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.
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.
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.
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.
Thermopolis, Jackson, Buffalo, Sunrise — everywhere I went there was something cool. It just took a little bit of poking around to find.
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.
Hoot, the world-famous owl and his owner Jeff Shelburg.
The Halloween Queen in Worland, Desiree Ross.
Mountain Man George Korhel, who learned that one of his ancestors was pals with Jim Bridger.
Former Kentuckian Paul Vance, who dreamed of being a cowboy so much he moved to Wyoming.
Hulett was a treasure trove of Wyoming stories.
And of course, that McGuyver Grandma who keeps up the Ferris Mansion — and so, so many others, too numerous to mention.
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 …
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.