The Modern West

The Modern West is a rich collection of news and cultural stories from the Mountain West. Features, interviews, oral history, readings, and more offer a snapshot of Western life. Catch our monthly digest of stories on The Modern West podcast.  

Supported in part by a grant from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund, a program of the Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources.

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The Modern West 28: Tiny Town, Big Bands

Oct 17, 2017
elkmountainhotel.com

In the mid-20th century, the little town of Elk Mountain, Wyoming drew crowds from miles and miles away to its summer dances on the bouncy floor at the Garden Spot Pavilion.

Madelyn Beck/Inside Energy

 

It’s a mixture you wouldn’t usually think of: black suits, pop country music, Japanese officials and the slight smell of manure. All these things came together at the CAM-PLEX event center in Gillette, Wyo., on Sept. 21 for a discussion about coal.

U.S. Forest Service

Forest fires have dominated headlines in much of the west this summer. Wyoming Senator John Barrasso chairs the Senate Environment Committee and this week held a hearing on a string of bills that proponents say will help keep those catastrophic wildfires at bay.

To Barrasso and a bipartisan group of senators, the problem is clear: Catastrophic wildfires are manmade, well more precisely, made by the inaction of man and all the red tape of environmentalists.

Ghost of the Mountains, Brian Leith Productions with Disneynature Productions and Chuan Films

The Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival attracted an international audience this week for what many call the Oscars of nature film. Finalists included Wyoming filmmaker Shane Moore. Moore started making films when he was just 12 and growing up in Granite Creek, 30 miles southeast of Jackson. He met pioneers of nature shows, including the Wild Kingdom and Walt Disney, on his family ranch where they came to film. Moore was a finalist for two films, Born in China and Ghost of the Mountains. Both feature the rarely seen and rarely filmed snow leopard.

Melodie Edwards

On the Wind River Reservation, on the far edge of a wind-swept cemetery filled with white crosses and colorful flowers, a fresh mound blended in with all the others. It was surrounded with stones and gifts. 

“[A] little buckskin horse, I believe that's a bracelet and some tobacco pouches,” said Olivia Washington as she bent down and arranged the gifts around a metal plaque with the name Horse.

 

The Equality State Policy Center has launched a new effort called The People’s Review. It’s intended to let the public know how their legislators voted on key legislation supported by social justice, conservation, and labor groups in Wyoming. The Director of the ESPC is Phoebe Stoner. She tells Bob Beck that the effort is focused on increasing transparency.

 

Bob Beck

Earlier this month Callie Mae Bishop was crowned Miss Wyoming USA. The Casper native had sought the title for a number of years.

In real life, Bishop is a yoga instructor, rock climber, and serves beer, in other words the perfect Miss Wyoming. She told Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck that the victory is a dream come true. 

The Modern West 27: Dark Side Of The Moon

Sep 19, 2017
GreatAmericanEclipse.com

August’s total solar eclipse drew hundreds of thousands of people to Wyoming for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Cooper McKim

  

Energy companies, environmentalists, ranchers and government officials are getting back together at meetings across the West this fall to talk about the fate of a chicken-like bird.

 

Many of these so-called stakeholders have sat at this table before. The well-being of the Greater Sage Grouse was the focus of a hard-fought compromise among 11 states, finalized a few years ago.

 

Madelyn Beck/Inside Energy

Over 80 percent of new wind power last year went up in states that voted for President Donald Trump. It may sound strange when Trump’s aim is to bolster coal, not wind, but what red states usually promote is individual choice and a smart use of money. Now, wind power large and small is literally changing Wyoming’s energy landscape.  

Wind Farmer and Rancher

Some of that changing landscape will be around Chugwater, Wyo., population 212. Chugwater claims the state’s oldest operating soda fountain. But finding farmer Gregor Goertz was more of a challenge.

Kate Foster

It’s another day of hazy skies at the airport outside Laramie. A team of atmospheric scientists from the University of Wyoming are busy unloading from a recent trip to Montana to study the fires where all this smoke originated. For weeks, skies across the west have been filled with this billowing white smoke. Many scientists agree that the warming climate is causing more extreme fires, but it’s hazy whether all that smoke is generating even more global warming as part of a self-perpetuating cycle. Scientists like these guys are scrambling to find out.

Madelyn Beck/Inside Energy

  

The U.S. used to be the world’s number one uranium producer, and most of it came from Wyoming. But since the 1980s, production has fallen off a cliff. Prices are at rock bottom. That may be about to change — uranium’s biggest customer is the nuclear energy industry. In coming years, hundreds of new nuclear reactors are planned for China and India. Uranium companies in the U.S. are hoping to gear up for a boom.

Elements of the Market

Dan Boyce

  

Superfund cleanups are a priority for Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. He wants to cut through red tape that has left more than a thousand sites still contaminated with everything from radioactive waste to lead.

He also wants to remove sites that have already been cleaned up from the so-called National Priority List, which has more than 1300 sites. One of those sites is the town of Uravan.

Tennessee Watson

Farmworker families often have to move from state to state to find work, and that makes school challenging for their kids. For over 40 years the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) ran a program to support this vulnerable student population, but that has come to an end.

Wyoming’s sugar beet harvest once was a big draw for migrant workers. On a tour of the farmland surrounding Torrington, Simon Lozano remembered a time when the fields were bustling.

“It was like 90 percent beets,” he said pointing out of the window of his truck.  

Central Wyoming College

 

Central Wyoming College in Riverton sits in a very unique spot in the state: right next door to the Wind River Indian Reservation. Many of its students are Native American. But now, the school is stepping up to do even more for the tribal community and are well underway in designing a program to educate future Native leaders.

Cooper McKim

  

Paul Miller just got back from a 12-day hunting trip outside of Cody with some friends. 

 

"Yeah, we went on a mountain goat and bighorn sheep hunt. One guy drew both tags and we archery hunted it for a couple of days, then we hunted sheep with a rifle,” Miller said.

 

With permission from Rock Springs Main Street/Urban Renewal Agency

Urban Renewal Agency Director Chad Banks was leading a group of Rock Springs residents through a tunnel beneath the train tracks that break the downtown business district in half. The underpass doubles as an art gallery, meant to advertise local artists and lure people to explore both sides of the railroad.

 

The railroad gave Rock Springs its start as a coal town. Local mines fueled the trains that reached the area in the 1860s. Public Services Director Amy Allen said the city’s layout matches the scatter of those original mines.

Maggie Mullen

People have been making preparations for years to travel hundreds of miles to see the 2017 total solar eclipse. In Casper, where thousands of people showed up, skies were clear and views under the path of totality were once in a lifetime.

The day before the eclipse, and downtown Casper was hard to recognize. Second Street had been closed off to traffic and hundreds of pedestrians were checking out the food vendors and the many different kinds of eclipse swag on display. Resident and vendor Brooke Hopkins said the most coveted item was going fast.

Goshen County is not used to being a major destination. But thanks to the eclipse, it was. Over 100,000 people visited the county to set up tents and campers as well as visit local festivities.  Reporter Cooper McKim flew over the county, saw downtown Tor
Cooper McKim

Goshen County is not used to being a major destination. But thanks to the eclipse, it was. Over 100,000 people visited the county to set up tents and campers as well as visit local festivities. Reporter Cooper McKim flew over the county, saw downtown Torrington celebrate, and witnessed the eclipse with hundreds of others in Fort Laramie. Here’s what it felt like to be there:

Maggie Mullen

Wyoming towns in the path of totality for the solar eclipse are expecting huge crowds, including Casper, and hotel rooms there are almost entirely booked. As a result, a record number of locals are using the home sharing service Airbnb to accommodate visitors and to make some of that eclipse cash.

Casper residents Josh Thompson and Rachel Schuh are getting ready to welcome strangers into their home--they’ve signed up to be hosts on Airbnb.

Kate Russo

For most people, Monday will be the first - and possibly last - time they will ever see an eclipse. But for some seeing an eclipse is almost like an addiction. These people are called Eclipse Chasers. Think “Deadheads” for the sun; they’ll do anything to catch the next show.

David Makepeace, also known as “The Eclipse Guy,” said he was hooked after seeing his first total solar eclipse in Mexico’s Baja peninsula in 1991.

 At Torrington's H & R Block with Sally Cole, Linda Keener, Dawn Pickinpaugh -- in order from left to right
Cooper McKim / Wyoming Public Radio

On a sunny day in downtown Torrington, local businesses are getting ready for the solar eclipse that’s now only days away. The H & R Block is one of them — accountants there are selling original eclipse-themed t-shirts. There’s a table outside, with black and white shirts of all sizes hung up behind it.

“So, what was the inspiration to make these shirts and to sell them here?” I asked. 

“Bills!” Sally Cole replied.

Dan Boyce

At 11 p.m. on a recent Friday night, the West Elk Mine outside Somerset opened its gates. Cars and trucks started rolling out, signaling the end of a coal mining shift in this rural pocket of Colorado.

Workers had been opening up a new section of the mine four or five miles underground, a tough job made tougher considering that the current economics of the coal industry means fewer workers at the mine.

Tennessee Watson

 The sun will be getting a lot of attention on Monday, as spectators don their glasses and stare up at the solar eclipse. But for the first time ever you’ll be able to watch from above as the moon paints its shadow across the earth.

The opportunity is possible thanks to the countless hours put in by teams of volunteers -- dotted along the path of totality – who have been working hard to figure out how to share the eclipse live from space.  

 

Darrah Perez

Today in Riverton, a class full of Native American jewelry makers are learning how to screen print. Eastern Shoshone member Hope Abeyta wants to screen print her logo on a child-size tepee. The Central Wyoming College course was created specifically for the eclipse since Riverton and much of the reservation falls inside the eclipse’s shadow. The goal is to get these artists the business skills they need to be ready for the event. Abeyta says she found the class on Facebook and signed up.

The Modern West 26: Going To The Movies

Aug 15, 2017

Wyoming is the setting for many a Western—even if the films aren’t shot on location. But even if big studios pass the state by, Wyomingites are making their own movies. 

Cooper McKim

At the center of the dusty Pinedale-Anticline field looking over the Wind River Range, Erika Tokarz stands on Ultra Petroleum’s  Riverside 9-2 pad which is home to several wellheads. Across the road, workers in hard-hats and sunglasses crisscross the plot of land with a massive tower at its center, working to drill a hole for natural gas. 

 

Melodie Edwards

If you want to catch mule deer fawns, you’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning. It’s 5 a.m. when University of Wyoming Research Scientist Samantha Dwinnell gets on her computer. She checks signals emitted from a radio collared pregnant doe that shows she’s been hunkering down in one spot.

“Oh man, that’s beautiful,” Dwinnell says, laughing. “That’s exactly what we’re looking for,”

CGP Grey (2009-09-09T19-50-42 -- DSC_0245 4893627106) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Eighty-three-year-old Ralph Deckett stood outside the Curt Gowdy State Park visitor center, broom in hand. Now retired from the FBI, Deckett spends much of his time looking after museums and recreation sites like Curt Gowdy, where he had been volunteering since the beginning of July.

“We just try to keep it nice, the best we can around here. It’s amazing how people can trash out a place,” Deckett said.

(NPS Photo/ Tim Rains)

The Endangered Species Act has been the law of the land for more than 40 years. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, the act was intended to highlight the “esthetic, ecological, educational, recreational, and scientific value to our Nation and its people.” But Wyoming Senator John Barrasso says it needs updating.

“The Endangered Species Act was written, created and adopted for all the right reasons and there’s just too much sand in the gears right now.”

Barrasso says the Act creates too many hoops and hurdles.

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