Wyoming Roadside Attraction: Expedition Island

18-Expedition Island

The city of Green River, where the Transcontinental Railroad crossed the Green River, became the departure point for many river adventures. Expedition Island commemorates them, beginning with John Wesley Powell’s in 1869. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published July 7, 2009, Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Expedition Island commemorates historic Green River adventures.”

By Barb Gorges

Starting out as a stage station on the Overland Trail, the town of Green River became a division point on the Transcontinental Railroad and the jump off for many expeditions down the Green River.

William Ashley descended the Green in 1825, during the fur trapping era, but in 1869, just after the railroad was completed, John Wesley Powell wanted his trip to be a scientific survey. After him came attempts at navigating the river in a paddlewheeler, speed records, women steering their own craft and commercial float trips, before the river was dammed at Flaming Gorge.

The historical interpretive signs along the path around Expedition Island are worth reading, but after a long, probably hot drive, you and your family will appreciate the free splash park more. Afterwards, you can retire to the shade with something cold from the concession stand.

At the entrance to the footbridge on the other side of the parking lot, check out the map of local pathways that connect several local parks and natural areas.

Expedition Island Park

Directions: I-80 Exit 91, south on Uinta Dr. (State Hwy. 530), right on 2nd St.

Open: Year round, 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Splash park open 10 a.m. 8 p.m. Memorial through Labor Day.

Admission: Free.

Address: 475 S. Second East

Phone: 307-872-6151

Web site: http://www.cityofgreenriver.org

Attractions: splash park, changing rooms, playground, concessions, picnicking, shade, historical interpretive signs around the edge of the island. Also, Green River Park and Tubing Channel.

Time: Allow at least 1 hour.

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Wyoming Roadside Attraction: Point of Rocks

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Recent restoration of the Point of Rocks Stage Station makes it easier to visualize pre-railroad days. Ruts to the left of the building mark the route of the Overland Trail. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published August 18, 2009, Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Overland Trail relay stage station is a precursor to the truck stop.”

By Barb Gorges

The rocky cliffs rise high above the convenience store at the Point of Rocks exit, located on the north side of I-80. Stop there for gas, food, water and the restrooms since the original stagecoach stop has been out of business for over 100 years.

When you’re refreshed, cross under the Interstate and explore the precursor to the truck stop.

Imagine the hustle and bustle in the years before the railroad arrived. Around the barn, now only a sandstone foundation, new teams are being hitched to stagecoaches, and many passengers and supplies are transferred to wagons for the trip north to the gold mining districts.

Ben Holladay bought the overland mail delivery contract, but in 1862, the U.S. government asked him to find a safer alternative to the Oregon Trail across Wyoming. Even after the arrival of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1868, the Overland Trail continued to be used, even as late as 1900.

The Overland Trail continued west, on to Ft. Bridger, Salt Lake City and California.

Point of Rocks Stage Station State Historic Site

Directions: I-80 Exit 130, south, then west on frontage road about ¼ mile, then south over railroad tracks.

Open: Year round.

Admission: Free.

Address: Point of Rocks

Phone: 307-332-3688

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

Attractions: self-guided tour. No visitor amenities.

Time: Allow 1 hour.

Wyoming Roadside Attraction: Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Loop Tour

17-Wild Horse Loop BLM photo

Wild horses roam on 392,000 acres of the White Mountain Wild Horse Herd Management Area. A scenic drive takes you through its heart. Photo courtesy of the Wyoming Bureau of Land Management State Office.

Published Aug. 6, 2009, Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “See wild horses on loop drive or in Rock Springs corrals.”

By Barb Gorges

Whatever your beliefs are about wild horses, prized native species or feral cow ponies, you should also drive this loop tour for the wildflowers and vistas. Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to find horses and give some feeling of depth to views of distant ranges as you drive the long crest of White Mountain.

The White Mountain Wild Horse Herd Management Area covers 392,000 acres of checkerboard lands. Square miles alternate between private ownership and U.S. Bureau of Land Management land, but there are no fences and few other man-made structures, although a wind farm is planned.

You can’t miss evidence of horses along the road. Stud horses build up piles of droppings to mark their territory and locating them on the road gives the stud piles better visibility.

If the horses stay off in the distance, or the weather or your vehicle make the road unsuitable to drive, check out the Wild Horse Viewing Area in Rock Springs. The corrals can have as many as 500 horses after a roundup, with many available through BLM’s adoption program.

Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Loop Tour

Directions: I-80 Exit 104 north on State Hwy 191 for 14 miles from Rock Springs, then left on Co. Rd. 4-14 for 2.5 miles, left on Co. Rd. 4-53 for 21.5 miles to Green River, coming out east of I-80 Exit 89. Return to Rock Springs on I-80.

Wild horse corral viewing area: I-80 Exit 104, north on Elk St., right on Lionkol Road and 1.2 miles to corral overlook. Free, open year round.

Open: Year round, weather permitting. High clearance vehicle preferred.

Admission: Free.

Phone: Rock Springs Bureau of Land Management office, 307-352-0256

Web site: www.blm.gov/wy

Attractions: Wild horses. Bring your binoculars. Also views of Rock Springs and Green River from the top of White Mountain, and 8 interpretive signs.

Time: Allow at least 1 hour just for driving.

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Indian paintbrush is one of the wildflowers found along the loop. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Wyoming Roadside Attraction: Flaming Gorge

16-Flaming Gorge Confluence

The glow of the setting sun on the sandstone cliffs illustrates the origins of Flaming Gorge’s name. At the confluence of the Green and Black’s Fork rivers, the cliffs aren’t so high, but neither is the noise level. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published August 22, 2009, Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Visit a quieter stretch of the popular Flaming Gorge reservoir.”

By Barb Gorges

Flaming Gorge Dam was built in the 1960s on the Green River about 30 miles south of the Utah – Wyoming border. The reservoir it created was designated a National Recreation Area.

If you want to avoid the marinas and all the people, check out the road to the confluence of the Green and Black’s Fork rivers, preferably arriving in time for sunset when the red sandstone cliffs “flame.”

The cliffs are larger closer to the dam, but here, especially in the middle of the week, you are more likely to encounter solitude and wildlife.

The turnoff from the highway is labeled “Lost Dog.” We weren’t sure if the name pertains to the road, the area, or a notice tacked along the roadside perpetuated as a standard highway sign.

Even if you don’t fish, the road is worth the drive. A rattlesnake crossed in front of us, curious antelope stood before us, and sage grouse flew up beside us.

Down on the water, swallows were feeding on a swarm of non-biting insects. Gulls and terns winged along, above floating western grebes and gadwall.

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area (at the Confluence)

Directions: I-80 Exit 91, south on State Hwy 530 through Green River, about 8 miles. Turn left, beyond the overlook turnout, at the Lost Dog sign, and drive 9 miles on rough gravel to water.

Open: Year round, weather permitting. High clearance vehicle preferred.

Admission: $5/day, day use or National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.

Phone: Ashley National Forest, Vernal, Utah: 435-784-3445.

Web site: http://www.fs.fed.us/r4/ashley/recreation/flaming_gorge

Attractions: Fishing, boating, camping, picnicking (BYOB—bring your own blanket) , restroom.

Time: Allow 1 hour to drive round trip.

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At the end of Lost Dog Road at Flaming Gorge. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Wyoming Roadside Attraction: Bitter Creek

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The Overland Trail doesn’t get as much mention as the Oregon Trail, but present day highways and railroads follow it. Not much remains at the location of the Bitter Creek state station, named for the undrinkable alkali water in Bitter Creek. Photo by Barb Gorges.

 

Published August 28, 2009, Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Follow a few miles of the Overland Trail, sans pavement.”

By Barb Gorges

Bitter Creek, much of the time only a trickle of undrinkable alkali water, is responsible for providing the canyon followed by railroad, Interstate and the historic Overland Trail, between the old Bitter Creek stage stop and its confluence with the Green River at Green River.

Where the wide gravel road from the Interstate crosses the railroad, there was a livestock loading facility 30 years ago, complete with corrals, old boxcars and loading chutes. Today all that is left is a tipsy metal structure and a concrete skeleton.

As you follow the railroad and creek to the north and west, to Point of Rocks, you will be following the Overland Trail just as the stagecoaches did—without pavement.

From 1862-68 it was the official alternative to the Oregon Trail, which was plagued with Indian attacks. It branched off of the Oregon Trail at Julesburg, Colo. Coming from Laramie, as you drove across the flank of Elk Mountain on I-80, you followed another section.

Even after the advent of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1868, stagecoaches followed the Overland as late as 1900.

Overland Trail along Bitter Creek

Directions: I-80 Exit 142, south on Bitter Creek South Road for 6 miles to railroad tracks, then 18 miles, generally west, then north along tracks and creek, to Exit 130 at Point of Rocks. Keep tracks close, on your right, until then.

Open: Road may be impassable during inclement weather. High clearance vehicle preferred.

Admission: Free.

Attractions: Historic trail, operating oil and gas field.

Time: Allow 1 hour.

Wyoming Roadside Attraction:Wyoming Frontier Prison Museum

13-Frontier Prison Rawlins a

The former Wyoming State Penitentiary building faces a residential street in Rawlins. Take a tour and get the inside story on executions, escapes and prison riots. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published August 31, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Scary is the word for this former state prison.”

By Barb Gorges

This is the prison to take your kids to as a deterrent to a life of crime.

I took a tour the year after the old state penitentiary closed in 1981 and it was hard to believe people had lived in it so recently, it was so run down. A few years later, it was used as a movie set.

But it was brand new in 1901. The massive sandstone structure looks medieval, complete with turrets.

If you decide to pay for the hour-long tour, you’ll see the cell blocks and the Death House, and hear the stories of escapes, hangings and riots.

There is no charge to tour the museum area at the entrance. It features inmate stories and their handiwork, plus a gift shop.

One room is dedicated to the Wyoming Peace Officers Museum and in another a video plays interviews with employees at the current prison.

At the back of the museum, a sign advertising a nature trail points to a door leading outside. Lucky for you, escaping the dreary surroundings is that easy.

Wyoming Frontier Prison Museum

Directions: I-80 Exit 211, east on Spruce, north on 7th to Walnut.

Open: Memorial through Labor Days, every day, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. Off season tours Monday-Thursday (excluding holidays) at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. only.  Please check website for updates.

Admission: One-hour tours every hour on the half hour until 4:30 p.m., $8/adult, $7/senior or child, $30/family.

Address: 500 W. Walnut St., Rawlins.

Phone: 307-324-4422.

Web site: http://wyomingfrontierprison.org/

Attractions: Tours for a fee, free exhibits, gift shop, nature trail. Special off-season tours and hours available.

Time: Allow 1-2 hours.

Wyoming Roadside Attraction: Dugway

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There’s good fishing and floating at this access to the North Platte River. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Sept. 11, 2009 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Fish, float and find wildlife along the North Platte.”

By Barb Gorges

Presumably named for having had to dig out space for a road next to the North Platte River, there is no reason to recommend this site unless you are fishing and/or boating and love sun. Campsites have tables, but there is no shade. Consequently, it is very quiet, especially during the week.

The www.recreation.gov Website recommends putting in your canoe or kayak upstream (south) because of a control crest installed below the dugway. Put in at the Interstate bridge or Fort Steele.

Look up the Bureau of Land Management’s map of “Public Fishing Opportunities—South and West Central Wyoming.” Cheyenne folks can pick up a copy at BLM’s information desk, 5353 Yellowstone Road, during business hours Monday through Friday.

It shows rainbow trout, brown trout, cutthroat trout and walleye can be caught here.

If your boat is too big for the river, continue another 30 miles on up the road to Seminoe Reservoir, at Seminoe State Park.

The fishing map indicates Dugway is good for wildlife watching. We saw a pair of common mergansers swim by.

Dugway, Bureau of Land Management Recreation Site

Directions: I-80 Exit 219, north on Seminoe Road (County Road 351), about 8 miles.

Open: Year round, weather permitting.

Admission: Free.

Phone: Rawlins BLM field office, 307-328-4200.

Web site: http://www.recreation.gov/recFacilitySearch.do.

Attractions: Boating (canoeing and kayaking), camping, fishing (Wyoming fishing license required), picnicking, wildlife watching.

Time: Allow at least 1 hour, or more if the fish are biting.