Wyoming Trip 2021 | Days 7 & 8 | Driving Home from the Bighorns via Casper, Cheyenne, and Panorama Point | August 2021
After enjoying a week of perfect weather for hiking and camping, rain was moving across the plains and we took that as a sign that it was time to make our way back home. We packed up our campsite and hit the road, taking US-14 East out of the Bighorns. The views were much hazier than they were a month ago when we drove this exact road with my parents. Back then, we had no idea that we would end up driving this exact road twice in one summer. We’ve noticed that happening several times this year — we go somewhere and think, “this would be a cool place to return to,” and then just weeks or months later we find ourselves there again. Thinking about that gave us peace of mind leaving the Bighorns today, knowing that someday we’ll find ourselves back here to explore more.
We tried to squeeze in one more hike before the rain began. We drove to the Tongue River Canyon and walked about a half mile before it started raining on us. We really enjoyed what we saw though and hope to return and hike the whole trail. The red canyon walls were high above us, the river was a lovely shade of turquoise, and the trail had a very gradual incline (at least from what we experienced).
While driving to I-90, we stopped in Ranchester at the Innominate Coffeehouse & Bakery for breakfast. When driving through in July, we had stopped here because my parents wanted coffee, and we got two scones to share: one sweet, one savory. Just driving on US-14 triggered a craving and we simply couldn’t pass through without getting two scones again. We had joked about Charlotte being a ‘creature of habit’ so much throughout this trip when she always wanted to stop in the same places and drink from the same parts of streams, but we now were realizing that we are very much creatures of habit as well. Case in point, when we left for this trip we weren’t sure if we would drive home via South Dakota or through NW Nebraska, but we knew that whichever route we took, we were either getting Culvers in Rapid City or Scottsbluff because that’s what we always do when driving through those cities.
As it turned out, we didn’t end up driving through either of those cities (but would still get our Culvers). Some of our Arizona friends were going to be high pointing in Colorado and surrounding states, and we decided to divert from our planned route to meet them at Panorama Point, Nebraska’s highest point, the next day. And so we began heading South.
Today we made it as far as Casper where we used hotel points to book a free room (at the same hotel where we stayed when driving across Wyoming last year). On the way, we tried to visit Connor Battlefield Historic Site in Ranchester, but it turned out to just be a campground with a couple signs so not really worth our time. We saw the Sheridan County Courthouse in Sheridan and the Natrona County Courthouse in Casper (though we failed to get a picture of the second one, for the second time). Because we had to kill about an hour and a half before checking into our hotel, we went to Rotary Park South of the city in the Casper Mountains to do a short hike. The area was very busy though and right away had us wishing we were back in the Bighorns. We finally checked into our hotel and got takeout from HQ Southern BBQ for dinner.
We woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready for the last few days of our vacation — not knowing that we would actually end up in our own bed that very night! We packed up and continued heading South on I-25. Panorama Point was only 3 hours away, and in order to arrive around when our friends would get there we needed to kill some time. We first stopped at Ayres Natural Bridge Park, but they turned out to not be dog friendly, and most of the trails were closed due to some landslides, so Curtis just got out and took some pictures while I waited in the car with Charlotte. After that, we continued driving to Cheyenne. It was then that we first ran into heavy rain. The roads got pretty slick rather fast, but we made it past that without any incident.
We arrived in Cheyenne and stopped at the Wyoming state capitol building for a quick walk around. Then we found our way to a Culvers because with our new planned route home, this would be our last chance. Finally, we drove to Panorama Point and summited the top of Nebraska for a second time this year. It was definitely worth a revisit, especially now that there were sunflowers blooming all along the dirt roads! Our friends arrived shortly after us, and we had a fun time catching up with them. Charlotte was especially happy when she recognized them and loved receiving pets from everyone.
Left to right: Mitch, Bryan, Alex, Henri, Curtis, Charlotte, and I. The flag was created and designed by the amazing Kathy <3
While we were there, we couldn’t help but noticed dark clouds on the horizon — both West and East of us. This wasn’t a welcome sight as we were hoping to camp in Southwest Nebraska that night and knock out most of the counties along the Southern border. After saying our goodbyes, we drove back up to I-80 and began heading East across the panhandle. The clouds only appeared more ominous and dark as we drove nearer, and soon enough we found ourselves in a torrential downpour where it was almost impossible to see out the windshield. We pulled over at an exit and began to rethink our plans. We turned on the radio for the first time, and found out that this was only the first round of thunderstorms that was predicted to hit SW Nebraska that night — and even worse, there was a bigger round coming from NE Colorado that was producing tornadoes and supposed to hit right where we had planned on camping (or at least near enough to be concerning).
It became evident that camping or our intended route wasn’t going to work, and we didn’t want to fork over the money to stay in a hotel and wait out the rain another day. We decided that since we were only 5 hours from home, we would just push through this first storm and make it back that night, and refund a couple days of leave while we were at it.
We chose to drive on US-30 through the storm instead of the interstate, because we could drive slower and pull over if needed safer than on I-80. Driving through the storm was still scary, but the clouds were really cool — I was just too anxious to take pictures. While we weren’t able to get new counties, we did manage a single courthouse in Deuel County. Once we were ahead of the storm, we returned to I-80 and the rest of the drive went smoothly and we were home before 11. It was an abrupt ending to our trip, but since everything before these last two days went so well, we weren’t disappointed at all. We’ll just have to find a way to get those SW Nebraska counties someday!