Celebrating the Fourth of July in Arizona the past few years taught me all Americans don’t get belligerent and blow things up to celebrate the nation’s birthday.

Arizonans are much more mild mannered about the affair than those of my home state — crazy Wyomingites.

Which celebration is best is a matter of opinion.

The population of the 7,000-resident town I call home, Lander, Wyo., swells to double that on the third, and that’s when it all begins.

At the local watering hole, the Lander Bar, you can bump into anyone from the girl who had a locker next to yours in junior high to your journalism teacher on July 3, when the party starts.

On the morning of July 4, everyone walks to the parade that runs down Main Street, which divides the town right down the center.

The parade consists of homemade floats representing 4-H clubs, businesses, Girl Scouts and churches and takes up a good hour and a half of the morning. It’s the calm before the storm.

After the parade, the war is on.

Firecrackers explode around every corner, and it’s not unlikely to become the target of a teenage-boy bottle rocket ambush.

Does it hurt when you get hit by a bottle rocket? Yes. Is this safe, you may ask. Of course not.

Adult kickball games, trips to the fireworks stand and barbecuing fill the afternoon with activity while everyone waits for it to get dark.

When the sun disappears behind the Wind River Mountains, the big guns come out.

People in Lander love the Fourth of July. They love it so much they are willing to dump sometimes hundreds, and I’ve heard rumor thousands, of dollars into displaying their national pride with none other than earth-rattling, mind-blowing fireworks — some of which you swear can’t be legal.

In Lander, the fireworks ban simply says you can’t light them outside city limits. Inside the city, anywhere is fair game.

The night sky becomes a sea of red, blue, green and pink as fuse after fuse is lit.
Roman candles, Black Cats and artillery shells, rockets, fountains, whistlers and butterflies spew sparks in every direction.

The morning of the fifth, the streets and parking lots of Lander look like abandoned battle zones.

This year, on the contrary, I plan to spend the Fourth of July dipping in the pool, barbecuing with friends and my niece visiting from Wyoming, and watching the Cottonwood fireworks from the house patio — a comfortable distance from the chaos.