Thursday, September 5, 2019

Shit I’ve Learned About Wyoming (Part Two)

photo by Juan Alvarado Valdivia

Thanks to the good folks at the Ucross Foundation, I was blessed with an opportunity to visit Wyoming a second time. I learned a lot about the The Equality or Cowboy State on my first trip back in the winter of 2016, and I learned some more this time around.

  • Wyoming is the 2nd least densely-populated state in ‘Murica, following Alaska.
  • In terms of land size, Wyoming is the 9th largest state in the union. (It’s sandwiched between Colorado and Oregon.)
  • The humidity is low in northeastern Wyoming. In general, the state of Wyoming has one of the lowest humidity levels among all states.
  • According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, a whopping 92.6% of Wyoming’s 2018 population is White.
  • Wyoming used to be home to a number of nomadic Native American tribes collectively known as the Plains Indians. According to the State of Wyoming’s official website, they included the Arapaho, Arikara, Bannock, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Crow, Gros Ventre, Kiowa, Nez Perce, Sheep Eater, Sioux, Shoshone and Ute tribes. The Sioux and Cheyenne “were the last of the Indians to be controlled and placed on reservations.”
  • The Sioux were involved in some of the more fabled battles between Native Americans and the American military including The Battle of Little Bighorn (a.k.a. Custer’s Last Stand) and the infamous Wounded Knee Massacre.
  • Present-day Wyoming has only one Indian reservation: the Wind River Reservation in the central-western portion of the state.
  • In May 2017, the first buffalo in 130 years was born on the Wind River Reservation:
photo by Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

  • There are no Jack in the Box fast food restaurants located in Wyoming. (California has 941 locations.)
  • Wyoming still has only one Target store—in Cheyenne.
  • The saloon at the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, WY is one of the most historic watering holes in the state. Founded in 1880, the hotel has hosted several notable Old West figures including Buffalo Bill Cody, Calamity Jane, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Ernest Hemingway and everyone’s favorite American president, Theodore Roosevelt, have also set foot in the hotel. (And rumor is the hotel’s restaurant serves excellent burgers.)
  • The Mint Bar in downtown Sheridan is another venerable drinking hole in Wyoming (and another bar I did not visit). The bar is known for its iconic neon sign.
  • In the past fifty years, bats have adapted to street lights and now use them to hunt moths. The man-made lights have a detrimental effect on a moth’s defensive system, which can include an anti-bat signal that confuses bats (which use echolocation to identify their prey).
  • Shrikes are carnivorous songbirds! They look so darn cute and harmless, but looks can be deceiving; they’re the Predator of songbirds!:

  • Just off of Highway 14 near the Ucross Foundation is an osprey nest built atop a tall man-made pole. While I infrequently cycled past the nest, it was not uncommon to see one osprey, or two, perched on the nest, or swooping around it protectively. It worried me just a tad bit since I could clearly see—even though the nest was far from the highway, and at least 30 feet high—that their talons are the size of my fingers. Eeek!
  • It turns out male ospreys often return to their original breeding ground. It is not uncommon for them to reuse the same nest year after year. The female and male osprey fiercely defend their nest in tandem. In fact, ospreys generally mate for life.
  • According to its Wikipedia entry, the name “Ucross” comes from the original brand of the Pratt and Ferris Cattle Company in the 1880s. Ucross is presently located on a working cattle ranch.
  • Jentel, another well-known artist residency program, is also located in northeastern Wyoming. It is only 11.5 miles west of the Ucross Foundation, off of Highway 14.
  • According to several of my fellow Ucross artist residents, the Tongue River Canyon located at the base of the Bighorn Mountains near Dayton, WY is the shit:

  • photo by Scott Burgan

    • Wyoming has one of the highest wind power potentials of any state in the United States. In 1982, NASA built and studied one of the earliest wind farms in Medicine Bow, WY.
    • The highway speed limit in northeastern Wyoming near Sheridan, Buffalo, and Clearmont is 75 miles per hour. In many parts of the state it’s 80 mph on rural interstate highways. 
    • One of my fellow Ucross artist residents—a Montana native—told me that the speed limit in neighboring Montana used to be subjective; for a while, there wasn’t an explicit speed limit. From 1955 - 1974 and 1995 – 1999 Montana highway patrol officers had the discretion to dole out speeding tickets. It was based on section 61-8-303(3) of Montana vehicle code, which states: “A person shall operate a vehicle in a careful and prudent manner and at a reduced rate of speed no greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions existing at the point of operation….”
    • The Don King Museum (not that Don King) houses a certifiable shit ton of saddles behind King’s Saddlery shop in charming downtown Sheridan. The two large rooms are pungent with the smell of leather and packed with old guns, Indian artifacts, Western tack, and original artwork. In my humble opinion, it’s worth a look-see.
    • Although this product isn’t specific to Wyoming, the Ace Hardware in Sheridan, WY carries “redneck shotgun toilet plungers” by its checkout aisle:

    • Some folks in that part of the country avoid having jobs that require them to drive home at dusk and dawn because it means they will almost inevitably encounter a deer attempting to cross the highway. (And deer collisions ain’t pretty.)
    • It turns out its terrifying to have a rattlesnake lunge in your direction out in the wild. (Go figure!)
    • Rattlesnake venom typically kills humans within 6 – 48 hours.
    • Humans have a 99% survival rate from rattlesnake bites if anti-venom is administered within two hours of a bite.
    • The western rattlesnake (a.k.a. Pacific rattlesnake, or northern Pacific rattlesnake) is typically 3 ¼ feet in length to 5 ⅓ feet in length.
    • Their rattles are very loud.
    • Screech owls are appropriately named! The screeching sound emitted from these little fellas is like a tenth of a ringwraith’s scream (which sound a lot like a barn owl’s scream!)
    • Thankfully, leeches are uncommon in creeks in Wyoming.
    • In rural northeastern Wyoming (at least), locals acknowledge one another’s existence in passing even along the highway by lifting either their index finger or their index and middle fingers from their driving hand. Most vehicular drivers passing by on the opposite side of the highway greeted me when I cycled along the highway in our Ucross-provided beach cruisers. 
    I always appreciated this rural-American touch.

    photo by JayDee Mahs

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