By: James Clark
Less than a pinpoint on a map of the United States, Medicine Bow Wyoming sits at the cross roads of highways 487 and US 30/WY287. Surrounded by millions of acres of wild land, with vistas that stretch all the way to the horizon, the town looks like it was dropped into the middle of “no where”. At 6600 feet as you gaze south towards Denver, which is 1,400 feet lower, you can watch the land fall away as the altitude rapidly descends.
Here, in the land of cowboys and dinosaur fossils, this small burg of less than 300 inhabitants sits as a locale for ranch supplies, a meal stop for travelers and Saturday night carousing of the local cowboys and cowgirls. Except for the highway the streets of the town are gravel. The developed portion of the town is about a quarter mile wide and a half mile long. Most buildings are well over 100 years old with an eclectic mixture of a few newer homes and mobile homes around the town and a new Community Center. But Medicine Bow has so much more to offer. Those who are seeking outdoor/adventure vacations or who have a penchant for the unique and out of the way spots.
Do you love the outdoors? Do you like to hunt, fish, hike or are you a rock hound? Some of the best fly fishing, hunting and outdoor activities in the world are situated within an hours drive of Medicine Bow. You will find camping, fossil and rock hunting, hiking and astronomy – no city lights to wash out the Milky Way. There are multiple mountain ranges in the area for splendid hiking opportunities. The Snowies in the Medicine Bow National Forest offer a wonderful location to hike in Summer and ski in Winter. The Green River, Big Sandy River, the Fontenelle and Big Sandy Reservoirs along with numerous local streams offer world class fishing for every type of angler. And if you are a hunter or have wondered what it would be like to work on a ranch, M & M Ranch Vacations in Medicine Bow offers guided hunting and working ranch vacations.
The town itself has a very, very distinct history. The Medicine Bow area was the summer home of Owen Wister an author who studied the local culture and wrote about the lives, trials, tribulations and joys of the people who lived in this area during the late 1800’s. Eventually, in 1901, he wrote The Virginian; a novel which became five movies and a late 1960’s TV show. The story is about an unnamed ranch hand who is adept with a gun, tough as nails, able to ride, rope and shoot and has a moral code of distinct right vs wrong. This was the first great “western” novel setting the format for the future work of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. Wister, 1860 to 1938, was an unusual writer for this cowboy country. He was the only child of a well to do and creative family from Philadelphia; his father a physician and his mother a magazine writer. He went to boarding schools in New England and Switzerland and graduated from Harvard with studies in drama and music. Wister was a Harvard classmate and lifelong friend of Teddy Roosevelt. Due to an illness his physician sent him west for his health and from 1885 he spent his summers living on ranches with cowboys and at cavalry outposts with soldiers. He used his detailed notes to write stories of these people for the Harper’s Weekly; stories which later developed into, The Virginian. Be sure to visit Owen Wister’s cabin and the town museum.
Just a few miles south of town is the Bone House. It’s built completely from dinosaur bones and is a fossil museum. Down the highway from there is the famous Como Bluff which, beginning in the 1870’s, turned out to be one of the richest sites for dinosaur bones in the US.
The town has a three story hotel, The Virginian – probably the tallest building for one hundred miles. Built in 1911 the hotel is named after the famous novel. A historical marker of Owen Wister and his writings, The Virginian Hotel and Restaurant remind us of local culture, local history and the man who shared them with the world. The original hotel building has 16 antique sleeping rooms and four antique suites. The building also houses several dining choices. Just remember that this is cattle country so your steak is going to be fresher than fresh – there is a meat processing company right in Medicine Bow. The menu also contains other various western and “cowboy” fare to please your palate. Then there is the typical “western” bar, The Shiloh, appointed with all kinds of cowboy memorabilia like cowboy hats, saddles, spurs and ropes, ranching tools, other Americana and football helmets from the major universities in Wyoming. Take the opportunity to enjoy an evening of country music, adult beverages and chat with the locals. Just off the main dining room is a well appointed Victorian “living room” with antiques that blend well with 1890’s style wall papered walls and floors that have become smooth from over a hundred years of foot traffic.
James is a travel writer and copy writer who loves unique and out of the way places
I’ve been there and this description is on point. Nice to revisit it through the author’s words.
Your words make me wish for an adventure. Thanks James.