Cheyenne, WY, Part I: City Tour
We left Fort Bridger and drove east on I-80 toward Cheyenne, WY. At a driving time of almost 6 hours from Fort Bridger to Cheyenne, it was a little farther that we like to drive the motor home in one shot. Therefore, we made a one-night stop at Western Hills Campground in Rawlins, WY.
Western Hills Campground is all gravel. There are full hookups with 30/50 amp electric and cable, although electric only and no-hookup sites are also available. It looked like all the RV sites were pull-throughs. The site spacing isn't bad, although we had to park pretty far toward the door side in order to allow space for our driver's-side slides to clear the utility pedestal. Fortunately, we didn't have anyone on either side of us.
The photo below is a view down the one of the rows.
Rawlins was even more windy than Fort Bridger. As the campground name implies, it's on a hill, which makes the wind worse. Like Fort Bridger, the wind thankfully died down as it got dark; but since the Western Hills is fairly close to the interstate, that just meant you could hear the traffic instead of the wind.
The campground is also close to railroad tracks. Who knew so many trains ran at night? Much of the original route of the first transcontinental railroad parallels a good bit of Interstate 80, and more tracks criss-cross the plains, so we're going to be hearing trains much of the time as we continue on our way east.
We got up the next morning and got an early start before the wind picked up. We had a drive of a little under three hours to Cheyenne. Fortunately, when the wind did start to blow, it was a tail wind rather than a head wind or cross wind. Cross winds make driving a high-profile vehicle like a motor home a real challenge.
Speaking of wind, it's bad enough in summer, but it must get awful in Wyoming in winter. All through the state we passed miles and miles and miles of snow fence lining the interstate. And this was not the 4-foot fence of wooden slats wired together like we see back east either. This was industrial-grade snow fence that was 8 or 10 feet high. Since there are so few real trees in this part of the state, Paul started calling the snow fence the Wyoming state tree.
In Cheyenne, we stayed at A. B. Camping and RV Park. A. B. Camping has mostly full hookup sites, but they also have back-in sites with electric only along the sides. The full hookups are pull-throughs. Most have 30/50 amp electric, but some have 30 amp only. There is free Wi-Fi, and the full hookup sites have cable. The campground is fairly quiet, but there are some very distant train whistles. As we said, the tracks are everywhere in this part of the country.
The roads and sites are gravel, and there is a little grass between the sites. The sites are a little narrow, but at least the pull-throughs are long enough to leave your tow or towed vehicle hooked up if you're only staying one night. The photo below shows our site at A. B. Camping.
And the next photo is a view down the row behind our site.
Although it was breezy when we got to Cheyenne, we're also happy to report it wasn't nearly as windy as Fort Bridger or Rawlins. A couple of days later, the temperature got up to the 90s, and it was downright sultry with hardly any breeze at all.
A. B. Camping has a barbecue restaurant right on site. It is open from 4:30 PM until 8:00 and serves pulled pork, brisket and ribs. There are sandwiches, dinner plates and smoked meat available by the half pound or pound. You can eat in, take out, or they will deliver to your site. We could smell the wood smoke when we checked in, so we thought it would be a good idea to give the barbecue a try.
We decided to get one dinner plate of pulled pork and one of brisket and to share the meats so we could try them both. The plates include two sides and a roll. They also have homemade pies for dessert, but they were already sold out by the time we got there at about 5:30.
We both liked the brisket even though it was chopped rather than sliced. It had enough moisture and smoky flavor to stand on its own without even having to add barbecue sauce. That was a real plus for Paul because he wasn't too crazy about their sauce, although Margery liked it. Paul thought the sauce had too much cumin. The dinner plates were $7.75 each. Overall, everything was pretty good for the price. It was also nice for Margery not to have to cook on a travel day.
On the day after we arrived, we started out our visit to Cheyenne with a city tour aboard a motorized trolley.
We frequently take a guided tour like this because we think it's a good way to find out where things are located and to get an overview of the history before we start sightseeing on our own.
The cost was reasonable at $10 for a 90-minute, narrated tour with off-on privileges at any of about 6 stops. They had an upgraded pass that included a admission to three museums for only $5 more. The three museums had admission regular fees of $4, $5, and $7, so even if you just wanted to do any two of them the combo pass was a good deal. The only drawback is the combo pass is only good for two days, so you have a limited time to get to the museums. We knew we wanted to see at least two of the museums, so we opted for the combo.
We got there in time for the first trolley tour of the day at 10:00 AM so we'd have time to do some sightseeing afterward. The tour starts outside the Cheyenne Depot, which is the old Union Pacific train station. The driver spent the first 10 minutes or so before we even left the stop talking about the early history of Cheyenne.
Our tour guide was excellent. He started coming to Cheyenne when he was 12 years old and settled there as an adult. His careers included being a ranch hand, a state trooper, and retired as a range detective. Two young granddaughters were with him to 'babysit' him. :-) They were darling, so well-behaved and very helped their grandpap by 'managing' the hand fans made available to passengers. Everyone gasped when our guide told us he had 32 grandchildren followed by a chuckle when he explained that we now know what Wyomingites do with cold winters and bad roads. Temps can reach 60 degrees below 0.
The town was first laid out in 1867 by General Grenville Dodge and his survey crew in what was then Dakota Territory. Cheyenne was located near the spot where the eastern leg of the transcontinental railroad being built by the Union Pacific Railroad would cross Crow Creek. The town was named for the Cheyenne tribe of Plains Indians. By the time the first track reached Cheyenne in November, 1867, over 4,000 people had already migrated to the town.
The population declined as track crews continued to move west, but after completion of the railroad, the town once again began to grow. One thing that helped the town grow was the fact the open range was being fenced in the late 1800s, and annual cattle drives became a thing of the past. Instead, ranchers took their cattle to stockyards in places like Cheyenne and shipped then to market on trains.
The tour wound around the downtown streets and past many landmarks including the old Governor's mansion, the Wyoming State Capitol, and several museums. We'll have more about some of the major sites we saw on the tour in upcoming posts because we stopped at several places later for a more detailed visit.
The tour also went through some of the city neighborhoods. One of the more interesting neighborhoods is known as the Rainsford District. Charles D. Rainsford was an architect from back east who came west in the 1870s to become a rancher. After he got to Cheyenne, many of his friends began inviting him to design their homes.
Rainsford designed Victorian-style houses, many of which had roofs with numerous gables and turrets. Another favorite design feature of his was fish-scale shakes used as siding. The fish scales can be seen on the bay windows.
The house in the next photo is called the pencil house. The bottom of the turret has a black tip, which is the pencil point. The turret itself is the shaft of a stubby pencil, and the roof is the eraser.
Today, the Rainsford houses are very popular and command high prices. Most of the Rainsford houses are on the Register of Historic Places, and there is a stipulation that owners cannot change the exterior home in any way and must maintain the color schemes of the home.
The next photo shows Rainsford's personal home. He was only 5' 2" tall, and he designed his house to suit his stature. Notice how low the porch is in comparison to the trash cans sitting beside it. The windows and doors are also lower than normal. It's hard to tell from the photo how low it was, but in person it almost looked like an oversize playhouse.
The trolley tour also went to the northern part of the city to Lions Park which is the location of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Adjacent to Lions Park is Frontier Park, which is the location of Frontier Days Old West Museum and the location of many of the activities for the annual Cheyenne Frontier Days. We'll have more about the gardens and the museum in an upcoming post.
Cheyenne Frontier Days is a huge event that has been going on since 1897. There are four parades in the downtown area during the week-long event. There are also nightly concerts with big-name artists. Frontier Park has specially-built booths that have an old-west appearance. During Frontier Days, craft and western wear vendors sell their products in the booths.
The main attraction of Pioneer Days is a huge rodeo with up to 2,500 entrants. There are events every day that range from barrel racing to bull riding. The rodeo finals, called the "Daddy of 'em All," take place on the final Sunday.
The rodeo arena is the largest in the world with stands that seat 66,000. The arena itself is reportedly big enough to hold the RMS Titanic with 16 feet to spare on all sides. We could see the enormous stands on our tour. We'll have more about Cheyenne Frontier Days and the rodeo in an upcoming post.
Cheyenne Frontier Days are held the last full week of July, and the event draws visitors from all over. Although Frontier Days sound exciting, we scheduled our departure to be out of Cheyenne before the event started to avoid the crowds.
Back at the depot at the end of the tour, we found out there were also shorter, horse-drawn wagon tours.
We liked the sign on the back of the wagon.
After the trolley tour we went back to some of the places we passed on the tour for a closer look. Stay tuned, and we'll tell you all about them.