While in Gillette, I hopped in a van with 10 other folks for a free tour of the Eagle Butte coal mine. The tours are run by Foundation Coal West, a Baltimore, Md. company, that owns two of the 21 coal mines in Gillette. Coal from the hundred-mile seam that runs beneath and around Gillette is considered "clean" because of its low sulphur content.
Above-ground coal mining is probably not a bad gig. The work is done by mega machines and vehicles, and drivers need no prior experience. Hourly wages start at $19 and top out around $46 for drivers. The average annual wage of a Gillette mine worker is $54,800, according to a handout provided by Foundation Coal West.
This is a shovel that's used by the trucks to grab the coal. Coal weighs less than dirt and is sold to power plants for about $2 a ton.
The trucks themselves can weigh as much as 360 tons and hold 1,800 gallons of gas, with proportionate amounts of engine oil and antifreeze. Tires cost tens of thousands of dollars apiece and need to be replaced after several months.
In front of this truck are members of the Ewald family, who just moved to Gillette for a job at a power plant.
"I tend to have more faith in personal expressions as a way of changing things than overtly political ones."
— Christopher Amend in his Gillette, Wyo. studio
In 2000 Gillette had 19,000 residents and today there's closer to 35,000, I'm told by Brian Pierce of the convention and visitor's bureau.
And that's one of many growth spurts in the history of the city, whose economy is based on mineral extraction.
There is a smallish downtown and huge newer shopping area. Lots of city financed amenities, including a free swimming pool (with lines out the door!)
What could be more American than the wild mustang? There are several bands of horses scattered throughout the middle of the U.S. and though their genetic makeup differs, they are all hardy, healthy, intelligent survivors.
Last week I drove into the Devil's Canyon recreation area, northeast of Lovell, Wyoming and into southern Montana in hopes of a mustang sighting.
I was blown away by the quiet majesty of the painted desert terrain – massive red rocks and a curving cliffs that look down 1,000 feet to Bighorn Lake.
Armani and I went swimming.
I meditated for a minute atop these cliffs, while flying birds and wind swished past my face.
And while I was on my way back from the canyon, I spotted this guy:
Here's how close he was to my van:
"The first casualty of the Iraq War was from Powell. His funeral was here at the college. There were talks of protests. It was a really difficult time… Wyoming is a very traditional state…. I think that might have toppled it (the sense of unquestioning patriotism) a bit."
— Rowene Weems, director of Powell's Homesteader Museum
This is on the side of the video store, which I thought was pretty cool!
Ilene Olson is news editor of the twice-weekly Powell Tribune, circulation 4,000.
The city of Powell has just 5,300 residents. Not all the paper's subscribers are residents; many once lived, worked or attended college in the town. But that's still a pretty impressive percentage rate!
A news staff of four covers the traditional beats, including courts and cops, and makes sure to tell the local feature stories as well or better than its three print competitors, says Olson.
Issues affecting national lands and and agriculture get special attention.
"The reason I started in journalism is really the reason I stay," she says. "I love people and finding out what makes them tick."
The paper and the town turn 100 this year.
"I never did consider myself patriotic because I grew up in the Vietnam era and was a protester. My views have changed over the past few years. I think there's a lot of hope for America (because of) the fact that America was willing to take such a drastic change with the last election."
— Camilla Boykin-Jones, jewelry designer and owner of Indigo Magpie boutique in Cody, Wyoming
I'm in Buffalo Bill's old stomping grounds. He built this tourist-friendly hotel. Guess lots of bikers dig the city of 9,000, too.
This snippet of Constitution is on a garage door!
Don't worry, I'm not going to stop blogging. But I thought I should address a couple things that keep coming up.
People often ask me what my "thesis" is for this project, and that's a great question. You can check out my about page to see why I'm doing this.
As a journalist and amateur sociologist, though, I'm trying to keep my own opinions from heavily affecting what I present to you.
Of course, my "coverage" is bound to be skewed by my political views! Also, because I'm driving my house and dog everywhere with me, I'm sticking to smaller cities and towns, which has so far resulted in pretty poor ethnic diversity.
I'll try to work on that.
I am finding patriots are everywhere!
If I had to choose a thesis for this project, so far, I'd say it's that there is a powerful connection between American identity and wild lands. I'd probably argue that we need to actively preserve and promote our landscape in order to maintain a connection to our rugged, individualistic history.
That may sound 101 to lots of you, but growing up and spending much of my adult life in the suburbs and city, it's actually not something I really connected until recently.
The other thing that's been bugging me is the fact my focus on patriotism is not obvious when you peruse my blog.
Because I'm not getting paid, I've been using this forum as a travel diary in addition to my project. I'll try to stick closer to Americana stuff in the future.
Lastly, you would not believe the juggling act required to post sometimes. Many of my entries have been shorter than I'd like, but just know that I am on deadline – the deadline imposed by a flickering bar of wi-fi and the waning batteries in my electronics.
As always, I love getting feedback so please comment or email me.
And enjoy this mural on the wall in Cody, Wyoming!