With a residential population comfortably shy of 600,000, Wyoming claims the crown of the least populous state in the country. However, this is far from an indictment of our 44th state’s habitability. Tourist destinations like Jackson Hole and Yellowstone are world-renowned for their beauty and undisturbed wilderness. And while you may not want to pack up and move to any of the following five spots, you might just find they’re worth checking out, as well.
1. The Red Desert
This impressive expanse covers more than 9,000 square miles in the southern part of the state between Rock Springs and Rawlins. At an elevation of 6,000 feet above sea level or greater, this high altitude desert is home to not only the Great Divide Basin but also the Killpecker Sand Dunes, a collection of “whistling” sandhills that are said to be the largest system of its kind in the country. The Great Divide Basin – an offshoot of the Continental Divide – is an endorheic basin, or an area where none of the water that pools inside it will ever find its way to either of our neighboring oceans, not that the area receives much in the way of measurable rainfall anyway. However, just because this is a desert doesn’t mean it isn’t plentiful with plant life and wild creatures. Depending on your location, it’s not uncommon to spy elk, bobcats, or coyotes as well as antelope, which are among the most common animals found on the range. All told, somewhere around 350 species of wildlife and over 1,000 different plant varieties can be viewed on this arid terrain.
2. Intermittent Spring
Also known as a “periodic spring”, this naturally-occurring phenomenon near Afton is as inexplicable as it is unique. Discovered by the great-great-grandfather of US Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner during a logging excursion in Swift Creek Canyon, the oddity of this freshwater source is that its flow will stop and start every few minutes. Generally speaking, the flow at this spring – one of only a trio known to exist in the world – is said to last for 18 minutes, cease for 18 minutes, then repeat. Theories abound as to why this may be, though none of these hypotheses have been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. The most likely scenario is that this is a result of a siphoning effect, whereby water from an underground spring pours out of a tube-like rock cavity as it overflows. A study performed by the University of Utah seems to support this idea, as results of the experiment suggest the water has been exposed to air underground.
3. Smith Mansion
A trip through Wapiti Valley reveals a structure so strange that explanations for its existence have become a bit of local lore. Looking like a log version of something born out of a Dr. Seuss story, this towering, whimsical “mansion” was the brainchild of one Francis Lee Smith. After procuring a good bit of free timber, Lee decided to make use of the building materials to construct a home for him and his family. But what started off as a modest hilltop retreat soon began to morph into a never-ending, Frankenstein-like project for the amateur architect. Vertical expansions included the addition of viewing platforms, dining halls, and lopsided staircases connecting one level to the next. Lee’s obsession with the project led to a divorce and, sadly, his death. In 1992, more than 20 years after he’d started his daring and perhaps ill-advised build, Lee fell off the roof while making some repairs and perished. He was just 48 years old. Today, almost 30 years later, the home remains in the care of his daughter, who has sought to preserve her father’s legacy. Tours of the mansion are offered during the warmer months and can be booked in advance through the property’s website.
4. Buford, Wyoming: Population 1
Believe it or not, this isn’t the only town in Wyoming to have claimed to have a population of one. Lost Springs, located in the far eastern part of the state, has also made this claim, though its mayor has confirmed there are actually three residents of this 0.09-square mile “community”. In the curious case of Buford, however, the now 154-year-old town was purchased back in 1980 by a man named Don Simmons, who marketed the unincorporated area as “the nation’s smallest town”.
After his wife’s passing in 1995 and son’s departure in 2007, the town was left with a population numbering one. By 2012, Simmons was ready to hand over the reins. He decided to put the property up for auction, with the winning bid being awarded to a pair of Vietnamese immigrants, who later renamed it PhinDeli Town Buford as a means to promote their imported brand of coffee. Though it’s famous for being home to one resident, the town actually consists of several buildings, including a gas station, modular home, and a convenience store which sold the PhinDeli brand until the town was once again sold and later abandoned. The buildings from this roadside attraction still remain, even if its current population sits at zero. And the famous sign on the side of the road stands as a photo-op for curious passersby as they make the pilgrimage to Yellowstone.
5. Bar Nunn
From a town boasting a population of one, we travel to a town sprung from a former airfield. What once operated as Wardwell Field is now home to more than 2,000 residents, who travel on streets converted from old runways and visit local establishments based out of converted airline hangars, including the aptly-named The Hanger. This bar and grill services the community out of a spacious airplane depot, which at one time was also used to store boats before eventually being transformed into the town’s local watering hole and eatery. The subdivision was formed in 1958 by its namesake, rancher Romie Nunn, whose original dream was to raise horses on the property. Instead, he decided to parcel out the land and erect a community around its existing structures, making it one of the most unique towns you’ll ever visit.