For those feeling a little constrained in their busy home or work lives and sensing the need to bust out and escape somewhere far away from it all, Wyoming may be the perfect place to visit.
The Cowboy State is the nation’s 10th-largest state but the least populated, with just 578,000 souls. However, this off-the-beaten-path state enjoys a wonderful reputation for entertaining its guests, which makes sense, since tourism is one of the state’s biggest industries.
The Cheyenne Convention and Visitors Bureau recommends that harried folks leave behind the jammed rush-hour highways and the sprawling cookie-cutter subdivisions and experience rugged, beautiful and surprising Wyoming. Cheyenne, a town of 60,000 and the state’s capital city, is a cool, Western-vibe community that loves its heritage and wants people to learn about it and experience it.
‘Authentic Wild West’
“We have such a deep history here, what you would call the authentic Wild, Wild West, including the railroads,” said Jim Walter, director of sales and marketing for Visit Cheyenne, the local CVB.
“For an old Western town, we didn’t have any real big water source nearby, and we weren’t in the middle of either the Mormon or Oregon trails,” Walter said. “But we just happened to be the best place for the Union Pacific Railroad to stage its historic rail ascent over the Rocky Mountains in 1867, and our little town stayed here and grew because of that.”
The town grew so fast that the Chicago Times that year expressed amazement: “It is a city that sprang into existence in a night, in obedience to the waving of a magician’s wand over a patch of wild buffalo grass.” Cheyenne is in the southeast corner of the state, in Laramie County. Its name is believed to have come from Native Americans living in the area.
Delegates will hear more about all that history and see some fascinating places when they attend the next Select Traveler Conference, March 22-24, in downtown Cheyenne. The conference will be held at the Little America Hotel and Resort.
Cheyenne is located at major crossroads: Busy Interstate 80 handles east and west traffic while Interstate 25 does the job for northbound and southbound travelers. The city is approximately 100 miles from Denver, 370 miles from Salt Lake City and 380 miles from Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Cheyenne Regional Airport has opened a new terminal, which replaces a 50-year-old building. The 30,000-square-foot terminal serves three airlines, and officials brag that it is so quick and convenient that there is no need for escalators or people movers. The airport also offers direct daily flights to such popular destinations as Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas.
Tours and Museums
It would be smart for visitors hitting town to board a Cheyenne Trolley in the heart of downtown for a tour of the city’s historic districts.
“People are going to be surprised at the number of things to do in Cheyenne,” said Walter. The trolley tour will give riders an opportunity to learn the intriguing stories of Cheyenne’s wild old days of muddy streets, gunfights, brothels, saloons, characters like Wild Bill Hickok and the railroads. All of this is presented by lively, experienced trolley conductors.
For visitors that want to gain a real sense of the history of Cheyenne and Wyoming, several excellent museums can bring the legends to life. The Cheyenne Depot Museum downtown is located in the restored former Union Pacific Depot, which is designated a National Historic Landmark. Visitors enjoy the rich railroad history through exhibits, photos, audio and visual displays, and interactive presentations. Just outside, the Cheyenne Depot Plaza is a lively place in pleasant weather, with concerts and other fun events.
The Nelson Museum of the West plays up the Old West heritage with exhibits that include cowboy, military and Native American artifacts and fine Western art. There are more than 6,000 artifacts throughout the museum.
The Wyoming State Museum downtown collects, preserves and interprets the human and natural history of the state from prehistoric times to the present. Visitors will gain real insight into what Wyoming is all about. The museum store offers mementos to take home.
Wyoming’s state capitol, which was originally opened in 1889, has been renovated and restored to the tune of $300 million. It is gorgeous, and tours are highly recommended, no matter what state you hail from. “We consider that building to be the people’s house,” said the CVB’s Walter. Another interesting stop on the trolley tour is the historic Governor’s Mansion, which is beautifully decorated for the holidays.
If folks are free to visit Wyoming in the summer, they must attend the state’s premier 10-day event of the year: Cheyenne Frontier Days.
“Cheyenne Frontier Days in late July is a bucket list item for many people,” said Walter. “We are home to the world’s largest outdoor rodeo and celebration of Western heritage. It is a big draw. Next year will be the 124th year for it.”
A ticket agent for the Union Pacific Railroad is said to have dreamed up “Cheyenne Days” as a way to drum up more ticket sales between Cheyenne and Denver.
Naturally, the rodeo is the main attraction, but there is everything from a cattle drive to a grand parade, an Indian village, a chuck wagon cook-off, a Fiesta Day, an old frontier town and a carnival midway. There are also A-list country music acts to enjoy. To add to the excitement, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds pierce the blue skies with their daring aerobatic formations.
Whatever time of year they visit, groups can take historical ranch tours for a sense of what life on the open range must have been like more than a century ago. Bison train tours are offered at the Terry Bison Ranch outside of Cheyenne. It is a narrated trip on a custom-built train, and riders will see a massive bison herd, get to hand feed some of the beasts and also view camels, ostriches and other farm animals. There are horse and pony rides available. The ranch offers seasonal lunch tours, too.
People under a certain age may not know much about the Cold War, that period of American history, 1947 to 1991, when there were political and nuclear tensions between the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its satellite states. Surprisingly, Wyoming played a big role in the Cold War.
About 25 miles north of Cheyenne is the Quebec 01 Missile Alert facility, which once served as home to three of this country’s most powerful nuclear weapons. Built in 1962, the decommissioned site now allows tourists to see and learn about America’s missile alert and peacekeeper systems and gaze at the former nuclear launch control facilities. It is a fascinating place and, perhaps, a little sobering.
Cheyenne is more than just cowboys, Indians and trains. It is an up-to-date city as well. “We have a bustling downtown where we have a new-life music venue that is opening up this fall,” said the CVB’s Walter. “It is located in the Lincoln, a former local movie theater. We have also opened four new restaurants and a distillery in the past few months. We do free live concerts on the plaza every Friday night. We have our strong Western roots, but at the same time we have modern touches, too.”
Another nugget in the city has recently been expanded. Just completed is a $13 million addition to the wonderful and popular Cheyenne Botanical Gardens. The new Grand Conservatory contains a lush, tropical plant collection; a bonsai house; and an orangery, which holds delicate fruit trees that would not survive Wyoming’s harsh winters. Locals say the gardens are a beautiful place to visit no matter what time of year it is.
For all there is to do in Cheyenne, many people visit, enjoy themselves immensely and then head to other places in the West.
“It can be the first stop on a family’s great American Western vacation,” said Walter. “People come here and launch to Rapid City, South Dakota, and to Mount Rushmore, to Devil’s Tower National Monument, to Yellowstone National Park or down to the Grand Canyon. We are a great gateway.”
The Cheyenne Convention and Visitors Bureau wants to create a special partnership with Select Traveler trip planners. “We aren’t just here to promote all of the good things going on in Cheyenne,” said Walter. “We will give you suggestions and walk you through many possible itineraries. We want to help make trip planning easier for you and for your clients.”
For more information or to register go to selecttravelerconf.com.