May 29, 2020

Week 11: High Plains Drifting in Cheyenne, Wyoming

The Yellowstone Supercomputer…

All photos by the author.

Quick, what’s the highest U.S. state capital? We’re talking, of course, in terms of altitude that is… If you’re like me, you would’ve answered “Denver” (there’s that double entendre again) at least until about a week ago.

The answer is in fact, Santa Fe, New Mexico at 7,000 feet elevation, with this week’s travel destination of Cheyenne, Wyoming ranking second at 6,097 feet above sea level. Denver actually ranks third.

Avid followers of our 2014 summer adventures will recall that we made a brief afternoon journey into the state of Wyoming a few weeks back to stand in the shadow of Devil’s Tower. This past week sees us here to stay, as we explore all things related to Cowboy Culture and more.

One of several colorful boots in front of the historic Cheyenne train depot.

Think you know Wyoming? It’s more than just “That other square state out west with Yellowstone in the corner…” Tech giant Microsoft has recently moved one of its main cloud computing nodes to Cheyenne. And speaking of the famous park, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) also maintains its powerful petaflop Yellowstone computer on the edge of town.

NCAR Supercomputing Center on the edge of Cheyenne.

The visitor center is free to tour and open to the public during daytime business hours, and you can peer in to the enormous floor space from the exhibit hall to watch Yellowstone in action. And they promised us that they secretly don’t use it to play Call of Duty… Instead, Yellowstone   is run by the National Science Foundation and cuts its cyber-teeth on problems such as climate modeling, space-weather prediction, and much more.

The center is designed for expansion to about triple the size of its current capacity and plans to remain competitive over the next 20 years. And it’s just amazing to see the amount of infrastructure that goes in to meticulously maintaining the facility at a constant 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

Another look at Yellowstone.

And speaking of which, Cheyenne’s “high and dry” climate, along with its location along major rail and interstate access corridors was a chief factor in site selection for NCAR. Here in August, its pleasantly warm during the day and cool at night.

Without planning it, we actually departed Sturgis, South Dakota just before Biker Rally Week and arrived in Cheyenne just after Pioneer Days.

And this is truly Big Sky Country, with a clear, uncluttered horizon that hosts some stunning sunrises and sunsets. We’re definitely hankerin’ to get out under some of Wyoming’s legendary dark skies soon, where the nebulae and the Milky Way plays. And of course, we both purchased cowboy hats, though I decided to go with a more versatile and pre-worn Indiana Jones variety:

“We got some hats!”

There’s some great museums, dining and shopping to be had in downtown Cheyenne as well, and heck, it’s a train-lovers paradise. And we just had fun completing a quiet Sunday morning jog around the capitol building yesterday.

Mmmm… Dark Sky Black Ale at Freedom’s Edge Brewing Co. in downtown Cheyenne.

What’s next? Well, we’re pondering just that as we pick out our tent site on F.E. Warren Air Force Base tomorrow. We may head to the town of Rawlins, Wyoming for some historical eclipse research and maybe check out the Wyoming Infrared observatory outside of town…

Stay tuned!


  1. Justin says:

    Hey Dave:

    Where does NSA have its Data snooping senter? isn’t it in arizona?

    cool video of the place, nice to know the government uses data processing power for something good.


  2. David Dickinson says:

    No idea on that one… they promised me that Wyoming-NCAR is not being used for evil or classified DoD work.


  1. [...] of such a massive computer also poses an enormous challenge in terms of heat distribution. We got a behind the scenes look at NCAR-Yellowstone, and can tell you that the entire environmental system is a huge balancing act [...]

Speak Your Mind