Heading to Casper

Casper, WY

On Thursday morning we left our dusty site at the Rock Springs KOA and headed east on I-80 for a drive of 230 miles to Casper.  After a hundred miles we exited the highway at Rawlins, WY and turned north on US-387.  About 50 miles from Rawlin US-387 makes a turn to the west, but we continued straight on to WY-220.  Fifty miles from Casper we pulled into Wyoming State Rest Area (that’s what it is called, maybe it’s the only one in the state!).  The rest area serves as a parking lot for Independent Rock State Historical Site.

When Pam taught third grade they studied the pioneers crossing the continent on the Oregon Trail.  One of the most famous stops along the trail was here at Independence Rock.  Travelers knew that they needed to get to this spot by the beginning of July to insure they had time to get through the Sierra Nevada Mountains before the winter snow blocked the passes.  They planned to celebrate the Fourth of July near the rock, hence the name Independence Rock.

A painting from the time shows an encampment where the rest stop is located today

Over a period of more than 30 years up to the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 almost a half million people passed this rock on their way to Utah (the Mormon Trail), California, and Oregon.  Since they only traveled through here in the early summer, the area around the rock was often quite crowded in early July.

One of the traditions of pioneer travelers was to carve their names into the rock as they past by.  Since many of these carvings are on the top we needed to climb up 136 feet to check them out.

Heading up the rock

Looking down at the parking area from the top

Despite the high winds at the top we enjoyed seeing all the names spread over a large area.  Most were clearly from the time period of the great migration, while some were from more recent times.

Heading back down

As we hiked the mile long trail around the rock we found large panels on the south side filled with names of travelers.

After enjoying lunch in the motorhome while parked in the rest area, we finished the lasts 50 miles of our journey to Casper.  We drove a few miles north of the city and took a site at the local KOA for four nights.

 

Casper is the second-largest city in Wyoming with a population of over 55,000 people. Only Cheyenne, the state capital, is larger.  Casper is nicknamed “The Oil City” and has a long history of oil boomtown and cowboy culture, dating back to the development of the nearby Salt Creek Oil Field.   The city was established east of the former site of Fort Caspar, which was built during the mid-1800s to protect telegraph and mail service.  In July 1865, Lieutenant Caspar Collins (the son of the commanding officer) was killed near the post by a group of Indian warriors. Three months later the garrison was renamed Fort Caspar after Lieutenant Collins.  The town is named Casper, instead of Caspar honoring the memory of Fort Caspar and Lt. Caspar Collins, because of a typo that occurred when the town’s name was officially registered.

Friday morning we headed into town for a stop at the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center.  The young lady who greeted us was nice but really wasn’t very helpful.  She knew nothing about nearby hiking trails but said we would enjoy the bike trail that runs through town along the North Platte River.  Apparently she wasn’t aware of the high water in the river that covered much of the bike path, even though the path runs very close to the visitor center.

OK, riding the bike trail is out for this visit

One of the must-do activities in a visit to this area is a stop at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center, located just a mile from the visitor center.  Casper is located near the spot where travelers heading west crossed the North Platte River, making it the perfect place to locate this facility.  The center is dedicated to educating visitors about the four groups of people who passed through the area including Mormons headed to Utah, gold-seekers heading to California, settlers heading to Oregon, and riders on the Pony Express.

The center is built into a hillside overlooking the city

The view of Casper from the center

Displays in the center are very well done and appeal to adults as well as the many elementary students who tour the facility each year.  In the center of the building is a large amphitheater looking down at several large dioramas.  Above the dioramas are five large video screens.  The screens and dioramas are used in a multi-media presentation of life on the trail.

Surrounding the amphitheater are various displays and interactive exhibitions.  The coolest of these is a simulation of the crossing of the North Platte River in a covered wagon.  Sitting inside the wagon you look at a video in the front showing the view crossing the river while the wagon moves from side to side.  We imagine elementary students would love this experience (as we did!).

A young pioneer rides across the river – note the look of determination in her eyes!

The view as the wagon enters the water

Following our visit to the interpretive center we drove south of the city and up into a long mountain ridge called Mount Casper.  At about 8,000′ of elevation Casper Mountain looms 3,000′ over the city.

Looking down at Casper from about halfway up the mountain

The mountain is a popular recreation area and is used for hiking, mountain biking, nordic skiing and snowmobiling.  It even has a small downhill ski area.

One of the last skiers of the season arrives at the top

We have two more days to explore the area and the nimble hiker has been busy researching adventures, so our remaining time here should be pretty busy.

More on that later . . .

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21 Responses to Heading to Casper

  1. geogypsy2u says:

    Perfect timing for National Trails Day. Bill and I have seen a few historic Mormon names on the rocks around Kanab.

  2. jimandbarb says:

    Love the names and dates in the rocks. You have to go to Full House Chinese restaurant while you are there and get the walnut shrimp. Best we have had!

  3. I didn’t know the story about Independence Rock. Love seeing those old names and dates. Thanks for the history of Casper. We spent a night there on our way home from Alaska 3 years ago. I was surprised how big the town was. We enjoyed touring Fort Caspar.

  4. Mary says:

    I’ve always found independance rock so interesting. It’s amazing to me the wagon ruts can still be seen in that area. We have actually spent two nights in two separate years in that parking lot. One night just a couple weeks ago when we were traveling through from South Dakota. The winds were horrid, and we knew that was a good spot. I lived in Casper in the early 80’s and a couple weeks ago was the first time I have been there since. I couldn’t believe how it had grown.

    • placestheygo says:

      We were warned about the winds here, but so far have lucked out with picture perfect weather. I would imagine the change from the 80’s was quite a surprise!

  5. Jeanette says:

    That’s very interesting about Independence Rock. It’s now on my bucket list along with the rest of the United States!

  6. We’ve not been to that area. Look forward to seeing what the hiking is like.
    I don’t think I would have made a good pioneer. That wagon doesn’t look very comfortable!

    • placestheygo says:

      I know I wouldn’t have made a good pioneer!! I struggle with no sewer and 30 amp power…haha! Yesterday’s hike was perfect:) Another hike is up for today!!

  7. Laurel says:

    It must be so interesting for you to be seeing in person places that you’ve taught about. That interpretive center looks great! I would have loved the simulated ride in the covered wagon. The explorers and settlers traveling west were hardy people, for sure. Glad we have our comfy trailer for our explorations. Too bad the river was covering parts of the bike path — I wonder how often that happens?

    • placestheygo says:

      It has been so much fun to see places that I’ve only read about with my students. As I said to Gayle, I wouldn’t have been a very good pioneer. It was disappointing to see the river over the bike trail. But several areas go under the road so riding was out of the question this trip. Not sure how often this happens. We certainly weren’t going to get answers from the VC since when the girl gave us the bike map she never mentioned that you couldn’t ride the whole way because of deep water!!

  8. Jeff says:

    Thanks for checking out WY of us, we’ll be passing thru next year on the way to OH. We’ll not have the luxury of time to explore, but gleaning the highlights from your blog, and others. We’d also like to do Devil’s Tower, will it be one of your stops?

    • placestheygo says:

      Yes, Jeff, Devil’s Tower is on the list! We move to Buffalo on Monday for a month. We will drive over for the day from there. So we will be reporting back:)

  9. I was hoping you would etched your names on the rock since you stopped there to rest 🙂
    How cool it is to see in person what you had been teaching about for years. I think I would enjoy that simulated ride just to see and feel a bit what the pioneers have to go through.
    I would check your route to see if we will be passing thru Independence Rock.

  10. Gay says:

    How interesting to read about Independence Rock and so neat for you to see it after having taught those lessons.

    It’s always a bummer when the VC can’t offer good information!

  11. pmbweaver says:

    Oh how cool. A dream come true for Pam. You should send some of your photos back to your old school so the teachers there could share with the kids.
    The Interpretive Center looks awesome. I would never want to travel via covered wagon. Oh my aching back!

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