A Small Mountain Stream
Sheridan, Wyoming, is a Bob Ross painting brought to life. The Bighorn Mountains are all happy little clouds and sky-tickling peaks, shaggy bearded moose and steamboats run ashore in the high country. Sheridan County is home to vivid mountainscapes that would have made the pigment impresario's brush blush, while the Historic Downtown is a spreading ground for cowboy couture, a hitching post on the thoroughfare of legends, and a fine place to spend a day (or two or three) when road tripping the USA. Sheridan is one of the Mountain West's premiere small towns, and features an allure that is wholly unique; my first one-day visit to Sheridan quickly became a two-week sojourn and then a five-year odyssey. Once you've experienced the Wild West Renaissance, you'll find it nigh impossible to leave.
A terse little Tanka written by cowboy poet Anthony Naples is often the first thing I think of when I'm flitting over mossy rocks on the Tongue River, fly rod in hand and trout on my mind.
Hanging low over the stream
Miles to the best fish
I wade cold water, and stones
Find their way into my boots
That's the Small Mountain Stream the way Naples' sees it, and the way I feel Wyoming in my bones - whether I've found a stretch of the Tongue to call my own on a postcard-perfect morning, when I'm cruising peaceful Sibley Lake on the lookout for cutthroat, or when I'm making the trek up along the rocky spine of iconic Steamboat Point, towering some 700-feet above the forest below. You see, Sheridan is blessed with plenty of big, bold vantage points – you can take in the Cloud Peak Wilderness on a leisurely hike to the high pass over Geneva Lake for sterling mountain panoramas, or race out of the high country at breakneck speed during the annual Bighorn Wild and Scenic Trail Run, one of the country's premiere alpine races. We take the outdoors seriously up here in Sheridan, and we love to share it with guests. So you might consider popping in at the Forest Services Office, where you can pick up maps, hiking tips and amenities before you set out to explore the more than 100 miles of trails in both the National Forest and Cloud Peak Wilderness; the route to mountain-fringed Stull Lake is just one noteworthy charmer. Or you can peg your adventures closer to town, and zip out onto the Soldier Creek Trail on one of Sheridan Bicycle Co.'s mechanical bulls for an 8-mile ride that should leave you primed for a pint at the Luminous Brewhouse – the Coffee Ale, with its sweet vanilla notes and earthy caramel finish, is made with fresh brew from the Java Moon coffee house, where if you're lucky you can sip a latte and wax lyrical with cowboy poets, watercolor legends like artist Randy Stout, and acclaimed authors like Craig Johnson of Longmire fame.
Once you've cultivated a taste for Sheridan's artistic flair, head out in search of the city's Bozeman Scout, or the Tin Man with a heart of gold; downtown is home to more than 60 pieces of outdoor art, from Jerry McKellar's beloved Huckleberry Daze grizzly bear to D. Michael Thomas' epic Cool Waters cowboy at Whitney Commons. Sheridan's community art sculptures are curious, creative, and unique.
If unique is truly what you're after, take the back roads (Soldier Creek to Wolf Creek Road) from Sheridan to Ranchester, where Wyoming's pastoral grace comes to life in the foothills of the Bighorns; this is your chance to spot thousands of pronghorn, deer, and maybe even an elk – along with bald eagles, golden eagles, and great horned owls. Fuel up on fine pub grub at the Wyoming Buckshot Saloon, gnash your teeth at Sue, the 65-million year old dino at the T-Rex Natural History Museum, then aquatint yourself with more modern history at the Connor Battlefield, the perfect place to picnic along the Tongue River.
Stop by the Museum at the Bighorns for a glimpse at how the West was really won. Exhibits include the history of the Sheridan Brewing Co., the first American firm to package soda in cans. Take a walking tour through quaint Kendrick Park, home to a small herd of buffalo and elk. Concerts in the Park take center stage at the band shell every Tuesday during the summer.
At the legendary Mint Bar the bartender will provide you with a map to the macabre showcase of local wildlife that lines this former speakeasy’s walls. You should try a ditch, but don’t ask what’s in it. Cowboys get their hair cut at the White Swan Barber Shop, an iconic Main street institution, while the culinary whiz kids at the Welcome Market Hall works with cuts of another caliber while dishing everything from fire grilled meatballs to slow-smoked beef brisket.
Frackleton's executive chef has taken Western cuisine to new heights, and pairs whimsical gastro marvels with clever cocktails, some made with Wyoming Whiskey, sagebrush, and local honey. It's always a good idea to shop on a full belly, so head over to King's Saddlery for a 4-plait rawhide riata and a saddlebag, even if you don't know what those are. There's a good chance you'll come out of the story under a Kings Ropes hat, ala Johnny Depp and Henry Cavill, and you'll leave the Don King Museum with a better appreciation for Wyoming's remarkable ranching history. End your day with a frosty one at the Black Tooth Brewing Co. before settling down for the night in the Sitting Bull Suite at Historic Sheridan Inn; Buffalo Bill once held auditions for his Wild West Show on the Inn’s lawn.
Sheridan is quintessentially let 'er buck Western and refreshingly nouveau riche, a raucous cowboy haunt and the intrepid traveler’s perfect hideaway. Come out West to peek beneath the façade of 200 years of frontier history and revel in an American West that is as bold and brash as it is fastidiously mercurial. Sheridan is the Old West, wholly new and inspiring, and given half a chance will work itself into your bones like the cool waters of a small mountain stream.
By Flash Parker
Story originally appeared in a Madden Media/Wyoming Office of Tourism spring insert campaign.
Copyright 2015, Flash Parker.