The Tumble Inn Lounge Cafe in Powder River. (Thomas Hawk/FlickrCC)

If you’re hankering for a true Western vacation, come to the Cowboy State, where we live by the slogan, “Wyoming is what America used to be.”  

Perhaps you’re yearning for a conversation that doesn’t involve which COVID shot you got, Pfizer or J&J. If so, Wyoming belongs on your itinerary: The state boasts all 11 of the most vaccine-hesitant counties in the nation. There’s nothing Moderna about modern Wyoming!

Wyoming has a long history of anti-vaxxers, and many can be found in our Legislature. As State Sen. Troy McKeown (R-Gillette) falsely claimed, “The death rate from the vaccination so far is almost as high — if not higher — than the death rate from COVID.” We did have a mask mandate for a few months, but most people ignored it. Several legislators even hosted mask-burning rallies at the state Capitol.

In Wyoming, we’ve got cows and we’ve got coal. But we’re having a heck of a time getting rid of that coal. And that is making us mad, because no one could have seen this coming. 

But we’re responding like rugged individualists: We’re going to sue the bastids. After Gov. Mark Gordon said, “I will not waver in my efforts to protect our industries, particularly our coal industry,” our legislators passed a bill giving him a $1.2 million slush fund to sue any state that has the nerve to pass laws that “impede Wyoming’s ability to export coal or that cause the early retirement of coal-fired generation facilities in Wyoming.” 

Once you come to Wyoming, it’s easy to pretend you’re back on the lightly populated Western frontier of 1890 or so. According to the 2020 census, Wyoming added just 13,000 residents over the past decade, a roughly 2% growth rate — by far the lowest in the Mountain West.

Idaho and Utah might be booming, while Wyoming is playing it safe by staying stagnant. But you won’t have to worry about any troublesome young ‘uns. A recent study by the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services shows that the population of 25- to 40-year-olds decreased by 6% in the last half of the decade. No rowdy whippersnappers to get in the way: Folks who grow up in Wyoming flee as soon as they get a chance, because good jobs are harder to find than endangered black-footed ferrets.

Fact is, millennials have become our primary export. 

So who were those 13,000 people who did move here? Many were millionaires who flocked to Wyoming to dodge taxes. But you won’t have to interact with them because they’re hidden away on their sprawling ranches.

“Mega-stars like Harrison Ford, Sandra Bullock, Jeffree Star, and RuPaul are snatching up real estate across Wyoming, a state known for mud, manure and manual labor,” MTV Pop Factor host Yoonj Kim said on a recent episode. Why Wyoming? “To save money,” she explained. Wyoming is a tax haven for the wealthy, which means these newcomers contribute little to the public coffers.

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In Wyoming, where revenue ends, adventure begins. In addition to playing the new road-trip game — “Guess the future Wyoming ghost town” — you can experience the thrill of being in the outback without assurance of medical care.

Thanks to Wyoming’s refusal to generate tax revenue, at least 10 communities are in danger of losing emergency ambulance service. So if you get seriously hurt while mountain biking (as I did, 30 miles from the nearest hospital), you can howl beside a lonesome road for hours on end — just like the coyotes — with nothing to disturb you, except maybe the coyotes.

And if you do make it to a hospital, you’ll get to live like the Wild West gambler you’ve always longed to be. Most of our rural hospitals are losing money, in large part because the state has refused to expand Medicaid, so they’ve been forced to eliminate some personnel and services. We call it “Wyoming Roulette”: Will the hospital (if you can find one) be equipped to help you?

Be prepared to open your wallet, regardless. Health-care procedures in Wyoming are among the most expensive in the nation. If the hospital you finally stagger into lacks the expertise to treat you, better hope your insurance covers helicopter rides. Our bare-bones hospitals often have to fly patients elsewhere, and $100,000 bills are not uncommon.

Still, a no-tax, no-vax Wyoming vacation may be just the adventure you need. Come to Wyoming and live dangerously! We’ll be waiting for you, pardner.

 

This piece was originally published by Writers on the Range, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about Western issues, and reprinted here with permission.

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22 Comments

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  1. I laughed seeing the picture of the long-abandoned steakhouse and fat cowboy sign. Isn’t it at Hell’s Half Acre? I’m grateful for having been born and raised in Wyoming. I left in 1987 but still care and try to stay informed.

    That said, Mr Palmer, I offer the observation that condescending snark, while gratifying to one’s amour-propre, is ineffective rhetoric: it convinces only those who already applaud you.

    Happy trails.

  2. Dear Bruce,
    Wyoming doesn’t want medicaid expansion because as you pointed out we don’t have enough tax revenue to float it. I’m surprised that at your age you don’t understand hard choices when it comes to budgeting.
    Medicaid expansion isn’t free money that the government fairies poop out especially for you. It comes from us. Look at New York like a cat covering up its own poopies they are cutting medicaid programs left and right because when the fed $ dried up and the burden shifted to New Yorkers they simply couldn’t bear the weight.
    Having rich people move to Wyoming is not the biggest problem Wyoming faces its none stop bad mouthing and nay saying that kills promise here. I know of many many people who have moved here with very little and prospered all while creating jobs.
    The notion that everything in life should be easy and handed to you is not a Wyoming value.
    If you want a decked out super hospital right near where your mountain biking then you should go to Colorado. They will happily oblige with the fancy subsidized hospitals the rest of America pays for.
    Wyoming truly is the final frontier and the majority of us like to keep it that way. We don’t want rich peoples taxes or government programs or hot air blown out of tight holes we are happy to work hard and have pride in knowing we can care for ourselves.
    Have you looked into Colorado I feel like that may be a good fit for your moral compass.
    Your truly,
    Christine
    Homesteader, homeschoolerer, wild west freedom fighter

  3. Look at the entire country around us. I’m from Cheyenne and I agree with Wyoming. By keeping it small and quiet is not stagnant. Why does every state have to grown into a huge mess? That’s not progress. Cheyenne was a town of about 12 thousand when I was growing up and look how it has grown! The Dems want to destroy every last good place in the country. Wyoming needs to continue to protect itself and keep it as is.

  4. Bruce Palmer has a dog. It’s a mixed breed three legged one eyed old rancher rescue dog named ” Satire” . It snuck into the room and bit everyone in the duff. And got away with it.

    They still don’t know…

  5. W e’re almost overwhelmed by people relocating to Wyoming – refugees from places like California and eastern states with serious multiple problems. They love our low taxes and culture. Unfortunately, some just can’t adjust to good ol” Wyoming and our unique way of living – love it or leave it. Our climate, remoteness and old fashioned way of doing things is highly effective in keeping the masses away thus preserving Wyoming as we know it. If you don’t fit in you’re the problem. I adjusted nicely to Wyoming and embraced her culture instead of whining , criticizing and complaining. And yes, we love our guns so get over it. Accept Wyoming as we are or leave.

    1. If you are so intolerant of people exercising freedom of speech guaranteed by our beloved Bill of Rights by expressing opinions that are (GASP!!!) different than your own, then perhaps you are the one who should leave. I think you are not even in the right country. I understand Saudi Arabia is beautiful this time of year and has the type of autocratic gubmint you are actually seeking.

  6. Goodness! I suppose it’s naive of me to be surprised by all these comments suggesting that if you don’t like the way things are here, you should leave. We can’t even laugh at ourselves? This is a humorous piece that highlights many of our character flaws 1) One of the reasons our population growth is so low is because people really are packing their bags and leaving. Please stop suggesting that! We need everybody we can get. 2) We also need a diversity of thinkers. Just because someone presents a picture that does not fit your belief system does not mean that the person has no value, should shut up, and hates this state. 3) Pretending that Wyoming is the greatest place on earth does not make it so. I love Wyoming. I am frustrated about state finances and the idea that we can “cut” ourselves out of this problem. I am angry that a handful of legislators use their office to perpetuate myths. I am depressed that we seem to have an incredibly passive attitude about our ability to fix things – raise more money, make schools better, provide more services for seniors, save the ambulance services in jeopardy, and so on. We are not powerless! We can fix these things if people have the will and are ready to do the work. Again, I love Wyoming and I think this column is hilarious.

  7. America used to be more racist, misogynist, homophobic, xenophobic, ignorant, narrow and small. The folks who invented this slogan may think it is a compliment and MAGAbillies may also think that. But to the rest of America, except maybe in other backwaters like Alabama and Mississippi, saying that Wyoming is like America used to be is not a compliment but an insult.

  8. Wow. Kinda hard to unpack all the false assumptions here that lead to misleading, agenda-driven conclusions.
    Bruce Palmer? Who is he again?

    1. @Richard, it would have been interesting for you to have worked to unpack one or two of the assumptions you consider false, so that we could learn something more than the fact that you dislike the conclusions.

      Personally, as someone who has deep roots in Wyoming (my father grew up in Wheatland, and I was born in Weston County), I care about Wyoming’s future. It saddens me to see the coal industry collapsing, And it saddens me too, to see how low the vaccination rate against Covid-19 is; the pandemic is not yet over, and what with the Delta variant of the virus making it way across the US, Wyoming may still have a few more awful months ahead of it.

  9. Ho hum. Another write-up using worn out colloquialisms, a general looking down the nose at you attitude that grows boring and old. Hate Wyoming? Don’t live here! There are 49 other states (so far, that is, until D.C. and Puerto Rico get added) where you can live among more people, all probably smarter and more highly educated than the lowly Wyomingite. The crowded highways will garner you an emergency response more quickly, the more intelligent and better trained hospital staff (in your opinion) will be better able to serve you, and government subsidies will keep you on track. If it’s more people you seek, there are numerous places not far away where you can find them. But to repeat: just another ho-hum deprecating commentary, to appease those folks who comment in like manner on Wyo File .

  10. Mr. Palmer, feel free to move to Colorado or Idaho if you think they have it figured out. We will stay broke and happy.

  11. Excellent. Probably meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but describes reality in the backward state very accurately. Ride ’em lil buckaroos!

  12. Maybe Wyoming can create a new industry based on o ur demographics . We can call ourselves a research center and pull in thousands of Sociologists and other professionals from around the world who are interested in studying first hand the effects of zero progress on a state. It’s actually like a laboratory setting and we have beautiful scenery, too.

    Nicely written piece – I emailed it tofriends around the country.

  13. Boy howdy can’t wait! While yer at it get a strong drink from the drive-thru liquor store, stock up guns and shoot some varmints. Try Eden, Wyoming for a sure-fire trip back to the old west. Go ahead and shoot an elk while you’re at it and leave it long enough for the grizzly bears to find it, then shoot yourself a griz and call it self defense. Or, you can enjoy elk steak fresh from a feedlot where it has contracted Chronic Wasting Disease. Who knows you might b the human that facilitates the jump of CWD to homo sapiens. Wyoming: Why Not?

  14. MY SON – HAL HERRON – WHO LIVES IN RIVERTON, WY – SENT ME THIS ARTICLE BY BRUCE PALMER VIA EMAIL. I LOVED IT – LOVE WYOMING – JUST WANTED YOU TO KNOW…..IT WAS BEAUTIFULLY DONE……..

  15. I have visited Wyoming 4 times this past year looking for a place to retire. I have found decent people with common sense. As a life long Californian I can tell you this is not the case in my state. Here you will find a state overrun by illegal aliens, homeless from other states, and COVID. Our governor just announced after we defeat COVID, our next great priority will be taking our state tax dollars to pay slavery reparations. I suggest Bruce move to San Francisco!

  16. I find it amazing that your commentary was completely negative about Wyoming. So people don’t want to wear masks-then wear yours if it makes you feel safe. Don’t need a mandate for that. As to cases, as of end of May, we have had an 18% drop in cases; and average 7 hospitalizations per 100,000.

    And Medicaid-you do realize that we pay for that as taxpayers? And howl as you did when you got hurt mountain biking, you made that decision to place yourself at risk in the mountains? Isn’t that kind of the point of mountain biking anyway? To be miles away from civilization? Maybe you should consider Seattle.

  17. This is wonderful, Bruce! I laughed but oh, goodness, it’s all too true. You’re a state treasure! Keep it up.

    Louise