(Editor’s note: All of the pictures are thumbnails. Click on each to view it. Then be sure to click the back button to get back to the text or the next image. Don’t “close” the picture — that will cause the whole travelogue to close!)
We spent so little time in Wyoming on this pass that we felt a bit guilty about taking credit for it. Nevertheless, after our first overnight, we dug out the state sticker and added it to our map. The map is on the side of our long slide-out, so it’s only visible when we’re “in port.” It’s an outline map of the U.S. with a set of stickers for each state. Earlier versions of the map had bold solid color stickers, but the only one available when we got ours had stickers so anemic that you could hardly tell when they were added. So back last July, I went to a sign shop in St. Cloud, Minnesota and talked the owner into selling me half a yard each of four bright Scotch-Cal sheets. Then I cut out each state individually. So now you can tell at a glance where we’ve been.
Our first stop was Cheyenne. We booked at the Terry Bison Ranch Resort, a real bison ranch with a an RV lot, tent area, bunkhouses and cottages for other two legged guests, and a stable for the four legged variety. It has the Senator’s Restaurant, which hosts the legend of the first governor of Wyoming. It offers horseback rides, camel rides, train rides, amusement rides, gun shows, shopping – you name it. The bison herd is advertised at 2,500 , but only about 100 or so are visible without taking a tour.
The Terry Bison Ranch was originally the property of F.E. Warren, the state’s first governor and a U.S. Senator for twenty eight years. Dignitaries of all stripes visited there, including Teddy Roosevelt and Gen. Black Jack Pershing, who was Warren’s son in law. Today, it’s seedy. There were very few guests in mid-April. The restaurant was sorta open (and frightfully expensive). The RV area was a glorified gravel parking lot; we got stuck in a mud hole at the first site we were assigned to and needed lots of tricks to get moving again. And we got stuck there for an extra day! Rte. 25, the main north-south route running from New Mexico through Wyoming, was completely closed to all types of vehicles– using gates – for most of a day because of high cross winds.
Having the extra time, we moseyed downtown to take in a couple of sights. First was The Historic Governor’s Mansion. Opened in 1905, it was first occupied by Governor and Mrs. Bryant Brooks. It served its purpose until 1976, when a new building replaced it. Today, it’s beautifully maintained as a museum. Rooms are decorated to represent various eras, including the 1900’s, the thirties, the fifties and the sixties. The seal below is woven into he office rug.
From the Mansion, we headed down to the Cheyenne Depot. Completed in 1887, it’s recently been refurbished and mostly museum-ized, with city and commercial offices upstairs. The building represents the last of the Richardson Romanesque architecture that distinguished stations along the transcontinental railroad. The design is named for Henry Hobson Richardson, whose works through the second half of the 19th century include the magnificent Trinity Episcopal Church in Boston. Seventy four daily trains still pass by. The museum shows how and why Cheyenne (and Laramie) were developed at the critical point where the Union Pacific was able to cross the Rockies: Sherman Pass. It features a reconstructed baggage room and a hand carved wooden “Big Boy” measuring over eight feet long. The old waiting room maps the railroad’s route on the floor.
Casper was a one-night stand, but we got very lucky. Our campground was nothing to write home about, but on the road leading to it, less than a mile away, was the Ft. Caspar Museum (not misspelled!). What a find.
The reconstructed fort itself was not yet open for the season, but was viewable and shoot-able. The museum itself was open and most informative. When we walked in, the admissions person told us that there was a lecture underway. We slid in, and discovered that it was a presentation on the Basque families in the region, presented by the state’s poet laureate, David Romtvedt. Romtvelt, who married into a Basque family, was himself a sheep herder for a decade and now teaches at the U. of Wyoming.
Going through the exhibits yielded numerous threads.
Cattle were first, but sheep were brought here in the early 1870’s. Both thrived into the mid-eighties, but a severe winter and overgrazing in 1886-87 killed off much of the herds. Both breeds survived, and today Wyoming is the largest sheep herding state in the U.S. Wyoming native James Candlish is credited for creating the unique sheep wagon, shown below, in 1884. There was serious controversy; large cattle ranchers fought for grazing rights with both the shepherds and the arriving homesteaders with small herds. In the early 1900’s, at least 15 people and 10,000 sheep were killed.
Four major trails — Mormon, Oregon, California and Pony Express — found their way through the area. They had many purposes – religious freedom, new land, fame and fortune and better communications. They all needed protection, and they needed to find their way across the 1000 feet of the North Platte River.
Ferries and Bridges:
Several ferries were inaugurated, in-cluding one by Brigham Young. Some travelers built their own. Eventually, Louis Guinard, noted builder of bridges across the Snake River in Idaho, built a trading post and spanned the North Platte in 1860.
The area of the Mormon ferry and later the Guinard Bridge, known as Upper Platte Bridge Station, was guarded by troops who attempted to protect both settlers and the telegraph lines. In 1865, the station was attacked by throngs of Indians, who prevailed in the battle despite the heroic efforts of Lt. Caspar Collins. His posthumous honor was having the Fort named for him.
Casper was founded in 1889. At about the same time, the Salt Creek Oil Field became the first of many profitable explorations in the area. Many refineries have been built, operated and closed, but there’s one operating even now. The area is also notorious for the Teapot Dome Scandal, when Secretary of the Interior Albert Fell took bribes to lease drilling rights on government land.
Our last stop in Wyoming was Buffalo, near the northern border at the end of Rte. 25. It was also a whistle stop for us, and we really don’t remember much about it at this late date (first time this has happened). We remember the campground was very lovely and a place we’d like to stay longer. We know it has historical significance; for one thing, it’s close to the Hole In The Wall where Butch and Sundance hid out. It’s also near Gillette, which we’ll be visiting in the fall. So stand by for a future story.