We are alone. But we are not lonely.
To me that describes what life in Wyoming is really like. With barely seven people per square mile, our state is one of the most isolated in the nation.
Pat Henderson from Sheridan has a brother in law from New Jersey who always claims that Wyoming people are not that friendly after all. Pat says his relative cites, in his strong Jersey accent: “It’s not because you are friendly out there. It’s because you are so darned lonely out there!”
But I contend that Wyoming is unique. Interestingly, several government agencies do not list us as “rural.” We are listed as “frontier.”
Most Wyoming folks either live in town or in spacious subdivisions dotting some of our frontier areas. We do have some farm populations in places like Worland, Torrington, Wheatland, Riverton, and Powell.
Wyoming used to be populated with what was called one-horse towns. Today, the number of traffic lights sort of distinguish how big you are.
Then again, many towns like Lander have long main streets with lots of stoplights. It is not because of its 7,500 population, but because of the million folks a year passing through on their way home from Jackson and Yellowstone. Towns like Powell and Buffalo are similar.
All these towns have a big mission – trying to extend that tourist’s trip at their locations a day or two outside of the big national parks. But that is another topic for another column.
Our state’s isolation is on my mind because we have been on an extended winter road trip to explore some warmer places that are decidedly more crowded than Wyoming.
We were recently in the Phoenix area watching the Colorado Rockies do spring training in Scottsdale. The Valley of the Sun is immense. I swear it took 45 minutes to drive across the area. In the winter, the population swells to four million people. Amazing.
Yet the drive to the Phoenix area crosses some of the most desolate land in America. This desert is full of scrub and prickly cactus plants. A lot of it is Indian Country and it seems devoid of anything positive.
We also spent some time in Las Vegas. Sin City is also big with over two million people living in Clark County during the winter months.
Numbers associated with Las Vegas are huge. There are 125,000 hotel rooms. More than 36 million people visit Vegas each year. There are 315 weddings per day. The downtown and the Strip contain 15,000 miles of neon tubes. A typical stay in Vegas is 3.5 days and the average hotel rate is $66 per day.
Plus during a recent weekend another million people journeyed to Vegas to watch NASCAR racing, the world Rugby championships, various conference basketball tournaments, some major prize fights and some incredible concerts. We happened to be there and there was nary a hotel room or RV space left.
Traffic was intense during all this activity but especially at a place where Highway 95, Highway 93, Interstate 15 and Interstate 515 all intersect. A billion dollars is being spent rebuilding it. It is a traffic mess right now. That is why this intersection is called the Spaghetti Bowl.
In Denver they have the Mouse Trap. In Dallas, they have the High Five. Even Missoula, Mont., has its Malfunction Junction.
Not sure Wyoming has a horrible intersection anywhere, except perhaps when Jackson and Yellowstone get crowded. I don’t think Pine Tree Junction between Gillette and Douglas counts. After all, it’s just a pine tree.
We do have Snow Chi Minh Trail, though, which is the moniker given Interstate 80 during winter weather.
Traffic jams in Dallas, Denver, Phoenix and Las Vegas have been our experience in the last few years. Worst, though, was one time we drove our old motor home (when towing a car, it is 62 feet long) on a 10-lane monster through Silicon Valley during noon rush hour. All sorts of Tesla drivers were giving me the fickle finger of fate for driving my diesel-spewing monster through their homeland. We were headed for an obscure RV Park at the Alameda Raceway and took the wrong road. It was a relief to finally get off that mobile traffic jam of 80 mph vehicles.
When we finally get back into Wyoming, it is such a wonderful feeling. We love living in such a remote land. Our favorite slogan for Wyoming is the unofficial one, The Big Empty.