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Wild Wild West
September 13, 2018
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When I started out on my trail ride on a scorching day with temps well into the 90s, I didn’t know I would be riding from Wyoming to Colorado. What I did know — according to the trail leader — was that along the way we could possibly see wildlife that might make the horses skittish enough to spook.

Wyoming is not only one of the nation’s most beautiful states, but also one of the most fascinating. The 10th largest in area, it ranks number 50 in population at just over half-a-million people. By contrast, Rhode Island, the smallest state in the Union, has nearly double the population of Wyoming.

This lack of population may be due to wilderness on an epic scale — Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, Devil’s Tower National Monument, and Medicine Bow and Shoshone National Forests — and only three cities of any significant size: Cheyenne, Casper and Laramie.

That’s why it’s a bit surprising to learn that from its earliest days, Wyoming was unusually progressive, especially in equality for women.

When it was still a territory in 1869, it became the first in the nation to give women the right to vote. It was the first to elect a woman governor — Nellie Tayloe Ross in 1925.

CAPITAL OF COWBOY COUNTRY

Wyoming’s capital and largest city, Cheyenne, is on its southern border, a 90-minute drive north of Denver. If, like me, you are fascinated with the Wild West in all its glory, this is the town for you.

Ida Hamilton, whose House of Mirrors was one of 60 brothels in the booming railroad town, sent out engraved invitations to her establishment’s opening.

Visitors can learn these fun facts on narrated trolley tours or carriage rides taking in 150 years of history. Both tours (May through October) can be booked at the Visitors’ Center in the restored train depot.

Built as the Union Pacific Depot in 1886, it’s one of the last leftovers from the transcontinental railroad, and overlooks a central plaza lined with fiberglass sculptures of ... what else? ... giant cowboy boots.

Walking Cheyenne’s compact downtown is easy. The first stop you may want to make is the Wrangler where you can get fitted and shaped for your cowboy/cowgirl hat. With some 500 different styles available, being without one here is a bit like strolling the streets naked.

They also sell jeans and boots at the Wrangler — you’re ready to head for the saloon, or at least one of Cheyenne’s ubiquitous breweries. Check out Danielmark’s, located in a historic home; Freedom’s Edge Tap House, or the popular Accomplice Brewery. The latter is in the Depot, and every Friday night from early June to early September, you can enjoy a free concert in the plaza.

While Cheyenne doesn’t exactly rival Manhattan for nightlife, Broadway doesn’t have the Historic Atlas Theater with its campy melodramas, such as The Great Muffin Caper, subtitled the Calamitous Case of the Cookie Mobster.

Put on by the Cheyenne Little Theater Players, the classic melodramas are the perfect vehicles for cheering on the hapless heroine and lustily booing the leering villain.

OUTSIDE THE CITY LIMITS

Sandwiched in between Cheyenne and Laramie in the Medicine Bow National Forest is an area of rocky outcroppings the native Arapaho called Vedauwoo or “earth-born.”

With their myriad shapes and sizes, the unusual boulders do appear wedded to the earth — and is some of the oldest rock in Wyoming, dating back 70 million years. Vedauwoo is a favourite of hikers and climbers or those who just want to relax under the aspen trees and watch golden and bald eagles make lazy circles in the sky above them.

Another popular recreational area, Curt Gowdy State Park, honors the sportscaster and outdoorsman who was a Wyoming native.

Known primarily for its innovative mountain biking trail designations — similar to those delineating levels of difficulty on ski slopes — the park is an area of outstanding natural beauty.

One place visitors shouldn’t miss is the previously mentioned Terry Bison Ranch. Even if you aren’t up for the Wyoming-to-Colorado horseback ride, you should go out on the ranch’s train to feed the bison.

THE DADDY OF THEM ALL

My primary reason for being in Cheyenne the last week of July was to experience Cheyenne Frontier Days, a 10-day annual event that, as organisers like to say, “has been kicking up dust since 1897.”

Cowboys from Texas to Canada compete for more than $1 million in cash and prizes, and the chance to move on to the national rodeo championship in Las Vegas.

Cheyenne’s quintessential annual event is the perfect metaphor for the cowboy culture it has never surrendered. Hopefully, it never will.

Tribune News Service

 

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