Travel

Tacos and Root Beer in Cheyenne on a Patio with Dogs, Kids, ‘Bags’ and a New Friend

Bucking broncos, herds of grazing cattle on undulating plains, and maybe a dusty Union Pacific freight train stretched out to kiss the horizon squarely on the lips.

Cheyenne State Capital Building
Cheyenne State Capital Building

These are, if I’m not being too presumptuous, what you (and to be fair, most everyone) would impulsively think of if playing a word recognition game and a ‘Cheyenne Wyoming’ card were to be drawn from the top of the deck.

Fair enough, those things are in Cheyenne. No one would deny it.

This city, the capital of Wyoming, to this day trades in its frontier days past to the point that each year for the past 120, a week and a half long event is held in and around a 19,000 seat outdoor arena to celebrate the wild west with pageants, parades and rodeos. Additionally, and rather marvelously, an IRL hobo or two may hop off a UP freighter here from time to time. I’m a romantic enough, still, to find all this enchanting.

My introduction to Cheyenne, however, was radically different. I did not arrive with all of my belongings shoved into a red bandana tied to the end of a wooden stick — and shut up I don’t care if that’s not an accurate representation of modern hobo luggage, I’m running with it. Nor did I ride into town on horseback, kicking up a storm of dust cinematically around shimmering steel spurs on the back of well-worn brown boots. My actual boots are Skechers, cordovan, and sadly, were sold without a spur upgrade option. They are well-worn though, so there’s that.

Cheyenne WY Lincoln Theater

Instead, in a rented 2017 cherry red Kia Rio I drove the 90 minutes up from the Denver International Airport, arriving without fanfare, without a pageant in my honor, listening to Alex Lahey’s newest record through a strong Bluetooth connection, to find a small city with a compact downtown lined with cafés and coffee shops, bars with neon beer signs in their windows, a boot emporium and cowgirl museum, an old fashion arcade, empty storefronts for rent, and one glorious old theater marquee (I’d later donate $10 to the effort to resurrect The Lincoln Theater as a live music venue).

Cheyenne Botanic Garden Grand Conservancy
Cheyenne Botanic Garden

I’d been in Wyoming for less than three hours before I found myself leaving the Little America Resort to walk through a botanical garden housed in a Grand Conservatory, past a solar paneled windmill, production greenhouse, hot lemons and sweet bell peppers (along with more of nature’s bounty) growing neatly in a tidy children’s village, around a pristine garden-stone labyrinth trimmed with sage (unlike the unruly one in southern Indiana that I traversed briefly in the summer of 2015 before escaping in a mild panic through a thicket of pricker bushes), and having an impassioned conversation with a volunteer sporting a black & white ‘fruit and vegetable liberation army’ 3/4 length sleeve tee.

This isn’t your grandpa’s Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Cheyenne Fruit and Vegetable Liberation Army

Later, after a stroll around Sloan Lake with blue sky views of the Air National Guard base and a visit to the impressive downtown public library complete with a bookish Rube Goldberg-esque machine and beefy YA section, I’m ushered into Tortilleria La Paz, a Mexican grocery store stocked with sweets, treats, and sauces from across the Rio Grande some 735 miles away.

La Paz Tacos Cheyenne
La Paz Tacos Cheyenne

In the back, to the right, past candy bars you won’t find in the Safeway on the southern edge of town, are the stainless steel accoutrements you’d expect to see in a commercial kitchen, or at least, in a reputable deli. Dishes of al pastor, carne asada, marinated chicken, refried beans and yellow rice simmer with the promise of something true. I order a pair of bean and rice tacos on soft flour tortillas, topped liberally and gloriously with cotija, with a side of limes, quartered. A bag of crispy tortilla chips and plastic container of house made avocado salsa that would provide far too severe a punch for my dainty palate accompany me to the counter to settle up before walking across the border that is East 18th Street, to Danielmark’s, a local craft brewery and home of the tables in which I’ll enjoy my Mexican feast from plastic bag and Styrofoam vessel.

La Paz Tacos at Danielmark's Cheyenne
La Paz Tacos and Danielmark’s Root Beer

I should say here that I was joined by a representative of Visit Cheyenne, the local CVB (that’s Convention & Vistor’s Bureau to the uninitiated). She was assigned to me, to show me around Cheyenne, pay for my meals, and generally make sure I fell in love with her hometown. Not only did she do all of that with aplomb, I think we became, like, actual friends.

Yeah, it was a pretty great three days in the capital of Wyoming, a city in love with its wild western history but not wedded to it so suffocatingly that progress isn’t possible.

Curt Gowdy State Park Hike

Cheyenne is evolving. It’s impossible not to see it and it is exciting to witness, if only for a few days as I alternated hiking in and out of the shade at Curt Gowdy State Park, which I presume is today, there or thereabouts, as it has been for centuries, feeding bison at Terry Ranch, and pounding the pavement of downtown’s concrete jungle.

Feeding Bison at Terry Bison Ranch
Feeding Bison at Terry Bison Ranch

Sure, the capital city criminally doesn’t yet have a creamery or ice cream parlor, but Sanford’s offers a scoop for a buck, and the Huckleberry and Cookie Dough are wonderful (although not together, I’m not a heathen). Plus, there’s a newly opened art deco restaurant (The Metropolitan Downtown, order the spinach & artichoke heart dip), a relic of a theater on the rise (the Lincoln, see above), two record stores (Phoenix Books & Music, Ernie November), a superb independent intimate pizzeria (Bella Fuoco, order the veggie and ask to add goat cheese) set in a residential neighborhood with a spacious back patio beneath wooden trellis and string lights, and not one but two breweries.

That leads us back to Danielmark’s outdoor patio, where Andi and I sit and chat about how smooth and satisfying the home-brewed on-tap root beer is and the paths that brought us to Cheyenne (her: born nearby, moved away for school, moved again for other opportunities, returned, happy / me: press trip, happy), whether that was Green Day or The Offspring that just played on the radio (Green Day, she was right), gawk at the dogs (boxer, yorky mix) that meander by our legs beneath the wooden picnic table, smile at kids (young, adorable) darting between bites of their dinners and anything else that happened to catch their impulsive gaze, and side-eye watch guys playing ‘bags’ (cornhole) with a grown-up Danielmark’s brews in hand.

Danielmark's outdoor patio boxer dog

As I sat out there, in grey cargo shorts and blue Tour de Four 2019 Women’s World Cup t-shirt, feeling a bit of a late-summer chill as the warm light of this lovely day gave way to cool grey of evening, I came to understand what, I think after being there for like a minute, Cheyenne Wyoming is in the middle of 2019:

It’s a settled home for some 60,000, the seat of government for The Equality State, and a welcoming city to meet and make new friends over long hikes, delicious meals, and retro pinball action.

Flippers Arcade Cheyenne WY
Flippers Arcade Cheyenne WY

Cheyenne seems to me to be a place in which you can truly be present, in the present, smack dab in the middle of a wild past, as told through tales that have grown taller than the billion and half year-old Vedauwoo rocks 30 miles away, and an even wilder future that the people who care for and love this place are working passionately to write together as a progressive community that values authenticity, nature, art, independence, equality, and each other.

Vedauwoo
Vedauwoo

Your grandpa may not recognize everything about Cheyenne in 2019 but he’d be happy here and most importantly, he’d be welcome.

The Wrangler Cheyenne WY
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6 Comments

  1. Really great Jeff,
    You make me fall in love with all these beautiful places. I travel vicariously thru you.
    Thanks for a great read!

  2. From a local, I couldn’t love this more. Thanks for spinning such a beautiful story about your time in the Magic City of the Plains!

  3. Thank you for reading, Ashley! I cannot wait to return someday (soon I hope!)

  4. Thanks so much! That’s what I hope to do with my words, to transport people to these places, for a taste …and encourage a visit someday.

  5. I’ve been travelling to Cheyenne from Dublin every year for 20 years now and love it every time. The people are so hospitable and kind.

  6. Dublin Ireland to Cheyenne? Wow that’s some journey! What’s your favorite thing to do / place to eat in town?

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