The mountains knew the definition of freedom. They provided a place where he could find his mind. – Daniel J. Rice
In 2004 I accepted a position as the Assistant Field Manager for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Pinedale, Wyoming. I had worked my whole Federal career in the USDA but I had come to realize that if I wanted to reach a higher grade I would have to leave the good old boy regime of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. I was pleased to see that about half the managers in the BLM were women and I liked the mission of protecting America’s public lands. It would be a move I never regretted and it was a turning point in my career that allowed me to reach the level of management and responsibility I felt my skills and experience warranted.
It was hard to leave North Dakota. I was content there, maybe too content. I have known people who worked their entire careers in one job and while there is nothing wrong with that, I have never wanted to be complacent. I like challenging myself to be the best that I can be and to keep learning and growing.
Having lived in North Dakota for three years I was used to wide open spaces but the vast sage brush plains of Wyoming are framed by the Rocky Mountains, which overlook their domain like stony guardians. Some of the most beautiful land I have ever seen is in Wyoming. Millions of people come every year to look upon the wonders of the world’s first national park, Yellowstone, Devils Tower National Monument or to ski on the slopes of the majestic Grand Tetons. It is the least populated state in the U.S. and the second least densely populated. It was the first state to allow women to vote. You can breathe in Wyoming and freedom surrounds you.
The Old West is alive and thriving in Wyoming. I will never forget seeing a local ranch moving its herd of horses, hooves pounding, through the streets of Pinedale as drovers in long yellow slickers and cowboy hats yelled and whistled to keep them running between the store fronts lining the streets. I lived in Sublette County where there are no stoplights. Wilderness was only a street away in any direction. It wasn’t unusual to have to wait at a stop sign while a big bull moose crossed the street in front of me and occasionally a mountain lion would stake out a claim on the local park until it could be relocated to a safer area. More than once I was transported to another time when a cattle drive crossed the road with cows mooing and drovers shouting. Herds of feral horses and burros roam the deserts, a living remnant from miners and ranchers.
Wyoming is rich in natural gas, oil, coal and methane deposits and it never ceases to amaze me to think these petroleum products come from the decayed bodies of dinosaurs that roamed millions of years ago. It was common to have crocodilian and fish fossils along with giants ferns unearthed during the drilling process and it gives me pause, when people talk of climate change, to think that the semi-arid sage brush deserts were once tropical rain forests and swamps. The Wind River Mountains have rose and fell at least twice. The earth is a dynamic, living entity that belches and flexes, throwing landscapes and climate into an ever changing flux.
Wyoming gave us the artist Jackson Pollock; news commentator and author Dana Perino; Vice-President Dick Cheney; Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner and legendary sportscaster Curt Gowdy. Native Americans still maintain a large presence on the Wind River Reservation which is shared by the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. Wyoming is rated number one for states to retire in as it does not levy an individual or corporate income tax and does not assess any tax on retirement income. Food for human consumption is not subject to sales tax and property held for personal use is tax-exempt.
Whatever you long for can be found in Wyoming. Want to fly fish? Try the Green or Snake Rivers for world-class angling. Do you like hiking? The bare granite peaks of the higher elevations of the mountain ranges attract climbers, hikers and scientists who study the icy glacier lakes. The doomed Challenger astronauts trained in the rugged mountains above Pinedale. Wyoming has hot springs, geysers, deserts, forests, grasslands, antelope, mule deer, grizzlies, elk, bison, prairie dogs, pygmy rabbits, sage grouse, skiing and snowboarding. It has everything. I lived there for four years and it was some of the happiest years of my life because I grew, not only as a manager in a challenging field office, but as a person. It is a state steeped with history and the romance of the Old West and it is easy to reinvent or just refine oneself in this magnificent place called Wyoming.