Measuring distances in Wyoming by packs of gum


Way back in 1970, I recall being startled when respectable folks would measure their trips around Wyoming by how many six-packs of beer it would take to cover all those long miles.

Thankfully, those days are long gone. My respectable friends no longer do it, I can assure you.

Back in those days, we drove cars and pickup trucks that had bench seats in the front, and often in the middle was a cooler full of ice and refreshments. 

Later on, I measured my trips in packs of cigarettes. I was never a heavy smoker and could do just about anything without smoking — except drive. 

There was something about getting behind the wheel that made me want to smoke. My daughter Shelli Johnson, even as a junior high kid, would go through my bags and find my cigarettes and destroy them. She finally got me off them, and I have not smoked cigarettes since.

Readers of this column know that Nancy and I travel a lot and now, during all that road time, we measure our trips by how many packs of gum we chew.  

We just got back from a 2,100-mile jaunt to the northwest and went through ten packs of gum. That is a lot of chewing! But I digress.

Wyoming’s brilliant fall colors were just fading as we started our trip. Wind River Canyon was brilliant in places, and Thermopolis was spectacular. As we drove into Montana and down to lower elevations we caught the fall colors at a perfect time. I had an AAA Auto Club board meeting in Helena. 

We welcomed Debbie Disney of Casper to the AAA board, replacing the late Leslie Blythe of Casper who died of flu complications earlier this year.

After the meeting, we took US Highway 12 west through some amazing  yellow trees.  

Interstate 90 through Montana, Idaho and Washington offered a full view of fall colors. We were sorry to have been missing Wyoming’s changing season, but we got our allotment of leaf-turning beauty to satisfy our needs. 

We went by funny-named places like Smelterville, Idaho, and Fishtrap and Steptoe, Washington. We traveled to Pasco and Leavenworth, Washington, with our son Mike, his wife Lisa and their four kids. I was stunned to see it was only 380 feet above sea level in Pasco in the Columbia River Gorge. That’s quite a drop from our 5,300-foot elevation in Lander.

My son lives in Grant County, Washington, which is one of the major agricultural counties in America — with lots of potatoes. Most of McDonald’s French fries come from there.

The county is about 70 percent Hispanic, as generations of immigrants worked that area as ag workers. Now they are involved in all walks of life. 

That got me thinking of some recent conversations during the Wyoming gubernatorial campaign about adding value to our ag products here. 

It sounds like a good idea. But who would be doing the work? Would we end up importing workers?  I know of places in Iowa and Kansas where local economic developers built huge ag processing plants but then watched in dismay as no local people would work in them.  

Those communities were changed culturally when immigrants came in to do the nasty work. There is nothing wrong with this, but it can serve as a cautionary tale. The Grant County experience shows that after a couple of generations of assimilation, everything turns out just fine. 

Wyoming’s fuel prices were about the lowest of any state. It appears that Washington just taxes the heck out of fuel. Montana and Idaho are not far behind.

Speed limits were inconsistent on our trip. Washington has a speed limit of 70 for cars and 60 for trucks on Interstate 90. Idaho also had a limit of 65 for trucks. It made me wonder who the lobbyist is for truckers in Wyoming where semi drivers get to drive so much faster?

So there we were, driving 70 mph across one of the flattest places on earth in Washington and off in the far distance was this bump on the horizon. Was it a local butte? Nope, it was Mount Rainier, the giant volcanic mountain one hundred miles off in the distance. Interesting. 

We came home through Jackson Hole on a beautiful day when the Tetons glistened in the sun.  We were too late for the fall colors on Teton Pass and Togwotee Pass, but sure enjoyed the vistas on a perfect Wyoming Indian Summer day. It was good to be headed home. And we were tired of chewing gum!

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find them at www.wyomingwonders.com.

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