With a population that’s boomed from 17,000 in 1981 to 32,000 in 2009, Gillette, the metropolis of the Powder River Basin, has many relatively new properties, restaurants, and shopping opportunities. Thanks to the region’s huge coal mines, it’s one of Wyoming’s wealthiest cities, and as a result it has an excellent community infrastructure that includes the Cam-Plex, a multiuse events center that hosts everything from crafts bazaars and indoor rodeos to concerts and fine-arts exhibits. Gillette is also a gateway town for Devils Tower National Monument, the volcanic plug that is one of the nation’s most distinctive geological features and a hot spot for rock climbers.
Gillette has worked hard to make itself presentable, but you don’t have to look very hard to find a shovel bigger than a house at one of its giant strip mines. Once a major livestock center, from which ranchers shipped cattle and sheep to eastern markets, the city now mines millions of tons of coal each year and ships it out to coal-fired power plants. In fact, if Gillette (and surrounding Campbell County) were its own nation, it would be the world’s sixth-greatest producer of coal. Currently the county turns out nearly a third of all American-mined coal. Gillette, however, is a big fish in a small pond, one of only two incorporated towns in the county (the other is Wright, population 1,347).