25 Apr
2014
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5 Historic Places to Visit in Wyoming

I’ve lived my entire life in Wyoming, but it wasn’t until I became a mother that I started traveling around the state visiting the many historic places the Equality State has to offer. I classify a few of the places on my list as hidden gems. These places are seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but well-worth tracking down. We’ve discovered that places taking a little effort to reach rarely disappoint.

5 Historic Places to Visit in Wyoming

1. Oregon Trail Ruts/Register Cliff

Oregon Trail Ruts

The Oregon Trail Ruts are a National Historic Landmark outside of Guernsey, WY. While this isn’t the only place to view wagon ruts from the 1840s, this site has noticeable ruts cut into solid rock. There’s a short uphill trail leading to the ruts which are adjacent to the paved path.

Register Cliff Name/Date Etching from 1857

Many emigrants traveling the Oregon Trail carved their names along with a date into the sandstone rock of Register Cliff, which is a short 2.5 mile drive from the Oregon Trail Ruts site. The cliff was a landmark used by emigrants to ensure they were on the correct path to South Pass (the “easiest” way through the Rocky Mountains). There are also a couple other historic sites in Wyoming emigrants frequently used to carve their names, Independence Rock outside of Casper and Names Hill near Green River. Visitors can walk the base of Register Cliff to the marks people left in the mid-1800s. We enjoyed looking for any similar names or dates and coming up with tales of what the lives connected to the etchings may have been like.

2. Legend Rock Petroglyph Site

Legend Rock Petroglyphs

The Legend Rock Petroglyph Site is located 30 miles northwest of Thermopolis and is one of the educational places I mentioned that sits in the middle of infrequently-used BLM land. We had a couple moments while driving on the dirt road to Legend Rock when we wondered if anything really was out there. The site is a series of low cliffs near a creek covered with clearly visible petroglyphs. There are picnic tables, a restroom and a small visitor center at the site. The site is managed by the BLM and the State of Wyoming jointly.

Close-up of a Petroglyph at Legend Rock

The interpretive trail at Legend Rock is very interesting. I recommend taking one of the available brochures to guide you through the different images on the cliff face. The site has been sacred to Native Americans for thousands of years. We’ve seen several petroglyphs sites around the West. The markings at Legend Rock are some of the best preserved that we’ve visited.

3. Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite

Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite

This is another educational place that takes driving on dirt roads to reach and is surrounded by a whole lot of land. We visited last Labor Day weekend and had the site pretty much to ourselves. There are picnic tables, restrooms and an interpretive trail. The Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite has hundreds of dinosaur tracks within a small area, left in what once was an ocean shoreline 167 million years ago.

Close-up of a Dinosaur Track at Red Gulch

I don’t exactly remember how we first heard about the tracksite. I do remember my husband and I looking at each other and knowing that we would be taking the kids there for a visit. We spent a few hours at the tracksite. It took us some time before we could pinpoint what were dinosaur tracks in the rock and what was just bumpy rock. Once we discovered a few prints, it was relatively easy to find several trails of prints.

4. Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site

Wyoming Territorial Prison Main Cell Block

The Wyoming Territorial Prison located in Laramie was a federal prison from 1872-1903. We visited a few years ago when the boys were enthralled by tales of old West outlaws. Butch Cassidy famously spent time in the prison. Guided tours are available through the prison grounds.

Brooms made at the Wyoming Territorial Prison

Our kids enjoyed hearing the ghost stories from the prison, sitting in a cell and watching broom-making on traditional manual equipment. It’s interesting to walk the halls of cell blocks and see where those inmates were expected to live, bathe and eat. Historic places like the prison not only serve the purpose of giving glimpses into our past, but also help me to feel more grateful for the modern life I lead.

5. South Pass City

The Carissa at South Pass City

Located 35 miles southwest of Lander, South Pass City  is a historic gold mining town. There are two dozen historic structures in South Pass City along will numerous rooms filled with historically accurate pieces giving a glimpse back to the late 1800s. The city was built in 1867 due to a boom in gold mining, thanks in part to the nearby Carissa Mine. The town was mostly abandoned in 1872 when the mines went bust.

Old Shallow Mine Shaft at South Pass City

South Pass City looks like it could have been used as a set for Little House on the Prairie. Walking down the dirt main street and peering in windows of various buildings, from the general store to the newspaper office, give you a real sense of life for the miners and their families. Our boys enjoyed taking a short walk into a mine shaft and viewing the mine carts. The general store with its jars of candy sticks was also a favorite.

I’m looking forward to the historic places we’ll discover this summer.

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