If you’ve ever traveled through the state of Wyoming on I-80, you’re probably like me in assuming that the entire state of Wyoming is as monotonous as the drive from Laramie to Rock Springs. It’s miles upon miles of nothing but sage brush, rocks and semi-truck and trailer tires humming on asphalt for as far as the eye can see. A short way to the east of Rock Springs, the landscape begins to liven up and offers a noticeable geological shift as the terrain changes rock type and you can visibly see the change in the lay of the tectonic plates. Purple and yellow hues contrast the sage brush, tans and grays that have occupied the windshield for the longest time. Coming around the big bend from the East and down the hill into Rock Springs, the purple color of the range staring me in the face was impossible to overlook… and I’m here to tell you, that should’ve been an indicator of what was to come on my trip from Rock Springs to Riverton to Buffalo. The sights, the scenes, the topography, the wildlife, the shear history… cannot be accurately depicted in words alone; it’s something that one needs to experience firsthand.
My trip started off traveling north out of the semi-colorful town of Rock Springs to Farson. Sage brush covered rocky soil lined the bottoms of BLM basins. Branded mustangs, antelope, cattle and deer were scattered throughout the countryside and grazed together in pastures as vast as any I’ve ever encountered, personally. At Farson, a turn east put me on highway 28 where I cruised the wide open on the Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Highway. After spotting antelope #920,173, I began to think… perhaps the speed goat should be Wyoming’s state mammal? Terrain was still relatively dull… until… I reached South Pass. Back date to the 1800s, South Pass was a vital marker for those settlers of the Oregon, California and Mormon Trail, signifying they’ve reached the west side of the Continental Divide. As my trip continued to take me east, I witnessed (hands down), the absolute most beautiful display of Aspen trees I’ve ever seen in my 30 years of existence as I followed the road through the southern most part of Shoshone National Forest. At the east edge of the southern tip of Shoshone National Forest, on the north side of the road was another breath-taking sight of the Red Canyon Management Area; and it’s exactly what it sounds like… A. Massive. Red. Canyon. The red dirt continued to accent my drive from Kotey Place up to Lander.
Lander to Riverton and onto Shoshoni was slightly more muted in excitement of terrain across the Wind River Reservation. Nevertheless, the late September colors in the river bottoms along Wind River that feeds into the Boysen Reservoir were remarkable. Crossing over the southern portion of Boysen Reservoir, I realized it was a massive body of water. However – I wasn’t aware of HOW massive it was, until I turned north and realized that the Boysen Reservoir is simply just the 6th Great Lake in the US—just slightly displaced from the other 5. Following this massive body of water up the highway, I realize the terrain changes very rapidly & before I know it, I’m in a 2500ft deep split in the earth that’s 2 miles wide with the river flowing next to me. Wind River Gorge is easily the most insane, unique, mind boggling 14 miles I’ve ever driven. Between the colors of the rock formations that are millions of years old, to the wildlife spotted, I quickly realized that this is a sight that should be on every single person’s bucket list.
Once out of the gorge and off the reservation, the views still continued to take my breathe away with massive red colored bluffs on the west side of Thermopolis, home of the world renowned, Hot Springs State Park. Multiple colors still met my eye with an everchanging landscape as I trekked ENE towards Ten Sleep on my way to Buffalo. Suddenly, just a few miles out of Ten Sleep, I started the decent into a basin that would best be described as other worldly. The hues of rock, the formations, the complimenting and contrasting texture as I gazed across the bottom to the peaks that were miles ahead of me. Long, drawn out views were rapidly condensed to impressive vertical rock formations, the brightest fall aspen trees I’ve seen and deciduous trees lining the mountain ranges that aged to 75+ million years old. Just as you lose the bright color of the rocks, you gain it back in the yellow and orange trees that contrast the grey walls that you’re driving along, traveling up the mountain to Powder River Pass (elevation 9666). The decent from peak to Buffalo includes multiple 8% grades, complimented with numerous curves, but stellar views as you pass Loaf Mountain, Bighorn Peak and Mather Peak East.
Three hundred and seventeen miles. Six hours. Two national parks. Numerous points of interest. Innumerable unforgettable sights. One state. I didn’t realize it until today, this drive is a hidden gem that every single person deserves to see.