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1444 - Old Wyoming is turning into New Wyoming
  No, I am not running for any political office, but lately we have been all over Wyoming and what we have seen is very impressive.

         In Gillette for a state tourism summit, we heard Mary Silvernell of the Campbell County Lodging Board say that lodging tax receipts are at “an all-time high.” It is not tourists who are filling all those hotel rooms, but workers in the oil and gas industry.

         It appears the Powder River Basin is enjoying that similar kind of boom as that is occurring up north in the North Dakota Bakken Formation, yet it is relatively unknown around the state that this is happening.

         Four more hotels are on the drawing board in Gillette as folks scramble to serve those needs.

         Some 350 miles southwest of Gillette, I sat in the office of Rock Springs Chamber Manager Dave Hanks four days later and he told me he has verified that $1.5 billion in new construction is either planned or underway for their area.  That is BILLION, not million.

         Among the biggest is a $400 million ammonia plant by Simplot being developed.

         Two weeks earlier, I happened to be in Cheyenne and their newest community booster Pat Schmidt (formerly of Thermopolis) gave me a tour of all the incredible development around the Capitol City.

         The Swan Ranch rail terminal with all of its associated development should be the biggest deal down there. But I must admit that seeing all the computer power being assembled by Microsoft and NCAR was breathtaking.

         It was fun also chatting with Shawn Reese, the new CEO of the Wyoming Business Council.  He seems to be fitting well into his new job and believes, as I am starting to, that our state truly is diversifying its economy from just being the energy breadbasket of the country.

         So again back to Sweetwater County, my son Mike and I were having lunch at Mark and Nancy Anselmi’s Outlaw Inn. In walks Reese with Pat Robbins, the long-time and very capable SW regional worker for the business council.

         Reese was doing what he earlier had told me about. He was touring the state getting a feel for what is happening. Both he and Robbins said the same thing that Chamber Exec Hanks had told me earlier. Although Wyoming, as a whole has its ups and downs, it seems like Sweetwater County just keeps growing.

         Hanks also said there is a need for 600 more skilled employees in the Rock Springs area.

         Despite being on the road so much, I did spend some time back home in Fremont County.

         While in Lander, U. S. Sen. Mike Enzi and his wife Diana came by.  Enzi is enjoying the campaign and has decided to make it a working tour of the state. He is touring places that employ people and also touring places that educate workers.

         In both cases, he has been amazingly impressed.

And yet, there are good jobs going begging.

         In Riverton, ground has been broken for the new Job Corps Center, which was a huge project almost totally dependent on Enzi’s good work in Congress.  Enzi also chuckled over his being named the “nicest” senator, which was no surprise to those of us who know him.

         Also, in Riverton, I ran into Convenience Store owner and Tire Retailer Mike Bailey who missed a meeting I was attending because a key employee was gone. He lamented the difficulty of finding and hiring good folks.

         Three weeks ago I was in Carbon County attending a United Way fundraiser and got to talk with some folks down there.  A big Walmart in Rawlins is almost finished, which has some local businesses nervous.  Rawlins just finished an $8 million Career and Technical Education Center. Very nice. It’s headed by Dave Throgmorton.

         And speaking of higher education, let’s meander back to Gillette.

         Like most Wyoming folks, I assumed the new Gillette College was a couple of rooms in a downtown building.

         Not quite.

         It sits on one of the most beautiful campuses in the state.  Its CEO, Mark Englert, said the average age of their students is 24, much lower than the ages of the students at the rest of Wyoming’s community colleges.

         Elegant, functional, and spectacular would be words I would use to describe this amazing campus.  Those folks do it right up there in Campbell County.

         What I have written here just scratches the surface of what I found traveling the state. Stay tuned. There is more coming.

1442 - Wyoming`s hidden gems, hotels and eateries

We joined folks from Laramie, Green River, Lusk, Rawlins, Saratoga, Encampment, Medicine Bow, Chicago and Sun Valley at an event at an even more obscure place in Wyoming recently.

         Does the name Elk Mountain mean anything to you?

         To a wintertime traveler on Interstate 80, the name Elk Mountain conjures up fearsome, scary images.

         That location in winter (which can occur from September to May) on this road is also where 16,000 semi-trailer trucks a day go blasting along kicking up swirling snow and seemingly ignoring wintertime driving conditions.

         There is a kinder, gentler side of the Elk Mountain area that has been attracting some attention lately.

         The historic Elk Mountain Inn was built in 1905 and offers a wonderful dining and sleeping experience that is worth traveling some distance to enjoy. It is the centerpiece of the population 191 town of Elk Mountain.

         We were there as part of the Carbon County United Way gala fund-raiser.

         We enjoyed a six-course meal served up by gourmet chef and hotelier Susan Prescott-Havers.  We spent the night in the Nellie Tayloe Ross room, which was wonderfully decorated.

         Earlier in Susan’s town, we had a great burger (claimed to be one of the best in Wyoming) and a tasty chicken sandwich called The Nancy at the Elk Mountain Trading Co.  It is operated by Ken and Nancy Casner.  Ken is also known as the “angry man from Elk Mountain.”  A perennial but unsuccessful political candidate, he is never short of an opinion!

         Wyoming is full of wonderful small boutique hotels and bed-and-breakfast places that cater to the discerning traveler.  Along the Lincoln Highway are the Nagel Mansion in Cheyenne, the Virginian in Medicine Bow and the Hotel Wolf in Saratoga to name just a few in that neck of the woods.

         When I quizzed some of my friends of their favorite places, here is the list that resulted:

         Gillette attorney and Speaker of the Wyoming House, Tom Lubnau, votes for the TA Ranch south of Buffalo, where the Johnson County War ended. It is operated as a Bed and Breakfast and guest ranch.  Lubnau says the barn still has bullet holes from that famous Johnson County war which can be viewed from the inside.

         While discussing Buffalo, Jim and Mary Hicks took us to the Busy Bee Café, famous for the Craig Johnson books and the TV show Longmire.  It is part of the Occidental Hotel, which is a magnificently restored building in the heart of downtown.

         Jonathon Downing, head of the Wyoming Mining Association and Dave Kellogg of Lander, also touted the Occidental. Downing says that Teddy Roosevelt stayed there and that it is haunted. 

         Historian Phil Roberts of Laramie touted the restored Plaza Hotel in Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis.  He just led a University of Wyoming faculty tour of the Big Horn Basin guided by Milton Ontiveroz.  Roberts, who knows something about old things, thought the owners had done a great job of restoring a classic old place. One of my favorites in Thermopolis is the Wrangler Café.

Up in Dubois, we found Mom’s Café next to the Wind River to be excellent.

         Nancy and I had a great breakfast at the Devils Tower View overlooking the nation’s first national monument.  While on that trip last week we also scratched off my bucket list Keyhole Reservoir and Pine Haven. Neat places.  Very green, yet.

         While in northeast Wyoming we had great food at the Prime Rib in Gillette and also good eats and beverages at the Prairie Fire Brewery.

Wyoming Catholic College President Kevin Roberts touts the Lytle Creek B&B near the Tower operated by a deacon Kim Carroll and his wife Dee.

         UW Journalism head Ken Smith touts Su Casa in Sinclair and Rose’s Lariat in Rawlins. Clay James likes Turpin Meadow ranch 15 miles east of Moran and Brooks Lake Lodge farther up Togwotee Pass.

         Dave Raynolds gets around and his favorites include the Chamberlin Inn in Cody, the Irma Hotel in the same town and of course, the Miners Delight Inn in Atlantic City southwest of Lander.

         Lander’s Gannett Grille was recently featured in the New York Times and credited with serving up one of the best hamburgers the writer had ever tasted. And he touted that it was made of native Wyoming beef.

         This list is just a small sampling of hidden gems. In Wyoming, email me your favorite places and why and we will include them in a future column.


1441 - A few words about pioneer photographers

For years, the giant billboard showing cars working their way down a street through a Wyoming cattle drive was stationed on the busiest highway in New York City.  It was figured that this image was seen by millions of frustrated and stranded city-dwellers stuck in stalled traffic.

         Caption on the billboard read: “Rush Hour in Wyoming.”

         I was on the travel commission back in the 1990s when our brilliant director Gene Bryan came up with that idea.

         That image, which was snapped by the late Lander photographer Mike McClure of the annual cattle drive down our local Main Street, came to mind during the funeral services last week of another Lander pioneer photographer Ted Carlson.

         As the local newspaper guy, I could never quite get a photo as good as Mike’s.  One day 30 years ago, I asked Ted if he had such a shot. He went through his negatives and found an even better one.  He printed it up and sold over 1,000 versions of it as a poster with the caption “Traffic Jam in Wyoming.”

I always appreciated him giving me the credit for causing him to create that poster even though my motives were more selfish then helping him create a classic.  His photo was actually a better picture than McClure’s showing most of Lander’s Main Street and the Wind River Mountains in the background.

         This column is about Wyoming photographers who have done such a wonderful service to our state by snapping countless photos of not just people getting married but every single event that could have happened in a city or town.        

         Carlson, who died in his 80s this spring, was a member of that fraternity. Not only did they shoot the formal photos but they also loaded up their gear and trudged along the rivers, up the mountains or out in the deserts to snap memorable photos of our state since its beginning.  

         Famous names of deceased Wyoming photographers include J. E. Stimson, Cheyenne; Charles Belden, Meeteetse; Jack Richard, Cody; Frank Meyers, Rawlins; Doc Ludwig and Henning Svenson, Laramie; Tamaki Nakako, Rock Springs; Richard Throssel, Sheridan; S. N. Leek, Jackson; Tom Carrigen, Casper; Rico Stine, Worland; and lots and lots more, too numerous to mention in this short tribute.  Historian Phil Roberts, Laramie, gave me assistance to coming up with this list.

         Some day I would like to do a historical book featuring a lot of these photos much like the contemporary books that I have been doing lately featuring all images of Wyoming.

         For all the obvious reasons, I have a soft spot in my heart for photographers.

         With my second coffee table book coming up for sale this fall, I can anticipate the most often asked questions:

         How come these photos are so great? I have never seen such wonderful photos. How do they do it?

         There are over 4,000 high quality color slides that I have taken in Wyoming over the past 44 years.  When these book projects started it was assumed much of the content would be my great photos from my personal archives. 

         Alas, not so.

         The new digital cameras are so amazing they simply blow away most of my old images done on film. Except for Randy Wagner, Cheyenne, and Dewey Vanderhoff, Cody, most of the photos in my books are digital images. And my poor slides?  Regrettably for me, we are constantly pulling out my photos and replacing them with wonderful digital images by one of some 50 photographers that have participated in these projects.

         Today’s photogs work just as hard as us old-time guys but the new equipment takes the image to a level that we could only imagine a few years ago.

         Back to my friend Ted Carlson.  He had a great sense of humor.  He made two other famous posters. 

One was what he called “Wyoming wind gauge,” which showed a heavy chain seemingly blowing in the wind. 

The other was an image of four young Wyoming rodeo gals wearing boots, hats, vests and chaps and little else. Taken from the rear, you could not tell who these gals were.  I think this image was either the inspiration for a famous painting in the bar at the Holiday Inn in Cody or that painting was the inspiration for his photo.

Carlson would never tell me who the gals were and they are all probably grandmothers today.  Done tastefully, it was more funny than provocative. And it sold a lot of copies!