Monday, July 12, 2010

Wyoming Glories and Wonders

As Pam mentioned, Wyoming is one of four states I have visited that she has not. The others are Montana, South Dakota, and Iowa. Montana I first visited the day before I was in Wyoming and South Dakota, the day after -- during the longest car ride of my life (8,500 miles in 17 days in a 1960 VW bug). Iowa I know only from traversing it a half dozen or more times when I lived in Kansas City but had church-related activities -- and a girlfriend -- in Minnesota.

So my experience in Wyoming was brief, entering through North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park after a McDonald's breakfast in Bozeman, Montana -- where I should have stopped to look for ghosts of Robert Pirsig, or at least some landmarks from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. My friend Mike and I were on a rather un-Zen tour, though, going as quickly as a 1200-cc motor could take us from one end of the country to another to another and back. (I later worked with lawnmowers that had exactly half the horsepower of that bug. I am grateful that the 62-mph top speed and lack of A/C did force us to take in a good portion of what we passed through. In fact, I can remember most of that brief transect of the northern edge of Wyoming, which would not have been possible had I been in a more modern car.

When we entered Wyoming, in fact, we were already in Yellowstone National Park -- its northern fringe is in Montana and its western in Idaho. The official park entrances on those sides are on the state lines, a few miles inside the park itself. Founded in 1872, it is the oldest of the parks and one of the largest (larger than the combined size of the two smallest states). It ranges in elevation from one mile at its lowest to over two miles at its highest, with annual rainfall ranging from 10 inches (drier than Tucson) to 80 inches (wetter than New Orleans). (See the Yellowstone Fact Sheet for more superlatives.)

During our brief stay, we of course went to Old Faithful and to the seven-story, log Old Faithful Inn. Because of some images I had seen in a calendar, though, our real interest was in the lesser-known ponds, pools, and mud pots, where very fine differences in temperature and mineral content have created features with an incredible array of colors, shapes and textures -- most notably the Morning Glory Pool shown above. Throughout our trip, we tended to drive by night and sleep by day, so that after visiting a few of these features, we simply took a nap along the trail -- enjoying our blankets recently purchased in Mexico (I still have mine) and oblivious to passersby. We were also oblivious to the warning signs for the area we had chosen to nap, which read DANGER: THIN CRUST. We were apparently risking a very serious geology lesson!

From Yellowstone we set to the east. I remember stopping in Cody just after dark for gas and coffee (we drank absolute swill on this trip, by the half-gallon). I recall a lot of trucks, something about a rodeo, and a lot of big guys with cowboy hats and short hair. Given the state of my hair at the time, not to mention my newly-acquired garb from Mexico and our tiny little VW, this whole scene made us a bit nervous. We gassed up and chugged away, through the Big Horn mountains, where we were treated to a fantastic lightning storm, which we followed from a safe distance. My last memory of Wyoming was another gas and coffee stop, possibly in Gillette, where I noticed some teenage boys playing behind the store. No basketball hoop was needed -- just a pole, with which they were getting some lariat practice.

Before it was even a state, women could vote in Wyoming. In 1869, the territorial legislature declared: "That every woman of the age of twenty-one years, residing in this Territory, may at every election to be holden under the law thereof, cast her vote."

The story -- including several theories about how and why -- is told in Wyoming: The Freedom State, one of the Women of the West online exhibits at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles.

Oblique reference is made to the Western suffrage movement in this educational video, at 0:17 and 2:33, a reminder that although it took several generations to succeed, the national suffrage movement did build on the success of Wyoming women.

Wyoming is known as the Freedom State because women earned not only the right to vote but also the right to serve on juries and in public office in Wyoming before they did anywhere else in the United States.


  1. Thanks for a great post, James. And thanks also for the diplomatic suggestion that I look for typos in my post. That'll teach me to blog after half a bottle of wine!

  2. Loved the Wyoming transient transect tale. It reminds me of the time I was driving solo down some of the back-roads of Wyoming and Idaho with pro-wolf bumper stickers on my Jeep. Seeing that Pam has a few states to visit out here in the west, maybe you should pack up the family and come out for a visit. I would love to either point you towards a few roads, or even travel along with my family in tow. Likewise, I have been looking to head up towards Gaspé, Nova Scotia and New England for many years. Ian has 36 states already under his belt and I have a trip planned to finish off his 50 when we get to New England. Who knows, possibly we can have another solstice event!