Make the time to explore your own backyard

Too many people, to my mind, get jealous when I talk about some of the “other” places I’ve visited and lived: Scotland, Mexico, Peru, Germany, and more. I’ve been very lucky to have the opportunity to explore a nice chunk of the planet.

But there’s always so much in your own backyard worth exploring. Just because it’s right next to you doesn’t mean it’s not amazing. You don’t have to go see something “other” to explore. No where else have I found that more true than Wyoming. Where, quite literally, every square mile is a historical or geological treasure. I love Wyoming. In the Southeast of Wyoming is Devils Tower, with Mount Rushmore only being a couple hours further. In the north, YELLOWSTONE. Amiright? In the Southwest, it’s the Oregon Trail, The Green River Formation, Fossil Butte, and the Red Desert. And there’s so much more.

The Green River

A great way to start exploring what’s right next to you is to google your state travel/tourism website. These websites are designed to explain to someone from out of state what’s so exciting about coming to visit. Sometimes, you might not even have heard what’s interesting about your local area, simply because there’s no one giving talks or designing web sites geared to locals. Wyoming has a fantastic site, at Travel Wyoming. Heck, the Continental Divide, or the Great Divide Basin of Wyoming, is something that’s in every science textbook. And in Wyoming, you cross it twice driving on I-80!

If it’s cultural sites that interest you, there’s so much to see. It’s always good to stop at the historical markers in your area, and they’ve even made it easy for you to find them with an app (there’s an app for everything). Just search for “historical markers” in your app store on your smartphone. Sometimes, just ask your neighbors for suggestions. Every area has a “special town” that’s decided to do things differently. Near me, there’s Heber City. It’s just across the boarder in Utah, but it includes the Zermatt Resort, modeled after a “Swiss Village”, which is pretty funny, as I lived in Switzerland for several years.

Okay, not everything around me is super fascinating. But you get the idea.

Start driving. Take the bus. Carpool with friends. Walk. Try as hard as you can to make time in our incredibly busy lives to see something new. Someone asked me recently how I find time to do “all the things I do.” It always comes off as flippant, but my only answer is “You only live once.” If you don’t make the time now, there’s no do-over. No one will feel bad for you that you didn’t get the chance to experience the world we’re so lucky to be born into. Make the time.


So many Wyoming mountains!

Wyoming, being hard to access for a lot of scientists, doesn’t get a lot of attention when it comes to studying how Earth formed and what that might teach us about the future of our planet, or even from tourists, who think Yellowstone is in Montana (okay, like 4 minutes of it is).

But it should. Because there’s a LOT going on here. For starters, the Uinta mountain range is right at the border of Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming. And it’s amazing. One of the few mountain ranges originally from sedimentary rocks (rocks that have been weathered and transported to be redeposited, as opposed to rocks that form from volcanoes or in the mantel and then exposed to the surface), the range is also one of the few that runs East-West instead of North-South. The flanks of the east-west trending Uinta Mountains contain a sequence of Palozoic and Mezozoic strata (really-old and somewhat-old) ranging from the Cambrian (super-duper old) Lodore Formation to the Cretaceous (dinosaurs!) Mancos Shale, all of which have been spectacularly tilted during the uplift of the mountain range.

The amount of crunching and twisting seen here is outrageous. Photo by Dana Pertermann

The Wind Rivers are another amazing natural feature in Wyoming. Typically considered part of the Rock Mountains, though that’s technically incorrect as they have different formation events regardless of their proximity to one another, the range has granitic plutons (large plugs of granitic rock welling up from the mantle), indicating an Archean subduction zone. That means the core of the Wind River Range is nearly 4 billion years old! Whoo!

The range runs roughly NW-SE for over 100 miles. The Continental Divide is parallel to the range, making this one of the most unique mountain ranges in the US. With the exception of the Grand Teton in the Teton Range, the next 19 highest peaks in Wyoming are also in the Wind Rivers.

By User:G. Thomas – from the English Wikipedia, where the original uploader has released it to the public domain[1], CC BY-SA 3.0,

Ice Ages beginning 500,000 years ago carved the granite into their present shapes (geomorphology). Lakes were formed by the glaciers and numerous cirques (circular valleys made by glacial ice) were carved out of the rocks, the most well known being the Cirque of the Towers (if you’ve ever seen a postcard of Wyoming with a glacier and a jagged peak, its probably of the Towers). Several of these are some of the largest glaciers in the U.S. Rocky Mountains. Gannett Glacier, which flows down the north slope of Gannett Peak, is the largest single glacier in the Rocky Mountains.

The Leucite Hills

Or more formally known as the Leucite Hills Volcanic Province, this unique geological setting encompasses a huge area in Southwest Wyoming, including Table Mountain, Pilot Butte, Cross Mesa, Matthews Hill, Boar’s Tusk, and more.

Geologically, it’s made of some weird stuff. And that’s saying something, for a geologist. Active around 3.4-1.4 million years ago, these rocks have been classified as Diopside-Leucite-Phlogopite Lamporites. The name is so long mostly because no one really understands how they formed, so geologists have kinda named it “The everything rock (or why is this stuff even here)”.

A lamporite is an rock rich in potassium and magnesium and other elements that shouldn’t naturally like to bond together. It forms from the melting of the mantle deeper than 100 miles down. It’s close cousins to kimberlites, which are magma pipes of mantle rock that can contain diamonds. But while kimberlites are much more common and therefore better studied, lamporites only sometimes have diamonds. And therefore don’t get much love from industry or science, because who wants to spend a bunch on money studying some old rocks that probably won’t turn up a profit? Right?

Boar’s Tusk is thought to be the remains of a magma chamber that includes lamporite. There are then a number of lava flows around this area that are from this ancient volcanic activity that brought up more of these unusual rocks.

Boar’s Tusk. Photo by Dana Pertermann

I’ll save Yellowstone and Devils Tower for their own posts. We just got back from Devils Tower (the first National Monument), and we’re planning at trip back to Yellowstone soon (the first National Park). Pretty cool place, Wyoming.



Wyoming Petroglyphs. They are absolutely stunning. And we have so many! Paleoindians (peoples inhabiting Wyoming around 8000 years ago), Fremont, Shoshone, Comanche, Apache, and Arapaho have all called Wyoming home.

Mostly Southwest Wyoming, though there are amazing sites in Northwest Wyoming as well, just as the Dinwoody and Medicine Wheel sites.

People ask me all the time: What do they mean? Short answer: We don’t know. There are a variety of reasons people make pictures. For decoration, to make the place special, to make the area holy, or because the area is holy. Special places are made or recognized by Native Americans then are used as “libraries”, or a place to store cultural and historical knowledge (All other cultures do this, to. Churches are a good example).

Image result for White Mountain Petroglyphs

Ancestral Shoshone petroglyphs (White Mountain Petroglyphs), carved into the soft sandstone. From Wikipedia Commons.

Some of the petroglyphs in Wyoming do have known meaning, as they are made relatively recently by cultures are still intact today. But many groups, having been mistreated by government actors in the past (and unfortunately still today), are not willing to discuss the meaning of their historical petroglyphs with anthropologists. This is akin to many religious groups not being willing to discuss certain details of their beliefs with outsiders.

Check out Wyoming State Historical Society – and Sacred Destinations – for more information on how to access these amazing sites.

So, when you visit these sites, be respectful. Obey all federal and state regulations. DON’T TOUCH. Don’t assume you can take pictures, check first. Try to engage with the local culture, especially if there is an interpretive center nearby. Consider the oppression these peoples had to go through, and be grateful that some of these cultures are still around today.

When visiting the White Mountain Petroglyphs specifically, remember that there is limited cell service, and the road is rough. Bring extra water and a vehicle that has a high clearance, with a full tank of gas. Be smart about going “off the grid.”


Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

I have degrees in both Geology and Anthropology. So I think a lot about the environment, and how we as humans survive in different environments. For example, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about winter. Because it’s cold. Not a fan.

Winter still has it’s icy grip here in Wyoming. It keeps trying to change to Spring, but Winter comes back with a sarcastic smile. And we’re supposed to get more tomorrow. :O

I’ve lived in a lot of different places. But the best “Winter Culture” I’ve ever experienced was in Minneapolis. Zurich, Switzerland, comes in a close second, but I still miss Minneapolis’ Winter Carnival, the Skyway, the litter heaters at bus stops. All of it was created with a cultural understanding that one should be outside in the wintertime.

Here’s a great story about winter culture in Minnesota if you’re interested:

Wyoming has a slightly different relationship with winter. It’s more of a “hunker down” mentality that serves people well in the West, where resources during the winter are so scarce (particularly in the historical past), you might not make it to see Spring.

It was safer to walk to the area I wanted to see than to drive.

When regular people have the app for the Wyoming Department of Transportation on their phone, you know something’s different. Heck, I don’t think there are too many other states that even have an app for their state DOT. And when you have to really plan for a night stay along I-80 because there is a good chance of it being closed when you want to come back, you know this is serious stuff. I see many comments on social media, or even just on TV, that tell me that the rest of the country thinks The West is a bit ridiculous when it comes to our winter response. The idea of scare resources stumps most Americans.

But it’s still true here. My town has one bakery. It cannot service the entire town, so it doesn’t even try. They make only what they can sell between 6am and 2pm every day. There is no more to be had. If the gas station runs out of (anything and everything), they have to wait for a truck to come from another state. This applies no matter what side of Wyoming you’re on.All of this is worse in the winter, when these supply trucks can’t get to some of the small towns (every town in Wyoming is a “small town”, btw) reliably. So the conservation of resources is still a survival skill here.

So, essentially, the snow my backyard is acting like a dune field. Though I do see sediment buildup on some of the older so, which indicates a windbreak. If you want to know where the wind is consistently the weakest, look for the dirty snow.

To be honest, it’s where I’d want to be in a zombie apocalypse. Because people here still know how to make stuff and save stuff. Watch out, America.

You don’t need to travel far to see wonders. You can find amazing things right at home. Start by looking down at your feet. Or out your front door, apparently.

See the ripples? Living snow dunes!

And if you feel like reading about how famous Wyoming is: The Five Coldest Cities in the World



The Origin of Women’s Rights in the Equality State – My Theory

                Last week, Dana filled you in on her experiences as a liberal woman in the “Equality State.” So, I thought perhaps I might add to her experience by explaining the importance of women’s rights in our state history. If you are a historian in the state of Wyoming, you cannot escape the issue. In fact, it is perhaps the most important distinction between us and the rest of the American West. No, we are not the “Cowboy State,” as some maintain….we are the “Equality State.” So, without further ado, let’s look at the story behind the nickname.


                It’s May 7, 1869, and thirty-three year old John Campbell, a bachelor and former officer in the Union army arrives in Cheyenne to take up his post as governor of the new territory of Wyoming. He’s joined by Edward M. Lee, another bachelor who has been appointed by President Grant to serve as territorial secretary. Since both men are single, there’s no worry about them being preoccupied with concerns about their wives and potential families. They can do the hard, rugged work of bringing civilization to the wild frontier.

                None of them would have thought at the time that their tenures would be marked by one of the greatest advancement in women’s rights in American history.

                At this point, I should point out that the authority on this subject used to be T. A. Larson, who literally wrote the book on Wyoming History. If you read Larson, you might think the same of the other members of the territorial government.

                At the time that the first session of the legislature met in Cheyenne in September 1869, the ratio of men-to-women in Wyoming was somewhere around 6 to 1! And with towns like Laramie, Rawlins, and Rock Springs literally being defined as “hell on wheels” towns, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to expect the legislators to resemble the ruckus nature of their constituents.

                To be fair, the legislature WAS all men, all white, and all Democrat.

                But, beyond that, the legislature did something unexpected during its first session. In early December it passed a bill proposed by William Bright of South Pass City granting women the right to vote and hold office! Governor Campbell signed the bill on December 6, giving Wyoming bragging rights as the first place ANYWHERE in the United States to grant such a privilege, and earning us the nickname “the Equality State.”


               Ever since then, historians have debated exactly WHY it happened.

T. A. Larson believed he had the answer.

1.)  Legislators wanted to bring women to the territory! Families bring civilization, the theory goes, and women are the glue that holds the family together. Ergo, we need women to have an incentive to come to this rugged landscape and make a go at it!

If this was the reason why, it didn’t work out like they wanted. Women did not flock to Wyoming in droves after the passage of the suffrage bill.

2.) Legislators were influenced by famous women’s suffragettes. Anna Dickinson gave a speech in Cheyenne on September 24, and Redelia Bates spoke in the same town on November 5—just a week before Bright introduced the suffrage bill.

Maybe this was partially true. Both women spoke in the hall where the House of Representatives met, and during a time when the legislators might possibly have attended.

                3.) It was all a big joke!

Yep! Larson suggested that it was a farce. The day that Bright introduced the bill, the men in the legislature were proposing ridiculous amendments to suggest that government wastes the people’s time and money. Some believed that the suffrage bill was proposed in this vein, but that it accidentally passed! To be fair, William Bright denied that he meant the bill as a joke. And Governor Campbell, who signed it, certainly didn’t see it that way!


                Now, to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with these proposed theories. Larson had evidence to support each of them. But he left one possible reason out, and I think it’s a glaring omission!

                I think that the women’s suffrage bill was politically motivated.

                When Wyomingites went to the polls in September 1869, they chose an all Democratic legislature. While we want to give the men who helped make this monumental occasion the benefit of the doubt, their political affiliation really cannot be ignored.

                In January 1865, the House of Representatives passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (ratified that December). One year later, it passed the Fourteenth Amendment (ratified in July 1868). These acts ended slavery, and then granted citizenship to the four million former slaves. They also made the Republican Party the party of freedom and equality!

                The Democratic Party, in contrast, had become known nationally as the party of traitors! Every Senator and Congressman who had left the congress when the South seceded had been a Democrat, and every time a Democrat ran for national office during Reconstruction he was trounced by Republicans who claimed their party was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of boys in the late war.

                But then the Republicans “fumbled the ball.” In February 1869 Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment, which was meant to give all citizens the federally-protected right to vote. However, the final version of this act only granted the right to men. Women were excluded for any number of reasons. The feeling of betrayal was palpable among female advocates of equality. Until then, they had been united with men who advocated equality, regardless of race or sex. Now, they broke away from their former male colleagues and created a uniquely women’s suffrage movement.

                I believe, then, that Democrats in the Wyoming Territorial Legislature—which was seated, I might add, only months after the betrayal of women in the fifteenth amendment–saw an opportunity! They could get on the “equality” bandwagon by taking up this issue. If enough new territories, which would eventually become states, did likewise, then Democrats would earn the thanks and respect of an entirely new electorate that might get them back into power in Washington.

                After all that trouble, the end of the story might be the most humorous part! Starting the next year, 1870, women began serving on juries and holding public office. Esther Hobart Morris of South Pass City became the first woman in all of the United States to hold an elected office—Justice of the Peace. These female jurists, and this female justice, began convicting men in these rough-and-tumble “hell on wheels” towns to the harshest sentences possible under the law. In essence, women were literally civilizing the wild frontier!

                The icing on the cake, though, was the elections in September 1870. Women went to the polls for the first time….and voted Republican!

                For those Democratic men in the legislature, this was too much! When the legislature met again in late 1871, it nearly ended this great experiment in democracy by repealing the women’s suffrage bill.

               And this is where Governor Campbell became the unexpected savior of Women’s Rights. Even though his party (Republican) had essentially betrayed women with the Fifteenth Amendment, he personally chose not to penalize them for voting for his party (as the Democrats were trying to do), and vetoed the Democrat’s repeal bill. The Democrats failed to override Campbell’s veto, and women’s suffrage was here to stay.


                Women’s rights became a central part of Wyoming’s existence in the American Union. We led the way, and other western states followed. In fact, prior to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919, the only state east of the Rocky Mountains to grant suffrage to women was Kansas! The West had made its mark on American History, and Wyoming had led the way.

                To be fair, the measure did not bring more women to Wyoming, and the rough-and-tumble nature of some parts of Wyoming did not settle down right away (sometime, I’ll relate the story of the Johnson County War and the notorious acts of the vigilante Tom Horn). But women would eventually have a role to play in society.

                It only remains for today’s Wyoming women to assert the freedoms and privileges first given to them over one-hundred-and-fifty years ago.

— m.a.n.