When the Sioux tribes ruled the northern plains of Wyoming, a rest stop halfway between their camp near Fort Laramie in the southeast, Yellowstone National Park, and a camp near Bridger, Montana, was given the name Ten Sleep, as it was 10 days’ travel - or 10 sleeps - from each place.
Today, this town on the western side of the Big Horn range is still pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It’s around 60 miles from Buffalo, and the closest grocery store is in Worland, 25 miles away. Billings, Montana is the closest big city and airport, and that’s 2.5 hours drive.
However, with Highway 16 passing straight through en route to Yellowstone, this sleepy western town does get its fair share of passing traffic. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the landscape is mindblowingly spectacular, with the drive through the red-walled canyon unlike anything else in Wyoming.
In fact, it’s hard to believe how quickly the landscape changes throughout the Big Horns. As you come over the pass near and through the western Big Horns, the scenery changes rapidly from high alpine lakes and meadows to dramatic red canyons, switchbacks revealing a new spectacular vista around every turn. It also changes from lush green to arid sage brush ranching country, and before you know it, you are in a Wild West movie set.
The town of Ten Sleep is also classic Western, with several log saloons (one with a sign saying, “Cowboys, scrape the shit from your boots”), Dirty Sally’s souvenir and malt shop and not much else. You can almost here the Sergio Leone soundtrack as you wander down the main street, preparing to draw your guns at high noon...
I had actually headed to Ten Sleep to look at some properties for sale there. One, a classic log cabin, was butted against the fiery walls of Signal Cliff (where Indians used to send smoke signals and drive buffalo over the edge) and on the banks of the Nowood River; unfortunately, it was also within ear shot of the highway, which I wasn’t fond of.
The other was an A-frame house on subdivided ranch land, backed by a soaring white cliff and with views of red canyon rocks and farming land. I really liked this place ... but it was so incredibly hot and dry, that it reminded me of outback Australia. And while I thought it was a cool place, what I really love about this area is the pines, aspens and mountain streams ... this side of the range, to be honest.
Weirdly, every photograph I took inside the A-frame was ghostly-blurry... even weirder, when I went to download my Ten Sleep shots this morning, they were all gone. Every other shot I’d taken on that camera was still there, just not the Ten Sleep shots. Spooky.
But with a place as desolate, atmospheric and history-laden as Ten Sleep, nothing would surprise me...
(*NB - since I lost all my pics, the ones on this post are stolen from the tourism website. I figured they wouldn’t object too much!)