By Dina Mishev
|Tiny towns are common in the least populated state in the country.|
Wherever I am — Nepal, Kosrae, Elko, San Francisco -— whatever I’m there for –—climbing, hunting for lost pirate treasure, skiing, visiting family -— as soon as it comes out that I’m a visitor, the first question is always the same: “Where are you visiting from?”
If there’s a better answer to that question than, “Wyoming,” I have yet to discover it. Talk about a conversation starter. It seems most everyone in the Western world knows of Wyoming, despite our tiny population and lack of big cities. And they all love it, even if they haven’t been there.
I once read that Steve McQueen brought fiancé Ali McGraw to Cheyenne on the train from Denver to get married because he knew their wedding would be news. He wanted the dateline to read “Cheyenne” instead of “Denver.” Evidently, Denver was just too, well, pedestrian and uninteresting. I get it.
After graduating from college, I could have moved to any number of ski towns. Aspen has cachet. Whitefish is cool because it’s in Montana, where beautiful movies like “A River Runs Through It” were filmed. Vail is huge. But I settled on Jackson.
|My beloved Tetons|
I didn’t pick Jackson because it had an amazing resort. I could barely ski at the time, so I certainly wasn’t looking for challenging terrain … I do appreciate that amazing resort now, though — but because it was in Wyoming. I liked the idea of living in the least populated state in the country. I had never met anyone from Wyoming before. (A small confession: I might also have picked Jackson in part because I knew Harrison Ford lived there; I had more than a little crush on Indiana Jones.)
I didn’t even know Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks were close to Jackson. Really all I cared about was that it was in Wyoming, the least populated state in the country. The state Harrison Ford lived in. Those things, primarily the former, made it interesting, mysterious and kind of sexy.
When professors would ask a group of students I was in what we were doing post-graduation, my answer, “I’m moving to Wyoming,” stuck out. Others would reply they were going on to consulting jobs in New York or Kansas City or to work for the Federal Reserve Bank in D.C. Once I was in a group that included someone going into the CIA. Even against a classmate about to embark on a career as a spy, my moving to Wyoming most intrigued the economics professor who had asked. He and I talked for 20 minutes about the road trip to Yellowstone his parents took him and his sister on 40 years earlier.
I’m writing this from a spa in Mexico. Upon check in, guests are given a list of everyone there at the same time. This guest list is organized by state. My friend and myself are the sole Wyomingites. Both of us have had people search us out because of it. One woman asked if there really are more cows than people in the state. (I actually don’t know, but I told her there are upwards of 13 different kinds of sage and way more antelope than there are people.)
A 50-something had spent part of the summer of 1977 in Hoback Junction and hadn’t been back since. She wanted to know what it was like now. I told her about the landslide that had closed the Snake River Canyon for two weeks. Overhearing this, one of the few men at the spa asked about the weather. He was literally struck speechless when I told him we had gotten more than 60 feet of snow so far that winter and that it was still snowing. “It’s like another planet,” he said. I nodded my head in agreement, knowing that once you spend some time in the state, May snow is among the least of the things that makes it so magical.
A 14-year resident of Jackson, Dina Mishev is the author of Total Tetons, an app available in the iTunes store. It was named a “New & Noteworthy” app by Apple when it launched in June 2010. Dina updates it regularly.