“Is it called Last Chance Saloon because of the building or the people who visit it?” quipped my travel companion as we pulled into the parking lot of a small wooden building with an even smaller sign in downtown Big Horn, Wyoming (population 490). “Perhaps both,” replied Randy Stout, a watercolor artist who had volunteered to teach us to paint among the Bighorn Mountains’ whispering aspen and shooting stars.
It was a last chance for me to learn to paint. In high school my right brain labeled my drawing attempts as failures and for several decades I lived life as a non-artist. At a writers conference five years ago I met a watercolor artist who claimed she could teach anyone to paint. Nothing I produced that weekend was headed to the Louvre but my tiny paintings proved I could enjoy art.
Now I was bouncing along a rutted gravel road to a place Stout deemed suitable for a painting lesson for our group of amateur artists. Perched among wildflowers, I gripped a black ink pen and struggled to capture the shiny, white aspen trunks and bright blue Wyoming sky my eye could see but my hand couldn’t recreate. When I finished my first plein air piece and I could see the resemblance to the subject matter it sounded like the white-crowned sparrows were singing with joy.
Packing away the paint supplies and heading down the mountain, the Last Chance Saloon seemed a good place to meet some locals after trying to immortalize their neighborhood on paper. “Queen Elizabeth visited that mercantile building in 1984,” said Stout pointing at a white clapboard structure with brown lettering. “It’s a pizza place now.” Queen Elizabeth came to visit her cousins and to see where British horses for the Boer War had been trained using polo matches. Polo caught on with the locals. Over thirty years later the region has more polo ponies and games of any place west of the Mississippi.
Shaking off the trail dust, I swung open the door to the saloon and was greeted by a wave of cigarette smoke and the glances of five men balanced on top of black-vinyl bar stools. One moved over a seat so our group could belly up to the bar. The entire place was slightly bigger than a singlewide mobile home but the wine list surprisingly lengthy. My Pinot Grio was cool and smooth, the service excellent.
“Do you want to roll the dice?,” asked our waitress as she wiped the bar and placed a jug full of dice in front of us. The rules were simple, three of kind got you a free drink, four of a kind six beer to go, and five snake eyes delivered all the money collected in a jar from people who played but didn’t win. I won a free drink, my painting compatriot a six-pack of beer. Our last chance to unlock our inner artist had scored us some original art and the libations to celebrate our newfound artistic confidence.
Last Chances in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains. Click to Tweet.
My friend, @Reinventure, recently went on a painting adventure in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains: Click to Tweet.
Discover how my friend, @Reinventure, unlocked her inner artist in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains. Click to Tweet.