35 miles S of Sheridan; 182 miles E of Cody
Though Sheridan remains the busy hub of this Wyoming region, it is surrounded by interesting little towns like Dayton, Story, and Ranchester, plus one big enough to deserve its own slot: Buffalo. A short drive south of Sheridan on I-90, this old ranching town is near the site of the infamous Johnson County War (a battle among settlers over the use of rangeland), and not far from the Hole-in-the-Wall country favored by Butch, Sundance, and other outlaws.
Though this was a favorite area of Indian bison hunters, it was not named for a shaggy beast: The original settlers drew names from a hat, and the winner had written his New York hometown.
The historic downtown area is compact enough to explore on foot. Follow the Clear Creek Centennial Trail on a wheelchair-accessible path from downtown to a pleasant grassy area where it joins a 3-mile unsurfaced road to the base of the Bighorn Mountains. Maps are available from the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce, 55 N. Main St., Buffalo, WY 82834 (tel. 800/227-5122 or 307/684-5544; www.buffalowyo.com). You'll see the old Occidental Hotel at 10 N. Main. At the excellent Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum, 100 Fort St. (tel. 307/684-9331; www.jimgatchell.com), you'll find American-Indian artifacts like arrowheads and medicine rattles, as well as cavalry items and the bridle Tom Horn braided while awaiting execution. The museum is open May through early October and closed the rest of the year ($5 adults, $3 children ages 6-17, free for kids 5 and under).
Buffalo lies on the route of the Bozeman Trail, a 19th-century shortcut to the gold country of Montana that cut right through the hunting grounds of several resentful tribes. The U.S. Army built forts to protect travelers, and engaged in skirmishes with the resident Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. The largest fort was Fort Phil Kearny, exit 44 off I-90 (tel. 307/684-7629; www.philkearny.vcn.com), where soldiers endured repeated raids by hostile Indians. Though the original fort is gone, the site today is a national historic site with a visitor center and tours of two major battlefields nearby: the 1866 Fetterman Massacre, in which Crazy Horse and his band overwhelmed a small army contingent; and the Wagon Box Fight, which went the other way. The visitor center is open daily 8am to 6pm from mid-May to September; and Wednesday through Sunday noon to 4pm the rest of the year; admission is $4.
Robert LeRoy Parker (Butch Cassidy) and his partner, Harry Longabaugh (Sundance Kid), assembled their infamous group of bandits known as the Wild Bunch to rob trains and banks and steal herds of horses and cattle. One of their favorite places to hide was the Hole-in-the-Wall, a red-rock canyon area above the Middle Fork of the Powder River. The Hole-in-the-Wall is located about 45 miles south of Buffalo near the town of Kaycee. Take I-25 south from Kaycee to the Triple T Road exit, continue south 14 miles to County Road 111, go west 18 miles to County Road 105, then north 8 miles to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management directional sign for Hole-in-the-Wall. It's a 3-mile hike into the actual site. The Hole itself is no more than a notch in a butte, disappointing to folks used to Disney-like re-creations of outlaw hide-outs. But for the intrepid on horse or in four-wheel-drive vehicles, you can explore the spacious Outlaw Cave. There are tipi rings in the surrounding area and large pictographs and stenciled handprints under a rock overhang.
Note: Most of this area is private land. Be sure to check with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management office in Buffalo (tel. 307/684-1100) before exploring on your own.
Just a few miles northwest of Buffalo along I-90 is Lake DeSmet, an excellent fishing and boating destination, with opportunities for picnicking and camping.