Travel Story: Evolving Perspectives about Wyoming
In the third installment of my travel series, I’ll connect the introductory post with my first and second traveling stories into a broader narrative about how perspectives can evolve when you’re traveling.
Ryan Campground, Encampment, WY, June 26-29, 2022
The sun was setting as we pitched our camp. We’d decided to approach our transition day at a leisurely pace with a flexible agenda. We considered the possibility of pivoting from our itinerary to stay in a hotel in Laramie, in case we got too late to push onward to our campsite. That’s the upside about traveling in our teardrop—very easy to adapt plans depending on our moods and energy, the weather, and whatever strikes our fancy.
Earlier that day, we kicked around downtown Nederland with Sophie and Jackson. Wandering into museum, we learned about Nederland’s mining history. I thought it was interesting that when women arrived, they brought schools and civil society. After a pizza lunch overlooking Boulder Creek, we bid farewell to Sophie and Jackson and started our trek north along the Continental Divide.
The drive from Nederland to Estes Park and down the Big Thompson River Canyon to Loveland was breath-taking—an unexpected bonus of the day! We got to Laramie at 5:00, which is when we decided to gas up and re-supply instead of spending the night. So, we did a quick re-boot of supplies and pushed onward—west over the Snowy Range Pass.
Great decision. We settled into our campsite on a ridge overlooking the Medicine Bow-Routt Mountain Range. At 8,500’ elevation, the temperature dropped as soon as the sun set. After a simple dinner, we retreated into the tent that adjoins our camper (not yet set up in this picture) and started to plot our next adventure.
To our delight, cell service was excellent. So, we used the internet to research hiking trails and plan the next day. Many trails in the area were out and back trails to summit peaks. Reviewers recommended winter hiking gear as they were snowy and slippery. Having learned our lesson hiking the Diamond Lake Trail without the right gear, we opted for the Silver Lake and Meadow Falls Trail, a four-mile loop trail, which we had hiked before. (Someday, we hope to return and hike the other trails with proper gear for hiking on snowy trails.)
Silver Lake and Meadow Falls Hike
Learning our lesson from Nederland, we overprepared. We took a picnic lunch, snacks, and water. Plus, tucked layers of clothing into our backpacks that we didn’t need or use. To experience the trail in a new way, we decide to hike counter-clockwise—the opposite direction from the last time.
The trail features a lot of different landscapes: meadows, woods, rocky vistas, ponds, lakes, and streams. The landscape was scattered with white quartz boulders that look like snow from a distance. The scenery possesses an enchanting, almost mystical quality—in one area, we imagined seeing Hobbits wandering around. The hike delivered a perfect wilderness experience with no drama or challenges. The first photo gallery illustrates the beauty of this trail. Our picnic lunch overlooking the cascading waterfalls was a memorable moment—chiplotle chocolate-covered almonds punctuated our rest.
Pivot in Plans
Shortly after returning to our campsite, a rain squall blew through. Ensconced in our campsite, we were protected from the rain but enchanted with the rainbow.
After the squall passed, we started to think about our next day. We’d planned drive two hours and stay in a hotel in Riverton, WY. As we researched what we might do once we started to travel north, nothing of interest came up.
So, we delved into sites in the vicinity of our campsite. A friend of mine who used to live in Laramie highly recommended the Saratoga Hot Springs. We discovered the Encampment Museum, which sounded interesting. So, we conjured a day trip to Encampment and Saratoga. Recreation.gov showed that our campsite was FF (First Come First Served), so we paid another $28 to stay where we were and canceled our hotel in Riverton ($260). Ryan Campground served as a great basecamp—and it was nice to stay put for three nights. We settled in.
Grand Encampment Museum
Once a bustling settlement of 3,000 loggers, miners, and cattle ranchers, Encampment’s history can be experienced in vivid detail at the Grand Encampment Museum (GEM). Scandinavian immigrants settled the area in the 1860s to work in the booming logging industry. They knew how to do the work and could handle the harsh winter elements. Their stories are similar to my Scandinavian ancestors, who came to the US and settled in WI and MN. The two-story outhouse (upper level used in the winter, lower in the summer) illustrates the clever ways these settlers coped with the extreme winter climate.
The copper mining operation fascinated us, especially the 16-mile aerial tramway that carried buckets of ore down the mountain to a smelter. The gravitational force of full buckets propelled empty buckets back up the mountain. The museum’s diorama visualized this operation. (We speculated that this system inspired chair lifts of today!)
Saratoga Hot Springs
Visiting the Saratoga Hobo Hot Springs was a key reason why we decided to cancel our hotel reservation. We learned that there 24-7 access to public baths, along with natural hot springs. We packed toiletries, along with swimsuits and towels.
The Saratoga Hobo Springs are situated on the shore of the Platte River. The pools range in temperature from 106 to 119 degrees. They are incredible! Built in the 30s—not glamorous, but free. We were told by a local character who sat beside us in a bath pool that the man who originally owned the springs gave them to the city with two stipulations: 1) they never close, 2) they never charge. Thus, the Saratoga Hobo Springs will always be free 24-7.When the pool got uncomfortably hot, we wandered to the shores of the Platte River to cool off. The public showers were not luxurious but did the trick.
Our day of tourism proved to be interesting and relaxing. Back at camp, we hung our suits to dry against the setting sun. Then cooked dinner and plotted the next leg of our journey, relaxing on our camp chairs in the shade of our awning.
High Desert Plain
It’s a good thing that we didn’t plan to entertain ourselves in the drive through central WY—because there was NOTHING!!!!! For __miles, we experienced a 360° horizon with no trees, homes, not many fences—not even many animals. The unrelenting wind blew hot and fierce. (Watching massive RVs catching side winds, we were happy to have a small rig .)
We decided to have lunch in Rawlings at a local restaurant with good rating for food and setting. Seated next to a cute baby (Sutton) who was dining with her aunt, Sutton charmed Jay with her winning smile. Sutton’s mom was our waitress. They were all very charming in a down-to-earth way.
Boulder Park Campground, Ten Sleep, WY
We wouldn’t have gone to the Bighorn National Forest if the Yellowstone flooding and closures had not forced us to re-route our itinerary. But it ended up being a highlight of the trip.
This picture shows the drive down Wind River Pass. We passed through Thermopolis, the home to numerous natural hot springs and a state park.
From Ten Sleep (the last town before entering the Bighorn National Forest), we climbed 4,000’ in 8 miles. Wondering about the name “Ten Sleep.” We learned that Native American tribes measured distance between settlements in the number of “sleeps” to get from one place to another. Ten Sleep was their winter encampment. Understandably, they moved out of the scorching temps and hot winds in Ten Sleep to higher elevation in the summer.
Campground and Site
As we drove into the Boulder Park Campground, the air smelled like wild sage and cedar—fresh, clean, cool. Glaciers had scattered boulder across the landscape. Purple lupines flourished everywhere the sun touched. We settled into our new space on the shores of Ten Sleep Creek.
Meadowlark Lake Tour
We were situated next to the water pump and had some friendly chats with other campers. One guy shared useful information that redirected our plans. Instead of going back down to Ten Sleep and hiking a hot trail, he suggested that we tour a pristine alpine lake and explore various lookout points around it. Photo gallery shows the lake from different perspectives: ski area, campground, resort, picnic area, dam, fire tower. [Photo gallery]
How My Perspective about WY Has Changed
On my first visit to Wyoming in 2018, I felt like it was a desolate, unfriendly—almost—alien country. Earlier that year, I’d visited Norway and felt more of a kindred spirit with Norwegians than my fellow Americans living in Wyoming. During my second visit, I became intrigued with the land and territory—curious to learn more.
During this trip, I experienced at turning point in the Encampment Museum. By understanding the type of people who settled there and their ingenuity and determination, I started to see the state in different light. I also found kinship through the settlers ancestral ties to Scandinavia.
As we drove through the state, I wondered why more people don’t populate this vast land. I mused about the potential for modern industries, like technology, to revitalize shrunken communities, like Encampment (current population 443), just as the enterprising settlers transformed life on the range in the 1800s.
A Wyoming voter I heard on the radio reveals the mindset of modern-day Wyoming, “We don’t want new people to come here who want to change things. We want everything to stay the same.” While I don’t share that perspective, I do understand their desire to preserve the natural beauty of their great state.
This trip shifted my perspective on Wyoming: from a fly-over state that I never wanted to visit to a deep appreciation for its history and majestic scenery. If Yellowstone had not flooded, we would not have immersed in Wyoming. Serendipity!
Photo Gallery #1: Silver Lake and Meadow Falls Hike
Photo Gallery #2: Boulder Park Campground
Photo Gallery #3: Meadowlark Lake and Fire Tower Lookout
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