When planning a trip to a smaller town, it is understandable to be concerned about nighttime entertainment. Do they roll up the sidewalks at 8 p.m.? What will you do with your big-city self into the wee hours of the night? Wyoming towns offer a fine array of restaurants and country bars where you can kick up your heels. But don’t be so quick to dismiss the charm of a sidewalk free evening – Wyoming has a special kind of nightlife.
Simply silent. Even on a quiet day in the city, there’s a sort of ambient noise that adds to daily stress. Traffic. The fan in your office. The constant drone of televisions and radios and keyboards. Take an opportunity to experience real silence during your visit to Wyoming by lying out in a field or up on a mountain in the evening. As dusks settles, the noise of the day will drift off and quiet will fill the air – interrupted only occasionally by the gently rustle of leaves or the swoosh of an owl’s wings as he floats by.
By the light of the silvery moon. While you are taking in the silence, take advantage of Wyoming’s elevation and expanses of wilderness to see the stars. On a clear night you can see the stars, and the stars behind the stars, and the stars behind those. Look long enough and you’ll realize the blackness of night is actually a dark grey of far away constellations that you’ve never noticed before.
When questioning some locals about their favorite, G-rated, nighttime activities, several mentioned the allure of hiking by the light of the moon. Vedauwoo in southeast Wyoming and Old Faithful in Yellowstone were particular favorites. A fella at the Vee Bar Ranch said he’s happy to organize a star-gazing stroll for his guests – assuming they have the energy after a great day of trail riding and an evening by the campfire.
Star gazing. If 6,000 feet up isn’t close enough to the stars for you, the Red Reflet Guest Ranch in Ten Sleep has a Meade Telescope which practically allows guests to see the dude-Martians at a similar ranch on the red planet. This baby will show you the pointy tips on stars you never knew existed.
If you’re interested in hearing from someone who knows there aren’t actually pointy tips on stars OR dude-Martians, plus a lot of other useful information, check out a local astronomy club. Grand Teton National Park and the Jackson Hole Astronomy Club are teaming up in 2009 to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy. This includes evening programs on July 19 and August 16 with family-friendly talks and telescope observations. Solar-filtered telescopes will also be available on August 16, to allow people to view sunspots (without seeing spots after).
The Cheyenne Astronomical Society and the Laramie Astronomical Society and Space Observers have several star-viewing events in the summer including the annual Weekend Under the Stars on August 20, 21 and 22. $15 (free for kids 12 and under), some sunscreen and a little bit of camping gear is all you need to build a database of star knowledge and the type of friendships that will last to infinity and beyond.
Going batty. Explore the dark side of the animal kingdom with Fort Laramie’s free Creatures of the Night event on Saturday, July 25. From 5 to 10 p.m., experts will teach about bats and raptors. The evening will also include games for the kids and nature walks to seek out amphibians and nighttime critters.
History by candlelight. Fort Laramie also hosts their annual Moonlight Tour on August 15, starting at 7 p.m. All you have to bring is a flashlight and some bug spray for this free event. Park guides will lead you through the fort where you can learn about its history and witness life on the frontier through historical reenactments.
Campfire curriculum. If you’re in the Jackson area on a Monday this summer, be sure to stop by the Teton Science School for Marshmallow Mondays. Each week features a talk about nature or wilderness survival, followed by open chats around the campfire, marshmallow roasting and possibly an evening hike. This $15 event ($8 for the kids) will leave you feeling sticky and studious.
Ghostly getaways. Does your taste in vacation lean more toward the ghoul and less toward school? Try the Friday night Ghost Tour in Casper, hosted by Painted Past Enterprises. This walking tour will take you through the darkest corners of downtown Casper where you’ll meet people of the past who walked the streets and shot up the town. Painted Past also hosts a tour of the cemetery in October where visitors have a chance to meet some of Casper’s well-known figures at their final resting places.
For the truly brave, the Wyoming Territorial Prison in Laramie hosts ghost tours on weekends in October. Occasional home to the likes of Butch Cassidy, this really creepy historic prison becomes even creepier in the dark. As you follow your guide through the concrete and cages, you’ll hear about past residents. A bump in the dark. A scratch down the hall. Something moving just out of sight. Was that an actor or your imagination? We’ll never tell.
Looking back over the list, there seems to be a lot to learn at night in Wyoming. Whether you’re taking in a history lesson, a biology lesson, or just learning how to appreciate the natural wonder of a sky unhindered by city lights, there is one lesson we know you’ll take home with you: sidewalks are overrated.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Fort Laramie National Historic site near Torrington, Wyoming is marking the 175th anniversary of mountain men, Native Americans, and Midwestern U.S. business concerns first meeting along the Platte River in eastern Wyoming to trade goods in 1834. We visit the fort for this feature that includes remarks from park ranger Joe Reasoner (a shirttail relation of newsman Harry) and Scott Walker of Fort Collins, Colorado who has been portraying a “mountaineer” for many years. Fort William was the original name of this location and it was to become the first permanent settlement in what is now the state of Wyoming.
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