DISCOVER WYOMING | ONE (MUSICAL) STORY AT A TIME
This post is sponsored by the Wyoming Board of Tourism. As always, all opinions are my own.
Photography by Cameron Premo
When I was asked to go on a trip to Wyoming, my first response was " well, that's kind of random." What I didn't suspect was how quickly I would fall in love with the state and its beautiful landscapes. Wyoming is a place where the untamed spirit of the wild west still flourishes. Wyoming is also a place of storytelling. Every building we toured had a story behind it. Every person we met had a story (or 10) to tell, and I made sure to listen.
On our first day, we arrived in Gilettte, the hometown of country singer Josh Dorr who now resides in Nashville. More about Josh later, but he is truly an incredibly talented and humble guy. One of the reasons we were there was for his album release party. His laidback hometown is best known as a coal mining town, but it is full of hidden gems.
We first stopped at the Gilette Brewing Company for lunch and were able to sample the local beers. I had the Longcream Ale which is a sweeter beer that tastes like ice cream. Best known as Gilette's first micro brewery, the family-owned joint has a small town charm that you just don't get in bigger cities. We got to know the rest of our crew (Brandon, Jen, Kate, Josh and the sweet girls from the Wyoming Board of Tourism) over some tasty local brews and pizza.
Next we visited Frontier Auto Museum. I knew Cam would absolutely love this place because of his obsession with cars. The owner, Jeff Wandler, picked up his passion of collecting from his dad. Jeff showed us around the whole museum and could tell you the story behind each and every artifact. Complete with a Car Museum, an old style General Store and a display of antiques, the Frontier Auto Museum is not to be missed.
Just outside of the Big Horn Mountains, there is a beautiful ranch and retreat called The Ranch at U-Cross. We drove from Gilette to the ranch to settle in for the night. The ranch and its surrounding landscapes are rich in the history of the American West. We all stayed in our own private cabins, The Aspen Cabins, and were treated to a delicious steak dinner. I loved getting to know more about all of the others on the trip and there's nothing better than gathering around the table for a home-cooked meal.
Aside from the ranch manager Eric, who also doubled as our bartender at the amazing saloon parlor, we were the only ones staying there on that particular night. There was something so serene about the big, open skies and how brightly the stars twinkled at the ranch. After dinner, we had our own private jam session with our new friend Josh Dorr. We sat around the quaint little living room and listened to Josh sing songs off of his new album and a few of his older favorites.
We had an early wakeup call to hit the road for Diamond 7 Bar Guest Ranch where we would spend our morning riding horses in the Black Hills of Wyoming. From forested mountains and grassy meadows to red-rock canyons and clear spring-fed streams, the family-owned ranch is full of breathtaking wildlife. I rode the oldest horse on the farm named Jeremiah. The ride was peaceful and relaxing and you could see Devil's Tower on the horizon. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.
From there, we spent the morning traveling down gravel roads and passing through small historic western towns. We stopped to take a closer look at Devil's Tower National Monument, a truly astounding and curious geologic feature that protrudes out of the prairie surrounding the Black Hills. It is considered sacred by many indigenous people. Photos don't even come close to doing it justice... it is such a magnificent and mysterious sight to see in person.
After horseback riding, we made our way to Buffalo for the stop I was most looking forward to: The Historic Occidental Hotel. I could write a whole post on just this hotel alone. When you step through the front door of the Occidental Hotel, you are truly stepping back into the Old West. Even the bullet holes in the saloon are originals. We were lucky enough to be there on a Thursday night and experience the Bluegrass Jam Sessions after a lovely dinner at The Virginian. Starting at about 6:30 PM every Thursday evening, a group of local musicians gather in the Occidental Saloon and wow their audience with Bluegrass, Western and Folk music. The event started with humble beginnings and has now grown into a hugely popular local event.
My absolute favorite part of the entire trip was talking with David Stewart, the owner of the hotel. He stayed up late with me and Cameron, telling us stories behind various artifacts and ghost stories. I was so fascinated by the haunted tales that are woven into the Occidental's history. He told me of his experiences with Emily, the ghost that has been said to roam the halls of the hotel at night.
Most importantly, he told me about his trek to Nashville in the 80's. Come to find out this man WALKED 1,329 miles from Gilette, WY to Nashville simply to fulfill his dream of playing on the Grand Ole Opry stage. He even wrote a book about it and went on to become a successful songwriter for the likes of Tammy Wynette and Eddy Raven. I hung on every word he said and I will forever remember the conversations we shared in the saloon that night with Dave.
We woke up to a mini winter wonderland with snow covering the ground of the historic town of Buffalo. It looked like something straight out of a movie. I'll never forget opening the curtains of our cozy room and seeing the adorable snow-covered buildings. We had a quick breakfast at the cozy Busy Bee Cafe, where we saw many of the locals who were at the Bluegrass Jam the night before. I honestly was sad to leave Buffalo, but we had a busy day ahead of us.
From the Occidental, we headed out for Durham Bison Ranch. We learned about how the ranch operates and the history of bison. By the late 1800’s, bison were dangerously close to extinction. Through efforts of the early conservationists and ranchers who knew the value of the animal, they are now a thriving species. We were UP CLOSE and personal. It was pretty surreal to stand feet away from these beautiful and enormous creatures.
After touring the Bison Ranch, we headed back to Gilette and got a glimpse into the Big Lost Meadery. Ever wonder what Vikings drank? The answer lies with the humble honeybee—and the sweet elixir it has helped produce that is known as the world's oldest alcoholic beverage. Mead is fermented with three basic ingredients: honey, yeast and water. It's somewhat similar to wine, yet distinct in taste. Now Cameron is determined to make his own mead, so we'll see how that goes!
From there we headed to Josh Dorr's album release party. It's so awesome to see how supportive his hometown is of his music career. He played his new EP Sundancer which is full of great songs.
This trip took us to places we had never been, and otherwise probably never would have had the opportunity to see. We got to see breathtaking landscapes and explore a little-known corner of the beautiful state and meet some incredible people along the way. Here's to hoping 2018 is full of more travel and adventure!