WANDERING THROUGH WYOMING
Maybe it’s because I have a slight obsession with crossing national parks and monuments off my to-see list. Maybe I’m just drawn to it like the characters in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But there are some places you just really want to see for some inexplicable reason and for me, Devils Tower was such a place.
The problem is Devils Tower doesn’t lie on a main route and is a little out of the way in northeastern Wyoming. In the past, we just haven’t had time for the detour.
Not this time. We were going to see Devils Tower regardless if we had a campground reservation. I called a private campground and they told me they had one spot left. I asked if we would be able to see the monument from our campsite and she said she didn’t know. Hmm….
I knew from talking to other RVing friends that Bell Fourche campground offered incredible views but it was first-come first-served. We decided to take our chances. I’m so glad we did.
Check out our huge campsite with an unbeatable view of Devils Tower!
We couldn’t ask for a better setting (or weather) for family meals around the picnic table.
The large site gave Thing 3 plenty of space to practice perfecting his walking skills. It was just a few weeks ago he was trying to walk along the shores of Lake Superior.
Devils Tower was established as our country’s first national monument in 1906. Protruding out of the prairie, geologists theorize that Devils Tower was formed by the intrusion of magma into the rock and was later exposed by erosion.
Devils Tower has fascinated more than scientists. For thousands of years, Northern Plains Tribes have lived and held ceremonies in the shadow of Devils Tower. It has also awed many settlers, trappers, ranchers, and explorers who have passed through or settled in the surrounding plains.
The Circle of Sacred Smoke created by Junkyu Muto is part of a series of peace sculptures. It honors the tradition that Devils Tower is sacred to many tribes.
We hiked the popular 1.3-mile trail around the base of the monument. The views of the surrounding prairie and ponderosa forests were spectacular as were the views of the monument itself.
Along the trail we kept noticing brightly covered fabric tied to the trees. As it turns out they are prayer cloths tied as symbolic representations of their prayers and ceremonies.
If you get the chance to pass through northeastern Wyoming, try to make time for a visit to our country’s first national monument. It’s not only a cinematic icon, but it is also an oddly beautiful piece of geology that strangely captivates people from all walks of life.
Not far from Devils Tower we stopped at Keyhole State Park for a few days. Talk about a peaceful setting where we could catch up on some work.
Keyhole Reservoir offers a variety of water activities. If you are looking for a quiet stop for a few days, Keyhole State Park will fit the bill.
Heading south en route to Cheyenne, we took a little detour to Douglas to see the world’s largest jackalope.
Douglas is home to not just one of the world’s largest jackalope, but two of the world’s largest. The “former world’s largest jackalope” sits at the heart of downtown Douglas.
We love these sorts of random roadside attractions. The summer before last in North Dakota, we saw Tommy the Turtle, the largest snowmobiling turtle. Oh and the world’s largest buffalo? We’ve seen him too.
The current largest jackalope is located at the chamber of commerce, which is also home to the Douglas Railroad Interpretative Center. The interpretive center features a CB&Q locomotive and seven cars.
When my friend mentioned we could see old wagon ruts left on the Oregon Trail by pioneers, I knew we had to add a stop. What a way to bring an important part of American history to life.
The wagon ruts are located near Guernsey, Wyoming and are part of the Oregon National Historic Trail. This 12-mile portion of the trail, referred to as the South Pass, was virtually the only place between the plains and Oregon where wagon trains could cross the intimidating Rocky Mountains. At this particular site where the trail was forced away from the river, the track was worn by passing wagons to a depth of 5 feet in the soft sandstone.
Along with learning about the ruts, we took a lovely walk around the surrounding area.
In keeping with our western expansion theme, we visited Fort Laramie National Historic Site.
Fort Laramie, originally established as a fur trading post, eventually became the most well-known military post in the northern plains before being abandoned in 1890.
For 56 years Fort Laramie was a place where trappers, traders, soldiers, officers, Native Americans, ranchers, miners, and homesteaders left their mark on history. As part of the emigrant trails and Pony Express it was one of the most important stops for transportation and communication through the central Rocky Mountain Region.
The visitor center has many exhibits to learn about the history of the fort.
Nothing beats a hands-on experience.
After exploring the park, we hit up the onsite saloon for some cold sarsaparilla. I’m sure the early pioneers would have loved this sort of treat.
A day’s travel by wagon, Register Cliff was the first stop for travelers leaving Fort Laramie. The travelers set up camps under the chalky limestone cliffs and often carved, “registered,” their names and dates of passage in the soft rock.
Look at some of these dates!
Many days later we finally reached our final destination of Cheyenne, the most populous city and capitol of Wyoming. It’s a vibrant town with a distinctly western feel.
We decided to tour the city by trolley, but halfway through, Thing 3 lost his patience and out of respect for the other passengers we decided to get off. We finished our tour on foot.
When walking or driving around the city, you’ll most likely notice the eight feet tall cowboy boots. The boots have been painted by local artists to display Wyoming’s and Cheyenne’s history.
On our way back to the train depot, we passed the Cowgirls of the West Museum. Being a horse lover and a wannabe cowgirl, we had to stop.
It’s a small museum packed with a lot of boots, hats, and fringe. It was interesting to learn about the role the American cowgirl played in the west.
While visiting Cheyenne, we stayed at Terry Bison Ranch, one of the largest bison ranches in North America.
The Terry Bison Ranch is more than a bison ranch; it’s an experience.
It is home to about 2500 bison, llama, pigs, mules, horses, cats, goats, and even an ostrich calls the ranch home.
Want to view the animals from a unique perspective? Climb up the public catwalk that leads over the corrals.
The Thiel family has run the ranch since 1994. The elder Thiel, Ron, enjoys keeping busy by building trains, carnival rides, and metal sculptures scattered all over the ranch.
The fun just doesn’t end at Terry Bison Ranch.
Of course, a stay wouldn’t be complete without taking a bison tour.
We boarded one of the custom built “trains” to ride out into the fields.
Before long, bison surrounded the train.
And much to our surprise, we got very close when they passed out food to feed the bison through the train widows and door.
We could literally feed the bison right out our hands! That is if you don’t mind getting licked by a bison tongue.
Terry Bison Ranch wasn’t a planned stop, but it turned out to be one of the most memorable!
On our way out of Wyoming we decided to stop at the visitor center because why not! I guess we wanted to make sure we didn’t need to turn around to go back and see something we missed.
This visitor center was an experience unto itself. It was like a mini-Wyoming museum. The exhibits were fabulous and hands on.
And we were glad to learn that we had seen a few of the best sites in Eastern Wyoming.
What places have you always wanted to visit? What sort of surprise stops have become some of your favorite memories? Have you ever fed a bison?