Rocky Mountain Region: Wyoming: USA
Interesting Places: Here is the essence of the Old West, where Indians, cowboys, trappers, miners, soldiers, and settlers all had their day–and are still remembered.
Yellowstone National Park is the oldest national park in the U.S. It was established in 1872. Yellowstone is located mostly in Wyoming, with parts of the park spilling over into Montana and Idaho. Yellowstone National Park is home to Old Faithful, a geyser that erupts at regular times.
Buffalo Bill Historical Center: One of the highlights of this center is state-of-the-art Draper Museum which leads visitors down an interactive trail through the sights, sounds, and sensations of the West’s natural world.
Dubbed “the Smithsonian of the West” by author James Michener, this place is famous for celebrating America’s frontier heritage. Inspired by its flagship Buffalo Bill Museum, established in 1927, the 237,000-square-foot complex has expanded its focus through the decades to house the Whitney Gallery of Western Art, the Plains Indian Museum, and the Cody Firearms Museum.
The latest addition is the state-of-the-art Draper Museum, showcasing the biological and geological wonders of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Using cutting-edge technology, this museum leads visitors down an interactive trail through the sights, sounds, and sensations of the West’s natural world. Visitors get to delve into exhibits such as ranching, logging, and oil development. Open daily Apr.–Oct.; Tues.–Sun. Nov.–Mar. Admission charged.
Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range and Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite: Just up the road from Yellowstone National Park, Big Horn County has hundreds of miles of trails tranversing habitats ranging from deserts to subalpine meadows.
At the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range visitors might spy as many as 180 wild mustangs on a 31,000-acre sweep of land. First prized by Native Americans, the distinctive horses are direct descendants of breeds cultivated in ancient Spain, Portugal, and Africa.
Nearby at Red Gulch, covering 40 acres of publicly guarded ground, visitors can trace the footsteps of dinosaurs dating back some 160 million years to the Middle Jurassic period. Until 1997, when the prehistoric footprints were uncovered, most scientists viewed Big Horn County as the former home of a huge ocean, inhabited exclusively by sea creatures.
Yet, as the tracks of gigantic mammals attest, the area was once covered by soft mud. Over the eons the mud hardened, leaving whole footprints preserved beneath. Today visitors can easily spot over 100 footprints and other fossil traces and are permitted to take home petrified wood and plant fossils they find but must leave any animal vertebrae for the local experts to study. Open year-round.
Devils Tower National Monument: About 60 million years ago, molten magma from the Earth’s core forced its way upward into the softer sedimentary rock here. The magma cooled underground and formed a huge stock of hard igneous stone. Slowly the sedimentary rock eroded away by the Belle Fourche River, exposing the stock.
Known as Devils Tower, it rises abruptly from its base and looms 1,267 feet above the river. The tower formed into a network of 4-, 5-, and 6-sided columns, each 8 to 15 feet in diameter, separated by the thermal gradient cracks, as the entire mass began to cool. In 1906 the imposing formation was designated the nation’s first national monument. Each year expert climbers edge their way to the top, a domed area of 11/2 acres.
The surrounding park offers hiking trails and campsites. Birding is quite good, since the park is located at the juncture of wooded mountains and plains. More than 100 bird species have been sighted here, including bald and golden eagles and prairie falcons. White-tailed and mule deer inhabit the woodlands, and inquisitive prairie dogs pop up from their town near the park entrance to pose for photographers. Park open year-round; campground open mid-Apr. – Oct. Admission charged.
National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center: If any animal deserves a museum of its own, it’s the rare and majestic bighorn sheep. Two centuries ago these mountain dwellers numbered more than 2 million in North America—but, like the buffalo, they dwindled to only a few thousand before making a comeback and dodging extinction.
The sheep take their name from the large, curved horns of the rams—the horns that in turn gave their name to rivers, creeks, and towns in the Rocky Mountain West. Everything you ever wanted to know about the animals can be found here.
Sheep Mountain, the central exhibit, takes you into the bighorn’s unique habitat of alpine plants and rocky terrain. Hands-on exhibits acquaint you with bighorn adaptations, dominance battles, predator- prey relationships, and more. Guided tours of the sheep’s winter range give you an up-close view of these fascinating animals that once roamed the Rocky Mountains by the thousands. Open Memorial Day–Labor Day. Tours Nov.-Mar. Admission charged.
Register Cliff/Oregon Trail Ruts: The pioneers who traveled west on the Oregon Trail left their mark on a soft sandstone cliff rising 100 feet from the North Platte River valley. Wagoneers who camped on the riverbanks etched their names into the cliff and the date they passed through, sometimes noting their hometowns back East.
Many of the inscriptions on what is today called Register Cliff were made during the peak years of travel on the trail—the 1840s and 1850s. As far back as 1829, journeying fur trappers and traders also carved their names into the rock. A plaque at the base of the cliff tells visitors more about this roster of people headed for a new life.
In nearby Guernsey State Park is the Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site. Here you’ll see deep ruts gouged into the sandstone outcrops by untold numbers of wagon wheels, more reminders of the parade of pioneers along the North Platte River. Open year-round.
Vedauwoo: In the Laramie Range rock formations in the 10-square-mile area known as Vedauwoo (Arapaho for “land of the earthborn spirit” and pronounced vee-dah-voo) aren’t just any old rocks. Some 70 million years ago geologic uplift left a fold that ran from southeast Wyoming into northern Colorado, and Mother Nature later sculpted its exposed granite into strange shapes with nooks and crannies to spare.
Today the formations are a dream come true for fans of rock climbing and bouldering. The Arapaho and Cheyenne who lived in what is now Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest believed the rocks at Vedauwoo were piled up by playful spirits. But you need not be a climber to be enthralled by strangely configured rocks with names like the Coke Bottle, the Rat Brain, Hassler’s Hatbox, and University of Mars.
When hiking the area’s nature trails through pine and aspen forests, keep an eye out for elk, pronghorn antelopes, badgers, wild turkeys, bald eagles, and assorted other wildlife. Open May – Oct.