The wide-open spaces and mountain ranges of the rugged state of Wyoming are populated by a vast array of wildlife. Animals far outnumber humans in the least populated state in the country. Wyoming is a mix of Wild West frontier heritage and spectacular scenery, with a few modern cities, overgrown cow towns, and two spectacular national parks.
Yellowstone National Park is the oldest on the planet. Its location on top of a volcanic crater has resulted in a unique landscape of geysers, fumaroles, mud pots, alpine lakes, and canyons. The towering granite peaks of Grand Teton National Park further south provide endless opportunities for climbers, hikers, and skiers.
Known as the 'Cowboy State', towns in Wyoming such as Jackson and Cody exude the spirit of the Wild West with wooden boardwalks, rodeos, restored shop-front facades, and staged shoot-outs. As Buffalo Bill's hometown, Cody is well known for its western-style wares and the Buffalo Bill Historical Center detailing the history of the American West. Around the sophisticated resort town of Jackson are numerous guest and working ranches that are a reminder of the state's history, and everywhere the hat-brandishing cowboy that is the state insignia preserves the image of the romantic Wild West. Despite this picture of a rough, male-dominated state, Wyoming was the first to allow women to vote in 1869. The state has also recently featured as the spectacular backdrop for the critically acclaimed film
Those who enjoy the outdoors will find a wealth of recreational activities among the breathtaking scenery, especially in the northwest where visitors can hike, kayak, boat, raft, fish, climb, camp, and ski to their hearts' content.
The Wyoming climate is semi-arid and as the second highest state in the country, conditions tend to be dry and windy. The lower lying areas tend to receive very little rain, usually about five inches (127mm), while the Grand Tetons and other mountains in the state receive 60 inches or more (152cm). State-wide, summers are usually warm to hot, with cooler mornings, and winters can be cold with heavy snowfall, particularly in the mountains. Springtime is usually mild, while autumns are cool with occasional snow at higher altitudes. Summer temperatures average about 85°F (29°C) and winter temperatures around 21°F (-6°C).
The world's first national park, Yellowstone was established in 1872. Despite its popularity today, most of the park still remains an undeveloped wilderness of magnificent mountain scenery, waterfalls, alpine lakes, and rivers. It is renowned for its geothermal wonders and abundance of wildlife. Spilling over into Montana and Idaho, the enormous park is situated on top of the Yellowstone Caldera, a collapsed volcanic crater that was formed 600,000 years ago and holds within it the greatest geothermic area in the world. This unique environment includes features such as exploding geysers, thousands of steaming fumaroles, hot springs, and bubbling mud pools, and is where the park's most famous attraction, the Old Faithful Geyser is to be found, drawing thousands of tourists to witness its regular eruption of steaming water.
Yellowstone is also home to the largest concentration of wildlife in lower USA, including grizzly and black bears, wolves, moose, and large herds of bison and elk. The two narrow waterfalls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River cut a striking picture in the yellow-coloured rock that gives the park its name, with superb views and hiking trails for all abilities. The large alpine Yellowstone Lake fills the eastern part of the caldera and offers opportunities for boating and fishing expeditions in summer. All places of interest are accessible along the loop roads, but the intensity of visitors in summer, especially between July and August, means that one needs to hike away from the main paths to experience the true wilderness of Yellowstone National Park.
Occupying the valley of Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park's identifying feature is the sharp granite peaks of the impressive Teton Range, with the dramatic Cathedral Group known as 'Les Trois Tetons' or 'The Three Beasts' towering above the valley floor. At their centre is the Grand Teton, the 13,770-foot (4,197m) peak that defines the skyline and dominates almost every view within the park. The mountains are popular with climbers and hikers, as well as photographers who can capture a variety of different angles from the park's scenic winding road or on one of its numerous trails that forms part of a vast network of hikes starting from the valley floor.
Beneath the Teton Range lie a string of lakes and the scenic Snake River that meanders the length of the park, offering numerous opportunities to kayak, fish, and raft. The stunning scenery can be easily seen and enjoyed from a drive through the park, but taking to the mountain trails or waterways is the best way to appreciate the spectacular views and experience the beautiful backcountry. A great abundance of large wildlife roams the valley floor, including moose, elk, bison, and grizzly and black bears.
What good's a visit to Cowboy Country without a little trail riding thrown into the mix? At Mill Iron Ranch, the Wheeldon family, led by the charismatic cowboy-proprietor, Chancy, boldly claim to 'run the best huntin', fishin', ridin' and eatin' outfit in [Jackson]'; and the scores of glowing Internet reviews of the ranch, suggest that they might just be telling the truth about that.
Offering the 'number one two-hour trail ride in the USA', at the end of which, visitors can return to the farmhouse for a bit of western swing dancing, and a steak dinner 'with all the fixings', prepared by the Wheeldons themselves. Visitors to Wyoming who are keen to experience a little ranch-life, could hardly do better than making a trip out to Mill Iron Ranch. Keen riders can also sign up for longer journeys, including a four-hour mountain trail ride, or full day trips that include fishing in Willow Creek. Longer trips are available by arrangement.
The ranch also offers fun winter activities like sleigh rides, and can arrange hunting trips for big game like moose, deer, elk, and bear.