I had never thought of a place like Wyoming as having anything remotely in common with the Island of Hawai’i. But as we drove the belt of the Big Island, through fields and pastures, around mountains and into neighborhoods of extreme wealth juxtaposed with shanty towns, I could have been near Lander had I ignored the ocean off the port bow.
Both states have a long history of cattle ranching and cowboy culture. Cows were brought to Hawai’i in the early 1800s, and until very recently, the largest cattle ranch in the United States, Parker Ranch, was on the Big Island. Cows and cowboys dot endless waves of honeyed grasslands that tumble over lava flows into the saltwater world beyond. Ranching companies own entire towns, and fancy events are dressed for in a clean pair of boots and your best cowboy hat.
In between cattle herds are fields of windmills, perpetually on double duty in the tropical winds. Alternative energies are all the rage in Hawaii, as companies vie for green fuels futures in Wyoming. Cowboys have to share bar stools with hippies and surfers, who morph into hippies and climbers as the elevations goes up and the ocean fades away. Both cultures also have to mingle peaceably with historic indigenous populations who are making a stand for their heritage and history.
Even the architecture is the same, those flat, wooden, Old West facades lining wide streets full of old general stores and boardwalk pathways, only with palm trees instead of cacti or vise versa.
The communities feel the same, too, odd in their diversity and standoffish, but not entirely unfriendly. Beer is the drink of choice, and people spend their nights hanging out around bonfires in the summer and seeking out the perfect powder for snowboarding in the winter.
The mountains in Hawaii rise up as starkly as they do in Wyoming, suddenly appearing in the surrounding plains through a clearing of fog, craggy and moonlike. Alpine lakes melt into high deserts into thick forests into shimmering saffron plains.
Though admittedly, Hawaii is the only place in the world where you can snowboard in the morning and surf in the afternoon.