In 2021, Wyoming began to emerge from the pandemic as health orders fell away and some facets of life started to resemble pre-COVID times. 

The pandemic continued to ignite political fires, dividing people over everything from mask use to vaccine mandates, but for many in the state, life started to regain some normalcy. Ranchers branded cattle, forest technicians built trails, lawmakers debated legislation, spring snowstorms buried towns, wildfire smoke filled the air and citizens celebrated the lives of beloved Wyoming residents. 

WyoFile’s photographers captured the interpersonal drama, the magnificence of nature and the emotions of state citizens confronting a post-pandemic world. Here, in no specific order, are our photographs of the year. 

Emery Elliott helps castrate calves during a branding at the Hell & Back Ranch near Douglas. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

At a branding day on the Hell & Back Ranch near Douglas this summer, photographer Mike Vanata chronicled a female-dominated team doing the physical and bloody work

Cowgirls huddle around a calf at a branding this summer on the Hell & Back Ranch near Douglas. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Gov. Mark Gordon participated in the March 2021 session remotely. 

Gov. Mark Gordon, who participated in the March 2021 session remotely, prepares for his state of the state address March 1 from the Historic Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

After a dry winter in many parts of the state, spring storms dumped snow on Wyoming. 

WYDOT crews work to clear the I-80 summit of snow early on March 15, 2021. This week’s storm closed the interstate for several days. (WYDOT)

John Fandek is the longest-serving feeder on Wyoming Game and Fish’s 22 winter elk feedgrounds.

John Fandek, elk feeder, at the Black Butte Feedground on Feb. 28, 2021. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

Wyoming’s national parks saw record-breaking visitation this year. Park managers are mulling management options as they anticipate the trend continuing. 

Visitors’ vehicles line up at the entrance to Grand Teton National Park earlier this summer. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

Thousands of mourners lined blocks and blocks of downtown Jackson in September to honor Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum as a hearse carried the Marine’s remains home.

A hearse bearing the remains of U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum passes through Jackson on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. The Marine died at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 26, 2021. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has a responsibility to work with Yellowstone National Park’s ecosystem neighbors to resolve vexing cross-boundary conservation problems like climate change, wildfire, crushing visitation and wildlife that “don’t see borders,” she said during a September visit.

Wearing a beadwork necklace, earrings and bracelet given by Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribal leaders, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland talks about the troubles faced by Yellowstone National Park and its surrounding ecosystem during a visit to Yellowstone on Aug. 13, 2021. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly view the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River on Aug. 13, 2021. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

Vahe’ Alaverdian moved from Los Angeles to Wyoming’s upper Green River Basin in 2015. The master falconer chose the region for its wide-open sagebrush landscape and vast expanse of public lands.

Master falconer Vahe’ Alaverdian checks his tracking app during an early morning training session with his falcons in the upper Green River Basin. Wyoming’s sagebrush landscape and its greater sage grouse provide the perfect setting to train his falcons, he said, which he uses to abate nuisance birds for clients on the West Coast. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Schools were ground zero for political disputes in 2021 as debates over everything from masking to curriculum unfolded.

Students, parents and staff gathered in the playground at Verda James Elementary School in Casper for the first day of school on Sept. 1, 2021. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Smoke from distant wildfires hung heavy in the air across much of Wyoming over the summer. 

Wildfire smoke turns the sun into a blood-orange disk in August 2021 between Douglas and Bill in a landscape dotted with wind turbines and drilling rigs. (Alan Nash/@alannash59)

The October release of nearly 50 buffalo was the latest chapter of a long-term restoration project on the Wind River Indian Reservation. 

Patti Harris-Baldes helps coax buffalo out of a trailer on Oct. 16, 2021. (Brad Christensen)

Jayden Ungaro, who grew up in Green River, captured this stunner of a landscape shot near Pilot Butte Wild Horse Loop.

Wildflowers bloom as the sunset puts on a show outside of Green River. (Jayden Ungaro)

Federal contract wranglers set out to round up 4,300 wild horses in southwest Wyoming, the culmination of years of conflict among land and wildlife managers, ranchers and horse advocates.

A helicopter drives a band of wild horses into the BLM trap near Superior on Thursday. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

More than 300 people attended the dedication ceremony for a veterans memorial on the Wind River Indian Reservation. 

Veteran Kassel Weeks listens to a speaker during the Aug. 12, 2021 dedication ceremony for the Path of Honor Wind River Veterans Memorial in Fort Washakie. (Kirk Rasmussen/WyoFile)

Dramatic eruptions of solar flares in November made the northern lights visible — if distant — in parts of Wyoming. 

Green hues from the northern lights reflect off Deaver Reservoir near Powell at around 3:30 a.m. on Nov. 4, 2021. Low clouds partially obscured the view of aurora borealis, according to photographer Greg Wise. (Greg Wise)

The Continental Divide Trail near Togwotee Pass got a new, more scenic reroute thanks to a trail project that was years in the making. 

Crew member Mason Johnsonvincent works with hand tools to clear a new segment of the Continental Divide Trail. (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

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