Over Wyoming - Wyoming PBS (c)

Original Air Date: 03/09/2016

Transcript of Show

- Back in 1866, with the spike about to be driven in the Transcontinental Rail to bind up a nation, spanning North America, it was time to make a new territory here, along the spine of the Rockies, west of Dakota, south of Montana, east of Utah, north of Colorado. This was land not many people had wanted up 'til then. The men and women living scattered in this rectangle didn't have any representative in Congress, so it was an Ohio legislator who introduced legislation to create the territory, and eventually the state, of Lincoln. Well, let's think about that. A state called Lincoln. Tall, craggy, funny, and smart in a homespun sort of way, and lonely. We all know that Lincoln had the loneliest job in the world. And not good-looking. To think of all the things you could see in that face. But the name Lincoln didn't stick. Instead, they chose a Native American name, from the Delaware language in Pennsylvania, lovely name, Wyoming, which meant "on the big plain."

- The unfortunate thing was that no member of the House Committee had ever been out here before. So when names were suggested, like Cheyenne or Arapaho or Sweetwater, a lot of people were a little skeptical as to how representative it would be for the whole area. And then, of course, when Lincoln was brought up, I'm sure that there was some reference made to the newly established capital of Nebraska. Here is Lincoln in Nebraska, and how would that look? There should be Lincoln, Lincoln, probably.

- [Voiceover] There's a lot of Lincoln still in Wyoming. It's a rough-hewn world with a lot of open space, a lot of wear and tear, a lot of wild beauty. And just a smattering of people, most of whom like it that way.

- [Voiceover] There are teepee rings and horses and beautiful rock formations, and the wild horses would come and stand in the road and just look really grouchy at us. That's they Wyoming I love.

- [Voiceover] There are some wonderful places in Wyoming.

- [Voiceover] Makers of wilderness area, you know. There's no roads, there's no electricity, there's nothing. I mean, you wanna go in, it's leather. Either saddle leather or shoe leather, like, one of the two.

- [Voiceover] There are also some just pretty dreadful places in Wyoming.

- [Voiceover] If you live in Wyoming, you know the phrase well. It's a small town with long streets. People don't think much of traveling 100s of miles to see, well, the neighbor. A rancher raising heifers in the Green River country on the west side of Wyoming has friends who trail their livestock near Devil's Tower and far away, northeast Wyoming. You know your neighbors, however far flung, because there aren't that many of them. They work in coal mines, they fish on the rivers, they drive the big trucks, they dance the Cowboy Swing. It's a big, various place, Wyoming, not easy to get your hands around. But we're gonna give it a try. We're going to see if we can grasp the whole of it. That's what Agnes Wright Spring did back in the 1920, driving an old Model T on, well, on roads that were nothing like the blacktop we have today. We're going to do it differently. We're gonna take to the air for this journey. But we'll have Ms. Spring's voice with us, because she wrote timelessly about Wyoming.

- [Voiceover] "There is a fascination about the vastness "of the plains, the ruggedness of the mountains, "the uncertainty of the far horizon, "the crispness and cleanness of the air, the brilliance of the sunshine, "that holds those who come "and that draws them back if they leave." Agnes Wright Spring.

- [Voiceover] This is the way most people enter Wyoming, on wheels, on big blacktop. Many come through on Interstate 80, east-west, to cross the southern width of the state. I-80, the great cinching belt of the nation.

- [Voiceover] Wyoming is a place that people pass through to get from one place to another. Wyoming, not as a destination but as an area of transition.

- [Voiceover] But before there were semis and RVs and now and then a brave bicycle, there were bears and bison and bands of Shoshone and Arapaho and other tribes.

- Our wandering around wasn't limited to just borders or fences. Being able to go north and find where the buffalo were, or being able to travel south, where it was warmer, or meeting up with other bands, that was the way of our grandfathers.

- [Voiceover] And in the 19th century, a new band arrived, large numbers of non-native immigrants, pushing west, looking for a way across the mountains, and finding it in Wyoming.

- Wyoming is really the key to the peopleing of the continent, which differentiates it from states, both to the north and the south. That basin and range structure has provided more access, both north-south and east-west, than almost any other state outside of, you know, the typically flat areas of the America Midwest and Great Plains.

- [Voiceover] The immigration through Wyoming reached its height in the 19th century, first with the military, then wagon train, then with the Transcontinental Railroad. For many travelers then and now, the first stop entering Wyoming was, and is, often Cheyenne, one of the state's two big cities. Well, 60,000 people is big in Wyoming. Then came the Union Pacific construction camp, and cattle and sheep and mining and wealth. Cheyenne became the territory capital in 1869. The cattle barons fattened their cattle and wallets on the open range, until the terrible winter of 1887. When ranchers have less to do in the winter, many of them come down to serve in the part-time legislature. Another legacy of ranching is Frontier Days, the biggest outdoor rodeo in the world for over a century. Wagon trains, railroads and automobiles traveling west over the snowy range in Medicine Bow National Forest. But mountain bikers, campers and climbers stop to clamor on the rough skin of the Vedauwoo rocks. Cars began crossing the continent from ocean to ocean a century ago. Coming through this Wyoming Pass on the Lincoln Highway. Then it's down onto the Laramie Plains, another high, windy flatland where the heifers and pronghorn antelopes wander, and another rough and ready shot-up railroad boom town of the 1860s, Laramie, now transformed into the state's sole university town. It's a boom town again, a growing university housing modern research facilities, seven colleges, and 13,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The state's off and on booming energy economy has a lot to do with the university's growth. And for many in Wyoming, it's where they get their first exposure to the big, wide world, intellectually and socially.

- It's different in Laramie, because I do feel like there, in terms of international students and professors, there is a bigger group here. Here in the west, people are in their houses, they're in their cars, they aren't out in the world quite in the same way that they would be in India. But whenever I've talked to the Indian students here, or even a lot of the international students, they say Wyoming's incredibly welcoming. People are really interested in knowing, I mean, I think because they do stand out, because they are different, people ask about where they're from, what their accent is, what food they're eating. They're very curious in a way that I think, again, in a big city, people, sort of, it's easy to just be a little indifferent to it because you have so many people from all over.

- [Voiceover] And not far from the glittering, modernized campus, remnants of the old Wyoming, which is really not that old when you think about it, remain. Butch Cassidy didn't got to UW, but he had a room nearby.

- [Voiceover] "Crumbling stumps and logs of old fir presses, "ruts were deep by rumbling wagon wheels, "arrow-strewn battlefields, "tumbled down shaft houses and rotting sluice boxes, "broken aerial tramway castles that whine in the wind, "ox yokes and rusty beaver traps. "The past presses so closely on the present." Agnes Wright Spring.

- [Voiceover] The southeast corner of Wyoming has remnants of all the things that shaped Wyoming historically. The artifacts of Indian settlements, the logging camps, mining, ranching, the energy industry. A few of these town, like Rawlins, have thrived, thanks to the Interstate and energy development. But small rural towns off the main routes are withering all over America.

- [Voiceover] Medicine Bow is an extraordinary little place because, of course, it was made famous in Owen Wister's novel The Virginian. But it was also a very important railroad stop on the Union Pacific line. And during the boom years, it was constant, people coming out and wanting to get the city council to authorize new developments in one direction or another. The local people, like local people everywhere in Wyoming in the boom and bust towns, would be saying, "Well, this time, "this boom is gonna last. "So we can afford to authorize new housing developments "and new water and sewer facilities," and it's a bittersweet sort of memory because a lot of us in the back of our minds, we're hopeful that this was going to be the boom that would last. But reflecting on Wyoming's history, you almost always have to come to the conclusion that there's a pattern that we can be expecting.

- [Voiceover] Owen Wister put Medicine Bow on the map by evoking an Old West buried in time, maybe real, maybe not. Just down the road, at Como Bluffs, there's more buried history, prehistory, really, giant, largely intact dinosaur bones. Of the east-west north-south corridors that make Wyoming topography unique, many are carved by water, which in the days of the dinosaurs was much more abundant. Directions are confusing. Rivers flow north, east, south, west, eventually to oceans, but never in a straight line. We'll try to follow. But before the journey, relax. Indian tribes here, long before Europeans, designated Hot Springs a magical place, a peaceful spa for R&R, in Saratoga, Hobo Hot Springs is free, open to all, and right by the river. A river which, by the way, is Blue Ribbon trout stream, the North Platte.

- That's how we migrated all over. In our world here, the Arapaho people, this land is sacred. Even the, the water. We got lakes here close by, we got the rivers here. They are all sacred.

- [Voiceover] The North Platte comes out of the Medicine Bowl Mountains and meanders north and east across the high plains, gathering streams like the Powder and Sweetwater along the way. In some ways, it marks the great pathway through the middle of the continent. A mile wide and an inch deep, that's one way the Platte is described. Too thick to drink and too thin to plow, that's another. Imagine what that was like, dry, dusty, with not a lot of usable water, so you kept moving, even with the arduous climb over the Rocky Mountains ahead of you. Water is scarce in most of Wyoming, and valuable. "Whisky is for drinking, "water is for fighting over," Mark Twain said of the west. So, beginning a century ago, we began damming the Platte. Seminole, Pathfinder, Alcova, between those dams run some of the best trout water in North America, the fabled Miracle Mile. If it weren't for a stream to follow, it would be easy to get lost here, even today. The ranches are few and far between. Only the pronghorn racing out in the sagebrush know where they're going. Now and then, though, a landmark to aim for. Independence Rock, where travelers in the 1840s carved their names and messages, for many, the last message before the journey claimed another life. Then back on the trail, squinting ahead for the next landmark, like Devil's Gate and Split Rock. Who would think to put a town out here in the middle of the high plains in Wyoming? Many tried, but only a few stuck. And here's one of them, right in the middle of nowhere, a little mountain and a little city. Well, by Wyoming standards, a big city. As usual, the first inhabitants were only passing through. Fur traders in 1812 built a cabin of rock and covered it with buffalo hides. During the Oregon Trail years, there was a ferry here to get across the river. And five dollars was not cheap in the 1840s. Casper was an oil town, even then. They greased the wagon wheel hubs from oil seeps. A few decades later, in the 1920s, Standard Oil built the largest oil refinery in the world, and Casper grew into the biggest city in Wyoming. Today, there's a college, good restaurants, a diverse population.

- I like to refer to the fact that we have a traffic jam in Casper, and it's 10 cars. And it's over in 20 seconds. It has a sense of place for me, that, no matter where I am, I can look at the mountain and have my bearings.

- [Voiceover] And this is still a big energy town. But that old refinery got torn down and now, it's a golf course, and business park, and wildlife habitat, the Platte River Commons. Old time travelers didn't stay long, and we won't, either. East we go, backtracking the old immigrant routes where the wonders along the way are not much different than they were 150 years ago, like Ayres Natural Bridge over LaPrele Creek. The towns, what few there are, grew up along the waterways here. Wheatland, Chugwater, Glenrock, Douglas, Glendo, Torrington, and Guernsey, places where stagecoaches took a break, Pony Express riders watered their horses, and the ruts of covered wagons are etched in the landscape. This was the gateway to the west, but also of the hunting grounds of tribes like the Soux, who watched the buffalo herds thin as white men moved in. Sometimes there was trade, and sometimes there was fighting. Fort Laramie, at the confluence of the North Platte and Laramie Rivers, was the locus.

- [Voiceover] "Immigrants paused here "to rest themselves and their footsore stock, "to buy supplies or to wait for others, "to catch up with them on the way to Utah, "Oregon or California. "49ers hurried through with gold-fevered eyes "fixed on the horizon. "Pony Express riders stopped in a swirl of dust, "exchanged horses, were off again. "Soldiers, outfitted here for dangerous trips "into the wilderness or returned wounded and weary, "gamblers, traders, prospectors, home seekers, "cow punchers, everyone who trekked "across the plains knew Fort Laramie." Agnes Wright Spring.

- [Voiceover] It wasn't gold or mineral, or certainly not water, that got anybody to settle in eastern Wyoming. It was grass, tall, undulating grass, rolling on forever through the high plains and hills, a place where buffalo really could roam and roam, and where settlers saw their cattle could do the same.

- I think Crook County's the best kept secret in Wyoming. We have a small population, rather large land area, with primarily agriculture as its support. People like to feel open space. We're the west end of the Black Hills. We have wonderful fishing, we have superb white tail hunting. I had no idea that the land would claim me the way it did. My husband had very strong feelings for it, and I didn't understand it until I had lived here for a couple of years, and then began to work outside. It gets in your blood. You are caregiver. You husband the land the way you take care of your children, because it's in your care.

- [Voiceover] On the one side of this big, flat basin are the Bighorn Mountains. On the other, the Black Hills, spilling over from South Dakota. These mountains are sacred to Native Americans, despite the carving of an occasional face on the rock. But who needs that? The most interesting piece of rock is over here, on the Wyoming side, Devil's Tower, the striking landmark that greets visitors as they come in from South Dakota, and makes them forget all about Mount Rushmore. Doesn't take a spaceship to make this piece of rock interesting. It rises out of the Ponderosa pines and hills like a giant tree stump. But it's volcanic, the core of an ancient uplift, perhaps 60 million years ago, stripped down by time and weather to fluted vertical columns of hardened magma. Devil's Tower is what Colonel Richard Dodge called it after he led the United States geological survey out this way in 1875. But Native Americans, who've been here a while longer, call it Mato Tipi, or Bear Lodge, a sacred site. They tell the story of young women, out gathering flowers, who were chased by bears and saved by spirits that pushed the rock beneath them upward, leaving the bears below, clawing at the column.

- [Voiceover] If you take a walk around the base of the tower and you get on the northern side, it's very, very quiet there. You can feel a presence. It's also very silent. And somehow that spiritual presence seems to take over.

- [Voiceover] Then came the cattlemen, and the coal miners, and the drillers for oil and gas. Under the grasses of northeast Wyoming, there are huge coal seams, the ancient remains of seas and swamps and prehistoric life, now the fuel that keeps the lights on, the air conditioning humming, and the town of Gillette in a perpetual boom.

- So the mountains rose, and the basins were sinking simultaneously, from 100 million years ago to about 45 million years ago. The rivers would flow in, they'd quiet down, they'd make huge swamps, and we built up 100s and 100s of feet of plant material, which turned into coal.

- [Voiceover] Coal and cattle. Sometimes a buffalo herd, sometimes a coal bed methane drilling rig. As open and empty as the Power River basin may seem, there's plenty going on here, between the Black Hills and the Bighorn Range.

- [Voiceover] At any point in Wyoming's history as either territory or state, there have been more coal miners in the population than there have been cowboys. And so, by rights, the symbol on our license plate, instead of a bucking horse, should be a guy with a pickaxe over his shoulder and a hardhat.

- [Voiceover] To outsiders, to tourists, Wyoming may be all about cowboys and Indians and outlaws and energy. But it's not that simple. The store in Sheridan where you buy your calf roping lariat and hand-carved saddle also serves polo players, and on a visit a few years back, the Queen of England. These towns on the east slope of the Bighorns, Sheridan, Buffalo, and dots on the map like Ucross, have a sizable population of artists and writers. Once, sheep ranchers and cattle barons shot it out in the Johnson County Wars, and Butch Cassidy hid out in the Hole In The Wall. Now, there's Sheriff Walt Longmire keeping the peace.

- Wyoming is one of those places that you can't ignore. Or if you do, you do so at your own peril, is the way I kind of look at it. It's always gonna be a major character in everything that I write. There are a lot of stereotypes and cliches that people have about the American West, and one of them is, you know, "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do," and, "Every man for himself," and, "We solve our own problems out here, pilgrim," you know, that kind of thing. And anybody who's ever lived in a farming or ranching community knows that you're more aware and more dependent on your neighbors in that situation than you ever would be in a more urban situation. And I think that that's one of the hallmarks of the Western lifestyle, that I think is kind of missing a lot of times in the Hollywood presentations of that type of thing. In a place like Wyoming, it's very different from some place like L.A. or Chicago or New York, where you can basically ignore the natural world. There are enough resources to where you don't really need to know if it's gonna snow that day or rain that day or whatever. You got enough buildings, enough cafes, where you've got food, you've got taxis to take you from place to place. There are lots of places in Wyoming where you do not have that luxury. And so, you need to be aware of the natural world.

- [Voiceover] The Shining Mountains, as they were once called, now the Bighorns, after the Bighorn sheep that roam the high craigs, peaks rising over 13,000 feet above sea level. Wilderness beauty, cliffs and forest and waterfalls, a place to get away from the noise and the crowds, a place to meditate and to tap a spiritual vein, like plains Indian tribes who came here before Europeans and come here still, on vision quests.

- Topography is destiny. Wyoming topography is made up largely of the tops of a bunch of what used to be really, really big mountains, filled in with the basins, stuff that's eroded and washed into the areas between.

- [Voiceover] Rivers flow to all points of the compass in Wyoming. They change direction, they change colors, and they change names. The Wind River, at Wind River Canyon, becomes the Bighorn River, and turns north, on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. South. Usually, it's a mountain range that turns a river. But sometimes, the river gets the better of the mountain, particularly older mountains, buried in sediment, sloughed off by the young, tall Rockies. That's what happened here, where the Bighorn River cut down through the prior mountains on its way to the Yellowstone River, on its way to the Missouri River, on its way to the Mississippi River, twisting around south and down to Louisiana. But here in the basin with the Bighorns on one side, and the Absarokas on the other, with water to irrigate and protection from the plains winds, farms and town took shape. Like most of Wyoming, there are natural landmarks here that stand out for many miles away. Heart Mountain is one of them. During World War II, over 10,000 Japanese Americans were detained here, as if ethnicity were traitorous. There was fear and hostility in nearby Wyoming towns. And yet, Cody boy scouts camped with their Japanese scouts and forged lifelong friendships. Cody is the biggest town in the basin, named after Buffalo Bill Cody, the legendary scout and buffalo hunter whose wild west shows toured the world and turned Old West history into something of a circus. Cody was a promoter for all seasons, and his ventures still shape the region. He mapped dams and canals, drilled for oil, guided hunters, and built the Irma Hotel. Crow Indians used to winter camp here, and this was where John Colter, a young member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, began a legendary winter trek into the wilds around Yellowstone. Colter was working for Manuel Lisa, looking for Indian bands which would trade beaver pelts. It was an early example of the boom and bust economy that has marked Wyoming's history. Colter, the story goes, mostly got along well with Indians. And they would have advised him on this trip to take a breather at Thermopolis. Locals have advertised Thermopolis as the biggest hot springs in the world. It isn't, but it's one of the nicest. Bison graze just to the east, there are water slides, and a peaceful place where you can bathe for free. You can thank Chief Washakie and the Eastern Shoshone Tribe for that.

- Our warriors used to go, and they would go down into some caves that were down in the Thermop area, and they would sweat and hold ceremonies before they went out on their hunting parties. And so, there's very significant ties to the hot springs area.

- [Voiceover] The first major obstacle for Colter, and for anyone heading up the Bighorn River, was the Owl Creek Mountains. You could hike over the top on a maze of trails or make your way precariously through Wind River Canyon. These days, there's railroad track, and a twisty paved road through the canyon now, and Boysen Dam at the top. But it's still a dramatic whitewater river, with plenty of big trout. And if you might not have noticed, you're on the Wind River Indian Reservation now.

- Washakie didn't forego the Wind River Canyon, or agree to sign that over. To me, that's very significant and telling, because of the spiritual connection that we have, the Indian people have, to the Wind River Canyon.

- [Voiceover] There's hidden wealth in these mountains, water, oil and gas, and wilderness. There are ghosts, the lost dreams of miners, the petroglyphs of 10,000 years ago, the battlefields where Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone once fought.

- This land is sacred. You don't wanna violate those things, you know. The mountain sets, that's all sacred. That's where we get our medicines. That's where we go when we have to go fast, do those things.

- [Voiceover] In the 19th century, the federal government decided in its wisdom to have two traditional enemies, the Arapaho and the Shoshone, share a single reservation. Luckily, it's a very big reservation, over two million acres. And that's greatly reduced from the original boundaries, which went all the way to Utah. As the tribes put aside their nomadic past and settled into what the Shoshone called The Warm Valley, so did non-Indians, some of them as suppliers and traders to the reservation, some to raise crops and livestock in the mild climate, some to mine in the gold fields near the south pass. Strains remained between tribes and their neighbors, but you wouldn't know it at powwows and rodeos.

- [Voiceover] I won't sugar coat it and say that I've always been treated fairly. I've gone through stereotyping, I've gone through racism, and the only think I can do is, just treat people fairly and be respectful of other people.

- [Voiceover] Mining for gold, for coal, for uranium, seems to be almost everywhere in Wyoming. Coal mines, gold in South Pass City, uranium in Jeffrey City, and iron ore in the foothills south of Lander, comes and it goes. Boom and bust. Lander tried on all these enterprises, farming, ranching, trading, mining, but gradually oriented itself toward the mountains sloping up from its benches, where the rails end and the trails begin, a takeoff point for climbers and packers and fishermen, and a favorite base for Wyoming conservation groups. This is where John Colter went next, north, up the Wind River, on the east flank of the Wind River Mountains. The highest peaks, the oldest rocks, and the largest numbers of glaciers, and more lakes than you can shake a rod at. The Wind River Mountains may not have the celebrity status of Devil's Tower or Grand Teton, but this range is longer, taller and deeper than any other in Wyoming. The Rockies are a young mountain range, only 60 million years old or so. And some of the rock exposed by their uplift is much, much older. The Wind River Peaks, like Gannett, Lizard Head, and the fabled climbing area, the Cirque of the Towers, are jagged and tall, Lincolnesque, you might say, with deep lakes, pocketed and steep slopes, and clothed in forest and glacier ice.

- The oldest rocks are in the Wind River Range, by far, and it's called Archean, and they're primarily granites and granitic nices, and they've been metamorphosed from multiple times where the plates crashed together billions of years ago and caused magma and volcanoes, and mountain building episodes that have never been named because they're so old and we don't understand them very well. But in that process, that's where we see some of our oldest rocks in the Wind River Range.

- [Voiceover] There are over 175 glaciers in the Winds, some of the largest in North America. But these are mere ice cubes compared to the cold sheets that once covered and carved this range. And today's glaciers are shrinking fast. The forests, too, have shrunk, first to timber harvest for saw mills, like the one in Dubois, then to the ravages of pine bark beetle. Saw mills have shut down all over, and Dubois, like Lander, is more of a recreation center now. Wilderness designation protects much of the range, which extends 100 miles south to north before attaching itself to Yellowstone Plateau. For natives and immigrants, these mountains presented a rugged barrier, until they found their way around the south end, where the Sweetwater River trickles off the mountains' back side, and the range flattens out to let covered wagons and SUVs through its south pass. It was the way of the Oregon, Mormon and the California Trails in the 1840s, when over 350,000 travelers labored through, watching for landmarks like the Oregon Buttes, or the Honeycombs. Almost nobody stopped in this windswept, barren world, unless they were buried by the trail or stopped to dig, mostly without success, for gold.

- [Voiceover] "Ahead is an abandoned mining area, "with crumbling sluice boxes "and a few prospectors "still hoping to find again the lodes "that stampeded 10,000 into the region "in the 1860s. "Some herders insist that the region is haunted, "that of the half million trappers, traders, "gold seekers, homesteaders, blue coats, "bull whackers, guides, peddlers, "fanatics and refugees, "at least a few ghosts must remain." Agnes Wright Spring.

- [Voiceover] It was hard to escape this rough land, even water. In this red desert country, the Continental Divide splits and water flows neither to the Atlantic nor the Pacific. It stays right here, water for the unique flora and fauna of this high desert, and for the wild horses that run free. The Transcontinental Railroad could've come this way, through South Pass. Many thought it should. But there was more coal to the south. You could lay that track in a pretty straight line. And almost 100 years later, the interstate highway system followed the same corridor. Once again, Wyoming was the key to getting past the Rockies. And once again, people drove on by. Let's say that's their loss, shall we? This is all that a lot of travelers see of Wyoming firsthand. They may stop at Rock Springs, the biggest city in the southwest, but never leave the offramp-friendly gas stations. The plentiful surface coal hereabouts is poured into the maw of the Jim Bridger power plant, or shipped out in rail cars. So are the remnants of the old lower paydays, when workers came from Ireland and Hungary and China. Sometimes that led to ethnic violence, like murderous attacks on Chinese laborers in 1885, but it also made Rock Springs the most ethnically diverse community in Wyoming.

- [Voiceover] If you go to almost any former mining community in Wyoming, you'll find very substantial numbers of Italians, Silesian Poles, and you'll find some German and French populations, as well, if you look in towns in Wyoming like Rock Springs. It's probably as diverse a community as you'll find almost anywhere in the country.

- [Voiceover] These town along the old UP line know better than most the boom and bust economy that has often plagued Wyoming. The questionable future of coal puts them on the edge once again. Raw materials rise and fall on the whim of the world's appetites. But the world today consumes a lot of glass, and detergent, and other things made from trona, the sodium sesquicarbonate mined in mazy tunnels around here. It provides good pay, and a nice place to live along the beautiful Green River and beneath the pinnacles of Castle Rock. With a few days off and a power boat underneath you, you can take off into Flaming Gorge Reservoir, to water ski or fish, for big lake trout or bass. You'll be following in the footsteps, or the wake, of explorer John Wesley Powell, who started here on his perilous journeys exploring the Colorado River and Glen Canyon. Powell would probably not be disappointed by the dams on these rivers today. He believed water was the governing commodity in the arid west. He thought settlement should be limited and scaled to watersheds. In fact, he wanted states shaped around watersheds. That didn't happen. Jim Bridger was another 19th century adventurer who flowed in some dangerous water. But then, there wasn't much he didn't do, at least to hear him spin the yarn. He was a beaver trapper and a fur trader, an explorer who found the Great Salt Lake, married Indian and Mormon women and swapped goods and tales with Indians and immigrants alike. His old fort along the Oregon Trail has been rebuilt. And every year, Bridger wannabes dress up and shoot muskets in a rerun of the Trading Rendezvous. The corners of Wyoming sometimes seem a little apart from the rest of the state. The isolated ranches of the northeast, the resort riches of Jackson Hole in the northwest, and then, the southwest corner of the state, more tied to Utah, it sometimes seems, than to Wyoming. Evanston was another town built along the Transcontinental Railroad, and the big roundhouse where they used to fix up the trains has been restored. But wealth these days comes, like it does for so much of Wyoming, from the energy industry. This close to Mormon Utah, with Salt Lake City only 60 miles away, there's also a pretty hefty trade in fireworks, liquor, and some other vices outlawed across the border. The Star Valley runs along the western edge of Wyoming, a raid along the Salt River, walled out of Wyoming by the Wyoming Range. It's a separate world, really, of dairy farms and mostly Mormon communities, sometimes called the Swiss Alps of Wyoming. On the eastern side of the Wyoming Range, another broad river valley, hemmed in on the east by the Wind River Mountains. In many ways, the upper Green River country sums up Wyoming, a major wildlife migration corridor with antelope, mule deer, moose, grizzly bears, wolves, ancient Indian campsites following the path of the game, Blue Ribbon trout streams, and trailheads to the highest peaks in the state. Drillling rigs, pulling natural gas out of one of the largest deposits in the world. And because it's Wyoming, ranchers, still herding cattle on horseback, high up into the mountains.

- It's grueling work. You can make more money someplace else. There is nothing like an early morning in the springtime, listening to the meadow larks call, and going out to fix fences. When you see the life cycle of not only your lifestock but your wildlife, it's just simply that cycle of life that touches on in every way, through your family, through your livelihood.

- [Voiceover] On their east side, the Wind River Mountains are more abrupt and dramatic, the ancient granite rocks pushed up by the thrust of tectonic plates. And as we move north, all these mountain ranges, the Wyoming, the Wind River, the Gros Ventre, the Absarokas, the Bear Tooths, come together like spider legs to the Yellowstone Plateau. The dramatic natural beauty that surrounds the Teton Valley is a bountiful gift that draws visitors from around the world. The wildernesses, the rivers and canyons, the national parks. But these are not theme parks. They are parks of nature, and parks of a wild nature. Climbers face slippery granite cliffs and lightning. Paddlers dip and spill in whitewater rapids. Moose and bears and wolves guard their territory.

- I've taken to going off trail, and I found some really fun lakes that are a bit of a scramble to get to. They're a little western, the approach to them. But I mean, you have this amazing lake all to yourself in a national park that a lot of people complain that's crowded. I'm out for 10 hours and don't see a single person the entire time I'm out.

- [Voiceover] And the land itself now and then unleashes its terrifying power. The Grand Tetons are a young mountain range, only 10 million years old, surrounded by a young national park, created in 1950. True to Wyoming's character, none of the locals wanted the federal government messing with the Tetons. Even if some of the tourist operations were making a mess. But in the 1920s, John D. Rockefeller quietly bought up a bunch of ranches around the range and surprised everyone by donating it to the federal government to create a new park. There were armed protests. The Rockefellers kept their own piece of paradise in the park, including some posh rustic resorts, and their own Vacation Inn holding. But in 2007, they donated the JY Ranch to the park and removed all its structures. Grand Teton National Park, like the mountains it protects, is young and still growing. Alpine lakes, granite spires, moose and elk wandering through. And the occasional Boeing 757. Well, they had to make some compromises to get the locals to support the park. And these days, there are some powerful locals who need jet service to get to their second or third or fourth homes in Jackson. It's the wealthiest community per capita in the United States. And it's not just the incredible beauty that attracts the wealthy, it's the lack of a state income tax, not to mention a world class ski resort, good restaurants, and mountain mansions that would make St. Moritz envious. It's a world apart from the rest of Wyoming, but wouldn't we all like to be a part of that world?

- [Voiceover] Whether you're a bazillionaire or you're someone like me, who struggled to get a house here, you're here for the same reason. Everyone plays well together. We love this landscape, we love being out in it, we love saving it, we love looking at it. I've been going through chemotherapy for the past four, five months, and it's, like, just being able to get outside in this landscape, and smell the sage or hear the crackling of the snow underneath my feet, or look up at the Tetons, has just done more to get me through chemo than anything that the hospital has given me.

- [Voiceover] Jackson, an enclave of high-tech recreation, wealth, and comfort, and only a few dozen miles away, we have the most wild, the most remote wilderness in the lower 48, the Yellowstone Plateau. Now, if you're thinking of Old Faithful, well, we'll get to that. But first, contemplate the back country. Beckler Falls, the Thoroughfare, Two Oceans Peak, where water flows west to the Pacific, and east to the Atlantic. If you venture here into this wilderness, beyond the reach of cell phones and, well, television, it will change you. Sparking streams, herds of elk, streaming fumaroles, spawning trout, howling wolves, craggy ridges, soaring hawks, dense forest, lurking grizzly bears. It's one of the rare places left on Earth where you take your true measure amidst the beauty and the danger of the wild. Remember John Colter? He came through here, on foot! It was 1808, no gore-tex or RV. By himself, in the winter. When he came back to civilization, weather worn and alone, talking of fire and brimstone in the wilderness, nobody believed what he described.

- [Voiceover] "Something about the park's air "was and is powerfully stimulating "to the imagination. "The result is a surviving and constantly growing "body of legend, "including unblushing whoppers, "such as the tale of the petrified sagebrush "that bore diamond, emerald and ruby fruits "as large as walnuts." Agnes Wright Spring.

- [Voiceover] It would be more than a half a century before Congress, looking at the paintings and sketches brought back by the Hayden expedition in the 1870s, finally believed. In 1872, Yellowstone was crowned the nation's first national park. Of course, we can't all be John Colter. Today, there are civilized alternatives. These venerable old hotels are a legacy of the railroad era. Near the turn of the century, when Victorian tourists got off the train just outside the park and rode stagecoaches into suitable accommodations. But the automobile, arriving early in the 20th century, shaped Yellowstone into the park it is today, a figure-eight core of busy roadways, blocked sometimes by bear jams, gas stations, tour buses, curio shops, and ice cream, surrounded by a high, wild country which, frankly, or thankfully, not many people ever penetrate. It's the geysers and mudpots and giant steaming basins that attract the crowds, and no wonder. But the real action is underground. There's a huge bubble of magma, pushing up beneath the Yellowstone Plateau, a hot message from the Earth' core that the planet is still cooking and reshaping itself. Every 600,000 years or so, Yellowstone blows its top, and it's been that long since the last one. So watch out. It could happen, any century now. The Lamar Valley, petrified trees and roaming bison and howling wolves, the grand canyon of the Yellowstone, taller than Niagara Falls, pool after brilliant hot spring pool, Grand Prismatic Spring, Emerald Pool, Morning Glory, and finally, Yellowstone Lake, over 300 feet deep, over 100 miles of shoreline. Why would you ever leave Yellowstone? Well, a lot of people leave Yellowstone. They're only passing through, after all, like so many who come to Wyoming. But if you live here, you know that, as wonderful as Yellowstone is, there's so much more to the Cowboy State. So, we come home to where we live, in the small town with long streets, Wyoming.