For most of us, the great age of Western exploration seems a distant and almost mythical part of history.
For the folks in Pinedale, Wyoming, though, it’s as tangible as the snow-capped peaks that ring their community.
Pinedale (population 2,030), the largest town in Sublette County, is named for renowned trapper William Sublette. The site along Pine Creek in the Green River Valley, where the mountain men met for six of their raucous rendezvous in the 1830s, lies deep in the heart of this western Wyoming county.
On July 5, 1840, Pierre-Jean De Smet held the first Mass ever celebrated in what would become Wyoming at the Green River Rendezvous, a few miles west of Pinedale.
The Belgium-born Jesuit missionary would later, in 1868, convince Sioux Chief Sitting Bull to participate in talks that led to the Treaty of Fort Laramie. A monument dedicated to DeSmet is located off Highway 189, a dozen miles west of Pinedale.
The Museum of the Mountain Man commemorates the trappers, traders and explorers who flocked to the Rockies in the early decades of the 19th century, as well as the Indians who have lived in the region for millennia. Two don’t-miss items at the museum are Jim Bridger’s .40-caliber half-stock rifle from 1853 and a 300-year-old Shoshoni sheephorn bow, one of the finest in existence.
At nearby Bridger Wilderness, you’ll find 600 miles of trails that make this a popular destination for hunters, anglers, snowmobilers and hikers.
The homey Log Cabin Motel, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, once changed hands in a poker game. What’s more Western than that?
Stop by the Wind River Brewing Company for a Wyoming Pale Ale and a Brew Master Burger, a hearty half pound of ground beef and smoked beef brisket topped with barbecue sauce, pepper jack cheese and beer-battered onion rings.
On July 11-14, Pinedale will host the Green River Rendezvous, held since 1936 to commemorate the historic gatherings of the mountain men. Be sure to try your hand at the frying pan throw and don’t miss the hour-long costume pageant re-creating the rendezvous on Sunday.
John Stanley, the Arizona Wildlife Federation’s 2007 Conservation Media Champion, is a former travel reporter and photographer for The Arizona Republic.