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1826 - Lander is bombastic July 4 capital of USA

So help me, there truly is nothing like it. Anywhere!

         In cities and towns across Wyoming, people see July 4 as a time of fireworks and blowing things up. But one town tops all the rest in the state and perhaps the nation.

         While watching televised images of the nighttime bombing of Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, I turned to someone and said: “I’ve seen that before.” It looked just like a typical night of July 4 in my hometown of Lander.

         The Independence Day holiday has always been a big deal for Lander since it is the home of the oldest paid rodeo on earth – predating Cheyenne’s.

         But in recent years, this holiday has become a pyrotechnic maniac’s dream. 

         In this town of 7,500 people, you can find at least 30 different locations where neighbors have banded together to light big displays of fireworks.

         And this is in addition to the fire department’s official fireworks on the night of July 4.

It should pointed out that the Lander Pioneer Days holiday includes a big pancake breakfast, lots of distance races, two days of rodeos, a wonderful parade on the morning of the fourth (watched by 12,000 people), a huge Rotary Buffalo Barbecue at City Park at noon on that day plus lots of other activities.

         Because the July 4th holiday is such a big deal in my town, just about all the high school reunions are held during that time, too.  It is truly a homecoming for folks to remember.

In our case, my family always shoots off fireworks on the evening of the 4th, but not to the extent of our neighbors. One of our traditions is to use cigars to light them.  Some years ago I went to Europe and managed to sneak home five Cuban cigars to smoke at some later time.

         Imagine my surprise (and horror) to come home to where our fireworks display was already starting and seeing that my wife Nancy had passed out my Cubans to the folks there to use to light the fireworks instead of my traditional Swisher Sweets. Incredible!

Sharing the credit (or blame) for Lander’s pyrotechnic excesses is Mayor Del McOmie.  A Lander native, he has always felt this was a “tradition” that he can remember during his entire life of growing up locally.

         “We want people to be safe and to be responsible,” he says. “But people deserve to enjoy fireworks on the fourth. It has always been a tradition here, where Independence Day is our biggest holiday of the year.  As long as I am mayor, we will try to make it as much fun as possible.”

         There is another side to the story. Lander resident, in an earlier column about Lander’s July 4 racket, resident Nancy Debevoise has this to say: “From sun up until late at night on July 4, I feel as if I`m in some bomb-besieged third-world country.

“While some people are fairly responsible about fireworks, too many seem to spend the entire day and evening (and their paychecks) setting off round after round of peace-shattering noise, with no consideration for neighbors, others` property or passersby’s,” she says.     

Lucie Whisler recalled a fun-filled July 4 at her neighborhood at Lucky Lane in Lander, which consisted mostly of mountain climbers.  “Some bright souls decided to put a big firecracker in a bowling ball.  The ball went to pieces, flying over houses, cars and people. Fortunately, no one was hit or hurt, and nothing was damaged.  Don`t try this at home,” she cautions,

         The folks in the Indian Lookout neighborhood pool their resources and explode perhaps the most serious “amateur” show in town.  People are stationed with hoses to extinguish fires that may erupt in the neighboring nature preserve.

         It is almost impossible to adequately describe what Lander on the night of July 4 looks like.  You just have to experience it. The sight is incredible.  Lander sits in a valley and a lot of folks live in the hills around town. They tell amazing stories of what it looks like, peering down at the siege.

In recent years, some amazing color time-exposure photos have been made of the explosions. Last year, one enterprising photographer sent a drone up into the middle of the flak to get some of the most amazing images ever. 

         There really is no way to describe how it looks, feels and sounds to be in Lander on the night of July 4th.

Probably somewhat like Baghdad, huh?

1825 - Gov. Matt Mead honored for service to Wyoming

So just how good a governor are you to be ranked the number-one governor in America for popularity?

         Based on the large crowd that gathered Friday, June 8 in Cheyenne, Gov. Matt Mead and First Lady Carol Mead are loved.

         The event was organized to recognize the Meads for the last seven and a half years of service. He will depart office on Dec. 31. 

         The star-studded night included speeches by U. S. Senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and Dr. Laurie Nichols, president of the University of Wyoming.

         Enzi talked about how “honorable” Mead is and has been during the past seven and half years. Among his comments were:

“When Matt was running for governor, he said Wyoming needed to be proactive to fend off federal regulations.  I’m not sure he knew how much he’d be doing between 2011 and 2018, but he has been a valuable partner to the Wyoming Congressional delegation in that fight.  

“We’ve stood shoulder to shoulder since he was sworn in as Wyoming’s 32nd Governor to fight the Clean Power Plan; the Stream Protection Rule; the moratorium on coal leases on federal lands; and the rest of President Obama’s War on Coal.  The Governor has made a lasting emphasis with lawsuits challenging the War on Coal, and with President Trump in office, we’ve had some success in that effort.  Miners are starting to mine again!  

“Matt, as residents of the Powder River Basin, Diana and I thank you for fighting for coal. But it’s not just the coal industry you’ve helped.  The oil and gas industry is appreciative of your leadership on sage grouse management that helped keep the bird from being listed as endangered.  Your advocacy for Wyoming’s existing hydraulic fracturing standards was also crucial in getting President Trump to repeal the Bureau of Land Management’s fracking rule.  

“And Matt’s successes don’t stop there.  His voice was critical in delisting the grizzly bear in Yellowstone and continuing the black-footed ferret’s recovery.  I’ve enjoyed working with him on the annual GRO-Biz Conference, which helps Wyoming companies to do business with the federal government. We couldn’t have opened Wyoming’s first Job Corps Center in 2015 without Matt’s help.  

 “Matt also created the ENDOW Initiative to diversify Wyoming’s economy after revenues from oil, gas and coal slid to the point that budget cuts were necessary.  His quiet leadership and effective explanations are unmatched.”

Sen. Barrasso listed other accomplishments by Gov. Mead but listed what he called “the great eight” as worthy of highlighting. These are honors bestowed on Wyoming during Mead’s two terms:

2011 – 2018 – Wyoming named best state business climate.

2011 – Wyoming named best-run state.

2012 – Wyoming named the state with the most cost-effective state highway system.

2015-2016 – Wyoming named best state for retirement.

2016 – Wyoming named best state in which to start a business.

2017 – Wyoming named best state for being most confident in the U. S economy.

2018 – Wyoming named best state for individual return on bachelor degree program.

2018 – Wyoming’s Matt Mead named most popular governor in USA.

Barrasso saved his biggest praise for Mead by telling the overflow crowd that the governor never missed a deployment of Wyoming servicemen or an opportunity to welcome them home.

“Plus he opened it up to recognizing all veterans all across Wyoming, which was long overdue,” the senator said. He said Mead even started a program to recognize new recruits.

Dr. Nichols said Mead had never-ending support for higher education. He is a huge supporter of the university, she said.

During his rebuttal, Mead said, “Thank God we live in Wyoming!”  He talked about his great grandfather who served in the state senate, his grandfather who was a governor and a U. S. Senator and his mom, who ran for governor and lost.

But the loudest roar of the night came when he talked about how he thought he was shooing a kitty out from under a bush at the governor’s residence and got sprayed head-on by a skunk.

As he staggered into the house, his wife First Lady Carol ordered him “get out of this house!”

Ultimately he took off all his clothes and figured out a way to hose himself off and then went into the garage to somehow get the skunk spray off his body. “Where does a skunky governor go?” he asked.

He ended his talk by quoting a family motto about living in Wyoming.  “Find one blade of grass and replace it with two,” he concluded to a long, standing ovation.


1824 - My 2018 Wyomng Bucket List

By definition, the term “bucket list” stands for those places you want to visit or those things you want to do before you die.

         For some time now, I have been publishing my own version of this Wyoming list and have gradually been checking a few off my list.

         And yet, there are so many other places to see and my list seems to be getting longer rather than shorter.

         For example, participating in a dinosaur dig has zoomed to near the top of my list. The dinosaur dig east of Thermopolis is terrific, I have been told.

The Vore buffalo jump near Sundance is amazing.  After seeing that one, I now want to get out in the Red Desert and see the jump on the summit of Steamboat Mountain between Rock Springs and Farson.

Among the things that I wanted to do, and did do, were finally seeing Sybille Canyon between Laramie and Wheatland.  Also, I finally took that Red Desert back road from Rock Springs to South Pass and visited Boar’s Tusk and the Killpecker Sand Dunes.

         Also, I finally drove that fantastic Wild Horse Loop from Green River to north of Rock Springs above the White Mountains.

        We also re-visited the fantastic petroglyphs just south of Dubois with our Texas grandchildren. Amazing.

         But I still have not made it to some very important locales. So here goes by 2018 Wyoming Bucket List:

• I am hoping to take a closer look at the Vedauwoo area outside of Laramie.  Again, I have driven by it hundreds of times. It is time for a closer look.  Also, to spend some time at Curt Gowdy State Park.

         • There is a man-made rock arrow in the Red Desert called the Hadsell site.  It is between Jeffrey City and Wamsutter and will make a nice jeep trip.

         • Between Jeffrey City and Muddy Gap is an odd rock formation I call the castle.  Reportedly it has names written on its walls, including John Sublette.  Sometime this year it will finally get checked off.

         • Near the listed area above is a true Stonehenge site near Jeffrey City that can be seen on Google Earth.  Only problem is these huge boulders were moved into a geometric design by humans with big machines during a mine clean up some years ago. Bravo to these guys for showing imagination while doing an otherwise boring job.

         • Our family lived on Squaw Creek for 23 years outside of Lander and our view looked out at Red Butte.  Hope to climb it this summer.

         • If Fossil Butte is not on this list, my friend Vince Tomassi will scold me about it.  He serves incredible meals every Thursday night in Kemmerer-Diamondville at Luigi’s.  Perhaps a tour and dinner, Vince?

         • In 1993, I spent a very nervous time hunting a bighorn ram in the Double Cabin Area northeast of Dubois, while dodging grizzly bears. It was not any fun knowing I was not at the top of the food chain. Packing a .30-06 helped alleviate the nerves a little.   Would love to go back for a more relaxed trip this time around.

         • I still need to take the time to tour UW with a knowledgeable guide and see first-hand all the new buildings and new programs.

         • Some 47 years ago, I photographed what looked like a horrible scar on Togwotee Pass where the area was clear-cut. Would like to go back to those areas and see if the timber has recovered or not?

         • Historian Phil Roberts says he will give me a tour of the “breaks” north of Lusk?   I flew over that area by private plane many times and looked down in awe at this rough country.

          This past year Nancy and I toured eastern Wyoming spending time around Hulett, Sundance, Newcastle, Lusk, Torrington and Wheatland.  What a great area full of beautiful sites and wonderful people. Would like to take my grandkids over there this summer.

         • A tour of Wyoming’s giant coalmines makes sense.

         • Author John Davis of Worland wrote a great book about the Spring Creek massacre. Would very much like to see that site south of Ten Sleep.

         • Am hoping Dan Dockstader might give us a tour of the Star Valley area.  The few times I have been there, the beauty was amazing.

         • The Bear River area around Evanston is worth a trip as is a visit to their fantastic railroad roundhouse which as been restored.

         • Jim Hicks of Buffalo has promised me a nice trip to Crazy Woman Canyon some time soon.

         • I would like to visit the famous authors, the Gears, in Thermopolis and run up to Ucross and chat with Craig Johnson. Love their books.

         • Maybe I can talk Dave Peck into a tour of Big Horn Lake behind Yellowtail Dam. It’s been on my bucket list for a long time.

         • On the Wind River Reservation, I would like to visit the mountains at the extreme north end of the rez.

         To wrap this up, my friend Tom Hayes does not like the term “bucket list” and calls his a “leap list” for a list he does every leap year to plan their visits over the next four years. 

         So that’s my Wyoming bucket list.  What’s yours?

1823 - Cheney never hesitated shoot it down!

You could hear a pin drop as former Vice-President Dick Cheney described what it was like to be at the White House during the 9-11 crisis that occurred Sept. 11, 2001.

         He was speaking to 250 members of the Republican Party at a Lincoln Day dinner in Cody May 25.  His daughter, Wyoming’s current U. S. Representative Liz Cheney, was interviewing her father as part of a program lined up for that night.

         And it was a very big night. Political leaders from all over the state plus candidates for all the major offices were there, along with their entourages. 

         But this night belonged to Cheney.

         The former Vice-President, who served with President George W. Bush from 2000 to 2008, received a heart transplant six years ago. He looks vibrant and healthy at the age of 77.

         Cheney spoke manner-of-factly as he recounted that fateful day when more than 3,000 American citizens died in terrorist attacks.

         Although it certainly was not a funny moment at the time, some folks chuckled when Cheney recalled a burly secret service agent walking into his West Wing office, grabbing him by the collar and his belt and literally hefting him in the air and whisking him out of the room.

         The White House staff all knew about the commercial airliners that had crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City but now it was determined that a hijacked airliner was headed toward Washington D. C.

Cheney went to the war room deep beneath the capitol complex and then was faced with a horrible decision.

         “Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said he thought there four to six planes that had been hijacked. And I was told an airliner was headed our way.  Should our fighters shoot it down?” Cheney recalled being asked.

         “I gave the order to shoot down that plane,” he recalled. 

         The fighters were too late to intercept the first airliner, which ultimately crashed into the Pentagon.

         The second airliner was the famous Flight 93, whose passengers had been called by relatives telling them about the Twin Towers crashes.  “Those brave souls took their own plane down killing themselves but saving countless others,” Cheney concluded.

         Cheney who has resided in Jackson for years has lived one of the most amazing careers in American politics. He was the youngest presidential chief of staff in history (for President Gerald Ford), a U. S Representative for Wyoming, a Secretary of Defense during the first Gulf War and then Vice-President for eight years during the George W. Bush administration.

         When asked what his favorite job was during all these times, he said Secretary of Defense had to top the list.

         He heaped massive praise on the members of the military and recalled some interesting times with Gen. Colin Powell, then head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.

         He called the efforts of the American forces “magnificent.” He was proud that the USA could do things that no other military force in the world could do.

         “We used stealth technology and precision missile strikes, which no other country possessed, “ he said.

         But Cheney was not the only star of the evening. U. S. Sen. John Barrasso gave a rousing call to action for the true believers in attendance.  Barrasso is campaigning for another term in the Senate this year.

         Cody’s hometown hero, former U. S. Senator Al Simpson, was the emcee and asked Cheney to tell a different version of one of the most famous political stories in Wyoming lore.

         Cheney: “Al and I were running for reelection for our two seats during the same campaign period. I had spent the night in Lander at Judge Jack Nicholas’ home but needed to get up early and get to Riverton for a radio interview.

         “The radio station was always on the edge of Riverton near the Wind River and I pulled in and dashed through the front door.”

         “Next thing I knew there was woman in her nightgown. She was vacuuming as I recall. A baby was crawling in the corner. I asked her if this was the radio station?”

         “No,” the woman said, “they just moved downtown. We just moved here. By the way, who are you?”

         Cheney then paused and told the Cody crowd: “My name is Al Simpson and I am running for the Senate. I would very much appreciate your vote.”

         Then he dashed out of the house and headed downtown to the real radio station building.