Circle J Ranch event 2016


Harvest Party, City Park in Lander Wyoming! October 1, 9 am - 12 noon
Harvest Party, City Park in Lander Wyoming! October 1, 9 am – 12 noon


A Trip Down Memory Lane in Sheridan plus Buffalo and Two Mountain Passes

By Bill Sniffin

As readers of this column know, I am no fan of the “new” JC Penney Company.

It is my contention that old James Cash Penney (whose first store was right here in Wyoming, in Kemmerer), is spinning in his grave as how his successors have managed to ruin that company.

But I loved the old Penney’s and I took a trip down memory lane at that company’s long-time store on Main Street of Sheridan recently. There, smack in the heart of the town, is an old-fashioned Penney Store, complete with a basement, a half upstairs and, well, the only edifices missing were the pneumatic tubes sending sales tickets flying around the store.

My first Penney store experience was in Oelwein, Iowa, and it was a scene right out of the movie, A Christmas Story. And that store 60 years ago looked just like the one there in Sheridan today.

Here in Lander, when I first came to work at the Journal, one of our biggest advertisers was the JC Penney Store, again, right in the heart of our downtown.  And yes, it had a half upstairs and it had a basement.  I think tubes were still there which would whistle sales tickets from the various cash registers back to the bookkeeping department. Even by today’s standards, these tubes were space age. Amazing.  They provided a way to quickly move information around prior to the age of computers.

On this trip, we took two different scenic drives on our way to and from Sheridan.

First, we traveled to Greybull so we could take US 16 up Shell Canyon and over the mountain. The weather was beautiful and we even stopped and checked out the Dinosaur tracks outside of Shell. Also, took a photo of the canyons there at the Big Horn Mountains that seem to form a “W” and a “Y” — is that there or was I just imagining it?

Near Burgess Junction I ran into Ed Kingston at the Elk View Inn.  First met Ed 15 years ago.  He has done well and aged better than me. The lodge is beautiful. It and Bear Lodge plus a few other lodges make that area a snowmobile and ATV mecca.

We encountered terrible fog descending into Dayton and on our way to Sheridan and settled into a rainy trip.

Bob Grammens and Kim Love had me on the radio for a couple of mornings and that was sure fun. Radio appears to be struggling in some communities, but not Sheridan. Lots going on in that area. Don’t touch that dial!

Although energy is a big deal in the Sheridan area, you would not notice it by how the Main Street feels.  It is certainly lively including a new store started by a 13-year old boy. Amazing.  His name is Luke Knudsen and he started a store called The Old General Store, which features antiques.

Another neat store is the Best Out West store owned by Christy Love, Kim’s sister.

The remodeled Sheridan Inn is a real treat. The old strucure originally built by Buffalo Bill Cody is now a true modern classic.

One of the premier craft breweries in the state is the Black Tooth establishment, which exists in an old auto garage.  Great beer and a great location.

Our trip was designed as loop drive so we headed south to Buffalo and were impressed by how busy the Sports Lure store was there in the main business district. Small towns are lucky to have local-owned stores like it and the Office to cater to local needs.

It is hard not to love Buffalo’s Occidental Hotel. What a beautiful job its owners have done to restore it.

This is the heart of Longmire country but despite looking for them, none of the characters were to be seen on this day. Longmire is the name of a popular TV series based on books by Craig Johnson of Ucross.

While in Buffalo, I also looked for the infamous “Bench Sitters,” made popular by the Sagebrush Sven columns in the Buffalo Bulletin.  It was the wrong time of day to see them, too, I guess.

Heading home, we headed up into the cloudy Big Horn Mountains over Tensleep Pass.  Ran into fog, rain, slush, snow and wind but got through it.  Lots of highway construction on the very top. The flag people were dressed like Eskimos.

Worland and Thermopolis were both quiet on this wet Friday evening, although it was sure tempting to take a dip into a hot thermal pool on a cold, wet shivery night.  But we kept on going.

Got home just as the sun was going down, which was our goal. Hate that driving at night in a storm.

What a great loop drive it was, though. The passes were full of amazing color.  I am sure the rain and snow pretty much wiped out most of those pretty leaves, which impressed us at the time. This all occurred during the fall solstice, which here in Wyoming, truly marks a real change of seasons.





Bill Sniffin: My Wyoming


MY WYOMING — by Bill Sniffin

Smoky times remind of state’s worst fires


As I write this, the beautiful view of the Wind River Mountains out of my window is obscured.  It is so smoky we are leaving our windows shut because it smells like a brush fire a short distance away.

In this case, that brush fire is 1,000 miles away.  Northern California and parts of Oregon and Washington are burning up.

This smoke is covering up towns all over Wyoming especially in the Big Horn Basin and Wind River Basin.

It is hard to find a city or town from Cheyenne to Evanston or Powell to Gillette in which smoke has not dominated the view. At least the sunsets and sunrises have been magnificent!

Here in Lander, we enjoyed one clear day between all the smoke from the northwest to local smoke from the Little Bob fire on the Wind River Indian Reservation.  They are letting it burn and it is over 1,500 acres and growing.

These ash clouds also remind of a time 27 years ago when Yellowstone National Park literally burned up. Here is what I recall of that event:

Is this hell?  Or is it Yellowstone? That was my exact thought as I piloted a small, single engine airplane over the vast expanse of Yellowstone National Park the first week of September, 1988, during the horrible fires that year.

Flying with me on that day was Larry Hastings, one of the best pilots and instructors in Wyoming history.  Also along and helping take photos was Mike McClure, a legend in his own right, as a premier photographer.

Both men lived in Lander. We had been talking about making this flight for some time.

It was my bright idea.  We had seen TV coverage of the fire but no one seemed to have a good aerial view.  I always want to figure out a way to take a big picture in the easiest way possible and flying over the park seemed the best plan.

Hastings was aware of the altitude restrictions, which caused us to be quite high as we flew over the world’s oldest national park while it was literally burning up.

The view was both impressive and unimpressive.  It was impressive because as far as the eye could see was smoke.  It was unimpressive because it was impossible to make out landmarks.  Not even the mountains were very visible.

What was visible were a large number of hotspots where fire would shoot 200 feet in the air.  It was hot down there.  The park I loved was going to be changed forever.

That event two and half decades ago was unprecedented in the history of the National Park Service.  There were contrasting programs of fire suppression and “controlled burns” in place, which caused the people responsible for the park’s existence to be incapable of dealing with the conflagration.

Cities and towns in a wide circle around the park enjoyed the most colorful sunsets in history.  Lander, which is a two-hour drive southeast from YNP, the evening views were unprecedented.  It was an awful time for folks with respiratory problems.  No wind and no rain could relieve these conditions.

Fighting the fires in 1988 cost $120 million which is $230 million in today’s dollars – almost a quarter of a billion dollars. It covered some 800,000 acres or over one third of the park.

Biggest fire was the North Fork fire, which was started July 22 by a cigarette dropped by a man cutting timber in the neighboring Targhee National Forest.

One of the most amazing scenes of this fire was when embers from it were sent airborne across the massive Lewis Lake by 80 mph winds setting new fires on the other side of the lake.

This complex of fires burned 140,000 acres and was finally extinguished when some welcome rains fell later that fall.

Stories about other parts of the park and the valiant effort of more than 13,000 firefighters, 120 helicopters and other aerial devices, plus National Guard and civilians detail bravery but were to no avail.  Important structures like Old Faithful Inn and the Lake Hotel were saved but efforts to stop the fires proved to be impossible.

Mother Nature wanted that fire to burn and it did until she was ready to put it out.

And that memorable day 27 years ago we were flying above a scene right out of Dante’s Inferno. I experienced a memory that I would both like to forget and yet, always recall.


Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at  He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written six books. His newest is Wyoming at 125, which is coming out in September. His books are available at