Island to Inland PCS Road Trip | Days 7 & 8 | July 31 & August 1, 2020 | Driving Across Wyoming and Visiting Fort Laramie National Historic Site
We started off the morning of our seventh day of vacation by doing a short hike at sunrise. We returned to the trail Curtis had scoped out the day before, this time hiking to a vista where we were able to see the Tetons glowing in pink light as the sun rose above the Continental Divide to the East. It was only in the 40’s so we walked quickly to warm up. At least Charlotte was doing much better than the day before when we attempted to hike in the sun! You can see our Alltrails recording here.
Now at this point, we were one week into our road trip, but we had hardly even made it halfway to Nebraska. It was time to buckle down and complete the rest of our drive. We weren’t too upset though because Curtis should have more time to take leave now, and anything from here to Nebraska is what we consider to be ‘close enough’ for long weekend trips.
And so we began our drive across the state of Wyoming, still making a few stops and enjoying the scenic routes whenever we could. Friday’s goal was to make it to Casper, where we were staying in our first hotel since Portland. Our first stop on this drive came soon after getting back on US-26, at a pull off near the continental divide. Curtis found a letterbox planted by friends and we enjoyed pretty lake views. We continued on 26, then took US-287 South.
While driving, we enjoyed views of the Wind River range where the highest peak in Wyoming, Gannett Peak is found. This range didn’t look as impressive as the Tetons and it was hard to imagine these peaks being taller. Along the way, we also stopped to see the grave of Sacajawea in Fort Washakie, WY. From here until Casper, we drove though empty high plains. After a time we would see signage for BLM land indicating historic spots from the Oregon Trail and other trans-continental routes. It’s incredible to think of people crossing this region by foot (although it was substantially different then in terms of plants and animals).
After a while we picked up the main route of the Orgeon Trail and started heading East along the Sweetwater River. We made another stop at Independence Rock State Historic Site – a common stopping point along the Trail where pioneers would make their mark. I walked Charlotte around the trails while Curtis quickly scurried up the rock face with my camera. Charlotte was content to just sniff everything and wasn’t concerned that Curtis was gone, but from a distance she could see him as he started descending the rock at a quick pace and for some reason decided she was scared of him.
We made it to Casper about an hour before check in at the hotel, so we got Taco Johns to go and eat at a park besides the North Platte River. We were excited that much of the remainder of our drive would be along this river, all the way to the Missouri. We checked into our hotel and thoroughly enjoyed the air conditioning, wifi, and our first showers in a week.
On Saturday, August 1, our goal was to make it to Scottsbluff, NE. We took I-25 South and then US-26 East. Our first stop of the day was near Guernsey, WY for letterboxing and history. Here, again, pioneers would leave their names in the soft Sandstone known as ‘Register Cliff’ and you can still see the wagon wheel ruts in the ground (although we opted out due to a Wyoming National Guard exercise going on).
We continued down the North Platte and visited Fort Laramie NHS. The fort’s history grew and expanded with Western expansion, beginning as a trapper trading post at the junction of the North Platte and Laramie rivers. As Americans moved west to Oregon following the North Platte to South Pass, the Fort became an important stopping and restocking point. As even more Americans moved west, the US Army took control to help ‘protect’ American interests in the region. But after the Civil War, the Fort, now significantly larger, became the central command for the Sioux War and other wars against the Native populations. With the wars over and the Native populations either subdued or killed, the Fort declined and became obsolete, eventually being turned over to the NPS for preservation.
We wandered the grounds in the heat of the day and played Pokemon GO until it was clear that Charlotte was too tired to read any more history. Then we got back on the road.
Finally, it was time to enter our new home state! We drove across the Nebraska line on US-26 and headed for Scottsbluff. We grabbed Culvers to go and drove to where we hoped to camp for the night in Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area. However, as Curtis was starting to fill out camping registration at the park, we noticed there was both a state trooper and a national park service vehicle. The ranger got out and told us to leave because the park was currently an active crime scene.
Not one to argue over crime scenes, we drove back to Scottsbluff and stopped at an empty park to eat and plot our next move. Should we try to wait out whatever was happening in Wildcat Hills or find somewhere else? We decided to head Northwest to Lake Minatare State Recreation Area to camp instead. We lucked out with a nearly-empty campground where we relaxed, hiked around, and enjoyed our last night of vacation.