Cowboy Pickup Drivers Speeding Through Mountains and Prairies

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Is it possible that you can learn more about your home state by spending some time in and traveling through some adjoining western states?

Maybe. Here goes:

In Wyoming, a person often contrasts the flat high prairie of southeastern Wyoming with the mountainous high country of the northwest part of the state.

It is almost as if a diagonal line were drawn across our big rectangle with the goal of making the place half prairie and half mountain.

Folks involved with agriculture on the high prairies sometimes have different attitudes and different agendas than those who come from the higher climes.

So, is Wyoming unique in this geographic layout?

Come to find out, most western states share this 50:50 breakdown like Wyoming.

Lately, we spent time in some western states driving our motorhome from a granddaughter’s wedding in Colorado to a visit with other grandchildren in Washington State.

Such an extended trip took us through Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington. Each of these states has vast areas of high prairie country. And each has vast areas of mountainous terrain. It is almost like whomever designs states came up with this formula for how a western state is supposed to look like – half prairie and half mountain.

It might have been expected that those old-time state-makers and mapmakers would have combined eastern Wyoming with Nebraska so it would have been a harmonious flat place. Or combine eastern Colorado with Kansas. Or eastern Montana with the Dakotas. Or western Montana with western Wyoming. Or northwestern Wyoming with northern Idaho and southwest Montana.

But nope. Each state has its prairie component and each has its mountains.

During our travels in these western states, we saw some eye-popping sights.

It is easy to be impressed by the amazing engineering wonders in our state. A future column will detail what I think are our “Wyoming’s 7 greatest man-made wonders.” But for now let me tell you about some of the amazing things we saw traveling around the west.

The bridges on Interstate 90 between Missoula, MT and Spokane, WA are jaw dropping. There must be seven huge bridges, alone, that cross the Clark Fork River. This huge river is not to be confused with the Clark’s Fork River near Cody. Both rivers are named for William Clark of the famous Corps of Discovery expedition.

Interstate 84 has some monumental highway passes up and down some the biggest hills I have ever seen in western Oregon around Baker City.

The Grand Coulee Dam in northern Washington is a masterpiece of concrete workmanship. It created Lake Roosevelt that runs 150 miles all the way into Canada.

Interstate 70 west of Denver is a marvel of tunnels, bridges and elevated cement highways.

Highway 191 from Vernal, UT to Rock Springs has impressive views from all the switchbacks and scenic areas.

One of the more ironic events that occurred was when we were driving over Lookout Pass on the border between Idaho and Montana on Interstate 90. I was going slowly when a vehicle came barreling up behind me and zoomed on by.

I could only glimpse, but sure enough it was a Wyoming pickup.

Wyoming pickup drivers are the fastest drivers in the country, especially those pulling horse trailers. In all my years in the state and all the miles I have driven, I swear that I have never had to pass a pickup pulling a horse trailer. They have passed me probably a hundred times in all kinds of weather.

They are all driving one-ton, diesel monsters equipped with high torque engines. They can pass you going up a hill as easy as on the flat.

One time a few years ago, we were driving slowly on icy roads on Interstate 25 between Casper and Douglas when one of these guys went flying by me. In the distance ahead, I saw him lose control and skid into the center median, throwing up a huge rooster tail of snow. As we went by, I slowed to see how he was doing. He looked over, then gunned the rig and managed to drive it back onto the Interstate and went barreling right by me again.

Those guys have no fear. They really know how to cover some miles in a vast place like Wyoming.

And I think they travel the same speeds up and down the mountains as they travel on the high prairie, which pretty much rounds the entirety of this column today.




Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at www.billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written six books. His newest is “Wyoming at 125,” which is now on sale at fine bookstores. His books are available at www.wyomingwonders.com.