Rural Life in Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Wyoming

Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Wyoming: the fifth in a series on the best sections of North America in which to pursue rural life, including population, jobs and crime, real estate and taxes, and education and health.

| July/August 1987

Cream of the country: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Wyoming. The continuing series of the best sections of America to live a rural lifestyle. (See rural Wyoming photos in the image gallery.)

Rural Life in Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Wyoming

From Yellowstone—where the fire down below makes a fanciful surface display—mountain ranges fan out to frame the surveyor-perfect 90 degree corner of northwest Wyoming. To the east, the Beartooth and Absaroka; to the south, the Teton. Between these landmarks, in an area about the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined, lies the largest intact ecological community in the lower 48, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

It may also be the most spectacular. Grizzly and black bear, bison, moose, elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, antelope, bald and golden eagles—they're all common. An avalanche of adjectives and a continent of Kodachrome have been expended trying to capture the sights from the valley of Jackson Hole: the Tetons (so aptly anatomically named by lonesome French explorers for their resemblance to upright breasts) against the sunset, the Gros Ventres (again French, for large belly) in the dawn, the headwaters of the Snake River winding southwest, deep blue Jackson Lake at your feet.

A (mostly) still-pristine wonderland, northwest Wyoming is on everyone's vacation wish list. Four million people pass through Yellowstone and Teton National Parks every summer to marvel at Mother Nature's displays. A smaller but still significant number come in winter to play on the slopes of America's biggest ski area, to cross-country ski or snowshoe in the flats among moose and elk and to marvel at such endangered indigenous species as the cowboy.

Without a doubt, anyone who can manage ought to see northwest Wyoming in summer. And dedicated downhill skiers haven't lived fully until they've tried out the legendary powder on Jackson Hole Resort's 4,139 feet of vertical drop. Being a vacation paradise does not, however, perfectly qualify a region as a place to make a home in the country. For all its allure, is northwest Wyoming a place you would (or could) call home?

Wide Open Spaces

Wyoming's boundaries enclose some of the least-tamed acres in North America. At that, the acre really isn't an appropriate unit in a place with so much elbowroom. The state's half-million citizens are spread out over nearly 100,000 square miles, giving it a national rank of 50th in population density. That's right, fewer people per square mile than Alaska. Casper and Cheyenne (the capital) are the only cities (or so they're called by Wyomingites) that can claim more than 40,000 people. My gosh, Casper and Cheyenne are so urbane that each has a mall. Attention, shoppers: It's one heck of a long way from either mall to Jackson Hole (300 and 430 miles, respectively).

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