The federal government finally entered the irrigation business in 1902, after it became clear that large infusions of public funds were needed to build projects big enough to be effective in the arid West. The eventual result was a dozen dams across Wyoming, but crop agriculture here remains scarce.
The National Park Service’s Mission 66, initiated in 1956, modernized facilities, built new ones, built roads and added dozens more parks and historic sites. In Wyoming, architects designed buildings meant to enhance visitors’ experiences while protecting the wonders they came to see. The results recast Americans’ relationships with natural beauty.
Chester A. Arthur, the first president to visit Yellowstone, traveled there in 1883 by stage and horseback from the railroad at Green River through the Shoshone Reservation and Jackson Hole. The trip generated political pressure to preserve the park in its natural state—and to stave off commercial development.
In 1904, when the Old Faithful Inn opened in Yellowstone Park, it was seen as a treasure: rustic and luxurious, breathtaking yet casual. It came to be a symbol of Yellowstone, and its building style, called parkitecture, spread quickly to other national parks, dude ranches, state parks and small museums.
Tribal sovereignty, retained by the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho since before Wyoming statehood,governs wildlife conservation on the more than two million acres of tribal lands on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Game populations have increased steadily since a tribal game code was adopted in 1984.
In 1869 and 1871, John Wesley Powell led two expeditions from Wyoming Territory down the Green and Colorado rivers. These and other explorations brought him to a profound understanding of how the West’s aridity limits its economic prospects. He directed the U.S. Geological Survey from 1881-1894, and his ideas still affect land and water policy today.
In 1898, Wyoming State Auditor Billy Owen and friends climbed the Grand Teton and claimed they were first to do so. Counterclaims quickly surfaced, dating back to 1872. In 1929, Owen persuaded the Wyoming Legislature to name him the first and had a plaque made to make it official. But the controversy continues.
Aven Nelson, one of the University of Wyoming’s original faculty, became a world famous botanist. He founded the Rocky Mountain Herbarium on campus, which contains 1.3 million plant specimens from throughout the world. From 1917-1922, he served as university president, but was happy to return to botany when he got the chance.
Mountaineer Finis Mitchell shared his love of the Wind River Range through postcards, public talks and a famed, hip-pocket hiking guide. He ran a fishing camp, worked on the railroad, stocked mountain lakes with fingerling trout and served in the Wyoming House of Representatives. Mitchell Peak was named in his honor.
Recent, surprising discoveries including a prehistoric village in the Wind River Range above Dubois, Wyo., suggest humans—most likely ancestors of today’s Shoshone people—lived high-mountain lives as long as 10,000 years ago.