Sunday, November 29, 2009
WBR15 - `Rising From The Plains` is Wyoming`s Life Story
Seems like I spend an inordinate amount of my time driving from one end of Wyoming to the other.
But it really is not drudgery, because it also gives me a chance to eyeball the incredibly unique rock formations, mountains, buttes, valleys, deserts and lakes and rivers across our wonderful state.
Thus, my interest in geology, which should be a very boring subject.
But it’s been said there are no boring stories, just boring writers. And with that thought it mind, it would seem that a book about geology would be interesting only to geologists.
The early book Rising From The Plains by author John McPhee ranks as one of the most interesting and most important books ever written about Wyoming.
McPhee uses the life of famed late geologist David Love as the centerpiece of this book. Love grew up in Fremont County and graduated from high school in Lander. He was long considered the dean of geologists in the Rocky Mountain region.
Love spent his last years in the Dinwoody area south of Dubois where he could survey some incredible geology from his front step.
McPhee captures the western spirits of Love’s life and that of his parents as they carved out a unique existence on a ranch in an area of Fremont County near Castle Gardens.
The book is full of references to unique geology of Wyoming. McPhee writes in a style that vividly lets you imagine the extreme risings of mountain ranges, the descent of valleys and the rolling together of various landmasses.
Intertwined with the geological stories (told mostly through Love`s words) is the life story of the famous geologist and his mother, who came west in 1905 after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Wellesley College back east.
The book was also serialized in three parts in the New Yorker Magazine a decade ago, or so.
In one part where McPhee writes about Love attending school in Lander (he and his brother were educated at home by their mother until they were ready for high school):
“Their mother rented a house in Lander and stayed there with them while they attended Fremont County Vocational High School. One of their classmates was William Shakespeare, whose other name was War Bonnet. Lander at that time was the remotest town in Wyoming. It advertised itself as `the end of the rails and the start of the trails.`”
The Love Ranch was one of those outposts that was so far from everything else that anyone passing through would stop. Often, people would sleep in the bunkhouse and join the Loves for dinner.
Mr. McPhee writes about about one memorable meal:
“People like that came along with such frequency that David`s mother eventually assembled a chronicle called ‘Murderers I Have Known.’ She did not publish the manuscript or even give it much private circulation, in her regard for the sensitivities of some of the first families of Wyoming.
As David would one day comment, ‘They were nice men, family friends, who had put away people who needed killing, and she did not wish to offend them so many of them were such decent people.”
“One of these was Bill Grace. Homesteader and cowboy, he was one of the most celebrated murderers in central Wyoming, and he had served time, but people generally disagreed with the judiciary and felt that Bill, in the acts for which he was convicted, had only been `doing his civic duty.`
“At the height of his fame, he stopped at the ranch one afternoon and stayed for dinner. Although David and (his brother) Allen were young boys, they knew exactly who he was, and in his presence were struck dumb with awe.
“As it happened, they had come upon and dispatched a rattlesnake that day - a big one, over five feet long. Their mother decided to serve it creamed on toast for dinner. She and their father sternly instructed David and Allen not to use the world `rattlesnake` at the table. They were to refer to it as chicken, since a possibility existed that Bill Grace might not be an eater of adequate sophistication to enjoy the truth.
“The excitement was too much for the boys. Despite the parental injunction, gradually their conversation at the table fished its way toward the snake. Casually while the meal was going down the boys raised the subject of poisonous vipers, gave their estimates of the contents of local dens, told stories of snake encounters, and so forth. Finally, one of them remarked on how very good rattlers were to eat.
"Bill Grace said, `By God, if anybody ever gave me rattlesnake meat I`d kill them.`
"The boys went into a state of catatonic paralysis. In the pure silence, their mother said, `More chicken, Bill?`
“`Don`t mind if I do,` said Bill Grace.”
And those stories are just a few that are included in this wonderful book. It is must reading for people who are interested in a well-written story about Wyoming`s recent and long distant past.
Friday, November 20, 2009
948 - Water, water everywhere . . . but Las Vegas
Seems like we have been bombarded with seemingly unrelated facts over the past two weeks, which individually did not strike any hot buttons with me at all.
But when thought of in the one context of water, well, these seemingly unrelated facts got me thinking. For example:
• Like the fact that Las Vegas in running out of water. Should we care?
• Or that it allegedly takes 1,000 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk on your store’s shelf. Is this a big deal?
Here is where these thoughts came from:
A smart gal named Pat Mulroy, whose job is to keep Las Vegas faucets running, spoke to the Wyoming Business Alliance Forum in Casper recently and said her staff is doing much to conserve water.
She talked about one of my favorite lakes, Lake Mead, where we did some boating a few years ago. It was astonishing to see how much the water level had dropped back then. It is worse today.
Ms. Mulroy said that full, the lake’s water level is 1,220 feet in elevation. Today it is 1,092, which is an almost catastrophic level. It is projected to drop to 1,080 next summer.
It was a big shock to the audience to hear that when the water level hits 1,050 feet, the hydroelectric generators at Hoover Dam quit working.
The water Las Vegas is talking about starts out as melted snow high in Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains, which forms the Green River, which becomes Flaming Gorge and ultimately merges with the Colorado River as its biggest single tributary.
Probably 95 percent of this melted Wyoming snow (water) ends up in Lake Mead.
She took some flak from the audience for her city being so fast growing, Why not just slow down? She said Nevada, like Wyoming, has strong private property rights and it is hard to tell people they can’t build things.
As an example of their newfound fiscal responsibility, she said her city has paid out over $130 million to its citizens for getting rid of their yards, she said, which has saved millions of gallons of water.
Ms. Mulroy spoke on a panel that also included Aaron Million, who wants to siphon 81 billion gallons of water a year from Flaming Gorge and send it to Colorado plus Paula Wonnacott, a Sweetwater County Commissioner. Ms. Wonnacott was far more popular with this crowd and her comments made much more sense than Mr. Million’s.
With water on my mind, my next question came from a Forbes article, which talked about a brilliant vegetarian who plans to figure out a way to get the planet off its hunger for meat.
Patrick O. Brown contends that 37 percent of all the greenhouse gases in the world is caused by the production of meat, meaning cattle and pigs, primarily.
He also made the claim about 1,000 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk
Besides consumers, he blames food producers and restaurant owners for not making fruits and vegetables look more appetizing to customers so that they buy less meat.
This is a big deal for Wyoming since some 1,360,000 beef cattle are raised in our state annually. Half are calves, which are shipped to the Midwest. There, they are put in feedlots and bulked up for slaughter, from which steak, hamburgers and roast beef result.
If there was ever a time for the need of a Solomon in this world, it would be appear now is the time when it comes to these issues, or obviously for ones more serious than this.
How do we process this information and come to rational decisions?
If it really does require 1,000 gallons of water for one gallon of milk, does that make sense in a world that is short of water?
If beef and pigs cause considerable more global warming pollution than all the cars and trucks and power plants, should not someone be listening?
As a journalist, it is easy to be skeptical of these reports, despite my penchant for repeating them.
It was Benjamin Disraeli who said there are three kinds of lies:
Lies. Damned Lies. And Statistics.
Is there anything that tastes better than my Chateaubriand steak from Mr. D’s Grocery, which I cooked medium rare on my grill last weekend? Or a steak at Svilar’s in Hudson?
It would be hard to imagine a world without ample amounts of beef and pork but perhaps we are headed that way.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
947 - Biggest wooden ship in the world the Wyoming??
To put the name Wyoming in the same sentence as “the biggest wooden ship ever built” just would not make sense to most residents of this state.
But it is true.
The largest wooden ship ever built was called the Wyoming and the centennial of that event is coming up next month.
It was launched from Bath, Maine in 1909 and this monster ship was more than 450 feet long. It was so gigantic, it would have a difficult time fitting into War Memorial Stadium at Laramie.
This was one of two giant ships launched around that time from Bath named for Wyoming people and places. The first was the biggest at the time, called the Governor Brooks, named for Gov. Bryant Butler Brooks of Wyoming.
His family was very wealthy and made a lot of money financing giant wooden ships that ferried huge cargoes of coal along the East Coast, among other business ventures.
The Governor Brooks had five masts, which was unprecedented at the time in 1907. But the Wyoming was much bigger with six masts and a size that was bigger than even the legendary Noah’s Ark.
Hal Herron and Joe Stanbury of Riverton discovered these facts about the Wyoming during a motorcycle trip earlier this fall, which took them to the Maine Maritime Museum near Bath
While touring the museum there, they walked into a vast open field, which featured huge steel statues at each end. These represented the prow and the stern of the biggest wooden boat, ever. The space was 150 yards long, which is one and a half times the length of a 100-yard long football field.
Upon closer inspection, Mr. Herron was astonished to read that the name of it was “The Wyoming.” The giant ship stretched out along that field between the representations of the prow and the stern of the giant vessel
So who were these Brooks folks with the deep pockets and the love of shipbuilding and why the Wyoming connection?
It was an extended family that dominated business in the Northeast. One of the family’s sons headed west to follow his love of cowboying. He ended up with a 100,000-acre ranch in the Casper area at Big Muddy, WY. And he became Wyoming’s seventh governor.
Thus, it was apparently a logical occurrence that ships reflecting this Cowboy State connection came into being.
Every statistic concerning the Wyoming is huge.
It was 50 feet wide and had a volume of 303,621 cubic feet. Unloaded, the ship weighed 6,000 tons. She could carry 6,000 long tons of coal.
It was built of six-inch yellow pine planking and there were 90 diagonal iron cross-bracings on each side. It stood four stories high before you even reached the masts, which stretched out another six stories.
The ship was built in 1909 by the Percy and Small Co. and cost $175,000.
The members of the Brooks family were smart businesspeople and later sold the ship in 1917 for $420,000.
Ultimately, it foundered in high seas near Nantucket in 1924 with all 13 hands drowning.
Mr. Herron thought it would be nice to locate a huge Wyoming flag at the Bath site, which could be featured near the sculpture. The folks there did not receive this with great enthusiasm, so he worked with the Governor’s office to get a normal sized flag lined up for it.
The 100th anniversary of the launch of the ship will occur in about three weeks on Dec. 15, 2009. Mr. Herron thinks there should be some kind of celebration and recognition of this event.
I looked up some of this information on the Internet through Wikipedia under the heading: “Largest wooden ship in the world.”
It shows the Wyoming as number-one followed by a 377-foot long French ship, which was destroyed in 1874, and huge Roman barge built by Caligula. Another contender for largest ship was the Solano, a huge tug that hauled steam engines across San Francisco bay.
Wyoming is famous for many things – for our first national park, monument and forest to its location of the Oregon Trail and even for our consistently high winds. Plus we are the energy breadbasket of the Western Hemisphere.
But who would have thought that Wyoming would be famous as the namesake for the largest wooden ship in the world built way off in distant Maine?
I agree with Mr. Herron. We should recognize the centennial of this event.
Sign me up, Hal. Let the party begin.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
946 - Wyoming`s High Altitudes and Low Multitudes
Once when I was speaking to a group a long way from home, someone asked me if I was “lonely.”
“No,” I replied. “I am alone. But I am not lonely.”
That could also sum up how Wyoming people feel sometimes. We live in this vast state with fewer neighbors than anywhere else in the continental United States.
The 2010 census will once again proclaim Wyoming as the least populated state in the union. Some 523,000 hardy souls claim to live here. If they all lived in one city, it would still be smaller than some nondescript places named Huntsville, Fresno, and Gary.
There have been documented cases of busloads of Asian tourists pulling their bus over to the side of the road so that its occupants can stare out at our vast acres of “nothing.” We’ve even heard about cases where these tourists can get reverse claustrophobia – they get physically sick by the absence of walls, boundaries, noise and the absence of thousands of other human beings.
Those of us who call Wyoming home chuckle to ourselves when we hear about such things. We aren’t alone. And we aren’t lonely, either. My favorite slogan for Wyoming is:
Let’s talk about those high altitudes. There are mountains higher than Wyoming’s, but are there places more beautiful than the Tetons? Or the Cirque of the Towers? Or Square Top Mountain?
Our state is full of wonderful mountain ranges like the Big Horns, the Wyoming Range, the Snowy Range, Casper Mountain and even the Pryor Mountains.
I love all our funny buttes, like Dishpan, Pilot, Pumpkin and Fossil.
Perhaps the most famous of these kinds of odd bumps are those stubby Oregon Buttes located on South Pass between Fremont and Sweetwater Counties?
Some 350,000 people literally jumped off the edge of the earth when they headed west on the Oregon Trail from 1848 to 1863. They headed out with the good intentions of our nation’s manifest destiny. They were going to a new land.
The first real mountain they saw was Laramie Peak. But the ones they really wanted to see were the Oregon Buttes. These bumps on the horizon marked South Pass. They knew if they could get over South Pass before winter hit, they would be pretty much home free – no storms could freeze them now. These squared off buttes were probably the most famous mountains in America during that two-decade time period. And those buttes sit right in the middle of Wyoming.
I have been covering news in Wyoming for over 39 years and I have heard the phrase “High Altitudes, Low Multitudes” from probably a half-dozen prominent political figures during this time.
Former Gov. Jim Geringer always added: ”. . . and great attitudes,” when he recited it.
Here in Wyoming, it isn’t hard to have great attitudes. When you live in a place where the sky is blue 300 days per year and the sun shines brightly, well, that makes for our sunny dispositions. And the humidity is so low that old cars in our state are greatly valued around the country because of their lack of rust.
We could consider these two lines as a possible new state slogan, even. It could offer a reverse psychology approach to marketing Wyoming. After all, when tourists want to go on vacation, they usually want to escape the hustle and bustle of their busy lives.
For years, Wyoming put a huge billboard on one of the busiest traffic stretches in New York City. It showed a picture of downtown Lander with a herd of cows holding up traffic. The caption read: Traffic Jam in Wyoming.
The theory was that anyone trapped there in that modern traffic jam might want to yearn to be out here in Wyoming, away from those crowds.
What people all over the country don’t understand about Wyoming people is that we actually like it this way. We actually choose to be in a land where the antelope outnumber the humans.
On the subject of slogans, this time of year, you might think that our state slogan goes like this:
Slick in spots
To wrap this up, I like to quote another of former Gov. Mike Sullivan’s favorite descriptions of Wyoming: “It’s just a small city with extremely long streets.”
Sunday, November 01, 2009
945 - Three Wyoming stories about the "will to live`
Here are three Wyoming stories, which demonstrate extraordinary examples of how strong the “will to live” is and how it can manifest itself in the actions by individuals.
Just what is the will to live?
It can be a lot of different things, as these stories will tell.
These events occurred in remote places as barren as the Red Desert, as isolated as South Pass in the Shoshone National Forest and Yellowstone National Park.
Our first story is about Lander contractor Wade Alexander.
If you have ever seen Crook’s Gap, south of Jeffrey City and 60 miles north of Wamsutter, you know that this is a very remote area.
Wade found himself snowmobiling by himself out in that country on a nasty winter day. One of his crews had been stranded, so he wanted to see if they were okay.
The wind always blows there and on this day, he was confronted by never-ending ground blizzards.
Still, he motored on. The path was clear and the snow was packed so he thought he was experiencing a good ride.
But as sometimes happens in areas like this, barren areas can be scooped out by the wind and you don’t know you are upon such a depression until, well, you are upon it.
That is what happened to Wade.
He went flying into the blind unknown and crashed. He blacked out at impact. When he woke up, he was in horrible pain but knew he had to get out of there. There was no cell phone coverage.
He recalled never doubting his course of action, despite great agony. He had a broken pelvis and broken hip and other injuries.
“Looking back on it, I think I was in shock the whole time,” he says.
He dragged himself over to the snowmobile and then rode it ten miles to his truck.
From there he drove 60 miles to Lander to the hospital. He had alerted them that he was coming and the medical personnel met him as he fell out of his truck in the emergency room parking lot.
Now, a year later, he regrets riding alone.
He also said that his doctor, Dr. Cornelius Britt, told him: “Wade, you must really, really like pain.”
His crew turned out to be doing fine, too.
Our second example of the power of the will to live:
Another Lander man, J. R. Horton, was cutting firewood on South Pass earlier this fall.
He thought he was doing everything in a safe manner but on this day, he was up there alone.
The chain slipped on the saw and plunged into his right thigh. Although the wound did not sever the femoral artery, he was bleeding profusely.
He struggled to get to his vehicle. There was no cell phone service up there either. As he drove his pickup back to the road, he had to stop and open and close three separate gates before getting back to the highway He then managed to drive down the mountain to the Lander Regional Hospital, a trip of 25 miles.
When he got to the emergency room, they had to use solvents to free his hand from his thigh. He had been applying pressure so hard for so long, the blood had glued his hand to his leg.
Emergency Room doctors and nurses got the blood flow stopped and sewed him up.
Story number three:
This is a story of an old grizzly bear known as “Old Number One” – a sow in Yellowstone National Park. She was the first grizzly to ever wear a radio collar in the park.
A long-time agent for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Roy Brown of Lander, told me this story.
When the bear died some years ago, he headed up a necropsy procedure on the bear and the team found a surprise. The bear had six .38 caliber bullets in her head. It must have happened many years before because skin had even grown over the injuries.
Roy says people wondered: “Hmmm, what happened to the guy who emptied his revolver at this bear?”
In reviewing these three stories, it really shows how strong the will to live is within living things.
Wade said he was in shock and was not about to die out there.
J. R. said besides all the drama connected with such an injury, he was really embarrassed that he had done this to himself, especially up in the mountains, alone.
And Old Number One? She was unavailable for comment.