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Wyoming State Rep. Chad Banks Chosen To Help Decorate The White House

in Wyoming Life/News
Photo Courtesy Chad Banks

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By Leo Wolfson, State Political Reporter

Outside of public tours, there aren’t many people who get to walk the halls of the White House, let alone decorate them. 

Wyoming state Rep. Chad Banks, D-Rock Springs, was recently given that opportunity as one of about 150 people chosen to help set up First Lady Jill Biden’s “We the People” seasonal White House holiday decorations.

“Everywhere you look you’re reminded of history, and the honor associated with the building and how valuable it is to our country,” Banks said.

Photos Courtesy Chad Banks

A Rare Opportunity

Banks had just returned from a White House reception where the decorations were unveiled when he spoke with Cowboy State Daily on Monday afternoon. 

At the event, Biden presented the holiday decorations and took a group photo with participating families.

“As our country gathers for the holidays, traditions may vary, but our shared American values – a belief in possibility, optimism and unity – endure season after season,” President Joe Biden and Jill Biden wrote in a welcome letter in the White House holiday guide.

Banks had to apply to participate in the unpaid opportunity. He cited his experience in event planning as one of his qualifications for the job.

“I’ve done event planning for everything from a few dozen people to tens of thousands,” he said.

Photo Courtesy Chad Banks

Homier Feel

Every year, the White House solicits volunteers to help set up holiday decorations. It was the first public holiday decoration offered during the Biden administration, as the public aspect of the activity was restricted in 2021 because of COVID-19 concerns.

Biden’s holiday decorations appear homier than the luxurious spread assembled by former First Lady Melania Trump. 

In The East Wing

Banks spent 10 hours a day for three days working at the White House, a process in which the volunteers were not allowed to take photos documenting their progress. 

He played a key role in transforming the East Colonnade into a wintry birch tree forest. Banks helped string 5,000 round, white pompom ornaments to faux birch trees and strung crystal droplets from the ceiling. 

“Those were 40,000 dime-sized mirrors,” he said of the droplets.

They even added fake snow to the ground.

His work was on full display for all to see as attendees had to pass through the Colonnade to get to Monday’s reception.

Photos Courtesy Chad Banks


Despite it being one of the most secure and historically significant buildings in the nation, Banks said he and the other volunteers “pretty much had a run of the place,” aside from accessing the Oval Office and the Bidens’ private quarters. 

He said the White House hallways looked a lot more like a holiday workshop while the decorations were being assembled, but by the time of the reception had regained their full pomp and circumstance. 

Every room in the East Wing had a different theme. 

The State Dining Room featured a “We The Children” display with self-portraits created by students of the 2021 Teachers of the Year from across the nation fashioned into ornaments for the room’s Christmas trees.

There was another Wyoming connection on display in the East Room. Here, four national park– Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah – were highlighted.

Only Wyoming Volunteer

Banks said there were volunteers from every state, but he was the only one he was aware of from Wyoming.

As the Marine Band belted out classic holiday songs in the Grand Foyer, Banks and the other volunteers got to bask in the results of their work and mingle with Gold Star and National Guard military families, a surreal moment for the Rock Springs resident. 

“It was really interesting,” he said.

Will Be Seen By Thousands

Over the next few weeks, the People’s House will be visited by an expected 50,000 visitors for tours and more than 20 holiday receptions. 

It wasn’t Banks’ first visit to the White House. In June, Banks, who is openly gay, attended a reception at the White House celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month. 

He lost his reelection bid earlier this month to Republican J.T. Larson.

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Before Moving To Wyoming, Couple Will Visit All 74 Libraries; Will Make Decision Based On Favorite

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Vern and Shireen Liebl are looking for their permanent home, and hope it’s in Wyoming. But a must-have for their next hometown is a good library.

For the last three and a half months, the Liebls have been crisscrossing the Cowboy State on a quest to visit every library in the state. Basing their adventures out of an Airbnb in Thermopolis, the couple has visited 16 Wyoming libraries since August. 

“I am in love with books and bookstores,” said Vern. “I think that one of the finest smells in the world is to go into an old bookstore, or used bookstore, and just inhale the essence of the paper.”

It All Started In A Library

Vern and Shireen met in a library at the University of Utah.

“She was getting her doctorate, and she managed to make me stay long enough to get a master’s degree,” said Vern, adding that they “also dated in the library a lot. We did our homework together, but we called it a date.”

Vern’s Marine Corps career in military intelligence took the two around the world. And everywhere they went, they found libraries.

“When I was back on the East Coast, I went to the National Library there,” said Vern. “I lived in the Marine Corps University Library. I would go to any library I could find.”

From the Library of Congress to the stacks at the University of Baghdad, Vern explored them all. Except for a few.

“I couldn’t find a library in Kabul in Afghanistan, but I found a couple of good bookstores,” he said. “Until the Taliban blew it up.” 

When You Can’t Have Something …

Shireen was born in New York, but grew up in Islamabad, Pakistan. At her school, most books were off-limits.

“We had a tiny little library, and the few books they had were in these locked glass cases, I kid you not,” she said. “We would go in there once a month for the ‘library day,’ and we were not allowed to go near the books. We just had to sit at the tables, and there were some magazines and a few odds and ends.”

But Shireen’s mother, who worked part time as a substitute English teacher at the American International School in Islamabad, would bring home books for her to read.

“Laura Ingalls, the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ series, all kinds of other stuff,” said Shireen. “So, she really encouraged my love of reading.”

Vern’s father, on the other hand, had a veritable library in his home office – but those books were off limits to young Vern.

“He had his own little personal library of all kinds of books, and being kind of a selfish man he told me, no misunderstanding, he said, ‘You will never touch my books,’” Vern said. “So of course, what did I do? Whenever he was gone, I rifled through all those books. I said, ‘There must be something in here that’s cool.’”

Wyoming Library Tour

The couple’s Wyoming 74 public library tour could have started in Jackson, but they missed out because they took a 44-mile bike ride. So they started with the Cody library, then moved on to the public library in Meeteetse just down the road.

“It’s part of the school, and it’s so small. I think that the poor lady that was working in there hadn’t seen any human beings all summer,” said Vern. 

The public library in the tiny town of Basin is a “hidden gem,” according to Vern.

“It’s got so many old books, and they’re tucked into corners, and they’re just lovely,” he said. 

The couple had a standout experience at the public library in Glenrock.

“It looks like a small library, but they have a basement, and it apparently has been refurbished with loving care,” said Vern. “And they have these skylights up there, and it’s like blonde wood, and it just feels so light and airy – and they have stacks of books and a cozy reading room with a fireplace.”

The library in Douglas appeared like any other brick building from the outside – but then they stepped inside.

“You go up to the second floor, and they have these corner reading rooms that are full glass that just look out over the town,” said Vern. “It’s all about Indian books and artifacts, and it’s just warm, and it’s just so comfortable.”

And the ladies who run the Ten Sleep library were outstanding, they said.

“The ladies up there, they work with the school, and they are so funny,” said Vern. “There’s at least three of them. They’re just hilarious, and they’re so dedicated.”

Some libraries they were unable to check out because they had limited open hours, such as the libraries in Glendo and Chugwater. 

“I just love to say the word ‘Chugwater,’” Vern laughed.

Unexpected Gems

The Wyoming Reading Room at the Wheatland library was a lovely surprise, according to the Liebls.

“It was all Western writers – Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey,” said Vern. “And they had a pole in which they set up a stack of books, they wired them all together, and it was like 8 feet tall. It was just magnificent.”

And although unimpressed with the building itself, Vern got a kick out of the name of the library in Ranchester.

“It’s the Tongue River Library,” said Vern. “I mean, what a cool name.”

Visitors are treated to a bonus when they go to the library in Greybull.

“It’s small, but it’s right across the literal hall from the (Greybull) Museum,” said Vern. “You get two-for-one bucks out of that. It’s just wonderful there.” 

A sad moment came when the Liebls visited the town library in Shoshoni, only to be told that it was going to be shut down.

“It’s just a little tiny library shoehorned in with the visitor center, and it’s being shut down,” said Vern. “Apparently nobody goes to it.”

Carnegie Libraries

Every library has its own personality, Vern pointed out.

Shireen, in particular, is drawn to the Carnegie libraries – libraries built between 1883 and 1929 with money donated by Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. 

But she was dismayed to discover that the Carnegie Library that was built in Cheyenne in 1902 had been demolished in 1971.

“That’s a travesty that I just can’t reconcile how someone could determine that they need to be torn down, these historical buildings?” she said.

In an upcoming trip, the Liebls are planning to check out the Carnegie Library in Buffalo, which is now home to the Jim Gatchell Museum.

“We’re going to all the old hotels in Wyoming too,” said Shireen. “And so we’re actually slated to go and stay in the Occidental (in Buffalo), and we are definitely going to check that out.” 

Unappreciated Treasures

The Liebls found that the people who staff Wyoming’s libraries are dedicated, engaging folks.

“They’re all really funny people, and friendly,” said Vern. “And most of them seem so dedicated to the preservation of the library system.”

Shireen said, though, that she is concerned that fewer people are making use of these public buildings, which serve so many other purposes, as her husband pointed out.

“Take the Thermopolis library,” said Vern. “They have a once-a-month movie night, and they have a little dinner that goes with it. They sponsor speakers – they’re sponsoring my wife to give a presentation on women in Afghanistan. They’re multi-use facilities. It’s not just the books.” 

In the eyes of Vern and Shireen, public libraries are treasures that often go unappreciated.

“It’s one of my quests to always check out libraries and how generous – you can take unlimited books out and and you can renew them,” said Shireen. “I mean, these things are taken for granted here, but not by me.”

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Teton County Duo Saves Legendary Nora’s Fish Creek Inn From Developers

in Wyoming Life/News/Business
Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter

Nora’s Fish Creek Inn is as much an institution one can find in the Teton County community of Wilson. There’s only a handful of buildings in the small town that have been there for decades, and Nora’s is one of them.

The wooden cross beams and antique decorations covering the walls of the restaurant provide a quaint, cabin-like feel that defines the Cowboy State. 

If one didn’t know better, they might think they took a time machine back to a simpler time while chowing down on fresh-caught trout and eggs and basking in the warm glow of a crackling fire nearby.

“That’s always been a staple here as far as I can remember, for 30 years,” new co-owner Tom Fay said of the trout.

Visitors at Nora’s Fish Creek Inn receive a Wyoming West welcome. (Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily)

No More Nora’s?

Nora’s was close to meeting its demise just a few months ago, but Fay and fellow co-owner Eddie Opler stepped in to buy and save the restaurant. Opler has a long history with the restaurant as his family has been eating meals there since it opened.

The café has existed in various forms since the early 1970s. For much of the ’70s it was a Wild West bar called Blackie’s Fish Creek Inn. Before that, it was a post office and general store dating to the late 1930s. 

State Rep. Jim Roscoe moved to Wilson in 1970 and remembers the square dances held in the rustic building before it became a restaurant. 

“It was really fun,” he said.

A National Rep

Nora Tygum took over the business in 1982 and built a legendary reputation, not only in Wyoming, but also throughout the country. 

Considered one of the best breakfasts around, Nora’s was featured on the Food Network hit television show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” with Guy Fieri in 2014.

Over the decades, the restaurant became well known for its trout and classic stick-to-your-ribs fare, serving mouthwatering dishes like huevos rancheros and biscuits and gravy.

New Nora’s owners only had about two weeks to make renovations and upgrades before reopening the Wilson restaurant Friday. (Leo Woflson, Cowboy State Daily)

New Life

In 2021, Tygum’s daughter, Kathryn Taylor, put the restaurant and its property up for sale. Despite receiving several offers, Taylor took the property off the market this past spring. When Tygum died in September, the restaurant announced on social media that it would close Oct. 15.

“Bless her heart, it’s just she’s been doing it for 20-plus years, “Fay said of Taylor. “It was time to pass the baton.”

That’s when Fay and Opler gave Taylor an offer she couldn’t refuse. The deal was finalized Nov. 11.

“Kathryn really wanted to continue the legacy of Nora’s, and that’s exactly what we wanted to do as well,” Fay said. “We’re not wanting to steer away from what Nora’s has always been – just a fun, family friendly diner.”

A Wilson Icon

Fay said it’s what Nora represents for Wilson, a town of 1,492 people, that inspired him to buy the business.

“Kind of keeping this iconic Wilson building and restaurant alive and well,” Fay said. “Not letting any developers come in and turn Wilson upside down.”

Wilson isn’t exactly a boom town. Don’t blink when driving through, as you might miss the downtown corridor. 

Although it shares much of the same affluence as nearby Jackson, there are still many working-class people who call it home. 

Fay said it’s likely if they hadn’t bought the business, it would have been torn down and replaced with luxury condos, like so many other places in Teton County.

“Wilson is this little village that has a restaurant, a really good coffee shop, a good bicycle shop,” Roscoe said.

Classic, With A New Taste

Fay said he plans to continue Nora’s well-known breakfast and lunch staples while adding some new twists. 

They plan to offer grab-and-go items like breakfast burritos, sandwiches and coffee to better serve the many tourists and hard-working locals in the area.

“To get the community where they need to go,” Fay said.

Taylor is still going to be involved in the business as the baker, allowing her to focus on handcrafting Nora’s scrumptious banana bread and coffee cake.

Reopened Friday

The restaurant reopened Friday after receiving brighter lighting and a new ceiling during the whirlwind two weeks between its purchase and reopening. 

It’s also adding televisions and historic photos to the walls from local haunts such as the Wilson gas station and nearby Teton Pass, towering thousands of feet above it. 

“We really wanted to add some fun character, which was existing prior to us moving in,” Fay said. “Add some fun, kind of antiquey, historical parts of Wilson and Jackson Hole and give it that local vibe.”

They also renovated the bar area to, as Fay put it, “let it be known that we actually do have a liquor license.” 

Make Dinner Plans

They have plans to bring back dinner at the restaurant next summer, which would make it only the second business in Wilson to offer evening cuisine. Fay also wants to renovate the patio outside so Nora’s can host private parties and other events. 

As far as the restaurant’s legendary coffee is concerned, it’s already hosted several tastings in recent weeks to help decide some new blends.

“The community has been saying we’re somewhat local heroes,” Fay said. “I think we’re local lunatics. But we are excited to keep Nora’s open as well, obviously. It’s near and dear to our hearts and we want to give it the love and attention that it needs.” 

Preserving Wilson

The Wilson community can be rest assured it will continue to see both ends of the emerald green cartoon trout sticking out from Nora’s sign for years to come, blending in perfectly as it has for decades with the town’s general store, schoolhouse old barns and nearby Stagecoach Bar and Grill. 

Roscoe said there also is a public campaign underway among local residents to save another local favorite, Hungry Jack’s General Store.

“They want things to stay the same, but it’s really hard,” he said.

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Despite Decades Of Neglect & Abandonment, Trees At Century-Old Cheyenne Arboretum Refuse To Die

in Around Wyoming/Wyoming Life/News

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter

On the northwestern edge of Cheyenne, a piece of the state’s wild history still lives in a hidden gem that’s nearly a century old. 

Its history is important not only for the state of Wyoming, but High Plains states stretching from North Dakota to Texas. 

The place is the High Plains Arboretum. 

Research Mission

Tall, nearly 100-year-old trees still grow there, despite decades of neglect and drought. They are remnants of a unique research mission that began in the 1930s with the construction of a USDA-ARS Field Station in Cheyenne. 

It was the first such station that didn’t include as a primary mission agricultural research to improve farming and ranching.

Instead, its mission was to figure out how to help improve quality of life in the High Plains by figuring out which plants could survive the cold, the wind and semi-arid desert-like conditions so that residents from other states would not only feel more at home in the Great Plains, but could grow their own fresh produce.

An Amur maple shows off its stunning red leaves at the High Plains Arboretum in Cheyenne. (Photo Courtesy Jessica Friis)

If It Can Survive Cheyenne …

“You probably can’t go to any High Plains town and not see something that was a result of the work done in Cheyenne,” Cheyenne Botanic Gardens founder Shane Smith told Cowboy State Daily. “And the reason for Cheyenne being more important than the other stations is because they quickly realized that Cheyenne was the worst, most challenging climate of the three (Great Plains) stations.”

A decent variety of strawberry or raspberry or tomato developed at one of the other two research stations would generally get sent to Cheyenne to see how it would do in a really challenging environment.

“Cheyenne became the acid test for plants,” Smith said. “If something came from Cheyenne, they knew it could probably survive from Montana to Amarillo.”

Incredible Diversity

Probably the most famous of trees still growing at Cheyenne’s Arboretum is a willow found near Encampment, horticulturist Jessica Friis told Cowboy State Daily. 

“But the oldest tree standing out there is actually a Kentucky coffee tree,” she said. “So that is, you know, a tree that’s native to the United States, but not necessarily Wyoming. It is still alive out there.”

There also are Woodward junipers, originally found in Oklahoma and grown in Cheyenne as an example of an upright, non-spreading juniper tree. 

“It gets really tall and skinny and usually keeps a really nice upright form without needing any pruning at all,” Friis said. “So, it’s a nice one for more formal landscapes, if you don’t want to have to prune it.” 

There also are apricot trees that came from Siberia and Russia, as well as maples such as the Tartarian maple, the hot wings maple and Amur maple. The latter is hard to find commercially, but is popular because It gets bright red leaves in the fall.

“I’ve actually been propagating that one here at the gardens,” Friis said. “I took some cuttings last year, so I’m hoping in couple of years I’ll be able to sell those at our plant sale. I’ve been propagating (the trees) that we can’t find at a nursery, so that we can make them available in the future.”

There’s also a variety of woody shrubs on the premises, including Cheyenne lilacs and blue velvet honeysuckle.

Indiana Jones Of The Plant World

The wide variety of trees and woody shrubs that call the Arboretum home were the result of an extensive plant explorer network the USDA had both before and after World War II, Smith said. 

“These plant explorers were like the Indiana Jones of horticulture,” he added. “They would go to war zones, dodging bullets, some of their Sherpas — people that helped I call them Sherpas, people who helped them haul stuff — and their donkeys got shot in the crossfire.”

Plant explorers rode trains across places like Mongolia and Siberia — places that look a lot like the High Plains — and then would get off the trains at farmers markets and following them north, looking for interesting fruits and vegetables.

They would keep going north until they saw that a variety had disappeared. Then they’d go back one farmers market to the south and take seeds and cuttings to select what they hoped would be the hardiest of plants.

Once they got back to the states, they would do their own research, but also would send plant materials to research stations. 

“Cheyenne became a recipient of all kinds of possible apple varieties, apricots, peaches, cottonwoods, shelter belt ideas — they would send all this stuff back,” Smith said. 

Researchers would take what seemed to be promising varieties and grow bunches of that plant, selecting out the ones that did the best and then repeating the experiment year over year to develop hardy, drought-tolerant varieties for the Plains.

Jessica Friis sets willow cuttings, taken from an Encampment willow at the High Plains Arboretum in Cheyenne out for sun on warmer days in winter. The cuttings will eventually lose all their leaves, but it takes a long time for them to do that. In the meantime, they need sheltered conditions so they don’t get too cold, as well as some sunlight and water. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Thousands Of New Varieties

Over the years that the area served as a horticulture research station, more than 2,000 fruit varieties, 1,300 varieties of woody ornamental plants, 200 species trees and shrubs, and 8,000 vegetable varieties were tested at the station.

Through that work, more than 45 hardy chrysanthemums were developed that would flower much earlier than October, along with all the intriguing trees. Hardy currants, gooseberries, sour cherries, domestic plums and even short-season pumpkins suitable for pie were developed.

“You can still find what they did in seed catalogs and nurseries,” Smith said. “A lot of times they have the name Cheyenne, like the Cheyenne privet or the Cheyenne mock orange. Or they have Wyoming names or Indian names. So they had a style to their naming that is appreciated.”

But eventually, USDA-ARS decided to close the horticulture portion of the lab and shift instead to grasslands research.

“So another unintended experiment ensued,” Smith said. “Especially as we started seeing drought in the ’80s and ’90s. These plants weren’t getting irrigated. And so there was another natural selection of what was out there, and we lost a lot of plants. 

“But the ones that remain now, we know that those guys are super drought tolerant.”

Saving The Arboretum

In 2000, Smith and other concerned residents started meeting monthly to talk about how to save the Arboretum where the trees are located. Eventually, that led to an agreement with the USDA releasing between 68 to 75 acres to Cheyenne. 

“We got a grant from Wyoming State Forestry to do a master plan of how we’d like to see the Arboretum evolved,” Smith said. 

Among the ideas for the future of the station is renovation of the existing greenhouse so that cuttings can be made of the surviving trees, to bring more diversity to the landscapes of Wyoming, and continue some of the research that began at the Cheyenne Research Station.

The location also is open to the public, Friis added.

“We put some new signs out there to help people find it and know where to park and things like that,” she said. “And then we also started last year for the first time a plant sale in February, where people can order trees and shrubs that were tested out at the Cheyenne station.”

Many of these varieties are not readily available commercially, Friis said, adding that “we know they do well in (Wyoming) so people can plant them in their own yard.”

Eventually, the plan is to have an online mode for buying plants from the annual sale. But in the meantime, Friis is willing to help people across Wyoming obtain plants from the sale, if they’re unable to come to Cheyenne in person for the event. 

She can be reached at jfriis@cheyennecity.org or 307-287-1953.

New Life For Old Research Station

For the future, Friis sees a lot of tourism potential for the Arboretum, which offers a serene location with beautiful trees and is a favorite spot for a walk in the fall – for those who know about it. 

“We’d love to further develop the paths and signs and parking there to make it more accessible,” Friis said. “We’d like to provide public bathrooms out there. We also have the historic greenhouse and lath house building that they used for research. We’d like to restore those and make them available to the public.”

A first priority, though, is new roof for the greenhouses to protect them from further water damage. 

“We’re pretty confident we’ll be able to get all of that money ready for this spring or summer to replace that roof so that we don’t get any structural damage to the building,” Friis said. 

A second priority is modernizing the available irrigation system, which is gravity-based and actually cannot get water to some trees. 

A more efficient watering system also is needed before any new trees can be cost-effectively added to the Arboretum.

After that, Friis hopes to get the greenhouse operational so that cuttings can be made of the surviving trees and shrubs that aren’t available commercially, so that they can become more widely available in Wyoming and other High Plains states.

“If we get the Arboretum up and functioning again, we could definitely start doing some research again, especially as it gets warmer and the climate is changing, now varieties that do well in our climate,” Friis said.

“We’d love to be able to, you know, kind of continue on with this spirit of, you know, it wouldn’t be the same scale as what they did in the Cheyenne Horticultural Field Station’s heyday, but to still continue on with this process of research and searching for new varieties and making them available, and just helping people be able to grow things here.”

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Couple Overhauls Drab, Awful Interior Of Iconic Onion-Shaped Bank Building In Casper

in Wyoming Life/News/Business

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Since 1964, the modern dome-shaped building has been a central feature in downtown Casper. Built to house Western National Bank, the building’s unique interior has over the years been covered by traditional flooring, ceiling work and decor.

That is, until Joe and Diane McGinley came along 13 years ago, when the McGinleys moved their family to Casper. Diane said she immediately noticed the mid-century modern, dome-shaped downtown building and thought it would be perfect as an office for their businesses.

“I’ve always loved the building,” Diane McGinley told Cowboy State Daily. “So, when it came up for sale, my husband Joe and I took a real serious look at it.”

The couple operate a multitude of businesses, including McKinley orthopedics, (an orthopedic device startup company) and the McGinley Clinic, Joe’s sports medicine, minimally invasive orthopedic care clinic.

“By purchasing the building, we were able to put both of those businesses on the second floor while we did the renovations for the rest of the building,” said Diane.

Ballerinas twirling in the rotunda last week signaled the grand opening of “The M,” as the McGinleys have named the building.

“I really felt like it was a vision realized,” said Diane.

Diane and Dr. Joe McKinley are close to unveiling the new renovated dome building in downtown Casper, which they’ve dubbed “The M.”

Before And After

Diane was aware she had a big job ahead of her when the couple first bought the building two years ago. Although she has no formal design training, Diane said she knew she needed to be the one to oversee the project.

“We early on worked with some architects,” said Diane. “But I realized that I was particular, and in the end I wanted to love every single choice that was in the space, so I just took over the design aspects of it.”

Diane said they had amazing partners in Casper Building Systems, the construction firm they chose to work with.  

“I definitely credit them for figuring out a lot of the ‘hows’ to me sort of spouting a lot of ideas,” she said.

Much of the work that needed to be done was behind the scenes, Diane said.

“It was built in 1964, so a lot of the things that were a challenge are the unseen things – the HVAC, the electrical, the plumbing,” she said. “So, upgrading those systems were the first priority.”

Diane pointed out that at the time they were put in, the systems were state of the art and had some unique features. So the McGinleys approached the project with the same intent. 

“We wanted to bring in the best and greatest and state of the art,” she said. “So all of our lighting systems and things like that, the whole building is controlled on this really wonderful iPad – down to even the lights in the fountain, there is an app for that.” 

Charles Deaton, Architect

The architect who designed the post-modern piece in the early 1960s has a unique style that is showcased in several other distinctive structures around the country.

Charles Deaton designed several athletic stadiums, including Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium and Kauffman Stadium, and his futuristic Sculptured House was featured in the 1973 Woody Allen film “Sleeper.” He also designed an eccentric bank building in Englewood, Colorado.

Deaton’s eye-catching Casper building features 17 “blades,” the petal-shaped pieces that make up the exterior of the dome, held together by one small, 4-inch-thick disc at the top.

“It’s really, truly a feat of architectural engineering,” said Diane.

Diane said that one of the exclusive features of the 1964 Casper building was the lighting system that Deaton incorporated into the rotunda.

“He had the patent on the lighting system that was up at the top of the dome, and it was really unique at its time, because it made the entire ceiling look like it was glowing,” said Diane.

Because their companies hold a number of patents themselves (more than 126), they felt a kinship with the architect.

“We feel right at home in a place with somebody who was innovative from the beginning,” Diane said. 

But Deaton’s innovation meant that construction upgrades took some ingenuity.

“There isn’t a room or a wall that is square in the building,” she said. “So, a lot of the things that make it really beautiful aesthetically, definitely posed some contractual problems. But we worked through each of them and just are really thrilled with the result.”

The rotunda of “The M.”

The Rotunda

The defining feature of the interior of the building, Diane pointed out, is the rotunda. But over the years, and through numerous bank ownerships, the entire top of the space was covered by a dropped ceiling.

“We unwrapped it, we revealed it and put in a really cool new state-of-the-art lighting system that helps the dome glow again,” she said.

The center of the dome also features a large crystal chandelier that Diane said she was thrilled to design.

“It took over many, many hours of planning to hang the chandelier,” she said, “and several electricians a couple of weeks just to hang it.”

The floor, she said, was just as spectacular.

“A gentleman hand-sprinkled the gold flakes onto the black epoxy,” Diane said. 

Sharing The Space

Although the initial vision for the building was a one-stop-shop for orthopedic needs, Diane said once the renovations began to transform it, she knew it needed to be open to more than just their clients and patients.

“It was about creating a medical center where we could have comprehensive care,” she said. “But once the rotunda started taking shape, I knew we had to share it with the public and really be able to open it up to house events there, because it’s such a unique space.”

Now anyone can reserve space at the iconic building at eventsatthem.com. As many as 250 people can be accommodated comfortably at round-top tables, although more seating can be set up for larger events.

“We’re taking bookings for all different types of events, including weddings, corporate Christmas parties, nonprofit events, conventions,” said Diane.

And she said she’s looking forward to sharing the amazing space with the rest of the community. A formal ribbon cutting at “The M” will be Dec. 9, with a community open house Dec. 10.

“The more events and the more people that come in will really get to see that this is part of our town, and that it’s been restored, and that it’s going to be here to stay for many years to come,” said Diane.

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A Satanic Tour Of Wyoming: Devils Tower, Devil’s Gate, Hell’s Half Acre And More

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

One of the most recognizable geological features in the state of Wyoming is Devils Tower. 

But the iconic mountain and the nation’s first national monument is not the only location in the Cowboy State that gives a nod to the underworld.

At last count, there were 22 places in Wyoming with the word “Devil” in their names (only two used twice), along with five locations in the state that include the word “Hell.”

Devil’s Thumb

Yellowstone and South

If one were to take a tour of the “devilish” attractions in the state, a good start would be Yellowstone National Park, where the “Devil’s Thumb” sticks out prominently near Mammoth Hot Springs. There’s also a “Devil’s Den” nearby.

Heading south, a hiking trail northwest of Jackson is called “Devil’s Staircase.” A mountain peak south of Cody is known as “Devil’s Tooth,” and a river between Meeteetse and Dubois is called “Devil’s Hole.”

“Devil’s Hole Lakes” lie between LaBarge and Cokeville. South of Kirby, there’s a ravine known as the “Devil’s Punch Bowl.” North of Dubois, there’s a mountain peak labeled “Devil’s Graveyard,” and farther southeast north of Sweetwater Station, “Devil’s Canyon” cuts through. 

Then there’s “Devil’s Gap,” a mountain pass southeast of Lander.

Devil’s Gate

Devil’s Gate

In central Wyoming, a geological formation known as “Devil’s Gate” is located on property that for 130 years belonged to the family of Dennis Sun, publisher of the Wyoming Livestock Report.

“Geologists had told me when the chain of rocks was forming, in those rocks you’ll see some black strips,” Sun told Cowboy State Daily. “I don’t know what kind of rock it is, but it’s a lot softer than the granite. The river was probably there first, and they said it washed a groove in the rocks.” 

Sun said the formation was probably named by frontiersmen traveling through the region for the first time.

But, he said, anyone who claimed they drove a wagon through Devil’s Gate was probably stretching the truth.

“It’s tough to get through,” Sun said. “I mean, you can go through it on foot. But it has to be after the first of July or when the water’s down. The sides of (the canyon) are about 300 feet.”

Devil’s Canyon in the Bighorn Mountains. (Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily)

The Bighorns

The Bighorn Mountains have their share of devilish features. One of Wyoming’s two “Devil’s Canyons” is on private property in the far northern part of Wyoming. 

Then there’s “Devil’s Slide,” a cliff in the southern Bighorns. North of Greybull, “Devil’s Kitchen” is a natural preserve. On the west slope of the Bighorns there’s “Devil’s Leap,” a steep red rock outcropping. There’s also a “Devil’s Lake” in the Bighorns as well.

Heading south, a geological feature west of Midwest called “Devil’s Monument” stands above the landscape. “Devil’s Pass” is in the Laramie Range south of Douglas. And the “Devil’s Playground” is a climbing area in Vedauwoo, a geological formation popular with rock climbers near Cheyenne.

Devil’s Playground

Devil’s Playground

Photographer Dana Gage spends a lot of time at Devil’s Playground with his German shepherd, Klaus. He told Cowboy State Daily the name might have come from the imposing canyon walls made of Sherman granite.

“It has a reddish-black color to most of it and may have evoked a certain ‘dread’ to those who originally traversed the area,” said Gage.

Contrary to other geological features that carry the “devil” label, Gage said he’s found this part of Vedauwoo to be lush and full of life. 

“I often come across fresh bear, elk and moose scat when I walk the trails inside the canyon carved out by the Middle Fork Crow Creek,” he said. “The creek edge is lined with berry bushes, conifers and willows. The beavers there are active and provide ponds where wildlife drink and fishes frolic.”

“Oh,” he added, “and my dog loves disturbing the serenity by jumping into them on warm summer evenings.”

But, Gage admitted, his love for the place may influence the way he sees the Devil’s Playground.

“I find it an inviting place,” he said. “One I never tire of visiting.” 

‘Satan Ate My Car

The evil spirits at Devil’s Playground consumed former Cheyenne resident Dan Ballinger’s truck in 1984.

Ballinger went pistol shooting in his Chevy pickup with his friends when he drove the lifted vehicle up a 30-degree incline.

Unfortunately for the group, the weather turned and within minutes they were facing a full-blown white-out blizzard.

“We parked on the incline because we couldn’t see and hiked out of there,” Ballinger said.

He said it was about 5 miles to the Buford convenience store, and about halfway there he heard the “awful groan” of his truck giving way and plunging to the bottom of the rocky abyss.

“It was a good 50-foot drop and the truck went end-over-end numerous times before crashing into some giant boulders,” he said.

The plan was to rescue the truck the following spring when everything thawed out, but that was impossible, he said. 

“It laid there upside down for years,” Ballinger said. Sometime in the last decade, someone towed it out or “it just disintegrated,” he said.

As for Ballinger, he got home thanks to a forest ranger who had been caught in the same storm and felt bad for the teenagers.

“I remember he asked me where we had been,” said Ballinger.

“I told him we were at Devil’s Playground in Vedauwoo and Satan himself wasn’t dumb enough to be there right now,” he said. 

Devils Tower

The most famous of the “devilish” formations in the state is Devils Tower in northeast Wyoming. Its name has been a source of controversy, however, with many advocating for a change reflecting the Native American tribes’ original label for the unique feature, “Bear Lodge.”

According to the National Park Service, when the formation was named in 1906, the label was based on a mistranslation of its Native American title.

But state Sen. Ogden Driskill, whose family has owned property at the base of the monolith for more than a century, told Cowboy State Daily believes the name was translated correctly, based on journals kept by Col. Richard Dodge from his expedition to the region in the 1870s. 

“The Indian guides would not ride down in that valley where the Tower is at,” Driskill said. “They explained to Dodge that’s where the evil spirits lived.”

Driskill said that the guides believed that if they went into that valley, they would not be allowed into the happy hunting grounds. And he said there’s geological proof that native tribes avoided the monument itself.

“There’s teepee rings and Indian signs as soon as you get a few miles away from the Tower, all the way around,” said Driskill. “They have found virtually nothing at Devils Tower.”

A self-described history buff, especially when it comes to his part of Wyoming, Driskill said based on his research, he believes the name “Devils Tower” was translated correctly at the time. 

“In my mind, I have no doubt that he understood, and the native guides understood very well what he was naming it,” said Driskil. 

Hell’s Half Acre

‘Hell-ish’ Landscapes

To complete this tour of underworld locations in Wyoming, there are a few more features that make the devil feel right at home.

There’s “Hell Hole” near Devils Tower;“Hell Gap” north of Hartville in eastern Wyoming; “Hell Creek” south of Saratoga; and “Hell Canyon” northeast of Baggs.

Then, of course, there’s the famous “Hell’s Half Acre,” where the sci-fi film “Starship Troopers” was filmed in the 1990s.

Might As Well Have Been Mars

Wyoming author, historian and Cowboy State Daily columnist Bill Sniffin has a theory that the many locations in the state that have earned the “devil” or “hell” moniker were most likely named by people who were unnerved by such an otherworldly landscape.

“These names were all done from around 1830 to the 1860s, during a period of time that it would seem to me that you had a relatively superstitious group of people,” said Sniffin. 

“I think that they were also heading out into the unknown,” he added. “I mean, nowadays, we’re talking about people going to Mars. I think going to Wyoming in 1830 was the equivalent of going to Mars.”

Sniffin posited that the landscapes that the pioneers came across were so dramatic that the names needed to reflect that.

“What on earth could be more dramatic than the devil and hell?” Sniffin said. “This is their way to tell somebody, ‘This place must have been the Devil’s Playground, or Hell’s Half Acre, or Devil’s Gate, or Devil’s Kitchen, because only the devil could conjure up a place like this.’” 

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Modern Day Cattle Rustlin’? Wyo Third Grader Can’t Find Her 1,500-Pound Bull Named Sparkles

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By Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily

For more than a week, 8-year-old Kali Villarreal has been distraught, frightened and sad as she searches for her best friend, Sparkles. 

The 1,500-pound, 3-year-old Black Angus bull Kali bottle-raised and who followed the Albany County third grader around like a pet didn’t come in from grazing about 10 days ago and hasn’t been seen since.

“She’s just very upset,” grandmother Lucia Villarreal told Cowboy State Daily.

She posted a desperate plea on Facebook to find Sparkles. 

“I try to tell her that maybe he just wandered off and got lost, but you know how it is with some landowners,” Lucia said. “The big ranchers don’t necessarily care for us hobby ranchers.”

Was Sparkles Rustled?

While she has no evidence and has reported the missing bull to the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, Lucia suspects Sparkles didn’t get out on his own or wander off and get lost.

“This bull was a bottle calf and he’s quite friendly,” she said, adding that Sparkles loves people and at times acts more like a clingy puppy than a Black Angus bull.

“He’s a pet – he’s Kali’s pet – and no coyote or wolf is going to take off with a 1,500-pound bull,” she said.

Because of Sparkles being so friendly toward humans, and ongoing friction with larger cattle ranchers in the area who Lucia says don’t like “hobby farmers” like the Villarreals using public grazing land, she suspects Sparkles may have been rustled.

“I don’t know if somebody got mad because he’s a bull and was out or what,” she said. “But the problem is it’s Kali’s, and when an 8-year-old gets attached to something it’s special.”


The Villarreal family asks anyone who may have seen Sparkles, a 3-year-old Black Angus bull who went missing about 10 days ago in the Medicine Bow area near the border between Albany and Carbon counties, to call them at 307-703-0229.

Loves Animals

Along with Sparkles, Kali, who attends school at Medicine Bow Elementary, loves being around and raising farm animals, her grandmother said.

“She’s too young for 4-H yet, but she has goats and does her own little shows for them,” Lucia said. “She has the goats going through little hoops, going up and down stairs.

“She’s been around animals almost since she was born. I truly believe these animals have brought her out of her shell.”

But Sparkles was more special to Kali, she said, adding that, “He followed that kid around like a puppy.”

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Wyoming Man Who Created “How To Die In Yellowstone” Coloring Book Has New Books Out

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily.

If you ran into Andy Robbins on the street in Ranchester, you wouldn’t know that the mild-mannered young man with a beard harbors an unusual talent. 

Robbins likes to draw people who might star on the popular Facebook page “Yellowstone National Park: Invasion of the Idiots.” You know, people who ignore park rules and end up getting ripped apart by grizzlies, impaled by bison, or taking acidic baths in 200+ degree temperatures.

But always in a fun, lighthearted way.

Robbins is the author of six books, several of which tell graphic tales of death, gore and mythological creatures. And three of them are, in a creatively macabre way, interactive.

With the 2016 release of his first book, “Yellowstone National Park: A Cautionary Coloring Book,” the Ranchester author and illustrator opened the door to a niche audience – adults with a slightly twisted sense of humor who like to color.

Niche Audience

Robbins, who graduated from the University of Wyoming’s Fine Arts program, makes his living as an artist, whether it’s his watercolors, oil paintings or illustrations for books like “Field Guide to Unicorns of North America: The Official Handbook for Unicorn Enthusiasts of All Ages.”

His illustrations and skewed sense of humor also is evident in a publication titled “The Awful Air Travel Activity Book: Word puzzles, connect the dots, mazes, coloring pages, and other fun stuff to keep you sane during the trials and tribulations of modern air travel!”

‘Bad Way To Go’

“I just did another book, kind of tangentially related,” Robbins told Cowboy State Daily. “It’s about dying – in funny ways.”

Funny, that is, if you’re into torture, mayhem and destruction. 

His newest book, “Bad Way To Go: True Tales of Dying Terribly” details stories of real people who died in unusual ways – boiled alive in caramel, vaporized by a jet engine or slowly swallowed by a glacier.

“‘Bad Way to Go” details the best of the worst deaths known to humankind in a book sure to make the reader say, “Glad it wasn’t me!’” reads the description on Robbins’ website, andyrobbinsart.com.

In addition to the Yellowstone book, Robbins has released another “Cautionary Coloring Book” about the Grand Canyon.

‘Stupid Is As Stupid Does’

Robbins’ art came to the attention of Cowboy State Daily readers in June when “Yellowstone National Park: A Cautionary Coloring Book” was profiled. That book, which was released in 2016, set the tone for Robbins’ career as a published author.

“I grew up watching horror movies and reading books like that, and I think it kind of segued into, like, true crime, and people can’t get enough of that,” Robbins said. “God knows why, people are fascinated with those kinds of grim stories, I think.”

Sarah Growney, who owns The Thistle gift shop in Cody, agrees. 

“I think it’s hysterical,” Growney told Cowboy State Daily. Her inventory boasts a number of gag gifts, so Robbins’ coloring book fits right in.

“I hate to make fun of people who have been caused harm,” said Growney. “But stupid is as stupid does.”

A Book For Everyone

Robbins pointed out that not all of his books are for those with strong stomachs. 

For example, his “Field Guide to the North American Jackalope” is suitable for all ages. And he’s considering offering a toned-down version of his Yellowstone coloring book, which the National Park Service might find more palatable than the current edition.

“I talked to Far Country (publishing) about doing, like, a PG version, and kind of tone it down a bit and see if we could actually get it in Yellowstone, which we’ve never been able to do,” Robbins said. “Something that would still be kind of shocking for a 10-year-old, but not quite so gory.”

But for those who have a slightly twisted sense of humor, Robbins said his books are appealing.

“It’s funny in sort of a shocking way,” he said.

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Thanksgiving Hell: Wyoming Plumbers Brace For ‘Brown Friday’

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

The problem with gobs of gooey post-Thanksgiving grease is that once they enter drainpipes, they don’t stay gooey for long. 

That grease can set up in sink drains and sewer pipes, turning the day after Thanksgiving into what plumbers around Wyoming and the nation call “Brown Friday.”

“It’s just that everybody thinks that everything can go down the drain,” independent plumber Shawn Haight of Gillette told Cowboy State Daily.

But it can’t. 

He’s even seen the oily, runny remains of a Turkey Day feast end up in a home’s laundry drainage lines, creating a backwash of truly hideous byproduct.

“Let’s just say that lint and grease don’t mix very well,” he said. 

Also, people really shouldn’t overestimate the capacity of their garbage disposals, Cory Kopp told Cowboy State Daily. He’s a master plumber and owner of Plumbing Masters in Casper. 

“It’s not a trash-processing thing,” he said. 

Black Friday Goes Brown

“Brown Friday” is widely recognized by plumbers across the country as their busiest day of the year, and it can a bane to many homeowners, according to realtor.com.

While many Americans stampede to stores to take advantage of Black Friday shopping deals, plumbers ready their tools and steel their nerves for a long line of clogged sinks and backed-up toilets. 

Mercifully, the toilet end of things doesn’t seem to hit Wyoming too hard, said Haight, Kopp and Erin Lamb, spokeswoman for the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities, which oversees the city’s sewage lines and wastewater treatment plants. 

Haight and Kopp said most of their Brown Friday calls are for sink drain and garbage disposal drudgery, not toilet tempests. 

And Cheyenne’s wastewater treatment plant hasn’t been hit with the darksome tsunamis that have plagued large metropolitan areas, Lamb said.

Even so, greasy cascades in the wake of gorging gatherings have caused gross backflows in some localized neighborhood networks, Lamb said. But the city can be thankful that, so far, there’s never been enough to overwhelm the main lines. 

“Our operations and maintenance of main sewer lines keeps them clear,” Lamb said. 

‘Like Glue’

“If you see thousands of kitchens running sinks and garbage disposals with greasy, buttery, oily types of items, it’s going to start clogging lines up,” Lamb said. “If it’s something that’s going to solidify, like bacon grease, that’s just going to build up, and build up, and then start to catch things inside the pipes. And who knows what’s it going to catch?”

Kopp agreed, noting that even hot grease will cool quickly as it enters drains. 

“It will solidify and acts just like glue for everything that comes down after it,” he said.

Running hot water down the drain along with or immediately after the grease doesn’t help, he added. All that does is only slightly delay the inevitable solidification. 

Be Kind To Your Garbage Disposal

Trouble frequently starts when people start tossing things willy-nilly into garbage disposals, Haight said. 

Some unfortunate emergency customers have been known to huck turkey bones, vegetable peelings and various other holiday debris into the maws of their disposals, thinking that the subsequent flick of a switch makes it all go away. 

In reality, anything that’s too chunky or stringy will almost certainly lead to a clog, he said. 

Kopp agreed. 

“Garbage disposals are really meant for just that last little bit of stuff that’s on your plate,” he said. “When you peel vegetables, throw the peelings into the trash. When you scrap big chunks off of cookware and plates, just throw it into the trash.”

F.O.G. Warning

Lamb said her office had already started putting out press releases and social media alerts warning people about F.O.G. – fats, oils and grease.

“We recommend that you pour these into a jar, allow them to solidify and then throw them out with your garbage. Don’t attempt to put them through a garbage disposal or pour them down your drains,” she said. 

Kopp said he was gearing up for a busy Brown Friday. Haight said he planned to remain available for his regular customers, but is keeping his fingers crossed to to not get any unexpected emergencies. 

“I can always hope I don’t get any calls,” he said. 

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More Than 1,000 People In Casper Will Get Free Thanksgiving Dinner Thanks To Couple

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

For 1,000 people in Casper, there’s a lot more to be thankful for this holiday.

A generous, and anonymous, donation from a Casper couple will allow for 220 freshly prepared Thanksgiving meals to be served Wednesday evening to families finding their budgets a little tighter this year.

In cooperation with Eggington’s Restaurant (a popular breakfast spot on 2nd Street), staff at the Boys & Girls Club will give out enough food to feed 220 families of four to six people each, said Nicole Arner, the club’s Paradise Valley branch director.

“They will pick them up from the Boys & Girls Club on Wednesday night starting at 6 o’clock, until all the meals are gone,” said Arner.

All The Fixin’s

Turkey, ham, stuffing, carrots and mashed potatoes and gravy are on the menu for the first 220 cars that pull up to the Boys & Girls Club Main Branch at 1701 E. K St. in Casper. 

Arner said the staff at Eggington’s – which only serves breakfast and lunch – is putting in extra hours to make the event happen.

“Their restaurant closes up a little bit earlier in the day, so then they’ll make the meals after that,” Arner said.

Ashley Bright, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Wyoming, said the anonymous couple approached the organization and asked what the needs of families would be around Thanksgiving.

“We shared with them our needs for meals and to be able to provide a Thanksgiving dinner for families,” he said. “And then they met with Pete and Amber Fazio (at Eggington’s) who said, ‘Sure, we are on board.’”

Bright said Eggington’s coordinated the meals and the presentation and production with their team at the Boys & Girls Clubs. 

First-Come, First-Served

And there’s no pre-qualification or list to sign up to receive this Thanksgiving blessing – it’s first come, first served until the meals have all been distributed.

“They just pull up curbside, and we will bring the food straight to their car,” said Arner. “And then when the meals are gone, we’ll be done for the day.”

Bright said this isn’t the first time the entities have teamed up to help families. 

“We’ve had this relationship through COVID,” he said, when the same opportunity was offered to families at Thanksgiving during the height of the pandemic.

Serving Families In Need

Cheryl Hackett is the director of development at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Wyoming, which serves four counties throughout the state and provides services for 3,243 members. Through outreach and other programming, such as activities and athletics, Hackett said last year 11,556 youth were reached.

“We served, in the last year, 139,392 total meals and snacks,” said Hackett.

And Bright pointed out that for many families this Thanksgiving, this meal means less financial stress at a time when budgets are already stretched.

“It will just do wonders for the families in terms of providing for them for Thanksgiving meals,” he said. “We’re just grateful to be really the hands and feet to serve and and truly make a difference in the community through Boys & Girls Club and our Boys & Girls Club families.”

A Message of Love

The only request made by the anonymous philanthropic couple is that a scripture passage from Psalm 9:10 be included with the meal: “And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.”

“This Casper couple just wanted to share some love and make sure that families got what they needed,” said Arner.

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Snowmobilers Say Don’t Plow Road But Some Cooke City Residents Say People Will Die If They Don’t

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s winter, and in Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana, there’s only one route to civilization, medical facilities and supplies – west through the northeast section of Yellowstone National Park, up to Gardiner and Livingston, Montana.

For decades, a tug-of-war has been ongoing between snowmobile enthusiasts and residents. Snowmobilers want machine-only access to the tiny resort towns. But residents like Autumn Pitman say there are safety matters that trump recreational use.

“We’ve had little girls get hurt from ice falling off the roof, we’ve had massive heart attacks,” said Pitman. “We’ve had snowmobilers that have been in wrecks up here because they’re going too fast on the groomed trail.” 

Medical Emergencies

The nearest hospital in the winter, however, is a minimum of five hours away in Livingston. 

Monica Tietz, a local EMT who also serves on three community boards as well as secretary of the snowmobile club, wrote a letter in support of a petition by a local organization known as PARC (Park Access Recommendation Committee) to Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte to plow the road to the east, as transportation to the nearest medical facilities to the west takes nearly six hours – on a good day.

“If an ambulance is needed, we wait for (Yellowstone Park) to dispatch an ambulance from Mammoth, easily an hour and a half away on a good day,” Tietz wrote. “After the ambulance arrives, our patients take a four- to five-hour drive from Cooke City to the nearest hospital in Livingston, Montana.”

But should the 8.5-mile section of the highway to the east of Cooke City be open year-round, that would make a dramatic difference, Tietz said.

“Patients could be at the Cody hospital in less than three hours instead of waiting six to seven,” she wrote. “It cuts the ride time by more than half. This amount of time is consequential for people’s lives.”

Near Miss

Kayla Anderson is one former resident who signed the petition to plow the highway to the east of Cooke City. Her daughter Marley was seriously hurt this past spring when a chunk of ice slid off a roof onto her 4-year-old body.

“It hit her on her back,” Anderson told Cowboy State Daily. “She had a concussion, and she ended up diagnosed with three fractured ribs, a pin-sized puncture to her heart and a laceration to her liver.”

Anderson called 911, but was told that life-flight service wasn’t available and would have to wait two and a half hours for an ambulance to arrive from the west.

“So, I decided that I would meet them in (Yellowstone) Park,” she said. “I got a couple miles away from the Lamar ranger station by the time I met the first ambulance.” 

Then it took another three and a half hours to get Marley to the hospital in Livingston – only to find out that she needed care that the small hospital couldn’t provide. So the little girl was sent by ambulance to Billings, Montana, another 120 miles away, where she stayed for the next week.

Although Kayla and her two children had lived in Cooke City full-time for two years, she said she hadn’t really considered what might happen if a medical emergency occurred.

“I knew it could happen, but I wasn’t prepared for it,” said Anderson. “All our normal doctoring, we meet online or on the phone with our doctors and have our prescriptions mailed to us.”

Little Marley, who is now 5, recovered quickly after her hospital stay. But Anderson shudders to think what might have happened had her injuries been more severe.

“In the summertime, it’s an hour and a half, an hour and 45-minute drive to Cody,” she said. “Maybe in the wintertime you have to go a little slower and it would take 45 minutes to two hours. But it wouldn’t have been four hours to Livingston.”

Critical Access

Terri Briggs, who is president of the Cooke City-Silvergate Chamber of Commerce, added that there’s more at stake with a year-round opening of the east road than just medical emergencies.

“Energy-wise, propane, if it runs out come mid-March, we’re done until this road opens,” said Briggs. “We can’t heat with propane. We can’t do anything.”

Briggs, Anderson and Pitman are three of the 123 residents, property owners and other stakeholders (there are only 160 residents in and around Cooke City and Silvergate) who have signed the petition for Governor Gianforte, asking the state to plow the 8.5-mile section of federal highway known locally as “the plug.” 

The National Park Service keeps the highway plowed between Silvergate and Gardiner, Montana. The Wyoming and Montana Departments of Transportation keep Highway 212 plowed between Cody and the end of the Chief Joseph Highway, but the remaining 8.5 miles (“the plug”) has been left alone. 

“The majority of the Cooke City residents definitely want this road open,” said Briggs.

Historically, however, the road to the east has remained closed, which has been a boon for snowmobilers who say they want to protect the unique winter heritage of the Cooke City area. 

Terri Briggs is president of the Cooke City-Silvergate Chamber of Commerce who favors opening “the plug” year-round. (Courtesy Photo)

The Debate

Two opposing factions – the PARC and Protect Our Plug (POP) group – have been engaging in a public tug-of-war over which has the most support for its position. 

While PARC advocates for plowing the road, the POP group supports keeping the plug closed so snowmobilers have unfettered access to the vast snowy playground around Cooke City.

In an interview with Cowboy State Daily earlier this month, Elk Horn Lodge owner Lisa Ohlinger predicted that should the road be plowed, it would “decimate” her winter business.

“We wouldn’t have any snowmobiling, because that’s our only trail to get out of town to our back country riding,” she said. “So, we would have not only lost our summer, but we would have lost our winter.”

And Ohlinger said now that COVID restrictions have been lifted, winter business has returned – and then some.

“Our Canadian customers can come back,” she said. “For the past two years because of COVID, they haven’t been able to come, and we’re a big destination for Canadian skiers and snowmobilers. So that’s been huge.”

Ohlinger added that the area has also become more popular with backcountry skiers.

“That has really exploded,” she said. “Last winter was a great winter for that.”

“We even had Kobe Stevenson, the U.S. Olympic freestyle skiing silver medalist, stay with us last year,” she added.

Shaleas Harrison, a political consultant working with PARC on the petition that was sent to Gianforte, said she understands the position of the POP advocates, but that they shouldn’t have as much say in the matter as those who live in the community.

“They care about Cooke City, but their livelihoods and safety don’t depend upon the road being open,” said Harrison.

Cooke City residents Kayla Anderson and her children are shown in this courtesy photo from the family.

Seeing Both Sides

Briggs said she knows that some of her neighbors and customers believe that plowing the road would ruin the snowmobiling there. However, there has been at least one change in the last couple of years that makes it easier for snowmobilers.

“For so many years, it took too much fuel to get from Cooke City over to the Beartooth and back,” said Briggs. “Now, the Top Of the World store is open (on the Beartooth Highway) and they can get fuel up there. But it would be nothing to put your snowmobiles on a trailer and take off and go and have a great day, either here at Cooke City or on the Beartooths.”

Briggs said that she loves her snowmobiling customers and doesn’t want to damage that relationship.

“We love our snowmobilers up here,” said Briggs. “They are a special group that we just have so much fun with. I’ve adopted several of mine.”

Pitman agreed, but pointed out that the few regulars who stay at the Big Bear year after year don’t make up for what business could come in if there was year-round vehicle access to her property on Colter Pass.

“I love my guys, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again this winter,” said Pitman. “But we need a little bit broader customer base.”

Best of Both Worlds

Briggs pointed out that plowing the road doesn’t mean the end of the snowmobile culture in Cooke City. Rather, it would open the community to even more winter opportunities.

“We just feel that we would get so much more diversity and business with this road open,” she said. “We get so many people (in the) spring, fall trying to just take the scenic route through from east to west or west to east. And we would get so many more skiers and snowboarders that don’t own snowmobiles and can’t get up here.”

A flood in June set in motion a “just-in-case” scenario, in which the governors of Wyoming and Montana, as well as the National Park Service, created a plan to plow the plug if construction on the highway to the west of Silvergate was delayed.

Harrison pointed out that those plans – which included an alternate route for snowmobilers around the plowed highway – could easily be put into place now that they’ve been developed.

“The Forest Service does this stuff all the time. It’s called a categorical exclusion,” she explained. “And they were willing to do that this year, had the construction not gotten done.”

‘Cooke City Isn’t Going To Die’

Harrison said that PARC has received support from the Gardiner and Red Lodge, Montana, city leadership and is hoping for a face-to-face meeting with Governor Gianforte regarding their petition.

But the governor’s position in the aftermath of this summer’s flood, which closed down the region’s access route temporarily, proves that interagency cooperation in plowing the road is feasible.

“In that (emergency declaration) there’s WYDOT (the Wyoming Department of Transportation), MDOT (Montana Department of Transportation), both national forests (Gallatin and Shoshone), both governors (Gianforte and Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon),” said Harrison. “And it was to us a really great example of the leaders serving their citizens in a time of crises. And it was also a great example that it can be done.” 

Harrison added that any plowing arrangement doesn’t have to change the status of the highway.

“Wyoming and Montana can come up with whatever plowing agreement that they want to plow each section,” she said. 

Pitman, like Briggs, said she truly wants what’s best for the community that she loves.

“The majority of the people in Cooke City and Silvergate are wonderful,” she said. “I care about my community. (Terri) cares about her community. And the sooner we can get this open the better, and people will start realizing that Cooke City isn’t going to die. We’re going to survive if we get the road open.”

Snowmobile enthusiasts who wish to protect the unique winter heritage and recreational aspects of Cooke City as it has been are also looking to be part of the conversation. Their point of view can be found at protectourplug.org and will be the subject of an upcoming Cowboy State Daily story.

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Given Up For Dead, Ranch Hand Raises Baby Bison Who Was Separated From Mother

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

They weren’t sure it was going to work. After all, baby bison don’t adjust well to bottle feeding. 

But Emmie Sperandeo, a ranch hand working out of Ronan, Montana, this summer, thought she’d give it a try.

On a routine job to transfer domestic American buffalo from one herd to another in June, one little “red dog” was separated from her mother. At 2 weeks old, the baby wasn’t expected to live. 

When Sperandeo’s boss asked her to try to keep it alive, she wasn’t optimistic.

“Baby bison are very stubborn and sensitive,” Sperandeo told Cowboy State Daily. “I started her on a goat bottle, because the nipple is smaller.”

Everyone Loves Lucy

To everyone’s surprise, the baby survived – and became a daily part of Sperandeo’s ranch life. 

And several million people around the world, not just in the mountain West, have fallen in love with little Lucy, the orphaned bison.

TikTok Fame

Sperandeo, a 26-year-old photographer/videographer/ranch hand based in Montana, has had millions of views of her TikTok video of Lucy, which gives viewers a glimpse of her unusual life with the baby bison.

But she gets even more reaction when she shows up at events with Lucy in tow. 

In August, Sperandeo was in Jackson for a video shoot (she had to procure a special bison transportation permit to cross state lines). When she opened the back of her horse trailer and Lucy trailed behind her on a halter and lead, they drew attention.

“Most people thought it was nuts,” Sperandeo said. “They’re like, why? What are you going to do when she’s bigger? What is your plan here? What is going on? And I mean, most of them are pretty fascinated.”

That Bison Girl

But Sperandeo said she didn’t really have a choice – she was the only one able to bottle feed the bison, and Lucy bonded to her. So this summer, Sperandeo halter-broke Lucy and the two traveled all over together.

“I was really surprised at how quickly people started calling me the ‘Bison Girl,’” said Sperandeo. “I had her for a couple of weeks and people would see me on the street and be like, ‘Hey, how’s your buffalo doing?’”

Sperandeo said this winter she’s going to bring Lucy from Ronan to Townsend, Montana, where she’s spending the next few months.

“She’s really comfortable with me,” she said. “She’s used to being around the horses.”

Photo Courtesy Emmie Sperandeo

Lucy Will Get Larger

Sperandeao said that as Lucy grows, if she does end up keeping the bison long term, she’ll put her in a separate pasture and get her a buddy. 

She also has the option of keeping Lucy at the ranch in Ronan if that doesn’t work out.

Rejoining the Herd

Sperandeo said Lucy has adjusted well to life both with her human “mother” and other bison. In fact, Lucy started going out into the ranch’s bison herd on her own this fall. 

Sperandeo attributes that independence to Lucy’s bison nature.

“She was like, ‘Well, there’s a fence and I want something on the other side of it, so I’m gonna get through it,’” she said. “So she would go out by herself. And then I was like, ‘Well, I’m not gonna force you. But come back when you’re hungry.’” 

Which she did.

But Sperandeo said she encourages Lucy to interact with other humans besides herself.

“She is very attached to me and very comfortable with me, but still doesn’t really trust other people,” said Sperandeo. “But I want to always try and be like, ‘OK, the stranger walking up to you, they’re not going to hurt you.’”

Who Wants A Ride?

Because Lucy was born into a domestic herd, she is considered livestock and not subject to the distance rules in place in locations like Yellowstone National Park.

So Sperandeo has some big plans in mind for Lucy as she gets older. 

Like, to ride her.

“I want to get a little mini saddle and have her get used to having a saddle on her,” she said. “And just do little things that I can while she’s still small so that when she’s bigger, it’s easier.” 

Experimenting like that is how Sperandeo has raised Lucy so far.

“There’s not really a guidebook,” she said about the relationship she has with Lucy. “There’s really no information at all on even bottle-feeding bison, because there’s not many that live. So this has all been a very interesting trial-and-error experience.”

Traveling With Lucy

Sperandeo has to pay attention to state regulations for livestock and domesticated pets, but Lucy isn’t considered an “exotic animal,” so crossing state lines with her hasn’t been too much of an issue – yet. But she has more research to do.

“I travel a lot with my horses,” said Sperandeo, who has been hired for photography and videography jobs all over the United States, Canada and Mexico, and even went to Africa this past spring. 

“But since (regulations) vary per state, I wasn’t super comfortable with the idea of bringing her with me everywhere I go,” she said.

Sperandeo just wants to make sure she never is caught unprepared.

“You get vaccinated and then you get a bison transportation permit if you’re crossing state lines,” she said, “so that basically you have paperwork if someone pulls you over and is like, ‘Why do you have bison in there?’” 

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Cheyenne Police Rescue Baby Pig Lost In Snow And Sub-Zero Temperatures

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Photos Courtesy Cheyenne Police Department

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A report of a pint-sized piggie on the loose in Cheyenne during a snowstorm set into motion a rescue mission to return the pet porker to its Nebraska family.

The report of a pig “running hog-wild” in the area of 19th Street and Bent Avenue came in Tuesday to the Cheyenne Police Department, Animal Control Supervisor Elizabeth Wagner told Cowboy State Daily.

Although they looked, officers couldn’t find the pig on that snowy, cold day.

Around the same time, a family from Nebraska that had been passing through Cheyenne reported their female baby pet pig was missing.

Pig Out Of The Poke

“They had pulled over for a pit stop and the pig got out,” said Wagner. “I believe their young daughter let it out.”

For the next two days, the little piggy was elusive – until Thursday, when a CPD officer was flagged down on 19th Street and told that a piglet had been spotted nearby. Because the sub-zero temperatures were hazardous to a tiny swine, Wagner said it was important to catch her quickly.

“It was definitely cold, and it was snowing at the time,” she said, adding the temperature “was actually in the negatives, and we even had winter storm warnings that night.”

Photo Courtesy Cheyenne Police Department

The Piggy Posse Responds

Wagner, Community Service Officer Tyler Littau and even Cheyenne Police Chief Mark Francisco aided in the capture, cornering the wee whinock near a house at the corner of 19th and Bent.

“She was running pretty quick,” said Wagner.

But their teamwork paid off. Piggy was transported to the animal shelter, where she was wrapped in a blanket and held for an hour to get her warmed up, and was fed plenty of pig food and veggies.

Because the piglet’s family had been looking for her the last couple days, when CPD actually caught her, they knew who it belonged to. 

“Once they called them, they had to drive back from Nebraska to get it,” said Wagner.

Just five hours after the elusive swine was captured, she was back in the arms of her family, her bacon saved by the Cheyenne Police Department.

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Inside The Blue Bubble: What Teton County Residents Think Of The Rest Of Wyoming

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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter

There’s no question in the minds of many Jackson locals about how they are viewed around the rest of Wyoming.

“It’s not that we don’t love the state, I know the state doesn’t love us,” said Mike Woods, a local bartender. 

Whether Jackson and Teton County are separate entities from the rest of Wyoming or fully immersed in the state depends on who you ask.

Along with being a politically blue island in a sea of Wyoming Republican red, Teton County also is by far the wealthiest — not only in Wyoming but in the entire country.

Seen As Outsiders

Payton Larimer said he and many other Jackson locals are fully aware they are seen as outsiders by many in their own state, but that doesn’t bother them much. 

“We usually try to get along and I feel like we can fit in,” he said. “We’re not as bad to get along with as the rest of Wyoming would have with someone from New York City. We have a lot of shared life experiences.”

The wood-planked sidewalks give Jackson a Western flair, an odd juxtaposition to the fine jewelry, art galleries and Patagonia stores they lead to. Jackson is highly dependent on tourism and like any tourist town, it has a certain image it wants to project.

“To survive in this town, you have to cater to tourists and locals alike,” Larimer said, adding that “the tourists are a little more picky.”

Preparing For Winter Rush

Workers in Jackson are busy preparing the town for the winter tourism season. (Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily)

A distinct hum of machinery filled the air of Jackson’s well-kept downtown streets Wednesday morning, beeping cranes maneuvering around antler-shaped arches as workers furiously raked leaves below, their hot breath wafting puffs of steam into the cold air. 

Although it was a frigid shoulder-season morning in Jackson, evident by the many businesses still closed and mostly barren sidewalks, many workers were busy setting up shop displays in the crisp early morning light. 

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, the main source of the area’s winter tourism, will open in less than 10 days, which for many local businesses means big money. With the ski area opening also comes hundreds of thousands of international visitors and a small army of seasonal workers.

As city workers strung lights to trees in Jackson’s famous Town Square, Larimer could be seen taking out the trash outside Wyoming Whiskey. Two Lexus SUVs followed by a Mercedes puttered by.

‘Not Wyoming’

Woods, a Jackson resident of 41 years, fully admits that Jackson doesn’t embody the common Wyoming culture. Most Wyoming communities are conservative, working class and have an agricultural focus. 

“You drive 40 miles and you’re back in Wyoming,” he said.

But Woods finds that most people in Jackson share a positive opinion about the rest of their state.

Larimer agreed, and said people in Jackson still share a similar outlook to their neighbors around the state, even though he also said many of his fellow residents see the rest of Wyoming as “a little backwards, a little po-dunk.” 

He said the longer people live in Jackson, the more they tend to “assimilate” to the state’s culture.

“It seems like the rest of Wyoming is a true, old-boy culture, which is really cool to see,” said Daley Matthews-Pennanen. “It’s much more progressive here.”

An electric vehicle charging state in downtown Jackson. (Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily)

‘A More Liberal Sensibility’

No matter their political leanings, most people who move to Teton County do so for world-class recreation and stunning natural backdrops.

“People come here to be outdoors and recreate,” Matthews-Pennanen said. “They tend to have a more liberal sensibility.”

‘All The Millionaires And Billionaires Want To Buy Land Here’

A bartender at the historic Wort Hotel, Woods was fortunate enough to buy land and build a home in 1990.

Many others in Jackson have not been so lucky. Larimer grew up in Star Valley about 40 miles to the south and moved to town five years ago. Despite working two jobs, Larimer said there is no question in his mind that he will never be able to afford a home in his new community.

“It’s never going to be possible,” he said. “The fact is, all the millionaires and billionaires want to buy land here.”

The median price for a home in Jackson in October was $3.1 million, according to realtor.com, with most costing more than $1 million and ranging up to $40 million. That’s an increase of 25% over the median cost in October 2021.

State Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, said many working class people move to Jackson out of a legitimate love for the area, but then are forced out when they want to achieve other goals in their life, like buying a home.

A handful of people Cowboy State Daily spoke with referred to Jackson as the land of the billionaires, not millionaires.

Shared Challenges

Along with being one the most expensive locations for a house in the nation, Teton County also has a higher concentration of wealth per household than any other in the U.S., according to 2019 IRS returns.

An acre of land in Teton sells for around $1 million and the county’s priciest property, a 233-acre ranch, recently sold for $35 million.

Wages are higher than the rest of Wyoming, around $20 per hour at minimum, but that’s nowhere remotely close to afford any sized home in the community.

A severe shortage of affordable housing in Teton County has only grown worse in the past decade, according to a March 2022 Teton Region Housing Needs Assessment.

Rental rates in Jackson can range from more than $2,000 a month for a studio apartment to $3,667 a month for three-bedroom units.

A lack of affordable housing is a continuing and long-term problem in Teton County. (File Photo)

Hope For Housing

Matthews-Pennanen said although the housing market has not improved since she first came to Jackson in 2018, she’s optimistic that her county’s full support in last week’s elections of a $160 million specific purpose excise tax that includes five affordable housing measures will eventually help the community alleviate some of its housing crunch.

“All the propositions that passed seem to show people are interested in investing in solutions,” she said.

Lack of affordable housing is the predominant conversation taking place among Jackson’s working-class population. 

Some have taken a skeptical eye to rhetoric used by people like Luther Probst, a Teton County commissioner, who has a less-than-favorable opinion of free-market housing in his community. In an October Facebook post, Propst said he was proud of his vote against building “another 83 luxury homes in a place where we can house locals.”

Yin said the only free-market projects that are profitable in Jackson are for luxury developments.

“If developments aren’t profitable as affordable housing, they don’t build them,” he said, “which is ultimately why we create and fund deed-restricted housing.”

Without its working class, Jackson would have no one to clean its hotel rooms, run its ski lifts, and fill cups at its many restaurants.

A Feudal Scenario

Susanne Jackson has lived in Jackson for 12 years and mentioned how many employers build housing for their employees, which although on paper may seem like a great idea, creates a feudal-like scenario for employees who want to find new jobs.

“Then they don’t feel like they can leave because they’ll lose their home,” Jackson said. “It’s surreal.” 

Yin said although he isn’t opposed to building all luxury housing, he worries that building high-end projects will further exacerbate the need for affordable housing because of the increase in employees needed to support the work, creating an endless dearth of affordable housing.

“The worry is that if we build too much free-market housing – great businesses already can’t find employees – it creates a new demand for employees,” he said.

Many people who work in Jackson have chosen more affordable nearby communities, such as Victor and Driggs in Idaho, and even Pinedale, 90 minutes to the south in Wyoming. But Jackson said even prices in those towns have more than doubled since the pandemic.

“Finding affordable housing is virtually impossible,” she said. 

Something In Common

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of affordable housing – a longtime issue – has become a problem felt statewide in Wyoming and the nation. Rampant inflation has made matters difficult on homeowners as well, causing skyrocketing property tax increases.

Yin believes issues like these give his community something in common with the rest of Wyoming above what it may have before.

Blue Island

Politically, the town of Jackson is a light blue island swimming in the sea of red that is the rest of Wyoming. There are thousands of registered Republicans and people who voted Republican in Teton County’s midterm elections, but the results also show they are a far cry from holding a majority 

Jackson, who describes herself as left-leaning politically, said her town is “a total anomaly” compared to the rest of Wyoming. 

“It’s a bubble within a bubble,” she said.

Woods said the town has changed noticeably since he moved there in the 1980s. 

“The county has more Democrats for sure,” he said, adding that the county used to have much more of a ranching culture than it does today. “It just has (changed). A lot of people moved in here, lots from the East Coast but more from the West Coast.”

Woods and a handful of others said most people they’ve seen move to town over the last decade or so have been Democrats.

Some Lean Away From Trump

A believer in the value of nonpartisan politics, Yin said members of his community traditionally are open-minded about who they vote for, but have drifted to the Democratic Party in recent years because of former President Donald Trump.

“I know people who were longtime Republicans who changed their registration because they didn’t want to be associated with that,” Yin said.

Wyoming voted for Trump with a larger margin (70%) than any other state in 2020.

Larimer said he can relate to the town of Jackson’s peculiar political relationship with the rest of Wyoming, as he was the only Democrat in a conservative family.

“I kind of understand where Jackson is coming from,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m used to being surrounded by people with different political beliefs.” 

Different, But Still Western

Larimer said he, like many Jackson residents, moved to town for a job. This is the same reason Woods came to town one summer 41 years ago. He was just lucky enough to arrive when Jackson had similar affordability to the rest of Wyoming.

“It’s not getting any better,” Woods said.

Paul Vogelheim, a Jackson Republican who unsuccessfully ran for the state House of Representatives this year, acknowledges that Jackson has a vastly different culture than the rest of Wyoming. 

When he was a Teton County commissioner, he had to keep a sense of humility, often teased by other commissioners around the state for where he lives. But when they got down to business, he said the other lawmakers were always impressed with what Teton has to offer as far as its experience in tourism and affordable housing.

“They find out people are actually normal here,” he said. “People are actually nice here. It blows their preconceived image out of the water. We’ve got to get out of our bubble.” 

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Wyoming Scrabble Group Not Pleased With Some Changes To Official Scrabble Dictionary

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By Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily

Here’s the sitch: Some serious Wyoming board gamers are a little hangry over the latest embiggening of The Official Scrabble Dictionary.

Wednesday’s announcement that the Bible for players of the popular word tile game Scrabble has increased by about 500 new words has been met with excitement – and some frustration – from dedicated players.

Barbara Peterson, organizer of the Cheyenne Scrabble Club (aka The Word Birds of Cheyenne), told Cowboy State Daily that while she’s excited to have so many new words to play, she’d “also like to vent about that, because a lot of Scrabble people aren’t happy.”

That’s because along with adding shortened words like “sitch” (short for situation) and terms that stem from use in pop culture like “hangry” (a mashup meaning someone’s both hungry and angry), Scrabble also has eliminated about 200 words considered offensive and inappropriate.

‘The Notorious 200’

Dubbed the “notorious 200,” the words on this list have become more controversial over time with an increasing focus on what’s socially acceptable, Peterson said.

That’s divided the Scrabble community, she said: Those who say the “notorious 200” have no place anywhere, including the board game, and those who say words are words and Scrabble players should be able to play them.

While the fanfare has been on some of the new additions to the Scrabble Dictionary – spork, zedonk, dox, fauxhawk, guac, adulting, babymoon and eggcorn to name a few – eliminating the offensive words also was a motivator for updating the dictionary for the first time since 2018, Peterson said.

“That’s one of the main reasons they issued this new dictionary,” she said. “About 20 or 30 years ago, all those words were in the Scrabble Dictionary. A woman saw an offensive Hebrew word and complained about it.”

She said that “most Scrabble players don’t want to offend anyone,” but also want access to the most complete list of words possible.

“My own thought, to me, I don’t have a problem using those words,” Peterson said. “I would never use them in conversation, but strictly for the game and strictly for getting good points.”

Culture Shock

As a serious Scrabble player, Peterson said she’s noticed how pop culture has impacted the game over the decades. 

She also said those who put together The Official Scrabble Dictionary don’t just react on whims and try to ride the coattails of fleeting fads. Words must have already been accepted and appear in several recognized dictionaries before being added to the Scrabble lexicon.

“There’s no one type of Scrabble player,” she said. “There are people like me who like to know the meaning of words, and there are those who just want to know the words they can use in the game. It’s easier to remember lists of words without bothering to know what they mean.”

Another source could be “The Simpsons,” the longest-running animated television show in history. The Scrabble Dictionary already recognizes Homer Simpson’s signature exclamation, “Doh!” 

This year it’s added “embiggen,” a made-up word that first appeared in the show in 1996 as part of the motto of the show’s fictional town of Springfield: “A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.” 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines embiggen as to make something larger or more expansive.

The plastic utensil made famous by Kentucky Fried Chicken – spork – is now a Scrabble word worth 11 points (before any modifiers). 

And few new verbs make the list, like adulted and adulting, basically actions of an adult nature.

If It’s There, It’s Fair Game

While some like Peterson may be bothered by some of the words that make the game’s official list, the end result is something all players want, she said – more words to play.

“Spork, I saw that’s one of the new ones,” she said. “But the way Scrabble players look at it is if it’s in the dictionary they can use it, even if they don’t like it. If they’re in there, I have to use them because everyone else will.”

That’s because after debating the philosophy of what should and shouldn’t be acceptable words to play, the bottom line is piling up the points, Peterson said.

Peterson said her best word came just recently when she put down “blights” on a triple-word score. Including a 50-point bonus for using all seven of the tiles in her rack, the word was worth 98 points.

“That’s the most I’ve ever got,” she said.

Still, Peterson said she has trouble wrapping her head around “embiggen.”

“That’s just weird to me,” she said. “Sometimes I think they just think, ‘Oh, we better put in into our dictionary just because.

“I mean, ‘embiggen’ isn’t even grammatically correct.”

Correct or not, if she sees an opportunity to play it, Peterson won’t hesitate to embiggen her score by at least 14 points.

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Colorado Man Says He Wants To Desecrate Grave of Former Wyoming Gov. Ed Herschler

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

A Colorado man with deep roots in railroading and a profound admiration for Wyoming says former Wyoming Governor Ed Herschler all but ruined him financially by pulling the plug on a planned Denver-to-Salt Lake City passenger line.

The line would have passed through Wyoming, Jim Jordan told Cowboy State Daily.

“I lost everything, and had to build back up from there,” he said, adding the passenger line “could have worked. It really could have worked.”

Jordan, a sixth-generation Colorado native, said Herschler is the only Wyomingite he’s known that he didn’t like, and he actually wishes he could live in the Cowboy State. 

“I wish you guys didn’t have so much snow and so many damn rattlesnakes,” he said. 

He also has a connection to the Wyoming Capitol building – some of his ancestors helped build it. 

‘In My Day We Called Those Dead Bodies’

In the 1980s, after AMTRAK pulled out of Wyoming, Jordan said he was called upon to help organize efforts to fund a passenger line between Denver and Salt Lake City, passing through Wyoming. 

After visiting with every city council along the route and convincing numerous investors to pitch in, Jordan said it looked as if the idea would become a reality. Organizers had gotten the Union Pacific Railroad to agree to let the passenger line use its tracks, and AMTRAK would license the line. 

After a long conversation with Wyoming’s governor, he got Herschler to agree that Wyoming would match any money he raised through investors and donors.

The project had widespread support, including from then-U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyoming (now retired). 

One use of the rail line would be to transport “deceased persons” between Cheyenne and Denver for mortuary and funeral services, Jordan said. 

To which he said Simpson responded with his trademark wry humor. 

“He looked at me and said, ‘Back in my day, we called those dead bodies,’” Jordan recalls Simpson saying.

‘Piss On His Grave’

However, the project fell apart after Herschler decided to withdraw support – and the promised matching funds – relaying the message through an assistant, Jordan said. 

Jordan said that many years later and still harboring a grudge long after Hershcler had died, he ran into somebody who had known the governor. He asked where Herchler was buried and the person replied the location was “secret.”

Jordan said he replied that he wanted to know so he could “go piss on his grave.” 

He said he was told in response that the location was kept secret because there was concern so many people would want to do the same that “there would be a flood.”

(The truth is Gov Herschler, a widely-popular leader who remains the only governor in Wyoming to be elected for three terms, is buried in the public cemetery of his hometown, Kemmerer, and its location has never been secretive.)

Deep Railroad Roots

Jordan worked for railroads for many years, then later for fire departments. He was the first paid fire chief for Summit County, Colorado. 

In that vein, he followed in his father’s footsteps. 

His father worked as a “fireman” back when rail engines were still powered by steam and heated by a coal-fired boilers. It was the fireman’s job to shovel coal into the boiler. 

“Back then, rail engineers were really mean to their firemen, just nasty,” he said. “One day, my father was shoveling coal like mad in the middle of a blizzard, and he thought to himself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ So, he walked away from that job and went to work for the Denver Fire Department.”

Jordan said his grandmother also was involved in railroads, organizing and leading “flower excursions.” 

People would board trains to go pick flowers in the Coloraod mountains, he said. 

“Nowadays, it’s illegal to go take flowers from the mountains, but back then people would come home from those excursions and step off the train with armloads of flowers,” Jordan said.

Capitol Connection

Jordan said his grandmother told him that her grandfather, David Greenlee, owned a construction company that helped build the Wyoming State Capitol. 

David Greenlee was a Union Army veteran of the Civil War who moved out to Colorado after the war, Jordan said. He founded a construction company called “Greenlee and Sons.”

Records show that when construction on the Wyoming Capitol began in 1886, a “Robert C. Greenlee” was named as a main subcontractor, according to the Wyoming State Historical Society.

Wyoming Is What Colorado Used To Be

Jordan said he’s seen many changes in Colorado over the years, most of which he doesn’t like. The state has become largely too politically liberal and crowded for his taste. 

“Colorado used to be a bright red state,” he said. “A very red state. Even the Democrats were red. They were very conservative.”

Along with his family’s history with the Cowboy State, that’s one of the reasons Jordan said he holds a fondness for Wyoming.

“I would like to live in Wyoming because I’m politically similar to most of the people up there,” he said. “But I hate snow. I hate it with a passion.

“I lived in Dillon (Colorado) for many years, and I saw snow every month of the year up there. I just couldn’t stand it.”

Yeah, And Those Snakes

Then there’s his revulsion toward rattlesnakes. 

“I got bit by a bull snake when I was about 3 years old, and it just wouldn’t let go,” he said. 

Nowadays, Jordan said he dedicates much of his time to helping raise money for charitable causes and restoration projects. 

He’s president of the Rocky Mountain Railroad Heritage Society, which is working to restore an old railyard in Calhan, Colorado. 

“I still like to go up to Wyoming for visits,” he said. “I have great connections with many people up there.”

Perhaps it’s just as well those connections either don’t know or won’t divulge Herschler’s final resting place.

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Natrona County Deputies Honored For Saving Life Of Bar Nunn Fireman

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

It was a year ago Monday that Bar Nunn Assistant Fire Chief Wes Gilmore’s life could have ended.

His wife, Shannon Gilmore, recalls waking up at 4 in the morning Nov. 14, 2021, to the sounds of her husband in distress. She dialed 911 and began CPR, but only had the chance to administer a few compressions before two Natrona County Sheriff’s deputies, Ryan Schulz and Dan Beall, arrived.

“I did about 10 compressions, and the next thing I know one of the sheriff’s deputies was there,” Gilmore told Cowboy State Daily. “I would say within 5 minutes.”

A ‘Widowmaker’

The deputies took turns keeping Wes’s heart going until the ambulance arrived and emergency medical technicians took over, transporting him to the hospital where he received the care he needed.

But Gilmore said that if Shulz and Beall hadn’t arrived when they did, it would have been too late. That’s because her husband had suffered a type of heart attack called a “widowmaker,” which according to the American Health Association, takes the life of 88% of the people who experience one.

“Wes was back to work full-time 101 days after this happened because of the quick response,” said Gilmore.

Not Forgotten

Last week, Beall and Schulz were honored by Natrona County Sheriff John Harlin for their quick response. Department spokesperson Kiera Grogan said the two were nominated by their colleagues within the department for the Lifesaving Award.

“The Lifesaving Medal can be awarded to any member of our office who, on or off duty, performs an act which directly leads to the prolonging or the saving of a human life,” said Grogan. “They obviously performed extremely well under pressure and provided imminent and professional treatments to the unconscious patient at the scene.”

Right Place, Right Time

Natrona County Sheriff’s Office deputies have a lot of ground to cover when they patrol, so the response time in this case really was remarkable, said Beall.

“We cover a little bit over 5,800 square miles,” said Beall. “So, both of us were kind of in the right place at the right time, if you will. And that helped aid in the patient’s outcome.”

In his eight years as a Natrona County deputy, Schulz said he had never needed to use his CPR training – until that early morning last November.

“We do CPR training every year, and that was my first time ever doing CPR,” said Schulz. “And my second one was a couple months ago.”

Part Of The Job

And if you ask Schulz and Beall, the incident was, while not routine, an expected part of a career each of them chose. Schulz has been with the department for eight years, but comes from a family of law enforcement officers; Beall has only been with the department for three years, but spent the 19 years prior in the fire and emergency medical service fields.

“It really is just part of our job and something that we wish not to go on, but know we’re going to eventually end up on something much like that,” said Beall. “But it was significant because Mr. Gilmore is still with us, and that is very awesome.” 

“It was just a relief that he was able to go back home with his family,” added Schulz. 

A Team Of Heroes

Grogan said that Beall and Schulz were two of several deputies who were honored at last week’s awards ceremony.

“There were three separate incidents that were submitted to us that rose to the level of a Lifesaving Medal,” she said. “Ryan and Dan were one incident of CPR, and then we had two other crews where individuals received Llifesaving Medals as well from incidents over the year 2021.”

Schulz said the law enforcement team he works with every day makes the communities they serve safer.

“A lot of them would get the shirt off their back to help anybody that’s in need,” he said. “A lot of them I would put my life on the line for, and they would do the same for me.”

And, he said, those officers are an example of how people across the state take care of each other.

“It’s just how Wyoming is – if somebody’s in need, there’s always somebody there to help,” said Schulz.

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Emergency Medicaid Hike Comes Too Late To Keep Greybull/Basin Nursing Home Open

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Greybull Police Chief Bill Brenner had hoped that his mother might be able to stay in the facility she had called home for the last few years.

The Bonnie Bluejacket Nursing Home between Greybull and Basin had been “home” for Brenner’s mother for the last six years. But when word spread that the facility may have to close because of financial constraints, Brenner started looking for other options.

So did other families, it turns out. And by the time Three Rivers Health (which operated and subsidized Bonnie Bluejacket) finally received word it would receive an emergency Medicaid increase for each resident, nearly half of them had already secured other housing.

So Oct. 14, Bonnie Bluejacket closed its doors.

Financial Constraints

In September, Three Rivers Hospital administrators held a community meeting about the struggles facing Bonnie Bluejacket and its subsidizing hospital. 

Options to keep the doors open included receiving an enhanced Medicaid reimbursement, which would temporarily cover the gap between income and expenses.

But Rick Schroeder, CEO of Three Rivers Hospital, told Cowboy State Daily that the announcement itself caused a chain reaction that resulted in the closure of the facility.

“After we announced that we were going to investigate whether or not we could keep it open, about half of the people who were there in the care center had family members that started looking for other placement opportunities and had already accepted other placement opportunities,” he said.

By the time the hospital received word from the state that it would be receive an enhanced rate, “any gain that we would have gotten from the state was lost because of those that were leaving,” said Schroeder. “And so the writing was pretty much on the wall at that point.”

Residents, Staff Scatter

Because Bonnie Bluejacket is in an extremely rural part of Wyoming, its residents and staff are generally locals.

“This is people’s parents, grandparents, and they want to be able to put them in a place that’s close, where they can come see them on the weekends or every day for that matter,” said Brenner. 

But when the facility closed, other arrangements had to be made.

For Brenner, that meant moving his mother into the Wyoming Retirement Center down the road in Basin.

“Luckily, we got her close,” he said, noting that she was one of nine Bonnie Bluejacket residents who were able to be placed nearby.

“She had a tough time adjusting,” he added. “But now that she’s adjusted, I think she’s doing better.” 

Schroeder said that most of the members of the staff found employment elsewhere, although they were able to offer jobs at Three Rivers to some and a severance package to the rest.

“Thirteen were displaced,” he said. “Four stayed, and nine chose to go.”

Expenses Vs. Income

Schroeder said in September the hospital was receiving about $183 a day per resident, but costs were $305 per day.

That’s why last year the nursing home cost Three Rivers more than $900,000 over the revenue generated by the facility. 

But with the costs of everything required to keep that facility open increasing, and with the Medicaid reimbursement staying relatively flat, Schroeder said that unless a nursing care facility like Bonnie Bluejacket has many beds, there aren’t enough residents to spread the required-by-regulation overhead around to show a profit.

Schroeder told Cowboy State Daily in September that by subsidizing the nursing home, necessary money to keep the hospital afloat was diverted, which put the hospital’s funding at risk. 

“This is the only hospital within about 30 to 35 miles in any direction,” said Schroeder. “And so we feel like our primary responsibility to our community is to keep a hospital and an emergency room open and running.”

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Shoshoni “Fast Lane” Getting Big Upgrade With New Building, Gas Pumps, Fast Food, Liquor Store

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Photo By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

If you’ve driven through central Wyoming, chances are you’ve stopped at the Fast Lane in Shoshoni.

It’s the only gas station for miles in any direction – and because of its strategic location in the center of the state, the place is almost always busy.

“If you’re going to travel Wyoming and not use the interstate, you have to come to my town,” said Monica Gabriel, one of the managers at Fast Lane. “Shoshoni is the crossroads of Wyoming.”

Because Shoshoni is such a small town with few businesses, travelers can’t help but notice the construction going on just north of the business that’s been serving travelers since 1985, when Tim Davis bought the property.

In 1995, he built Fast Lane as it is now – but Davis said it’s time to go bigger. Since the spring – when construction began to ramp up after a pandemic-related slump – slowly but surely the old Fast Lane is being overshadowed by a bigger, better version.

Rendering of the new Fast Lane in Shoshoni.

Expanding Everything

From food services to fuel pumps, Davis said the Fast Lane is expanding in all directions. He’s adding package liquor as well as setting aside one fuel island specifically for high-flow diesel for large trucks. 

And once the existing facility is razed, which Davis expects to be around March, a new canopy will be erected to shelter six fueling stations that each will offer all gasoline products, plus diesel.

“The new store is considerably larger and it will have package liquor and more fast food – and a lot bigger bathrooms,” said Davis.

Fast Lane employs about 35 people, but because the new store will more than double in size, Gabriel expects the need for staff will grow as well.

“We’re gonna need more help in this new store,” she said. “Part of me goes, ‘Oh, what am I gonna do? I can only work these people so much,’ but the other side of me goes, ‘Nah, it’ll all be fine.’ That’s what we do, we pull together and we just do it.”

Keeping Shoshoni Alive

Shoshoni is a small town that has experienced a decline in businesses and seen several buildings demolished in the last five years. But those who live there are determined to see their community grow

The town has bought land to sell for housing and small ranches and has scheduled a major sewer system expansion, and a school built in 2016 has attracted students from around the region.

“I think Shoshone is coming out of a slump, if you will,” said Davis, who expressed his gratitude not only to the “regulars” who continue to patronize his business, but to the traveling public that have kept this modern-day way station alive.

“The ‘crossroads’ part of it is what drives Fast Lane,” he said.

And Gabriel agreed. Having spent the majority of her adult life working at Fast Lane, she said she feels an immense pride in serving those weary travelers who come through the door 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We are like that desert oasis at the end of the highway coming from Casper,” said Gabriel.

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Carloads Of Turkeys Arrive To Help Cheyenne Barber’s Drive To Feed Military For Thanksgiving

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter

Two carloads of turkeys from Patrick Brady of Cheyenne are among a flood of recent donations that’s helping Glen Chavez get his turkey drive for military families across the finish line this year despite crushing inflation and a shortage of birds caused by avian influenza.

“I was in the Army myself stationed in Germany, and I remember how lonely Thanksgiving was for me personally,” Brady told Cowboy State Daily. “After I saw your guys’ article about Glen in Cowboy State Daily, and I saw his phone number was there, I just gave him a call and said, ‘What do you need?’”

Calls From All Over The US

Brady’s is among dozens of donations and stories that have surfaced in response to a recent Cowboy State Daily story about the annual turkey drive Cheyenne barber Glen Chavez puts on for military families.

Chavez said the donations have put him halfway to the finish line for this year’s effort with hopes to feed about 3,000. He’ll also collect donations from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Appaloosa Broadcasting parking lot, located at 1019 E. Lincolnway in Cheyenne to get the rest of the way there. 

“There’s a buzz going on in this community and actually throughout the United States,” Chavez said about his mission to feed soldiers who are away from home during the holidays. “I’m receiving calls from Texas, Oregon, Florida — people from all over the country.”

Many of the stories he’s heard have been heartbreaking, he said.

“Veterans who have told me that they thought about it, that they contemplated suicide on this very day, Thanksgiving Day, because of how lonely it becomes,” Chavez said. “They were just a young person away from their homes for the first time and nobody reaches out to them.”

Glen Chavez was pleasantly surprised when he returned from lunch recently to find another donation for the turkey drive he does annually for military personnel. Donations have been pouring in after a Cowboy State Daily story highlighted the difficulty Chavez is having with inflation and a shortage caused by avian influenza. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Epidemic Of Loneliness

There’s a real need to highlight awareness of mental health for military families, and for everyone else, Chavez said.

“I think loneliness is an epidemic,” he said. “Why don’t we treat it like one?”

Brady, meanwhile, is a veteran who said he wishes that mental health was treated with the same importance as physical health. 

“The stigma against going to see the shrink, that needs to go away,” he said. “And I think the stigma is even stronger in the military. 

“And I think it’s really strong when we’re talking about, you know, these men and women over at F.E. Warren, who all probably have extremely high security clearances and are worried that if they go see a counselor they’re going to … their security clearance may be in trouble.”

More civilian counselors with military experience also would be helpful, Brady said.

“I’m a combat veteran. I went to Iraq twice,” he said. “And I tried to talk to civilian counselors about, you know, the issues I went through and stuff that I saw and they, you know, God bless them, they’re doing their best, but they don’t understand. They don’t get it.”

More veterans might seek mental health if there was more encouragement to look outside the military structure, Brady added.

“I mean, the military has got great medics, and I’m sure they have great mental health counselors, but I think there’s this idea that whatever I tell my therapist who is a member of the military, it’s going to somehow get back to my commander.”

HOW TO GIVE: Anyone with a donation to make can reach Glen Chavez at 307-287-2747 or email him at g.chavez08@yahoo.com.

Christmas Is Next

Chavez is not resting on his laurels. He’s already working on a couple of new events in December for military families to extend the connection and caring for military personnel that his Thanksgiving drive represents.

The first involves giving fully decorated Christmas trees to military families going through hard times or a unique situation. Names have been provided to him through family readiness programs.

“We’ll give the trees, fully decorated, to the families so they will have it for Christmas,” Chavez said.

The second program he’s working on is an idea Chavez has modeled after Bob Hope’s efforts for the troops.

“He would go someplace and have a big artist come in,” Chavez said. “So, I’m going to attack Christmas (blues) as well, with holiday spirits and concert music. Billy Jack’s Pizza is going to provide all the food, and we’re going to complement them with two drinks.”

Chavez hopes the Christmas party will become an annual thing, and that it will eventually attract big names to come and perform for military in Wyoming as a way to thank them and their families for their service.

“So, Carrie Underwood, if you’re listening, we need your help. We want to address mental illness, and the loneliness, and the suicide rate in our military,” Chavez said. 

For this year, Chavez has been offered the hangar at the Cheyenne airport as a place for a big performance to salute the troops Dec. 9. 

“Obviously, Carrie can’t make it this year,” Chavez said. “I’m having an artist, Katy Calhoun, who I’m flying in from Nashville. She heard about this and wants to perform for the troops, so we are going to do that.”

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John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” Breaks Out At NFL Game In Germany

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

The song is about West Virginia. The singer made his home in Colorado. But anyone from a rural state like Wyoming, or a rural area anywhere in the U.S. may have strong sentiments to it.

And maybe they didn’t know it before today.

But listening to 70,000 people in Munich’s Allianz Arena singing John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” at the end of the Seattle Seahawks – Tampa Bay Buccaneers game was great TV.

And watching them sing, swaying with arms interlocked with their iPhones lit up was spectacular. 

As former New York Jets center Nick Mangold said of the spectacle: “Did not have Country Roads on my NFL Germany bingo card.”

Sunday’s game was the first time an NFL regular season game was played in Germany and it was quite festive.

Few left early. There was a lot of singing. And, much like America, a lot of beer.

As it turns out, “Country Roads” is an Oktoberfest favorite in the country. So it’s well-known to our German friends.

And it was on the playlist for the stadium public address team. But a lot of songs are. The difference was, the crowd took this song over.

Noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich said it was an emotional moment for him. “It was kick-ass,” Ulrich said. “I’m not ashamed to say I teared up.”

CBS Sports data-cruncher Cody Suek said, “The stadium in Germany blaring Country Roads makes my heart happy.”

Senior NFL reporter Albert Breer called it “magic.”

While Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Alex Manoah said the song “just brings everyone together.”

There are a lot of different fan videos of the sing-along but our favorite is from a fan who was sitting in the end zone.

At about the 30-second mark, the crowd takes over and it’s wonderful.

Working For 5 Presidents, Wyoming’s Connie Gerrard Had Front-Row Seat Through History

in Wyoming Life/News
Courtesy Arlington Public Library

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily 

“As Ronald Reagan said, the presidency is an office that belongs to all the people  – and whoever occupies the Oval Office at any given time is merely a temporary custodian.” 

– Connie Gerrard 

There are a handful of people from Wyoming who have worked in Washington, D.C., and made careers of navigating politics.  

But few have had a more intimate view of the office of the President of the United States than Connie Gerrard of Evanston, who as a young woman made the decision to leave behind her life in the West and make a go of it in the nation’s capital. 

For 25 years, she said she sat “a stone’s throw away from the Oval Office” in the Press Office at the White House under five presidents – Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan – ending her remarkable career just as President George H.W. Bush took office. 

“Occasionally during the transition period following an election, the incoming presidential staff has asked someone from the previous administration to stay on to help them navigate their new life in the White House,” Gerrard shared with Cowboy State Daily. “I was asked to do that in the White House Press Office by six incoming administrations, of both political parties.”   

The Pride of Evanston 

Gerrard, who is now in her 80s and continues to live in Washington, D.C., graduated with the class of 1958 from Evanston High School with no more than 70 other young Wyomingites, according to Dan Wheeler, coordinator of the Hall of Fame committee in Evanston. 

“I was like 10 or 11 years old when she was in high school,” Wheeler told Cowboy State Daily. “But how a girl from Evanston, Wyoming, ended up in Washington, D.C. (working) with five presidents – and, they all had different political affiliations, which is something pretty much unheard of – it just made everybody here pretty proud. I think she’s an outstanding alumni.” 

Rob Wallace, another Evanston native who made a name for himself in Washington, D.C., as assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior for fish, wildlife and parks (he oversaw the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) said Gerrard was considered a legend among people in her hometown. 

“The remarkable thing about Connie’s career is the longevity – how long she served in the White House,” said Wallace. “That’s pretty special, not simply because she’s from Wyoming – that’s pretty special for anybody working in the White House, to have been there for that long.” 

Wallace said the people who knew her from Evanston loved to brag about Gerrard’s success in such a high-stress, high-profile job. 

“There’s a lot of politics, I suspect, even if you’re in a non-political role,” said Wallace. “And the fact that she did – and succeeded – is a really bright star for Evanston, Wyoming.” 

Leaving Home 

When Gerrard graduated from Brigham Young University in 1963, she followed in the footsteps of her sister Judy, who was working at the time for Sen. Hubert Humphrey.

Gerrard joined the staff of then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson just three months before President Kennedy was assassinated and Johnson was sworn in.  

During her quarter-century at the White House, Gerrard was a quiet witness to the high-profile visitors who were guests of sitting presidents. 

“I saw kings and queens, prime ministers, movie stars, baseball players and rock singers all visit the White House,” she said. “And just when I thought I’d seen it all, something else would come along.” 

Connie Gerrard with President Lyndon B. Johnson. (Courtesy Arlington Public Library)

Johnson’s Temper 

“LBJ was sometimes bigger than life,” Gerrard said about President Lyndon B. Johnson, the first president she served under. 

His temper was legendary, and Gerrard recalls being sworn at by the president when she couldn’t find a paragraph in the printed copy of a speech he wanted revised – not knowing that he already had a more recent copy than the one she held in her hands. 

“’I’m sorry, Mr. President, I can’t find the paragraph,’ I stammered. Without a pause came the words from on high, ‘Well, you stupid SOB,’” Gerrard recalled. “But to LBJ, every person on his staff was an SOB at one time or another.” 

Vietnam And The Civil Rights Movement 

The Johnson administration fell during the height of the civil rights movement, as well as the beginning of the Vietnam War. For Gerrard, life in Washington, D.C., was rife with tension. 

“The assassination of Martin Luther King provoked rioting in cities throughout the country, and it became necessary to place a curfew on the District of Columbia,” she said. “I was asked to stay overnight at the White House in a guest room in the mansion in case of any immediate national emergency action the president might need to take in this volatile situation. 

“When in the following days I could go home for a few hours of sleep, it was an eerie feeling to have the streets of the Nation’s capital completely deserted except for nearly 12,000 soldiers patrolling and their military vehicles.”   

One of Gerrard’s duties during this time was to organize and type notes from the president’s meetings with the secretary of state, secretary of defense, and director of the CIA to plot secret war strategies for the Vietnam conflict.   

“There were wrenching knots in my stomach so many times to know of the impending bombing missions, and then to anxiously read about the outcome of those missions in the pages of The Washington Post,” she said.

A Woman In The White House

In the 1960s, the women’s rights movement was still another decade away and women were treated very differently than they would be in years to come. 

But Gerrard’s position as a White House aide afforded her access to areas otherwise off limits to her gender. 

“When LBJ flew out to the aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise, to observe night-time airborne maneuvers, even women in the navy were not permitted to stay overnight on aircraft carriers,” Gerrard said. “But the two of us on the president’s staff did, with a Marine and his bayonet standing guard outside our door all night.” 

She also received a compliment – maybe – from LBJ prior to addressing troops at Ft. Benning, Georgia. 

“I was working in the press area when I glanced at the president, who was seated on the stage having just made his grand entrance to the strains of ‘Hail to the Chief,’” Gerrard recalled. “He motioned frantically toward me. I tiptoed up to the stage. He got up out of his chair, leaned over to me and whispered in my ear, ‘Honey, stand behind the stage, outta sight. Those boys will be looking at you and not listenin’ to my speech.’” 

Nixon Administration 

Every White House is a reflection of its president, Gerrard noted. And Richard Nixon was as different from Johnson “as daylight is from dark,” she said. “Richard Nixon was obviously a more formal man.” 

Because Nixon was determined to make foreign policy a key point of his time in office, he organized a small group that visited the People’s Republic of China in 1972, the first visit by an American president in nearly 30 years. And Gerrard was thrilled to be a part of the historic visit. 

“We attended elaborate state dinners with government officials and Chinese achievers in the arts and sports fields as our table companions,” she said.  

Gerrard was pleasantly surprised when the Chinese military band, which was playing American music in honor of their guests, played a song close to Gerrard’s heart.  

“Being from Wyoming, I was delighted when, at the welcome banquet given by Premier Chou En-Lai in the Great Hall of the People, the orchestra struck up ‘Home on the Range,’” she said. 


Gerrard’s involvement in historical events continued through the Nixon administration as the Watergate scandal took over Washington. Gerrard said that Nixon began spending more time away from the White House – in California, Camp David and, virtually every weekend, Key Biscayne, Florida – and her job was to keep track of the Watergate revelations as they were released. 

“Every Saturday night about 11 p.m. at the Florida White House, I placed a call to New York,” she said. “There, a former staff member had trekked across town for the first edition of the Sunday New York Times. From front to back of the big Sunday Times, she would read me the massive Watergate stories.  

“And I, with telephone crooked on my shoulder, would type sometimes close to 100 pages. I would finish around 5 a.m. and deliver copies to the president’s office and the senior staff, who were waiting to read every word.” 

President Ford 

Gerrard said she was relieved when the Nixon era came to an end. She welcomed newly appointed President Gerald Ford, calling him “the right man at the right time.” 

“He had a sterling reputation of integrity, and his calm demeanor comforted an agonized nation,” she said. “I am always dismayed when Ford is regarded as just an asterisk in history.”  

Calling himself “the accidental president” to his staff, Gerrard said he enabled the nation to bind up its wounds.   

“We are better off because he served,” she said. 

The Iran Hostage Crisis 

Gerrard remembers well when, midway through President Jimmy Carter’s term, 52 Americans were taken hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran.  

“When the United States failed in an attempt to rescue those hostages, I was called back to the White House at 1 a.m. to prepare for a pre-dawn announcement of that failed mission in which eight Americans were killed in the Iranian desert staging area,” she said.   

Gerrard noted that the hostage tragedy contributed to Carter’s defeat in the next election.   

“Carter, honest and well-meaning, had done his best in serving the nation,” said Gerrard. 

Courtesy Arlington Public Library

The Assassination Attempt 

Gerrard remembers President Ronald Reagan as being genuinely engaged and interested in the lives of his staff. 

“Whether I had relatives visiting Washington or they happened to be in another city where the president was making an appearance, he was always delighted to meet them and to have a picture taken,” she said. “I was usually standing nervously in the corner hoping no one overstayed their welcome, but President Reagan liked people and never seemed anxious to move on.” 

But her most vivid memory of the Reagan years is of March 30, 1981, when staff got the call that there had been a shooting at the Washington Hilton Hotel, where the president had gone to make a speech.   

“The White House Press Office rapidly became the center of activity, with reporters literally knocking each other out of the way to get information,” said Gerrard.  

Because one of those injured was her immediate boss, Press Secretary James Brady, the violent act felt very personal to Gerrard and her co-workers. 

“Needless to say, it was a time of great stress and intense emotion,” said Gerrard. “But everyone in the Press Office knew that, regardless of the horrific circumstances, Jim would want us to be calm and professional, and we did our best throughout the terrible days that followed.”  

‘The Door Is Always Open’

When Gerrard chose to leave her position in the press office in 1989, near the beginning of George H.W. Bush’s administration, she did so with the knowledge that the office of the president was being occupied by a man dedicated to traditional American values. 

“President Bush was the very persona of decency and modesty, and he was unfailingly kind and thoughtful,” she said. “Upon my leaving the White House he gave me a beautiful handwritten note wishing me well and assuring me that the door was always open should I wish to return.” 

But after 25 years, Gerrard said she was relieved to let go of the stress, despite the exotic and unique locales she had worked from. 

“We dispatched the words and deeds of the president of the United States from stately rooms in the Kremlin, from army barracks, from ornate palaces in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, from railroad stations, from hospitals, from moving trains, ships, river paddle boats, airplanes and helicopters; from trailers and sports arenas, from parking garages, from tents, campground kitchens, fire stations, and even from dog kennels,” she remarked. 

Dream … Or Nightmare? 

While some might think working with the President of the United States would be a dream job, sometimes it was a nightmare, Gerrard said. 

“I had toiled tirelessly in the Press Office at the White House for 12 to 15 hours a day, six or seven days a week and had boarded press charters to all 50 states several times each,” she said, “and I had traveled the globe to 59 countries over six continents – 2 million miles, or the equivalent of eight times around the world.” 

And while she logged some once-in-a-lifetime experiences (including cuddling a koala in Australia and catching a glimpse of the Crown Jewels of the Czar at the Kremlin), not all of those experiences were pleasant. 

“Motorcades during the Vietnam War were plagued with heckling protestors who tried to block the road or hurled rocks at us,” said Gerrard. “In Australia, we were pelted with raw eggs. There were also bomb threats in our hotel in London and a speech site Chicago, and a fire in our hotel on another London trip.”  

‘A Profound Privilege’

Gerrard said it was a “profound privilege” to serve in the White House for so many years. 

“It gave me a deep appreciation of the superiority of this great nation,” she added, “and the absolute necessity for strong leadership in the world by the United States of America.”

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Wyoming Veteran, Former Fire Chief Wins On ‘Wheel of Fortune’

in Wyoming Life/News

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter

Gary Wood has been keeping a big, fat secret since August, and it’s been pretty difficult to do.

The Casper man was among a handful of veterans picked to be on the prime-time television game show “Wheel of Fortune,” where he turned up the winner of $12,300 on Tuesday’s broadcast.

Wood went to film the episode in Los Angeles in August, and has since had the “Wheel of Fortune” pen he was given, which he has been using to sign everything — the closest hint he could drop about his big secret.

‘So Much Going On’

Now, however, with his appearance on the show Tuesday, he is allowed to shout it from the Facebook rooftops. And he has.

“Hey everyone,” he wrote on Facebook a week before the show aired. “I have been given the go-ahead to let you all know that I went to LA back in August for a reason and that was to be on Wheel of Fortune.

“It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and was very interesting how they do all that. There is so much more going on behind the scenes to make it all happen.”

‘You Gotta Be Kidding Me’

Wood, a recent retiree, said he is not a longtime fan or even frequent watcher of the popular game show. He just watches it now and then after dinner.

One night, though, as he was watching the show, some knucklehead bought the wrong vowel on a puzzle that only had two letters left when the answer seemed completely obvious.

“I was like, you gotta be kidding me,” Wood told Cowboy State Daily. “If they let this guy on there, anybody can get on.”

Having said that, he fired up computer, went to the “Wheel of Fortune” website and put in his application then and there.

Friends told him the next day not to hold his breath. It would probably take a few years to hear from the. The waiting list is at least a couple years long.

Short Wait

To Wood’s surprise, he got an email two weeks later asking if he’d like to do a virtual audition.

“It was one of those timing things,” Wood said. “You know, it’s always a timing thing. I fell right into place for Veterans Week.”

Wood’s 23 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, 21 of them as a helicopter rescue crewman, turned out to be his golden ticket onto the show. 

Trained For Pressure

As a helicopter rescue crewman, Wood is no stranger to pressure.

“I was in numerous rescues, trying to save lives in the middle of raging storms, under pressure to get them off the boat, get them to a hospital, try and save their life, do CPR, all of that stuff,” Wood said. “I was also a firefighter in Wheatland and Guernsey, Wyoming, and became the chief in Guernsey and was an EMT on both services. 

“So, pressure is something I’ve dealt with constantly.”

But pressure in a game show proved to be a little bit different, and Wood soon found that things that looked easy in his living room were not as easy in the studio.

‘That’s A Pretty Heavy Wheel’

“That’s a pretty heavy wheel,” Wood said. “And they tell you to pull and push it away from you.”

It took some practice to learn to push-pull the wheel just so. In fact, one of the contestants Wood played with had to try six or seven times before game show staff were satisfied with his efforts.

Wood thought he had a pretty good handle on the wheel after a practice session. He’d figured out just how hard to pull and push for it to turn three-quarters around. 

Focused On Puzzle

But when it came time to play the actual game, he found that his focus was entirely different.

“Once you get on that game, and the TVs are running, all I cared about was looking at that puzzle and solving it,” Wood said. “I could care less what the wheel did.”

That wasn’t the only thing that proved more difficult. On the last puzzle, Wood found himself asking for the wrong vowel. 

“I literally knew the one I wanted, I wanted the ‘U,’ but I wasn’t 100% sure of that last word and, for some stupid reason, I guess I got nervous or jumbled, I don’t know,” he said. “All I can tell you is I screwed up. I did the exact same thing as the gentleman I was calling an idiot on the TV!”

Had To Pay His Own Way There

Despite that, Wood walked away with $12,300 from the other puzzles he solved and an experience he would recommend to anyone.

“Even if you don’t win anything, they still give you a thousand bucks for appearing on the show,” he said, which makes it kind of like a nice, inexpensive vacation.

“They feed you, they take care of everything, except paying for you to get there,” Wood added. 

Wood made a week of it with his girlfriend, Joanie, taking in Venice Beach and other sights and experiences while there.

Star Treatment

Wood also enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at the game show. He even got hair and makeup, just like any movie star would. 

“There’s like a 60-inch flat-screen letter board that we don’t see that tells all the letters that have been called,” Wood said. “And there’s another 60-inch flat screen TV that Pat Sajak looks at that has the colors red, blue and yellow and the name of the player and how much money they have in that game.”

Wood and the other contestants all had to learn to enunciate words very carefully.

“You couldn’t just say ‘talkin’,’” Wood said. “You had to make sure to say ‘talking.’” 

Check Is In The Mail

There’s one more thing Wood wants to let everyone know about his experience, particularly those who have already been ribbing him on Facebook for not having already bought everyone a free round of drinks back in August.

Not only was he sworn to secrecy then but, “You do not get the money until 120 days after the show is on television,” Wood said. “I will not receive anything until March 8.”

Even then, Wood thinks he might have another purpose for the money he’s won, besides buying a ton of drinks.

He has a new ski boat that matches one he sold in 1996 that he’s restoring. 

“I think that’s what’s going to happen to that $12,000,” he said. “It’s going to pay for a new engine.”

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New Fallen Veterans Memorial Displays Names Of More Than 1,670 Wyoming Soldiers

in Wyoming Life/News/military
Photo Courtesy Casper American Legion Post 2

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter

Shojiro Yamashita was born in the Heart Mountain World War II Japanese American Confinement Center at Powell, Park County, Wyoming.

Yamashita’s family went back to Japan after the war, but Shojiro returned to America for college. A year later, he was drafted by the U.S. Army and sent to Cambodia.

Six months later, the tank he was driving was blown up. Shojiro’s body was never found, just his dog tags and some bone fragments.

Shojiro’s is one of more than 1,670 names on Wyoming’s newest statewide memorial, the Fallen Veterans Memorial, which is being unveiled at 2 p.m. Saturday in Casper.

Shojiro Yamashita

Wyoming’s Sacrifice

The newly placed wall has the name of every Wyoming resident who has died in combat dating back to the Spanish-American war. 

Eventually, organizers hope to add QR codes that will allow people to look up each name, to see a bit of history on the person’s military service. 

Shojiro’s was just one of hundreds of names that stuck out to Ray Wulf, who spent hours researching and verifying each name on the wall to ensure that every Wyoming resident who has died in combat is represented.

55 Overlooked

His painstaking search resulted in finding 55 overlooked names from the U.S. Navy, who had been listed as missing at sea rather than killed in action.

“A lot of the Navy losses hadn’t been counted, because they weren’t ‘killed in action,’” Dean Welch told Cowboy State Daily. 

Welch, a veteran and former post commander of the American Legion in Casper, spearheaded efforts to raise the new wall. 

“It seems like they didn’t come back, so I think they were pretty much killed in action,” he said.

Welch said the idea for the new wall came about when he was asked a puzzling question. Why was Casper’s memorial wall so hard to find, and could it be moved?

“It wasn’t mine to move,” Welch said. 

‘A Man Dies Twice’

But he did check into the history of the wall. Ultimately, he learned that the city of Casper owned it. But even some at the city were largely unaware of the wall’s location.

A committee was formed to look at moving the wall to a more visible location. Ultimately, they settled on designing a new wall with a more visible location.

Welch put in for grant funding and received a $30,000 award from AARP.

“It’s the largest grant AARP has ever given to Wyoming,” Welch said, adding that building the new wall in Casper has deep, personal meaning.

“The old saying is that a man dies twice,” Welch said. “He dies once when he stopped breathing, and a second time when people stop saying his name.”

Welch knows some of the people whose names are on the wall and hopes their names will always be remembered and spoken. 

“They gave all they had,” he said. “They left and hoped to come back to their families, and that didn’t happen. We need to make sure that their names are always remembered.”

Aftermath Of 9/11

Among the names of people on the wall who Welch knew personally is Robert Lucero.

“Robert was actually the first Wyoming Army National Guard person killed in Iraq when the Iraq War started,” Welch said. “That was back in 2003. He and I served together.”

Right after 9/11, the National Guard was called up to help secure all the airports in the nation. Lucero and Welch were in charge of the security detail at Casper International Airport.

“He was the officer in charge, and I was a senior enlisted in charge,” Welch recalled. “So, we worked together for about a year and a half.”

Called Up

Not long after that, Lucero was called up with the Fort Infantry Division of the Wyoming Army National Guard to deploy to Iraq in 2003.

“We went out and watched them ship off, and got on the bus to say goodbye to them,” Welch said. 

Unfortunately, Lucero, while on patrol searching some buildings, happened across a box. It was a plain box that seemed innocuous. Without thinking, he opened it. An IED exploded, killing him instantly and wounding his partner, who lived.

“I remember getting the phone call at 3 a.m. in the morning from the state sergeant major telling me that Robert had been killed,” Welch said. “We were good friends, and he knew that, so he called to let me know.”

Lucero was just 37. He was married, but didn’t have any children.

Caspar Building Systems and Ray Wulf work on getting name frames set up, along with silhouettes for the Wyoming Fallen Veterans Memorial in Casper, which is being unveiled Saturday. (Photo Courtesy Casper American Legion Post 2)

Say The Names

“Every time I read the name off this banner, or I go out to the Veterans Cemetery in Evansville, I stop by and talk to him,” Welch said. “You don’t want to ever top saying their name. That way they’re not forgotten.”

Welch remembers Lucero as dedicated and very patriotic.

“He volunteered to go over as soon as they were asking for volunteers for deployment,” Welch said. 

He was also an avid hunter and loved to spend time outdoors in Wyoming.

“He was a great guy,” Welch said. “Even after we weren’t doing airport security, we still hung out, even though there was quite the age difference.”

Casper will unveil its new Fallen Veterans Memorial at 2 p.m. Saturday at 3800 W. 13th St. A shuttle will be available to transport people from the parking lot at nearby Fort Caspar.

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What A Way To Go: ‘Krapp Strapp’ No. 1 Way For Wyo Outdoorsmen To Do No. 2, Inventor Says

in Wyoming Life/Wyoming outdoors/News
Photos Courtesy Air Boss Motion Decoys

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

Keith Lindsey said the inspiration for one of his best-selling products came to him while he was in the woods doing what bears are widely purported to do there.

“I was chasing a couple of lost cows in the woods and the urge came upon me, you know what I mean,” Lindsey, who lives near Jacksonville, Texas, told Cowboy State Daily. “And there I was, at 60 years old, hugging a tree with my knees hurting.”

After a lifetime of horseback riding and other strenuous activities, Lindsey said his joints weren’t what they used to be. And he knew that others must being going through the same pain while trying go about their necessary business in the outdoors. 

He has a background in product development, so it seemed only logical to develop something to solve the dilemma of taking a deep-woods deuce.

Simple But Effective

Now 63, Lindsey is the founder of Air Boss Motion Decoys, an outdoors company in Jacksonville. The company specializes in hunting decoys, but one of its best-selling products is the “Krapp Strapp.” It’s a device that allows users to lean into a padded strap, thereby taking the weight off their joints while answering nature’s call. 

He founded Air Boss Motion Decoys after retiring from a corporate career. So when following a basic urge led him to an esoteric inspiration in the woods that day, envisioning a simple, yet effective, design came naturally. 

“The Krapp Strapp is available only by direct shipment from our website,” he said. “We probably move 50 a week.”

With a large number of outdoorsmen, hunters and campers in Wyoming, he said the Krapp Strapp has found its way into some Cowboy State backpacks.

“Yes, we’ve sold some to people in Wyoming,” he said. “Montana, Colorado, all of those places. The hikers love them up in that country.”

‘Tethered To A Tree With Your Pants Down’

When shown a photo of the Krapp Strapp, noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich agreed it would be great for older adventurers or other people with joint problems. 

But he was incredulous about its practicality for younger, fit hunters trying to pack light in grizzly country.

“Reminds me of the scene with the goat in ‘Jurassic Park,’” Ulrich told Cowboy State Daily. “Nothing easier for a predator than a meal tethered to a tree with its pants down.”

Karl Brauneis, a retired forester from Lander, told Cowboy State Daily that he thought the Krapp Strapp’s design was ingenious, though he’ll probably stick to what nature provides. 

“That’s too cool. Think I’ll steer around that one, though, in search for a good log,” he said.

That Dumping Cousin

Lindsey said he doesn’t mind that some people buy his product for laughs. 

A significant number of customers are women, and not only because they must squat to do what men can do standing up in the outdoors, he said. They sometimes buy Krapp Strapps to chide the men they know. 

“Everybody has that cousin who, every time you’re trying to go to do something, he’s gotta stop and take a dump,” Lindsey said. “Well, many of my women customers are buying a Krapp Strapp as a novelty gift for that cousin.”

The first run of Krapp Strapps had a pocket on only one side of the user’s end, he said. On his wife’s advice, and to make it more appealing to women, he’s since added pockets on both sides. 

“The pocket is for your toilet paper, of course,” he said. “But women like to have those scented wet wipes and bacteria gel – the hand-cleaning supplies. So, now you have pockets on both sides for everything.”

Backing In To New Markets

Along with outdoors enthusiasts, he said people who work outside in remote places could also benefit from Krapp Strapps, so he’s hoping to grow sales in that market.

“If you see those road construction crews working way out there with miles between towns, you know they’ve got to take a dump somewhere,” he said. “I’d like to convince those guys to have a Krapp Strapp in every utility truck.”

What’s In A Name

Lindsey said it’s part of his company’s strategy to give products catchy names by switching out and doubling letters. 

“So you’ve got the ‘K’ in Krapp and the ‘PP’, the double Ps,” he said. “Catchy names help people remember our products.”

He’s also proud that his products are 100% American made.

“We make everything ourselves, right here in Jacksonville,” he said. “We like to make things the right way, just like you folks in Wyoming do.”

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Cheyenne Barber Opens Home, Heart To Thousands Of Military On Thanksgiving

in Wyoming Life/News/Thanksgiving
Photo Courtesy Glen Chavez

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter

Pass the dinner rolls. How about some cranberry sauce, too?

Routine phrases that roll of the tongue smoothly at Thanksgiving. 

For some, they also hold a deeper feeling that’s not about the food all. 

The message simply says, “We care.”

Healing Power

There’s power in that, especially around a dinner table enjoying the traditional turkey and dressing. There’s power enough to start the healing for almost any wound.

It’s a power that Glen Chavez of Cheyenne hopes underscores every turkey drive he’s done for military service personnel, many of them stationed away from home for the first time in their lives. 

Chavez feeds upward of 3,000 people a year with the drive and aims to do it again this year.

Tough Turkey

Turkeys are expensive and there’s a shortage, Chavez told Cowboy State Daily. That’s making things tough this year.

But Chavez is determined that this will not be the year there is no military dinner for those thousands of people with military connections. The dinner must go, no matter what. It’s just too important. 

For those with time to sit and listen, Chavez will tell the story again about exactly why he does this every year, without fail, and why he believes it is so important.

It’s tough to talk about, but Chavez believes in supporting mental health for the troops.

“It sets in during the holidays more than any other time of year,” he said of mental health challenges for people in the military. “Holidays kind of add water to it, but it’s a year-round problem.” 

More Than A Haircut

Chavez has been a barber by trade for decades. Now he works at Trujillo’s Barber Shop on Randall Avenue in Cheyenne, but before that, he was the barber at Glen’s Historical Barbershop in the Masonic Temple. 

Chavez liked to keep it kind of old school at his shop, maybe even what some would call quaint.

In fact, his youngest son Paxton teased him at the time for playing elevator music every day. Perry Como, Andy Williams and the like.

“Dad, no one wants to listen to that trash,” Chavez recalls Paxton saying one day.

“These guys love it,” Chavez protested. “Don’t you guys like this?”

“Well … we do sir,” Chavez recalls one airman saying. “But you don’t understand why we come here. You take us home. You bring us home. You remind us what it’s like when we go back home. You know, our parents, our uncle, our grandpa. We get to have that feeling in your barbershop.”

Chavez understood. He was proud to offer more than just a haircut. He would keep playing his elevator music for them. He would keep talking to them like they were family. 

God was in this service, he decided. This was what God was telling him to do.

The Day Everything Changed

One day more than a decade ago, Chavez came to realize that as special and nice as his little slice of home was for his customers, it wasn’t enough. 

That was the day a young, upset airman came into his barbershop.

“He had swollen eyes and everything, and I said, ‘Hey, man, come here. Are you OK?’” Chavez said.

The airman was definitely not OK. An hour and a half earlier, his roommate had put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. His roommate was dead, and the airman had found him like that.

The roommate had been distraught and lonely, Chavez was told. The upcoming holidays had only underscored that loneliness. It would have been the first time he was away from home. 

“I had to come talk to you, sir,” Chavez recalls the airman saying. “You’re the only man I know that’s been kind to us.”

Chavez didn’t know what to say or think. Didn’t the young man have a commander?

He did, the airman confirmed. And he’d been told by the chain of command to stay put. 

“But it was question after question. I had to run,” Chavez recalls the airman saying. “I had to just get away and get out of the office.”

‘You’re Staying With Me Today’

Chavez didn’t think twice about what he did next.

“Park it,” he told the young man. “You’re staying with me today.”

As customers came in, Chavez had the usual chats with them, keeping things as normal as possible. He didn’t mention what the airman was going through. 

But he couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Finally during a break, he looked over at the young man and said, “I tell you what, how would you like to have Thanksgiving dinner with me and my family?”

The airman shook his head. “No sir, I wouldn’t,” he said. “This is your family. You need to be with your family.”

“Well, you’re a barbershop friend and, you know what, you’re OK,” Chavez insisted. “My family will understand. I have two sons in the Navy. Trust me. They’ll understand.”

But there was something else stopping the airman from joining Chavez and his family.

“I have a dilemma,” he finally said. “There’s a couple of us.”

“How many?” Chavez asked. 

“About seven,” the airman said. “We don’t have a place to go, so we’re just gonna lean on each other because we’re all in the same squad.”

Chavez didn’t hesitate for a moment. “OK, I tell you what then, all seven of you come to my house.”

It was settled.

Big Heart, Tiny Home

Chavez had told something of a white lie when he told the airman his family would not mind. In fact, his wife Annette was less than enthusiastic.

“We had a very tiny house,” Chavez recalled. “Our table wasn’t really big enough. Our living room wasn’t really big enough.”

The next day as Chavez was putting his lunch into the refrigerator at work like any usual day, he thought about his tiny home with it’s too-small kitchen table and living room. 

He stepped out into the dining room at the Masonic Temple and looked around.

The size is what impressed him. It was big enough for seven airman, Chavez and his wife.

Chavez went to talk to Tim Forbis and Shannon Kupec, a couple of the board members for the temple.

“Who is using your dining room for Thanksgiving?” he asked them, hardly daring to hope it would be open.

The dining room would be empty through January, Chavez was told.

When Chavez told them his idea to serve Thanksgiving dinner to the seven airmen who’d been friends with the young man who died, there was no hesitation at all. 

The dining room was all his, for free. It wouldn’t cost a thing.

That First Dinner

Not long after that, Chavez went to tell one of the groups from Element Church about what he was doing. They were amused. They even laughed a little bit.

“You’re not a very good cook,” Chavez recalls one of them saying.

“That’s horrible,” Chavez protested. “My wife knows how to somewhat cook.”

After a little more ribbing, his church’s life group rallied and offered to cook all the turkeys for the dinner. HIs wife made the mashed potatoes and his mom, Dora, the green bean casserole. Chavez bought pies, made lemonade and brought the all-important elevator music to play while they ate.

“The dinner lasted for hours,” Chavez recalled. 

They passed the dinner rolls, the cranberry sauce and the time. 

There was not only laughter, but for a moment there was joy. And the airmen got the most important message of all – someone cared. They could let loose of what had happened for a time. They were in a place like home.

‘We Have A Few More Friends’

Chavez felt very good about what he and his friends had done. His dad, Rueben, told him he was proud of him.

“That was the first time he ever said those words to me,” Chavez said.

But Chavez wasn’t planning another dinner, much less a recurring annual event. The next year, he wasn’t even really thinking about the dinner at all. 

That is, until all seven of the young airmen showed up at his shop.

“They walked in, all swagger, the seven of them, and they said, ‘Can we have Thanksgiving dinner again with you?’” Chavez said.

He didn’t hesitate: “Absolutely.”

“Well … we have a few more friends,” Chavez recalls one of them saying. 

“How many?” Chavez asked. 

“Well … we don’t know yet,” they said.

Chavez shrugged, deciding it didn’t matter.

“This place is big enough,” he said confidently. “We’ll just get some more turkeys if we have to and cook them.”

Skeptical Commander

On the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base a few days later, Chavez was introduced to the commander by a staff sergeant.

“I will never forget her,” Chavez said. “She goes, ‘I heard about your dinner and what you did for these guys and their families.’”

Then the sergeant gave Chavez a great big hug. She also introduced him to the commander at the time.

He thanked Chavez for doing the dinner, but then he added, “You know, we don’t need to do that again this year,” Chavez recalls. “We take care of our own.”

Chavez was taken aback.

“Where sir?” he blurted out.

“They’ll find a place,” the commander said confidently.

“So that’s how you take care of your own?” Chavez asked, incredulous. “Well, I have to beg to differ with you sir.”

Chavez asked the commander if he was going home for Thanksgiving and whether he already had his airline tickets.

Yes, and yes, he was told.

“Case in point,” Chavez recalls saying. “You’re going to get on a plane. You’re going to leave.”

The sergeants have the situation in hand, the commander suggested.

“But they have families,” Chavez pointed out. “And there’s no mess hall here. You can’t even serve a Thanksgiving dinner.”

The Lord Will Provide

Ultimately, that swayed the commander, Chavez said. 

“Keep me apprised,” Chavez recalls him saying before walking out and shutting the door loudly.

“He slammed it on me,” Chavez said, “because of my attitude toward him.”

But the staff sergeant was not deterred.

“Ooooo, this is going to be fun,” she said.

Chavez thought so too – until he found out a few weeks before the dinner that there were more than 700 reservations.

“Excuse me?” Chavez asked, thinking he had misheard. 

“You told me you had a big dining room,” he recalls the staff sergeant saying. “Is it a problem? Because I can send an email cancelling it.”

Chavez thought for a moment.

“No,” he finally said. “Let’s do this. Because if there’s that much of a need, I’ll ask the good Lord, and he’ll provide.”

“That’s pretty cool,” the sergeant said. “But I think you’re going to need more than that.”

“No doubt about it,” Chavez said. 

A Biblical Lesson

Chavez knew that 700 reservations meant a lot more people than that. Each airman was making a reservation for himself and at least one other person, if not an entire family as well.

“How are you going to feed 3,000 people?” Chavez recalls his wife Annette asking when he told her of all the reservations.

Chavez didn’t know, but he kept praying and thinking about it. 

Somehow, he would find a way.

The next day, he had talked a radio station into letting him on the air to tell about what he was trying to do and why he was trying to do it. Not long after that, a gentleman sauntered into his barbershop with a Carhart hat set to one side and a toothpick in his mouth.

“You’ve got yourself in some water there, boy,” Chavez recalls him saying.

The man, it turned out, owned a meat processing company. He offered to help Chavez keep all the donated turkeys cold until it was time to cook them up. He also offered to smoke any hams.

“You have one of those turkey fryers?” the man asked. “Because you’re gonna need a couple, son. You’re gong to need some help.”

Then he added, “The good Lord is going to be with you on this one.”

Bringing Home To The Troops

After work, Chavez dropped in at the fire station. Some of them surely had turkey fryers.

In fact, several of them had two.

Chavez told them about the military dinner. 

“So, would you guys be wiling to cook for me on Thanksgiving morning?” he asked.

They were all for it, until they asked how many turkeys.

“Three to four hundred,” Chavez told them without blinking an eye.

They ultimately decided they were in no matter how many turkeys it took.

Not only firefighters, but the general manager at a local diner named John Norman offered to run the kitchen for Chavez.

“I’ll get everything prepped,” Chavez recalls him promising. “What is going to be on the menu?”

Chavez asked Norman to list his favorite Thanksgiving foods growing up. 

“That’s what I want,” Chavez recalls telling him. “I want to give them that home meal dinner that they can’t get anywhere else, but they can get it here. Let’s bring their home to all of them.”

Commander Convinced

The dinner thrown together so quickly, that had looked like a disaster in the making, ultimately went off smoothly with no problems.

“We served about 3,000 people,” Chavez recalled. “And the commander even came to the dinner as well and saw firsthand what we had accomplished. He stuck out his hand and told me, ‘Job well done.’ It was very, very touching.”

Not only that, but he passed Chavez a commander’s coin, something that is usually only given to military personnel for outstanding service.

When he got home, Chavez fell to his knees and cried. 

“I wept like I’ve never wept before,” he recalled. “I knew we had touched something. We had touched angels. We had made a difference, and it’s been making one ever since.”

Anyone who wants to help provide Thanksgiving dinner and fellowship for military personnel away from home can contact Glen Chavez at 307-287-2747 or email g.chavez08@yahoo.com.

Another Challenge

Every year, Chavez says he goes through another trial getting all the turkeys and the dinner together. 

The first year of the COVID-19 pandemic Chavez said people told him, “Hey, it’s too bad your dinner is done, but that he’d had a good run.”

“But I didn’t want to quit,” Chavez said. “I like what I do. So I said, and actually it was my wife’s idea, let’s just give the dinners to the families and let them cook them themselves.”

Chavez has one caveat though. Each family taking a turkey has to invite another family that has recently located to Wyoming or has nowhere to go for Thanksgiving. 

“In essence, I’m creating over 300 to 400 different locations for these military families to go to and enjoy their Thanksgiving meal with their brotherhood,” Chavez said.”

This year is no different. The demons he’s fighting are inflation and a nationwide turkey shortage caused by a severe outbreak of avian bird flu. 

He’s reached out to the network that helps him put this on every year. People are bringing him one and two turkeys at a time, and he’s taking them to a big walk-in freezer at the airport where a restaurant is allowing him to store the birds. 

“Safeway is having a deal where if you spend $100 they’ll give you a free turkey,” Chavez said. “A lot of my turkeys over the weekend have come from that.” 

He’s also having a food drive from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 16 at the Appaloosa Broadcasting parking lot, 1019 E. Lincolnway in Cheyenne.

“We’ll be there regardless of the weather, if it’s 5, 10 below, we will be there,” Chavez said. “We know it’s hard, but if people can give up maybe, a dinner they would have had at a restaurant and buy an airman a turkey instead.”

Putting on the elevator music for those guests is optional.

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Sheridan Senior Runs For 517 Yards, Sets New Wyoming State Rushing Record

in Wyoming Life/News

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By Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily

Had he posted it on a Sunday in the NFL, Colson Coon’s stat line would’ve obliterated all fantasy football records. For now, the Sheridan High School senior running back will have to settle for a Wyoming 11-man football record.

The 517 rushing yards Coon posted in a 63-42 Class 4A state semifinal win over Cheyenne Central High School on Friday knocked Theo Dawson down a peg in the Wyoming high school record books, who ran for 489 yards for Jackson High School in 2014.

Coon’s performance also scores out to a ridiculous 103 fantasy points. That compares to NFL Hall-of-Famer and former San Francisco 49er Jerry Rice, who holds the record for the best single-game fantasy score with 65.5 points, set against Atlanta in 1990. The No. 1 all-time fantasy running back performance was by Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles, who posted 59.5 points against the Oakland Raiders in 2013.

Once-In-A-Career Game

Fleshing out his stat line, Coon ran for 517 yards on 29 carriers, a 17.8-yards-per-carry average, scored seven of Sheridan’s nine touchdowns and accounted for all nine of the team’s extra points.

“Man, I wish I had him on my fantasy team,” quipped his coach, Jeff Mowry. “Last week, I got smoked.”

But having Coon play for the Broncs is much better, Mowry said, adding that while he knew the senior was having a good game Friday, he didn’t realize in the moment it was historic.

“No, I really had no idea about that,” Mowry told Cowboy State Daily. “I knew he was having a good night, that was pretty apparent.”

The magnitude of Coon’s night “was brought to my attention in the press box after the game,” the coach said. “It’s just wow. I think I had that (many yards) for my whole career. Those numbers in 11-man football is unheard of. It just doesn’t happen.”

‘It’s So Surreal’

Like his coach, Coon said he knew he was having a good game, but was caught up in executing each play and not appreciating the big picture.

“During the game I mostly just wasn’t even thinking about it,” Coon told Cowboy State Daily. “I was thinking we have to win this game.”

He also is quick to credit his teammates, especially the offensive line, a group that began the season young and inexperienced and has developed into one of the best line of blockers in the state.

“We started off the season with very little experience and were a little rough to begin with,” he said. “They’ve grown so much and come so far and definitely are one of the best offensive lines in the state.”

That was apparent Friday, he said, when, “I had a couple of runs where I was never touched, everything just opened up so perfectly. It’s so awesome when you see that.”

Since learning how many yards he ran for and that it’s a new state record, Coon said he still hasn’t fully processed the accomplishment.

“It’s something you never think would happen to you and just felt amazing,” he said. “It’s so surreal, breaking a state record. Also, winning the game was the goal.”

Another Broncs Title?

The reward for Coon and the Sheridan Broncs is advancing to another Class 4A state championship game, a place the program has been to plenty of times. The Broncs are the defending state champs and have won seven Class 4A titles since 2009.

They’re the favorites to repeat, going into Saturday’s title game with Cheyenne East High School at War Memorial Stadium on the University of Wyoming campus in Laramie a perfect 11-0 on the season.

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California Sells $2 Billion Powerball Winner; Wyoming Shut Out Again

in Wyoming Life/News/Business

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter

The Cowboy State has again been shut out of a major national lottery jackpot, dashing the hopes of thousands of Wyomingites who’ve been sharing their not-so-serious hopes online that they could skip work Tuesday after a ticket sold in California won a record Powerball prize estimated at $2.04 billion. 

Wyoming is among four states that participate in the lottery that have never had a winner. The other three are North Dakota, Vermont and Maine. Utah, Nevada, Hawaii, Alaska and Alabama do not participate directly in the lottery, though people from those states have been known to cross state lines to buy tickets.

Claims Of Conspiracy

Lottery officials announced that a winning jackpot ticket was sold in California after a 10-hour delay in drawing the Powerball numbers that quickly generated chains of conspiracy theories and jokes across social media.

Powerball USA said the delay was due to one state’s difficulty in completing all required security protocols. It wouldn’t name which state that was.

The winning ticket numbers were 10, 33, 41, 47, 56 and the Powerplay number was 10. 

The winning jackpot ticket is worth an estimated $2.04 billion, if the winner decided to take the prize as an annuity. Otherwise, the lump sum payout is $997.6 million — before taxes. 

$50,000 Winner In Green River

There were a few other winners in Monday night’s Powerball drawing, including a $50,000 ticket sold in Green River. The drawing before Monday night’s there also was a $150,000 winning ticket sold in Buffalo. 

No details are known about those winners. Neither of the winners has come forward, Cowboy State Daily was told. 

Wyomingites collectively won $178,000 playing Monday’s Powerball. Those who bought tickets are advised to verify their tickets at any lottery retailer. Winners can then claim their prizes. 

Other Winners

Winners in other states from Monday night’s drawing included a Florida ticket worth $2 mililon for the Power Play Match 5/5, and 22 players in various states — none of them Wyoming — who each won $1 million for the Powerball Match 5/5.

Wyoming Reacts

The odds of winning were 1 in 292.2 million. By comparison, getting hit by lightning is slightly less than 1 in 1 million odds, while being bitten by a shark is listed as 1 in 3.75 million by Petpedia.com.

Wyomingites were not immune to cracking a few off-color jokes about the delay and even some tongue-in-cheek conspiracy theories on WyoLotto’s Facebook page.

“I predict Hunter Biden wins the jackpot,” wrote Joe Zuback from Pinedale.

“Conspiracy theorists will have a hay day!!!” wrote Carla Bennick Norris of Lander.

“Great!!” exclaimed Randy Toohey of Gillette. “The same people counting votes are running Powerball!!!”

Others had more serious questions, such as whether they could still buy tickets — No, WyoLotto told them — and what would happen if all tickets were invalidated.

“We understand everyone’s concern, please hold on tight to those tickets!” Wyoming Lottery wrote in response. “You can check them online at our website; however, the ability to cash them out at retailers will become available as soon as possible.”

That post included a link to watch the numbers being drawn on YouTube. , at https://tinyurl.com/5ecwdjtw. 

Brisk Ticket Sales

Ticket sales across Wyoming were fast and furious Monday. The state overall pulled in more than $2.3 million in lottery sales Oct. 30 through Nov. 5. Average ticket sales, by comparison, are more like $154,000 per week, WyoLotto spokeswoman Ashley Pexton told Cowboy State Daily in an email. 

A sizable number of the state’s ticket sales came from people in Utah, which doesn’t participate in Powerball. Uinta County, where a lot of those ticket sales happen, took in $990,912 of the Oct. 30 through Nov. 5 ticket sales haul.

Back To ‘Only’ $20 Million

After all the hype of the record Powerball, the lottery game gos on, albeit with a new and dramatically lower jackpot. 

It’s now a paltry $20 million. 

Mega Millions, meanwhile, is worth an estimated $154 million. The next numbers for that game will be drawn Tuesday. 

Things To Know

Powerball tickets are $2 each, plus $1 to buy the Power Play, while Mega Millions is $2 for each set of six numbers and $1 per play for its Megaplier. 

Lottery tickets require cash, no checks or debit cards allowed, per state statute.

Those who win should make sure to keep the physical ticket. It must be scanned at a WyoLotto retailer or WyoLotto headquarters before it can be claimed. That is regardless of using the mobile App to “save” a ticket.

Powerball tickets are drawn every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at 8:59 p.m. Ticket sales close one hour prior at 7:59 p.m., and then reopen shortly after the drawing concludes.

Mega Millions, meanwhile, is drawn Tuesdays and Fridays at 9 p.m., with ticket sales closing one hour prior at 8 p.m. Sales also reopen soon after the drawing concludes. The odds of winning that jackpot are even worse than Powerball at 1 in 302.6 million.

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Driver Frustrated With WYDOT Warnings After 111 MPH Wind Flips 4,000-Pound Trailer

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A video (now deleted) has been watched thousands of times since it was uploaded to YouTube over the weekend: A 4,000-pound trailer loaded with supplies for a Lander business ripped the bumper off a pickup and was tossed across the road by wind gusts registering more than 110 mph Saturday.

The driver of the pickup, Bill Dike, told Cowboy State Daily he made the decision to drive over South Pass coming from Salt Lake City based on dynamic message signs (DMS) erected by the Wyoming Department of Transportation, which warned of high winds – but nothing he hadn’t navigated in the past.

“The road sign said 60 mph gusts, which anybody in Wyoming has driven a trailer with 60 mph gusts,” Dike said. “We got to Red Canyon, it was 110 and it flipped my trailer.”

Dike – who has been the target of derisive comments on social media since the video was released – is primarily frustrated because he didn’t have the information he needed to make an informed decision whether or not to drive the highway with the weather conditions as they were.

“I’ve driven almost 1.5 million miles without any accidents whatsoever,” Dike said. “There’s a big difference between 60 mph gusts and 111 mph gusts.” 

Cellphone Dead Zone

Sarah Dike, Bill’s wife, posted on Facebook that the lack of cell service played a part in not being able to access current weather conditions.

“On South Pass we don’t have cell service from 5 miles out of Farson until pulling into Lander, except sometimes at Red Canyon,” she said. “Ironically, where we were blown off the road.” 

The DMS on the west side of South Pass warned travelers Saturday that there had been recorded gusts of 60+ mph, so the road was closed to light and high-profile vehicles.

But Sarah noted that because their trailer wasn’t light (it was 4,000 pounds) nor was it high profile, her husband made the decision to travel over the pass.

“He would have stopped if they were 70+ gusts,” she said. “Unfortunately, the WYDOT sign wasn’t accurate and we had no way to access better information.” 

While waiting for a tow truck to arrive, the couple was able to access WYDOT’s atmospheric sensor with their cellphones as they were back within cell signal range. 

“The winds were sustained at 70+ and the highest gusts we saw while we were waiting for the tow truck was 108,” she said. “The one in the video that blew our trailer away was 111 mph.”

Dynamic Message Signs

Dike said a snowplow driver who stopped to offer assistance after the accident was very understanding and told Dike that he had attempted to notify WYDOT that the DMS needed to be updated.

“He said, ‘You know, I told them an hour ago they need to change the sign or we’re gonna have problems,’ and Cheyenne hadn’t done it yet,” said Dike. 

But those message boards don’t automatically display up-to-the-minute information, said WYDOT Director Luke Reiner. He told Cowboy State Daily that those warnings must be updated manually.

“Those are not updated automatically,” he said. “So, the warning is, ‘Hey, there’s heavy winds out here.’ So, the best thing to do is, at 60+, it’s time to park it. We’ll keep those DMS’s as updated as we can, but that’s a manual entry and wind changes.”

Know Before You Go

Reiner said that when it comes to driving through Wyoming in the winter months, planning is key – along with a willingness to change plans last minute if weather conditions dictate.

“Just say, ‘Hey, let me look at the forecast,’” he said. “‘Let me get on the 511 site. Let me go to the WYDOT website and see what their forecast is.’”

All of which, Sarah told Cowboy State Daily, she and her husband did before making their decision to drive across South Pass.

“We made an educated decision to continue forward with the information that we had,” she said. “We had no idea that the information we had was incomplete.”

Reiner acknowledged that the lack of cell service between Farson and Red Canyon is a challenge when driving in that part of the state.

“But I think that’s where you say, ‘There’s high winds, and I’ve got a light vehicle, so why don’t we just park the trailer and come back and get it tomorrow,’” he said.

Sarah said she hopes the attention the story has received will send a message to WYDOT that something needs to be done to get more accurate information to drivers.

“Any person that knows anything about towing a vehicle, had they known that the winds were gusting to more than 100 mph, they wouldn’t have been on the road,” she said.

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Paralyzed Woman Who Inspired Netflix Movie “Walk. Ride. Rodeo.” In Wyoming This Week

in Wyoming Life/Rodeo/News

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter

A tragic Wyoming auto crash nearly stole her life and all her dreams. But Amberley Snyder lives by certain words of power: Never give up. Never give in.

Snyder, the girl whose real-life experiences inspired the Netflix movie “Walk. Ride. Rodeo.” is coming to Wyoming to share her story on Thursday, November 10.

The public can catch her story at 6 p.m. at ANB Bank Leadership Center in the Clay Pathfinder Building at Laramie County Community College. The event is free.

Hers is a story of perseverance, challenge and Western grit that resonates with many in the Cowboy State.

It’s a story she also shared with Cowboy State Daily.

“I just always hope that I can have somebody who hears me speak find the strength to keep moving forward with whatever they’re dealing with,” Snyder said.

Courtesy Photos

Living The Dream

Snyder is coming to Wyoming fresh off the Wilderness Circuit Finals, where she’s been giving her all for the barrel-racing life she loved before a near-fatal, one-vehicle rollover crash on Jan. 10, 2010, changed her world. 

As Snyder tells it, the girl she was before the crash was on top of the world.

She was 18 and a straight-A student, state FFA president and was fresh off winning the National Little Britches Rodeo Association’s All-Around Cowgirl championships. She’d brought home two saddles, 11 buckles and the title. 

She was living her dream. 

The Day Her World Changed

Snyder, who is from Utah, was on her way through Wyoming en route to the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver, where she’d been hired to work retail. It was a high-level rodeo scene, one she couldn’t wait to immerse herself in. 

At a small gas station, she stopped to fill up. She’d had a stomach-ache since leaving home at 4:30 a.m. that morning. The seat belt, she decided, was only making things worse, so she took it off. 

Just for a little while. 

As she was passing through Sinclair, Snyder glanced down at her print-out from Mapquest. It was just for a second. In fact, it wasn’t even a second. It was an eye-blink.

But in that tiny stretch of time while traveling at 75 mph, she drifted out of her lane. When Snyder looked up again, she was headed straight for a steel beam. 

She corrected – too quickly and too much. 

She describes how time seemed suspended while she thought everything would be all right. But then the back right tire caught something, and the truck flipped over, rolling at 75 mph with her in it.

Snyder then was certain she was going to die. 

Courtesy Photo

Thrown From The Truck

She’d had everything going for her – the girl on top of the rodeo world – but suddenly was trapped in a moving cage of glass and steel. The truck was going so fast it rolled seven times before finally coming to rest. 

Somewhere in all that rolling, Snyder was thrown from the truck despite all her windows being closed. She doesn’t know when, or even exactly how. 

She sailed through the air into a fence post.

And, unlike what the Netflix movie of her story shows, her body did not stop moving after it hit that fence post. She was wrapped around it so tightly that her head struck her knees and she went another 20 feet before landing in a snowbank. 

A crumpled girl thrown at high velocity, wrapped around a broken post, then so still.

She Was Alive

When she finally became aware again, the first thing she noticed was the ringing in her ears. The next was her flattened truck. It looked as though a giant, angry fist the size of Jupiter had hammered it down for scrap metal. 

It was destroyed.

Despite that, Snyder thought she might be OK. She was alive. She could see. She could wriggle her fingers.  

But not her toes. They wouldn’t move. In fact, her legs felt as though they were floating in a warm water bath.

Passersby soon came to help her. There was a blanket and a cellphone, which she used to call her dad. There were emergency workers rushing her to Memorial Hospital of Carbon County in Rawlins. Once stabilized, she was life-flighted to Casper for emergency surgery. 

Wyoming doctors saved her life.

But nothing could bring life back to her legs, doctors told her. 

Her paralysis was permanent and the rodeo champion on the cusp of the rodeo career she dreamed of was told she would not walk again. She would not ride again. 

And she certainly wouldn’t be able to rodeo again, Snyder was told.

Emotional Wounds

As much as the crash had inflicted physical pain and trauma, Snyder also was left at the bottom of a deep, dark emotional well. She was so young and there seemed no light at the end of a very long tunnel.

Overcoming that despair was her first, most crucial challenge. It didn’t happen all at once, and it didn’t happen alone.

She leaned on family as she climbed what seemed an endless mountain in darkness, every single day.

Her recovery ultimately unfolded within what seemed like a simple idea: “Wheelchair Wednesdays,” she called it.

Little videos showing her tackling what used to be simple, everyday things that became her personal everyday mountains.

She built on every win each day, one mountain after another. 

Back In The Saddle

Eventually, she would video herself atop a horse again for one of her Wheelchair Wednesdays.

But the experience was not amazing at all.

“I realized that everything in my life was different,” Snyder said. 

The key, Snyder ultimately decided, wasn’t her circumstances. The real key was her heart.

“Being able to make a shift and recognize that even though it wasn’t the same, my love for (horses) hadn’t changed,” she said. “That was the perspective I needed to really get back on and then start working toward barrel racing again.’

Four months later, Snyder was not only back on her horse, but riding them for Wheelchair Wednesdays, but not without facing yet another mountain to climb.

Amberley Snyder will be in Wyoming tell her story Thursday. The public can catch her at 6 p.m. at Laramie County Community College at ANB Bank Leadership Center in the Clay Pathfinder Building. The event is free to attend.

Prior to that event, Snyder also will hold a barrel racing clinic with local youth at LCCC in its arena. While all spots for the clinic are filled, it’s open to the public for viewing.

Learn more about Amberley Snyder’s story at amberleysnyder.org

More Dangerous Than Before

Snyder often jokes that it doesn’t matter if a horse bucks with her on it because she’s strapped in. The horse can’t buck her off.

But the reality is that’s no joking matter. There are, in fact, photos of Snyder that show the battering and bruising that can happen when a rider has been irrevocably strapped to a frightened horse.

The horse wasn’t the only one terrified. 

At one time, Snyder told her mother to just sell the horses. She was done.

But her mother knew better. She knew her daughter would try again despite her fear.

That’s just who she is and who she always has been, even before the crash that made her dreams so unbelievably challenging.

Back In The Arena

Snyder did take a break and wrestled with her fears for weeks. Then nine months later she was back, teaching her horses new hand and voice commands, and ultimately racing those horses again.

“It took me 18 months before I competed again,” she said. “There were definitely some ups and downs and figuring that out. There was nobody else who was doing what I wanted to do, so there wasn’t a how-to manual or somebody you could ask about it.”

In the midst of all that figuring, Snyder got a pressure sore that nixed riding for almost a year. But finally, she had worked through that, had trained her horses to work with her and was ready to race again.

Then again, and again.

Rodeoing Again

Snyder is now the only paralyzed barrel racer in the United States. She has raced in Cheyenne Frontier Days a few times, as well as other Wyoming rodeos. And she’s in the Wilderness Circuit finals this year. 

Along the way, she has attracted a following of young girls who want to ride and race barrel horses just like her. More importantly, these are girls who aspire to live by Snyder’s example.

Never give up. Never give in.

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Worland Man Packs 1,000-Pound Pumpkins With Explosives, Then Shoots Them With AR-15

in Wyoming Life/News
Courtesy, Jay Richard

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

When Wyoming’s “pumpkin king” is done with growing – and weighing – season, he has creative ways of disposing his 1,000-pound pumpkins.

Jay Richard, a small business owner and pumpkin grower who has hosted the Wyoming State Pumpkin Weigh-Off Championship in his hometown of Worland for the past 11 years, finishes the annual event by dropping his pumpkins from a 200-foot crane.

Others receive an equally violent goodbye – as two of his gourds did this weekend.

Blown To Oblivion

“Rose,” his 1,069-pound pumpkin, and her sister “Sophia” (which hit a top weight of 1,165 pounds) were each blown to oblivion with an AR-15 after being packed with dozens of pounds of explosives.

“There’s nothing quite like it,” Richard said of the spectacle. “You can feel the shockwaves when they blow up.”

Richard, who has been exploding his pumpkins for five years, said the key is packing them with Tannerite — a brand of targets that explode when hit by a high-velocity bullet.

For the most spectacular blasts, it’s preferable to pack the pumpkins with a lot of it.

How much?

“I don’t know how much is legal to use, but you can say the first one had north of 25 pounds in it,” Richard laughed.

The other one? Only about 20 pounds.

Courtesy Jay Richard, Brandon Yule

Raining Down

The explosion is instantaneous, but the after-effects can last up to 15 seconds.

“The chunks were just raining down on us,” Richard said of the second pumpkin that had significantly less explosives in it.

As for the first one, there weren’t any chunks. 

“It was completely obliterated,” Richard said, laughing again.

Town Event

Richard is joined by about 40 people each year for the blast, held out near the badlands in a farmer’s field. 

As part of his son’s birthday present, the high-schooler gets to pull the trigger.

Richard said he’s proud to live in a “red state” where people who may not join the festivities in other states think nothing of it here.

“You might just be from Wyoming when the incoming sheriff and the history teacher come out to watch,” Richard said

Why does he do it?

“Because I can,” he said matter-of-factly.


After the pumpkins are destroyed, the group then gathers to watch the action in slow-motion from videos made with a series of GoPro cameras.

From that, they get to see different perspectives.

“One of the explosions looked like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man jumping out of the Pillsbury Doughboy’s head,” Richard said, laughing again. “You don’t see that in real time.”

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Wyoming Powerball Sales Breaking Records In Chance To Win $1.9 Billion Jackpot

in Wyoming Life/News/Business

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter

An unknown WyoLotto player in Buffalo won $150,000 in Saturday’s Powerball drawing by matching four of five numbers and taking the Power Play, but an overall winner was not drawn.

That pushes the next Powerball jackpot at a cool $1.9 billion — yes billion with a ‘B’ — for those taking the annuity. The next drawing is Monday night.

It’s a record, and from Oct. 30 through Nov. 5, the huge Powerball jackpot has pulled more than $2.3 million in ticket sales from convenience and liquor stores across Wyoming. Average ticket sales, by comparison, are $154,000 per week, WyoLotto spokeswoman Ashley Pexton told Cowboy State Daily in an email.

Some of those ticket sales are Utah residents who cannot buy Powerball tickets in their state. A lot of those ticket sales happen in Uinta County, which has reported $990,912 in sales Oct. 30 through Nov. 5.

Photo by Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Feeling Lucky

Ticket sales were brisk throughout Wyoming on Monday and appeared to be trending more quickly now that the lottery has ballooned to such a huge jackpot.

Will Cramer, owner of the Rodeo West Exxon in Cody, told Cowboy State Daily his ticket sales Monday are about double what he usually sells. He’s had customers buying a ticket every other minute or so.

He bought five tickets himself, and like most plyers, doesn’t expect to win.

But Cramer already has some ideas what he’d do if he does.

“I would make a lot of improvements to the store, and we’ll keep the store going,” he said. “I’d buy a vacation home. I don’t have a lot of thoughts beyond that, but I would definitely give to charities and, you know, take care of my employees and family.”

So, You’re Telling Us There’s A Chance …

The odds of winning the jackpot are beyond miniscule at a chance of 1 in 292.2 million for each ticket, Pexton said.

Or, as Kim Bo of Gillette says in a post on the WyoLotto Facebook page, “You got a better chance of getting hit in the head by a meteorite.”

On the other hand, as Pat Colgan of Cheyenne put it to Cowboy State Daily, “You can’t win if you don’t play.”

Colgan bought six tickets at Town and Country Supermarket Liquors on Monday morning, a spur-of-the-moment decision.

He told Cowboy State Daily he would try to keep it a big secret if he were to score the jackpot. 

Not that he’s expecting to win. 

“I don’t have any idea what I’d do with the money,” he said with a shrug. “I haven’t thought about it.”

Buying In Bulk

Chatima Hughes, on the other hand, has a long list of things she would do with her slice of the jackpot if her office pool wins.

“I’d buy a bigger house, get out of debt and set up our kids for life,” she said. “Hopefully, hopefully, we’ll be able to bring it to fruition.”

Hughes bought 138 Powerball tickets for her office pool during a lunch break at a Maverik Adventure’s First Stop in Cheyenne on Monday. Each person in the pool chipped in $10 for the bulk buy.

The consensus of Hughes’ office pool is that they would want a lump-sum payout rather than an annuity. That would slice a significant chunk of change out of the jackpot, which is only $1.9 billion for those taking the annuity.

‘Better Than A Stick In The Eye’

The cash value of the prize is $929.1 million as a lump sum, Pexton said. That’s before Uncle Sam takes his share of federal and/or jurisdictional taxes. 

It’s still a healthy sum for each person in the pool, Hughes pointed out. 

“It’s better than a stick in the eye,” she said.

As far as how the group would accept the prize if it wins, Hughes said no one has really thought about that yet. It’s a bridge to cross if and when they are so lucky.

“I know that they’re looking forward to hopefully being the big winner,” she said while acknowledging the odds are not necessarily in their favor despite a rather large purchase of tickets.

“I think the odds are probably still 230 out of 3 million or so,” she said. 

Hughes, Colgan and Cramer all confirmed they don’t normally play the lottery. 

“Unless the pot gets really big,” Hughes said. “Then I go in with a bunch of friends.”

Powerball 101

Powerball tickets are $2 each, plus $1 if you buy the Power Play. The tickets must be paid for with cold hard cash. No checks or debit cards allowed, per state statue.

Should you buy a winning ticket, it’s important to keep the physical ticket even if you are using the mobile App to “save” your ticket. The physical ticket must be scanned at either a WyoLotto retailer or the WyoLotto Headquarters.

Powerball is not the only jackpot that’s high. Mega Millions has reached $154 million and Wyoming’s own Cowboy Draw is at an estimated $1.15 million payout. There’a also Keno, which offers up to $200,000, and 2by2 is $22,000 or double that on Tuesday. Lucky for Life participants, meanwhile, can win $1,000 every day for life.

The Wyoming Lottery was established in 2014 to generate revenue for the state. It has since generated more than $28.29 million since then to the state, which then distributes the money to Wyoming cities, towns and counties as unrestricted funds. The October distribution was $1.412 million.

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Remote Wyoming Road A Winter Lifeline For Yellowstone Towns

in Wyoming Life/Wyoming outdoors/News/Tourism
High Country Model in Cooke City, Montana. (Courtesy Photo, Brandon Richardson)

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter

When Chris Warren heard that Old Gardiner Road between Mammoth, Wyoming, and the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner, Montana, had opened, the first thing he did was drive it.


That’s because the road is more than a winter lifeline for Mammoth, it also represents the only off-season way in and out of Cooke City, Montana, at the Northeast Entrance to the park. 

With Highway 212 (aka Beartooth Highway) closed east of the town, the only way out of Cooke City in wintertime is west on Highway 212 and Grand Lake Road, through Mammoth and over the Old Gardiner Road into Gardiner.

“I went down into the park, and went to Old Faithful, and drove out the east entrance and stayed in Cody, and it was awesome,” he said about having Old Gardiner Road open again after a historic flood damaged roads and closed most of the park this past summer. “And then we took a ride out to Red Lodge and drove around to Livingston and fished the Yellowstone, and then came back in through the park.”

Courtesy Photo, Ben Zavora and Beartooth Powder River Guides.

‘Cut Off In Both Directions’

Warren is among the many residents of Cooke City, Gardiner and Mammoth celebrating the fact that what was once an old stagecoach road has been made new. 

It is now a crucial lifeline for the residents of those communities, as well as the winter tourism that many hope will help them recover from this summer’s devastating floods.

The road connecting Mammoth and Cooke City to Gardiner will be the only way out during the winter for regular motorists.

“If that were closed, I mean, we would be cut off in both directions,” Warren said. “A far as emergency services, you know, groceries, gas drops — if it were to close or if something were to happen on the Gardiner way, we’d be, I mean, people would be helicoptering out.”

Historic And Important

The Old Gardiner Road was a lesser-known dirt trail that connects Mammoth and Gardiner. 

Once an 1880s stagecoach route, the unadvertised route travels through the hills rather than along the Gardner River, offering hilltop views and scenery of the area. In the summer, it’s popular for hiking and Big Sky eBike Tours has used it for guided eBike trips.

The trail starts just behind Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and travels north, terminating near the North Entrance Gate. 

Winter tourism is an important cog for the Yellowstone communities of Mammoth and Cooke City. (Courtesy Photo, Ben Zavora and Beartooth Powder River Guides.)

New Life For Old Road

When the Yellowstone flooded and took out large portions of the road that had wound along the river, Yellowstone National Park turned to the historic trail as a viable and quick alternative to create safe passage before winter from Gardiner to Cooke City/Silver Gate and Mammoth, both of which are popular destinations for winter.

The old 4-mile trail has been widened and paved with guardrails installed to ensure the new section of road can handle the usual traffic for the park, which has been up to 3,000 vehicles per day. The cost was $21 million and required tons of earth to be moved. 

Yellowstone National Park has asked visitors to drive slowly and cautiously on the newly opened road because of steep grades and sharp curves. The speed limit has been set at 15 to 25 mph. Oversized vehicles and those pulling trailers have also been advised to use extra caution on the road.

Steep Grades

The steepness of the road has some living in the communities that are relying on the newly opened Old Gardiner Road anxious. 

“I haven’t driven through the park yet,” Brandon Richardson with High Country Motel told Cowboy State Daily. “But I’ve talked to people that have, and they said that the road to the Lamar Valley is very passible, but that the new Gardiner Road between Gardiner and Mammoth is really steep. 

“If anything should happen to a plow or, you know, one of our delivery trucks, like you said, we’re stuck. We’re hoping not to see that.”

Courtesy Photo, Ben Zavora and Beartooth Powder River Guides.

An Economic Lifeline

High Country Motel has already had a rough year, Richardson said, and his bookings for winter are far less than what he’s used to seeing.

“I’ve got a few rooms out through December,” he said. “Just a few. When I say a few, like a couple of November and one, two, three, four reservations in December. I’ve got a few blocks at the end of January and then March or February.

“February killed it a little bit, but it’s snow dependent too. If we don’t have snow, we’re likely to get cancellations, or if we have high avalanche conditions, same thing. So, we’re trying real hard just to hang on.”

Richardson is among those in Cooke City who’d like to see the route southeast to Cody plowed out to Cooke City to give the town a second route in and out. 

That, he said is controversial because snowmobilers have been using that as a prime winter path.

“A majority of us want that road open to Cody so that we can maybe diversify a little bit and not just count on people with snowmobiles,” he said. “We don’t see the park wildlife business like Gardiner does, we really don’t. We haven’t for a long time, and I think it’s just our access is so limited.”

Opposed To Plowing ‘The Plug’

Lisa Ohlinger is among Cooke City residents who would oppose opening the route to Cody in winter. She believes Cooke City’s winter tourism is very dependent on preserving “The Plug,” which is what the snowmobile access trail is called.

“Having the (Gardiner) Road open is huge in two ways for us,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “It’s access out, but then it also keeps that road to the east closed so we have a snowmobile trail, so we can have our normal winter business.”

Without that, winter tourism for Cooke City would be “decimated,” she said. 

“We wouldn’t have any snowmobiling, because that’s our only trail to get out of town to our back country riding,” she said. “So, we would have not only lost our summer, but we would have lost our winter.”

Winter Tourism Picking Up

Unlike some of the other lodging business that told Cowboy State Daily their business is lower than usual, Ohlinger said her bookings for Elk Horn Lodge are above pre-pandemic levels this winter.

“Our Canadian customers can come back,” she said. “For the past two years because of COVID, they haven’t been able to come, and we’re a big destination for Canadian skiers and snowmobilers. So that’s been huge.”

Ohlinger also said Cooke City’s tourism is becoming diversified from snowmobiles with backcountry skiing. 

“That has really exploded,” she said. “Last winter was a great winter for that.”

She credited Benjamin Zavora of Beartooth Powder Guides with helping build up the backcountry skiing scene. 

“We even had Kobe Stevenson, the U.S. Olympic freestyle skiing silver medalist, stay with us last year,” she said. “So, I mean it’s really taking off. Ben Zavora has really put us on the map for that. We’re diversifying a little more, it’s not just snowmobiling anymore.”


With more than 60 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and easy access to backcountry areas, Cooke City has long been a popular destination for snowmobiling. 

The steeper trails are white nirvana for those seeking a challenge, but there are plenty of resources and trails for beginners as well.

Zavora, like Ohslinger, says his bookings are high and his outlook for winter is very good this year now that Old Gardiner Road is open.

“Once it starts snowing, things will pick up even more,” he said. “Hopefully, people are excited to come in and do some, you know, wildlife watching in the park, and skiing and snowmobiling and all that good stuff. It’s so nice to have (Gardiner Road) open, without restrictions.”

To him, The Plug is an essential snowmobile route, but he agrees having the north entrance road closed this past summer was devastating for everyone in the community. His summer business was down about 66%, he said.

Adapt And Overcome

Zavora said the community is pulling together to create a stronger overall tourism business for everyone. 

His wife, Vanessa Shaw, will have the Sinclair gas station open again this year. In years past, that has been closed, but she will offer a range of hot food options throughout the day to help beef up winter food options in the community.

Food offerings have been lean, particularly since the town’s deli changed hands and is now a rock shop.

There are also new lodging options in Silvergate, Zavora said, which adds to the options for those wanting to see wildlife, or go skiing or snowmobiling.

The remote winter wilderness appeals to those who like to play and camp in the Yellowstone National Park area. (Courtesy Photos, Ben Zavora and Beartooth Powder River Guides)

Others Wait And See

In Gardiner, Tami McDonald is among those of offer lodging — and many opportunities to view wildlife — who says her winter bookings are much lower than in years past.

“I think because people still have thought of the roads being closed, it’s going to be a little slower to come back,” she said. “It’s amazing, even though we all have Internet, how people still, how know, they interpret what they read differently. Everyone interprets it differently. 

“So, it’s just something we’re going to have to just sit back and wait on. I don’t really know what’s going happen for sure. People don’t really know that it’s really open yet.”

McDonald owns Park Hotel, which she has recently renovated. The ground-up renovation started in 2017 and took two years to complete. She had one year of operating the renovated hotel before COVID hit. 

“A lot of (businesses) had to go get loans,” she said. “Of course, we did that during COVID, so it’s like the second round of having this devastation happening. You can’t go out and get another loan again, you just have to suffer through it.”

Jay O’Connor with Big Sky eBikes, meanwhile, said he lost 90% of his summer business to the flood. With the Old Gardiner Road now no longer available for biking tours, he hopes the park plans an alternative path for his business next year.

During the winter, he has very little business, though he does sometimes get requests for arranged tours.

“The Gardiner Basin is basically the wintering ground for the northern elk herd, the antelope and bison,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “The antelope have already moved in. There’s hundreds of antelope in the basin already and there’s tons of elk and deer have arrived. We haven’t seen any bison yet, but that all depends on the snow level in the park.”

Thankful And Amazed

O’Connor and McDonald both feel the speed with which the Old Gardiner Road was completed has been amazing and are very thankful it’s available. 

Not having the road open for winter would have been “a double whammy, for sure,” McDonald said. “Like, we’re so thankful, so thankful to the U.S. government for reacting.”

But it’s also been challenging to keep up with the many changes — and to keep customers apprised in turn, to try and retain as much business as possible. 

Changes in the date the road would be open, for example, produced a mass scramble to reconfigure communications on websites and emails to customers. 

“It takes hours, you know, to go back to all your online websites and change the wording there so it doesn’t say the roads are still closed and to go on to all of your emails that you send to people,” McDonald said. “You have to revamp all of that. It’s a lot more work than people realize.”

Still Some Uncertainty

There are also some details that McDonald is still not sure about, and O’Connor feels that uncertainties have contributed to some folks simply deciding not to go to the park this year, to wait until everything is all sorted out.

“I don’t know if they’re going to open the Boiling River, which is just like 2 or 3 miles from us, but I don’t know if they can even access it yet,” McDonald said.

She’s also been trying to find out about this year’s snowmobile lottery so she can tell her customers what to expect there.

She also fears that the word is not getting out quickly enough that Gardiner and the park will be open for winter tourism.

“We don’t have anywhere near the bookings for winter yet, like we normally do,” she said. “We’re just helping people kid of get back in the swing of it, really, and realize that they can come on the road now, and that it’s a new road.”

She said one plus for visitors this winter is that wildlife has been a little more bold and a little more noticeable than usual, probably since fewer people have been around.

“Gardiner is known as ‘Nature’s Favorite Entrance,’” she said. “We seem to have a lot more nature (and) wild animals.”

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Motorsports Dealer Says He’s Committed To Bringing Adult Barbie Jeep Racing To Wyoming

in Wyoming Life/Wyoming outdoors/News

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter

To compete in this sport, you’ll need steely nerves, plastic wheels, a steep hillside and a refusal to grow up. 

“Barbie jeep racing” has gained popularity as a zany offshoot of offroad festivals in several states. A Wyoming powersports dealer said he’s eager to bring the semi-insane pseudo-sport to the Cowboy State.

“The way I look at it, it’s kind of soapbox derby for adult 5-year-olds,” Nick Dodgson, owner and general manager of Cheyenne Motorsports, told Cowboy State Daily. 

The concept is simple: Grown adults cram themselves into plastic children’s vehicles and careen down steep hills to see who can go the fastest. It frequently results in spectacular crashes. 

“I’m trying to think of a decent hill around here where we could do a Barbie jeep race,” Dodgson said. “It would be a great charity event, and I think people would get behind it.”

In this YouTube video shared with Cowboy State Daily, Barbie jeep racer Tony Colangeli can be seen wiping out in his “Jurassic Park”-themed toy jeep. Jump to 3:10 to see the crash.

Pennsylvania’s ‘Barbee’ Race

In video shared with Cowboy State Daily, Tony Colangeli can be seen surviving a fantastic flip-over crash during a toy jeep race at this summer’s Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival in Butler County, Pa. 

The “Barbee Jeep Race” has been part of the area’s annual Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival since 2019, festival manager Michele Anderson told Cowboy State Daily. Organizers changed the spelling from “Barbie” to “Barbee” to avoid copyright issues, she said. 

Colangeli said the race experience is exhilarating and a little frightening. 

“It’s … um … how do I say it? It’s kind of a thrill,” he said. “Your buddies egg you on. You do it just for a laugh.”

The toy vehicles usually come with electric motors, but those must be removed to make them race-ready, said Colangeli, who lives in Sarver, Pennsylvania, and is the jeep club’s vice president.

“It’s all downhill gravity, it’s all free-wheeling,” he said. 

‘I Made Highlight Reels With That Crash”

It’s not known exactly how fast the typical Barbee jeep gets going during the races, but it’s a pretty good clip, considering the vehicles and their payload, Colangeli said.

“It feels pretty fast when you’re sitting on a little plastic jeep,” he said. 

This year’s race vehicle came to him through good fortune, Colangeli said. 

“It was a little red Jeep Wrangler,” he said. “A friend of mine found it sitting in an alleyway. It had been put out for trash.

“So, I painted it up in the ‘Jurassic Park’ colors, and I put on a yellow raincoat for the race,” he said. “We have ‘pushers’ at the top of the hill. My brother Nick even dressed up as a T. rex to be my pusher. I did my best to keep up the ‘Jurassic Park’ theme.

“During the first heat, I made it all the way to the bottom of the course. But on the second heat I flipped and crashed. I actually made some peoples’ highlight reels from the festival with that crash.”

In some places, Barbie jeep races run down dirt hillsides. The grassy hillside used during the Bantam festival is a bit more forgiving, but racers can still get badly banged up in crashes, Colangeli said. 

“I escaped serious injury in my crash, but you wouldn’t know it by the way I landed,” he said.

Another view of Tony Colangeli’s spectacular Barbie jeep crash is at the 4:40 mark of this video.

The next Bantam Festival is set for June 9-11, 2023, and Colangeli said he’d like to run the Barbee jeep race again. 

“It will definitely be part the jeep festival next year,” he said. “Now, whether I’m allowed to do it … well, the missus might have something to say about that.”

Ideas For Wyoming Races

Wyoming Barbie jeep races could be as extreme or as mild as participants want, Dodgson said. 

“I’ve actually considered how stupid I’d want to be at the age of 55,” he said. “There will always be the young bucks that will try to kick our tails, but I think this is a sport us older guys could try.”

Dodgson said he’s seen footage of Barbie jeep races in which the course was lined with wet tarps, with a pool of water at the bottom.

“That looks completely ridiculous, and also kind of fun,” he said.

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Hurricane-Destroyed Bowling Center In Louisiana Breathes New Life Into Worland Bowling Alley

in Wyoming Life/News
Courtesy Photo Jay Richard

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

When Hurricane Ida blew its way through Louisiana in August 2021, it left behind a path of destruction only exceeded by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

Bowl South of Louisiana, a family-owned bowling center in Houma, was among the casualties.

Until that day, “that center has never had an ounce of damage,” said Marie Lirette, owner of Bowl South. “And we’ve gone through massive storms here – you know, we’re 65 miles southwest of New Orleans. For Hurricane Katrina, that was our safe place.”

Wendy Corr reports: When hurricane Ida ripped through Houma, Louisiana, it destroyed a family bowling center. Nearly 2,000 miles away, Hurricane Lanes in Worland, Wyoming, needed new lanes. Additional footage courtesy Mike Ware. Photos courtesy Jay Richard.

‘The Saddest Thing I’ve Ever Seen’

But the death of one dream saved another. 

Like an organ donor, parts of Bowl South have found continued life in another family’s business nearly 2,000 miles away – Hurricane Lanes in Worland, which in 2021 was in need of replacing its wooden bowling lanes.

John Noland, owner of Hurricane Lanes, said his partner Michelle was searching Facebook in an attempt to find an affordable option. 

“We were looking and she said, ‘Hey, I found these lanes,’” Noland told Cowboy State Daily. “‘They’re down in Louisiana at a bowling center that was wiped out by the hurricane.’”

Noland, his sons and two friends made the 36-hour drive straight to Houma to disassemble and load the lanes. 

“We left Wednesday, at 5 o’clock after work,” said Jay Richard, one of Noland’s lifelong friends. “We drove to Houma, Louisiana, 1,700 miles away, disassembled the bowling lanes, loaded them and went back to work Monday morning.”

But in that whirlwind trip, the five witnessed devastation they will never forget. 

“I’d never been to a disaster zone or hurricane relief zone, and it was scary,” said Noland. “There’s no power, there’s no electricity, no plumbing. And the front of the bowling center had no roof, and there was water everywhere. 

‘It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Jay Richard, his sons and two friends drove 36 hours straight from Wyoming to Louisiana to salvage wood bowling lanes. (Courtesy Photo, Jay Richard)

Reclaiming the Lanes

Concerned they may have wasted their time and effort making the trip, the Noland crew nevertheless met up with Lirette. 

What they found was astonishing.

“The lanes were in phenomenal shape,” said Noland. “It’s like God wanted to save that half or something.” 

Lirette herself was amazed that those pieces of her bowling center were still intact.  

“The storm, it was like it stopped right before the approaches,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “The lanes, the pinsetters, even though it looked a mess, it was untouched.” 

Still, there was a lot of work to be done in a very short span of time.

“The kids and I set up a generator with Jay and started tearing out lanes,” said Noland. “I worked resurfacing before, so I knew what I was doing on the lanes. And we went out there and just went to work.”

Noland’s son Ashton, who was 13 at the time, said he wasn’t prepared for the level of damage done by the hurricane.

“We had to bring generators in to charge the batteries for stuff because there was no power in there,” said Ashton. “It was something I was not ready for.”

Terry and Marie Lirette. Before he died, Terry told his wife he’d give her a sign about when it would be time to let go of their bowling alley. That sign came after Hurricane Ida destroyed their alley in Houma, Louisiana, and a call came from Hurricane Lanes in Wyoming. (Courtesy Photo, Marie Lirette)


But this story is about so much more than just replacing the lanes of a small community’s bowling alley. It’s about bringing two families together under very unique circumstances – and there also was a lot of synchronicity involved.

Lirette told Noland that her late husband, Terry, had said he would give her a sign when it was time to close Bowl South. 

“He said before he passed away that when it was time to quit bowling and quit doing the bowling business, he would send her a sign that it was over,” said Noland. 

That sign, Lirette believes, came in the similarities between the Noland family and her own.

“My sisters and my nieces and nephews were always there helping me operate the center,” she said. “And John and his family, it’s like it’s no different. The connection is so similar. It’s like looking in the mirror.”

Norland agrees, saying he noticed similarities as well.

“Her brother that she was very close to growing up, his name was John, as well as mine,” said Noland. “And then she started talking about siblings that she had, and her siblings names match all four of us kids, my siblings.” 

Even the name of the Worland business – Hurricane Lanes – which had been determined in 1992 when Noland bought the property, seemed to foreshadow the connection.

“We went down to Deadwood and I hit this slot machine and it was a hurricane slot machine,” said Noland. “So I thought, ‘Well, hell, I’ll call it Hurricane Lanes.’”

Lirette felt the connection almost immediately.  

“I’ll never forget, I was in shock, honestly, when he told me the name of his center,” said Lirette. “I thought they were joking at first. I’m like, ‘Hurricane Lanes? Are you … What?’ We’re talking about synchronicity, divine order, all of it.” 

Extended Bowling Family

Noland, who himself has been bowling at what is now Hurricane Lanes since he was 12, has passed his love for bowling on to his son, Ashton, who bowled consistent strikes and spares before being interviewed for this story.

Michelle Dorman, Ashton’s mom and Hurricane Lanes co-owner, said Ashton has grown up at the bowling alley and legitimately bowling since he was a toddler.

“He bowled his first state tournament when he was 2 years old,” said Dorman. “He’s the youngest bowler to ever bowl a state tournament in Wyoming.” 

Ashton said he’s sometimes teased by friends because he spends so much time at Hurricane Lanes.

“It’s like my second home,” he said. “It’s something that’s always been in my life, and I couldn’t imagine what it’d be like if it wasn’t here.”

Bowl South in Houma, Louisiana. (Courtesy Photo, Marie Lirette)

Changing Lives

For Richard, the trip was a life-changing event. 

“I think about it every day,” he said. “And I hope that they’re able to rebuild and go on with their lives, because the devastation was unbelievable. 

“But to see the similarities of the people there, and the ones that I know here, it’s the same thing in two different universes – they just parallel so much.”

For Lirette, the sequence of events will stay with her for the rest of her life. 

“I’ll never forget the day they left,” said Lirette. “I knew this was going to be a forever connection, that a piece of everything that was part of my soul was going back in and living on.”

In fact, Lirette was able to make a trip to Wyoming in October to see her beloved lanes in action once more.

“When I walked in that bowling center, I honestly felt like I had walked back in time,” she said. “I’m still honestly so renewed and rejuvenated from the trip. That was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.” 

For Dorman, the entire experience has made her even more grateful for the bowling community that connects people, no matter the distance.

“It doesn’t matter where you’re from, you’re still bowling family,” she said. “And there is that connection.”

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A Room Full Of Tarantulas? Wyoming Firefighter Says ‘Absolutely!’

in Wyoming Life/News/Business
Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily

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By Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily

Twilight Sparkle is by far Emmalynn Johnson’s favorite. 

She’s small, energetic and very colorful – which is why the Rawlins 4-year-old decided on Twilight Sparkle when naming her.

Emmalynn’s father smiles as he coaxes Twilight Sparkle out, her eight hairy legs skittering around a tiny terrarium to perch atop the burrow she’s built.

“This is by far the most colorful tarantula we have here,” said KeeGan Johnson standing in front of a glass-doored cabinet in the family’s “spider room.”

Michaela Johnson holds her 5-year-old tarantula, Mazarin, in a room dedicated to spiders in her Rawlins home. Her husband, KeeGan Johnson, raises tarantulas and jumping spiders and estimates he has about 15 species, ranging from tiny dwarf tarantulas to a large goliath. (Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily)

More Than A Hobby

While Twilight Sparkle is a favorite of his young children, the Rawlins firefighter said he usually doesn’t name any of the dozens of tarantulas and jumping spiders he breeds and sells online.

Twilight Sparkle is better known as a candy shop spider, or more formally typhochlaena seladonia, an extremely rare and endangered tarantula found in parts of the Brazilian rainforest.

“I’ve always been into bugs and frogs and anything I could catch when I was growing up,” Johnson told Cowboy State Daily. “I think it was my eighth grade year when I ended up stumbling across a video of this really beautiful tarantula.”

That started what’s become a passion for all things tarantula.

KeeGan has studied the dozens of species and can pronounce their Latin names with ease: poecilotheria subfusca, morposutogry balfouri and cyriocosmus elegens to name a few.

“I started watching this guy’s videos and he was pronouncing all the Latin names for the,” he said. “I was thinking that’s super cool, and the tarantulas he had were all super-colorful and all sorts of different sizes and body types.”

Now KeeGan and his wife Michaela not only keep tarantulas as pets, they’ve begun breeding and selling them.

‘My Biggest Phobia’

Today, they make a super Wyoming spider team. But that wasn’t the case to start.

“When we first got together, KeeGan said that his favorite things he wanted to get into was tarantulas,” Michaela said. “And that, at the time, was my biggest phobia.

“I remember thinking that of all the men on this earth, I had to pick the one that wanted specifically the one thing I’m most terrified of.”

But marriage is about compromise, right? 

Michaela said she wanted to support her husband’s passion and made a deal with him: “I got something and he got the tarantula.”

When that first spider died soon after getting it, she’d turned the corner a bit on her arachnophobia.

“Seeing him have it and how happy he was about having it, I was like, ‘Well, I guess we can get another one,’” she said. “And then it just didn’t stop.”

His Business Has Legs

That’s when the collecting really began, which evolved into the Johnsons’ tarantula breeding business, Outhouse Oddities.

They connect with people all over the United States and have sold and shipped spiders as far away as Florida. It’s mostly an online business through their Facebook page and a message board for arachnophiles.

And yes, you can send tarantulas through the mail, KeeGan said. He usually ships overnight and uses crush-proof boxes equipped with either hot or cold packs, depending on the season so the spiderlings (or “lings” as he calls them) don’t die of cold or heat en route.

“They’re so small that temperatures really affect them,” he said.

The cost of a tarantula varies widely depending on species, breed and sex, KeeGan said. That’s because some species are more sought-after and females often live many times longer than males.

He’s raising about 15 species now in the back bedroom of his home, including some that are rare and endangered.

“I’ve been trying to breed (the endangered specimens) to preserve them because we can’t get them anymore,” he said.

This tiny tarantula is a Cyriocosmus elegans, also known as a Trinidad dwarf tarantula and displays distinctive gold markings. (Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily)

Queen of the Cluster

While her husband has a very scientific take on their tarantulas, Michaela is the one who names them. And while she’s no longer scared of having dozens of tarantulas in her house, she’s also not a total arachnophile convert either.

“Not once did I think that a whole room in my house would be dedicated to spiders,” she said. “These in here are OK.

“But normal house spiders? If there’s a random house spider, that does freak me out. Some of the tarantulas scare me, but it depends on. What their personality is.”

Although she’s fine with having the tarantulas, Michaela will only hold one, her own personal pet Mazarin.

The morposutogry balfouri, or blue baboon, tarantula is 5 years old and about the size of Michaela’s palm. She’s docile enough and is easily handled.

“That’s my spider,” she said, adding that Mazarin “is just the biggest old sweetheart.”

About the size of KeeGan Johnson’s open hand, this Theraphosa apophysis, aka pink foot Goliath, can grow to have legs as long as 13 inches. (Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily)

Respect, Don’t Fear

While spiders are often depicted as malevolent monsters by movie-makers who capitalize on humans’ fears of arachnids, KeeGan said there’s really no reason to fear them – even giants like some species of tarantula.

“Everybody thinks that they’re, like, out to get them,” he said. “But in reality, they’re scared of you. They’re definitely more afraid than you are. Most of them are pretty decent on tolerating a lot of things. They’re teddy bears.”

That said, it’s still not a good idea to antagonize a tarantula.

“Some just have a shorter fuse than others,” KeeGan said. “Some of them have very, very bad reputations, but I don’t disturb them and I don’t try to antagonize them.

“There are some spicy ones out there, and for the most part, they’re just being defensive, but some of them have shorter fuses.”

The Hollywood Treatment

About those Hollywood spiders, KeeGan said he finds himself analyzing them, especially the tarantulas, like Aragog from the “Harry Potter” franchise and the tarantula in “Home Alone.”

Then there’s Shelob, the giant spider that tries to eat Frodo and Sam on their way into Mordor in “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” KeeGan said it’s not really a spider at all.

While a critical of Hollywood spiders, there’s one arachno-friendly fantasy treatment he’s a big fan of.

“I love Spider-Man!” he said. “It’s just a beautiful concept. It would be nice to have some super strength and be able to shoot webs and climb walls.”

As long as KeeGan sticks to his tarantulas and jumping spiders, Michaela is 100% supportive of her husband’s passion and budding business.

“But if he caught a black widow outside, I would NOT be OK with that,” she said.

Michaela may not still be a total convert to all things with eight legs, her children seem to be. Along with Emmalynn and her favorite Twilight Sparkle, 2-year-old Ryleigh also has no fear, wanting to hold and handle anything her daddy does.

That’s OK for the most part, KeeGan said, shutting the door so she wouldn’t get too close to the theraphosa apophysis.

To the layperson, that’s his pinkfoot goliath tarantula, which can grow to have legs as long as 13 inches. While KeeGan’s is still relatively small – about the size of his open hand – it seems docile this day, content to just sit on top of its burrow.

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High Voltage Hogs: Some Wyoming Riders Warming Up To Electric Motorcycles

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter

Harley-Davidson Inc.’s electric brand, LiveWire, first hit the market in 2019. Before Harley broke off LiveWire into a separate brand this year, High Country Harley of Cheyenne was the only electric motorcycle dealer in the state. 

“We actually did quite well with them. The guys that have them really love them,” said Reed Holmes, sales manager for High Country. 

Holmes said Harley’s entrance into the EV motorcycle market positioned the company to be ahead of its time. 

High Country continues to service the LiveWire brand and built a charging station for the bikes. Supply chain issues have kept the station down for a few months now, and he said a lot of electric bikers show up disappointed to see the station out of service. 

Holmes said many of the electric customers were people who would not have otherwise come into a Harley-Davidson store, but he had a few longtime Harley riders who decided to go EV. 

That was one of the reasons it was disappointing that LiveWire spun off into a separate identity, he said. It brought more potential motorcycle riders into the store who wouldn’t have otherwise stopped in.  

“Everybody was really just in love with this thing. Even the naysayers. If they really gave it a chance, and they rode one, they couldn’t believe it,” Holmes said. 

Struggling Brand

While the bikes did well at Wyoming’s only dealer, the brand has been struggling overall. In an effort to secure investors, the brand separated from Harley and, rather than going public through an initial public offering, it raised funding through a special purpose acquisition company (SPEC). Sometimes called blank check companies, SPECs are formed to raise capital without commercial operations. 

RideApart, an motorcycle publication, reported that of the $400 million that initial investors put into LiveWire, they’ve since withdrawn $370 million of that. 

The first bikes sold for $30,000, which was comparable to a lot of Harley models, but still out of the budget for the younger riders who would most be interested in the electric models. 

‘Righteous Rumble’

Jack Speight has been riding motorcycles most of his life. The 82-year-old has seen a million miles of highways on two wheels. He regularly rides with friends in biker clubs. 

He’s never seen an electric motorcycle among the riders he’s had the pleasure to ride with, and he remains skeptical of their potential.  

The EV’s electric whir doesn’t quite have the powerful sound that attracts many Harley riders. 

Speight calls it a “righteous rumble,” and he said it’s pretty important to the overall experience of riding a Harley. 

Holmes said most people think the sound of the electric bike would be a turn off, but when people ride one, they realize how much ambient sound they miss out on when riding a gas-powered bike. 

“Don’t get me wrong, I love the sound and that melody of the motor,” Holmes said. “But many people came back from a test ride and went, ‘You know, it’s – it was kind of weird at first, but then it was kind of refreshing.”

Short Range, Slow Charge

The first model of LiveWires had a 100- to 150-mile range, which Speight said would cover about half the distance of his group’s typical rides. With a DC fast charger, which are few and far between in Wyoming, the bikes take an hour to charge up. 

“There better be a damn good gift shop next to the charging station,” Speight said. 

The LiveWire’s acceleration is 0 to 60 in 3 seconds, which is about 1.5 seconds faster than most new Harleys. 

Tesla lovers seeking the thrill of motorcycles are out of luck. Elon Musk’s company produced a concept electric motorcycle called the Tesla Model M. Musk said that in his younger years, he rode dirt bikes a lot. When he was 17, he was nearly killed in an accident. As a result, Musk has stated the company will not get into the electric motorcycle market. 

Sold Out

The newer LiveWire models, the Del Mar series, sold out within minutes of their release. They have a shorter range and longer charge time, but they’re selling for $17,000. 

Holmes was sad to see the line leave Harley. High Country had paid to have the charging station and paid to have its mechanics certified in servicing the line. 

“We’re still happy that we’re an authorized service center, and we still work on them,” Holmes said. “Hopefully I’ll have that part for my charging station here in the next couple of weeks. And we’ll be back doing our thing.”

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Cheyenne Brothers Build Multi-Million Dollar International “Slime” Business

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Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter

Mark Whiteaker made his first batch of slime when he was young at summer camp. He enjoyed the experience, but had no idea at the time just how important slime would one day become to him.

These days, the 19-year-old Cheyenne resident and his brother Joe, 27, run what is among the top slime companies in the nation. Their product – Dope Slime – is now in about 800 retail locations in the United States, Canada and even Australia. 

And in a given year, they’ll sell more than 1 million creative slimes with names like Cobweb Fluff, Butterfly Dream, Loot Llama, Coffee Whip and Watermelon Jelly Boba. 

Two weeks ago, the duo moved their operation to a new, larger 14,000-square-foot facility and employ about 50 people to help manufacture and package their slimes. 

Mark Whiteaker adds a key ingredient to a batch of peppermint candy slime at the Dope Slime production facility in Cheyenne. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Serious About Slime

This all from a hobby that started in Mark Whiteaker’s bedroom.

“I think I really started making slime in 2016 or so,” Mark Whiteaker told Cowboy State Daily. “That’s when slime was a really big trend.”

Mark Whiteaker had watched numerous YouTube videos about making slime and was mixing up batches and putting his own videos out on social media.

He also saw how some of his online colleagues were having great success selling their handmade slimes. When his Instagram hit 1,000 followers, he talked his dad — who also is an entrepreneur — into helping him start an online Etsy store.

More Than A Fad

Even then, Mark Whiteaker didn’t realize he had a commercial tiger by the tail.

“We always thought that this would be like a fad and gone away in a couple of years or whatever,” he said. 

Instead, what happened is a new generation of kids discovered the wonders of slime. Even as previous loyal customers age out, new ones take their place, supporting what has become an increasingly successful business.

It’s evolved to the point where the duo now believes making and selling slime could be a forever thing if they wish.

What Is It?

Slime has been around a lot longer than when Mark Whiteaker discovered it for himself. In fact, it was a popular thing back in the 1970s, along with Disco. 

But then, it was just that. A thing. Green and gooey, the quivering “ick” factor was the big selling point. It even came in its own little trash can container. Eventually, the reverse attraction to something green and disgusting died down, and slime as a commodity seemed to be as dead as pet rocks.

That’s when a new kind of slime began to rise in popularity. Teenagers in Thailand were making a thick slime that was more like a work of art, with attractive visual and tactile elements.

No longer was the point of slime its “ick” factor. Now it was the endless fascination of varying colors, textures, shapes and smells — endless opportunities to express creativity.  


Along the way, people also noticed that it’s not only fun to create artsy slimes, but that the physical sensation of playing with nifty-smelling, tactile-friendly goo also can be quite soothing.

Thousands have posted videos online of themselves pulling and squeezing their unique slime creations, demonstrating the relaxing effects. Many include calming sounds to enhance a response that has even attracted its own fancy name: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR. 

In less technical terms, it’s all about comfort and care, creativity and play, whether you are young or old. 

At a basic level, slime is therapy that comes conveniently packaged in a jar.

A Happy Accident

Breaking into retail happened somewhat by accident for the Whiteaker brothers.

“Typically, you have to reach out to (companies) and go through a lot of deals and negotiations to get into retail,” Mark Whiteaker said.

But they never imagined their product would have any serious success, so they never really thought to try that. Instead, Learning Express, which is one of the nation’s largest toy stores now that Toys R Us is defunct, reached out to them. 

“I think they have a little over 100 stores throughout the U.S.,” Joe Whiteaker said. “They had heard about our slime and were wondering if we’d be willing to sell it wholesale.”

The brothers decided to give it a shot, just to see what would happen. 

What happened was that their slime was the outlet’s No. 2 best-selling toy. That led to more Learning Stores wanting the product, and then to other retail chains, including Hallmark. 

So many retailers have now reached out that the brothers aren’t accepting any new vendors. Instead, they are working on their processes to find ways to automate so they can continue to scale the business up.

The Whiteaker brothers have so far come up with more than 500 varieties of their Dope Slime. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Endless Variety And Fun

One of the keys to the brothers’ success with Dope Slime has been their seemingly endless variety of slimes. The business has so far generated more than 500 products.

“We typically come out with probably about 15 a month,” Joe Whiteaker said. “So, probably a little over 100, 150 new variations will come out within a year.”

Some ideas are suggestions from family and friends, but most are from Mark Whiteaker, who leads a three-man crew that makes all the slimes.

“A lot are just spin-offs of ones we have already made,” he said. “For example, we have a Lavender Dreams one, and then I made like a Blueberry Dreams one. So, some have, like, the same type and kind of the same name, but just a different color and scent.”

But others are based on social media trends Mark Whiteaker has spotted. Those tend to become some of the biggest sellers.

“When Fortnight was really trendy, we made lie a Loot Llama slime, which is part of that game, so certain things like that, just keeping on top of trends and seeing what is going on,” he said. 

The Loot llama slime is half purple and half teal with a lollipop charm and a llama charm hidden inside, as well as pink and blue sprinkles on top.

Another popular slime based on a social media trend is Whipped Coffee slime.

“If you’re familiar with TikTok, during COVID lockdowns this one thing called whipped coffee was really popular,” Mark Whiteaker said. “Everyone was making it on TikTok, so I decided to make this whipped coffee into a slime. That’s one of our like best-selling slimes, the Whipped Coffee.”

Forward Thinking

Like many businesses now, the Whiteaker brothers are wrestling with supply chain issues and inflation as they work on scaling up their business. That has meant planning things out far in advance to ensure they will have what they need to keep producing best sellers in a given time frame. 

“I’m already starting on Easter stuff,” Mark Whiteaker said.

Despite the challenges, both see a bright future ahead.

“Once we get into a spot where we can scale up manufacturing, we’re looking at expanding next year, and we have some exciting people that we would have been in talks with, like Claire’s for example,” Joe Whiteaker said. “Claire’s is a pretty big retailer, that’s like 1,500 retail locations.”

The key challenge, both brothers agree, will be scaling up without losing the high quality and creativity of the handmade slimes that brought them here. Quality is what differentiates Dope Slime from its closest competitors, particularly Chinese companies, which are making much cheaper versions of slime — but less creative and fun, with lower quality.

The pair feel up to the challenge.

“It’s fun,” Joe Whiteaker said. “You know, business is fun. You learn stuff every day, and it’s a challenge. That’s the thing I like the most about it. I love the business part of it.”

For Mark, though, it’s the challenge of making a new and trendy slime that beckons every day.

“There’s, like, over 10 different textures of slime, and they all feel significantly different than the other,” he said. 

Add in all the scents and glitters, and there’s an endless variety that always seems to satisfy. 

“It’s pretty fun making new ones,” Mark Whiteaker said. “And we have like really good fun scents that smell really good like Fruit Loops or any scent you could think of.”

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Election Day ‘Blood Moon,’ Lunar Eclipse May Get Snowed Out In Wyoming

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Vote for a total lunar eclipse this election day.   

In the wee hours of Nov. 8 before the polls open, the earth will slide between the full moon and the sun, causing the final total lunar eclipse for the year. 

It’s unclear yet if the weather will cooperate.  

Max Gilbraith, planetarium coordinator for the University of Wyoming, told Cowboy State Daily the eclipse starts just after 2 a.m. and is set to end at about 6 a.m. in the Mountain Time zone. It will enter totality – or a full, reddish coloration as the sun’s rays refract through the earth’s atmosphere to reach it – in the middle of that time slot.   

Another name for the phenomenon is “blood moon.”   

“The same reason sunsets are red is why the moon turns red during the eclipse,” said Gilbraith.   

High Arc 

There are no angular viewing challenges to this eclipse, as it is due to start with the moon halfway up the visible sky and enter totality when the moon is at about 25 degrees, or a quarter of the way up the arc of visible sky, he said.   

Gilbraith said the lunar sunset of totality isn’t the only enjoyable part of the event: Watching the earth’s shadow glide across the moon’s face is subtle, but “fun” viewing, especially with binoculars or a telescope.   

The Leonids meteor shower also should be visible throughout the night, he said. It can produce between five and 20 meteors in an hour depending on the year.   

Full moons normally deter meteor watchers because the moon’s blasting light can render invisible the meteors’ sparking collisions with the atmosphere, said Gilbraith.   

But a lunar eclipse darkens the sky.   

“During the eclipse you’d hopefully get a better-than-average meteor shower because of the dimness of the moon,” he said.   

But viewers who don’t catch the meteor shower during the eclipse have until the end of the month to watch it. The Leonids run from Nov. 6-30.   

Don Day Is Not Optimistic  

Election day is a week away, but Don Day, a Wyoming meteorologist and Cowboy State Daily contributor, is not optimistic about the Wyoming weather forecast so far.  

Day said eager celestial viewers should continue to check the forecast, but at this point he’s anticipating cloud cover for the early morning hours, with a potential for snow in the western part of the state.   

Temperatures could range from the teens in the western part of the state to the 30s in the eastern part.   

“Things could change, but right now it’s probably going to be more cloudy than clear,” said Day. 

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