It looked like
Spain, but it was Wyoming.... The soil of the hills was red, the sage grew in
gray clumps, and as the road rose we could see across the hills and away across
the plain of the valley to the mountains.
Wine of Wyoming
probably the savviest outdoorsman ever to write a great American novel, and for
a spell early in his career, Wyoming was his favorite retreat. In the early
'30s Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline, spent several long vacations there
at Lawrence and Olive Nordquist's dude ranch up near the Montana border. When
he wasn't working on a new book, he was usually off fishing with Ivan Wallace,
a stubby wrangler who always wore a big Stetson, or hunting bears and elk with
Chub Weaver, or scaring up sage grouse with some of the other ranch hands. One
summer the state started to build a highway over a nearby pass, and Hemingway
panicked because he was afraid it would ruin the hunting. One road!
That was 50 years
ago. Since then, several generations of hunters, fishermen, backpackers,
mountain climbers and tourists have consecrated Wyoming as a national cathedral
of wilderness. It could never be mistaken for any profane or ordinary place.
Its glowing mountain ranges—the Absarokas, the Salt River and the Wind River,
the Bighorns and the Tetons—are among the most glorious in all the West. Its
surging rivers—the Powder, the Snake, the Belle Fourche, the Green, the
Sweetwater and the Cheyenne—hold large populations of cutthroat trout, browns
and rainbows. Possibly no other state, except Alaska, boasts more spectacular
numbers of wildlife. The world's largest populations of pronghorn antelope,
Shiras moose and sage grouse are in Wyoming. So are North America's greatest
concentrations of bighorn sheep and elk, some of the finest mule-deer herds in
the West and the largest concentration—about 200 to 400 in the Greater
Yellowstone area—of grizzly bears left in the lower 48 states.
But even with all
of its creatures, the Cowboy State is no Peaceable Kingdom these days. Once the
country's most neglected state, it has now become one of the boomingest. Since
1970, and mostly during the past five years, its population has mushroomed 40%.
Wyoming now ranks fourth on the list of fastest-growing states, right behind
Nevada, Arizona and Florida. It still looks a lot like Spain, but that road
Hemingway fretted about has turned out to be a harbinger after all.
to be more and more like Pittsburgh around here all the time," grumbles
Phil Riddle, a gun-toting, tobacco-chewing state wildlife official.
The reason is oil
and minerals. Wyoming has an abundance of them: probably more oil, natural gas,
coal, uranium ore and trona, or soda ash, than any other state. The rush is on
to get those goods to market. In 1980 Wyoming mined 90.5 million tons of coal,
5.3 million tons of uranium ore and 12 million tons of trona. It also produced
nearly 450 million cubic feet of natural gas and almost 125 million barrels of
oil. Most people still think of Wyoming principally in terms of livestock
production, but petroleum has been its No. 1 product since the 1950s. Back
then, much of its oil, gas and other mineral reserves were so hard to get at,
or of such poor quality, that it hardly paid to go after them. But in 1973
along came the OPEC oil embargo and, with it, growing concern about the
nation's vulnerability to other mineral boycotts. Suddenly the value of
Wyoming's previously "unprofitable" reserves soared, and the state has
been on a binge ever since.
prosperity has taken its toll of the pristine qualities that made Wyoming so
special for so long. Boomtowns, strip-mining and oil exploration are
disfiguring the land from Gillette in the north to Rock Springs and Green River
in the south. Pollution, litter, overcrowding and crime are no longer some
other state's problems. Having discovered the joys of industrialization,
Wyoming is now getting acquainted with the sorrows.
Nowhere are those
sorrows more profound than in the Bear River Divide, a picturesque collection
of arid hills and buttes in the southwestern corner of the state. In just 3½
years a frenzy of drilling for oil and gas there has transformed 100 square
miles of crucial big-game wintering range into what one environmentalist calls
"a petrological wasteland." At the foot of the Divide, the once-sleepy
little town of Evanston is struggling to stay above a rising tide of problems.
Since 1975 its population has more than doubled to about 10,500. Its schools
and hospital are swamped. Trailer parks sprawl on all sides. Roustabouts pour
into town from the oil fields and squatters set up housekeeping in shacks,
tents, even abandoned cars along nearby streams and waterholes. The police are
hard pressed to keep up with all the burglaries, brawls, family feuds and
trespassing complaints. "Take a good look around," says Ron Smith,
chairman of the national resources committee of the 25,000-member Wyoming
Wildlife Federation. "This is what the rest of the Rockies could look like
in 20 years."
isn't the only mountain state in the throes of development. The search for
energy has become the new Manifest Destiny all over the West. From Texas,
Arizona and Utah to Colorado, Idaho and Montana, teams of geologists,
surveyors, seismographers and drillers are scouring the land. "They've got
drills coming down the chute until hell won't have 'em," laments Charles
Jonkel, a grizzly-bear researcher and wildlife biologist at the University of
Montana at Missoula. "Some of the best wildlife habitat on the eastern
front of the Rockies is up for grabs."
In the nation's
capital, the Reagan Administration has declared itself well satisfied with the
emphasis on development, except for one thing: It wants to step up the tempo
even more on public lands. The oil glut and high interest rates have worked
against that notion lately—some wildcatters have actually gone broke—but most
observers see that only as a lull in the storm.