So I went to Wyoming. Yep, I did. Are you jealous? You should be–or maybe you shouldn’t. Let me just first say that Wyoming was very, well, Wyoming–just what I expected it to be. Cold, grey, flat, open–wiiiiide open, wild (sort of), scattered with cattle and horses, the occasional sighting of man, or woman, every now and then. Granted, this is late November, a time when even the most beautiful of God’s creation may seem dreary and dull, my paradise of a hometown San Diego not excluded. But if even Paradise, USA is susceptible to such days in late fall, Wyoming doesn’t stand a chance. And that’s ok. That’s what makes it…Wyoming. Despite this, it has charm. In fact, Wyoming exudes charm, though mixed with an equal air of mystery and gloom.
Two simple questions come to my mind when driving/walking/wandering through this place, both of which must have been asked, if even just to themselves, by its earliest of settlers: 1) What am I doing here? and 2) Now what? Honestly, is this it? (Ok 3 questions) Did the cowboys feel this way, too? (4) Maybe those who still choose to live here today ask the same things, or maybe they love it just the same. Maybe this is their paradise. Again, this is ok.
As I write this, I sincerely feel cold, even a bit uneasy as I remember driving that frigid and treacherous (overstatement, yes, but for effect) road North on US-85 from Cheyenne to Mt. Rushmore (not Wyoming). I have no heat (nobody’s fault but my own car’s inability to produce it in sub-necessary temperatures), my tiny Matrix occasionally drifting into other lanes without any effort on my part, due mainly, rather, to passing semis and that Wyoming wind known to blow cars off the road…and into each other. The stories are horrific and make me question each one of my intentions for being here, which, after a while, seem senseless, and few. But this is fun, right? I’m livin’ a dream seeing this place (as odd as that might sound) and intrigued by the possibilities of what I might find. I’ve always wanted to visit so, with Wyoming being only 2 hours from Denver (a town just as cold, yet seemingly far more established, where I had enjoyed Thanksgiving a few days earlier) here’s my chance. I mean, why not? Part of me, at this point, does just kinda want to go back home, but I can’t run now. Nope. The West I want to win, or at least see. This is exactly what I come for and I am determined to go on. So I do. But slowly. Very slowly. Damn that Wyoming wind.
Let me pause for a second. I mentioned Cheyenne, so allow me to elaborate–well, if I can. You see, Cheyenne. Hmmmm, what to say? Long pause. Extra long pause…still pausing–sorry for the wait. Ok I’ve got nothin’. Remember that part in Wayne’s World when Wayne and Garth are in the middle of a travel segment for their show and, after seeing a Broadway show in New York, Wayne wonders if “…maybe you’d prefer Hawaii (umm, yeah, right now, please. I’m pretty cold). Mookalakaheeki. Come on, you wanna lei me. Pass the poi, Mahalo. Congachunka conguchunka”? (that really has nothing to do with this; I just thought it might be funny and worth a mention) And then he and Garth are “…magically whisked away to Delaware…”, only to immediately realize, and quite disappointingly so, that they are in…Delaware. I do not expect Cheyenne to be Delaware. Cheyenne is Delaware, and I’m sad. Very sad. I envisioned cowboys and old dudes with full beards and really furry jackets, boots with spurs and at least 1 tall building. There are none, though I suppose the capital could be considered as such. But that’s it. Again, sad. Speaking of the capitol, did you know that Cheyenne, the most “populous” city in Wyoming, boasts a population of 59,466? 60,000 people, in your state’s biggest town! The entire state, the 10th largest in America, contains only 400,000 people. I couldn’t believe it. I still don’t. But enough geog (jee-og) and demog (dem-og) raphy, and back to the story, the real business that is Cheyenne, which is, unfortunately, not much. Like nothing, well almost. They do have cool statues of famous legends of the past and a nice little Christmas display in what appears to be their main square, but besides that–not much. Maybe I came at a bad time. It is a Monday night. It is, like I said before, late November. It is freezing cold, and hurts when the wind blows, which is always. But there is also snow. Snow is cool. We don’t have snow in San Diego, so snow is cool (literally, too).
I had heard of Cheyenne, mostly from some of my favorite country songs that mention and/or are about this town. They paint a picture of a sort of romance, not between 2 lovers, though I’m sure that story is in there somewhere, but of The West. The Wild West. The cowboy. The Indian. The frontier. Gun fights. “Hell on Wheels” introduced me to Cheyenne by way of the railroad. I arrive with so much hope and expectation, but see none of these things (though I did browse through hundreds of pairs of cowboy boots at The Wrangler, now, regrettably, a Boot Barn. But the sign is still there, so the nostalgia remains, in part). Were they once here and now all gone? I think I might be 150 years too late. Maybe I need to move on from this fantasy in my mind that wants it to be real, or maybe I just picked the wrong town. The “Magic City of the Plains” isn’t so magical at all. And this is disappointing. But Cheyenne does have one thing to hang its hat on: the rodeo. Yep, good ol’ rodeo, perhaps this town’s last bit of intrigue, and the only one it needs, because rather than being “well-rounded” and spread too thin, perhaps it is better to be known for just one thing and doing that one thing well–and rodeo they do well. Lots of history here, much of which to be proud. The rodeo is a thing of legends around here, at least for all of its fans and stars. It (and I suppose the railroad, but that’s not as fun) is the legacy of Cheyenne and will continue to be so for as long as we’ll be around. Over 400,000 people, the population of the entire state (do they all come?) ascend upon the city for 10 days each July to experience this rodeo culture and celebrate what once was during what is called Frontier Days. Maybe I should have visited at that time, or maybe just add it to this year’s summer schedule. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see KISS (yes, that KISS) against a backdrop of giant bulls, hay bales and clowns? With that asked, I think they fit in just right. (July 29 if interested. Would you please?)
But I didn’t see that Cheyenne. I didn’t experience the rodeo or any part of the Wild West from days past. Instead, I see a town empty, cold and dark, not in the morbid sense of the word but as in lacking literal light. It’s really hard to see, but even with the brightest of illumination I’m not sure I’d have missed much. Again, I should probably give July a chance and perhaps rewrite this story then, but for now, this, trending toward bitter, is the only taste I’ve got. Although that cheese and potato soup at The Rib and Chop House is quite delicious and does its job of keeping me warm for a little while. And those El Gallo Loco Nachos (chicken with a bunch of spicy stuff) at The Cheyenne Brewing Company are really good, while the beer–not as much. But this place is new, so I’ll relent from further critique and instead hope they make it, because its name seems to belong and location inside of the old train depot, the stop, and sometimes destination, of some of the most famous outlaws, lawmen and characters of The Old West, is perfect. But they may need help. Should I offer?
I enjoy my 3rd beer at another, and only other, brewery in Cheyenne called Freedom’s Edge. By the way, this walk, albeit only 2 blocks, is terrible. It feels like 80 [blocks], and hurts. I’ve never felt so cold. I hate to complain, but…I’ve never felt so cold. Damn that Wyoming wind. But as miserable as this walk is, it does prove worthwhile as, after enjoying a beer with 2 locals, one being the bartender, it is bought for me; I now feel much better, and warmer. Speaking of free beer, and a side note of sorts, despite its harsh appeal, Cheyenne has really nice people, another feature on which to hang its hat. I already like this brewery a lot more than the other; please don’t tell. It’s so warm in here. I try to linger as long as possible as to avoid the cold and another painful walk outside, but apparently breweries close at night, so I have to go. And that hurts [to think about]. I hate the cold. I finally leave, trudging (not quite. Again, effect) through snow and biting (I have the marks to prove it) wind, eventually stumbling upon my 4th and next to final stop, The Crown Bar, located directly across the street from an extremely haunted (so they say) former brothel no longer in operation…or is it? Legend has it that at one time, a tunnel connecting The Crown Bar to this extremely haunted brothel was used to transport fine women, booze and just a few unlucky (pretty much dead) souls back and forth. I wonder if the legend is true, but I don’t want to find out; I just want to party. Not really, just drink beer and get warm once again, maybe eat some stew, and find the real Cheyenne, which I think I finally do here. This bar is cool, and divey, as divey as divey can be; empty (mostly), dark, gritty, and rugged, just as I had imagined, and hoped. I stay quiet at first, as not to draw attention to or out myself as a tourist, but at the sound of 1 song on the jukebox (Wonderwall?) I am caught mouthing the words by my soon to be best friends, all 3 of them, at least for 1 night, and I am in–as are they. By 2 AM (closing time) I am 3 more beers deep and dancing, on the inside, to the soundtrack of 90’s rock (although you’d think country music may have been a little more fitting). The bartender (name forgotten), my new bff’s and I sing along most of the night to the tracks she (the bartender) set, which shuffled through more Oasis, Pearl Jam, Live, Soundgarden…Chumbawamba? Gosh I hope so. But no Nickelback. Not even in Wyoming. I like this night; it’s kind of special to me; I leave feeling satisfied, as much as possible, with my Wyoming experience. My how quickly things can change, from bleak to beautiful, and random–I really love random. Finally, after much hesitation as to avoid the cold once again, as well as hold on just a little while longer to the night that just was, I make one last perilous walk outside to my car, my home (yes), and way to the nearest Walmart in town to rest comfortably for the night (Seriously. My Matrix is the best. Quite roomy for a small car–huge rear). That is until the wind, that damn Wyoming wind, wakes me up the next morning. No wait, it’s the same day. It has to be. Yeah, it is.
I know you may be wondering “will this story ever end?”, but I do have to mention my very last stop in Cheyenne, made on my way out of town: The Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum. What a treat (I don’t really ever use that phrase; it was just the first thing to come to mind, and seemed like maybe something they would say in the old days, like what I see in the museum). I find wagons, paintings, sculptures, lots of pictures, maps, frontier artifacts, old clothes, museum stuff, Lane Frost. That’s cool. Wait what? Who? Lane Frost. Wh…? Lane Frost. Yeah. He was a rodeo star. The rodeo star. He dominated. He was loved. And he died, at the rodeo at those same Frontier Days in Cheyenne, 1989. So sad. I cry. I don’t really, but want to. I am lucky enough to enter this exhibit just as a video of Mr. Frost is being shown and am enthralled. His story is so good. He smiled, a lot, and BIG. Everyone loved him, even Korn, as unsentimental as they can be (I actually don’t really know if or how well they exude tender emotion), paid tribute at the end of their video for “Hold On”. He was only 25. Why did this happen? Takin’ Care of Business (the bull) had had enough. He hit Lane when he [Lane] was down, breaking his ribs. Why? Lane tried to walk but fell, his heart and lungs then punctured by the broken ribs, never to beat or breathe again. Lane was so full of life, described by his friend Cody Lambert as the “real-life characters played in the movies by John Wayne”. So why? I hate death, but perhaps its occurrence while doing something one loves and that inspires so many others makes it more tolerable. I am now listening to “July in Cheyenne”, a country song written by singer Aaron Watson for Lane’s Mama, in Lane’s honor. She cried, I know, but I do not. I should.
Well, Wyoming, who are you? I’m a little confused. I mean, I had fun at the bar and everything and meeting Lane was cool, but something seems amiss, like you’re held back in a way. Are you still holding on to your past, that same one I didn’t see, unable to move on? You’re like a firework that didn’t explode, so full of promise, hope and beauty (found in size, the unknown and, of course, whatever fantasy I have in my mind) but in the end just a dud; you certainly leave me longing for more. Fantasy can, and often times does, cloud reality and leave us disappointed, so maybe there is more to you I don’t know and have yet to discover; I certainly hope so. There is a mystery about you, Wyoming, I can’t quite grasp, and that’s what keeps me guessing, and in wonder. This is a good thing, the one that makes you great. I can hear you laughing at me and are probably far more comfortable with yourself than I’d suppose, or maybe even am with myself. Perhaps I’m the one who is lacking, that dud of a firework. You’ve been doing this a while and have done just fine for yourself; who is this outsider and wanderer to question you? Maybe I’ll just listen and let you show me for yourself. Come on in, make yourself comfortable and stay a while, you say. Thanks for the invite.
Well, there you have it, Wyoming in a nutshell (I think). Or cowboy hat. Or boots. Or a saddle. Whatever. But let me be fair–this is Southeastern Wyoming, much different than the mountains and famous scenery of its far-Western counterpart showing off Tetons and Yellowstone (another blog for another time). Yeah, those places are nice, but this is a different world over here, the one I had envisioned since before I arrived (with the exception of Cheyenne, of course. I thought I’d see just a little more). Which reminds me–didn’t I say somewhere way back when that I was taking a pause, which implies that I would, at some point, resume from where I left off? Well I don’t want to. I’m just gonna keep on going, which is what you do in this part of Wyoming, at least as a tourist like me, or someone just tryin’ to get to wherever they need, or don’t need, to be. That to say, I do love this place and wish it the very best. As barren, dark and cold as it may appear, and truly be, it is vast, and vast, at least to me, suggests great hope and expectation, the very best state, of both place and mind, to be. Thank you, Wonderful Wyoming, for letting me in and sharing yourself; I learned so much I would not have otherwise. Thanks also to you for checking in to hear my story. I hope I’ve provided you at least a glimpse of what it’s like in this somewhat lonesome, yet curious, land, and inspired you to find your own adventures, wherever they may be. And if you ever get the chance to visit Wyoming, do. You’ll be happy, if even just to say you did. See y’all soon 🙂