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Cheyenne: The tamer side of the wild west

If the 400+ photos of the sky on my camera are any indication, Wyoming truly is ‘big sky country.’ For Chicagoans, whose view of the sky is generally the skyline, seeing wide open country with the Rocky Mountains on one side and rolling hills on the other was a gorgeous sight my daughter and I couldn’t get enough of on our recent vacation to Cheyenne.

Cheyenne, a small historic town nestled near the Colorado border, takes visitors back to the old wild west with its historic buildings and tales of famous western characters who visited. We started our trip with a horse-drawn carriage ride through the downtown, which is filled with giant painted cowboy boots and western-style stores.

We decided after that to make our trip primarily an outdoor adventure, so the next morning we headed to Bit-O-Wy ranch for a horseback ride. Unlike trail rides around the Midwest, this one took us out into open country, where we went up and down hills and even jumped a small creek. After lunch at the nearby Bunkhouse Bar and Grill, which is so typical Wyoming it’s not unusual to find a guest’s horse tied up outside, we headed to the nearby state park to hike.

Cheyenne is less than half an hour from Curt Gowdy State Park and the Vedauwoo Recreation Area. While we were fascinated to watch experienced climbers heading straight up the rock cliffs, we opted for an easy walk along a well-marked trail. The trail was filled with beautiful rock formations, beaver dams and even grazing cows.

We also drove north of Cheyenne to Fort Laramie, a military outpost from the 1800s, but found it geared more toward adults. However, nearby Register Cliff was fascinating. Pioneers carved their names in the limestone cliffs to let the family and friends who followed know they had made it that far. We saw name etchings dating back to the early 1800s, as well as the wagon ruts permanently dug into the rocks from the wagon trains on their trek west.

The town of Cheyenne itself also has lots to offer, especially for families with young children. From botanic gardens with a children’s play area to several western museums, you don’t even have to leave town to entertain your crew. My cowgirl loved having a hat custom-steamed for her at the Wrangler store and bought some western boots to complete the outfit. We also headed a few miles down the road to the Terry Bison ranch, where guests can ride a train through the bison herd and feed the bison, who come right up to the train for treats and petting. (Plus some cowboy train robbers hold up the train along the way and a shootout ensues, which the kids on the train loved.)

It’s easy to get around Cheyenne—all the museums are nearby, there are trolleys and horse-drawn carriages, and parking is abundant. There are many hotels on the edge of town—we stayed courtesy of Days Inn, which had bunk beds in addition to two queen beds in the room—and more hotels are in the process of being built.

If you have a budding cowgirl or cowboy, this is the place for them to really experience the west as it used to be, with all the conveniences of modern day life. For more details to plan your trip, visit cheyenne.org.

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