15 Things I Learned in Colorado and Wyoming
You know those ambiguous, boxy shapes out west that most people can’t tell apart? I was there earlier this month, visiting an old roommate that transferred schools and my best friend from home that moved far away to college. As luck would have it, these two close friends of mine ended up going to school an hour and a half away from each other – one in Greeley, Colorado and the other in Laramie, Wyoming. I’m always up for adventure, and luckily so are my friends, so I flew from Boston to Denver, hung out in Colorado with my old roommate, and then the two of us road tripped north to Wyoming.
Here’s my breakdown of what I learned from my brief period out west.
1. Wyoming is the least populated state in the country (yes, even Alaska has more people)
I actually knew this before departing, and whenever I told friends how sparsely populated my travel destinations were I was either met with impressed awe or horror. Being in the middle of nowhere isn’t for everyone, especially for some of my friends who are now completely accustomed to Boston’s city living, but I discovered Wyoming is actually pretty cool.
Wyoming has a very small population (smaller than the city of Boston alone). The state exhibits a self-sufficient spirit, where the individualistic, independent cowboy mentality is alive and well. People look out for themselves, and when you’re surrounded by nothing but land, wild animals, and who knows what for miles and miles, I can see why.
Speaking of land, Wyoming has a lot of it. I come from a part of the country where you can drive through three states in 45 minutes. My friend’s roommate is from a small town in Wyoming about five and a half hours north in the same state. She said her hometown has 500 people, with one sheriff who gets Mondays off.
2. There’s a town in Wyoming with a population of 1
My roommate and I passed signs advertising a world-famous town because it only has one person living in it. The town, formerly named Buford, has a gas station and was recently bought at auction and renamed PhinDeli Town Buford by the one man who lives there now. According to my friend, he’s a nice guy.
3. Wyoming highways at night are as wonderful as they are eerie
By the time my old roommate and I headed back for Colorado, night had fallen. The two lane highway we drove back on had no street lights. There weren’t any buildings off of the highway offering light. There were hardly any other cars. The only reason we were able to see in front of us was because of our own headlights and the glow of the stars overhead (which were incredibly clear). Oncoming cars in the other lane were hard to distinguish until they went rushing past, and bends in the road were barely discernable until the last second. Keep in mind that the speed limit is 70 mph.
Truck drivers that can’t get up to speed on small highways like this often put on their hazards to signal to drivers behind to go around them. We once caught up to a car with its hazards on, and I initially thought the car was breaking down it was going so slow. That’s when it hit me – breaking down here would be scary. If something were to go wrong, we were on our own. For two young women on a completely unfamiliar highway in a state where almost everyone owns a gun except for us, that’s a little frightening.
That being said, there was also something so free about that highway. Though I couldn’t see in the darkness, I could tell the land on either side of the highway stretched on untouched and undeveloped for miles and miles. Coming from Boston where I can’t physically go anywhere without there being people, it’s nice to know that there are still parts of the country where it’s just you and nature. Blasting the Dixie Chicks on the way back (I have no shame when it comes to radio selection), I couldn’t help but feel like this was the United States of America people think of when they envision freedom. It’s a real place, people. And you can go there.
- Colorado is hipster, Wyoming is the New Hampshire of the West
Colorado is a mix of frontier spirit and new-age hipster vibes. The Denver Airport plays western rodeo music as you wait for a shuttle to the baggage claim, but other parts (particularly Greeley, where I was) boast some impressive local, hipster coffee shops. One was a converted garage with mismatched furniture and art by local artists for purchase. After noticing my roommate and I going through prints, a musician came up to us and said it was all his wife’s work, and that she bases her work off of the music he creates. This guy also had a slight resemblance to the male lead in Portlandia. It was great. Any place you can drive a pick-up truck and have a quality vanilla chai tea latte is fine by me.
My old roommate described Wyoming to me as the New Hampshire of the West. For all my readers not familiar with New England, New Hampshire’s motto is “live free or die” and its residents live by that. As soon as we crossed the Colorado-Wyoming state line, we were bombarded with road-side advertisements for fireworks. Want to know another state where fireworks are legal? New Hampshire.
- Colorado is the state of bizarre, random statues
My old roommate used to be an art major and even she thought a lot of the art work all around the state was a bit odd. The weirdest statue had to be the horse on it’s hind legs outside of Denver’s airport. The horse’s eyes glow red, even in daylight.
- The Rocky Mountains are really big
Okay, so I already knew that, but I didn’t understand before departing that you’d be able to see the Rocky Mountains from so far away. On the ride back to Denver, we could easily see the beautiful Rockies along the horizon. We were hours away from the base of part of the mountain range, but it looked like if we drove for half an hour we’d be there. Part of this has to do with just how far you can see in these states. It’s not as flat as the plains of the Midwest, but the absence of trees lining the highways (something I’ve been spoiled with growing up in New England) means you can see as far as the horizon allows. You can even see Denver from miles away, and while there apparently are suburbs around it, to me it looked like a city dropped in the middle of nowhere.
7. Greeley, Colorado is a music scene
For a town with a downtown smaller than Laramie, Wyoming’s and a population comprised of cows and college students, Greeley has a pretty impressive music scene. My old roommate transferred to pursue vocal jazz, but the musical opportunities don’t end at her college’s campus borders. On one of my nights in Greeley, we went to an opera. Though I had fun, I learned that opera isn’t particularly my thing (having to read all the English subtitles gets old), but these people were definitely talented. Northeastern Colorado seems like a random place to pursue music, but the musical residents live and breath this stuff. And that means there are lots of opportunities to see people’s hard work pay off.
- Wyoming residents take their cowboy boot selections very seriously
I think it’s safe to say that Boot Barn in downtown Laramie has more cowboy boots in one place than I will ever see again in my life. The picture below is about a quarter of the wall in the women’s department – there were also men’s and children’s boots. My personal favorite was a pair of little boy’s cowboy boots decked out with the John Deere logo. This store also specializes in cowboy hats, jeans, flannels, bedazzled belts, and purses with a special compartment to conceal your firearm. Make of that what you will.
- Cafe Mexicali needs to expand its chain out of Colorado
If you ever find yourself in Greeley, Colorado, get the sweet pork burrito at this local chain. It’s like a fresh Chipotle, all without the long lines and E. Coli scandal.
- Elevation differences are real
I’ve lived at sea level my entire life, so I’m honestly just happy I didn’t get elevation sickness experiencing Colorado and Wyoming’s heightened terrain. I could feel the difference though, and my friends assured me I wasn’t alone. Going up a flight of stairs was a bit tiring, and my ears popped when driving on Wyoming’s highways. The elevation difference really hit me when we pulled off on a dirt road to watch the sunset and a plane passed overhead. I couldn’t understand why the plane was flying so low, and my friend informed me that we were just that high up.
- Colleges with actual campuses really do exist
Going to college in an urban environment means I consider Boston Common my school’s quad. Not only do my friends’ colleges have grass, bike paths, and student centers, but the University of Wyoming also has a dinosaur museum, thanks to the many archaeological discoveries that are made in the area. The museum was bigger than I thought it would be, and it was free of charge. Still, I’ll happily keep the city of Boston as my campus.
- Greeley, Colorado smells like cows, but you kind of get used to it
Even when you can’t see the cows, you can smell them all over town. I was told the smell is becoming more infrequent, and when I was there it was only for certain intervals of the day. At least you’ll always know where you are.
- Wyoming highways are great places for a photo op
What do you do when you’re on a quiet highway that’s known in the area as Happy Jack Road? You get out and walk down the double yellow lines because you can!
- True friends withstand the test of time
Sometimes when you see a friend for the first time in forever, you find yourself at an awkward loss for words even though you’re happy to see them. Simply put, with true friends, no matter how much time or how many miles have passed in between visits, you always pick up where you left off.
- You should go to Wyoming, only if just to see the sunset
Before and throughout my weekend away, I kept getting the same question, “Why would you go out there?” Even in Colorado, a few locals seemed confused as to why I would come so far to spend a weekend in Greeley. But when you get an opportunity to go somewhere new, you take it. One of my favorite quotations is the following from Ryu Murakami:
“Every one of a hundred thousand cities around the world had its own special sunset and it was worth going there, just once, if only to see the sun go down.”
You either found that really cheesy or you’re going to steal it for an Instagram caption, but I really try to live my life by those words, and Wyoming did not disappoint. No picture could ever do that sunset justice because a camera lens can’t capture just how much land you can see. Every way you turned offered a different vantage point, with a different natural landscape painted with varying colors. Driving away from the dirt road we were on, navy blue and gold lit up on the mountains off the left side of the highway, while the right side offered purple pastels settling over the flat farm land. It was like two sunsets in one.
So yes, I went to Wyoming, because I could, and I watched the sunset from a Walmart parking lot, because it was off the highway, and you know what? It was awesome.