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Pronghorn antelope all but outnumber people in wide-open WYOMING, the ninth largest but least populous state in the union, with just 570,000 residents. Above all, 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.

Well over three million tourists per year head to Wyoming’s northwest corner to admire the simmering geothermal landscape of Yellowstone National Park, and the craggy mountain vistas of adjacent Grand Teton National Park. Between Yellowstone and South Dakota to the east are the helter-skelter Bighorn Mountains, likeable Old West towns such as Cody and Buffalo, and the otherworldly outcrop of Devils Tower.

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 rest of the country, 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.

The absence of rivers to irrigate farmland has put a lid on agricultural growth. Any weather-beaten, denim-clad stranger is just as likely to be an oil roustabout as a genuine cowboy, with mineral extraction having replaced livestock as the mainstay of the state’s economy in the early twentieth century; today, Wyoming’s coffers depend on profits from the coal, oil and natural gas industries.

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