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103 miles E of Sheridan; 243 miles E of Billings

Gillette is now "Energy Capital of the Nation" and boasts the local convention and visitors bureau, but just a century ago it was a huge sea of open range. Where there were once herds of cattle, you can now see several massive surface coal mines such as the RAG Coal West-Eagle Butte Mine. The mine, which opened in 1978, shipped its 250-millionth ton of coal on April 15, 1998, and continues to produce more than 40 million tons a year. The huge coal mines, along with recently discovered coal-bed methane gas, have made Gillette a booming community of about 25,000 residents, which means that this is a pleasant enough place to live, with a variety of modern facilities, including a first-class swimming pool and water park. There is still plenty of undeveloped plains habitat, too, particularly in the 1.8-million-acre Thunder Basin National Grassland. Anyone who likes geological wonders, and anyone who enjoyed Close Encounters of the Third Kind, will want to visit the nearby Devils Tower National Monument.