On The Road With Renee: An Epic 24,000-Mile, 100-Day Marathon Wyoming Road Trip

Now that the snow is flying, Cowboy State Daily writer Renée Jean’s epic 24,000-mile, 100-day summer road trip is over. She turned out dozens of uniquely-Wyoming stories featuring hundreds of local people.

RJ
Renée Jean

October 29, 20238 min read

Hangin' out with Hoot, the most famous owl on the planet, at the Fort Bridger Rendezvous.
Hangin' out with Hoot, the most famous owl on the planet, at the Fort Bridger Rendezvous. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

I’ve had a 30-plus-year career in journalism, but I’ll have to admit that that this past summer spent traveling every part of Wyoming has without doubt been the most interesting.

When my editors suggested the idea of a summer-long road trip, I was floored. There aren’t many media outlets, even back when I began this business, that have that kind of commitment. Sending a reporter out on the road for five to six days out of every week is not for the faint of heart.

I’m sure part of the idea was that I’m new to Wyoming, and this would be the best way to learn about the state’s business and tourism. I arrived last year in October from North “DaColda,” so I’ve just passed a year now with Cowboy State Daily.  

What a year it’s been.

For the summer road trip, I traveled an estimated 24,000 miles, crisscrossing the state in a monthly rental car. I stayed more than 100 nights in all kinds of different hotels and motels, ranging from historic and epic to expedient and cheap. I ate at no telling how many restaurants along the way, from fast food to hole-in-the-wall to epic, best-in-state. 

  • At Lander's legendary Fourth of July celebration.
    At Lander's legendary Fourth of July celebration. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The bull's head at the Bull Pub in Cowley, Wyoming.
    The bull's head at the Bull Pub in Cowley, Wyoming. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The Dollies who kick off the Lovell Follies every year are adorable, and it was so cool how they pass out rose stickers for everyone to wear.
    The Dollies who kick off the Lovell Follies every year are adorable, and it was so cool how they pass out rose stickers for everyone to wear. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Casper kids enjoy splashing around on a hot summer day.
    Casper kids enjoy splashing around on a hot summer day. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Rogues Gallery in Hulett, Wyoming.
    Rogues Gallery in Hulett, Wyoming. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Savery 9 2023
  • A troupe encourages the audience to raise their hands and clap at this year's Lovell Follies.
    A troupe encourages the audience to raise their hands and clap at this year's Lovell Follies. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • he Devils Tower KOA lies act the base of Devils Tower National Monument. That's because the monument bisects the historic Campstool Ranch, which has been in the Driskill family for eight generations.
    he Devils Tower KOA lies act the base of Devils Tower National Monument. That's because the monument bisects the historic Campstool Ranch, which has been in the Driskill family for eight generations. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The Atlantic City Mercantile.
    The Atlantic City Mercantile. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Cowboy Bar in Meeteetse, Wyoming
    Cowboy Bar in Meeteetse, Wyoming (Renee Jean)
  • White Wolf bar in Douglas, Wyoming
    White Wolf bar in Douglas, Wyoming (Renee Jean)

Hidden Gems 

My trips didn’t start in earnest until the snow melted away and good weather set in to stay. Until then, I worked on a calendar of every community event or celebration I could find. That, in and of itself, was eye-opening. There are so many things going on across the state. It was mind-boggling and it was dazzling, all at the same time. Wonder awaited.

Of course, I couldn’t get to them all. I had to pick and choose. Sometimes, I had no better rationale than a good feeling, and that’s how I came to choose Lovell’s famous Follies for my first trip.

I planned to tour the Queen Bee Gardens while I was there too, and then just whatever else I could run into — a restaurant with good food, an interesting person doing something unusual. One thing I’ve learned in three decades as a reporter is that just talking to people almost always leads to something nobody else really knows about that begs for a story.

At the start, I think there may have been some doubt about this choice, particularly after telling a few people where I was headed for my first foray on the summer road trip. They got these quizzical looks on their faces, as if they were trying to do differential equations in their head.

I kept seeing those looks all the way to Lovell. What if I didn’t find enough stories? Worse, what if they weren’t interesting? 

That’s a cardinal sin in journalism, particularly these days. As an editor, I used to tell reporters, whatever you do, whatever you spend time on, don’t let it be boring.

I arrived very late at night. I’d picked a motel using Google Maps — the Horseshoe Bend Motel. It had a cool motel sign that was all lit up like a Christmas tree. I had a good feeling about it.

It turned out to be a great choice. It was one of the first hidden gems I found in Lovell. Its cool sign is part of an iconic photo that’s in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It was like I’d just won the lottery. I knew it could be a winner.

Along the way I discovered Curt’s Cuts, where you walk into an old-fashioned barber shop and it feels like time itself is standing still. The customers talked about Ten Sleep and Cody and Wyoming, and it was like I was Alice sitting in Wonderland. 

While in Lovell, I talked to the chamber folks about Lovell’s tourism opportunities and learned they have several that a lot of people don’t know about.

In fact, one of their best, the famous Mustang Mountain, wasn’t even listed in the online travel pages put out by the Wyoming Office of Tourism.

The chamber folks were surprised to learn that. They got it fixed within a couple of days, and I knew that had just given me another winner from Lovell. 

I also got to check out The Bull Pub in Cowley while I was there, whose chef I soon learned had once trained with Gordon Ramsay. I felt like someone should pinch me because how could that be for real? 

It was, and it was awesome. My editors were going to be so happy with what I found in Lovell. I couldn’t wait to surprise them.

I discovered so many story possibilities in Lovell that I actually ran out of time to chase them all, even though I booked an extra day. But eventually, I had to go home, check on my apartment and get ready for the next trip out.

  • Downtown Sheridan on a rainy night is pure magic.
    Downtown Sheridan on a rainy night is pure magic. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • As Willie Nelson famously sang, on the road again.
    As Willie Nelson famously sang, on the road again. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Who wouldn't feel on top of the world with views like this?
    Who wouldn't feel on top of the world with views like this? (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Every now and then I stopped alongside the road to take my own postcard pics. This was not far from a park with petroglyphs.
    Every now and then I stopped alongside the road to take my own postcard pics. This was not far from a park with petroglyphs. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Rains made a pretty feast for butterflies at many locations across the state this summer.
    Rains made a pretty feast for butterflies at many locations across the state this summer. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The historic Sheridan Inn is considered one of Wyoming's most haunted hotels. Now that may have some science behind the claim, as it's part of a study of five of the state's most haunted hotels.
    The historic Sheridan Inn is considered one of Wyoming's most haunted hotels. Now that may have some science behind the claim, as it's part of a study of five of the state's most haunted hotels. (Courtesy Sheridan Inn)
  • The Ferris Mansion at 607 W. Maple St. in Rawlins, Wyoming.
    The Ferris Mansion at 607 W. Maple St. in Rawlins, Wyoming. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Mike Lujan, owner of Michael's Big City Steakhouse, makes frequent trips to check on his guests and make sure they enjoyed their dinners.
    Mike Lujan, owner of Michael's Big City Steakhouse, makes frequent trips to check on his guests and make sure they enjoyed their dinners. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Paul Vance poses for a photo with the chuck wagon he and friend Jack Schmidt found, an extension of the Wyoming cowboy dream he's been living for the past 15 years.
    Paul Vance poses for a photo with the chuck wagon he and friend Jack Schmidt found, an extension of the Wyoming cowboy dream he's been living for the past 15 years. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Everywhere Was More Of The Same

The Lovell scenario would play out again and again as I traveled across the state with my little coffee-scented candle in the console and a bag of that Skinny Pop popcorn to keep me alert.

I learned that it was crucial to stay alert with so many long drives where there were few places to stop, and no cell service if there was trouble.

As I traveled about the state, I also learned that it wasn’t going to matter where I landed or where I went. Hulett turned out to have as many stories to tell as Casper and as many stories as the next town after that.

Even Savery, a tiny speck of a town, turned out to have so many amazing things besides just the wonderful end-of-summer barbecue I’d gone there for.

There was a very cool museum, with a very cool artifact related to the Sundance Kid.

And there was the cabin of a mountain man named Jim Baker, who I think deserves to be just as famous as the movie “The Revenant” has made Hugh Glass.

Then there was Rawlins, which a YouTuber had poked fun at. I passed through not-so-terrible Rawlins to stay at the Ferris Mansion, and found Michael’s Big City Steakhouse, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary. 

Later I would also find a new Taste of Wyoming event complete with Cake Wars. People in Rawlins have got heart, no matter what anyone says, and they can sure bake some epic cakes.

Thermopolis, Jackson, Buffalo, Sunrise — everywhere I went there was something cool. It just took a little bit of poking around to find.

  • My first time tasting green chili was at the Chugwater Chili Fest. This was authentic stuff, made from peppers grown in a home garden. It won first place for green chili, and it was awesome.
    My first time tasting green chili was at the Chugwater Chili Fest. This was authentic stuff, made from peppers grown in a home garden. It won first place for green chili, and it was awesome. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Renee Jean has been all over Wyoming this spring and summer, including a hike up Casper Mountain, left; sporting a new hat for Cheyenne Frontier Days, center; and tired in a selfie at one4 of dozens of hotels. "I don't remember where, just was happy to be done with driving."
    Renee Jean has been all over Wyoming this spring and summer, including a hike up Casper Mountain, left; sporting a new hat for Cheyenne Frontier Days, center; and tired in a selfie at one4 of dozens of hotels. "I don't remember where, just was happy to be done with driving." (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Sundance kid 9 4 23
  • Occidental Lobby 1 10 23
  • The J.B. Okie Mansion isn't readily visible until visitors are right up on it thanks to 100-year-old cottonwood trees.
    The J.B. Okie Mansion isn't readily visible until visitors are right up on it thanks to 100-year-old cottonwood trees. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Tennessee Tarrant and Brianne Miller at Fort Bridger Rendezvous. Miller is wearing a 1700s-era Italian gown she made herself.
    Tennessee Tarrant and Brianne Miller at Fort Bridger Rendezvous. Miller is wearing a 1700s-era Italian gown she made herself. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • This cowboy in the middle of Thermopolis' extra wide Main Street sifts dirt in his hand beside his trusty quarter horse.
    This cowboy in the middle of Thermopolis' extra wide Main Street sifts dirt in his hand beside his trusty quarter horse. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The Aladdin General Store is the oldest operating general store in Wyoming.
    The Aladdin General Store is the oldest operating general store in Wyoming. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The Lander Pipe Band.
    The Lander Pipe Band. (Courtesy Photo)
  • Mike Bies with one of the Wind River Indian Reservation petroglyphs that's threatening to break off the canyon wall.
    Mike Bies with one of the Wind River Indian Reservation petroglyphs that's threatening to break off the canyon wall. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

All About The People

As the summer road trip progressed, I got so many emails from people living in Wyoming who told me they hadn’t realized there were so many cool things to see and do in their own state. They were glad I had given them so many ideas for road trips of their own.

I gotta tell you, this was a tremendous feeling to know that I was helping boost so many small businesses and mom-and-pop shops across the state by simply telling their stories, letting people know they’re out there.

It wasn’t just about the cool places, though. During the road trip I met so many cool people along the way. 

Wyoming’s places make it a beautiful state. Just about every drive was postcard pretty. But it’s her people who give her a soul, and what a beautiful soul it is.

So thank you Wyoming, and thank you Cowboy State Daily, for what was a tremendous summer. Thank you for making me feel so welcome. 

I was so privileged to get to tell your great stories. Thank you for having me.

Now about that itinerary for next summer …

  • Piling up all those miles went a little easier with the good luck charm.
    Piling up all those miles went a little easier with the good luck charm. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • I knew the Bull Pub in Cowley was going to be a hit when this dish came out. What I didn't know was that the chef had trained at Le Gavroche, the same restaurant where Gordon Ramsey trained.
    I knew the Bull Pub in Cowley was going to be a hit when this dish came out. What I didn't know was that the chef had trained at Le Gavroche, the same restaurant where Gordon Ramsey trained. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Bobbi Jo McJunkin, owner of the Horseshoe Bend Motel in Lovell, shows a copy of an iconic photo featuring the motel with a rainbow. She has an unfolded framed print on the wall.
    Bobbi Jo McJunkin, owner of the Horseshoe Bend Motel in Lovell, shows a copy of an iconic photo featuring the motel with a rainbow. She has an unfolded framed print on the wall. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • My photo is not as iconic as the one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but it does have a rainbow in it. A tree now stands in the way of getting the same angle. I couldn't believe my luck.
    My photo is not as iconic as the one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but it does have a rainbow in it. A tree now stands in the way of getting the same angle. I couldn't believe my luck. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • George Korhel dressed in buckskin clothing he made himself stands in front of his camp during the recent Green River Rendezvous.
    George Korhel dressed in buckskin clothing he made himself stands in front of his camp during the recent Green River Rendezvous. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Jeff Shelburg with his world famous owl Hoot.
    Jeff Shelburg with his world famous owl Hoot. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The legendary Miners and Stockmen's Steakhouse and Spirits in Hartville, Wyoming.
    The legendary Miners and Stockmen's Steakhouse and Spirits in Hartville, Wyoming. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The YMCA was built by John D. Rockefeller Jr., who was trying to improve the reputation of the mining town after there were riots over working conditions.
    The YMCA was built by John D. Rockefeller Jr., who was trying to improve the reputation of the mining town after there were riots over working conditions. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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RJ

Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter