Craig Johnson takes us on a tour of the towns and Wyoming wilderness that inspired his fictional Absaroka County.
Absaroka County may not exist, but if you take what I like to refer to as the Longmire Loop, you will get a real sense of Walt Longmire’s world.
Start your tour in Buffalo, Wyoming, the model I used for Absaroka County’s fictitious seat, and spend the night at the lovingly restored Occidental Hotel. Have the usual at the Busy Bee Cafe on Main Street, and then mosey up the steps past the courthouse to the old Carnegie Library, the model for Sheriff Longmire’s office that now houses the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum. From Buffalo you can thread your way out to the Ucross Foundation and take in the gallery at the Big Red Barn or catch a trail ride at The Ranch at Ucross.
Traveling northwest to Sheridan County, lunch at the Big Horn Smokehouse & Saloon, and then visit The Brinton Museum, home of a grand collection of Western art both classic and modern. Hit Sheridan proper 15 miles farther north and make your way to King’s Saddlery, where you’ll be enthralled by the family’s Don King Museum of cowboy memorabilia.
Across the street, wet your whistle at The Mint Bar, and then meander down Main Street taking in the shops, including the Bucking Buffalo Supply Company (owned by my wife), where you can pick up a signed copy of a Walt Longmire novel along with art, crafts, and clothes.
Follow Route 14A west to Eatons’ Ranch or the Bear Lodge Resort for a stay in the Bighorn Mountains. Continue on to the Medicine Wheel/Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark, an intricate prehistoric circle of stones that is sacred to the surrounding tribes. Retrace your path back to the fork of Route 14 and head down the chute south into Shell Canyon and then west into the town of Greybull, where you might even see Wilford Brimley shopping for a new hat at Probst Western and Outdoor Clothing Co.
Continuing south through Basin, stop at Manderson to cool your feet in the Bighorn River, and then head east on Route 31 to the Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site with its petroglyphs and pictographs on the cliff walls.
Go south on Hyattville Road to the town of Ten Sleep, named for the 10 sleeps it took the Indians to get to each of the main winter camps from the Platte River near Casper in the south to Bridger, Montana, in the north. Grab a cup of coffee at the 2nd Street Bakery and look for my buddy Jalan Crossland, the finest mandolin player in Wyoming, or any of the other luminaries who perform at the Ten Sleep Saloon.
Continue back up the mountain on Route 16 through the switchbacks of red rock in Ten Sleep Canyon, past Meadowlark Lake, and maybe make the hike up to High Park Lookout. From there, it’s over Powder River Pass and back down to South Fork Mountain Lodge & Outfitters in Buffalo for relaxation next to the fireplace in one of their creek-side log cabins and the finest dinner up the mountain, as the locals say.
This part of the Bighorn Mountains is home to some of the oldest dude ranches in America, such as the HF Bar Ranch in Saddle-string and Paradise Guest Ranch in Buffalo.
One of my favorite spots is the nearby Cloud Peak Wilderness, with peaks that top 13,000 feet. Drop a line in the icy waters of Crazy Woman Creek and tempt the trout (be sure to acquire a Wyoming fishing license). They’re wily, those trout, so don’t feel bad if you strike out. You can always finish at Buffalo’s Winchester Steak House. Order the trout if it’s on special, and pretend it’s the one that got away.