Wyoming is a place that I only knew one thing about when I first visited – there aren’t a lot of people there. In fact, there are so few people here that I found myself imagining that I would be driving across vast, empty wastelands on my first roadtrip through the state. I thought that this entire state would feel that way that the Great Basin area in Nevada did, almost dangerously empty. But Wyoming was nothing like I imagined, and from the first day that I stepped foot here, I’ve fallen in love with the varied and beautiful landscapes of this western state.

For the outdoor-folk of the world, Wyoming has all kinds of rugged adventures, from world-famous national parks to sweeping mountains managed as working lands. And for the culture buffs, (and surprise to me – the resident Arizonan) this state is also at the heart of US Western culture. But, as with the rest of the world, Wyoming is facing an age of change and uncertainty from its natural environment to its culture and people. It’s a destination for the self-reliant and those respectful of the local people who call it home.

Quick Facts

(c) ABR 2022

Type: US State (1890)

Region: North America

Official Languages: English

Population: 578,000 (2021)

Capital: Cheyenne

Currency: US Dollar

Power Outlet: Type A and B. The standard voltage is 120 V and the standard frequency is 60 Hz.

The Nature of Wyoming

Geology

Wyoming is known around these parts for its gas and oil developments, and these industries are linked to the most ancient of histories of this state. The geologic activity through time has led to the complex faults that make Wyoming a prime location for fossil fuel development. This record of earth’s ancient past has also shaped the landscape that we now know and can enjoy from our homes, trails, and cars; and it took billions of years to create the Wyoming that we get to experience now.

This has also made Wyoming a geologist’s wonderland, something that you can learn more about at Geology of Wyoming. Or of which you can visit and experience as tourist by checking out this 5 Geological Wonders of Wyoming.

For more in-depth information on Wyoming’s geology:

Wyoming State Geological Survey (https://www.wsgs.wyo.gov/wyoming-geology/geologic-history.aspx)

Explore Wyoming’s Geology (https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/9a5c13d9d4d040a0bc0c29e06ecdcf19)

Ecosystems

Overlaying the ancient geology of Wyoming, as with all places, are the climate and associated plants and animals that we call ecosystems. This is where we can really see the variety that the geology and climate of this state creates.

In looking at a map of Wyoming, you can see that in northern portion of the state are the green coded Middle Rockies that include Yellowstone, Bighorn Mountains, and Black Hills. These are forested and mountainous areas. We have several guides related to these ecologies, where you can see pictures of what this landscape looks like:

Easy Hikes in Grand Teton National Park – If you are looking for some easy treks in Teton National Park, these lake hikes are for you. They have views, fresh air, and unique elements.

First Trip to Yellowstone: The First National Park in the World – Come with me to learn about what won me over to this park, one of the most famous in the world.

Visiting Tensleep Preserve will welcome you to the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains.

small towns to visit in southern Wyoming

Vedauwoo (c) ABR 2022

Mirroring the Middle Rockies are the Southern Rockies, which branch up from the southern border of Wyoming and include Vedauwoo. In Wyoming, these places are mountainous and forested, but have a more arid quality than the middle Rockies. They adjoin the Rockies of Colorado.

Between the more mountainous regions of the state are vast plains and basins. To the east, the Great Plains can be found. Here, as with other Midwestern states, a vast and seemingly endless plain stretches in all directions.

In the middle of the state is the Wyoming Basin, which is also relatively flat but is characterized by sagebrush steppe, shrublands, and deserts (brings me back to Great Basin again).

Modern Conservation in Wyoming

(c) ABR 2022

There is a lot of great conservation work going on in Wyoming, and with Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons at the crown of the state, that shouldn’t come as too much of surprise. In fact, with Yellowstone as the first national park in the world, Wyoming has been making history in the world of conservation for a long while.

These days that legacy is continued, with the state being home to some of the most exceptional North American wildlife out there (more typically found in the high latitudes). This includes bison, moose, wolves, grizzly bears, and more. But with animals like that being on the land, things are not simple. Wolves, for example, being reintroduced into Yellowstone, made the landscape much healthier than it had been since they were hunted off the land. But at the same time, wolves prey on animals that ranchers need for their livelihoods (and many people rely on for food) like cattle and sheep.

Bison, similarly, have a positive impact on the land, and a huge cultural significance for indigenous people. But their ranges are often restricted to protect cattle from potential spread of disease.

(c) ABR 2022

For the outdoor recreationists, grizzly bears represent a real and present danger as well. While deaths by these powerful omnivores are uncommon, preparing for an encounter with a bear is must for the Yellowstone/Teton area. And it adds a level of danger not present where large bears aren’t.

Of course, all of these examples are vastly simplified. But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to conservation work in Wyoming. This is a landscape that is thick with complex interactions between people and animals. And while the political landscape of Wyoming impacts the environmental work being done there, I can say from experiences working with many many good folks in the state, that they will continue to do ground breaking work.

Learn more about conservation in Wyoming:

The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming

Birth of a National Park

Our Posts On the Wild Side of Wyoming

  1. Easy Hikes in Teton – If you are looking for some easy treks in Teton National Park, these lake hikes are for you. They have views, fresh air, and unique elements.
  2. First Trip to Yellowstone – Come with me to learn about what won me over to this park, one of the most famous in the world.
  3. Hiking in Devil’s Tower National Monument (Bear Lodge) – This is one of the most unique mountains in the world. Visit this national monument to experience this sacred place for yourself, but please come with respect.
  4. Visiting Tensleep Preserve – Hike and camp in the Nature Conservancy’s preserve in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains.
  5. Hiking Near Casper, WY – When visiting this Central Wyoming city, there are beautiful hikes to waterfalls and rolling, forested mountains.
  6. Central Wyoming State Parks – In the middle of Wyoming, there are twisting reservoirs that can be explored on foot. With their historic buildings and beautiful landscapes, they aren’t to be missed.

The History and Culture of Wyoming

Indigenous History

People have been living in Wyoming for more than 12,000 years, and there are places across the state where the works of these ancient peoples still remain, and their descendants still live here. At the time that Europeans started exploring the land that would eventually come to be known as Wyoming, there were many indigenous people living, thriving, and caring for the land. Many of these people were nomadic “Plains Indians” who survived by adjusting their livelihoods throughout the year depending on available resources. One of the most charismatic resources that Plains tribes relied on were the massive bison herds that once dominated the plains. These tribes included the Arapaho, Arikara, Bannock, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Crow, Gros Ventre, Kiowa, Nex Perce, Sheep Eater, Souix, Shoshone, and Ute peoples.

The history and ingenuity of indigenous people shapes our modern world in ways that we don’t always realize. For example, it goes without saying that these tribes knew the landscape of Wyoming very well, and their trails and travel routes lay at the heart of many roads and highways today. The striking elements of the Wyoming landscape were places that indigenous people knew, understood, and cherished as we do now. Although years of war, disease, betrayal, and cultural genocide have decreased the populations of Wyoming’s tribes, there is currently one reservation in Wyoming. This is the Wind River Reservation which is home to Shoshone and Arapaho people today. Other tribes are located in surrounding states, and the history of indigenous Wyoming is still being written today.

(c) ABR 2022

Yellowstone National Park is one example of this. Yellowstone was the world’s first national park, but in creating this place for recreation and nature, the US government removed the indigenous people who had been living on this land for thousands of years. Tribes from Wyoming, Montana, and beyond have been working to reintroduce their culture, knowledge, and rights to use these lands back into Yellowstone through partnerships with the US government.  There have also been artistic and cultural efforts to raise awareness for the indigenous people that called and call Yellowstone and the surrounding lands their home.

The history of Wyoming is continually being written, and the indigenous people of this state remain a powerful part of that. This short exploration represents very little of the richness of indigenous history in Wyoming. For a library of articles on the Indigenous history and culture of the state, visit WyoHistory.org.

If you would like to learn more about the Wind River Reservation, see what areas you might visit to learn more.

European Settlement

small towns to visit in southern Wyoming

Laramie (c) ABR 2022

In 1807, John Colter explored the unique landscape that we now know as Yellowstone. As one of the earlier European explorers in Wyoming, John represented coming change to this ancient land. Initially, Europeans were interested in Wyoming for its natural resources, particularly, beaver furs, which could be traded back to Europe for good money. Then, during the California gold rush, more settlers began crossing Wyoming, on their way to the Western coast. This increasing pressure on the land and the people that already called it home, led to violent clashes between indigenous peoples and Euro-American settlers. As with much of the West, this encouraged the building of forts to keep trails and trade corridors open.

While these forts represented safety for settlers as they moved through Wyoming, these structures served as key strategic outposts during the Plains Indian wars, which played a major role in the colonization of Wyoming. This included bloody battles and the targeted hunting of the bison to near extinction. While the “wild west” days of Wyoming ended in 1890 when towns began to be built across the state, this history of conflict and pioneering can still be felt across the state. As with the rest of the United States, this history is a complicated legacy.

In 1869, for example, Wyoming became the first government in the world to acknowledge women’s rights with a female suffrage law. The first woman to vote in the history of the United States did so in Laramie in 1870. Following this, women began serving in Wyoming’s government, a tradition that continues to this day. You can now visit the Wyoming Women’s History House in Laramie to learn more about the inroads that Wyoming once made for women’s equality.

Wyoming didn’t become a state until 20 years later, in 1890, after an initial petition was rejected by the federal government, but the territorial government moved forward developing a state constitution anyway. At this time, they became the 44th state.

Since then, the legacy of the Wild West still keeps up in spirit in Wyoming, where ranching, agriculture, extraction of natural resources, and outdoor recreation are dominant elements of the state’s industry.

For more information on Wyoming’s history, check out the government’s page on the state’s history.

For a brief timeline of Wyoming’s Wild West: https://www.legendsofamerica.com/wy-timeline/

And for more museums in Wyoming: https://travelwyoming.com/article/11-must-see-wyoming-museums

Notes on Culture

small towns to visit in southern Wyoming

Saratoga (c) ABR 2022

Culture in Wyoming, as with everywhere in the US and the world, isn’t something that can be summarized properly anywhere. It is complex, varies across the land, with individuals, and through time. Some general notes on American culture do still apply in Wyoming. But there is an additional layer that Wyoming’s “Wild West” legacy has created. Ranching, rodeos, and agricultural livelihoods in general play a major role in the state, and people have a strong sense of independence. The state is currently conservative, and fossil fuel extraction is a major part of Wyoming’s industry, however, Wyoming has also paved the way for progressive changes in the past with women’s suffrage and both national parks and national monuments.

As with anywhere, it is important to visit Wyoming with respect towards residents.

If you’d like to try some flavors of Wyoming, check out these recipes from Wyoming Magazine: Ten Recipes That Represent Wyoming.

Our Posts On History and Culture of Wyoming

  1. Small Town Southern Wyoming – Read more about Laramie and Saratoga, Wyoming to see if these unique, small towns are for you.
  2. Where to Stay Near Yellowstone – Jackson Hole is the town to the south of Yellowstone, close to Grand Teton National Park. And Cody is to the east of Yellowstone, and is home to one of the largest, Wild West museums in the world. Pick your home base to Yellowstone or decide to see both!

Itineraries

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Where We Have Been

More Information From Around the Web

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