Wyoming, it's a big place to get around
Wyoming is all this, but it's also museums and art galleries, fairs and festivals, and historical sites aplenty
Think of Wyoming, and you probably picture a solitary cowboy riding the open range; of Old Faithful putting on its show at Yellowstone National Park; and of the Rocky Mountains rising against a high, wind-swept plain. Wyoming is all this, but it's also museums and art galleries, fairs and festivals, and historical sites aplenty.
While Wyoming is the least populous of the United States, it ranks among the 10 largest in area. It's a big place to get around, but we'll help you get your bearings.
Wyoming includes six tourism regions. From north to south, they are:
- Yellowstone Country, home of the world's first national park. Natural wonders and recreational opportunity draw millions here annually.
- Devils Tower-Buffalo Bill Country, a vast area that includes everything from the Black Hills on the South Dakota border to one of America's liveliest tourist towns.
- Grand Teton Country, where year-round recreation and awesome scenery have combined to create a must-see Western destination.
- Jackson Hole-Jim Bridger Country, including the western slope of the Wind River Range and the Red Desert of southwest Wyoming.
- Oregon Trail-Rendezvous Country, where you can follow in the footsteps of pioneers and mountain men past such landmarks as Register Cliff and Independence Rock.
- Medicine Bow-Flaming Gorge Country, a region known for its railroad history, recreation, and outstanding scenic drives.
Wyoming has nearly 40,000 miles of federal, state, and local roads. If you're coming to visit, you may well wonder: Where to begin? Here are a few favorite scenic drives around the state:
- Yellowstone's Grand Loop -- It's true many of Yellowstone National Park's best sights may be seen from this figure-eight-shaped road. The loop road may be accessed via all the major park entrances; highlights include the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the wildlife-rich Hayden Valley, Old Faithful, Fountain Paint Pots, Norris Geyser Basin, and Mammoth Hot Springs.
- Chief Joseph/Beartooth Scenic Byways -- From Cody, take Wyoming Highway 120 north to Highway 296, which winds high above the Clarks Fork River before intersecting with U.S. Highway 212. From here, turn east to experience the Beartooth Highway, often called one of America's most spectacular with more than 25 mountain peaks rising above 12,000 feet.
- Wyoming Centennial Scenic Byway -- Taking a sweeping end run around the Wind River Range, this 162-mile byway links Dubois and Pinedale, passing through Grand Teton National Park and the town of Jackson en route.
- Big Horn Scenic Byway -- Begin at the Big Horn National Forest boundary west of Dayton, drive on to Burgess Junction, and on into Shell Canyon on U.S. Highway 14. Impressive geological sights such as the Fallen City and natural delights like Shell Falls make this a photographer's paradise.
- Medicine Wheel Passage -- From Burgess Junction to Lovell, U.S. Highway 14A passes near Medicine Wheel National Historic Site, important to Native Americans and fascinating to all. The route also offers a sweeping view of the Big Horn Basin, the Absaroka Mountains, and the Yellowstone Plateau to the west.
- Cloud Peak Skyway -- Also known as U.S. Highway 16 between Buffalo and Ten Sleep, this byway takes its time climbing east over the Big Horns, offering access to Cloud Peak Wilderness Area. Powder River Pass is the high point, at 9,666 feet.
- Snowy Range Scenic Byway -- Between Rawlins and Laramie, Wyoming Highway 130 climbs through the Medicine Bow Mountains to a 10,800-foot summit at Snowy Range Pass. Other highlights include the former mining town of Centennial and Saratoga, known for its hot springs. Take a short detour south from the byway to Encampment, site of an 1890s copper boom.
- The Virginian Road -- Another alternative route between Laramie and Rawlins, U.S. Highway 30/287 takes the old Lincoln Highway through a landscape that inspired Owen Wister's Western novel "The Virginian." Along the way, you'll see Como Bluff, once a major dinosaur excavation site, and a cabin made from dinosaur bones.
- Seminoe-Alcova National Backcountry Byway -- Fishing, boating, camping, and wildlife viewing are the attractions along this route from Alcova (southwest of Casper on Highway 220) to Interstate 25 at Sinclair. The rugged 64-mile byway has some gravel segments and isn't recommended for large RVs.
The great outdoors
For anyone interested in a vacation built around being outside, Wyoming is hard to beat. Even the national parks have their uncrowded spots, and much of the state remains lightly visited and little-explored. Here's a selection of the activities available:
- Fishing -- Wyoming lures anglers with outstanding populations of trout, bass, crappie, walleye, yellow perch, channel catfish, and others -- 22 game species in all. Licenses are necessary to fish in most locations.
- Wildlife viewing -- Wyoming is home to more than 600 species of wildlife, some of which may even be seen from the state's highways. The National Elk Refuge at Jackson provides a winter home for thousands of elk, and sleigh tours are available December through April.
- Boating -- The Snake River south of Grand Teton National Park is a favorite with rafters, while Shoshone Lake in Yellowstone attracts canoeists. In eastern Wyoming, Glendo State Park has become known for good windsurfing conditions.
- Winter sports -- Jackson Hole. Snow King. Grand Targhee. Need we say more? Well, there's also Hogadon, High Park, Antelope Butte, Snowy Range and several other downhill ski areas. Cross country skiers like the trails at Curt Gowdy State Park near Cheyenne. Wyoming also has more than 1,300 miles of groomed snowmobile trails.
- Biking -- Mountain bikers make tracks to the Big Horns and the Medicine Bows for some of Wyoming's best trails, while road cyclists have plenty of lightly traveled highways from which to choose.
- Dude ranches -- Wyoming is home to many working cattle ranches that welcome visitors for cattle drives, trail rides, and other recreation. For a directory, contact Wyoming Homestay and Outdoor Adventures at 1031 Steinle Road, Douglas, WY 82633.
- Hunting -- Elk, bear, moose, deer, bighorn sheep, and antelope are among the prizes awaiting lucky Wyoming hunters. Because Wyoming is such a popular destination for big-game hunters, licenses are issued by a lottery system. The state also has a booklet listing licensed outfitters; for a copy, write the Wyoming State Board of Outfitters at the Wyoming Department of Commerce, 1750 Westland Road, Cheyenne, WY 82002.
- Hiking and camping -- Yellowstone has more than 1,200 miles of hiking trails (most little used), Grand Teton another 200 miles ... and that's just the start. In Wyoming, hikers will find terrain suitable for everything from a casual stroll to the most challenging treks imaginable. Campsites abound, too, everywhere from the five national forests to 13 state parks to the shores of Flaming Gorge Reservoir.
Other Wyoming recreational highlights include horseback riding in the Wind River Range, mountain climbing in the Tetons, rock climbing at Devils Tower National Monument and Vedauwoo near Laramie, llama packing in the Big Horns, and much more. The Wyoming Vacation Guide includes extensive information on these and many recreational opportunities.
Wyoming is known as "the Equality State" and its state motto is "Equal Rights." Why all the emphasis on equality? It goes back to 1869, when Wyoming -- then still a territory -- became first in the United States to give women the right to vote. It would be another half a century before the same right was extended to women nationwide via ratification of the 19th Amendment. In addition, Wyoming also was the first state to have a woman governor: Nellie Tayloe Ross, elected to complete her deceased husband's term in 1925. But women's prominence in state government continues in the present era: As recently as 1991, three of the state's top five elected officials were women.
Wyoming's history also owes a great debt to Native Americans. These mountains and plains have long been home to Arapaho, Cheyenne, Crow, and Shoshone people. The first white man known to have entered what is now Wyoming was John Colter, who trapped in the area starting in 1807. Colter, earlier a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, also became known for his descriptions of the fantastic natural wonders in what would eventually be designated Yellowstone National Park. (Back then, folks called it "Colter's Hell.")
The Wilson Price Hunt party of Astorian fur trappers traveled through Wyoming in 1811-1812; some of the route they followed would later become part of the Oregon Trail. By the 1840s, tens of thousands of emigrants were crossing Wyoming en route to Oregon, California, Utah, and other points west. More newcomers arrived with the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad across the state's southern tier in 1868-1869.
The second half of the 19th century was marked by proud moments such as those noted above, but it also saw fierce fighting between U.S. troops and Native Americans in the region. As emigrant traffic swelled and the Bozeman Trail was blazed straight across northeast Wyoming to Montana's gold fields, the Indians grew increasingly hostile. The late 19th century also was a time of pitched battles among various cattle-raising interests (federal troops had to break up one such conflict in 1892) and between cattlemen and sheep growers.
Wyoming has long been one of the nation's top mining and energy-producing states, with great wealth in coal, petroleum, and natural gas. Bentonite and trona are other important minerals. All told, mining accounts for about a quarter of the state's annual gross state product -- but it also produces great population swings, particularly as energy prices and production fluctuate.
Wyoming's economy continues to rely on its natural resources. Tourism has joined mining, ranching, and agriculture as a primary industry, not just in the great national parks but in small towns and dude ranches, and people the world over enjoy coming here for the relaxed pace and the magnificent scenery. Like the cowboy astride the bucking horse that's graced the state's license plates since 1936, Wyoming holds fast to its independence, its pioneering nature, and its ties to a land that's "like no place on earth."
Planning a trip to Wyoming? Here's a selection of must-see attractions in every region:
- Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area (Devils Tower-Buffalo Bill Country) -- A 71-mile-long lake hemmed in by precipitous canyon walls is the centerpiece of the Big Horn Canyon NRA, shared by Wyoming and Montana. It's accessed via Wyoming Highway 37 east of Lovell, a drive that also passes through the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range.
- Buffalo Bill Historical Center.
- Cheyenne (Medicine Bow-Flaming Gorge Country) -- Wyoming's largest city and capital, Cheyenne is home to Frontier Days, among the world's largest rodeos. (It celebrates its 100th birthday in July 1996.) Other attractions include the Wyoming State Museum and two-hour trolley tours of historic downtown Cheyenne.
- Devils Tower National Monument (Devils Tower-Buffalo Bill Country) -- Come to northeast Wyoming for a "close encounter" with Devils Tower, the nation's first national monument (and spaceship landing site in Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind.") This fascinating monolith stands 1,280 feet above the Belle Fourche River.
- Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area (Medicine Bow-Flaming Gorge Country) -- Named by explorer John Wesley Powell for its vivid red canyons, Flaming Gorge straddles the Wyoming and Utah border. The 90-mile-long Flaming Gorge Lake is known the world over as a fishing "hot spot."
- Fort Bridger (Medicine Bow-Flaming Gorge Country) -- As its name implies, this outpost was established by famed mountain man Jim Bridger as a trading center for western-bound emigrants. It later served as a Mormon fortress and a U.S. Army post.
- Fort Laramie National Historic Site (Oregon Trail-Rendezvous Country) -- Living history is the attraction at Fort Laramie. Established in 1834 as a fur trading post, Fort Laramie (located near the Nebraska border west of Torrington) was later an important emigrant way station and a major staging spot for U.S. troops involved in the Indian wars.
- Fossil Butte National Monument (Jackson Hole-Jim Bridger Country) -- Located 10 miles west of Kemmerer, Fossil Butte was once covered by a huge freshwater lake. When the waters receded, they left behind a wealth of fossilized fish and other creatures.
- Grand Teton National Park (Grand Teton Country) -- The Tetons are among the world's most beautiful mountains, and the national park bearing their name offers a smorgasbord of recreational activities.
- Independence Rock (Oregon Trail-Rendezvous Country) -- Situated an hour's drive west of Casper, Independence Rock was a major landmark for Oregon Trail emigrants. Climb to the top to see some of their signatures!
- National Wildlife Art Museum (Jackson Hole-Jim Bridger Country) -- This striking new facility near the town of Jackson -- itself a major art center -- is home to more than 250 works by some of the nation's best-known wildlife artists including C.M. Russell, John Clymer, George Catlin, and Carl Rungius.
- Old Frontier Prison (Medicine Bow-Flaming Gorge Country) -- Located in Rawlins, this state prison was used from 1903 until 1982. It's now included on the National Register of Historic Places, and tours are available.
- Register Cliff State Historic Site (Oregon Trail-Rendezvous Country) -- Another landmark for the Oregon Trail pioneers, the Register Cliff area also includes the "Guernsey Ruts," worn by thousands of wagon wheels.
- South Pass City/Atlantic City (Oregon Trail-Rendezvous Country) -- Early Wyoming history lives on in these two near-ghost towns, both accessible via a byway that takes off from Wyoming Highway 28 south of Lander. South Pass has one of the state's best Fourth of July celebrations.
- Thermopolis (Devils Tower-Buffalo Bill Country) -- This town at the edge of the Big Horns is home to one of the world's largest mineral hot springs. Once cooled, the spring's soothing waters feed several swimming pools, making this a fine destination on a hot summer day.
- Wyoming Territorial Park (Medicine Bow-Flaming Gorge Country) -- Nineteenth-century Wyoming is recreated here through the restored territorial prison where Butch Cassidy did time, a Frontier Town peopled by characters from the past, a ranch animal petting corral, and the Horse Barn Dinner Theatre. The park is just outside Laramie.
- Yellowstone National Park (Yellowstone Country) -- Graceful waterfalls, unearthly thermal features, and legions of wildlife make Yellowstone National Park a sight everyone should visit at least once.
- In addition to being first to give women the right to vote, Wyoming had the nation's first woman justice of the peace (South Pass City's Ester Hobart Morris, in 1870) and the first woman elected to a public office (Estelle R. Meyer, who won the state school superintendency in 1894).
- One of the best city limits signs in the United States can be found at the town of Fort Laramie, Wyoming: "250 Good People and Six Sore Heads".
- Teapot Dome, focal point of a 1920s scandal that sent then-Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall to jail, may be seen about 25 miles north of Casper on Interstate 25. Look for the large butte east of the highway.
- Pinedale, Wyoming, is among the nation's smaller county seats, with just 1,265 residents.
- Wyoming is a casual state. Your favorite jeans, sweaters, shorts, and sportshirts will be welcome just about everywhere (although even Westerners like to dress up once in a while for special nights on the town). Remember to dress in layers during fall, winter, and spring, when the weather can change quickly. It's a good idea to keep a jacket or sweater handy even in summertime, especially in the mountain regions.
- Wyoming produced nearly 210 million tons of coal in 1993. Most of it goes to make electricity for the U.S. Midwest and South.
- Two-thirds of the world's pronghorn antelope population lives within a 300-mile radius of Casper, Wyoming. At one time, the herd had dwindled to 5,000 animals, but a temporary hunting ban early in the 20th century helped the species rebound, and there are now more than half a million pronghorn.