Between Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone lies Gillette and Wright, Wyo., dubbed the "Energy Capital of the Nation" and a close drive to Devils Tower National Monument. Here are the top six things to do in this area that's home to a couple craft breweries and wood-fired pizza locales.
1. Tour Durham Bison Ranch
Why go: This 55,000-acre ranch populated with 3,000 bison has been in the Flocchini family for three generations and is one of the largest bison operations in the world.
Armando Flocchini Sr. purchased the ranch in 1965 after working as a butcher at and then owner of Durham Meat Co., in San Francisco. John Flocchini has run the ranch since 1985 and works with his wife Gaylynn Flocchini.
"They raise the bison holistically, and a lot of area restaurants serve their bison meat, which is outstanding," says local Kurt Box.
Take a 1.5-2-hour tour on board an 18-passenger bus and learn how the Flocchinis holistically manage their herd.The bus is open-air, and you literally drive into the middle of the bison herd to learn more about them. While you are not allowed to disembark from the bus, you are close enough to almost touch these amazing animals.
"Being that close to a bison is worth any price," Box says. " They are so powerful."
If you really want to feel like it's like to live on a Wyoming ranch, spend the night. Built in the early 1900s, the Wright Family Rock House is available for nightly rentals. It has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a washer and dryer and kitchen.
Access it: The ranch headquarters is five miles from Wright, but you must call the Campbell County Convention & Visitors Bureau at 307-686-0040 to sign up for a tour. Learn more about the ranch at durhambisonranch.com.
2. Explore Devils Tower National Monument
Why go: See a striking stone column rising seemingly out of nowhere. It’s Devils Tower, a 867-foot pillar beckoning everyone from Native Americans to geology buffs to rock climbers to come closer. Take in the sights and sounds, and learn more about the remarkable cultural and natural history surrounding the monument.
"As you start to get closer to it, you feel it as much as you see it," says Gillette local Kurt Box. "The enormity of it is mystical. For Native Americans, it's sacred. You'll see signs not to disturb the colored prayer cloths in the trees [placed by Native Americans].
Arrange a tour of Devils Tower in advance by reaching out to the Gillette/Wright Chamber and Visitors Bureau. The staff there will work with the national monument rangers to get a customized tour organized for you.
Access it: From Gillette, it’s about an hour drive. Take I-90 east to US 14 to WY 24.
3. Stop by Three Museums
Wright Centennial Museum
Why go: Get a taste of the past at Wright Centennial Museum as you view what cowboy kitchens looked like and the cook stoves of pioneer women. You’ll also see a real sheep wagon, an item with much importance before coal replaced sheep ranching as a main area industry. What's interesting is Wright, despite its history, was not even its own separate town until 1976.
Access it: The museum is located at 104 Ranch Court in Wright, Wyo. Learn more about the museum at www.wrightcentennialmuseum.org.
Named after the pile of rocks where it stands, the Rockpile Museum is the county's history museum. It tells the story of the area's energy history and the Powder River Basin.
Access it: The Rockpile Museum is at 900 W 2nd St. in Gillette.
Frontier Auto Museum
For those into vintage cars and antiques, it's worth heading to the Frontier Auto Museum, which opened in 2016. This 12,000-square-foot facility has a museum and an antique store in it, plus a coffee shop. Jeff Wandler, his daughter Briannna Brewer and her husband BJ Brewer run the museum and antique shop that is housed in a building built in 1949 for a Ford dealership.
Access it: The Frontier Auto Museum is at 211 West 2nd St. in Gillette.
4. Take a Coal Mine Tour
Why go: Anyone who has ever turned on a light switch should see where some of their power comes from. The Powder River Basin provides 30 percent of all coal used in the country's coal-fired energy plants. It’s why Gillette is known as the “Energy Capital of the Nation.”
Access it: Call the Campbell County Convention & Visitors Bureau at 307-686-0040 or stop by at 1810 S. Douglas Hwy. in Gillette to make coal tour reservations. Note: You’ll see surface mining, not underground.
5. Taste the Culinary Scene
Eat at Gillette Brewing Co. & Gone Postal Pizzeria
Why go: Enjoy pizza and craft beer with locals in the welcoming atmosphere of this brewery and Gone Postal Pizzeria in Gillette’s historic downtown.
Gone Postal Pizzeria gets its name from the fact that it occupies a former post office. It shares the space with the Gillette Brewing Co. Nate and Dawn Hardy , both locals, own the brewery. But that doesn't mean that's all they do. Nate Hardy still works at the local coal mine and brews the beer.
Access it: It’s at 301 S. Gillette Ave. in Gillette.
Dine at Pizza Carello
Owners and locals Arianna Jimison and Rachel Kalenburg opened up Pizza Carello and are committed to using the best ingredients in their wood-fired pizzas. This includes growing their own herbs, which end up in the pizzas.
"It's the best pizza I've had," local Kurt Box says.
Access it: It’s at 601 South Douglas Hwy. in Gillette.
Sip out of a Horn at Big Lost Meadery & Brewery
This meadery is the first meadery/brewery in Wyoming. Owner Sam Clikeman founded Big Lost Meadery & Brewery in 2014 after getting hooked on brewing beer and making mead in Utah.
Big Lost has been a hit in Gillette, generating enough income that Clikeman quit his job as firefighter in 2017 to devote himself full-time to Big Lost. He also picked up a partner, Bob Hewitt-Gaffney, along the way. Hewitt- Gaffney is Clikeman's sister's husband.
Sample a traditional mead by ordering Wild Man Mead or opt for the hibiscus and honey mead when you order the Wild Woman Mead. The mead is served in a steel horn with chains, so you can hang the horn around your neck when you are not sipping out of it.
Access it: Find Big Lost Meadery & Brewery at 106 S Gillette Ave. in Gillette.
6. Attend Summer Events
Every year, the Gillette/Wright area celebrates long summer days with annual events. The Gillette Main Street Brewfest is a great one-day gathering. In 2018, it was held in July.
The Donkey Creek Festival is a two-day free event that features live music, art booths and other activities. The 2019 dates have not been announced yet.
In August 2019, many of the top fireworks designers in the world will convene in Gillette for classes, trade shows and to showcase their new fireworks at the Pyrotechnics Guild International convention. It's the fifth time in its 50-year history that the convention has been held in Gillette. The nightly fireworks shows are open to the general public. The convention will take place Aug. 10-16, 2019.
"If you're here for anyone of those five nights, you'll see one of the best fireworks shows in your life," says local Kurt Box.
The convention will be held at the Cam-Plex in Gillette.
For more information:
Campbell County Convention & Visitors Bureau
1810 South Douglas Ave., Gillette, WY