From the banks of the Powder River outside of Clearmont through the Badger Hills into the Littlehorn Canyon, past the Needle’s Eye and Fallen City up to where the first drops of water drip out of the mountain to begin the North Tongue just beyond the Garden of the Gods, Sheridan County is bursting at the seams with the kind of beauty where you have to stop and pinch yourself to make sure you’re alive because all your senses tell you you’re living in a painting whose plein air is anything but plain.
For as beautiful as our Bighorns backyard is, what always has (and always will) made Sheridan County truly special are its people. And you can’t really experience Sheridan County without experiencing the people who made it what it is today.
This fall, Sheridan Community Land Trust has a perfect way for you to get outdoors and experience the beauty of our home while learning the fascinating stories of some of the people who once called it home.
On September 29, SCLT celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Black Diamond Trail’s dedication. It was the culmination of extensive research aimed at preserving the history of the Sheridan County’s mining towns and the people who made them communities so that while the towns themselves may be gone, the communities are not forgotten.
The trail itself stretches north of Sheridan and south of Ranchester for about 15 miles. The communities that formed around the mines were integral to the settlement and development of Sheridan County. Mining communities began to spring up to serve the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q), which reached Sheridan in 1892. The Higby Dietz (pronounced “Deetz) Mine No. 1 opened in March 1893, and by 1903 the CB&Q was the largest buyer of area coal.
By 1908, the coal communities were home to an estimated 10,000 people coming in all shapes, sizes and tongues from many corners of the globe to make a better life for their families. Though mining activity peaked in the early 1920s, the buildings, traditions and descendants of the mining families remain visible and active around Sheridan County today.
In 2014, the Wyoming State Historical Society presented SCLT with the Maurine Carley Memorial Award for its commitment to protecting Wyoming history through preservation.
That history is preserved primarily through the Black Diamond Trail audio tour, which can be accessed on any iOS or Android device through the TravelStorysGPS app. On this audio tour, you will visit the coal town sites and experience what it was like to live there through first-hand accounts from those who grew up in the coal towns. Recently, SCLT Historical Program Manager Carrie Edinger added to the tour, incorporating more stories, artifacts, even a town plat and updates on projects in like reclamation work at the Acme Power Plant site. She also worked with Little Goose Multimedia to create a virtual tour for folks who don’t live in Sheridan County but have Sheridan County living in their hearts.
Most of this tour takes place on the blacktops and backroads that follow the Tongue River, which is particularly pretty with fall foliage this time of year. While on the tour, you can enjoy extra time outdoors at places like the Kleenburn Recreation Area – itself a reclaimed mine – and the Connor Battlefield along the river in Ranchester. Bring a picnic basket, a fishing pole or both and enjoy a day playing in and learning about our beautiful county. If you’d rather grind your gears, much of the driving tour can be pedaled. Maybe you’d like to work it into any one of SCLT’s great gravel ride – nine of which we have selected as part of our Gravel Ride Guide.
With so much beauty in our Bighorns backyard, you can’t go wrong wherever you choose to explore. But this fall, I encourage you to consider exploring the history of our Black Diamonds so you can experience a bit of how our plein air painting sprung to life.
Take the Black Diamond Trail audio and virtual here >> https://sheridanclt.org/projects/black-diamond-byway/.
Get SCLT’s Gravel Ride Guide here >> https://sheridanclt.org/recreation/gravel_ride_guide/.