Editor's note: This story was first published Nov. 28, 2018. We're bringing it back today in observation of National Escape Day!
WASHINGTON (CIRCA) — This summer, Circa went on assignment to Wyoming. It's the 10th largest state by land mass, but the second smallest in terms of population. The only state with fewer people is Alaska.
Our stories took us on a road trip through the state's southeast "Park to Park" region, and in the midst of what some would call the definition of "middle of nowhere," are breathtaking views, town squares that transport you back in time, and some of the most interesting people and places you have to see for yourself to believe.
FIRST STOP: LARAMIE
Home of the University of Wyoming, the American Heritage Center, and the Wyoming House for Historic Women.
The Laramie Mural Project was founded in 2011 as a collaboration between the University of Wyoming Art Museum, local artists and the Laramie Main Street Alliance.
The project utilizes local artists to create large-scale murals throughout downtown Laramie. Thanks to a comprehensive self-guided audio tour provided by the Albany County Tourism Board, you don’t have to travel all the way to Laramie to enjoy the one-of-a-kind artwork.
Wyoming earned its nickname as the "Equality State" because the first woman to ever cast a vote in the U.S. did so in Laramie, 50 years before women were granted the right to vote in the rest of the nation.
Wyoming is also home to the first female jury members, the world's first female justice of the peace, and the first town that was governed entirely by women.
Before we hit the road, we fueled up at Coal Creek Coffee. One of the only coffee shops in downtown Laramie, Coal Creek Coffee's philosophy is based on its belief that "history, culture, and integrity are essential ingredients to success in business and in life."
TAKING THE SCENIC ROUTE
From Laramie we headed North to Casper.
It’s a three-hour drive, so rather than take the standard route, we added an extra 45 minutes to our trip to check out the views from State Route 130, a.k.a. Snowy Ridge Road. It’s considered one of the most beautiful drives in the entire state and it definitely lives up to the hype.
In Casper, we sat down with Judy and Dennis Shepard. Their son Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten, burned, and left to die tied by a wooden fence in Laramie on Oct. 6, 1998. He was found 18 hours later and rushed to the hospital in critical condition. He never regained consciousness.
His murder brought international attention to hate crimes and LGBTQ rights. In the aftermath of Matthew's death, Judy dedicated her life to fighting and lobbying for hate crime laws.
After we said goodbye to the Shepards, we had originally planned to visit the town of Glenrock to check out the paleontology museum and see some of Wyoming's dinosaurs, but then we found out about an even more intriguing creature a few miles away in Douglas.
THE STORY OF THE JACKALOPE
When you enter the town of Douglas in eastern Wyoming, you’re greeted by a giant statue of an animal that looks like a jackrabbit with antlers. It's called a jackalope, and it's basically Wyoming's Bigfoot.
From Douglas we drove down to the state capital, Cheyenne, home to the "Grandaddy of them all," the Frontier Days Rodeo.
FRONTIER DAYS RODEO IN CHEYENNE
We saw bull riding, steer wrestling, and talked to bullfighter Cody Webster about his death-defying job.
There's more to Frontier Days than just the rodeo. There's a carnival, all kinds of food and events, and even live music. We talked to Chase Rice, Michael Ray and country music legend Charlie Daniels, who talked to us about why he's fed up with with Congress.
A chuck wagon cook-off isn't just a food competition, it's a tribute to the Wild West
Champion Trick Roper Rider Kiesner shows off his skills
The wild horse race is one the rodeo's most unpredictable events
How do rodeo cowboys handle life on the road? One trailer for the family, another for the livestock.