Travel Thumbnail: Terry Bison Ranch

Tourist attraction attached to serious working ranch

This is the ninth of a series of periodic reports on specific places I’ve visited — and which you might want see to as well.

The Place: Terry Bison Ranch, south of Cheyenne, Wyoming

The Backstory: Often when we have visitors from overseas or the East Coast, I or we take them to Cheyenne for a better glimpse of a real Western town to show how it resembles and how it differs from the Wild West they’ve read about and seen on large and small screens. Just after crossing the Colorado-Wyoming border, I generally pull off the Interstate at the Terry Bison Ranch exit. We drive into the visitor part of the ranch and almost always spot some bison, This is actually pretty easy to do, since the “tickler herd” is kept nearby for visitors to look at and photograph. Still, it is always a thrill to see the shaggy beasts, and then we move on. A few days ago, during a Frontier Days visit to Cheyenne, I  did some of the touristy things the Terry Bison Ranch offers and learned more about this impressive operation. Sure, the ranch is touristy, but it does provide a predictable bison-viewing opportunity that doesn’t exist in too many places — and considering how many accents I heard and T-shirts from other parts of the country I spotted on the train, predictability is a good thing. A squadron of pink T-shirted day campers was also on the train, and although are little locals, they were excited to be on the train and thrilled to be able to toss food to the bison.
The Story: Chris Terry established the ranch 1881 and built the original ranch house was built four years later. Eventually, Terry sold it to Senator F.E. Morgan, whose elegant city home in the heart of Cheyenne is now a bed-and-breakfast called the Nagle Warren Mansion, where I stayed. Click here for the report on my stay. This huge ranch rambles across the high plains under the big blue dome. 

The Place: The tourist part (properly called Terry Bison Ranch Resort) is an adjunct to the enormous 27,000-acre Iron Mountain Bison Ranch where thousands of bison graze to become such meat products as ribs, chuck roast, steaks, brats, buffalo chili and nuggets marketed under the Great Range Bison label. I think of this set-up like the front and back of the house in a restaurant or theater — the resort is the front of the house that the public sees and the back is the working part. Two brothers, Ron and Dan Thiel, respectively own the public and working-ranch operations. Taken as a whole, the ranch is so intertwined with the history and important people of southern Wyoming that its sign (above left) bears more than passing resemblance to the Wyoming state flag.
The Experience: Summer is high season at the Terry Bison Ranch Resort, which is family-friendly and also accommodates groups. You’ll find a general store stocked with souvenirs and basic groceries, trail rides, a small rodeo arena, a tiny fishing pond, old-time photo studio and assorted accommodations for people (cabins, 13-room bunkhouse, RV sites, tent camping sites) and horses (boarding stalls indoor and outdoor stalls, with or without hay). You’ll also find Kid Corral, a rustic children’s playground with old-style, non-plastic apparatus, pony rides, small Ferris wheel and a little barrel train (tickets required).
The main attraction for casual visitors is the Terry Town Rail Express (adults $12, children , which rambles along a two-mile loop track to the small show herd, passing corrals housing such exotic animals as ostriches, llamas and camels. Guests ride in open cars in summer and in a smaller, heated enclosed one in winter. Bags of feed pellets cost $1, and children of all ages from tots to grannies enjoy tossing them out to the animals in the bison pasture. The herd lumbers over during the lengthy stop, because they like the pellets. Even in this controlled situation, you can see alpha bulls chasing others away from a good pellet drop zone.

Most people like to look at the animals, and others like to shoot them. Looking at this tender Terry Mountain Ranch scene of a mother bison and her calf, it is hard for those of us who don’t hunt to envision raising a rifle and shooting one like here at the neighboring Iron Mountain Ranch. But for those who thrill at going for big game, Iron Mountain offers guided hunts for $500-$5,000.
The train respectfully passes the grave of Tinker the Bull, the ranch’s majestic stud bison who died earlier this year of old age at 35. In 1986, Ron Thin bought Tinker, a champion bull of the North Dakota Bison Association, to be the breeding bull for Terry Bison Ranch. Visitors marveled at this 2,300-pound bison bull who, in his 31 years of breeding, is estimated to have sired about 1,200 calves.

Dining: The Senator’s Steakhouse and Wild Buffalo Saloon near the Terry Bison Ranch entrance has a barn-like atmosphere, with high ceilings, lots of wood, red-checked tablecloths and lots of Western antiques and artifacts. “Taste Ticklers” and lunch items are served from 11:00 a.m. to closing, and dinner items are also available beginning at 5:00 p.m. Bison is available in numerous forms, and even people who could never shoot one enjoy eating the meat. Bison burgers, bison bratwurst, bison rib eye, bison short ribs and buffalo meatloaf. The restaurant also offers beef, chicken (called “Yardbird”), seafood and even vegetarian options. Appetizers and side dishes are heavy on fried items. Also available are a soup and salad bar, good TBR beans, a kids’ menu, desserts and a full bar. 

Location and contact information: 51 I-25 Service Rd East (Wyoming Exit 2), Cheyenne, Wyoming 82007; 307- 634-4171

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