Sunday, July 27, 2008


I did a long day's flying in Wyoming recently. I've never been very fond of Wyoming, but my opinion is coloured by two facts, which may mean I'm not being fair to the state.

The first time I ever stopped in Wyoming, years ago, I had the choice of landing at Jackson Hole or Rock Springs/Sweetwater. I chose the one that sounded like less of a hole. Unfortunately Rock Springs turned out to be a hole, or at least the cigarette smoke-filled, economically depressed end of it in which I slept and ate turned out to be. The water may indeed have been sweet, but I don't recall that part, only my great desire to leave and not come back.

The other reason Wyoming weighs on my mind is that it always seems to be not quite most of the way to wherever I'm going. No matter what my destination, when I'm far enough into the trip that I have no conceivable paperwork to do, have to pee and just want to get out and stretch my legs, I'm over Wyoming. It crouches over the American West like some kind of predatory spider of boredom. Its rectangular shape cuts corners out of Utah, Montana, Colorado and South Dakota, and maybe Kansas and Idaho, too. I've often wished that I could click the "send to back" button on Wyoming and have the other states overlap it for a change. It's also a very high altitude state, lacking the drama of Colorado mountains, but imposing the same performance penalties.

This trip I landed at for fuel at a little self-serve airport up on a plateau. The runway was something like fifty feet wide and eight thousand feet long, making it probably the proportionally skinniest runway I've ever landed on. It was sited to match the terrain, not the prevailing winds, which were a precise ninety degree crosswind on the way in, and from the warnings in the airport directory I believe that's par for the course here.

In the five hours I had been working in the area and monitoring the standard Unicom frequency used there, I had heard not one call to the aerodrome traffic, so judged it okay to park at the pumps while we went for lunch. The little FBO/terminal was open, but there was no one around, so we used the washrooms, left a note with my cell number in case they needed the airplane moved in a hurry.

There was a van outside, on the airside, with the doors unlocked and a form on the floor to be filled out by the borrowers. The key was not in the ignition but I quickly found it on the sunvisor. I guess that's how you tell it's Wyoming instead of northern Canada. The van was remarkable in being new and clean, as were all the facilities. I guess there are busier days here, to support this venture, but it's hard to see evidence.

The town itself, or at least the part we encountered, was a gas station, a cafe and a general store, all named after the town. We passed a well-built baseball park on the way. I understand that old Wyoming is cattle, but new Wyoming is oil, and I guess that's where the money is coming from.

"What would you do growing up here?" asked a coworker at lunch.

We concluded that it would be hunting, fishing, riding and little league. Kind of like Canada except with little league instead of hockey. And the riding might be on horses instead of snowmobiles. Maybe both.

On the way back up to the ridge to the plateau where we had left the airplane, a little antelope, yellowish brown with twisty dark antlers, bounded out of the way. Seeing as the airport fence doesn't go all the way around, I'm glad he was going away from the runway and not towards.

The airport attendant was back. I guess he'd been on lunchbreak, too. I started to refill my canteen from the sink next to the microwave in the FBO and he stopped me. "That's not potable water." Yikes. I dumped out what I'd added, then rinsed the canteen with some drinking water from the water cooler, before filling it up. "It wouldn't have hurt you," he said. "It's just very sulphurous." In retrospect I wish I'd tried it, just to report on whether Wyoming tastes like brimstone.

I fuelled the airplane, using a cardlock controller located an inconvenient distance from the physical pumps, collected my receipt and taxied out. The wind was still ninety degrees off the runway, so I picked the departure runway that gave me the shorter taxi. In the afternoon I heard some gliders working, probably enjoying the thermals a lot more than I was, and an incongruous Cessna Citation going into one of the little airports that had been quiet all day.

My co-worker pointed out the fact that the image on the Wyoming souvenir I bought is that of the highway leaving the state.


Anonymous said...

Too bad you didn't land in Jackson Hole the first time. An entirely different view of Wyoming. It's beautiful there.


Anonymous said...

Whatever you do - get to Yellowstone National Park. That place is absolutely awesome!

Also, land at Greybull Wyoming for an interesting! airport experience. AKA South Big Horn County airport in Google Earth...

Jeremy said...

I agree with Lee - you definitely should have gone to Jackson Hole. I've been there twice, including the adjacent Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, in the summer. That's a beautiful time of year since Jackson Hole has all the ski resort facilities, but without the winter crowds. There's all kinds of outdoor activities, beautiful vistas and drives, and nice restaurants and shopping in Jackson itself. I can't comment on the skiing as I've never been there in winter, but it's a world-renowned ski resort so it's probably pretty darn good! Also, you'll find more than a few bizjets at Jackson Hole Airport - it's a hangout of the rich and famous including VP Dick Cheney.

W7MTB said...

Having grown up in Wyoming (including Green River just a spits shot down the road from Rock Springs), I can completely understand your underwhelmed feeling. However, it does have some very beautiful and special places, and with a population under 500K, its easy to find space when you need it. I think its best experienced from the ground but I have always wondered what devils tower would look like from the sky. Next time you need to stop, try Lander or Sheridan. Both are rich with history and quite a bit more interesting than Rock Springs.

Oh, and there was lots of riding and hunting and fishing and little league I suppose, but I was one of those weird kids who played soccer instead of football and rode bicycles instead of horses so I can't really speak to much of that.

Anonymous said...

Also, you'll find more than a few bizjets at Jackson Hole Airport - it's a hangout of the rich and famous including VP Dick Cheney.

Better hope ole' dead eye Dick 'aint drunk and armed. He don't hav' much 'a reputation for shootin' what he's aiming for, ya hear.

Anonymous said...

sounds like my experience in WY, but I was just happy to be on the windward side of the black hills. It was worth seeing Devils Peak and the Big Horn Mtn's.

Anonymous said...

"Hole" is an old trapper's term for a valley.

Rock Springs is a short drive from the Greater Green River International Spaceport, so it does have something going for it. I'd still choose Jackson as a stopover location.

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