Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Today Mostly Fact – Not Much Fiction

The news dominating Wyoming right now  -  The Legislature is in session, I hope to visit in the next couple of weeks and sit in on some of the education funding discussions. Education funding is a huge concern in our state as the mineral extraction industry has footed the bill for many years.

It will be interesting to see what happens. State Income Tax, more sales tax, a raise in property taxes, or a combination of all of the above. As much as no one wants new taxes or an increase in taxes, I don’t see a lot of options. Wyoming schools are doing well, currently rated as the 7th best state for public schools in America. We can use some of the rainy day money for a year, or two, but somewhere, somehow, a permanent funding model must be found.

One idea being bandied about is to increase classroom numbers or combine school districts – both terrible ideas. If the legislature decides to do this, I hope they call it what it is. Cutting the number of teachers, putting kids on long bus commutes, and taking away one of the things that make our schools really good – small classroom size. I may be prejudiced on this, having been in the classroom for more than four decades. Too often the idea comes up, “let's consolidate like the states around us.” I was in Nebraska in the 1970s, when they started to consolidate, and when they did, many of the schools were within five or six miles of each other, not the 25 or more that we have in Wyoming. Within a few years, schools that lost their high school’s, lost their identities, and often lost other businesses and then people.
Here I am - Telling it like it is

What would I do? Good question, and here is my answer. First, this should not be about politics or getting re-elected, although it probably will be, which is too bad. Before reading, understand that I might not like all of these, but think it may be a long-term solution.

Two cent increase in State Sales Tax – (money must be earmarked for education only)
1% of the room rate added to the Lodging Tax. (money must be earmarked for education only)

With a bit of a pickup in minerals, this might do it for now.

The Times are Changing - It is also likely the time to merge the State Department of Education with PTSB, long overdue. Although it is a bit stop-gap, it might also be time for a  five-year moratorium on the new school building program.
Pronghorn are from the old days - really old days

Good luck to the legislature, they have a tough job ahead of them.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What About That Wyoming Wind

Not sure about you, but I am getting tired of all the wind. Where we live in the North Platte River Valley, we don’t get as much wind as most of the state, except, it seems, this time of year. So many days with gusts around the state at 60 or more mph, seems unusual even for Wyoming at this part of the year.

Where the Wind Really Blows - I did a bit of research to see how Wyoming compared to other states and, as expected, this is a windy state. Wyoming trails only South Dakota and Montana in average wind speed. I found it both funny and appropriate that the list has the District of Columbia at the top with a wind speed more than ten mph above than South Dakota. Imagine that, D.C. with all the politicians is the windiest place in the United States. (I do hope the people that compiled this list I used do know that The District of Columbia, is not a state).

That’s a Lot of Wind - Last year Casper had a wind gust that reached 103 mph in February, as much as a class 2 hurricane. So what is the windiest town in Wyoming? Good question, either Medicine Bow or Rawlins, depending on the source, and if you dig deep enough, other towns and cities will probably pop-up.

But all of Wyoming is not considered windy, Worland, Lander, Guernsey, and I am sure a few others will pop up as members of the least windy cities in the United States. How do these places qualify? With average wind speeds of around eight mph or less for the year. With the speeds at that level, cities are in the bottom 20% for the wind in the country.

Is it Spring Yet? - It has been warm enough to play golf if not for the snow and wind. Now the snow, because of the wind, has melted and I may head out to the golf course the next time the wind is not so bad. I know what you are thinking – “Well, good luck with that.”

That’s it, one very windy post, but I still do not want to live anywhere else.

Today’s photos from our drive west of town this morning – enjoy!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Snow and the Blizzard of 1887

Last night it was cold, really cold. When I got up this morning, I checked our indoor outdoor thermometer which read -20. The weather app on my phone said -25 with a wind chill of -41 now that is cold. We live in a nice valley where we don’t see such extreme temperatures as a norm but this year seems a bit different. Coming out of the Wyoming news this morning was the fact that Wyoming was reporting five of the ten coldest temperatures on earth last night. Sometimes the old, “We’re number one chant doesn’t feel all that good.
Under Our Feeder - Temperature Up to Zero at Noon

The winter of 1885-86 should have been an indication of what was to come with the great blizzard of 1887, but as people say in today’s world, “who knew?”

Fall and early winter in 85-86 were some of the most pleasant days, for that time of year, on record. Reminds me of last year when I played golf six or eight times in December. Hope that was not a harbinger of even worse things to come this winter.

In 1887, January 9th Wyoming and a big area including most of the states around were hit with the great blizzard. Snow fell at the rate of nearly an inch and hour for 16-20 hours and temperatures plunged as low as -46. The temperatures stayed bitterly cold for ten days when the snow came again.

The rest is history, starved cattle, snowed in towns and ranches, starving people. Ranchers lost from a third to all of their herds. In all, an estimated five million cattle died. That winter changed the way American ranchers would operate forever. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Markers Along the Oregon Trail

Traveling the Oregon Trail must have been quite an ordeal. Along with the lack of food, lack of good water, lack of fuel and the constant fear of attack from Indians, travelers had to put up with walking most of the way. They experienced freezing cold mornings and often scorching afternoons. But finding the way west was, after the first few years, not as difficult as many novels and stories seem to make it. Many good scouts, or pilots as they were sometimes called, worked the trail, many had earlier trapped and traded in the west and knew much of life on the trail.

Wagons followed the Platte River across present-day Nebraska and looked forward to their first view of the west, Chimney Rock and soon after if the days were clear Laramie Peak.

Chimney Rock – Near Bridgeport Nebraska and along Highway - 26, was a towering marker letting travelers know they were leaving the flat and easy part of the journey west. Chimney Rock stood more than 400 feet above the North Platte River and could be seen for days from the wagon trains. Today Chimney Rock is still striking but stands about 100 feet less than it once did.
Chimney Rock

Laramie Peak – Often Laramie Peak could be seen before the wagons reached Chimney Rock. The highest point of the Laramie Range, the peak stands 10,276 feet high. By most standards a mountain a bit over 10,000 feet high is not much, but when viewed from the prairie, after weeks of traveling the flat land, it was most impressive. The peak, as it is referred to by locals now, also meant the wagons would soon be turning north with the river toward present-day Casper, Wyoming. As a side note, famed mountain man Jim Bridger* often claimed he’d been in the mountains so long that when he came west, Laramie Peak was, “nothin’ but a hole in the ground.”
 *Bridger came into this country on his first trip west 195 years ago.
Laramie Peak as it looked from the wagon trains

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Strange Fate of Hiram Scott

The Tale of Hiram Scott

Living in east-central Wyoming, we often travel the 60, or so, miles to Scottsbluff Nebraska. The city was named after Hiram Scott (1805-1828) a Captain under Colonel Leavenworth, a trusted leader in the western fur trade working for William Henry Ashley and the famous Rocky Mountain Fur Company.

While in a canoe traveling down the North Platte River Scott’s canoe overturned. The well know trapper saying, “Keep your powder dry,” was upturned along with the canoe. The powered was wet and useless. The small group of men walked on toward the area that would one day become Fort Laramie living on what they could forage along the way, mostly roots and berries.
North Platte River Upstream From Fort Laramie

Scott, who reportedly had been ill, was left behind as the rest of his group, fearful of Indians wanted to push on. The next year another group found what was left of his body near Scottsbluff. Although sick and with no way to hunt or protect himself, he had managed to travel fifty miles east following the river. It is believed he crawled most of the way, being too weak to walk. One odd thing about this tale is that somehow he managed to cross the river. His body was found on the opposite bank of where he was supposedly left behind.
Laramie River on the Grounds of Fort Laramie

All of this makes a great story but begs the question, why was a 23-year-old man in such poor health. Much has been speculated as to why, but most believe he had been wounded in a fight with the Blackfoot somewhere near and around the time of the 1828 Rendezvous. Like so many early tales of the west, lots, and lots of loopholes remain, but most interesting. Seems, if nothing else, he lived quite a bit in his 23 years, traveling west from Missouri, attending three Rendezvous, battling with Indians, fighting for his life, and having a west Nebraska town named in his honor.
Chatting at the Rendezvous - This one a re-creation at Fort Laramie - summer 2015

From My Writing Site - Christmas is over, and now we are counting down to the New Year. Each year I make a few resolutions, and each year they seem to go quickly by the wayside. Last year I decided, for the first time, to keep track of how many words I wrote and published. I did it, but am not sure I will keep track this year, seemed to put too much pressure on me, and I started worrying about the days I didn’t write. Sometimes that causes a bit, or a whole bunch of bad writing, not worth saving. 

Oh, for the record, I wrote a tad less than a quarter of a million words this year. Quite a bit for me but partly because I wrote quite a lot recently, trying to finish up last year's goals.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Wyoming Christmas Stories

Under Western Skies, now .99 Cents
Great Christmas Reading – all set in the west

Give yourself a Christmas Present and for less than a buck. That’s right for five days, my book of 14 Western Christmas stories – Under Western Skies - is only .99 cents.
14 stories and 144 pages, plus a bonus chapter at the end from my western novel Commitment, 160+ pages in all and that’s a lot of reading for less than a dollar.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Wyoming Day and Books For Sale

Looks to me like I missed the only specific Wyoming Holiday – Wyoming Day, which is celebrated each year on December 10.  On that date in 1869 Territorial Governor John Campbell signed the bill that granted women the right to vote. The new law made Wyoming the first to allow the vote and the ability to legally hold elected office to women.

The bill originated because legislators believed the idea of women suffrage would be good publicity for the territory and might bring more single women to the state.

By Wyoming Statute, Wyoming Day, is supposed to be observed in schools and by other groups around the state each year. I am afraid that practice has long since fallen by the wayside. Too bad, this was a most significant step in American rights.

So How Cold Was It? - Seems like this time of year I normally post something about the weather and how tough the cold was on early settlers. I suppose that will be coming soon, but for now, I will only say, “I cannot imagine how early trappers could survive the cold like we had last week with temperatures plunging to double digits below zero.” BURR!

Thank You, Readers - Many thanks to all of the readers that have pushed my latest Wyoming novel, Ghost of the Fawn, up to number 30 in its category in softcover and number 91 in its eBook category.
If you have not given it a look yet, you can read a free sample here. The book was originally written for teenage readers, but it has found a terrific audience with adults. Thanks!

Meanwhile stay warm and keep reading and watching Christmas movies, we watch one nearly every evening. Christmas movies may be mostly sappy, but we need them, we need the feel good and warmth of the stories. I hope they keep them coming for many years to come.

A Nice Christmas Gift – Speaking of Christmas stories, here is the link to my book, from last year, of Christmas stories, you can read the entire first story for free, enjoy. UnderWestern Skies – 14 Tales of Christmas.

*All photos were taken on our Sunday trip to Laramie, Laramie City, in the old days, 100 miles away.