Dubois Winters: If They Only Knew …

Dodging brutal New York weather in the Wyoming wilderness? You betcha.

wintertrail.With a vigilant eye on the weather apps, we made it back to Dubois from New York City last Friday by car, dodging the storms by many miles and barely seeing a snowflake. It’s wonderful to be back.

The following day, as you may have read, the city experienced a historic snowstorm.

Here’s today’s dispatch from the New York Times: “The slush continues: mostly sunny today, with a high of 43 … Especially in a large pile of nasty snow-dirt, you wouldn’t want to ruin your Sunday (or Wednesday) best. But most snow boots, even attractive ones, don’t exactly go with a power suit.”

Oh, my.

Meanwhile, I took the photo above during my mid-afternoon walk yesterday. I wasn’t wearing either snowboots or a “power suit,” needless to say.

“All our weekend plans are ruined,” our 30-year-old son, who lives in Brooklyn, moaned in a text message on Friday evening.

Dear, dear. They had to watch old movies on Netflix last Saturday and eat something made at home for a change (probably microwave popcorn), rather than going out.

BrooklynSnowWhile not denying that a few people in the city truly suffered as a result of the storm (and tragically three died), we know what it was like for our neighbors back there. Streets were closed to traffic and the dogs could run around off leash. Shovels and salt came out of the basement.

Here’s what they face, beginning now: Crusty snowbanks stained yellow and peppered with soot, impassably slushy crosswalks, trash cans obstructing sidewalks narrowed by snow, because the garbage trucks are busy plowing elsewhere.

Here’s today’s forecast for Dubois, Wyoming:

weather012716

It can be brutally, even subzero cold overnight and in the early morning this time of year. But as the wind is usually calm until mid-day, the morning walk around the property with the dog is seldom unpleasant, because layering up really works in this dry climate.

A few hundred feet higher in elevation, a short drive to the west, there’s plenty of base for snow-shoeing (and I’m eager to get out there). Two days ago, a sudden white-out forced Karen and me to turn back from our drive toward the mountain pass for our mid-day hike. But within a half hour, while trudging the back roads near my house, it was sunny again. A few miles downhill in town, it’s almost bare and dry

I’m told the original natives called this “the valley of the warm winds.” They’re not all that mild this time of year, but it is the truth that daytime temperatures in Dubois aren’t much different (setting aside the vagaries of weather) from those back in Brooklyn–as you see above, 40 versus 43.

It may snow sideways for three or four days–and we hope it soon does, because that moisture will be needed in a few months. But at least where we are, the wind always blows most of that blizzard away in short order.

When I consider the blessings of geology here, most often I’m thinking of the beauty of majestic mountain peaks and the cathedral walls of the Pinnacles. But being cradled within this mountain fortress, between the Absarokas and the Winds, also blesses us with protection in winter.

Here’s how I show it to friends out east, using my hand:

MapAndHandOff to the left of the image there, beyond my thumb, is Jackson and the Tetons, which famously get the bulk of the snow (and the downhill skiing industry, with its rowdy crowds).

Yellowstone Park is covered by my hand, off-screen, and my index finger points down the Absaroka range toward Dubois.

The hump of my hand, representing the top of Togwotee Pass and the Continental Divide, shields us from the bulk of the precipitation and cold temperatures. Yet again, this town and this lovely valley reap benefits from our unique situation.

Enough time at the desk! I want to get out there.

@ Lois Wingerson, 2016

Want to see more about living in Dubois WY? Sign up at the top of the right column to receive it by email.

Remotely and Wildly True: Of Dubois and Distance

Did National Geographic really call Dubois WY the most remote town in the lower 48? How remote is it, actually?

HighwayGoogle “Dubois WY” and you’ll soon encounter a statement that it has been designated the most remote town (or sometimes the second remotest town) in the lower 48 states. Often this distinction is attributed to National Geographic.

When we moved to Dubois, my husband and I quickly took up calling it one of the most remote towns in the lower 48 when we described it to friends. We even trotted out some criteria, whose origin I no longer recall: Farthest from the nearest Interstate, fewest traffic lights (none), fewest number of highways that run through it (one), distance to the nearest large town (about 70 miles), or proportion of land within a 360-degree radius that is publicly owned (who knows, but lots).

But is this distinction actually deserved? How remote is Dubois, and compared to what and by which criteria? Last summer I began to study the question, with interesting results.

First, I couldn’t find any such statement about Dubois in the archives of National Geographic. And many other towns lay claim to the distinction of being most remote.

I turned to local sources, Dubois town hall and the library. Sandy Hurst at town hall offered up text from a 2011 press release about Dubois:

“A place considered by National Geographic as the most remote town in the lower 48 states…  it perches on the edge of several wilderness areas and is surrounded by national forests.”

This traced back to a strategic plan for Dubois by the Foundation for Urban & Neighborhood Development of Denver, Colorado, dated 1986. The report said that Dubois had been “recently identified in national news media coverage” as the most remote location in the lower 48–the same unconfirmed designation that I was already seeing, albeit even older.

Anna Moscicki at the library turned up a wonderful quote from the memoir of Ethel Waxham, mother of the geologist David Love who defined the geological history of the Yellowstone region. Waxham wrote about her arrival in Wyoming by stagecoach in 1905:

“The other passenger beside myself was a woman of fifty or sixty, white-haired, face weather worn, bright brown eyes, Mrs. Welty. She was post mistress at Dubois, the post office farthest from the railroad of any in the U.S.”

Delightful, written when the railroads were still expanding, and perhaps an insight into the town’s perception of isolation. But not that relevant today.

In the course of promoting Living Dubois on Twitter, I was fortunate to gain the interest of Marilyn Terrell, chief researcher for National Geographic, who has also been unable to find any source for that attribution of Dubois’ remoteness by her publication (so we ought to stop using it). But she did point me to an article in Smithsonian magazine describing what truly may be the most remote settlement in the lower 48: the community of Supai, Arizona, located at the base of the Grand Canyon. At the bottom of that 3,000-foot crevasse, it is reachable only by mule train, which is how they get their mail.

But Supai isn’t really a town: It’s designated by the US Census Bureau as a “census-designated place,” which is the Bureau’s term for a populated place that is not an incorporated village and has no municipal government. So does Dubois still qualify?

Overlook7Author Henry Grabar on the website citylab.com looked into which towns were most remote by the criterion of being farthest from the nearest Interstate highway, honoring Key West, Florida, as being farthest as the crow flies, and Copper Harbor and Eagle Harbor, Michigan, (251 and 238 driving miles from the nearest Interstate), with an honorable mention to Paisley, Oregon (209 miles) due to the sheer difficulty of driving to the big highway.

Dubois is “only” about 173 miles from the nearest Interstate, at Idaho Falls, and is interestingly equidistant from Interstates at Rawlins, Casper, and Livingston MT (200, 199, and 199 miles, respectively). But considering only towns that are completely surrounded by Interstates (rather than having a national border or large body of water on at least one side), I do wonder whether Dubois might qualify as having the largest average distance to the Interstate in all 4 directions (193 miles).

If you aren’t familiar with Dubois, please be assured that you can buy plenty of groceries and hardware supplies in town, and it’s even easy to find a cafe latte. And by that other criterion of remoteness, Internet access, Dubois is marvellously well-connected. You feel the remoteness mostly by your proximity to all that wilderness.

Speaking of which, there is one remoteness criterion Dubois can legitimately claim without dispute: It is TwoOceanPasscloser than any other town in the United States to the spot in the lower 48 that is most remote from any road, and therefore reachable only on foot or by horseback. This is Two Ocean Plateau in the southeastern corner of Yellowstone Park.

This spot has been designated by the United States Geological Service as the location in the “coterminous” United States that is most distant from any road (the trailhead is at Moran, an unincorporated community). Dubois is 44.1 miles from Two Ocean Pass as the crow flies, and the plateau is farther north. Jackson is 48.8 miles away.

There is one criterion for remoteness by which Dubois fails miserably. The residents are hardly remote in their behavior toward other people. It’s one of the friendliest places I’ve ever encountered, which is one reason we go all that way to get there.

@ Lois Wingerson, 2016

You can sign up at the top of the right column to see new posts on LivingDubois via email.