Wyoming evokes images of badlands, bucking horses, rodeos, and cattle roaming wide open expanses. The classic rural western mantra of “high, wide and handsome” is the best way to describe this state. And its nickname as the “Cowboy State” is fitting considering Wyoming gave us “Buffalo Bill” Cody and that the spirit of the Wild West is still alive and well in this rugged country. So spacious and devoid of civilization is Wyoming that it is the least populated of the states, and cattle and sheep actually outnumber people by more than five to one!
And perhaps because Wyoming lacks people, its landscape and scenery is one of the most breathtaking and unspoiled in the U.S. Vast prairies, desert stretches, grasslands, and sagebrush rangelands culminate in intermittent mountain ranges that are touched by lakes, rivers, and forests, highlighted in the northwest by the high plateaus of the Great Plains. Wyoming is definitely a place owned by cowboys, ranchers, and the grazing wildlife of cows, horses, deer, and antelope.
Wyoming was originally inhabited by Native American groups like the Lakota, Arapaho, Crow, and Shoshone who roamed the plains hunting the vast herds of bison for food, clothes, and shelter (teepees). The first European to arrive is speculated to be John Colter from the Lewis and Clark Expedition of the early 19th century whose account of the Yellowstone region were considered tall tales at the time. During this period, many fur traders and trappers set up posts in Wyoming to hunt for beaver skins. When beaver hats lost their appeal by 1840, the trappers left but the posts they set up remained important stops along the Oregon Trail used by hundreds of thousands of migrants traveling west, including Mormons looking to join Brigham Young in Salt Lake. Unfortunately, disease, vicious weather, and accidents caused by the inhospitable terrain claimed the lives of thousands along the way.
In 1850, Jim Bridger located the Bridge Pass in Wyoming, which was used by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1868, the same year Congress created the Wyoming Territory. With the railroad passing through the present-day site of the town of Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory experienced a mild influx of migrants. But unlike Colorado, the state never experienced a population boom even after discoveries of gold, silver, and copper in the late 19th century.
After the Wyoming Territory was created, the Yellowstone region was explored more intently by the government, resulting in the designation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, the first national park to be created in the U.S.
By 1890, Wyoming was made a state. Not too long afterwards, Wyoming experienced a boom when oil was discovered on Salt Creek. Beginning in the early 20th century, a frenzy of exploitation and prosperity struck the town of Casper, which was at the center of the oil fields. Like most states in the mid-west, however, the Great Depression put an end temporarily to the economic good times. Since then, Wyoming has diversified from mining, aggressively developing its agriculture and tourism sectors. The latter ranks second after mining and, each year over six million people visit Wyoming, bringing in billions of dollars; this is one of the reasons why the state has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country at around 3%. But while its unemployment rate is impressive, Wyomingites are probably most proud of their state’s nickname, “the Equality State”, which it earned for being the first to extend suffrage to women in 1869, the first to appoint a woman justice of the peace, the first to select female jurors, and the first to elect a woman as governor in 1924.
Today, Wyoming’s beautiful scenery is its greatest tourism draw. The state is home to numerous national parks and monuments, including Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Fossil Butte National Monument, and Devil’s Tower National Monument – the latter being the first national monument designated in the country. Among these key tourist attractions, Yellowstone is by far the most popular, drawing over three million visitors each year. The southeastern region of Wyoming, known as “Old Wyoming”, is another major destination, a mountain territory centered around Cheyenne and Laramie that is the most civilized and settled of this sparsely populated state. Old Wyoming is really the gateway to Wyoming for many visitors, as Cheyenne is the last refuge for travelers coming from the east before they enter the Great Plains.
Popular activities in Wyoming include camping, hiking, guest ranching, and exploring the natural beauty of the state’s scenic national parks, forests, and wildlife. And rest assured, even though much of Wyoming is uninhabited and empty, these beauty spots are catered by numerous first-class restaurants, museums, and Western-style lodges.