Thermopolis boasts the world’s largest mineral hot springs (you can visit it in nearby Hot Springs State Park). It’s also just north of where Highway 20 winds through the spectacular Wind River Canyon, the high Precambrian granite walls carved by a river dotted with huge boulders and fly fishermen. Downtown Thermopolis has wide streets, old buildings and at least one good eating spot.
Black Bear Cafe offers various ways to sample what’s on the breakfast menu. For instance, the bear plates (big or cub size) feature eggs, a breakfast meat and a choice of toast, English muffin, pancake or biscuit and gravy—all expertly prepared. But I’ll make things simple. Whatever you order, make sure you get a good helping of home fries, a slight misnomer since these are red potatoes, with the skin still on, sliced thin and pan fried. (I don’t know why more breakfast places don’t do this; it only takes a few minutes of slicing, instead of pouring hash browns out of a bag). Better yet, order a potato stack, which is a fair-sized plateful of these outstanding spuds covered with two eggs, in my case “basted” and nicely runny. This dish comes with an almost redundant, large pancake, all for only $5. Black Bear also has an extensive lunch menu, from chicken steak and chile to burgers and burritos.
Lander is an interesting mix of right-wing ranchers (where the college-educated women chew tobacco and shoot wolves… honestly) and young people attending the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), which is headquartered here and founded by legendary mountain man Paul Petzoldt in 1965. Lander also deserves props for, an increasing rarity, offering free camping in its lovely riverside city park (405 Fremont Street).
Walk down Lander’s Main Street on a late Friday afternoon and, other than the steady stream of pickup truck traffic, you might wonder where all the people have gone. Chances are they’ve migrated to the Gannet Grill and attached Lander Bar, easily the busiest, most happening spot in town. Families, friends and NOLS students (they’re the ones in the Patagonia down sweaters) are cheek to jowl, especially in the bar. They’re sipping Lander Brewing beer (crafted next door) and chowing down on thin-crust, hand-tossed pizza, half-pound burgers and, a house specialty, potato chip-style fries. At times, the food-laden waitresses have to shout out customers’ names to be heard above the din. My picks? The Oregano Trail pizza (chicken, artichoke, feta), the Muy Bueno burger with guacamole, jack cheese and chipotle mayo and the Five Pound brown lager.
126 Main Street, Lander
Monday to Saturday 11 am-2 am, Sunday noon-10 pm. Note: The Gannett Grill is open daily 11 am-9 pm
2015 Update: Old Town Coffee has closed.
The drip brew at *Old Town Coffee is strictly pour overs. Alright! “It’s the third wave,” says my man, J.T., as he expertly pours a steady dribble of hot water over my single-origin el Meridiano Colombian coffee at the drip bar he built himself. I know, this still hard-to-find way of preparing handcrafted java may soon be a cliché. But if done right, like here, it produces a damn fine brew, like I make most mornings at home. Besides croissants, muffins and other treats, Old Town also makes nice, light breakfasts such as freshly prepared wraps and spiced granola with steamed milk. My Pacific wrap is a lovely blend of farm eggs, veggie sausage, salsa, avocado and pepper jack. I’ve got to say, it’s a great way to start a morning. Indeed, I have my go cup filled with the darker house blend to keep me fuelled for the long, juniper-bush drive to Rawlins.
Old Town Coffee
300 Main Street, Lander
Daily 7 am-7 pm