Wilds of WyomingBy Jane Durell
Cheyenne is a fine town. If you arrive from somewhere east—as I do—it’s like another country. Living proof that cowboy hats are men’s most becoming headgear is plentiful, and boots are worn by both sexes. Boots are also the civic signature—taller even than a man in a cowboy hat and decorated imaginatively, boot-shaped casts enliven the street scene all over downtown.
The most exciting time to visit Cheyenne is during Frontier Days in mid-summer (cfdrodeo.com), when the entire city celebrates its western heritage. A trolley ride is the quickest way to get a handle on the place. A driver-narrator tells you how the town began as a tent city in 1867, even as you pass substantial red sandstone buildings that reflect the city’s quick prosperity. Cattle Baron Row is a street of grand houses built in the 1880s, but Gunslingers’ Park at 15th Street and Pioneer Avenue reminds that these were perilous times.
You can get off at the Governor’s Mansion (ring the bell to get in), at museums or elsewhere, and board the trolley again the next time it comes round.
But Cheyenne is also a gateway to other western experiences, among them Saratoga Springs and the tiny town of Encampment. In summer, Wyoming Highway 130 takes you to the region, a gorgeous trip through Medicine Bow National Forest. The local name, Snowy Range Pass, suggests why that road sometimes doesn’t open until July.
Fur traders were meeting at Encampment as early as 1838; before the end of the century copper was discovered and the place boomed. The boom is only memory now, fostered in the town’s interesting and enthusiastically curated museum. There, a bathtub conceived along the same lines as a Murphy bed can be unfolded, and among the outdoor buildings is a genuine, two-story outhouse—top floor to be used when snow blocked the bottom one. In June, the annual Woodchoppers Jamboree and Rodeo has Encampment hopping.
We stayed at nearby Saratoga Springs, named for the New York town that also enjoys mineral hot springs. Hobo Hot Springs in Saratoga is open free of charge 24 hours a day, every day, just as it was when Native Americans were the only users around. This pretty little town is now a resort destination, with interesting shops and restaurants.
Centennial (centennialwyoming.com), laid out on the flank of a mountain, is another town where visitors are made pleasantly welcome and the local color seems wholly genuine. The population stays at a steady 100 persons, leaving unanswered the question of who leaves when a baby is born. We had a satisfying lunch in the restaurant of the Mountain View Hotel, which has a total of six rooms to rent.
If you’re tired of the same old stateside travel spots, and you live somewhere other than the west, give a thought to Wyoming. I just got back, so I advise you to plan ahead for next year and go in the summer months.