Wyoming | The West at its Best

By Steve and Gail Ault #41031
Wyoming was the first state to have a county library system,
first national park, first national monument, first national forest and first ranger station. These are all good reasons for Escapees to celebrate the 35th Escapade in Gillette, Wyoming.

Wyoming offers spectacular natural sights, friendly residents, comfortable summer weather, lack of congestion and polluted air and a government that doesn’t overspend its budget. Perhaps we can entice you to check out a few places of interest and stay awhile and enjoy the “cowboy” state.

Fossil Butte National Monument
If you’re coming from the southwest corner of the state, don’t miss Fossil Butte National Monument, which boasts some of the world’s best preserved fossils. Just west of Kemmerer, north of US 30, Fossil Butte National Monument does not charge a fee.

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area
While it’s odd that some of the best coldwater fishing is found in an arid desert environment, Lake Flaming Gorge is known for its trophy fishing. The entire Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area (along the 91-mile Flaming Gorge Reservoir south of Green River, Wyoming) offers great beauty and great water experiences. A bird’s eye view of the Green River many feet below with red cliff walls is even more majestic from a boat looking up. There are two visitor centers, Red Canyon and Flaming Gorge Dam, with campgrounds nearby. (Free hour-long, guided tours of the dam and power plant by the Flaming Gorge Natural History Association all year, Friday through Monday, hourly from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., 435-885-3305.)

South Pass City State Historical Park
Going north from Rock Springs on US 191 and then Highway 28 toward Lander, stop at South Pass City State Historical Park off Highway 28. The California, Mormon, Oregon and Pony Express Trails crossed Wyoming leaving significant sites such as this. In 1868, South Pass City boasted 2,000 people, and in 1968 the area was donated to the State of Wyoming as one of the best preserved mining towns in the West, an authentic glimpse at a city that weathered the booms and busts. (Open daily 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., admission $4.)

Wind River/Sinks Canyon State Park
Lander offers the Wind River/Sinks Canyon State Park. Early in the season, one can view the “sink” as the Popo Agie River drains like a flushing toilet or sink bowl into the limestone cavern a short distance off the main highway. Continuing north on US 26 through Riverton to Shoshoni, you’ll travel through the Wind River Canyon, a beautiful stretch of highway alongside the river.

Thermopolis Mineral Baths
At Shoshoni, head north on US 20 to Thermopolis where you can get a free mineral bath (bring your own towels, or you can rent towels). There’s only one “world’s largest” mineral hot springs, and this is it, thanks to the Shoshoni and Arapaho Tribes who agreed to the treaty with free baths to the public as a condition. You may also go to a private concern and pay—but why?

Hot Springs State Park also has walking trails and picnic areas. The unusual Rainbow Terraces come from eons of flowing mineral springs creating many sights worth a number of pictures. There’s also a city museum with two full floors of exhibits in the main building and five additional structures located downtown (open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Mention the Internet ad for $1 off admission. (Call 307-864-5182 for information.)

Washakie Museum
Continuing north on Highway 20, stop in Worland. The Washakie Museum has fascinating exhibits portraying the relationship between historical people of the Big Horn Basin and their environment (open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., seniors $7). Highway 16, Worland to Buffalo, will give you a chance to freebie in the national forest or use the National Forest campground between Tensleep and Buffalo. Cool high-altitude days and nights will cause you to question your desire to drop to lower elevations. Watch out for moose and other wildlife in this primitive, pristine country.

Independence Rock
Interstate 80 is now the trail of choice for most travelers to Rawlins (located southcenter in the state), but historically, travelers used the Overland Trail, Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail or either the original route of the Union Pacific Railroad or the Lincoln Highway. From Rawlins, you can take US 287 north, then Highway 220 toward Casper. Stop at Independence Rock, a large granite rock approximately 130 feet high, 1,900 feet long, and 850 feet wide. This well-known landmark on the Oregon, Mormon and California Trails was a resting and frequently a celebration spot since groups attempted to reach the rock by July 4 in order to arrive at their destinations before the first mountain snowfalls. Many of these emigrants carved their names on the rock, and it was designated a national historic landmark in 1961.

National Historic Trails
In Casper don’t miss the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center located at the north edge of the city off I-25. (Open daily in the summer 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., seniors $5; information: 307-261-7700.)

The Interpretive Center allows the visitor to experience what pioneer life was like for the early emigrants traveling on the Oregon Trail, California Trail, Mormon Trail, Bozeman Trail, Bridger Trail and Pony Express Trail. The interpretive center features four outdoor kiosks and an entrance designed to resemble the curved top of a covered wagon. Visitors can experience a unique piece of Western history as they pull a Mormon cart or sit in a wagon and view a simulated crossing of the North Platte River.

Snowy Range
If you insist on taking I-80 toward Cheyenne, sneak through the Snowy Range. Looking for cool days and evenings? Smaller rigs can find national forest campgrounds or unhook and do a car run on the Snowy Range Scenic Byway, Highway 130, to spectacular Mirror Lake. The Mirror Lake picnic site is a favorite recreation stop located at the base of towering cliffs of the Snowy Range with lakeside access for fishing and a short easy hiking trail to the West Lake Marie Trailhead and other trails high in the Snowy Range. Or take a self-guided tour at Ryan Park Campground, which was the site of a WWII prisoner of war camp. Continuing east on I-80, you’ll pass through Laramie, home to the only four-year university in the state.

Between Laramie and Cheyenne, on the north side of I-80, check out and spend a night near Vedauwoo (an anglicized version of the Arapaho word “bito’o’wu” meaning earthborn). The characteristic hoodoos and outcrops represent some of the oldest rocks in Wyoming, and the site includes a day use/picnic area and an overnight campground.

Entering the state from the southeast, you’ll arrive in Cheyenne, home to the world’s largest outdoor rodeo (last full week in July, and in 2013 the dates are July 19–28. Ticket office, 800-227-6336). Cheyenne was for a number of years the wealthiest community per capita in America. Roam the halls of the capitol building. Wyoming was also the first state to allow women the vote. Visit the state museum just south of the capitol building and the Old West Museum, with a fabulous horsedrawn carriages collection. The recently restored Union Pacific Railroad Depot is one of the finest depots in the West, and in Holliday Park you can view the Big Boy-UP and the world’s largest steam locomotive. There are a number of RV parks in and around Cheyenne.

Yellowstone National Park
If you enter the state from the northwest, you’ll have the opportunity to check out Yellowstone National Park, known for its wildlife as well as a collection of the world’s most extraordinary geysers and hot springs, including Old Faithful who’s not so faithful anymore. You’re only a stone’s throw from Jackson Hole, playground of the rich and famous and home to Grand Teton National Park, perhaps the most dramatic and majestic mountains in the US (including Alaska). This will be the busiest you’ll experience Wyoming, other than Cheyenne Frontier Days.

Buffalo Bill Cody Museum
Cody has one of the finest museums in the nation, Buffalo Bill Cody Museum (open daily 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m (some exceptions); seniors $16, includes two consecutive days). Five museums under one roof explore the history of Buffalo Bill and the American West, Western art, Plains Indians, Greater Yellowstone’s Natural History and American firearms. The firearm museum has a mammoth selection.

The Beartooth Highway
You can also approach Cody from the north via Bozeman or Columbus, Montana, off I-90. Don’t miss Highway 212 from Red Lodge, Montana, to Cody, Wyoming. The late Charles Kuralt, travel correspondent for CBS News, called this 67 miles of highway, The Beartooth Highway, the most beautiful in the nation. It’s a bit steep, so you may wish to “toad” it, but take the time to check it out.

Medicine Wheel
West of Sheridan, off Highway 14A, is the Medicine Wheel visible from satellite, and we don’t recommend large rigs on this road. What is special about this site? At an elevation of 9,642 feet and only reachable during the summer months, the wheel was constructed by Plains Indians between 300 to 800 years ago and has been used and maintained by various groups since then. It follows the basic pattern of having a center of stone(s), surrounded by an outer ring of stones with “spokes” facing east, south, west and north. The 80-foot-diameter wheel has 28 spokes, the same number used in the roofs of ceremonial buildings such as the Lakota Sundance Lodge. The entrance is to the east, facing the rising sun, and includes 28 rafters for the 28 days in the lunar cycle. (The number 28 is sacred to some Indian tribes because of its significance as the lunar month.)

Devils Tower
Arriving from the northeast, you’ll want to stop at Devil’s Tower, the nation’s first national monument. The monument is a remnant of an ancient volcanic feature and rises 867 feet from its base. The 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind was filmed here, and the Indian lore surrounding the tower is worth reviewing. The park’s visitor center is open seasonally and offers exhibits on the tower’s history and geology as well as interpretive programs. There is a 50-site campground accommodating RVs and tents.

Ft. Laramie
Coming to Wyoming from the east, you can check out Ft. Laramie, originally established in 1834 as a private trading fort. Later the fort became the largest and best-known military post on the northern plains. Ft. Laramie National Historic Site is now a living history fort (open daily, dawn til dusk, with exceptions, museum and visitor center open at 8:00 a.m., free with interagency pass.)

A short distance away is Guernsey with a great city park and electric and water at a very reasonable rate and a cute little golf course. The Platte River is only feet away, and you can walk to the wagon ruts cut into the sandstone several feet deep. A short drive gets you to Register Cliffs where emigrants chiseled their names and dates in the rock. A Pony Express stop is nearby as well.

Wyoming has numerous state, national forest and private campgrounds, as well as three free city parks all a short jaunt to Gillette. Torrington, Douglas and Wheatland are three communities with free parks, all with electric, water and dump and, yes, we suggest a donation. Now, how’s that for hospitable? We may be Arizonans now, but Wyoming will always be our favorite state.

Wyoming—nothing artificial added!

Steve and Gail started traveling in 1995 and joined Escapees in 1996. They found the Escapees parks wonderful and became leaseholders at Saguaro SKP Co-Op in 1997. Now they travel north most summers and take short trips at other times of the year from their home in Green valley, Arizona. They say, “Escapees has taught us so much about RVing which has enhanced our lives.”

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