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Wyoming: "High, wide and handsome," the state that has a bucking horse on its license plate; where it is boasted that one of its native rivers, the Powder, is "a mile wide, an inch deep, and runs uphill all the way"; the state where the myth of the cowboy was born...
Bucking horses are not exclusive to Wyoming, and rodeos, where horses buck in public, are native to the West from California to Kansas, Washington to Texas. Cattle roam all over this wide region. Indians, sagebrush, mountains, forests and open spaces are commonplace all over the Far West. Just the same, Wyoming is special, and, most certainly high, wide, and, in its various ways, superbly handsome.
To see it properly, one has to get off the main drag, which in this case is Interstate 80. This overtraveled route goes right across the bottom of the state, roughly along the historic Overland Trail. For much of the way it is pretty dreary -- unmitigated brown badlands. Unfortunately, the vast majority of motorists who go through the state see this and judge Wyoming by it. In this way Wyoming is like its exact opposite -- the country's most densely inhabited state, New Jersey, with its industrialized turnpike by which most people misjudge that state. It ain't necessarily so. As soon as you get off this Western version of the New Jersey turnpike, things improve. The purpose of this book is to guide the traveler away from Interstate 80, and on to better things.
The beauties of Wyoming are largely scenic. The permanent rancher-farmer settlement of the state goes back barely more than a hundred years. Wyoming is still predominantly uninhabited; it is, after abrief spurt of oil boom-and-bust influx and exodus, the least populated state in the Union. Lots of Wyoming natives like it that way. Wyoming has few of the historic artifacts (such as the Indian and Spanish remains) found throughout the Southwest. It has few quaint mining ghost towns like those of Colorado. There are no big urban centers like Denver and Salt Lake City, no striking man-made silhouettes. Wide, open spaces, mountains, forests and lakes, antelope and elk, buffalo and bear, hot springs and waterfalls -- these are what the traveler comes to see.
Wyoming is basically flat oblong, 250 miles north to south, and 350 miles east to west. It is like a table with protrusions up under its tablecloth: a high plateau, seldom much less than 4,000 feet (1,200 m), punctuated all over by various self-contained mountain ranges. There are not many places in Wyoming from which you can't see a mountain (the midpoint of Interstate 80 being one notable exception). From most of the mountains, in turn, you get expansive views of plains or wide valleys.
The essential and specific beauty of Wyoming, then, is one of open spaces culminating in mountain ranges. A bare, harsh Spanish type of beauty, rather than a fertile green Anglo-French one, makes it a world that either exhilarates or depresses -- sets the spirit soaring, or seems forbidding and oppressive. There are numerous cozy pockets, but if you're to take Wyoming as a whole, it is spaciousness you have to take.
It is over this spaciousness that Indians, emigrants, cowboys, and soldiers moved -- and made Wyoming's history. If such spaciousness, relieved and exalted by mountains, exhilarates you, this is certainly the place for you. (If not, roads lead on to virgin forests and indigo lakes.) Wyoming is truly the land of sagebrush rangelands, where the cows and the cowboys work, and the deer and the antelope play.