tour

Walk your dog

Water Sports

Yoder Abandoned Jail

Yoder Park

Standing Events

Pheasant Dinner [women’s club]

Roster-Booster [Springer bird farm]


Enjoy a Bite at our Family-owned Restaurants

The Emporium

Hwy 85, Hawk Springs


Bar & Grill

Longbranch Saloon & Steakhouse

525 Hwy 85, Hawk Springs


Bar & Grill

LaGrange-Things To Do

Basketball court

Bill Ward Memorial Playground

Cookout in Local Park

Cross the State Line

Disc Golf

Enjoy fresh pie at the diner






RC race track

Silver Wing Sporting Club

Take a tour of the Historic Heritage Center

Tennis court

Three parks

Walk your Dog

Walking Trail

Standing Events

June Mini Fair [includes pancake breakfast, foot races, lunch, 5k run, car show, garage sale, bands, games, and rodeo]

Annual Fireworks and Ice Cream Social

Community building fund raising through silent auction [soup and desserts auction

Easter Egg Hunt

Halloween Party

Christmas Lightning Contest

Enjoy a Bite at our Family-owned Restaurants

Bear Mountain Stage Stop

1252 Hwy 85, LaGrange


Bar & Grill

Longhorn Café

5th Ave, LaGrange


Family Variety

For more information, contact:

Sandy Hoehn 

Community Development Director

Goshen County Economic Development

Home of Goshen County Economic Development, Chamber and Visitor’s Center

2042 Main Street  | Torrington, WY  82240

Phone  307.532.3879 | Cell 307.575.5919

Bill Sniffin: My COVID Bucket List Of Things To See In Wyoming

in Bill Sniffin/Column

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By Bill Sniffin

Today, in the face of COVID-19, what advice can I give to people about getting out there and seeing Wyoming?

It is prudent to pack the face masks, hand sanitizers, and to practice social distancing.  Wyoming has proven to be a very safe place but we are now being invaded by 5 million tourists from around the world, so be aware of the dangers out there.

Because of the virus, this is a time to enjoy the wide-open spaces in the Cowboy State. I am emphasizing outdoor sights and sites. 

With that said, here is my COVID-era bucket list for Wyoming.

Lake Marie, Hobo Hot Spring, and the Wolf Hotel are among my favorite places in Saratoga. The fishing there is spectacular, too.

The Boar’s Tusk, Killpecker Sand Dunes, and the petroglyphs north of Rock Springs are among my favorite spots.  Hope to see them again soon.

Did you know that Fort Laramie in Goshen County was the preeminent place in the northern Rocky Mountains for 50 years, from 1830 to 1880? It is a fantastic site with restored buildings. It is a national site and closes at 4:30 p.m., so do not get there late.

In Cheyenne, a tour of the newly-refurbished State Capitol building is on my list.  Be sure to practice the necessary precautions, though.

The Red Desert, nestled between Lander, Rawlins, and Rock Springs has so much to see and do.  From the Oregon Buttes to Adobe Town and everything in-between, it is sight to behold. And the roads are decent. A family car should work for most of it, although I would leave the sports car home.

Fossil Butte near Kemmerer is on my list again, thanks for Vince Tomassi, who is a big advocate of this national historical site.

Ogden Driskill is the un-elected emperor of Devils Tower.  It was the country’s first national monument. I love everything about Northeast Wyoming.  The Gore Buffalo Jump is incredibly impressive, as is Ranch A. Little Hulett has one of the nicest golf courses in the state, too.

One of the more unique small parks is Ayer’s Natural Bridge in Converse County.  A cool spot that is truly cool on a hot summer day.

This could be a great summer to follow the Oregon Trail. More than 350,000 people traveled this route 180 years ago.  The Wyoming portion starts in Goshen County and ends in Uinta County. A great way to explore national history right here in the Cowboy State. There are visitor centers all along the way and some great museums, including the Trails Center in Casper and terrific restored forts at Fort Laramie and Fort Bridger.

The town of Evanston is full of things to see.  Folks there have created a great River Walk and pond complex on the Bear River.

Afton-Star Valley is an often-ignored valley by many Wyomingites because it is so remote. But the trip is worth it. Wonderful dining and wonderful, friendly people.  A giant new Mormon Temple is a tourist site in its own right.

Our mountain ranges are spectacular. My favorite mountain roads will give you goose bumps. Highway 14A out of Lovell (which leads to the amazing Bighorn Medicine Wheel), the Beartooth Highway north of Cody, the Loop Road outside of Lander are some of the most scenic.  Shell Canyon out of Greybull and Tensleep Canyon out of Worland are terrific mountain passes with good roads.

The Big Horn Basin is this huge area in NW Wyoming surrounded by Thermopolis, Worland, Greybull, Basin, Lovell, Powell, and Cody. There is so much to see ranging from the world’s largest hot spring in Thermopolis to wild horses and all the events that Cody has to offer, including rodeos.

Here is my county you have the wondrous Sinks Canyon and towering Wind River Mountain Range. The Wind River Indian Reservation has curtailed some of their powwows but there is still a lot to see.

Wyoming’s next great museum is the National Museum of Military Vehicles just south of Dubois. This will be a game-changer when it comes to tourist patterns.  Dan Starks’ creation is magnificent. The multi-million-dollar facility will have soft opening in August, due to the COVID-19 epidemic.

Oops, it seems I forgot a couple of icons.  Yes, Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks are worth a visit, too. These are our crown jewels. Be sure to see them if you get the chance. 

There is so much to see and do here in our home state. The above is a partial list of places I intend to see this summer.  Why don’t you join me?

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500+ People Gather in Lander to Hold Vigil for George Floyd

in Bill Sniffin/Column

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Over 500 people gathered in Lander Friday night to hold a vigil, a parade, and to recognize the death of George Floyd.

Riots and confrontations occurred around the country as a result of the death.

Vigils and parades were held all over in Wyoming including Casper, Cheyenne, Laramie, Jackson, Riverton, Lander, and other cities and towns.

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