Peaceful Cheyenne, Wyoming Attracts Retirees in Search of the Authentic American West, Wide Open Spaces, Dry Air, Blue Skies and a Slower Pace
Cost of Living: Below the National Average
Cheyenne (population 66,000) is named for the Native American tribe that once called this part of the country home and sits on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming. With a modest beginning as a hub for the Union Pacific railroad in the 1860s, its early days were populated with rail workers, gamblers, scavengers and prostitutes, all trying to scratch out a living in the only bit of civilization for miles around. Today, Cheyenne is the Cowboy State's capital city and economic center, an unassuming place with traditional values and friendly, sensible folks. It appeals to people looking for a down to earth Western city.
Nearly 40% of residents are age 45 or better. Thirty percent of locals hold at least a four year college degree. Political views lean to the right. The cost of living is 8% below the national average. The city has some racial diversity, and the crime rate meets the national average. The economic underpinnings are government, the railroad and F.E. Warren Air Force Base, the Air Force's longest continuously active installation.
The median home price is $365,000, reflecting a 0% increase from a year ago. Properties are primarily ranch ramblers, although the city also has some condos and town homes. Most areas are quietly middle class with tidy houses and well-tended yards.
Wyoming is one of the most welcoming states when it comes to taxes and retirement. It does not tax any income, including retirement income. There is no inheritance or estate tax. The average effective property tax rate (the annual tax payment as a percentage of median home value) in Cheyenne is .61%. The annual taxes on a $365,000 home are approximately $2,226. People age 65+ may receive a $800 to $900 refund from the state for property taxes, sales taxes and utility taxes.
Cheyenne's pace is a mellow one. Stores are not crowded. Traffic is not congested. Dress is casual. The skies are baby blue, sometimes dappled with white puffy clouds. People say hello on the street. There is a sense of pride, individualism and no-nonsense practicality. Men in cowboy hats and cowboy boots are not uncommon. Wyoming is, after all, the authentic American West, and Cheyenne is the real deal. There is nothing phony or manufactured about this city, and the independence that is characteristic of the West is deeply ingrained here.
What Cheyenne is perhaps best known for is its Frontier Days, a 10-day summer extravaganza of all things Western. Dating from 1897, this event draws people from all over the West, and its rodeo, billed as "The Daddy of 'Em All," brings in cowboys, bronc busters and ropers from parts near and far. Top country and western musical acts, carnivals, chuckwagon cookoffs, a thundering United States Air Force Thunderbirds show and parades add to the fun.
The city has two golf courses, and the parks and recreation department has a good selection of activities, although not many are geared just to the 55+ set. The YMCA, however, has a varied menu of programs for people age 50+. The Cheyenne branch of the Laramie County Library System is in a beautiful building and has a computer center, an interlibrary loan program, homebound services, free wifi and a charming cafe. Laramie County Community College has non-degree, "life enrichment" classes. Many students are age 55 or better.
The majority of restaurants are chain operations and most tastes can be satisfied. The Farmers' Market is a 10-week long event that starts in early August. Many merchants are locally owned (and boast a Western theme), but national retailers include Target, Safeway, Dilliard's, Petco, Sears and Wal-Mart (high end retailers are a little sparse). There is no Whole Foods, but there is a Natural Grocers.
The Cheyenne Little Theatre presents a full season of melodrama productions as well as traditional theater offerings. It also has a robust volunteer program and audition schedule. The Cheyenne Symphony Orchestra performs at the Civic Center. The Cheyenne Botanic Gardens has nine acres of beautiful vegetation, not to mention 80 flower beds around town. It also has one of the highest ratios of volunteers to staff of any botanic garden in the nation.
The Cheyenne Transit System provides public transportation. All buses are lift-equipped so they are easy to board. No loud music devices are allowed, and all passengers must be wearing shirts and shoes to ride. Curb to curb paratransit transportation is also available for people age 60+ and for those with disabilities. The nearest international airport is in Denver, Colorado, 75 miles to the south (and there is a shuttle service).
Laramie County Senior Services serve the needs of Cheyenne's seniors with escort services (not that kind), movies, classes, card games, wellness programs, referrals and congregate meals in five different locations. A private, non-profit group, Wyoming Senior Citizens, is based in Riverton, 270 miles away, but also offers programs in Cheyenne.
The primary health care facility is Cheyenne Regional Medical Center (222 beds). Accredited by the Joint Commission, it accepts Medicare patients and has won national recognition for its cardiac care. It is a Level II Adult Trauma Center as well. Cheyenne also has a VA hospital.
The elevation is 6,065 feet above sea level, so summer temperatures are usually in the 80s but can reach into the 90s. Humidity is very low (on the comfort index, Cheyenne comes in at twice the national average). Winter temperatures are typically in the teens, 20s and 30s. Snow often starts falling in October and often does not taper off until April, dumping 60 inches over that time. Cheyenne is also one of the windiest cities in the U.S.
Wyoming is the least populated state in the country, and beyond the edges of Cheyenne, empty prairie stretches as far as the eye can see. Some people see an abyss, but others see a world of possibility. This is a place where one can feel an amazing sense of wonder or an intense sense of loneliness. Two major interstates, I-25 and I-80, connect Cheyenne to the rest of the nation (and there is a regional airport), but this is a remote place. The nearest towns are Laramie 50 miles to the west, Casper 185 miles to the north and Fort Collins, Colorado 45 miles to the south. Driving north, east or west from Cheyenne leads to long stretches of wide open country with few gas stations, spotty cell phone service, herds of grazing antelope and a few jackalopes (!).
Retirement in Cheyenne has some drawbacks. The interstate highways in and out of town occasionally close in winter. Water in the form of lakes and rivers is scarce. There are no college or professional sports teams.
Despite these downsides, this unpretentious Western metropolis beckons with its friendly residents, safe neighborhoods, blue skies, dry air and peaceful way of life. Retirement here is quiet and simple, and to many people, that is exactly what retirement should be.
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