Wyoming Roadside Attraction:Wyoming Territorial Prison

10-WyoTerritorial Prison Laramie

Native sandstone was durable enough for a prison for Wyoming Territory, so it endures today. Newly renovated, the Wyoming Territorial Prison is one of several historic buildings at the site on the outskirts of Laramie. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published August 16, 2009, Wyoming Tribune Eagle. 

By Barb Gorges

If you haven’t been to the prison in the last few years, you are in for a treat. The native sandstone building has been restored. Clean and bright and more like a gallery, a rogue’s gallery, it is hung with larger than life portraits and stories about notorious inmates, including Butch Cassidy.

The prison’s setting, with a view of mountain ranges, enticed 25 percent of the inmates to escape during its first three years, before the stockade was built.

The prison also features exhibits about women inmates, the wardens, and the prison’s relationship with the local community. It opened in 1872, four years after Wyoming became a territory, and closed in 1903.

There’s barely any sign of the livestock the University of Wyoming housed there for most of the 20th century.

Across the prison yard is another newly renovated building, the prison broom factory. Today its production is sold in the gift shop.

The Territorial Park includes other historic buildings and exhibits, plus access to Laramie’s greenway.  Check for more information about the Horse Barn Theater summer productions and the ghost tours held in October.

Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site

Directions: I-80 Exit 311, then east on Snowy Range Road less than 1 mile.

Open: May 1 – Oct. 31, every day, 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Admission: $5/adult, $2.50/12-17 years old. Free for 11 and under and State Parks pass holders.

Address: 975 Snowy Range Road, Laramie.

Phone: 307-745-6161.

Web site: http://wyoparks.state.wy.us

Attractions: Self-guided tours, guided tours, living history, special events, gift shop.

Time: Allow 1 – 3 hours.

Wyoming Roadside Attraction: 1838 Rendezvous Historic Site

9-1838 Rendezvous Site

Use your imagination to see the 1838 rendezvous of mountain men trading furs and stories, or visit in late June for the annual reenactment. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Aug. 27, 2011, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle: “Rendezvous site attracts living history. Re-enactors bring the era of the mountain man back to life.”

By Barb Gorges

The era of the mountain man fur trapper was brief, but it lives on at the actual site of the 1830 and 1838 rendezvous.

On the south edge of the present day city of Riverton, on the banks of the Wind River, near the confluence with the Little Wind River (also known as the Popo Agie), you can find markers about famous characters along primitive paths.

Squint a bit and you can imagine hardy men wearing buckskins sharing jugs of whiskey and stories at their annual summer gathering.

If you are very lucky, instead of ghosts you will see real buckskins worn by re-enactors if you arrive in time for the annual event put on by the 1838 Rendezvous Association. The activities are usually scheduled in late June, everything from hatchet throwing to hide scraping. Visitors need not wear authentic garb.

If you go:

1838 Rendezvous Historic Site

Directions: From downtown Riverton, follow Wyo. State Hwy. 789 (South Federal Blvd.) south and turn east on Monroe Avenue, past the gravel pit ponds, following signs. Distance from Cheyenne: about 180 miles.

Open: year-round

Admission: none

Address: East end of E. Monroe Avenue, Riverton

Web site: www.1838rendezvous.com

Attractions: Location of an actual mountain man rendezvous site with historic markers.

Time: 15 minutes – 2 hours.

Wyoming Roadside Attraction: Wyoming Dinosaur Center

4-The Wyoming Dinosaur Center-inside

“Stan,” a 35-foot T-Rex, and a Triceratops (the Wyoming state dinosaur) were excavated near Thermopolis and fill the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis. Photo courtesy of Wyoming Dinosaur Center.

Published May 19, 2011, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle: See the Supersaurus–Center museum features “Jimbo,” one of the largest dinos ever mounted, discovered near Thermopolis.

By Barb Gorges

Supersaurus. Barnum and Bailey would never believe it. But you can see it at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, all 106 feet of it. “Jimbo” as it is nicknamed, was excavated by the center.

Castes of more dinosaurs, their actual fossilized bones and fossils of pre-dinosaur life forms are professionally presented in the museum. Through windows, visitors can watch lab assistants painstakingly pick away at the rock matrix that surrounds other fossils that come from the center’s nearby dig sites.

The center is on the Warm Springs Ranch, where 60 dig sites have been identified in the Morrison Formation of the late Jurassic, the time of the well-known species Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, and Aptosaurus, previously known as Brontosaurus.

Visitors can tour several of the dig sites and in summer, the center offers “Dig-for-a-Day,” a chance to help scientists make more finds. Kids’ camps are also offered.

The gift shop’s selection of educational toys, books and fossils rivals those of major museums and is also available online.

If you go:

The Wyoming Dinosaur Center, Thermopolis

Directions: In Thermopolis, at the junction of US Hwy 20/Wyo. Hwy 789 and Wyo. Hwy 120, turn east on Broadway Street and cross the Big Horn River. Follow it as East Broadway and turn south (right) on C Avenue which becomes Carter Ranch Road within a few blocks. Or, from Hot Springs State Park, the center is just a few blocks south of the park boundary. Distance from Cheyenne: about 300 miles.

Open: 7 days a week, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. summer (May 15-Sept. 15), 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. winter (closed for winter holidays).

Admission: Museum: Adults $10; children, seniors and veterans: $5.50; children under 3: free. Dig site tours run $12.50 to $8.75 and museum/dig site packages are available for individuals and families (summer only).

Address: 110 Carter Ranch Road, Thermopolis, WY 82443

Phone: 800-455-3466

Web site: www.wyodino.org

Attractions: Fossils and castes of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, tours of dig sites, dig participation, gift shop.

Time: Museum: 1 hour, Dig tour: 1 hour, Digging: a day.

Texas ecotourism

2016-3-10 Laguna Atascosa NWR - Bill Thompson and BWD RR participants-BarbGorges

Bill Thompson III, editor and co-publisher of Bird Watcher’s Digest, talks about the birds of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge on the first day of the Reader Rendezvous in Texas held in March 2016. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle April 3, 2016, “Ecotourists enjoy Texas border birds.”

By Barb Gorges

At the beginning of March, Mark and I indulged in five days of ecotourism in South Texas after visiting our son and his wife in Houston.

We met up with avid birders for another Reader Rendezvous put on by the Bird Watcher’s Digest magazine staff. Last year we met them in Florida.

I’d heard about the fall Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in Harlingen, but had no idea how well bird-organized the entire lower Rio Grande Valley is until a woman from the Convention and Visitors Bureau spoke to us.

2016-3-11a McAllen Green Parakeets byBarbGorges

A stretch of North 10th Street in McAllen, Texas, is an eBird hotspot for hundreds of Green Parakeets coming to roost in the evenings. Photo by Barb Gorges.

I was expecting McAllen, Texas—where we stayed, to be a small town in the middle of nowhere, but its population is 140,000 in a metropolitan area of 800,000, with a lot of high-end retail businesses attracting shoppers from Mexico.

Outside of the urban and suburban areas, nearly every acre is farmed. But in the 1940s, two national wildlife refuges were set aside and another in 1979, as well as a number of state parks. This southern-most point of Texas is an intersection of four habitat types and their birds: desert, tropical, coastal and prairie, and it is a funnel for two major migratory flyways.

One of our local birding guides, Roy Rodriguez, has compiled a list of 528 bird species (we have only 326 for Cheyenne), including 150 accidentals seen rarely—though our group saw two, northern jacana and blue bunting.

2016-3-10 Laguna Atascosa NWR - Green Jay byBarbGorges

The Green Jay visited feeding stations at several of the national wildlife refuges and state parks visited. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Many of Roy’s common species that we saw are South Texas specialties like plain chachalaca, green parakeet and green jay. We also saw uncommon Texas specialties including white-tailed hawk, ringed kingfisher and Altamira and Audubon’s orioles.

From the rare list, some of the species we saw were ferruginous pygmy-owl, aplomado falcon and red-crowned parrot. Interestingly, several Texas rarities we saw are not rare in Wyoming: cinnamon teal, merlin and cedar waxwing.

Most of the Texas specialties have extensive ranges in Mexico. Thus, a species can be rare in a particular location, or just plain rare like the whooping cranes Mark and I saw further east on the Gulf Coast at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

What is rare is the cooperative effort shown by nine entities to establish the World Birding Centers, www.theworldbirdingcenter.com, including four city parks, three state parks, a state wildlife management area and a national wildlife refuge. Another partnership has produced a map of the five-county area which locates and describes those and 76 additional public birding sites. The map is helpful even if you are proficient using www.eBird.org to check for the latest sightings.

Wyoming will be coming out with something similar soon, the Great Wyoming Birding Trail map app.

2016-3-10 Laguna Atascosa NWR - Plain Chachalaca byBarbGorges

The Plain Chachalaca also enjoys citrus fruit put out at feeding stations. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The concentration of birds in south Texas draws people from around the world. We saw the natural open spaces drawing local families too. But it’s the visitors who spend money which the McAllen Convention and Visitors Bureau counts. They estimate bird-related business is the third biggest part of their economy, after shopping and “winter Texans.”

Roy said birdwatchers contributed $1 million to the economy when a rare black-headed nightingale-thrush spent five months in Pharr, Texas, and $700,000 in just a few weeks while a bare-throated tiger-heron could be seen.

The International Ecotourism Society says ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.”

We mostly think in terms of ecotourists going to third world countries, but it applies here in the U.S. as well.

“Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel,” continues the description. At each of the seven locations the Reader Rendezvous visited, staff or volunteers gave us historical and conservation background. And each location is managed by conservation principles. I’m not sure about the sustainable travel aspect, though we did travel by van and bus, minimizing fuel and maximizing fun.

2016-3-13 Estero Llano Grande SP--byBarbGorges

Bill Thompson III (vest and blue shirt) helps Reader Rendezvous participants home in on a rare bird at Estero Llano Grande State Park in South Texas. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Short of staying home, travel will not be sustainable until modes of transportation have clean fuel and restaurants and hotels are more conservation-minded. But experiencing and building understanding of other places and cultures is worthwhile. At Anzalduas County Park we stood on the edge of the Rio Grande, looking across at a Mexican park, close enough to wave. If a bird flew more than half way across the river, would we have to document it for eBird as being in Mexico? Is there any place to tally the number of Border Patrol trucks, blimps and helicopters we saw at that park?

Besides a few extra pounds from enjoying the always enormous and delicious portions of Texan and Mexican food, I brought home other souvenirs as well: a list of 154 species, 37 of them life birds for me (at least on eBird), photos, great memories and new birding friendships.

Now we’re back in time to welcome the avian “winter Texans” to Cheyenne as they migrate north.