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Chapters  1 2 3 4 5

Choosing a New Path

A life-changing road trip in Campbell County, Wyoming

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Street signs with decorative metal scrollwork in Gillette, Wyoming

It had been two years since I retired from my career in marketing, and I felt like I was finally getting the hang of the adjustment. For one thing, my husband, Paul, and I were out to accomplish a goal we’d set: a road trip across the country. We were living the dream, traveling from South Dakota to Wyoming, stopping in the wonderful town of Gillette along the way.

Street signs with decorative metal scrollwork in Gillette, Wyoming

The scenic route

Devils Tower rises in the background as white RVs drive towards it in Gillette, Wyoming

We spent our first day traveling to Mount Rushmore. “It’s too bad you never bought a midlife-crisis convertible,” I joked. “I bet it would take the corners on this road like it was on rails.” Paul chuckled and remarked that the pristine pavement twisting through the lush green trees did look like something straight out of a sports car commercial.

When we arrived at Mount Rushmore, we were in awe. How could anyone not feel a sense of pride and patriotism walking along the Avenue of Flags or gazing up at the massive granite carvings of our forefathers? George Washington. Thomas Jefferson. Theodore Roosevelt. Abraham Lincoln. The likeness of each face rising 60 feet, or roughly six stories tall, forever immortalized on the mountain.

Devils Tower rises in the background as white RVs drive towards it in Gillette, Wyoming

Once we crossed state lines into Wyoming, it was a quick trip north to Devils Tower, an impressive natural monolith that some consider sacred. Rising more than 1,200 feet into the air, the dramatic vertical cracks on the surface make this spot a rock climber’s paradise. Also, Devils Tower was the United States’ first national monument, designated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. Paul and I briefly hiked the easy Tower Trail around the tower’s base, enjoying spectacular views from all angles. From there, it was just a little over an hour’s drive to Gillette, where we planned to spend the next few days.

Unexpected discoveries

A brown bison stands in yellow grasses in Gillette, Wyoming

When Paul first floated the idea of making Gillette more than just an overnight pit stop, I was intrigued—especially when he started rattling off all the things that he thought we could do while we were there. We’d be in town during a three-day music and art festival, and Paul thought that Durham Buffalo Ranch, one of the largest bison ranches in the country, sounded interesting. I knew Paul was most excited by the Frontier Auto Museum by the way his eyes lit up when he talked about some of the cars we could see there. But by that point, I was already sold on Gillette.

A brown bison stands in yellow grasses in Gillette, Wyoming

On our first day, we spent hours at the Frontier Auto Museum looking for unique, car-related antiques in their general store and wandering through the museum. It was similar to a wonderfully curated garage, with bright neon and vintage signs hung around the cars practically everywhere we looked.

“Now this,” Paul exclaimed, practically drooling as he gawked at the racy red relic, “is my idea of a midlife-crisis car!” Although we were both a bit beyond midlife, perhaps the next road trip we took would be a little zippier.

Bison, brews, music & more

A metal signs welcomes guests to Gillette Brewing Company in Gillette, Wyoming

We worked up quite an appetite the next day. First, we toured the 55,000-acre Durham Buffalo Ranch, where hundreds of bison on the grassy range offered a glimpse of the wildlife we’d see in Yellowstone, our next stop. We even saw a huge bull up close and got a great picture of it.

Later that afternoon, we took a coal mine tour, where we learned that the Powder River Basin produces 40% of the country’s coal—and it’s low-sulphur and low-emission coal, so it’s especially desirable now due to climate change concerns. We discovered that the coal mines here are some of the largest in the world, and that mine officials take land reclamation very seriously. Once mining operations are complete at a particular site, the land is reclaimed—left in better condition than it was before mining took place! Paul and I were delighted to witness the evident responsible approach to mining as we enjoyed our tour.

A metal signs welcomes guests to Gillette Brewing Company in Gillette, Wyoming

After that we were ready for a big, cheesy pizza and a craft beer, so Gillette Brewing Company it was. We both took a pull of our beers and looked at each other in amazement. The light red Monument Ale introduced itself with big malt flavors, followed by toasted barley and caramel (responsible for a bit of sweetness) with hints of pepper and citrus. As I described how the aromas of this complex-yet-smooth brew exploded my senses, Paul looked at me and said with a smile, “I think you just turned the page and started writing the next chapter in your life.”

Paul knew that I had been restless the past few months. Even though I loved retirement, I missed the creative aspect of my marketing career. I wasn’t crafty like many women my age. I was more of a word nerd. I loved coming up with headlines and things of that nature during my career. I also loved a good drink. Paul suggested that I combine my passions and do some freelance work reviewing small wineries, distilleries and brewing companies as we traveled.

I was still pondering the idea when we visited the Big Lost Meadery the next day. As I sipped on their newest mead with barrel aged vanilla, I made up my mind and quickly began jotting down notes. I was more excited than I’d been in years. Paul was thrilled with my decision as well.

“To Gillette,” he said, raising his glass in a toast.

“To Gillette,” I replied, raising my glass to meet his.

A fond farewell

The Donkey Creek Music & Art Festival is set up in a grassy location with a river and bridge, in Gillette, Wyoming

Our final two days were filled with the sights and sounds of the Donkey Creek Music & Art Festival. What started as an intimate concert attended by about 50 people in 2006 has grown into a multi-day event attended by thousands of people. It features both local bands and under-the-radar groups from around the country. We rocked out to songs we knew by heart and quickly fell in love with new melodies. What’s more, we didn’t have to pay a cent for our tickets—the event is made possible by community grants! As we merged on to I-90, leaving Gillette in our rearview mirror, Paul and I were both a little reflective. Our time here was more meaningful than we ever could have imagined. But Yellowstone—and who knows what other adventures—awaited us. It was time to continue the journey.

Discover more about beautiful Campbell County.

The Donkey Creek Music & Art Festival is set up in a grassy location with a river and bridge, in Gillette, Wyoming