WY not? Joe Pickett’s Bighorn Mountains
Article and photos by Joe Gschwendtner
Excepting Yellowstone and the Tetons, one might dismiss Wyoming, our northern neighbor, as a windy, wild western coal-rich frontier. In some places, maybe so. But to ignore her sweet spots would be a grievous error. If you relate to game warden Joe Pickett through author C.J. Box, it’s time you got wild in Wyoming, especially in the Bighorn Mountains.
Check your map. Does Sheridan, Wyoming seem far away from the Castle Pines community? At 450 miles, a lead foot and just obeying Wyoming’s posted speed limit of 80 mph on interstates, it is a comfortable seven hour drive with a stop. You don’t even need to do it in one day.
Stop at massive Fort Laramie, just 30 minutes off I-25. Nicely manicured grounds and curated buildings, it was in its day, a trapping-trading center and haven for throngs moving west in the mid-1800s. Take a brief hike along the Laramie River.
Wyoming citizens are sparse, less than 600,000 in the entire state. Thus Casper, where we overnighted, is a big town. It has 10% of the state’s people. Enjoy an early morning walk on the North Platte River greenway, captivating at any time.
Get ready for the mountains. Shop at Lou Taubert’s downtown store, over 100 years old and ranch outfitter to the state. Great stuff and all of it made in America.
The Bighorn Mountain area is anchored on the east by two towns. Buffalo, which inspired the TV series Longmire, and Sheridan. Each is distinctly western, serviced by a rich spectrum of restaurants and first line motels. Do not overlook Frackelton’s in downtown Sheridan. Its menu is extensive and its offerings first class. Ernest Hemingway liked it there too, having stayed at the Sheridan Inn. The Tongue River greenway on the town’s north end offers a break from tourist crowds.
To adequately grasp the enormity of the Bighorn Mountains, transit them twice, once from Sheridan to Greybull, then back from Ten Sleep to Buffalo. Each passage through the Bighorns is exquisite – bunched wild lupine gone mad, craggy peaks, rolling meadows, chasms, streams, rock formations and waterfalls. The mountains’ majesty seems almost endless.
Locals advise that river and stream angling compete with the world’s finest. Hunting, hiking and snowmobiling are also wholeheartedly supported. Every valley and niche along the way beckons the wildebeest in you. Little towns along the way beseech you as well with their own allure. Eclectic one-size-fits-all bar/restaurant combos compete for your interest and your dollars. Surrender somewhere; it can be fun. Like the town of Ten Sleep – cozy enough to have a picnic and then relax away an afternoon in Ten Sleep Park.
Pass through Gillette to reach Wyoming’s Black Hills, dominated by Devils Tower; a jaw-dropping national monument. It is a must-see on this trip or when next you visit Mt. Rushmore. A 3.5-mile perimeter hike offers majestic views of the vertical behemoth and its surrounding red sandstone formations. One wants almost desperately to be one with the landscape.
Down the road, microscopic Hulett has a stunning golf course worth your attention. No clubs? Have a beer and start a Joe Pickett book while there. Then, plan for next year.