I wanted to live in Wyoming ever since I was about 10 years old, and read Mary O'Hara's classic book, "My Friend Flicka", which is set on a ranch in Wyoming. Actually, it's a ranch just 20 minutes away from where I live now in Laramie, and they even have a website: check out the Remount Ranch. I fell in love with the adventures of ranch life, raising and riding horses, mountains lions in your backyard...
Here is a picture of me backpacking through the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming.
There are many beautiful places in the world, and there are other places I have fantasized about moving to, but after 15 years Wyoming continues to fascinate me. Here's an article I wrote for my family newsletter, back in 2002, and it captures some of the unique aspects of living in Wyoming.
What’s Different in Wyoming
I had just graduated from the University of Buffalo and was checking out the job listings on the internet (still a very new thing in 1994, and not many jobs listed yet!) when I came across a year-long research assistantship at the University of Wyoming. It didn’t pay very much (Wyoming’s pay scale is nothing to boast about) but I was intrigued by the notion of living in Wyoming for a year – a state where the antelope outnumber the people.
Wyoming has the smallest population of all the 50 states – about 500,000 (that’s less than the population of the city I grew up in). There’s about 100 towns scattered around Wyoming, and some of them have a population of only 5-10 people. You can drive for hours and never see a sign of humanity other than the road you’re on. I pictured myself dating cowboys and riding the range. Sounded like fun, for a year! Little did I know that I would end up living there much longer – and that I would end up marrying one of those cowboys I thought it would be fun to date!
Laramie is the 3rd largest city in Wyoming, at 26,000 people, and boasts an elevation of 7,200 ft. I moved there in late March, and when I left Buffalo things were already greening up for spring, but in Laramie there was still snow. My first big disappointment was that spring didn’t come until late May, and only after several snow storms. In the Rocky Mountains I soon discovered the weather can be sunny and 70 degrees one day, and snowing with a 0 degree windchill the next day.
You never know what to expect for weather here, and you never go anywhere – even in the summer – without a sweater just in case. You can expect snowfall anytime of the year (though I haven’t seen any in August yet). But, on the plus side, you can get a lot of warm days in the winter and sunny days over 300 days a year.
We also get lots of rainbows in Wyoming. Many times it’ll be raining on one side of the street but not on the other. We have very few trees, except in the mountains (another big adjustment for me). You have to actually visit here or Montana to truly appreciate the term “big sky country.” The sky is BIG. The ground in Wyoming is plain and boring – dry plains with scattered sagebrush – but the sky makes up for it with all its fantastic moods.
The sky isn't the only spectacular thing, of course. Here's a picture of Aspen Alley in the Sierra Madre Mountains.
The mountains are pretty amazing, too. This is SquareTop Mountain, overlooking the Green River.
The high elevation and dry climate also means frequent nosebleeds and more huffing and puffing when you climb stairs (thinner air). It also means we have no fleas, chiggers, termites or other annoying pests – except for one – the mosquito, which we have in great abundance during the month of June.
For me the hardest adjustment was the thin air – it took me about three weeks to be able to climb the stairs to my office without feeling like I was going to pass out, and about a year before I could run even just a half a mile.
The climate out here may be a bit of a shock, but the culture is not that different at all. People are very friendly, laid-back, and wear blue jeans to work and church. You can tell a true cowboy from a “wanna-be” not because they have bowed legs but because they NEVER wear shorts or short-sleeved shirts, no matter how hot it gets.
Wyomingites like to play a few tricks on “outsiders” such introducing them to Rocky Mountain oysters and telling stories about hunting jack-a-lope (a mythical hare with antelope horns). Everyone knows how to drive a stick shift (I eventually learned, as well) and all true Wyoming men own a pick-up truck. Everyone keeps tire chains and a shovel in the back of their car or pickup, just in case. They like to tell swap tales about the moose or elk they saw in their backyard and the mountain lion they saw while hunting last year (these stories are usually true, unlike the jack-a-lope). I have not yet seen a mountain lion myself, but I have seen fresh tracks! The mountains here are beautiful and there are many interesting places to visit near us...
Here's a list of some of my favorite places in Wyoming:
- Vedauwoo and Happy Jack recreation areas- right outside of Laramie, our favorite place to go horseback riding, camping and rock-scrambling. Huge, house-sized boulders all jumbled together into fantastic shapes, like castles and giant turtles.
- Popo Agie falls (pronounced Poe-poe-ja). This is just outside of Lander, Wyoming, in the Wind River mountains. Most of the year there isn't enough water to make this waterfall very remarkable: but for a short time during spring snowmelt, the entire hillside is covered with cascading water.
- Pinedale, Wyoming - Fremont Lake overlook. This short drive up into the mountains gives you a spectacular view of Fremont Lake, as well as a beautiful panaroma of the high peaks of the Wind River mountains, including Gannett Peak, our tallest mountain (13,700 ft)
- Green River lakes and Square Top Mountain. A long drive on a rough road to get there, but well worth it. Square Top Mountain is as memorable a sight as Devil's Tower.
- Jenny Lake Trail and Hidden Falls, Grand Teton National Park. I saw my first bear on this trail - way too close for comfort.
- Tower Falls, Yellowstone. Just about any place in Yellowstone is amazing -it's hard to pick a favorite place.
- Aspen Alley, Sierra Madre mountains - peak aspen color is around the last week of September/first week of October
- Route 14 over the Bighorn Mountains. Wildflower heaven in June. I saw my first moose along this road, too.
- Crazy Woman Canyon - near Buffalo, Wyoming
- Chimney Rock Road - another pretty drive just outside of Laramie