Writer and Photographer: TAMRA BOLTON // Travel // Jan/Feb 2016
What comes to mind when you think of Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park? The Grand Tetons? Wide open vistas with antelope and bison? The Cowboy State has all of these things and much more – especially in its often-overlooked southeastern corner.
Nowhere does the embodiment of The West and Jerome “Stub” Farlow, the cowboy credited to be riding the bucking bronco on state’s license plate, shine brighter than in Laramie. Just about everyone in this small, but vibrant, town is “cowboy proud.”
Laramie was founded when the Transcontinental Railroad came through on its way to the Pacific Coast. Since 1868, the iron horse has been a dominant part of Laramie’s landscape and its echo still is heard today in the historic downtown district. The train made an appearance while I was visiting the downtown farmer’s market.
Pedestrian and bicycle friendly, downtown Laramie has numerous restaurants and some of the best antique shops that I’ve found. An artist’s community thrives due to the city’s many art venues. Artisans Gallery has works for sale in every medium imaginable and dozens of little shops, such as The Owl in the Attic, make searching for treasures a delight. I found an original Buffalo Bill show poster and cavalry saddle from the 1860s.
A few blocks from downtown is the the beautiful tree-lined University of Wyoming. Here you can see the Cowboy’s home, War Memorial Stadium and statues scattered around the campus. We have the University of Wyoming to thank for innovations in agriculture and animal science that improved farming all over the world.
The historic Ivinson Mansion near campus is worth a stop. Built in 1892, the beautifully appointed mansion gives a glimpse into the elegant lifestyle enjoyed by some of Laramie’s early residents.
Laramie also is home to Wyoming Territorial Prison, the only place where the infamous outlaw Butch Cassidy ever spent time behind bars. Located off Interstate 80, the prison shows visitors what life was like for inmates. Built in 1872, it is one of only three federally constructed territorial penitentiaries that exist in the western United States and the only one in which most of the original structure is preserved.
With vast freight yards, a golden capitol dome and cowboy swagger, Cheyenne, the capital city, seems like a frontier town that grew up a little. The city shows its best side during Cheyenne Frontier Days. Held in Frontier Park during the last week in July, this 109-year-old tradition brings out the cowpoke in everyone.
The celebration includes chuck wagon cook-offs, storytelling sessions, a Native American village to explore and dozens of vendors selling everything from handmade pioneer bonnets and buckskin jackets to root beer and chili. Of course, Frontier Days is most famous for the “Daddy of ‘em all,” the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo.
The National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas has a fancier arena and more prize money, but it does not come close to the tradition and authenticity of Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo. You can feel it in the atmosphere and see it in the faces of the cowboys and cowgirls.
If you’re a railroad buff, there is no better place than southeastern Wyoming to follow the tracks of early transportation history. The historic Lincoln Highway, the Overland Trail and the original route of the Union Pacific Railroad all are in this area.
A self-guided tour using maps available at the chamber of commerce and businesses takes you to places where you can see thundering diesels pull mile-long coal trains, railroad grades built in the 1860s and the marks of the Overland Trail route.
Or you can can hike or bike amid some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.
About 30 miles west of Laramie is the tiny gold mining town of Centennial. Nestled against the rising slopes of the Medicine Bow range, Centennial has plenty of places to explore. The Depot Museum tells the story of railroad and mining industries that built the town in 1875. From a window in the museum, you can spot the long abandoned Centennial gold mine on a nearby hill.
Across from the depot is the Mountain View Hotel. Built in 1907, it remains one of the first buildings in Centennial. Owners Kathleen and Mike McShane will make you feel right at home. Sip freshly roasted coffee while enjoying the view of Medicine Bow National Forest and Snowy Range. The hotel has a great restaurant or you can eat at The Old Corral Hotel & Steakhouse, which is famous for its cowboy style burgers.
Centennial only is minutes away from spectacular hiking and biking trails and excellent trout fishing. The Snowy Range Ski Area offers some of the best alpine skiing trails anywhere. Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are all popular activities in the area.
Whatever reason or season you visit southeastern Wyoming, plan to slow down and stay a spell. You’ll be glad you did.