Pronghorn antelope all but outnumber people in wide-open WYOMING, the ninth largest but least populous state in the union, with just 576,000 residents. This is classic cowboy country – the inspiration behind Shane, The Virginian and countless other Western novels – replete with open range, rodeos and country-music dance halls. The state emblem, seen everywhere, is a hat-waving cowboy astride a bucking bronco, and the spurious “Code of the West”, signed into state law in 2010 and urging residents to follow such maxims as “ride for the brand”, illustrates Wyoming’s ongoing attachment to the myths of the Wild West.
Unlikely as it may seem, this rowdy state was the first to grant women the right to vote in 1869 – a full half-century before the federal government, on the grounds that the enfranchisement of women would attract settlers and increase the population, thereby hastening statehood. A year later Wyoming appointed the country’s first women jurors, and the “Equality State” elected the first female US governor in 1924. Today the state government is dominated by Republicans and President Obama managed just 28 percent of the vote in 2012 (only in Utah did he get less).
The mineral extraction industry and the tourism sector are the main drivers of Wyoming’s modern economy. Indeed, the state is home to one of America’s most famous natural attractions, the simmering geothermal landscape of Yellowstone National Park, along with the craggy mountain vistas of adjacent Grand Teton National Park. Travelling to Yellowstone from South Dakota on I-90 you will pass the helter-skelter Bighorn Mountains, likeable Old West towns such as Cody and Buffalo, and the otherworldly outcrop of Devils Tower; anyone crossing the state from Nebraska to Utah on I-80 will also pass a handful of worthy detours.