I travel quite a bit to attend and present at various tourism-related conferences throughout the country.
The headline for this comes from a saying I like to use in my tourism conference presentation introductions: “You can take the frontier out of the girl but (often) you can’t take the girl out of the frontier.”
I love living in Wyoming. Wyoming is largely considered frontier. In fact, the U. S. Census Bureau classifies much of our state as not even rural, instead calling it “frontier.”
We rank 50th out of 50 states for population. Only about 530,000 people are lucky enough to call Wyoming home.
Our state is full of big, wide open, seemingly empty spaces. When we think about population density, there are only 5 people per square mile here. You could say it’s a little lonely here.
There are more animals than people here. For example, there are approximately 600,000 pronghorn (antelope). When you add in all the wild animals, we humans are outnumbered about 2-to-1. When you add in farm and ranch animals, we’re outnumbered 3-to-1. So Wyoming is not only a lonely place, it’s a wild place.
Frontier means “a region at the edge of a settled area.” Frederick Jackson Turner, an American historian in the early 20th Century, is best known for his essay called “the significance of the frontier,” which among other things, said that “when pioneers moved into the frontier zone they were changed significantly by the encounter.” In 1893, Turner argued that unlimited free land offered the psychological sense of unlimited opportunity, which in turn had many consequences, such as optimism and future orientation.
I love this because I like to think it describes most of the people I know who live in Wyoming. We’re an optimistic bunch and I think it’s largely because we live in a landscape that provides a wide variety of unhindered and striking views, whether we’re looking at snow-covered, glaciated granite mountains, valleys, meadows, buttes, sagebrush-covered hills, a desert, a prairie, or a herd of pronghorn.
I view my parents’ decision to move us from Iowa to Wyoming when I was just 3 years old as one of the greatest gifts they’ve given me. I love Wyoming. So much so that after leaving to college and living/working in other states for eight years, my husband and I chose to return to Wyoming in 1995, where we’ve been ever since and where we hope to always remain.
But for all its wonderful aspects, getting out of the frontier can be difficult. Recently, I was trying to fly out of Wyoming for a trip to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, where I was invited to be a keynote presenter at a tourism conference. I had planned my departure so that I would have a couple of days to explore the region before the conference.
I’m the mother of three young boys, so I don’t like to travel very often and not for very long periods of time when I do. I booked the 6 am flight out of Riverton to make connection in Denver, to save me the 5.5 hours it takes to drive to Denver, or the 4.5 hours it takes to drive to Salt Lake City.
So Monday, Oct. 12, I arrive at Riverton airport at 5 a. m. First thing I notice is there’s no plane waiting outside. I’ve traveled enough to know this is not good news. Typically the plane rests in Riverton after carting passengers from Denver on the evening flight into Riverton. Still, I check in and nothing is said about the flight not being on schedule. However, I was asked if I’d be willing to take travel credits in exchange for a later flight because the flight had been “downgraded from 24 to 18 passengers.”
I say, no, I can’t do that. This is a big trip, one that I planned 3 months ago, and besides, I had to make it to a keynote presentation I was giving at a conference.
Typically for the 6 am flight, we go through security around 5:30 am. But it’s now 6:15 am and there’s still no plane there and the security gates are closed and unmanned. There are about 20 of us just sitting or wandering around.
By 6:30 a.m., I’m anxious. My connection in Denver to fly to Seattle is tight. I had scheduled a flight that allowed me about one hour in Denver. At this point, my flight in Denver is to be boarding in about an hour and a half. This Riverton-to-Denver flight, if I ever get on it, is about 1 hour and 15 minutes. It’s glaringly obvious my trip is off to an awful start, probably an altogether non-starter.
I go to the ticketing counter and ask, “So are we going to be flying out soon? Is there a plane coming?” To which the friendly attendant says “I don’t know. We don’t have any information right now.”
At this point I size up my surroundings and come to a realization. You can tell the locals from the visitors. The visitors are the ones who act like, and believe, they’re going somewhere this morning.
The locals, on the other hand, are reading books like “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” Some of them have even kept their motors running in the parking lot on this 20-degree morning. After chit chatting a little, I learn from a couple of locals with tickets for this morning’s early flight who fly often that “this flight only goes about 50% of the time.” Hmmm. This stinks, I think to myself.
I also see Father Bob Cook, President of Wyoming Catholic College, based in my town of Lander. I go up to him, and I ask how he’s doing. We both decide to pray to St. Jude, “the patron saint of hopeless causes” â€“ or, the “Miraculous Saint.”
Turns out there are no later flights that will put me in Denver in time to make a connecting flight to Seattle that has availability. So, I take my chances and move my itinerary to the same time tomorrow. Things must work out, as my conference is the day after and I have to be there. I go home and will try this all over again, starting with another wakeup call tomorrow at 3:15 am. Grrr.
Many Wyoming people have horror stories that probably are more spectacular than my example here. For instance, one time two of my colleagues got out of Denver very, very late and behind schedule on their flight into Riverton following a conference. They said when the plane finally did land in Riverton, it was 1 am and the doors were locked and no one was working at the Riverton airport! Someone had to be called and awakened to come and open up the airport for the late passengers.
But, back to my story. Thankfully, all worked out beautifully for me to get out of the frontier the next day. But, as Rita Faruki, from The Nature Conservancy, so aptly stated, she felt like Bill Murray in the movie, Groundhog Day, doomed to repeat the day over again. (I didn’t even unload my suitcase from my car into the house, and I wore the same outfit to the airport when I tried again, successfully, to fly out Tuesday.)
I should mention that I don’t have a problem flying on small planes. In fact, I prefer them to the big jets. I just wish they’d show up more often.
Also, even if they only show up 50% of the time, my experience is that they’ve gotten me to my destination safely 100% of the time.
And, often I’m flying with friends or neighbors â€“ there is always at least someone I know on my flight. Heck, I even went to school with one of the pilots, who is so much younger than my 41 years that it seems impossible he can be flying jets. (Where’s his “Bob the Builder” backpack, I think, and then remember he’s probably a good 38 years old by now).
Plus, when we’re taxiing out to the runway in Riverton, we’re ALWAYS “#1 for departure,” which is also pretty cool.
And probably the biggest thing I’ll add is it truly is a miracle that I can live out on the frontier, literally, and yet I have scheduled (albeit not super reliable) air service just 25 miles away. When things go right, I can leave Lander, WY, in the morning and be getting my toes wet in the ocean by early afternoon.
Would I trade living on the frontier of Wyoming for a city that has a big airport and provides reliable flights? Nope. Not a chance.
If this is the cost of living on the frontier, I’ll gladly pay it.
Thanks to my dad, Bill Sniffin, and Ernie Over, who provided some of the information about Wyoming being classified as a frontier and how we’re so outnumbered by animals here. These are two of Wyoming’s biggest boosters and they love Wyoming as much as I do.