On Saturday, May 25, the Scenic Bypass through the Snowy Mountain range officially opened for the season. The next morning, my partner and I set out for our first ride of the summer along Wyoming State Route 130. In no time we found ourselves driving along fields of fresh snow amidst stands of towering pines. By the time we reached Medicine Bow Peak the sides of the tunnel of snow that we snaked through, only recently carved by WYDOT through the twisting mountain passes easily reached heights of six feet or more.
For folks like us who didn’t grow up in this county, the joys of nature never fail to impress and astound. It may seem cliché (if not, incredibly obvious) to those who grew up here, but this state and this county provide opportunities for daily encounters with nature at its purest and most intense levels. While much of the time we may bemoan the harsh weather or the annoyances that are associated with living in a largely untamed environment (the controversies surrounding the recent “deer management” policy offer but one of many such examples), the truth is, we are blessed to be surrounded by such an unparalleled abundance of beauty. And yes, I think many folks may take a lot of this for granted.
In the relatively short time that I have lived in Wyoming, I have seen and photographed bear, moose, elk, buffalo, pronghorn, sheep, and fox – all simply by getting in my Jeep and hitting the road. Back east, it would be rare indeed to see wildlife living and roaming freely, let alone amidst such spectacular scenery. But in Wyoming, virtually every curve of the highway offers another opportunity to enjoy nature’s bounty.
I’ve also discovered that I need not leave my home here in Rawlins to enjoy the wonders that this state has to offer. Soon after I arrived, I noticed that there are some really beautiful birds here with radiant colors and plumage that I had never seen before. Though I’m certainly not a birder, I decided to pick up a small feeder to hang beside my front porch. Before long, I was enjoying visits by an amazing variety of birds – as well as the errant squirrel.
In fact one evening after work a week or so ago we were sitting in our den having a glass of wine when a new visitor we’d never seen before landed in the willow out front. We watched as the bright orange and black bird feasted on newly ripened seeds for several minutes. I was able to take a number of shots with my Nikon before it flew off. It was a chance encounter I guess; the Bullock’s oriole (I looked it up on Google images afterwards) hasn’t been seen since.
Another time early one Sunday morning a few weeks ago, I was in the back of the house where my home office is located. I happened to be looking out the window toward the uplift when a movement caught my eye. Suddenly a small creature hopped up on one of the large flat boulders that lie just beyond my back fence and then stood up on its hind legs. Again I grabbed my camera and squeezed off a few shots just before the critter dropped down and scampered off. In this case I determined that our shy neighbor was a young marmot who I’m guessing was just coming out of hibernation.
Now it wouldn’t surprise me if there are those who, having grown up in these parts, might read this and say “So what? We see such things all the time. They are like part of the landscape.”
And to this I would offer that as soon as something, anything, is taken for granted, it is a slippery slope towards possibly losing that thing altogether. I come from a part of the country that was not always comprised of asphalt, McMansions and artificial ponds. I can remember a time back in the 1960s and 1970s when the home I was raised in was surrounded by farms, fields and wooded forest. I would play for hours on our property catching frogs, chasing turtles and picking wild berries.
But like much of the East Coast that home, where my father lives to this day, is now surrounded by so-called “development.” Cookie-cutter houses have sprung up like mushrooms where farmer’s fields, wooded lands and pollywog-filled ponds once were found. The farmers and their cows are long gone, replaced by transient young professionals and their families of 2.2 children. Traffic in the area now rivals that found on any highway in America. In a word, it’s simply hideous.
No, I don’t think things could ever get that bad here in Carbon County. At least I surely hope not. Still, I can say this: I doubt that my parents ever imagined back in the day that eventually our home would be surrounded by nothing but people, noise, strip malls and traffic jams.
So I look out the window here whenever I can. And I hit the road whenever possible. And I love the fact that I am fortunate enough to call Wyoming home.
Steven C. Dinero, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the Carbon County Museum.