4 Unexpected Reasons to Visit Central Wyoming
Dive into the Old West.
Every few years my family packs up the Silverado and drives across the country for a two-week excursion to Wyoming and Montana. Usually, this consists of volunteer work in Montana for one week and a visit to the mountainous western half of Wyoming encompassed by Yellowstone, Grand Teton and the Bighorns. Last year, however, we decided to broaden our experience in Wyoming with a new plan.
Leaving West Tennessee, we drove across the flyover states and entered the southeastern corner of Wyoming. Then, instead of continuing west, we ventured north into fresh and unexpectedly exciting territory: a small central-Wyoming town called Kaycee. The trip planted in me a deep-seated desire to return to central Wyoming, and here's why.
Authentic Cowboy/Cowgirl Experience
Throughout the state, including the lower-lying plains regions, you can find working ranches, many of which offer to share their way of life. When we arrived at One Diamond Bar Ranch, an older cowboy — with a glint in his eye and a grit in his demeanor to shame Clint Eastwood — stepped out to greet us and show us to our rooms. Cowboy Ord's house served as a bed-and-breakfast where we stayed, ate dinner and socialized with their family. For wannabe ranchers hesitant of staying in someone's house, there are ranch options with cabins and guest quarters. However, staying with a host family provides a unique, charming and personal experience similar to a standard bed-and-breakfast but with a barn and a host of dogs, cats and horses.
The next morning, Ord saddled the horses and drove us to the range where we helped him and a ranch hand move a herd of cattle. He deftly instructed us on where to ride to push one hundred or so cows towards a new pasture. Then, we set out in search of some missing cattle, riding for hours on and off trails through shrubby plains and around red, rocky outcroppings. Eventually, Ord spotted the cows, expertly gathered them up and coaxed them back to the main herd.
FYI: You don’t have to be an experienced horse rider to enjoy this, but at least some experience around horses beforehand goes a long way.
Stunning Landscapes + Photography Opportunities
While Yellowstone and Grand Teton are — for good reason — heavily visited and photographed, central Wyoming offers visitors many scenic opportunities, as well. During our second day with Ord, we rode across public land to the top of Hole in the Wall, a huge cliff face of red rock that extends beyond sight in both directions. Trails to Hole in the Wall wind in and out of red canyons, following a small stream to a vista overlooking Willow Creek Ranch.
The ranch is host to a photography workshop by Adam Jahiel every spring and fall. Photographers interested in creating striking portraits of cowboys, ranchers and the "Big Sky" landscape should not pass up this opportunity.
Anyone interested in Wyoming landscapes should also check out Outlaw Cave Campgrounds and Canyon. This canyon, located 20 miles from Kaycee, is a strikingly beautiful scar on a vast landscape. A short but steep hike, about 1,000 feet down, leads to the Powder River and to a well-kept Kaycee secret: Outlaw Cave.
World-Class Fly Fishing
The Outlaw Cave Trail and Powder River should hold special interest to anglers. Locals boast of the quality fly-fishing opportunities the remote stream offers. Wyoming's Game and Fish Department report up to 5,000 trout per mile in the Powder River, a remote stream only accessible with high-clearance vehicles. Those adventurous enough to get there attest that it is well worth the trouble. Besides the Powder River, there are many other options for fishers to check out in the area.
Rich History of Western Music + Gun-Slinging Outlaws
Kaycee's biggest claim to fame may be rodeo star and country-western music legend Chris LeDoux. While competing in the national rodeo circuit, he began writing songs about his cowboy life. LeDoux won the 1976 world championship in bareback bronc, lending his music credibility and boosting his popularity. He settled on a ranch in Kaycee after retiring from rodeo and soon found a second career in music. After he passed away, Kaycee dedicated a monument and annual rodeo in honor of their hero.
Kaycee also boasts an intriguing past as an outlaw town. A treasure trove for anyone interested in the old west, outlaws or Wyoming history, the Hoofprints of the Past Museum displays antique guns, Native American tools and cloths and pioneer items. Long ago, Kaycee was a hideout for outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Although Cassidy's presence was rare, members of his famous gang, The Wild Bunch, were a large role in the Kaycee community in the late 1800s. These good-timin', cattle-rustlin' outlaws had mixed reputations with the locals, and visitors can learn all about the history preserved in Kaycee's museum.
Although western Wyoming is a wondrous landscape to visit, don't look over central Wyoming when planning your next adventure. Rich cowboy culture, beautiful landscapes and fascinating local history make this region well worth a trip.