So help me, there truly is nothing like a Wyoming Fourth of July anywhere!
In cities and towns across Wyoming, people see July 4 as a time of fireworks and blowing things up. But one town tops all the rest in the state and perhaps the nation.
While watching televised images of the nighttime bombing of Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, I turned to someone and said: “I’ve seen that before.” It looked just like a typical night of July 4 in my hometown of Lander.
The Independence Day holiday has always been a big deal for Lander since it is the home of the oldest paid rodeo on earth — predating Cheyenne’s.
But in recent years, this holiday has become a pyrotechnic maniac’s dream.
In this town of 7,500 people, you can find at least 30 different locations where neighbors have banded together to light big displays of fireworks.
And this is in addition to the fire department’s official fireworks on the night of July 4.
It should be pointed out that the Lander Pioneer Days holiday includes a big pancake breakfast, lots of distance races, two days of rodeos, a wonderful parade on the morning of the Fourth (watched by 12,000 people), a huge Rotary Buffalo Barbecue at City Park at noon on that day, plus lots of other activities.
Because the July 4th holiday is such a big deal in my town, just about all the high school reunions are held during that time, too. It is truly a homecoming for folks to remember.
In our case, my family always shoots off fireworks on the evening of the 4th, but not to the extent of our neighbors. One of our traditions is to use cigars to light them. Some years ago I went to Europe and managed to sneak home five Cuban cigars to smoke at some later time.
Imagine my surprise (and horror) to come home to where our fireworks display was already starting and seeing that my wife Nancy had passed out my Cubans to the folks there to use to light the fireworks instead of my traditional Swisher Sweets. Incredible!
Sharing the credit (or blame) for Lander’s pyrotechnic excesses is Mayor Del McOmie. A Lander native, he has always felt this was a “tradition” that he can remember during his entire life of growing up locally.
“We want people to be safe and to be responsible,” McOmie says. “But people deserve to enjoy fireworks on the Fourth. It has always been a tradition here, where Independence Day is our biggest holiday of the year. As long as I am mayor, we will try to make it as much fun as possible.”
There is another side to the story. In an earlier column about Lander’s July 4 racket, Lander resident Nancy Debevoise has this to say: “From sun up until late at night on July 4, I feel as if I’m in some bomb-besieged third-world country.
“While some people are fairly responsible about fireworks, too many seem to spend the entire day and evening (and their paychecks) setting off round after round of peace-shattering noise, with no consideration for neighbors, others’ property or passersby,” she says.
Lucie Whisler recalled a fun-filled July 4 at her neighborhood at Lucky Lane in Lander, which consisted mostly of mountain climbers.
“Some bright souls decided to put a big firecracker in a bowling ball. The ball went to pieces, flying over houses, cars and people. Fortunately, no one was hit or hurt, and nothing was damaged. Don’t try this at home,” Whisler cautions.
The folks in the Indian Lookout neighborhood pool their resources and explode perhaps the most serious “amateur” show in town. People are stationed with hoses to extinguish fires that may erupt in the neighboring nature preserve.
It is almost impossible to adequately describe what Lander on the night of July 4 looks like. You just have to experience it. The sight is incredible. Lander sits in a valley, and a lot of folks live in the hills around town. They tell amazing stories of what it looks like, peering down at the siege.
In recent years, some amazing color time-exposure photos have been made of the explosions. Last year, one enterprising photographer sent a drone up into the middle of it all to get some of the most amazing images ever.
There really is no way to describe how it looks, feels and sounds to be in Lander on the night of July 4th. Probably somewhat like Baghdad, huh?
Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books. His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find them at www.wyomingwonders.com.