The amazing natural wonders of Yellowstone National Park, Devil's Tower, and Grand Teton National Park, have earned Northern Wyoming the nickname "Nature's Playground." However, in contrast to the awesome beauty of Northern Wyoming's geysers, peaks and valleys, Southern Wyoming presents a more sublime landscape, what locals refer to as "Nature's Art Gallery." The Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area in the southwestern part of the state, for example, offers scenery of every imaginable shade of green: Emerald grasslands, chartreuse shrubbery, pewter-green forests and silver-dusted sagebrush. This palette of green is offset by deep red earth piled into mounts and cliffs, surrounding the jade waters of Green River as it snakes through this green-tufted, crimson canyon. Heading east to Green River City the landscape opens up into white buttes and strange rock formations that look as if a child's collection of stuffed animals had fallen under a witch's spell and were turned to stone with their faces contorted in the process. Further east, still, lies the Red Desert , a land full of white powdery dunes and very wild wildlife. In artistic terms, Northern Wyoming's landscape appears painted by the heavy brushstrokes of some insanely imaginative Van Gogh, while Southern Wyoming's landscape appears painted in the fragile, subtle, strokes of Monet. Both north and south offer beautiful scenery that lifts one's spirit and touches one's heart, in different ways, but with equal power to move one to blissful serenity.
STATE TOURIST INFORMATION: (307) 777-7777
In 1873 Isabella Bird, a British woman traveling alone throughout the wild American West, said of Cheyenne, "There is neither tree nor bush, the sky is grey, the earth buff, the air is blae (sic) and windy, and clouds of coarse granite dust sweep across the prairie." Three years later, in 1876, it hadn't changed much. Local resident, Mrs. Nannie Steel reported only 12 trees in Cheyenne. Hard to believe these accounts when one visits Cheyenne today. Knowing it's history of treelessness, the visitor can appreciate the extensive labor employed to create the city's beautiful, tree-lined neighborhoods, where every mature tree had been planted by some loving hand of long ago. It's a clean, neat city full of wonderful public parks, greens and gardens.The biggest park is Frontier Park, where the annual Cheyenne Frontier Days is held in late July/early August. Each year the town's population of 50,000 swells to hundreds of thousands of rodeo-loving tourists, competing cowboys, and fans of famous, big-name entertainers who perform nightly concerts. It's a two-week, rootin-tootin cowboy fest, chock-full of everything western: from daily rodeo events, to flapjack breakfasts, old-fashioned parades, saloon-hall dances and staged gunfights at high noon by "professional" gunslingers. Coming to Frontier Days is like living in a John Wayne movie.
Tip: If you want to be outfitted in traditional western wear -- from the cowboy hat on the top of your head, to the spurred boots on the tops of your toes -- visit Cheyenne Custom Cowboy on 216 West 17th Street. Run by a husband and wife whose love of western goods is obvious in the attention and care they give to both their customers and their merchandise. Even if you're not in the market for custom-made leather goods or cowboy gear, the store itself is a thrill to explore.
Statehouse (307) 777-7220
Walking into the lobby of Wyoming's Capitol is like walking into the lodge of a wealthy, aristocratic hunter. Amid a room full of rich, lustrous wood and floor-to-ceiling murals in muted tones, stands a full-sized, stuffed bison, the "monarch of the plains." When it was alive, this regal beast weighed 3,000 pounds, the third largest bison enrolled in the Boone and Crocket Book of Records. Down the hall from this bucolic king stands a full-sized, stuffed wapiti standing amid birds of prey, who likewise met the taxidermist's skills. They say Wyoming has "more wildlife than people," and the Capitol emphasizes this point. It's a lovely departure from traditional Capitol fare.
Check it out . . . Down in the basement is the First Lady Doll collection, displaying dolls created in the images of each First Lady of the state going all the way back to the first governor in 1890. Of course, the doll of Nellie Tayloe Ross was there as she was a First Lady as well as the Governor.
Cheyenne Botanic Gardens (307) 637-6458
Between the bustling Frontier Park and an active city park is a quiet, meandering trail that leads through a beautiful garden of fragrant freesia, pungent herbs, and colorful flowers to a 7000-square foot, solar-heated conservatory. The conservatory houses citrus, banana and fig trees, exotic vines, tropical trees, cactus gardens and ornamental flowers along with soothing waterfalls, bamboo, papyrus and ponds with Koi goldfish. The conservatory also grows food year round for distribution to its 9000 volunteers and low-income programs.
Check it out . . .The good, the bad and the buggy.The Cheyenne Botanic Gardens practices what is know as "integrated pest management," meaning good bugs are used to control the bad bugs. If you look closely, you can see the bugs at work. (The good bugs are the ones in the white hats.)
1886 Union Pacific Station (307) 637-3376
Unlike other areas where railroads met the transportation needs of a growing community, here, the railroad came first, and then the community grew around it. Because of the railroad, Cheyenne quickly became the most important trade center along the transcontinental line, with its new, gleaming depot the most elaborate station between Omaha and San Francisco. Beautiful wood, floors, chandeliers, and ornamental lighting and water fixtures, as well as an elegant restaurant, made this depot a favorite spot for locals as well as travelers.
Merci Train Boxcar
Here's a side of WWII rarely mentioned in history books: personal mending. In 1948 the "Merci Train," a train of 48 boxcars (one for each state at the time) was filled with gifts for American people from the people of France in appreciation for the 1945 American "Friendship Train" of boxcars filled with food for the war-ravaged France. Drew Pearson, an American columnist came up with the idea for the American "Friendship Train", and French railroad worker and war veteran, Andre Picard, came up with the idea of the reciprocal "Merci Train." Today, Cheyenne's American Legion Post #6 discovered this dilapidated boxcar by the old train depot and restored it, although the whereabouts of its contents of gifts, remains a mystery. However, the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix has an exhibit of the contents of its boxcar -- glorious, exquisite French gifts -- but not the boxcar. So if you go to Cheyenne, you can see the exterior of a "Merci Train" boxcar and if you go to Phoenix you can see a sample of the contents of a boxcar. Between the two capital cities you can imagine what it must have been like when the the entire train chugged its way to each individual state.
F.E. Warren Air Force Base (307) 773-2791
The brochure invites tourists to visit the ICBM and Heritage Museum at the F.E. Warren AFB. This base has been in operation since the early days of Western expansion, through two world wars and the cold war and is now the only home to 50 Peacekeeper ICBMs. Visitors are invited to see exhibits depicting military history, uniforms and weaponry. The grounds also contain a base cemetery with burial dates from 1867, as well as gravesites of Italian an German POWs who died here in captivity during WWII.
Tip: The brochure states that you must check in with Security before gaining access to the base and the museum. What it fails to mention, though, is that once you meet with security, you need to show proof of identity, (which we had in the form of a driver's license); your automobile registration (we had), and an insurance card to prove that your vehicle is insured. (We did not have this as the state we live in does not issue insurance cards, instead, insurance is noted on the registration. This was unacceptable and we were denied access. Be forewarned, they are very particular about this insurance card and will accept no facsimile.
GREEN RIVER CITY
Green River City is a small, quiet town along the emerald waters of Green River. Throughout the town are enormous, towering rock formations with names like The Palisades, Tollgate Rock, and the mammoth, Castle Rock, sitting smack in the middle of a residential area off the main street, a behemoth beige boulder with houses and a neighborhood clustered at its feet, like Lilliputians around the sleeping giant.
Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area (877) 444-6777
Flaming Gorge, named in 1869 by John Wesley Powell during his first scientific exploration down the Green River, is located east of the Uinta Mountains, straddling northeastern Utah and southwestern Wyoming. It's a unique blend of pewter-tinged mountain forests, crimson cliffs, and high-plains deserts that follow the winding emerald shores of Green River where gales of wind, galloping wildlife and whispering pines add a touch of additional excitement to this thrilling landscape.
Expedition Island (307) 875-5711
On May 24, 1869 Major John Wesley Powell wrote in his diary, "The good people of Green River City,Wyoming, turn out to see us start. We raise our little flag, push the boats from shore, and the swift current carries us down . . . We were to descend the Green to the Colorado and the Colorado down to the foot of the Grand Canyon." He and eight others were the first white men to explore the Colorado, end to end, and in doing so, changed the map of the United States. Powell may have chosen this site because the new railroad could deliver his boats there. Today, Expedition Island is a historic landmark indicating the starting point of Powell's first expedition, but Expedition island not only marks Powell's adventure. Many followed his footsteps, on a lark, or to prove some other point, such as testing a new watercraft, or, to make the first motion picture of the Powell expedition, as the famous Grand Canyon photographers, Emery and Ellsworth Kolb did in 1911, but this time, the townspeople of Green River City didn't come out to cheer them as they did Powell, they came out to "jeer" at them, the brothers reported. Throughout the Island are historical markers all along a paved walkway telling the stories of all the Green River adventurers
Check it out . . . One marker tells the tale of a wealthy man in the 1920s who, just for fun, wanted to retrace John Wesley Powell's perilous 1869 expedition. The marker says that the aging Powell was "jealous" and refused to help the millionaire. This plaque struck us as rather odd, to state as fact that Powell was "jealous."Unless Powell came right out and said, "I'm not helping. I'm too jealous," how could anyone report that as fact? Very puzzling language for a historic marker.
Killpecker Sand Dunes (800) 463-8637
About 20 miles outside of Green River City lies the Killpecker Sand Dunes, a vast, expansive landscape of 10,500 acres of soft, alabaster sand dunes, some as high as 100 feet sweeping across this high desert plain, sharing space with white buttes, black rock formations from ancient volcanoes, and etchings of Indian petroglyphs. Herds of brown, black, and white wild mustangs in fierce gallops break the lifeless landscape while passive desert elk and antelope roam aimlessly nearby.High desert winds transmogrify the dunes while ushering deep purple clouds and growling thunderbolts in an endless sky.
Because of the many historic relics from the extraordinary westward movement of emigrants in the 1800s, Guernsey, a small town of about 1200 residents is known today as the "Hub of the Oregon Trail." Just one mile from town is the Oregon Trail Ruts where thousands of covered wagons and ox-carts cut a deep groove into the soft sandstone.These tracks are preserved today as a testimony to the powerful call of a better life, and the hundreds of thousands who answered.
Oregon Trail Ruts (307) 836-2715
The first wagon train across the Oregon Trail began in 1841 with a party of 100 emigrants. In 1842, nearly 1000 crossed the trail. In 1845, as many as 55,000 covered the trail in their covered wagons. It's estimated that in the two decades that followed, more than 350,000 followed the same route.Wagon following wagon, wheel after wheel after wheel, traveling over the same soft sandstone ridge was bound to leave a mark. That it did. Today the wheel ruts are two to six feet deep. The ruts lie just one-half mile from the town of Guernsey along the North Platte River, a favorite, shady resting spot for emigrants.
Register Cliff (307) 836-2715
Just two miles from the wagon ruts is Register Cliff, a huge mound of soft white limestone, perfect for carving one's name or a message for posterity. All along this mammoth "chalkboard" are messages from the past, from tired pioneers who scaled the wall to carve their initials, or leave a message to those following, or simply to etch the a date of arrival. It's a fascinating peek into the past and a wonderful opportunity to sit and reflect on these pioneers who pressed on.
Fort Laramie National Historic Site, Fort Laramie (307) 833-2221
In the 1800s Fort Laramie bustled with activity as soldiers, traders, trappers, Indians and emigrants came to trade, refresh and replenish. Today it looks much as it did when it was the center of activity along the Oregon Trail. Significant structures of the fort's military period, some dating back to 1849, have survived -- from bakeries, to barracks, to "Bedlam" the nickname for the quarters of unmarried officers. Old Bedlam is the oldest military building in Wyoming.
Check it out . . . When entering the town of Fort Laramie, there's a sign that says, "Welcome to Fort Laramie. Population: 250 Good People and 6 Soreheads."
OUR CAMPSITES FOR THE WEEK:
Tex's Travel Camp, Green River (307) 875-2630
A quiet site along the Green River, although the RVs are packed in pretty tightly. It's very close to town and all the attractions of Green River. A strong and wonderful aroma fills the air from an abundance of what appears to be wild Baby's Breath flowers. The restrooms are old, polished wood, like something from a 1940s campground. Rustic and old-fashioned, but well-maintained. The hosts try to be friendly but are clearly over-worked and over-wrought.
Jolly Rogers, Cheyenne (307) 634-8457 or (800) 458-7779
Well, you can't beat the price . . . $12 a night for full hookups. The restrooms are clean and the hosts are friendly (the most important thing to us.) The park is tightly packed, however, and offers few frills. But when most of the RVs moved on after the extremely crowded Frontier Day's event, we saw that we were actually situated in a beautiful rural countryside. Pulled the shade up on the rear bedroom window one morning and was face to face with a big brown horse staring steadily into the trailer with his deep, charcoal eyes.