Wyoming book tour: discovering new pioneers in the old West
by Marilyn Skinner Lanier
Early August 2016
I’d been getting ready for weeks. Firmed up stops at indie bookstores in Laramie, Cheyenne, Casper, Cody, and Jackson for the week of August 8-12—towns that form a diagonal across the state from southeast to northwest Wyoming, through Yellowstone National Park to the Grand Tetons.
I’d contacted bookstores and local newspapers with names that echo the rural West: The Second Story in Laramie, City News in Cheyenne, Wind City Books in Casper, Legends Bookstore in Cody, and Valley Bookstore in Jackson, the Laramie Boomerang and the Jackson Hole News & Guide.
After Cody, Bob and I would drive to our family ranch near Clark where my family lived in the mid-1950s—the place that inspired my debut novel, Hardpan.
But this time our ranch house wouldn’t be there. During my last visit, in 1973, I didn’t imagine our ranch house would burn down some twenty years later. Even so, the ranch land would be there—all thirteen hundred acres of it.
Once more I’d marvel at the rugged expanse of sagebrush and cultivated fields interrupted by the Clarks Fork River winding its way to the Yellowstone and wonder at alfalfa fields that continue to defy the pounding winds and moisture-starving sun.
The spectacular setting won’t have changed much. That backdrop of the rugged Rocky Mountains soaring to Colter Pass at Cooke City, Montana would look as majestic as ever.
I’m buzzing at the prospect of meeting people who are interested in reading my book, and talking with Wyoming natives eager to find out more about this tale of a young ranch family dealing with unexpected challenges and hardships in the era after World War II, a tale that resonates with their own lives.
So jump into the old pickup, my friends. Come along with me on this sentimental journey to the old West of the 1950s—the West before paved roads found remote cattle ranches in northwest Wyoming, the West before TVs and computers and the Internet took over everyday communications …
Last Stop: Valley Bookstore in Jackson
Bright and early Friday morning, Bob and I left Cody—the east entrance to Yellowstone Park—for our final destination on the book tour: the Valley Bookstore in Jackson where I had scheduled a book signing, more like a meet-and-greet, for 10 o’clock on Friday morning.
I was excited about the beautiful drive to Jackson. The itinerary took us on a drive almost identical to the roads my family took many times during warmer months in the 1950s to visit my grandparents’ ranch in eastern Oregon. Winter months required a northerly route through Bozeman, Montana because the east entrance to Yellowstone was closed (still true today).
Just as I recalled, the highway along the Shoshone River as we approached Buffalo Bill Dam and Reservoir a few miles west of Cody severely narrows through Shoshone Canyon. When construction on the dam ended in 1910, it was touted as the world’s tallest dam. It’s still an impressive structure, offering a dizzying view of water from the Shoshone River trickling far below.
After gawking at the enormity of Yellowstone Lake and being wowed by the wonder of Old Faithful and the geyser pools nearby, we spent a second night at Hatchet Resort in Moran, on the eastern border of Grand Teton National Park.
It was a peaceful sanctuary from the summer crowds in Yellowstone partaking of the grand old park that is seven times the size of Grand Teton Park.
We were taken by the serenity and spectacular beauty of the Hatchet Valley with the Grand Tetons jutting behind.
Friday morning we awoke to a glorious sunny day. I wondered how many more mornings in August would be free of frost or heavy dew. I was excited at the prospect of holding my final book signing of the week at the Valley Bookstore in Jackson.
Shortly after leaving the Hatchet Ranch, we joined the main highway going west some thirty miles into Jackson. I found myself mesmerized by the lushness of the narrow valley known as Jackson Hole that threads along the Snake River into Jackson. With the spectacular Tetons as a backdrop,
this valley is a feast for the eyes as well as
In Jackson, before finding the bookstore at 125 N. Cache Street, we discovered the Cowboy Coffee Company, a popular espresso shop with the same address.
While waiting for our morning latte, we found the bookstore around the corner in an interior boardwalk of shops called Gaslight Alley.
When I walked into the bookstore with my bag of books and laptop computer a few minutes later, I was greeted by Stacey Smith. She showed me to the table that she had set up in front of the store, finished off with a cheerful green plaid tablecloth and an awning for shade from the brilliant summer sun.
I was grateful for the beautiful outdoor setting that afforded me the opportunity to greet locals and tourists strolling by, poking into jewelry and art shops as well as the bookstore. It was the perfect way to conclude my Wyoming Book Tour.
I shared my story about having lived on a cattle ranch in Clark, Wyoming during the 1950s—the source of inspiration for my debut novel, Hardpan. Invariably, the passerby would peer closely at me as if to sniff out the truth of the story.
“Your father was a rancher?”
“Yes,” I responded, proudly pointing toward the photos rotating on my laptop screen. “Take a look at some of my photos from that era.”
Within minutes, my visitor would turn back to me and smile. “That’s really something! Now, what is your book about again?”
It was heartening to know they had connected to my story. It had become more real for them. I would hand them a bookmark as a takeaway, and a few promised to buy a paperback. My writerly life doesn’t get any better than that!
Marilyn Skinner Lanier grew up on her grandparents’ ranch in Jordan Valley, Oregon, serious cattle country and home to Basque sheepherders, until spring 1954 when her parents moved to an even bigger cattle ranch in Clark, Wyoming. Therein lies the setting and stimulus for her debut novel, Hardpan, published by Westerly Directions Press in 2015.
Since retiring from San Francisco State University in July 2014, Marilyn has pursued her writerly career in earnest. She participated in the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference as a way to immerse herself in the craft of writing, and shortly thereafter joined the Redwood Writers, a large and active branch of the California Writers Club. Two short stories, “The Drop-off” and “The Invisible Delivery Man,” have been selected for publication this Fall in the 2016 Redwood Writers Anthology. A short non-fiction piece, “Letter to Beatriz,” was published online on Medium.