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Jimmy Orr

Jimmy Orr: “A Plane Just Hit the Pentagon!” – A Wyomingite’s Memories From the White House on 9/11

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By Jimmy Orr, Editor

There was nothing spectacular about the Denver Broncos – New York Giants game on September 10.

Just a Monday Night Football game. The Broncos were trying to stay relevant following the departure of John Elway a few years beforehand. We had steaks and martinis and watched it from my friend Rob Wallace’s house in Northern Virginia.

I remember it because of the next day. The events on September 11, 2001 make everything traceable.  What I was doing the night before, the weekend before, the day of, the next day. It’s not just the memory. I can still feel the dread. I can still smell my smoke-filled apartment. Some images are as clear as if they happened last week.

Working in the White House on September 11 doesn’t change the tragedy of the event but makes it surreal.

Not a replay

Going to Starbucks on 17th street following the communications meeting was a daily ritual. Colleagues Mercy Viana (Schlapp) and Wendy Nipper (Homeyer) and I walked back to our offices talking about the day ahead as we always had.

The image on the TV screen stopped us. The Today Show host said she heard the plane lodged in the World Trade Center was a Cessna. They were speculating it was a fluke.

Because of that when Mercy’s phone rang, she picked it up. We had no idea of the enormity facing us or the country. I stood next to the TV, more perplexed than anything.

With absolute terror, I watched as another plane careened into the second World Trade Center building.

“No, no, no, no, no, no” I said to the screen as the images appeared to happen in slow motion.

I remember gasping and not believing what I had just seen. I feel it now. I can feel that same dread. I walked over to my boss’ office and told him what I saw.

“You saw a replay,” he said, cupping his phone.

“I saw a second plane,” I insisted.

“You saw a replay,” he said, waving me off.

Moments later he came into my office and apologized. “Gather the team, we need to have an emergency meeting.”

Emergency

We grouped together at the table in his office. We all worked in the Old Executive Office Building — the giant, grey battleship of a structure on the White House Grounds right next to the West Wing.

I had forgotten my pager (remember it was 2001). I got up mid-meeting to grab it and picked up the ringing phone on my desk.

“Dude, a plane just hit the Pentagon,” said my friend Rob Jennings, a fellow Wyoming friend who worked as a fundraiser in DC.

“Are you sure,” I asked him.

“I just saw it. I’m looking at the burning Pentagon now.”

Rushing back to my boss’ office to let him know, the sirens went off. Moments later, the Secret Service began banging on every office door and yelling for us to evacuate.

“A plane is headed for the White House,” screamed one secret service agent.

The sight and sound of dozens of shaken White House staffers running – literally running — toward the north entrance of the White House is crystal.

As is the memory of being among more than 100 staffers standing in Lafayette Park stunned and wondering what we should do next. I wanted to call my family. I couldn’t. My flip phone fell off while running for the gate.

“A bomb just went off at the State Department,” someone said.

That rumor kept circulating throughout the rest of the day.

Scramble for answers

We all went to the Chrysler Building blocks away to regroup. The most senior of the White House staffers were picked off by the secret service and taken to the Situation Room or other locations.

As a White House spokesman and the Digital Director, my only goal was to get the White House website online again.

It was bad enough from a communications perspective that we couldn’t get the president’s statements up on the website. But it paled in comparison to the enormity of the message we sent the country and the world that the White House site was down. Or missing. Or removed.

Optics are important. And the site going back online (thanks to my friend George Lewis) was every bit as important and comforting as the president flying back to DC after stops at Air Force bases in Louisiana and Nebraska.

The next few hours were a blur – not nearly as vivid as the preceding time. We were told to research anything associated with the morning’s events – the date, the time, the locations, etc. Anything that might give us a clue as to why this happened.

When I arrived home that evening, I was struck by how much smoke there was in my apartment. I lived less than a mile away from the Pentagon but my windows and doors were closed. There was no escaping the day.

Haunting images

Like many of my colleagues I didn’t sleep that night and the next few days, weeks, and months were hard as they were for all Americans. But nothing like it was for the families of the victims.

The two images that haunt me the most were not from that day. Instead, the first happened that weekend when we spotted my friend Rob Wallace’s 3-year-old daughter building towers out of wooden blocks and then knocking them down with her toy plane. It was very hard not to cry.

It was impossible not to cry when family members of those lost in Flight 93 came to the White House for a memorial service two weeks later. As all the White House staffers lined up to shake their hands and express our condolences, I still remember that little boy in his little suit who jumped up to me to get a hug. I was told his father was on that plane. I never felt less worthy.

These memories have not faded. As painful as they are, it’s important that they don’t.

Jimmy Orr, a native of Cheyenne, was a White House spokesman and Director of Digital Strategy for President George W. Bush from 2001 – 2005.

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Jimmy Orr: Slavery and Sodomy, The Perils of Spell-Check

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By Jimmy Orr, Editor

Spellcheck. Yeah, it’s a nice thing to have but it’s not infallible.

In fact, the “proofreader” nearly cost me my job at the White House.

Some journalists (including me) feel they’re better than spellcheck. They look down on it. They hold on to that title of seventh grade spelling champ with honor.

And then when instances come up where spellcheck has failed them, they point to those as evidence of the limitations of the automated fixer.

Anyone who has mistyped the word “public” and received no admonition can attest to this.

THE EVIDENCE

On Tuesday, we published the most popular daily sunrise photo since we began the feature last spring (using Facebook analytics as our judge).

Easy to see why.  J. Sheehan’s pastoral photograph of the sun lifting above the Little Snake River Valley dotted by cattle on the green fields is gorgeous.

The faint blue melding into intense yellows and oranges over the lush greens is beautiful.

What could ruin this beauty?

Spellcheck.

It recommend — no it changed — the location.

What was once Savery, Wyoming, turned into Slavery, Wyoming.

That kinda takes the romance out of the picture.  It destroys what was great.

Spellcheck be damned.

THE WHITE HOUSE

That version never made it on to our page because I’ve been burned before.  And as The Who sang and as President George W. Bush later mangled, “[ I ] Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

By the way, the president’s version was: “Fool me once, shame on… shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again.”  Awesome.

Back when I was working for the White House, spellcheck nearly got me canned.

In charge of all digital communications, it was up to me to update the White House website.

On March 19, 2003, the U.S. invaded Iraq.

I placed the president’s video, remarks, and a photo of the televised speech on the website.

I wrote the caption for the photo on the homepage.  

I mentioned the leader of Iraq:  Saddam Hussein.

Microsoft’s “Word” had an issue with the name “Saddam” and said: “Do you mean Sodomy?”

Not paying attention and just clicking on “yes” — which is what happens when you don’t proofread spellcheck — the caption on one of the most significant days of George W. Bush’s presidency, was — to say the least — incorrect.

THE MEDIA

It was discovered by a producer at Good Morning America.

The White House operator called me at 5:15 a.m. Eastern and connected me to the kindly producer who just gave me a heads-up about the misspelling.

I was able to change it and no one noticed.  The producer, instead of playing “gotcha journalism,” was just being decent.

Today, it would be international news. There would be a big siren on Drudge screaming that the White House intentionally did this.

I fessed up to my boss. She was great, as she still is today.

But I did get a warning. This was a Defcon 5 mistake. Absolutely it was.

From then on, I never just clicked on “ok” when spellcheck recommends a change.

You could say that sodomy changed my life.

(Not gonna lie, that last sentence made me laugh out loud).


Jimmy Orr is a Wyoming native who was on the masthead at the Los Angeles Times as the Managing Editor, Digital. Orr served as a spokesman for the White House, directed digital strategy for President George W. Bush and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Orr co-founded Cowboy State Daily in January, 2019.

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Jimmy Orr: The COVID Vaccine and The Price of Tomatoes in Texas

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By Jimmy Orr, Editor

You know you’ve touched a button when someone writes: “This must be a slow news day! Why is this news?”

That happened on Monday when we wrote an article on information from the Kaiser Family Foundation that showed a correlation between a county’s vaccine rate and a county’s support of either President Joe Biden or former President Donald Trump.

Wyoming is following a national trend. That is, the stronger the county voted for former President Trump, the lower the vaccination rate.

Not true in every county. But as a general rule.

Here in Wyoming, the county which supported Trump the most (88% in Crook County) also had the lowest vaccination rate (19.4%).

Teton County, which supported Trump the least (33%), had the highest vaccination rate, 71%.

This story set some readers off. We didn’t hear the familiar: “This must be a slow news day!” Instead we heard the unique: “Why is this a news story? What does this have to do with the price of tomatoes in Texas?”

It has nothing to do with the price of tomatoes in Texas. But we get what the reader was saying.

Then we had the familiar “clickbait” charge and saying we weren’t helping in the healing of America.

It’s not our job to help heal America. It’s not our job to hurt America either.

It is our job to report on the news. And like it or not, the vaccine has become a partisan issue. And the results are hardly surprising.

“Our surveys consistently find that Democrats are much more likely to report having been vaccinated than Republicans, and Republicans are much more likely to say that they definitely do not want to get vaccinated,” wrote the authors of the study.

No, it’s not surprising. But it is fascinating to understand why.

What is the reason behind the partisan divide on a vaccine and what caused it?

Did we write a story to denigrate former President Trump as one commenter suggested?

If that was the case, then certainly we wouldn’t include this paragraph:

“You can go back to 2008 and look at the elections and see exactly the same results,” he said. “It’s not Trump.”

That’s from University of Wyoming political science professor, Jim King.

He went on to say the outcome would be the same if election results going back years were compared to vaccination rates, with counties showing the most support for Republican candidates having the lowest vaccination rates.

“What you’re seeing is generally the counties where you find people who are less trusting of the national government, they tend to vote a higher percentage Republican,” he said. “What you’re seeing is not anything related directly to the 2020 elections.”

That opinion, to us, was really quite interesting. That’s why you interview people who have studied one field for decades. Their insight is valuable.

My guess is the majority of the upset readers didn’t read the article. They looked at a headline or the Facebook blurb and immediately took offense. They jumped to a conclusion. They assumed we were condemning a group.

They saw a ghost.

The COVID vaccine is a sensitive topic. It’s not just Wyoming. It’s worldwide.

Add that to the increased distrust of the media and it gets volatile.

At Cowboy State Daily we will continue to stay away from agendas or biases or tilting of articles to make them more palatable for a certain group.

If we have an agenda, it’s that we are pro-Wyoming. We’re a group of Wyoming journalists who love the state and have chosen to live here.

You aren’t going to like every topic. You aren’t going to like every story. And you certainly aren’t going to like every column.

But all of that is ok.

We do hope that you like our Wyoming focus. And we hope our love for Wyoming is evident.

By the way, the cost of tomatoes in Texas varies between locations. For example, there is a big difference between Houston and Dallas. The former will cost you $2.24 for two pounds and the latter is much higher — $3.40.

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Jimmy Orr: Cynthia Lummis Bodyslams Montana Rep Who Doesn’t Understand Where Yellowstone Is

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Anyone who’s from Wyoming might occasionally get annoyed when people sometimes associate Yellowstone National Park with Montana.

After all, it’s barely in Montana. Only 3 percent of the park is located in Montana whereas 96% is located in Wyoming and the extra 1 percent (if anyone cares) is located in Idaho.

So when Montana Congressman Matt Rosendale had the audacity to say that Montana was the home of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming Sen. Cynthia Lummis rightfully body slammed him.

This all took place on social media where Rosendale apparently was celebrating National Park Week and cut a :45 second video where he committed the foul.

“When you think of national parks, there is a reason you think of Montana. We’re home to the two crown jewels of the National Park system: Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks,” he wrongly said.

The Western Caucus, a group representing western representatives, tweeted the video along with the error-filled language “Rep. Rosendale of Montana represents Yellowstone National Park, the first national park in the world, and Glacier National Park, which includes over 1 million acres.”

Lummis, rightfully, reworked that tweet correcting the language.

With a red pen, Lummis corrected the first sentence to read:

“When you think of national parks, there’s a reason you think of Wyoming.”

Then she took to the second sentence where she inserted some language that made the statement correct.

“Rep. Rosendale of Montana represents a tiny part of Yellowstone National Park…” the corrected copy reads.

Rosendale weakly tried to come back by saying:  “They put the show in Montana for a reason.”

Then, Lummis, from the top ropes emasculated Rosendale with one deadly sentence.

“Not our fault the Hollywood is bad at geography,” she said.

Silence. Rosendale couldn’t reply. She annihilated him. 

He should probably resign.

Montana’s Sen. Steve Daines then chimed in saying “I think we should talk.”

Lummis happily obliged tweeting a photo of a Wyoming shirt with a bison and the wording “Yellowstone National Park.”

Game. Set. Match. Wyoming.

Well done, Sen. Lummis. Well done.

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Jimmy Orr: How We Measure Snow in Wyoming — Beer, Children, Cars

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

In Wyoming, they say you used to measure trips between towns by the “six-pack”.

Of course, those days are long-gone now but beer is still a popular part of the culture. So why wouldn’t we use beer to communicate how we’re dealing with a blizzard?

Beer communicates a lot.  Like how much snow you’ve received.

Ask Wheatland’s Tony Montoya. Nearly four cans of beer so far or 23.6 inches, he said in a Facebook post.

Beer can also communicate your readiness for the elements. Like Paul Delap did in Casper.

“I’m ready for a power outage,” Delap posted with ever-western yellow bottles of Coors. “Mother Nature will provide the means to keep our survival supplies refrigerated.”

His planning garnered much applause by other Wyoming citizens.

“Excellent use of available resources,” Michelle Dahl wrote.

“Love that Wyoming ingenuity,” Maria Salisbury said.

You can also measure snow depth by your children. Like Brittaney Cree Bales did. She said she “almost lost our 8-year-old out there!”

She was commended for the bright green coat her child wore. Excellent choice in case he ventured out too far.

Cars are an excellent way to measure snow depth. Just ask Susan Edgerton. Snowfall at her house looks to be at about an entire Honda.

Then there’s the standard way you can measure snow — by the snowman.

Casper’s C May Heid asks the right question: “When’s the last time the snow was this perfect texture to make a fabulous snowman?”

No kidding. Picture perfect.

Cheyenne City Councilman Jeff White was decidedly more pessimistic. 

“20 inches and now the drifting.  See you in April,” he wrote.

Jeff, we are sorry to tell you. As as 11:30 am, Cheyenne has officially received 26 inches and the storm ain’t done.

See you in May…

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Jimmy Orr: TV Station Reminds Viewers Not To Explore Bear Dens or Feed Bears

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By Jimmy Orr, Executive Editor

Sometimes you have to wonder if people really need to be reminded about how to act around wildlife or if reporters are really stupid.

Probably both.

Then again, in North Carolina where people may not be exposed to tourists who try to ride buffalos or pet grizzlies, warnings are probably needed.

Thus, a TV report from WRAL in Raleigh, North Carolina where a reporter found it necessary to remind viewers that “if you see a bear or bear den, leave it alone.”

Do we really need this reminder?

Maybe so. The old Gary Larsen “Far Side” comic comes to mind where this exact scenario played out.

In Wyoming, of course, we know the stories.

We saw the video earlier this month of the tourists from Tennessee who blocked the path of the bison herd. Ultimately, one woman was thrown off her snowmobile when two of the animals had enough.

The more egregious of the videos (now taken down) showed the tourists screaming and laughing as they gunned their snowmobiles directly at the herd causing a stampede. Somehow no one was hurt.

To be fair, it’s not always the tourists. 

There was the guy last summer in Choteau, Montana who heard that a grizzly was around his property so he snuck-up to an abandoned barn and peered inside.

Public Service Announcement. Grizzlies do not like to be surprised.

The surprised bear then attempted to rip his head off. And if it wasn’t for his quick-thinking wife who tried to run over the bear in her truck, he may not be alive today.

Occasionally, however — every now and then — reporters who are new to the area can be smarter than all of us.

Case in point: Deion Broxton. He was the reporter who worked in Bozeman last year (now he’s in Iowa) who was doing a report from Yellowstone and saw a bison herd.

He gave the herd some serious side-eye before quickly exiting the scene but gave a great play-by-play as he packed up.

“Oh my God,” he muttered while carefully observing the approaching herd.

“I ain’t messing with you,” he said moments later, while walking off-camera and to his car.

“Oh, no,” he continued while packing his car with his gear. “Oh no, I ain’t messing with you.”

The official social media accounts at Yellowstone National Park praised him and his video was viewed millions of times.

Lesson? We all can’t be Deion Broxton. There are people who need to hear warnings — like in that news report on WRAL.

The last bit of advice from their reporter: “Never approach a bear or try to feed it.”

Ok. We’ll try our best.

And our hope is that we have zero mauling stories to report this year. Fingers crossed.

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Weld County Will Never Leave Colorado For Wyoming

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Before anyone loses any more sleep over it, the chances of Weld County seceding from Colorado and joining Wyoming are essentially zero.

Actually, the more accurate phrase to describe its chances would come from the 1980s novel and book “Less Than Zero.”

Sure, there’s a Facebook page from disgruntled Weld County Coloradoans who appear to want to join Wyoming but the obstacles are too steep.

At a minimum, Weld County residents have to approve it, the Colorado legislature has to approve it, the Wyoming Legislature has to approve it, and Congress has to approve it. 

It’s never going to happen. It’s never going to get past the second step. Colorado is not going to give up a county. Ever.

That’s why it’s easy for Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon to say he’d love to have Weld County join Wyoming.

“We would love that,” Gordon told KOA Radio in Denver. “From time to time states have said, ‘Gosh, we like what Wyoming is doing,’ and we’d be happy.”

If he were serious, he would be far more measured about it. There wouldn’t be any off-the-cuff conversations about it. It would be kryptonite.

Same with Colorado’s Gov. Polis.  It’s easy for him to take a shot back at Gov. Gordon like elected officials do when respective sports teams battle each other.

“Hands off Weld County, Governor Mark Gordon,” Polis said. “Weld County is a thriving part of Colorado and Weld County residents are proud to be part of our great state. I do hear from so many Cheyenne residents, on the other hand, that they are culturally, economically and socially more connected to Colorado than Wyoming….”

The conversation is all for fun. It’s harmless. It’s friendly banter back and forth between two governors.

In the end, it means nothing because neither Colorado nor Wyoming takes it seriously (outside of a few thousand people on Facebook).

It doesn’t mean those people don’t have legitimate concerns but they’re fighting a battle they cannot win. It would be a Sisyphean Battle — and that’s being optimistic. Colorado would never let them go. And Wyoming would never pursue it.

It’s similar to the ludicrous talk of kicking Teton County out of Wyoming. It’s easy to say. But Wyoming would never let that happen. It would be idiotic to let it happen.

Let’s place this conversation in the location it deserves: fun bar-talk. Nothing more and nothing less.

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Well-Known Wyoming Innkeeper Jim Osterfoss Dies; Owned Nagle-Warren Mansion

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

One of Wyoming’s most well-known innkeepers died on Sunday.

Jim Osterfoss, who owned the Nagle-Warren Bed and Breakfast in Cheyenne for more than 25 years, died at the age of 75.

“His passion was caring for his customers, employees and the community as a whole,” read Osterfoss’ obituary.  “He enjoyed serving on numerous community boards relating to tourism and commerce, and other civic entities such as Kiwanis, Rotary and Lions Clubs.  He will be remembered as a loving father, grandfather and friend.”

Osterfoss shuttered the historic building after retiring in November 2019. 

“It’s one of the most important and iconic homes in the State of Wyoming,” Osterfoss told Cowboy State Daily. “President Theodore Roosevelt stayed here. President Taft stayed here. The Vanderbilts and many other titans of the early 1900s stayed here. This was the place to stay in Wyoming.”

Osterfoss was widely admired in many circles including the tourism, legislative, and volunteerism communities.

“God bless you, Jim Osterfoss. You were such a great soldier in Wyoming’s tourism army. RIP, my friend,” wrote Diane Shober, Executive Director of Wyoming’s Office of Tourism, on Osterfoss’ Facebook page.

“Jim was a true tourism professional who taught us all about hospitality, community-building, and being a good person. Cheyenne and its residents will truly miss him,” wrote former Visit Cheyenne Director Darren Rudloff.

“We will miss you old friend,” wrote Chris Brown, Executive Director of the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association. “Thank you so very much for your friendship and tireless efforts on behalf of our industry. Rest in peace.”

Osterfoss’ quick wit was on display during an interview with Cowboy State Daily about his retirement.

He said he wouldn’t “dish any dirt” on the thousands of guests who stayed at his bed and breakfast stating that “whatever happened at the Nagle, stayed at the Nagle.”

When asked if there were any surprises that he discovered at the historic home, he said, “The secret tunnels to the old whorehouses in Cheyenne..”

Really?

The innkeeper paused for a moment and deadpanned, “Gotcha.”

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Gordon Lifts Restrictive Hours For Wyoming Restaurants and Bars

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By Jimmy Orr, Executive Editor

Gov. Mark Gordon’s office on Saturday announced that Wyoming restaurants and bars can return to normal hours effective on on January 9.

The office attributed the change in public health orders to declining hospitalizations due to the COVID-19 virus.

“Thank you to the people of Wyoming who recognized the strain on their hospitals and health care workers and acted accordingly,” Gordon said in a release. 

The governor also thanked business owners who abided by the orders adopted in December when coronavirus cases were spiraling upward in the state.

“These have not been easy times for anyone,” he said. “We are not out of the woods yet, but continued personal safety measures while the vaccine is being distributed will enable our state’s schools and businesses to continue to remain open.”

On December 30, Wyoming hospitals were reporting 113 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, down from a peak of 247 on November 30. However, the state reported 223 COVID-19 deaths in December, the highest number since the pandemic began in March. Wyoming has also begun distributing the COVID-19 vaccine, utilizing a phased approach due to limited initial vaccine availability.

The updated health orders, along with additional information on Wyoming’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, can be found on Wyoming’s COVID-19 website.

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Jimmy Orr is a Wyoming native who was on the masthead at the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor as the Managing Editor, Digital. Orr served as a spokesman for the White House and directed digital strategy for President George W. Bush and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Orr co-founded Cowboy State Daily in January, 2019.

Jimmy Orr: Grizzly 399 and Her Four Cubs Romping Through the Snow

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By Jimmy Orr, Executive Editor

For those of you (us) who can’t get enough of Grizzly 399 and her happy family, there’s a new video captured by tourists last week that show the bears traversing through the snow, across the highway, and back to more snow.

As we discussed in our year-end roundup of the most popular stories on Cowboy State Daily, anything to do with Grizzly 399 and her cubs are of huge interest to our readers.

You would think they would be curled up in an enviable many-months-long state of slumber right now, but in the spirit of the recently celebrated holidays, the available food must be a gift that keeps on giving.

If you wince when you see the bears run across the road, you aren’t alone. We just hope that motorists continue to use extreme caution as they travel in the Grand Teton National Park area.

Part of the fun from this video is the play-by-play. The adults are just as thrilled as the children in the car.

It appears that one of the participants is “Facetiming” the events as you hear someone over the phone who sounded strikingly similar to Gomer Pyle say, “Golly, that sucker is big, Kurt. You better move, Kurt!”

Those sentiments were echoed by one of the children who quickly agreed: “Daddy, move!”

The driver did not move (which was a good idea). We might have rolled up the windows but it all turned out ok.

The most excitement came when the onlookers saw the four cubs bounding through the snow.

Gomer reeled off another “Golly” before the whole car gasped and laughed at what they were seeing.

“Is that not awesome, Kyle?” the driver said to Gomer.

“Oh man, that is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” Gomer said.

We have to agree. It was spectacular. And a great way to bring-in 2021.

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