We have this habit — my husband and I — of traveling to a destination with one eye on the possibility of it becoming our next home. It's a twitch to move where the grass is greener, or the water bluer, or the neighbors farther away. But instead of going "all in," we go home.
We hadn't been to Wyoming, nor did we know much about the Equality State, other than it was home to national parks and had the lowest population density in the nation. We booked a flight, with plans to visit Sheridan, Gillette and Buffalo.
After a layover in Denver, we landed at the small Sheridan County Airport and we were off, to the Historic Sheridan Inn. Dating back to 1893, the hotel revealed its age through creaky floorboards and Buffalo Bill memorabilia, the Wild West legend who had co-owned the property and resided there from 1894 to 1902.
Today, each of the 21 rooms is themed around characters from his life, from Sitting Bull to Annie Oakley. For less than $150 a night, we stepped back in time with perks like a footed tub, stone fireplace and wide-plank porch where Buffalo Bill held show auditions and Ernest Hemingway finished writing "A Farewell to Arms."
Across the street was Market Hall, Sheridan's historic railroad depot reimagined as a café. Breakfast vouchers from the hotel satisfied our grab-'n'-go needs with pastries and coffee for our morning hike.
The 45-minute drive to Tongue River Canyon offered a horizon that had no end, stacked in layers of green, brown, blue and white. Lines of irrigation wheels pushed forward like an invading army, hydrating crops for grazing cattle, wild turkey and pronghorn antelope. Proclaiming a farmer's toil were bales of hay bundled in open fields like cinnamon buns on a baking sheet.
It had been less than 24 hours since we'd arrived, and already we were pretty smitten.
At the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains, the trail along Tongue River featured stream crossings, natural arches and golden meadows. The 4.7-mile out-and-back hike turned into 7 when our phone signal dropped, as did the trail marker at the turnaround point. A fellow hiker informed us the signpost was missing, and that we had gone too far, but we felt like we hadn't gone far enough. Wyoming has a way of doing that.
Bypassing Sheridan, we drove south to Fort Kearney State Historic Site, a national landmark along the Bozeman Trail. Our guide had tears in her eyes as she told us about the historic battles. Clearly, the past has power for Wyoming's people. We saw this firsthand back in Sheridan, where dozens of buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Mint — a gathering place for locals since 1907.
During Prohibition, the Mint became a cigar and soda shop, with a speakeasy in the back room. Not much has changed since then. Covering the walls were firearms, photographs and game mounts, including caribou, bobcat, wolf, bear and a Texas Longhorn rack measuring 7 feet across. It's the type of place where you order whiskey, not wine.
The shops on Main Street could have doubled as museums. There are, however, some new kids in town, like Bighorn Mountain Axe and Smith Alley Brewing Co., where we shared BBQ brisket, burgers and beers.
The following morning, we hit the road toward Gillette, detouring to the Brinton Museum. Located in the Bighorn Mountains, the historic Brinton Ranch was just as impressive as the museum itself, housing a rare collection of Western and American Indian art.
The day's most impressive masterpiece, however, was Devils Tower National Monument. In the distance, we could see the geological formation pushing against the sky, rising 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River. Tattered scarves blew in the wind, knotted around branches and trunks. These sacred cloths represented the spiritual connection that more than 20 Native American tribes have had with the tower.
Another detour was to Ucross, where writers, composers and artists can set up residency at a 20,000-acre ranch. Among acclaimed works completed at Ucross were Annie Proulx's "The Shipping News," Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat Pray Love" and Ricky Ian Gordon's operatic adaptation of "The Grapes of Wrath."
Leaving Ucross, we were mesmerized by the landscape and wildlife fronting the open sky. Below a duvet of marshmallow clouds stood deer, antelope, horses and cattle grazing freely. Snaking through borderless plains were rivers and creeks, broken only by barns and ranches tucked behind tree lines. It was this in-between space from town-to-town that we loved most.
The following morning, we drove to Buffalo, home to the Occidental Hotel & Saloon, founded in 1880. The famed hotel became a watering hole for cowboys traveling along the Bozeman Trail. Among its many guests were Buffalo Bill Cody, Teddy Roosevelt, Calamity Jane and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Despite the passage of years, the Old West personality remains, right down to the saloon's original back bar and the bullet holes in the walls. Attached to the Occidental was Busy Bee Cafe, where highballs are cheaper than beer. A bison burger and malt hit the spot before we explored Buffalo.
Situated between Yellowstone Park and Mount Rushmore, Buffalo has an antique shop, cafe, barbershop and steepled church. Unlike Main Streets that aim to re-create the past, Buffalo seems to have never left it.
We had yet to unleash our inner cowboy, so we headed to the nearby TA Guest Ranch. The original 1892 buildings on this working cattle ranch have been restored into 13 guest rooms near the Ranch House restaurant. We did line dancing in the barn and took a horseback ride across the 8,000-acre property with the owner's daughter.
On our final day, we drove into the heart of Wyoming, going wherever the road would lead us. We grabbed beers in Cody and cut through Crazy Woman Canyon. We passed weather-worn cowboys corralling herds of cattle, stopping only to tip their hats in acknowledgment. The horizon was endless, with views a camera could never capture.
It was dark by the time we arrived back at TA Ranch, greeted by our cowgirl who asked if we had found our "home." We told her we hadn't.
"Keep exploring," she said. "Wyoming will rope you in soon enough."