CHEYENNE, Wyo. — There’s more to Cheyenne than just cowboys.
Ok … there is a huge statue of a cowboy in the main square (and giant painted cowboy boots). And there’s a Wrangler store across the street from that. And there’s the fact that more than 250,000 people descend on this city of 60,000 every year for a massive, 121-year-old rodeo (Nickelback is one of this year’s musical headliners, but before you judge, remember: they’ve played Red Rocks).
But, with a downtown with architecture that hearkens back to its history as the wealthiest city in the world, Wyoming’s capital is worth a visit for more than its cowboy heritage.
“We don’t ride horses to work,” joked Officer Kevin Malatesta, the guy behind the Cheyenne Police Department’s Facebook page. “We’ve got electricity, we’ve got plumbing.”
“I know people always feel Cheyenne’s over-represented by the cowboy culture,” he also said.
Cheyenne’s motto is “Live the Legend.” But, this city just a few minutes north of the Colorado border by way of Interstate 25 proves that legends are always evolving.
PHOTOS: Visiting Cheyenne, Wyoming
From working on the railroad to Frontier Days
Like many cities on the Front Range, Cheyenne’s history dates back to the railroad. It was first surveyed in 1867, and dubbed the “Magic City of the Plains.” Another nickname was “Hell on Wheels” due to its gambling center, saloons and the rough-and-tumble reputation that followed.
When the railroad construction moved, wealthy cattle owners came in – and by the time electric lights were installed in 1882, Cheyenne was the wealthiest city per capita in the world. It became Wyoming’s capital two years later.
Cheyenne Frontier Days started in 1897 as an effort to compete with Greeley’s “Potato Day.” Initial events included bronco busting, steer roping and pony races … and it was so popular that it quickly grew.
Now, it’s a 10-day event that brings more than 200,000 people to Cheyenne – and includes a rodeo with more than $1 million in prize money. It calls itself the “world’s largest outdoor rodeo.”
This year’s Cheyenne Frontier Days is July 20 to 29. You can see the schedule here.
READ MORE | 9Things to do at Cheyenne Frontier Days
There’s more to visit than just cowboy bars
Look, there’s NOTHING wrong with cowboy bars. In fact, there’s EVERYTHING right with cowboy bars. Seriously, there’s a fantastic and massive cowboy bar called the Outlaw Saloon a few minutes from downtown Cheyenne that has a huge dance floor and is most assuredly worth a visit to get the full Wyoming experience. One Yelp reviewer – who also complimented the prices -- even said the men’s room has “more urinals per square foot than I’ve ever seen.”
But, I’ll bet you none of those urinals compare to the one on the second floor of the Paramount.
That was an odd segue but there is an explanation.
Jon Jelinek and his wife, Renee, have a background in retail. So, it might seem kind of random how five years ago, they bought a run-down theater called the Paramount and turned it into a coffee shop that might feel a little bit more Fort Collins than Cheyenne.
“We live in Cheyenne, and that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get cool things too,” Jelinek said, adding that his goal is to try and give people in Wyoming the things they’d travel to Colorado for.
When they bought the Paramount, Jelinek said he and his wife were experts in drinking coffee … but not making it. Now, they’ve expanded their business into a cocktail bar as well – and turned the second story that had been vacant for decades into a coworking space.
Part of that space is in what was once a hotel. And along the way, Jelinek has worked to maintain the character of the old building rather than modernize it by preserving the tin ceilings, keeping some of the old tiling and maintain the brick character.
“I think to have 115-year-old buildings is kind of a labor of love,” Jelinek said.
Back to urinals. The Paramount used to be a theater, and Jelinek maintained some of the older quirks of the building … including a floor urinal and old gentleman’s sign. It’s also home to what he said is the oldest elevator west of the Mississippi.
It’s manually operated, and cleaning it requires crawling on top of it and slowly applying grease.
“The old girl’s still going,” Jelinek said.
In their continued quest to add cool things to downtown Cheyenne, the Jelinek’s recently bought the Lincoln Theater. While they can’t show movies, Jelinek said he hopes to turn it into a concert venue on par with the Ogden in Denver or Aggie in Fort Collins.
“I think this downtown is just on the verge of kind of blowing up,” Jelinek said.
Downtown isn’t the only place that’s getting new attractions. The Cheyenne Botanic Gardens are free and reopened last year just across the street from Frontier Park – where tens of thousands of people will be for Frontier Days.
“This is the only palm tree in Wyoming,” Tina Worthman, the director, said during a tour of the facility, which has plants from around the world.
In a greenhouse nearby, volunteers cultivate the plants that will grow in gardens around the city.
Another cool thing you can find at the Botanic Gardens is a World War II periscope, where visitors can see into Frontier Days as well as get a view of the State Capitol in the distance.
“It’s not what you’d expect in Cheyenne,” Worthman said.
For a schedule of events at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, go to: https://www.botanic.org/
Protect the legend (with dad jokes)
Did you really think 9NEWS was going to do a write-up about Cheyenne and not mention their police department’s incredible Facebook page more in-depth? I THOUGHT YOU KNEW US BETTER THAN THAT.
Like we said above, Officer Kevin Malatesta is the main guy behind the posts. He is a Peace Corp volunteer-turned-officer-turned social media manager … and he’ll actually be on patrol duty and directing traffic during Frontier Days.
He said the goal of the Facebook page is to build ties with the community the department serves.
“We make stupid dad jokes just like everyone else,” he said.
Case in point? The time a mountain lion was spotted in Cheyenne, and people kept calling the department and claiming every animal was a mountain lion, tying up emergency lines. This was the resulting post:
Or, there was the post Malatesta said he wishes he published on 4/20 about someone who wanted to talk to the “commissioner” of the Cheyenne Police Department (there isn’t one) because she was mad the cops confiscated her marijuana (PSA, Colorado: it’s not legal in Wyoming).
Malatesta was also behind the line “we can’t think of anything witty to say, so go ahead and tag your favorite drug dealer to the post!” He said he came up with it while he was with a friend because he felt pressured to be clever thanks to a string of good posts.
“We want to make sure we’re using humor but not insensitive,” he said. “We want to call people out for bad choices, but not being a bad person necessarily.”
The ultimate goal? To make sure people see the department’s important messages when they’re the most necessary, like in emergency situations.
Malatesta might be pretty good at running Cheyenne police’s page, but don’t expect his personal posts to take off anytime soon.
“I don’t get on Facebook myself,” he said. “I do enough at work. My own account? I haven’t checked it in a couple years.”
So you want to move to Cheyenne ...
Malatesta said Cheyenne’s usually a pretty quiet, safe city … and he’s a cop, so he’s a pretty good source for information when it comes to crime rates. There were three homicides in Cheyenne last year, but property crimes are above the national average (they’re working on lowering those).
You can peruse the city’s crime statistics here: https://bit.ly/2uKUV45
As for real estate, this might shock you, but Cheyenne’s way cheaper than Denver. The median rent per month is $1,350 and the average listing price on a home is $281,602, according to data from real estate website Trulia.com.
The top employers in the city are the state of Wyoming, followed by Warren Air Force base and the school district.
And of course, Cheyenne Frontier Days acts as a huge boost for the town's tourism industry. Thousands of people will be exploring Cheyenne this weekend ... and even if you live in Colorado, it's certainly worth a day trip.
Just remember: It's not just cowboys.
With that being said, here's the Cheyenne Police Department's lip sync challenge video, where the cops are literally leading a cattle drive to the tune of "Rawhide."
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