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Beyond Yellowstone: The Wyoming Only the Locals Know

I recently was hired by the Wyoming Office of Tourism to photograph northcentral and northeast Wyoming and find my #CallOfTheWY. In total honesty, my first reaction was, “What the heck is in northcentral and northeast Wyoming?”. I grew up in Billings, Montana—just north of the border—and like most Americans, my only experience with Wyoming was with Yellowstone National Park and the Teton Mountains. But within the first day of my tour, I was left eating my words.

Back in November, I wrote a blog on the “Hidden Side of Montana” about Southeast Montana and the prairies and badlands of the east. I expected a similar landscape being that I was just south of eastern Montana, but I found myself getting soaked by waterfalls, looking up at immense canyon walls, traversing mountains and laying for hours in fields of wildflowers. Within hours of my first day on the road trip, I was hooked and I already began planning to come back and spend weeks exploring this diverse area. The common theme of the trip seemed to be constantly reminding myself that I was in Wyoming and not exploring the canyons of Utah or the mountains of Peru. On this trip, I was also joined by my best friend and talented videographer, Hazer Novich.


I started my road trip with a familiar spot, Bighorn Canyon’s south unit. For this, I drove south of Billings to the small town of Lovell, Wyoming, before venturing back north to Devil’s Canyon Overlook. I’ve been to this spot countless times, but the mere sight of it immediately turns me back to a kid again. Before I even brought the camera out I spent an hour running along the thousand-foot cliffs and playing with the incredible echo. I finally pulled my camera out to shoot a couple of photos before turning in for a night’s rest and an early start.

The next morning, we rose at 4:30 a.m. to hike out to Sullivan’s Knob, home to the famous triple echo, to watch the sunrise. Now I’ve watched a lot of sunrises and sunsets from the rim of Bighorn Canyon,  but none even compare to the sunrise this particular morning. The sky erupted with pinks and oranges before the light dimmed and the sun retreated behind clouds. After our morning cup of coffee, we headed east up and over the Bighorn Mountains to Sheridan . This was my first taste of the epic week to come as were treated to a family of three badgers on top of the pass! After a lifetime of living in Montana I had never had the opportunity to photograph this elusive creature, so to be able to watch them play in the wildflowers from a close distance was amazing.

After the high of the wildlife encounter wore off we headed down the pass and into the city of Sheridan. I’ve always loved Sheridan and took any opportunity to go walk the streets and also to connect with my longtime friend, Tia. After a visit to the legendary Blacktooth Brewery, we headed back up to the top of the Bighorn Mountains and down Shell Canyon into the small town of Shell, Wyoming (population 82). We stayed at the Shell Campground and instantly fell in love with it, and how could we not—they had two local Wyoming beers ON TAP.

-Shell Campground
*Added bonus: the campground has tent sites, RV sites and cabins for rent.

Things to do and see:
-Visit Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
-Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark
-Bucking Mule Waterfall (on US Highway 14 before Burgess Junction)

Where to eat and drink:
-Shell Campground (owners Kevin and Emily serve from-scratch breakfast and dinner options)

Insider tip:
-Sunrise over Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is always worth waking up for. If you can, plan to start the day with a Wyoming sunrise. If you have more time to spend here, consider taking a guided boat tour (tours depart from Horseshoe Ben Marina near Lovell, Wyoming) on the canyon to see it from the water.


We awoke to an overcast sky and decided to sleep in a little bit with no rush to go shoot a 5 a.m. sunrise (this time of year is the death of photographers with late sunsets and early sunrises). The morning was kicked off with made-from-scratch cinnamon rolls from Emily, the campground’s owner.  before heading back up into Shell Canyon for some morning exploration. It was hard to leave Shell Canyon because it was simply that beautiful, so much so that  we ended up spending the early afternoon there as well. The high canyon walls and rushing water lured us in and we took in the beauty of Shell Falls.

The afternoon called for a little history, and so we headed just south of Shell to the Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite. Here we able walk amongst tracks created 180 million years ago. After rallying down the few mile dirt road back to the main road we began our journey east to Ten Sleep. Our first stop at Ten Sleep was the Ten Sleep Brewing Co, which we had already tried their beer on tap at the Shell Campground. As we rolled up something didn’t quite fit, in this undiscovered little area of Wyoming were five other converted sprinter vans. I quickly learned that Ten Sleep Canyon had become legendary in the climbing community and this brewery is where the climbers and the cowboys meet. I’ve never seen such an eclectic group of people all bonding over a love of good beer (and Linda’s famous fry bread tacos). Quickly it earned the top spot for my favorite brewery. If I hadn’t already fallen in love with the Ten Sleep area, our campground for the night made me fall even harder. That night we stayed at the Ten Sleep Rock Ranch, a haven for rock climbers and adventurers passing through. It had an amazing community feel that reminded me of hostels over in Europe and the price was too good to pass up at $5 per person per night. I hadn’t even left yet when I started planning to come spend a week in this area.

-Ten Sleep Rock Ranch

Things to see and do:
-Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite
-Explore Ten Sleep Canyon

Where to eat and drink:
-Ten Sleep Brewing (on Fridays don’t miss out on Linda’s Fry Bread Tacos!)

Insider tip:
-One of the best ways to get to know an area is to visit a local brewery and Ten Sleep Brewing Company is no exception. When you’re road tripping in Wyoming, be sure to check out their breweries to taste the Cowboy State and to get insider tips from locals.


When the alarm went off at 5 a.m. I could hear the patter of rain on the roof of the van and I peeked out the back window to see if there was any hope of a sunrise, and it didn’t look good. Hazer, who is sleeping on the floor of the van below me, looked out the front of the van windows to confirm my suspicions. We decided to get some much-needed sleep instead and ended up rolling out of bed around 7 a.m. to explore Ten Sleep Canyon . The whole morning exploring I felt like a kid in a candy store, and I sure as heck didn’t feel like I was in Wyoming. Hazer and I kept jokingly asking “Where the heck are we because this sure isn’t Wyoming.” It had looked like we were transported to the mountains of Peru and not central Wyoming. During the trip, I was continually surprised—in the best way possible—about all the incredible destinations, experiences and beauty that lays in this corner of Wyoming. Mountain Lupine was in full bloom making it increasingly difficult to drive for more than five minutes without pulling over to take photos.

We finally descended from Ten Sleep into the town of Gillette to spend the rest of the day. Upon reaching Gillette we decided to roam the town using their new app from TravelStorys that shows the history of Gillette. From there we went over to the Auto Museum which, as an avid lover of antiques, left me drooling. Inside there was a late 1940s Packard, which brought back so many great memories of “barn find” 1949 Packard that my dad and I found in an old warehouse we bought. It was almost identical to this one and the nostalgia left a permanent smile on my face.

The visit to Gillette was capped with a trip to the local Gillette Brewing Company where we had the best jalapeno poppers anywhere in the world (seriously, Hazer and I took a detour on the way back to Montana just have them again). The beer and the pizza were also unexpectedly and ridiculously good. From the brewery, we hopped back into the van and headed south of town to the Durham Ranch to photograph their bison herd at sunset. After dusting ourselves off and celebrating a long and good day we made a last second decision to drive all the way to Devils Tower National Monument in the middle of the night (what can I say—Wyoming’s open roads tend to call at all hours). Upon arriving at Devils Tower around midnight we quickly realized we were the only ones there. I hiked up to the base of the tower and just stared up at some of the brightest stars I’ve seen in a long time. It was a spiritual experience and one I won’t forget anytime soon.

-Crazy Woman Campground, Gillette
-Devils Tower KOA, Devils Tower

Things to see and do:
-Visit Frontier Auto Museum
-Explore Gillette with TravelStorys

Where to eat and drink:
-Gillette Brewing Company
-Prime Rib Restaurant

Insider tip:
-Plan to take a guided tour at Durham Ranch near Gillette. The ranch has about 3,000 bison on 55,000 acres and their tours give you a behind-the-scenes look into one of country’s oldest working buffalo ranches.


A late night of photographing Devils Tower earned us a morning of sleeping in, so at 10 a.m. we finally got up and headed for the nearby town of Sundance—a small town filled with western history and the place where the Sundance Kid earned his nickname. We snagged some groceries before heading to the Vore Buffalo Jump. Upon arrival, I was quickly in awe of something that looked so simple having such a significant place in history. The Vore Buffalo Jump is said to be one of the most successful large mammal killing sites ever found, but my favorite part was at the bottom they had uncovered many remains dating back to the 1500s and they left them uncovered to get a better grasp of just how successful this jump was.

After the Vore Buffalo Jump, we headed back to Devils Tower and our campsite for the night at the Devils Tower KOA. Our campsite had an unbeatable view of the tower so we decided to spend the day sitting outside cooking up steaks, reading, editing and soaking in the view. We didn’t leave camp until just before sunset when we headed out looking for a unique view of Devils Tower. Overall, it was a relaxing and much-needed rest day in a week that was packed with adventure.

-Devils Tower KOA

Things to see and do:
-Visit Devils Tower National Monument
-Visit Vore Buffalo Jump
-Stroll downtown Sundance; participate in their historic Sip N’ Walk Tour
-Take a nightly hayride (or catch a screening of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) at Devils Tower KOA

Where to eat and drink:
-Cowgirl Pizza, Sundance
-Longhorn Saloon & Grill, Sundance
-Cattle Kate’s Café, Devils Tower KOA

Insider tip:
-If you’ve never been to this northeast corner of Wyoming, plan to stop into the Northeast Wyoming Welcome Center and get the local’s perspective on what to see and do.


Another early morning was filled with watching the sun light up Devils Tower exactly how I wanted it to. I ended up photographing it without ever leaving my campsite at the KOA, because the views from there are that incredible. Coffee was made and we were back on the road and working our way back west towards Buffalo. On the way, we ended up making a stop in Gillette to go back to the auto museum where our new friend there had found a large collection of antique tobacco pipes and lighters. We bought them all, grabbed some more jalapeno poppers from Gillette Brewing, and hit the road again. Upon getting to Buffalo I fell in love with the old-western feel of the town and learned that the fictional town of Durango in Longmire is based off the author’s hometown of Buffalo. As an avid fan of Longmire, this made me love the town even more. Hazer and I spent the day strolling the streets and exploring the antique stores in town.

For dinner, we joined the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce  at an Italian restaurant called Pie Zanos. During dinner, they told us about a little slot canyon just 15 minutes away and Hazer and I quickly finished our dinner and hit the road for one last Wyoming sunset. We approached the slot canyon in the Bighorn Mountains and were awestruck by what we found. A single lane 5-mile-long dirt road twisted and turned next to a raging creek and under tall spires, unlike anything I’ve seen. The road popped us out back on top of the Bighorn Mountains where we were just days earlier when we came out of Ten Sleep Canyon. It was a shortcut that made me go back to a map to see how it was even possible that the 5-mile road shaved off an hour of driving that we had done days earlier. Wyoming wasn’t done with us just yet as the clouds illuminated pinks and purples that mimicked the endless fields of purple mountain lupines.

-Deer Park Campground
-Indian Campground
-Bighorn National Forest

Things to see and do:
-Visit the Occidental Hotel, one of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids’ favorite spots
-Stroll through downtown Buffalo
-Explore the Bighorn Mountains

Where to eat and drink:
-Winchester Steakhouse
-Pie Zanos

Insider tip:
-Plan to spend a couple of hours exploring Buffalo with no agenda and take the backroads!


The final day landed on my one-year vanniversary and the drive back to Montana was a good reflection on the year I had, but also on this trip to Wyoming. I came into this trip with a lot of thoughts and ideas about northcentral and northeast Wyoming and every single of them was shattered. While I expected to find prairies and badlands like in Southeast Montana, I found majestic mountains and canyons that would make even Arizona jealous. There is one guarantee to come out of this, and that is I’m already planning my return to this area of Wyoming. I’ll always call Montana home, but Wyoming  may now be a mistress to run away to.


Happy Adventuring,

Andy Austin

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Me, hard at work in the field. Photo by Hazer Novich

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