Jil and I have long histories of visiting wonderful places on this God given earth. Before we met Jil traveled, mainly by air to parts of Europe, Israel and numerous ski resorts located in the U.S.A. and Canada.
She had never been camping, you see. I had never left the U.S., nor flown for that matter (except in fire department helicopters), choosing instead to travel our great country with the aid of almost every type of mobile shelter known to man.
I introduced Jil to camping by taking her on short trips in my very old but functional 1973 Revcon 25′ class A motorhome. Jil fell in love with camping, but the old rig not so much. It was soon replaced with a travel trailer.
Constantly having to step over two large dogs lying on the very limited floor space of the travel trailer lead to a costly but welcome upgrade- a new truck to tow a new, more comfortable double slide 5th wheel. We wore that combination out and purchased our second 5th wheel, a triple slide Heartland Big Country 3250TS, then a new truck to pull it up to Alaska and back. Three slides and we still step over the dogs! Oh well.
We started RVing in a Class A motorhome and will probably end our adventures in another one. Our rolling stock consists of a four slide Tiffin Allegro Red that’s short enough to be accepted into most state parks and a Subaru Forester toad. For our preferred method of travel it is ideal. We like to travel relatively short distances and only stay a couple of days in any one place. Set up for the motorhome is much quicker and more simple than a trailer and every convenience is inside our rolling home. One of the downfalls of towing a trailer in hot weather is no A/C running while in transit. That’s not a factor in the motorhome as we can run the A/C units with our generator as we travel.
The events of 9/11/2001 have soured us on air travel. We now travel almost exclusively with Jil as the copilot/navigator and moi as the pilot of 25,000 pounds worth of rolling stock. Scenic byways and country roads are preferred over interstate highways. We were both raised in large urban communities so visiting small towns is a treat. We like to meet those small town folk and visit the places they call home.
It’s difficult for me to finish a blog once we get home. Our RV is stored out of doors so we gotta store anything that freezes in a safe location. The work begins. Clean the coach in and out and empty the refer. Drag our clothes into the house, then winterize the water system. And then yack with our neighbors catching up on two months worth of events. Do about a thousand pounds worth of laundry and start cutting back garden plants and cleaning out the planters. Oh, reconnect with our church, its organizations and some HOA committees that we are on. So now that most of that is in the works or accomplished I can finish this blog…………..
OK, OK, I know what you are thinking. We did drive 562 miles- in three days….. We wouldn’t want to break our string of 150-200 mile days would we? We left Jardonelle State Park on Monday, the twelfth of October and headed a short distance to I-80 then west towards home.
Not long after joining I-80 we are taken through Parley’s Canyon where the interstate resembles a snake slithering to and fro following the canyon walls. The descent towards Salt Lake is fairly steep, requiring trucks, and us to slow the pace to maintain control. We leave the Wasatch Range behind and are now on the wide open flats driving through Salt Lake City. The city itself is not huge at 200,500 souls yet the Salt Lake Metropolitan area is very sizable with a population of over 1.2 million folks. Our timing is pretty good as traffic is pretty heavy compared to what we’ve experienced thus far on the trip but people are driving courteously.
As we pass downtown we catch a glimpse of the beautiful Salt Lake LDS Temple located at the 35 acre Temple Square. The temple took 40 years to build between 1853 and 1893. The temple is sacred to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and is not open for tours, you can stroll around the grounds and stop in the South Visitors’ Center to see a scale model of the temple and its interior. The Temple is undergoing renovation and won’t be open to anyone for several years.
Miss RV Garmin GPS helps us select our escape route from Salt Lake and before we know it we are heading west past the 75 mile long by 35 mile wide Great Salt Lake. The lake is so salty one cannot sink, rather float like a cork. The sand at Bridger Bay Beach consists of a hundred yard wide by two mile expanse of oolitic sand which is formed at the lake. It consists of concentric layers of calcium carbonate. Interestingly most grains are smooth and perfectly round.
The landscape is pretty stark out here. Not exactly barren but not lush with desert plants either. There’s evidence of white minerals along the road- probably salt.
Speaking of salt, we pass the Saltair Resort, now practically abandoned except for the few concerts held there. Its history is extremely interesting.
In 1893 the Mormon church built Saltair on the south shore of the Great Salt Lake, about sixteen miles from downtown Salt Lake City. They also built the railroad connecting the resort with the city. The church owned the resort until 1906, at which time it was sold to a group of private Mormon businessmen.
In building Saltair the Mormon church had two major objectives: in the words of Mormon apostle Abraham H. Cannon, they wanted to provide “a wholesome place of recreation” under church control for Mormons and their families; and they also intended that Saltair be a “Coney Island of the West” to help demonstrate that Utah was not a strange place of alien people and customs. This was part of a larger movement toward accommodation with American society that had begun in the early 1890s as church leaders made a conscious decision to bring the church into the mainstream of American life. Saltair was to be both a typical American amusement park and a place that provided a safe environment for Mormon patrons.
The resort reached its heyday in the 1920’s but burned to the ground in 1925. It was rebuilt but never regained its former glory. Another fire and a receding lake level left the resort a half mile from the shore didn’t help. The resort struggled during WWII and closed for good in 1958- once again destroyed by fire in 1970.
A new pavilion was built in 1981 but struggled as the lake reached it’s highest level in history in 1984 putting the pavilion’s main floor under five feet of water. The water began to recede in the late 1980’s. It was purchased in 1982, the structure restored and a concert stage added. It reopened in 1993- again with limited success.
The next place of significance is the Bonneville Salt Flats. Seasonal flooding, evaporatation of surface water and then wind create a salt surface so flat one feels that they can see the curvature of the earth here. The flat surface makes an ideal surface on which to race one’s vehicle. At one time a 9 mile long straight and an oval are set up every year. The current land speed record at Bonneville is in excess of 500 miles per hour!
We stopped in West Wendover Nevada which is just across the border from Wendover, Utah (1200 souls). The Utah town is noted for being an station stop on the Western Pacific Railroad (1908), and the transcontinental telephone line was completed there in 1914. During World War II, the nearby Wendover Army Airfield (later known as the Wendover Air Force Base) was a training base for bomber pilots. The Enola Gay and its crew piloted by Paul Tibbets were stationed there. The Enola Gay would drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Of course the Nevada side of the border is where all the gambling casinos are located.
The terrain is looking more Nevada like. Most people unfamiliar with Nevada would suspect its just a big, flat desert. In reality the state has numerous mountain ranges with tall peaks that mostly run north/south with the 13,147 foot Boundary Peak being the tallest. Nevada is not all desert as those mountains have trees and lakes just like other mountainous states. In fact the state shares beautiful Lake Tahoe with our neighbors in California.
We stop in Elko for fuel and to stretch at the city park. This city of 18,900 souls is the seat of Elko County. Though Elko lies along the route of the historic California Trail, it wasn’t inhabited until 1868, when it was at the east end of the railroad tracks built by the Central Pacific Railroad (the portion of the First Continental Railroad built from California to Utah). When the railroad crews moved on, Elko remained, serving as a center for ranching, mining, rail freight and general supplies. The Western Folklife Center,Northeastern Nevada Museum and the California Trail Interpretive Center are all nearby. While in town one can enjoy Basque cuisine.
Our overnight stop is in Wells (1292 souls). It was established as a water station by the Central Pacific Railroad in 1869 due to its strategic location at the headwaters of the Humboldt River. The town got its name from the springs and swampy area just west of town. A magnitude 6.0 earthquake significantly damaged its old historic downtown in 2008 and has yet to be rebuilt. The town is located at the junction of US93 and I-80 and gateway to the beautiful Ruby Mountains.
We stayed at Mountain Shadows RV Park which is an OK stay. Nothing fancy but it served our purpose. A couple of blocks away is Archie Smiley Field. The field consists of baseball and softball diamonds with some nice picnic areas thrown in. Our mutzos appreciated the nice green grass and the exercise after a day of travel.
On the last leg home we stopped back at the Silver State RV Park in Winnemucca which happens to be the first place we camped on this trip. We could have driven all the way home but decided to split the 330 miles up, get an early start the next morning and come home arriving before noon. So that’s what we did.
From Winnemucca it’s deja vu as we retrace our route back to the barn. We stop in Lovelock to walk Lover’s Lock Park, drive past the 40 Mile Desert and the city of Fernley, then drive through the Truckee River Canyon spitting out in Sparks. From there its only 10 miles to home sweet home.
The trip brought us to many unintended, interesting places as the COVID virus had changed the rules somewhat. Traveling to places we wanted to visit and staying in places we wanted to stay came to a screeching halt as those places proved to be unbelievably popular with newbies (new to RVing) as well as us old timers. Usually that time period after Labor Day and the first snowfall is not as popular a time to RV giving us retired folk an advantage over working stiffs- but COVID-19 changed that. We had to bypass Yellowstone National Park for the first time ever due to the crowds and lack of RV campsites but were fortunate to find other interesting places to visit in its stead- like Thermopolis and Colorado National Monument. And we got lucky when Jil found a vacancy at the Desert Moon Hotel and RV Park, Thompson Springs, so that we may visit Arches National Park, a place that wasn’t even on our radar when we began this trip.
All in all we had a wonderful time. Hopefully next year won’t be as busy as this year and eventually we’ll be back to pre-COVID normalcy. Until next time- Adios!
Our move today has us in a quandary. We have so far to travel today yet daylight is coming so late in the morning the lack of daylight makes it difficult to pick up our umbilicals- water sewer, cable, and power cords at the hour we prefer to perform those tasks. And we have so far to go this morning. I guess we’ll just have to accept a late start………
We traveled mile after mile, leaving Provo Utah in favor of Heber Valley and Jordanelle State Park- a total of 35-40 miles! OK, the move was our shortest of the trip yet offered a ton of beauty. The route included several miles traveling north on I-15 and then northeast onto US-189, the latter following the Provo River through its namesake canyon. The canyon is beautiful, steep walls with at least one cataract, Bridal Veil Falls dropping down hundreds of feet to the river below.
We pass Sundance Resort, where actor Robert Redford’s film festival is held reaching Heber Valley, first passing Deer Creek Reservoir, then passing through the city of Heber on our way to Jordanelle State Park.
Heber City (11, 362 souls with last guestimate at 15000) was founded by English immigrants who were members of The Church of the Latter Day Saints in the late 1850s, and is named after the Mormon apostle Heber C. Kimball. It is the county seat of Wasatch County. The original Heber City town square currently houses city offices as well as the historic Wasatch Stake Tabernacle and Heber Amusement Hall. The city was largely pastoral, focusing largely on dairy farms and cattle ranching, and has since become a bedroom communtiy for Orem, Provo, Park City and Salt Lake City.
Heber City was first settled in 1859 by Robert Broadhead, James Davis and James Gurr. John W. Witt built the first house in the area. The area was under the direction of Bishop Silas Smith who was in Provo. In 1860 Joseph S. Murdock became the bishop over the Latter-day Saints in Heber City and vicinity.
On May 5, 1899, the Wasatch Wave published this on the 40 year anniversary of Heber, “Forty years ago this week [April 30, 1859], this valley was first settled by a company of enterprising citizens from Provo. This company consisted of John Crook, James Carlile, Jessie Bond, Henry Chatwin, Charles N. Carroll, Thomas Rasband, John Jordan, John Carlile, Wm Giles and Mr. Carpenter, the last five named persons having since died. Forty years ago today, John Crook and Thomas Rasband commenced their first plowing in the beautiful little valley of the Timpanogos. A wonderful change has taken place of the appearance of the valley since that time. Delightful meadows and fields of waving grain have taken the place of sage brush and willows. Beautiful homes have erected where then was heard only the dismal howl of the coyote.”
Jordanelle State Park is located on the the banks of Jordanelle Reservoir. The parks foliage is displaying fall colors, the grass is golden and the aspen trees’ leaves are a vibrant yellow. Some trees are starting to turn a rust or red color. It’s very pretty here.
All RV sites offer water and power while one loop has sewer hookups too. The restroom/comfort stations are very nice, offering a laundry facility.
The lady at the entrance station said that we could take the dogs down to the lake, but only to the “natural areas”. Jeez, it’s a man-made reservoir- where might be the “natural areas?”. We receive no explanation nor a map so we take the mutzos down to the closest water access. Megan immediately dunks- dunk, dunk, dunk, dunk. Ollie spots the Canada Geese out about 50 yards and wades into his ankles- deep for our Boxer. He then notices the wind waves lapping up on the beach and goes into attack mode, trying to eat each wave that comes ashore. Both of the dogs are happy and soaked. Megan takes a beach towel’s worth of drying while Ollie’s short fur requires a lot less towel- but he enjoys being dried off so much we spend just as much time toweling him off as Megan.
Our campground is located equidistant from Heber City and Park City. We go back and visit Heber City, walk around the city park with our mutzos and see a few of the local sites as well as do a little grocery shopping.
One reason we’re holed up at Jordanelle State Park is so that we may visit Park City. Jil’s been here in past years to ski, hasn’t been for 30 years and I’ve never been. Park City (7558 souls) is a rags to riches town. After the area’s mining industry shut down the city rebounded in the 1980’s and 1990’s through an expansion of its tourism business. Currently the city brings in over a half billion dollars to the Utah economy, eighty million of which is attributed to the Sundance Film Festival.
The town is most noted for its winter sports. Deer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain Resort offer fabulous powder for skiing and snowboarding. The 2002 Winter Olympics were held in Park City. In 2015, Park City Ski Resort and Canyons resorts merged creating the largest ski area in the U.S. In all, the resort boasts 17 slopes, 14 bowls, 300 trails and 22 miles of lifts.
We find the town very active for a fall afternoon, too active. We like quiet or calm at least. Main Street is packed with parked cars and/or people attempting to park a Cadillac in a space large enough for a Kia, multiple generational families jay walking, popping out from between parked cars, and not a one of them watching for traffic. While walking and sight seeing on Main Street might be fun before the crowds arrive, arrive they have and we withdraw and head back to the state park.
On the way back to camp we are treated to a very wide rainbow. The colors in the photo are not as vibrant as they were in person- the photo was taken through a rain soaked windshield but you get the picture…..
Our last night/early morning brought rain, enough to make things a little muddy and snow to the upper elevations. It’s windy and cool/borderline cold. Tonight the temps are supposed to drop to freezing and we are ready for it.
We will be heading towards the barn tomorrow. We’re in no hurry so our planned arrival won’t be for three days. Hope to see y’all soon!
Provo is the third largest city (116,700 souls) in Utah. It is also the seat of Utah County. The city is located 43 miles south of Salt Lake City along the Wasatch Front. Huge Utah Lake is located to its west and that’s where we are staying. Lakeside RV Campground is just down the street from Utah Lake State Park. We might have stayed there, however the campground in the state park is closed.
The City is home to Brigham Young University, owned by the Church of Latter-day Saints. It’s possible for a non-Mormon to attend the university but students are required to take at least three credits of religious classes per semester to graduate. All prospective students are encouraged to apply.
While Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante, a Spanish Franciscan missionary-explorer, is considered the first European visitor to the area that would become Provo, the first permanent settlement was established in 1849 as Fort Utah. The name was changed to “Provo” in 1850, in honor of Etienne Provost, an early French-Canadian trapper. The population of Provo has grown from 2,030 in 1860 to an estimated 116,618 in 2019. Members of The Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS Church) comprise almost 82% of the city’s population.
America’s Freedom Festival at Provo, held every May through July, is one of the largest Independence Day celebrations in the United States. Several cultural points of interest in the city include the Covey Center for the Arts, the LDS Church’s Missionary Training Center, and the Provo City Library at Academy Square.
Provo has two LDS Church temples: Provo Utah and Provo City Center, the latter being restored from the ruins of the Provo Tabernacle. The Utah Valley Convention Center is also located in downtown Provo. There are several museums located on the BYU campus.
If enjoying nature is more your style there are many natural features to visit. Bridal Veil Fall, the Provo River, Utah Lake, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest are nearby as is Timpangogos Cave National Monument. Any yet you may be just as interested in a number of national historic landmarks are located within Provo, including the Reed O. Smoot House. Mr. Smoot was co-author of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, an act to primarily regulate commerce with foreign countries, to encourage U.S. industries, and to protect American labor.
Eye appealing downtown Provo
Great three story building in City Center
We walked around the older section of City Center enjoying the sights. We were very impressed on how clean everything was including the streets, sidewalks and buildings. No litter or graffiti anywhere.
Just a few blocks from downtown is the campus of Brigham Young University which is separated from the downtown by several blocks of residents. The streets and homes are so clean and handsome, just like downtown.
We drove into Brigham Young University far enough to be confronted by a security shack with a big sign stating “Show Your I.D.” Oh brother, we’re just visiting and don’t have a university I.D. There’s no place to turn around so we idle up to the shack and are met by “The Friendly Guard”. Before I can explain that we just wanted to tour the campus he says “Welcome, come on in!” Well shucks, we must’ve looked just like these 18 to 22 year old students roaming the campus! Jil asks the young feller where we can find the interesting looking buildings and he says “The campus is sorta boring but the Hinkley Center is kinda nice……” A short time later we cross paths with a campus police officer who offers to help us with directions. We told him we just want to take a look around so with a smile on his face he says “Have a nice visit!” We will, sir!
We found the campus exceptionally uncluttered and clean. School was back in session with students going to and fro, some going to class, others walking or running for exercise. The campus is very nice. We’re glad that we took the time to visit the campus.
A visit to nearby Utah Lake State Park was in order. The park features a nice big grass picnic area with big trees to provide shade, a boat marina and a campground. Jil didn’t want our Lab to take to the lake so we made several laps around the picturesque picnic area.
Right next door to Lakeside RV Campground is Lakeside Storage. The proprietor has a huge collection of oil related signs. I counted over a hundred gas station signs then stopped as I realized there are most likely several hundred more. Most are from companies that no longer exist or changed their names due to the mergers of oil companies but some are from small, local companies. There’s even 50 old gas pumps. I mean really old. When’s the last time ya saw a gravity pump- the kind you hand crank gasoline into a measured glass cylinder, then let it gravity feed into your car’s gas tank.
We’ll be heading up towards Heber City tomorrow. The weather has been pretty warm for this time of year and that’s about to change with rain predicted in the lower elevations and snow possible in the higher elevations. Guess where we are going to be? Yep, in the higher elevations!
We got an early start this morning. The only umbilical cords we had deployed were the power cord and the portable satellite dish so getting ready to travel was a snap. We say Adios to the Desert Moon Hotel and RV Camp. As we head towards I-70 we notice that the Book Cliffs have all but disappeared. In fact almost all geological features have been masked by dirty brown smoke. With all the wildfires out west it’s no wonder. We’ll follow the “ghost” Book Cliffs for many miles and not enjoy the scenery they provide.
I’ve been relying on our Garmin RV GPS system to lead us from place to place. One of its features is it’s rolodex of RV parks. We have been reserving sites in RV parks which is not the norm for this time of year. We even reserved a site at Desert Moon, a non-destination place for sure. Normally I just type in the town that we want to travel to and a list of RV parks comes up. I then select the park in which we have reservations and the GPS displays a map complete with directions to that park. Sometimes it doesn’t have our park listed so I type in the address of the park and that works. But neither address nor a list of RV parks came up for Thompson Springs. What did appear was an auto fueling station which I knew was close enough so that’s where the GPS took us. We winged it for the last half mile to Desert Moon.
Which brings me to my reliance on the GPS and me guessing which route it will take us. I thought that we’d stay of I-70 until it terminates at I-15 in Cove Fort, Utah, then proceed to Provo, our next destination. Boy, was I thrown a curve when it had us zing off onto US 6/191! That move saved us a lot of miles and the route was good.
We drive through what’s left of the ghost town named Woodside, a dilapidated gas station, and continue Wellington (1676 souls) and Price (8300 souls). The two towns almost run together. Both have similar beginnings in that they were founded in the late 1870’s and early 1880’s.
Wellington is typical of Utah towns as it was established by a band of 13 Mormons. Price, the seat of Carbon County, is atypical for Utah as it has a history of religious and ethnical diversity. Greek, Italian, Eastern European, Mexican and Japanese as well as other ethnic groups make up the population. Both towns have a history of mining and agriculture.
Then comes the town of Helper (2200 souls). Helper is known as the “Hub of Carbon County” and was developed as a freight terminal by the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, later designated as the division point between eastern and western D&RGW terminals in Grand Junction CO and Ogden, UT.
In the 1880’s the town grew and with the coal mines and railroading needing laborers, Chinese, Eastern Europeans, and Italians were brought in. Some eventually left the laborer ranks, some of them kicked out of the mines for leading a strike, and started ethnic businesses in town.
If you are wondering how the town of Helper got its name here goes: Helper is situated at the mouth of Price Canyon. Trains traveling westward required additional “helper” engines in order to make the steep 15 mile climb up Price Canyon to the town of Soldier Summit. Helper was named for these helper engines.
This section of US-6 reaches its peak elevation at Soldier Summit, el. 7477 feet. When the Civil War broke out in 1861 soldiers station at Camp Floyd were released from the U.S. Army. A group of 40 men led by General Phillip Cooke were caught in a freak snowstorm and six men and a 14 year old boy froze to death. This place was named in their honor, Soldier Summit. The summit later became a town of some 2000 souls in which the D&RGW railroad established machine shops to service helper engines. The railroad decided that servicing the helper engines at Soldier Summit was a poor idea due to the nasty winter weather and moved the operation back to the town of Helper in the 1920’s. Realignment of the tracks also eliminated the need for helper engines so the town of Soldier Summit slowly declined to what it is now- a gas station and a few occupied houses.
We follow US 6 to Spanish Fork Canyon and stop at Tie Fork Rest Area. The building looks like an early 1900’s train depot complete with replica roundhouse and a non-functioning steam locomotive. Within the roundhouse are informational signs which explain the geology and history of the area. We follow Soldier Creek, then Spanish Fork River after their confluence into the town of Spanish Fork. We head north on I-15 to Provo and Lakeside RV Campground where we’ll reside for three nights.
Our next post will concern our stay in Provo, Utah, home of the Brigham Young University Cougars.
A few days ago we were again looking for interesting places to visit that had campsite availability. That’s how we wound up in places such as Yampa State Park CO, Fruita CO, and Gunnison CO. All those places were unplanned yet were great places to visit. Now we are stymied. With campgrounds anywhere near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, places we’d like to visit, where to now?
Jil says “What about Thompson Springs?” Where? “Thompson Springs Utah!” I looked at Thomson Springs on the map and there’s nothing there. Jil-“There’s two RV parks and one has new owners and it seems like it would be OK. And it’s not far from Arches NP”. Ya gotta be kiddin’ me! But no, she’s right. I look up the place she recommends, Desert Moon Hotel and Campground. It’s a small hotel with 10 campsites. The new owners have only owned the joint for 6 weeks and are in the process of renovating the hotel. They have a website and we sign up for two nights.
We drove 200 miles to Thompson Springs (39 souls) from Gunnison. The community is a mere shadow of its former self and darned near a ghost town. We drive past several old wooden buildings that are in various states of decay.
The campground at the Desert Moon Hotel has full hookups and a few trees for shade but no other amenities. We don’t need any utilities other than electricity so that’s fine. Fine Utah dusty dirt goes unfettered and tracks into the RV, but it’s not bad. We’re glad its not raining because that stuff would create a muddy mess. A bonus is the property is pretty large so we can walk the dogs through sage and dry grass, and around old cabins (which are being restored) and a couple of abandoned trucks to their hearts content.
The owners of the establishment are a young couple intent on renovating the old hotel and its grounds. In only six weeks they have upgraded the water and electrical systems of the hotel and renovated the upstairs guest rooms. They haven’t done it alone as friends have come and gone given them a helping hand. As I write there are a total of 12 people involved in the property’s renovation fully 1/3rd of the entire population of Thompson Springs. They are great young folks who in some ways remind us of 1970’s hippies. We wish them nothing less than good health and prosperity as they live their dream. Desert Moon Hotel and RV Campground definitely isn’t for everyone but we found it to be OK and it is close enough Arches National Park and the city of Moab that we are able to visit those places.
Here’s the history of this near Ghost Town of Thompson Springs per Wikipedia: Thompson Springs (39 souls) was named for E.W. Thompson, who lived near the springs and operated a sawmill to the north near the Book Cliffs. The town began life in the late nineteenth century as a station stop on the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW), which had been completed through the area in 1883. A post office at the site was established in 1890, under the name “Thompson’s”. The town was a community center for the small number of farmers and ranchers living in the inhospitable region, and it was also a prominent shipping point for cattle that were run in the Book Cliffs area. Stockmen from both San Juan and Grand counties used Thompson.
Thompson gained importance in the early twentieth century due to the development of coal mines in Sego Canyon, north of town. Commercial mining in Sego Canyon began in 1911, and that year the Ballard and Thompson Railroad was constructed to connect the mines with the railhead at Thompson. The railroad branch line and mines continued operating until about 1950.
Completion of Interstate 70 came in 1990. The highway located two miles south of Thompson Springs drew traffic away from the city as the former Old Cisco Highway (US 6 and US-50) was no longer used. The coup de grace was dealt in 1997 when the passenger train stop moved about 25 miles to the west, now located in Green River.
We took a short drive up Sego Canyon as we’d heard that there were some ancient petroglyphs on the canyon walls. Yep, there sure were but we didn’t find ‘um all. The Barrier Canyon Petroglyphs (6000- 100 B.C.), the Fremont Culture (600-1200 A.D.), and the Ute Indian (1300-1880 A.D.) cultures are all represented here as rock art. I’m sharing photos from ScienceViews.com
We’d spoken to the young fella who is parked next to us. He and his wife, two kids and three dogs are RV’ing in a nice motorhome. We drum up a conversation and find that the family is from Florida, are home schooling their kids since their home schools are providing classes via internet and hadn’t reopened, and have traveled all the while. I mention that we are going to Arches this morning and he says you’d better get there early as a line forms with little to no access to the park by nine or ten o’clock in the morning. Holy Cripes, we’d better get going!
We are heading for Arches by 0830 hours, reach the park by 0900 and find we are number three in line moving through the entrance station. We use our “Old Geezers” National Park Pass saving another entrance fee of $30. What a great deal our pass is! We choose to bypass the visitors center in favor of visiting all the sights the park has to offer.
I’ll tell you folks, I envisioned many, many natural arches and not much else. The arches are really an outstanding natural feature but the buttresses, mesas, and rock formations that dominate the park are nothing to sneeze at. I’m more enamored by the rock formations than the arches. Don’t know why, just me I suppose.
We did a pretty good job of avoiding crowds until we reach the end of the road- Devil’s Playground. One has to loop through the huge parking lot in order to return. Drivers are trying to find parking spots with utter disregard to folks behind them. People are parking in the middle of the road in hopes someone will walk to their car, get in and pull out. That doesn’t happen so these rude drivers just sit blocking traffic rather than loop on through the parking lot again. I found a spot wide enough to get around one driver who was content on sitting right in the middle of a two lane wide traffic area totally disregarding the folks behind. Sheesh!
Arches is beautiful for sure. October is the end of the high visitation season for Arches. However, I’d say less than half of the people who visit today would normally be here if it weren’t for COVID and related lock downs. As we drive out of Arches National Park autos and RV’s are backed up two deep and several hundred yards long at the entrance station with all their occupants hoping that they will be able to view the beautiful natural wonders of this most beautiful park.
Jil wants to go see Moab, especially it’s RV parks. Moab is where we wanted to stay in order to visit Arches as it’s only 5 miles from the entrance. I’m pretty happy that we couldn’t find a camp spot in town as it’s very busy, the main road is being reconstructed- and we don’t like busy. The few campgrounds we did see seemed to pack RV’s in like sardines- again not our style. We found a nice city park and walked the dogs, then got the heck outa there. During normal times prior to the COVID pandemic I’m pretty sure we would be happy staying in Moab, but not now……….
Heres’s a little history of the city of Moab (5800 souls) courtesy of Wikipedia: Moab is a city on the southern edge of Grand County known for its dramatic scenery. It is the county seat and largest city in Grand County. Moab attracts many tourists annually, mostly visitors to the nearby Arches and Canyonlands national parks. The town is a popular base for mountain biders who ride the extensive network of trails including the Slickrock Trail, and for off-roaders who come for the annual Moab Jeep Safari.
During the period between 1829 and the early 1850s, the area around what is now Moab served as the Colorado River crossing along the Old Spanish Trail. Latter Day Saint settlers attempted to establish a trading fort at the river crossing called the Elk Mountain Mission in April 1855 to trade with travelers attempting to cross the river. Forty men were called on this mission. There were repeated Indian attacks. After the last attack in which one man was killed, the fort was abandoned. A new group of settlers from Rich County, led by Randolph Hockaday Stewart, established a permanent settlement in 1878 under the direction of Brigham Young. Moab was incorporated as a town on December 20, 1902.
Moab’s economy was originally based on agriculture, but gradually shifted to mining. Uranium and vanadium were discovered in the area in the 1910s and 1920s. Potash and manganese came next, and then oil and gas were discovered. In the 1950s Moab became the so-called “Uranium Capital of the World” after a geologist found a rich deposit of uranium ore south of the city. This discovery coincided with the advent of the era of nuclear weapons and nuclear power in the United States, and Moab’s boom years began.
During WWII a Japanese American internment camp, the Moab Isolation Center was set up at the then recently closed Dalton Wells CCC Camp in 1943. It seems that the War Relocation Authority deemed certain Japanese Americans troublemakers so they were segregated out of the general populations of other interment camps such as Manzanar in California and sent to the Moab Isolation Center. None of the internees were ever convicted of any crime other than being accused of being “incorrigible instigators of upheaval”. The camp only operated for four months. In April of 1943 all 49 of the captives were sent to another more secure camp in Arizona.
The city population grew nearly 500% over the next few years, bringing the population to near 6,000 people. With the Cold War winding down, Moab’s uranium boom was over, and the city’s population drastically declined. By the early 1980s a number of homes stood empty, and nearly all of the uranium mines had closed.
In 1949, Western movie director John Ford was persuaded to use the area for the movie Wagon Master. Ford had been using Monument Valley around Mexican Hat UT. A local Moab rancher (George White) found Ford and persuaded him to come take a look at Moab. There have been numerous movies filmed in the area since then, using Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park as backdrops.
Since the 1970s, tourism has played an increasing role in the local economy. Partly due to the John Ford movies, partly due to magazine articles, the area has become a favorite of photographers, rafters, hikers, rock climbers, and most recently mountain bikers.. Moab is also an increasingly popular destination for four wheelers. Moab’s population swells temporarily in the spring and summer months with the arrival of numerous people employed seasonally in the outdoor recreation and tourism industries.
That pretty much sums up our visit to tiny Thompson Springs, Arches National Park and Moab. We’ll be traveling tomorrow. I’ll catch you all up on our upcoming adventures when we settle in. Adios!
We had read quite a few comments regarding the Gunnison KOA RV park. Quite a few people commented on the barnyard animals, i.e. pigs, goats, donkeys, cows, that wander unfettered within the park and many were put off by it. Well shucks, that’s right up our alley!
Turns out all animals are corraled except the goats- they wander unfettered. Of course our Boxer Boy is enamored with all of those animals and will stare at them incessantly. He’s gone nose to nose with the pigs and donkeys and none of them seem to mind. Another plus for this RV park is that the sites are spacious and there’s lot’s of green grass.
Gunnison (6000 souls) is named after John Gunnison, a fella who visited the area while searching for a route for the transcontinental railroad. Population of the town increased in the 1870’s due to a mining surge throughout the state. The railroad arrived in 1880, making miners, ranchers and farmers very happy.
In the early 1800’s first Europeans arrived in the area most being fur trappers and mountain men. By the 1840’s fur trade dwindled and by the 1850’s gold mining was the vogue. All this activity upset the Ute’s and they killed some miners causing some of them to flee. An increase of people in the 1870’s saw more miners as well as ranchers and farmers which ultimately forced the Ute people out of the area. A total of 130,000 ounces of gold were produced from the beginning of the gold rush until 1959.
The farmers who settled in the area found out the hard way that the area wasn’t good for that trade. With not enough rain and a short growing season due to the high elevation (7703′) farmers turned to ranching. But to do so was not so easy. They had to clear land and cut irrigation ditches in order to grow hay for horses and cattle- practices still in use today. Around 1875 the brothers Outcalt homesteaded land three miles north of Gunnison then built the irrigation system for it and began growing hay and various grains.
The enterprising brothers were able to convince the railroad to run a spur to their ranch. They named the stop Hay Spur, from which they shipped over 800 carloads of hay a year. Hay as well as carloads of potatoes and other vegetables were sent to Crested Butte, helping to feed the miners and their mules.
Gunnison lies at the bottom of several valleys and all roads leading to it go over fairly high passes. Due to its location in the Rocky Mountains, cold air in all the valleys settles into Gunnison at night, making it one of the coldest places in winter in the United States, especially when snowpack is present. There’s no snowpack while we visit Gunnison but it’s still cold in the morning- 26 degrees cold.
We spent some time in town walking the old business district. The town caters to young and older folks alike. One restaurant which serves breakfast had 12 people milling about on the sidewalk waiting for their order as outdoor seating is still allowed but not indoor. All had their masks on but non were social distanceing.
Up on a hill a little ways outside of town is a huge “W”. Hey, Gunnison starts with a “G”- what gives? Well, Gunnison is home to the first university in Colorado west of the Rockies, Western Colorado University, established in 1901.
Crested Butte is about 28 miles north of Gunnison. It’s a former coal mining town a sees itself as “the last great Colorado ski town”. In the 1860’s and 1870’s coal and silver mines began to open. As silver mines played out Crested Butte was in a good position to survive because it served as a supply town to the surrounding area. Ranching also helped carry the day. Once the coal mines closed the town began to shrink, the high school closed and the kids had to travel to Gunnison’s high school. The town did not revive until a ski area was built on Crested Butte Mountain. The town’s school system was not fully revived until 1997.
Several attempts to establish a molybdenum on nearby Mt. Emmons were beat back by W. Mitchell, then Mayor. The High Country Citizen’s Alliance was formed in 1977 which is dedicated to protecting natural resources within the Upper Gunnison Valley.
Crested Butte offers plenty of summer outdoor activities- rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking, backpacking and white water rafting come to mind. And don’t forget about fishing! However its more known for winter activities- skiing, snowboarding and cross country skiing in the surrounding mountains is among the best in Colorado. The town also has an ice skating rink.
We have never taken a liking to crowd and downtown Crested Butte has squeezed its roadway down to one lane to allow outdoor seating in the street. We opt to take one pass through via auto and leave. We did get a chance to walk around in more calm parts of town.
We also drove up the partially paved Kebler Pass Road to the summit to get a good look at the golden fall leaves of the Aspen trees. Two mining towns, Ruby and Irwin were established close to the pass in 1879 but both communities ceased to exist after 1885. All that remais is the small cemetery Old Irwin Cemetery that is located at the summit. Graves date back from the 1800’s pioneer days to fairly recent although not many markers remain from the old days.
We head back to camp after enjoying the beautiful Crested Butte area. After all, our donkeys, goats, sheep, pigs and the very large cow are waiting for us.
We head out tomorrow. We’ll let you know where in the next edition of this blog. Adios!
OK, we’re still in Plan C, meaning all Plan A and B area campgrounds are booked until the third week of October. So Plan C places we are interested in visiting are Gunnison and Crested Butte Colorado and they aren’t too far from Fruita. So off we go first backtracking a ways to Grand Junction, then south on US following the valley that the Gunnison River has carved. It’s wide, long and in sage country.
In about an hour we stop in Delta (8900 souls), elevation 4900 feet, seat of Delta County, to stretch and visit a reconstruction of historic Fort Uncompahgre. The town lies at the confluence of the Gunnison and Uncompahgre Rivers.
The fort, really a trading post, was constructed in 1828 in what was then Mexican territory by Antoine Robidoux, a trader based out of Mexican Santa Fe. This area offered abundant timber for construction purposes and firewood as well as pasture for pack animals. It was also a favorite gathering place for Ute Indians.
The Ute Indians apparently encouraged the presence of a trader deep in their territory so they could obtain firearms and items/tools made from iron or steel as the Utes up until then had been in the stone age. Firearms had been introduced to other tribes to the north which upset the balance of power among the western tribes. Although both Spanish, then Mexican law prohibited the sale or trade of firearms to Indians, such trade at a remote location in a difficult country to traverse was most likely conducted without much fear of official sanction.
Although the fort was located on the Old Spanish Trail, Robidoux established several other trails for supplying goods to Fort Uncompahgre. The Mountain Branch came up from Santa Fe and Robideoux’s Cutoff was used to import goods from St. Louis. Interestingly, the cutoff bypassed Santa Fe making it shorter than going through Santa Fe and it avoided Mexican customs, where taxes could be as high as 30%.
The fort employed 15-18 people, all Mexican. Cottonwood pickets formed the perimeter and that fence was meant to keep animals inside the fort and was not for protection. The common articles of trade were horses along with beaver, otter, deer, sheep, and elk skins, in barter for ammunition, firearms, knives, tobacco, beads, awls, etc. Over time Robidoux built two more forts, Fort Uintah for trade and Fort Robidoux, built to ward of the intrusion of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Cottonwood pickets formed the perimeter and that fence was meant to keep animals inside the fort and were not for protection. Over time Robidoux built two more forts, Fort Uintah and Fort Robidoux, a fort built to ward of the intrusion of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
In the mid-1830’s beaver pelt prices dropped rapidly due to style changes in the East. To make up for lost revenues Fort Uncompahgre increased its trade in California horses and in Indian slaves although the practice was prohibited but not enforced by Spanish and later Mexican authorities. More powerful tribes would capture the women and children of their weaker neighbors and sell them in the northern colonies (New Mexico) where demand for laborers and wives was high. In the 1830’s boys between the ages of 8 to 12 years were valued at $50 to $100 in trade goods and girls were worth approximately twice as much.
By 1841 the Oregon Trail had been opened up and became a major route for immigrants, hauling freight and supplying posts such as Fort Hall and Fort Bridger. The effect was that Oregon Trail freight costs were lower and goods manufactured in the east were less expensive than what Robidoux could offer. The Indians didn’t understand the logistical and industrial economics and felt they had been cheated for years by the Santa Fe and Taos traders, including Robidoux.
War broke out in the summer of 1843 between the Utes and Mexicans and it spread into the Gunnison River basin. The fort was defenseless as it was designed more as a holding area for livestock. All but one Mexican were slaughtered by the Utes with women taken hostage. One Mexican trapper escaped carnage arriving fourteen days later hungry and exhausted in Taos. A visiting American was captured and later released with a message for Robidoux that all furs, hide and buildings were intact at the fort, that the Ute’s quarrel was with the Mexicans, not Americans, nor French. No one knows if the Ute’s were trying to lure Robidoux back to the fort so the could kill him or they truly wanted to resume trade.
The fort was left standing and vacant for two years before it was destroyed by local Utes. Robidoux never returned to the Uintah Basin to trap or trade for furs. In 1990 Fort Encompahgre was reconstructed upriver from its presumed original location on land owned by the City of Delta, CO.
The fort was located right next to a big city park which had a couple of bark parks. The dogs didn’t run much preferring to sniff the perimeter and greet other dogs through a chain link fence.
We continued on to Montrose (19,500 souls), elevation 5800 feet, the seat of Montrose County and gateway to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We headed southeast towards Gunnison still on US50. After a few miles a sign indicates that the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is to the left so that’s the direction we go. We arrived in the park and find zero parking for RV’s as all RV spots were taken by autos. Sheesh! So I double parked, jumped out and took a couple of photos of the 2000 foot deep, black walled canyon. From what we saw that canyon is right up there with the most impressive natural sights we’ve seen.
The road has us gaining altitude fast. We climb to Cerro Summit, elevation 8042 feet, then drop down a ways, the road now twisting and turning through cuts and draws between ridges and steep sided cliffs, eventually leveling out as we reach Blue Mesa Reservoir. We are only a few miles from Gunnison now and coast into our home for three nights.
Home base here in Gunnison is the Gunnison KOA Journey. More on the park later. Our next post will include our adventures in and around Gunnison and Crested Butte. See you then!
Our drive from Yampa River SP to Fruita CO was uneventful. We enjoyed some pretty spectacular scenery along the way. Colorado Hwy 13 brought us right into the community of Rifle. We wanted to drive through town and find a nice spot to eat lunch but the Garmin GPS wasn’t specific enough as which exit to take a turnabout so we missed a turn and wound up on US6.
That worked out OK as we eventually jumped on I-70 and went a rest area in the town of Parachute (1000 souls). The rest area seems to have been established by local merchants and is unlike any state or federal highway rest area we’ve visited. It’s parking area is small- maybe large enough for two RV’s and 10 cars. BUT across the street are no less than two marijuana dispensaries with a total of seven in town! One by the name of Tokin Tipi which initially I thought was a taco joint, and the Green Joint a nursery.
Holy cow, am I gullible or what. Then I saw the light, er, the traffic pulling in and out of those establishments’ parking lots. A thought crossed my mind that if those tokers get hungy right next door is a Mexican food joint and a Chinese restaurant. I assume a good portion of the profits from the sale of “buds” goes back into the community as taxes because as we leave town we pass the most drop dead gorgeous athletic field we’d seen outside a professional ball park. I don’t think that most towns of 1000 souls could afford anything like that.
We take I-70 through the Colorado River Canyon and out into a large broad valley, appropriately named Grand Valley, to the Monument RV Park located in Fruita, CO (12,646 souls). The park is pretty nice as far as RV parks go. We’d like it a lot better if there was grass between sites rather than gravel, but it’ll do for three nights.
Fruita was originally home to the Ute people before they were moved to a reservation. The town was established in 1884 by white farmers as a fruit producing region- mostly apples and pears were grown. Today the city is well known for it’s outdoor sports activities such as mountain biking, rafting and hiking as well as it’s proximity to the Colorado National Monument.
So back to the title- The Colorado Monument is not what some may think such as a statue or an obelisk, its actual name is the Colorado National Monument. Monument status was established in 1911 and several efforts have gone forth to upgrade its status to National Park.
As the National Park Service website states “Colorado National Monument preserves one of the grand landscapes of the American West. But this treasure is much more than a monument. Towering monoliths exist within a vast plateau and canyon panorama. You can experience sheer-walled, red rock canyons along the twists and turns of Rim Rock Drive, where you may spy bighorn sheep and soaring eagles.”
The Monument is just a couple of miles from our campsite so how can we resist? A word of warning to you big rig drivers- there are a couple of tunnels that your rig might not fit through and the road is very twisty, steep in places with long drop offs and nary a guard rail in sight. Fifteen and twenty mile an hour curves are the norm even though the posted speed limit is 35mph. But it is a spectacular road in a spectacular park. I found it interesting as one looks up the canyon the road is imperceptible- ya just can’t see it- but it’s there.
We drove the Rimrock loop which put us close to Grand Junction (58,566 souls) the seat of Mesa County. Downtown is pretty neat as the streets are lined with planters containing flowers and trees which not only beautify but act as traffic calming devices. The city’s name derives from the convergence of Grand, renamed the Upper Colorado and the Gunnison Rivers.
We are so glad we stopped in Fruita so we could visit the Monument. To me it’s reminiscent of combination Zion National Park with a touch of Bryce Canyon thrown in. The colorful rock cliffs are a sight to see as are the many spires created by the forces of erosion.
We also climbed Dinosaur Hill, located outside of the national monument, where 600 pound dinosaur bones were discovered. The hill had a great trail with signs explaining its geology and how the bones were discovered and recovered.
We also were fortunate to visit the Fruita Paleo Area located within the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. The one mile loop trail has excellent signs explaining the geology and paleontology of the area of which there are two separate excavations.
Downtown Fruita looked like it was getting ready for a festival. Cross streets off of the main drag had been blocked off to auto traffic and outdoor seating put in the street. I assume it is Fruita’s merchants way of dealing with the COVID-19 virus- no indoor seating so they improvised.
Our next stop has to be classified as Plan C with Plan B again washing out. Our original Plan B was to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Again, RV site availability prevents our visit as all the parks in or near Moab are booked solid through the third week of October. We’ll settle for Plan C as that plan will take us to another beautiful place!
It seems that we’ve been stymied at most every turn, not from illness, not from mechanical failure, nor weather. As I’ve said before our problem is too many people out enjoying our great nation rather late in the season! A lot of folks have figured out that they can work while on the road, home school from the road and breathe COVID-free air in states that may or may not only require a face mask when entering into buildings.
In the same vane I’ve talked to some private RV park work kampers- retired folks that want something to do in places they like to visit for and extended time and make a little cash doing it. I asked to refill our RV’s onboard propane tank at the park we are currently in. The workcamper fella said it’s a little difficult to maneuver to our propane filling station as I look over his shoulder at the easily accessed station. I said it doesn’t look too bad, I can do it. He says to me “I don’t know how good a driver you are.” Really, a real novice should be able to negotiate to that propane filling station!
As he is filling our propane tank I drum up a conversation. I says “Boy, there are sure a lot of people out camping for this time of year”. He says “Ya, and a lot of them are new to RV’ing and are very demanding”. I ask how so? And he says they expect services that they would receive in a 5 star hotel. Wow! And he says, “they are bad drivers!” Oh good, that’s all we need is a bunch of bad drivers driving rigs weighing anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 pounds highballing it down the highway.
We all want to enjoy the out of doors, new to us places and the beautiful scenery in between. So to all, slow down and enjoy life! Heck, I like to adhere to Tiffin RV’s motto “Roughing it Smoothly”- that’s my philosophy while on the road. Don’t believe me? Just look at the sign on the back of my coach!
(Sounds of me stepping off of soap box) So our plan was to visit Dinosaur National Monument after visiting Rawlins. No go- no RV site availability. Sigh. So since we are still in Plan B mode (Yellowstone NP was Plan A) we set our sights on anyplace that sounds interesting that has a campsite available. Aha, let’s try Yampa River State Park in Colorado! It’s not too far away, has site availability over the weekend and is located 20 minutes from Steamboat Springs. Plan B of Plan B= Yampa River State Park.
We catch WY 789 west of Rawlins and head south. The terrain gets more hilly with a more lush growth on the prairie and some pinyon type pine trees here and there. The bottom lands are occupied by farmers mostly growing hay and alfalfa raised for livestock. At the Colorado border the highway’s designation becomes Colorado Hwy 13.
We’ll be turning at remote Craig, CO (10,000 souls) onto US40 and heading east to Yampa River State Park. Craig is the county seat of Moffat County. Downtown is surprising large with a several square block mercantile district and a Walmart located on the edge of town. It’s known as the elk hunting capitol of the US as most of those hunters stay in town. In the early 1970’s and 80’s the largest coal generated power plant in Colorado and several coal mines were constructed near Craig. The Craig-Moffat Airport is busy during winter season as folks flood Steamboat Springs to enjoy winter sports.
We camped at Yampa River State Park for three nights. The park is right on the banks of the Yampa River, has a lot of wildlife around, has electricity for our basic needs and has trails to explore. It proves to be a good stop. It’s a basic campground that offers power and that’s what attracts us. Fall colors are more in evidence now.
Hayden, CO (1800 souls) is the nearest town to the State Park. We go into town to the grocery store and find it firmly attached to the Ace Hardware store! Both stores are well stocked. It’s just a bit unusual being able to walk from grocery to hardware in the same building.
While there we cruise up to Steamboat Springs (12,000 souls). Steamboat is the seat of Routt County and is an internationally known winter ski resort. The city has produced more Winter Olympic athletes than any other town in North America. The town/area got it’s name when early trappers heard chugging sounds coming from the area’s many hot springs and believed a steamboat was coming down river.
“The Boat” as the locals call it, is a nice town with a walking path next to the Yampa River. Walking the path we noticed signs stating that due to low water levels and high water temperatures, the river was closed to swimming. Sheesh! Steamboat is an affluent town that caters to the more affluent young folks- a “woke” town. . We find their life’s philosophy quite different from ours. A storefront sign babbles “Be kind”-why wouldn’t you?- while a young fella wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt holds a hand written sign “Deport Melania”. How is that being kind?
We also visit the nearby Elkhorn Reservoir where our Lab Megan goes for the gusto and actually goes swimming, fetching a stick thrown out into the lake. Ollie runs up and down the bank barely getting his feet wet. That water must have magic traits- as Megan dries off her fur shines!
Tomorrow we’ll head down to Fruita, CO. The town is just west of Grand Junction so there should be plenty to do. See you there!
It’s been a real chore finding places we’d like to visit that have camping availability. Most of the RV parks have said that attendance now is incredible compared to what is normal for this time of year. We’ve gone to Plan to Plan B and C several of times. That’s how we wound up visiting Rapid City, Thermopolis and now Rawlins, Wyoming. They all have been interesting places to visit. They were just not on our “A” list.
From this day forward I doubt if any of the places on our “A” list will be visited by Jil and Mike, Megan and Ollie. Example: Since we are heading down to western Colorado (Plan B) we thought it would be great to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The closest place we could find was over 80 miles away and the only reason we are that close is the park had a last minute cancellation! That’s OK, we’ll visit those parks at a future date when the COVID scare is over and people feel comfortable staying home. Unless, of course, we can find a campground with a last minute cancellation.
Highway 26 takes us from Thermopolis to Shoshoni and Riverton, places we visited on our way to Casper. We pass by Lander (7500 souls), seat of Fremont County, somehow miss Sweetwater Station that has a visitors center, transition on to US 287 and stop in Jeffrey City (58 souls) to stretch.
The only place that showed any life in Jeffrey City was the Monk King Pottery studio across the street, the tiny Split Rock Cafe appeared to be open for business and one cowboy throwing up a dust cloud as he drove down a dirt road. Please click on Jeffrey City to read about it’s colorful past! From Jeffrey City we continue on to Rawlins.
As for Rawlins (9200 souls), a Plan B stop, Jil found an interesting place to visit in this small town of little notoriety except for one place- the old state prison.
Excerpt from rawlins-wyoming.com: In 1867, while in command of the troops protecting the crew surveying the route of the first trans-continental railroad, General John A. Rawlins (chief of staff of the U.S. Army) expressed a wish for a drink of good, cold water. A detachment of scouts explored the countryside as they rode west and approached the hills that stand guard over the present city, and they discovered a spring.
General Rawlins declared it was the most refreshing drink he had ever tasted and exclaimed, “If anything is ever named after me, I hope it will be a spring of water.” General Grenville Dodge, commander of the survey party, immediately named it Rawlins Springs and the community that grew around it bore the same name. Later shortened to Rawlins, the town was incorporated in 1886 and was designated the seat of Carbon County.
Carbon County’s name was derived from extensive coal deposits found in the area. Originally covering the entire width of the Wyoming Territory, Carbon County was reduced in size by the creation of Johnson County in 1875 and Natrona County in 1888. Historically, it has been traversed by the Overland Trail, Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail, and both the original route of the Union Pacific Railroad and the Lincoln Highway. Interstate 80 is now the trail of choice for most travelers through the county, although several scenic backroads and byways offer pleasant alternatives.
So now for the place we came to visit, The Wyoming Frontier Prison, and a few photos of downtown Rawlings……….
The old Wyoming State Penitentiary, now known as the Frontier Prison, is a historic state prison located in Rawlins, Wyoming. This was Wyomings first state prison which operated from 1901 to 1981. The cornerstone was laid in 1888 but due to budget constraints and Wyoming’s notorious weather, the doors wouldn’t open for thirteen years.
Although the original plans addressed the necessities of life most were omitted. No running water, no electricity, no sinks or toilets in each cell and the heating so inadequate that it only raised the temperature inside Cell Block A 20 degrees in -45 degree weather! That block finally received hot water in 1978. Honey buckets were supplied to do one’s business. Cell Block A’s 104 cells measured 4’x7′ with double occupancy!
Overcrowding was a huge problem so an additional 32 cells were added to Block A in 1904. Cell Block B was built in 1950 which temporarily relieved the overcrowding. The new cell block had a more efficient heating system, electricity and hot running water, sinks and toilets in each cell and the cells were quite a bit larger that Cell Block A’s. It also included solitary confinement cells, closing the dungeon in Cell Block A. Cell Block C was completed in 1966 to house serious discipline cases. It only had 36 cells.
Discipline varied. In solitary confinement if the problem prisoner wasn’t too bad he was put in a completely dark room located in the basement of Cell Block A with only a hole in the floor in which to relieve themselves. That area was known as The Dungeon. Guards may or may not remember that a prisoner was even in the cell meaning meals and liquids were most likely intermittent at best. If the inmate didn’t take the hint to straighten up he was put in the “standing” cell. It measured 4×4 feet in size and an inmate was placed in there for a week! One inmate spent a week in that cell, came out and acted up again. He was placed back in that cell for another week. When he came out he was stark raving mad and had to be institutionalized. Besides the “dungeon” another means of discipline was the “punishment pole” to which men were handcuffed and whipped with rubber hoses, the hoses leaving no mark. This was not a good place to spend a vacation folks……..
Some interesting characters were housed at the Pen. Henry Edmundson, was pardoned by Governor John Kendrick because the prisoner’s behavior was so bad that the governor preferred he leave the state; and Bill Carlisle, the gentleman bandit who robbed trains in 1916, escaped and robbed again, was again imprisoned, and finally earned parole in 1936. Bill earned his name as he refused to rob from women and children. Carlisle went on to marry, start a business and become a model citizen.
Back when the prison was in full swing baseball was the favorite sport of inmates. Interagency games were played but only at the prison. The State team was very good and had winning season after winning season. Enthusiasm for the game waned when the starting catcher was hanged.
Two hundred fifty people died here, most died of natural causes, suicide or were victims of inmate violence. Around 30 were never claimed by clan and are buried at the prison’s cemetery. Fourteen men were executed. The first two were hanged on the traveling Julien gallows, the same contraption used to hang convicted murderer Tom Horn in Cheyenne in 1903. Seven others were also were hanged on the permanent Julien gallows that were installed in Death Row and five were executed in the gas chamber, which was added to the prison in 1936.
A joint powers board turned the abandoned building into a museum in 1988 and renamed the facility the Wyoming Frontier Prison. Visitors today can tour the cells where 13,500 inmates, including 11 women, served time. Annual events include Halloween haunted night tours, as well as other events. Weddings have been held there and one can rent a cell for $10 a week- if one so desires.
We stayed at the Red Desert Rose RV park for a couple of nights. It’s a no frills campground but served it’s purpose- giving us a launch point and a place to lay our weary heads.
Tomorrow more Plan B. We’re heading down to the State of Colorado. See you there!
We heard from other RVer’s that a neat little town is just a short drive from Cody so we decided to check it out. Thermopolis (3009 souls) is about an hour and a half’s ride from Cody. Thermopolis is the largest town in Hot Springs County and also the county seat.
Thermopolis is located near the northern end of the Wind River Canyon and Wedding of the Waters, where the north-flowing Wind River becomes the Bighorn River. It is an unusual instance of a river changing names at a point other than a confluence of two streams. The dual name is ascribed to the mountain barrier between the Wind River and Bighorn basins, obscuring the fact that the river that drains the two is the same. The term “Wedding of the Waters” dates to at least 1934, when a marker was placed at the location.
The large Boysen Reservoir lies 17 miles to the south. The lake offers excellent fishing. Legend Rock, a cliff located in the central part of the county, displays some of the most spectacular petroglyphs in Wyoming. Bloody Hand Cave, near the mouth of Wind River Canyon, also has pictures and carvings.
The town claims the world’s largest mineral hot spring, appropriately named “The Big Spring”, as part of Wyoming’s Hot Springs State Park. The springs are open to the public for free as part of an 1896 treaty signed with the Shoshone and Arapaho Indian tribes. Dinosaur fossils were found on the Warm Springs Ranch in 1993, and the Wyoming Dinosaur Center was founded soon after.
Later, after the Shoshone Reservation was established in the Wind River Valley in 1868, the hot springs were on the reservation. This meant that white settlers could not formally claim the land or erect permanent structures. It did not prevent numerous squatters from living near the springs in tents and dugouts, however, either to soak in the springs themselves or to sell food and lodging to others.
Through a convoluted deal with the Shoshone 100 square miles of land including the hot springs was purchased by the US Government. The Indians no longer had need for the land as most of the game had been driven off by settlement of the area around the springs and could use the money to transition to reservation life. One square mile was given to the state and the remaining 99 were opened for settlement. The Shoshone requested that the springs remain open to the public forever. Purchase price- 94 cents an acre.
Thermopolis began in the 1880s near the mouth of Owl Creek, just outside the reservation boundaries of the time and downstream from the town’s present-day site. It provided better quarters for visitors than the pole-and-brush “Hotel de Sagebrush” near the hot springs, and offered stores and other businesses to serve the ranchers and homesteaders on Owl Creek and along the river. In 1910 the Burlington Railroad reached Thermopolis bringing with it 60 or more people- here to visit the therapeutic hot springs. Prior to the railroad the only access was by wagon road.
Just across the Bighorn River from Thermopolis was the town of Andersonville, where outlaws like Jim McCloud; Harry Longabaugh, known as the Sundance Kid; and Robert Leroy Parker, known as Butch Cassidy appear to have visited regularly.
Although agriculture seemed unlikely a lot of early settlers made a go of it by raising hay and alfalfa for livestock feed. Cattle ranchers brought in their cattle and sheep ranchers brought in their sheep. Coal mining began in 1898 and oil was discovered at the Grass Creek field in 1907 and the Hamilton Dome opened in 1915.
Today Thermopolis is a mecca for seekers of the therapeutic waters of its hot springs. Hot Springs State Park incorporates hotels, public soaking pools, walking and biking trails. Buffalo free range in the hills above the springs and one can visit the Dinosaur Center.
Downtown Thermopolis is typical for turn of last century downtowns. It consists of one block of one and two story brick buildings, one of which houses a bakery- which I visit and purchase freshly made cherry fritters. Yum! We also visit the Old West Historical Museum. The place is packed with memorabilia that local folks have donated as well as historically significant artifacts. The museum is a must see while in town.
The town of Thermopolis is a little off the beaten path but well worth the visit. And if one is into bathing in hot mineral waters this is the place to go!
One of the places we desire to visit is Yellowstone National Park. We were first to visit Cody, WY, then enter the park through the east entrance and stay several days in an RV Park in West Yellowstone. Alas, every RV Park in West Yellowstone is booked solid and Cody is has the closest availability to the park at 53 miles- and that’s just to the entrance station. Yellowstone is huge and takes several days just to get a good feel for the park and see the main sights. So this trip we’ll not visit Yellowstone. Darn!
Within a day’s drive of the Little Bighorn Battlefield Monument is another place of historical significance, the city of Cody Wyoming (9500 souls).
We head up I-90 through Billings MT (110,000 souls) then south on US 310 and stop in Fromberg MT which has a population of 438 souls. Downtown Fromberg looks like its on its last legs. The blacksmith’s shop looks busy and ever other shop looks quiet or closed.
Cody, The City
Cody lies in the Bighorn Basin surrounded by mountain ranges on three sides: the Absarokas on west, the Owl Creek Mountains to the south and the Bighorns to the east. The Shoshone River has cut a deep canyon at the edge of town, sort of a mini Grand Canyon. The Bighorn Basin was restricted from white settlement by treaties with the Indians in 1868. Ten years later, those restrictions were lifted and early settlers began to come into the basin. This made the area one of the last frontiers settled in the lower 48 states.
Excerpts from Wyoming History.com: William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody was visiting Sheridan, Wyo., in 1894, when his son-in-law, Horace Boal, took him to the top of the Bighorn Mountains for a view to the west over the Bighorn Basin. On learning that a group of Sheridan businessmen was already interested in founding a town there, Cody eagerly joined the effort. He saw the beauty of the region, its proximity to a Yellowstone already attracting tourists, the abundance of game and fish, and land available for ranching and farming.
In 1895, Cody, George T. Beck, Cody’s Wild West show partner Nate Salsbury, Harry Gerrans, Bronson Rumsey, Horace Alger, and George Bleistein founded the Shoshone Land and Irrigation Company. In the fall of 1895, construction began on the Cody Canal, which would carry water from the south fork of the Shoshone River northeast to the town. In May 1896, Beck and surveyor Charles Hayden laid out the site of the present town.
To ensure the success of Cody the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad was sold the majority of town lots, thus the railroad gained a vested interest in the town. The railroad line to Cody opened in 1901. By 1900 the town had a population of 300, the Irma Hotel, named after Buffalo Bill’s daughter was opened in 1902.
The Buffalo Reservoir was created with federal money by damming the narrow cut created by the Shosone River between Cedar and Rattlesnake mountains. The Shoshone Dam was completed in 1910 and renamed Buffalo Bill Dam in Cody’s honor in 1946 on the anniversary of his 100th birthday. Three highway tunnels are adjacent to the dam.US highways 20/14/16 follow Shoshone Canyon past the dam with the most westerly being Wyoming’s longest tunnel at 3202 feet.
Although oil and gas remain viable industry here it’s a popular stop for travelers on the way to and from Yellowstone just as Colonel Cody envisioned it, as well as a hunter’s and fishermen’s paradise. Irrigation has overcome the high desert climate enabling ranchers and farmers to succeed. Buffalo Bill’s legacy continues today at the Irma, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, and numerous other businesses seeking to catch the eyes of tourists.
Cody, The Man
Excerpt from Wikipedia: William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody (February 26, 1846 – January 10, 1917) was an American soldier, bison hunter, and showman. He was born in Le Claire, Iowa Territory (now the U.S. state of Iowa), but he lived for several years in his father’s hometown in Toronto Township, Canada before the family returned to the Midwest and settled in the Kansas Territory. After his father’s death he became a rider for the Pony Express at age 15. During the Civil War, he served the Union from 1863 to the end of the war in 1865. Later he served as a civilian scout for the US Army during the Indian Wars, receiving the Medal of Honor in 1872.
Cody returned to Army service in 1868. From his post in Fort Larned, he performed an exceptional feat of riding as a lone dispatch courier from Fort Larned to Fort Zarah (escaping capture), Fort Zarah to Fort Hays, Fort Hays to Fort Dodge, Fort Dodge to Fort Larned, and, finally, Fort Larned to Fort Hays, a total of 350 miles in 58 hours through hostile territory, covering the last 35 miles on foot. In response, General Philip Sheridan assigned him Chief of Scouts for the 5th Calvary Regiment
Buffalo Bill’s legend began to spread when he was only 23. Shortly thereafter he started performing in show that displayed cowboy themes and episodes from the frontier and Indian Wars. He founded Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1883, taking his large company on tours in the United States and, beginning in 1887, in Great Britain and continental Europe. For a more complete biography of Cody please refer to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo_Bill
Probably the largest tourist draw in Cody is the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. It’s actually five museums in one: Buffalo Bill Museum, Plains Indian Museum, Draper Natural History Museum, Whitney Western Art Museum, and the Cody Firearms Museum. If you think you can whiz right through all five museums and be on the road towards Yellowstone think again and look at your pass. It’s a two day pass! Example: The firearms museum includes 10,000 artifacts. It’s the most comprehensive firearms museum in the United States. We visit all but the Whitney Western Art Museum.
Buffalo Bill Museum
Plains Indians Museum
I believe I took 200 photos while touring the museums just so I’d have a log of the most interesting things I saw there. Hope you enjoy just a few of them that have been chosen worthy of this blog. (gads, more than a few- a lot!) Here’s a few more…………..
Natural History Museum
And last but not least we have the rare wave eating long tailed, floppy-eared Boxer Dog. Found only near lakes with wind driven waves the wave eater will race up and down the shore attempting eat/swallow every last drop of water that laps onto the shore. Burrrp…….
Most of us have heard of the Battle of Little Bighorn and Custer’s Last Stand. If one is ever in the vicinity of Little Bighorn National Monument don’t hesitate to visit this remarkable place. Our stop in Hardin, MT was to do precisely that. The monument is located on the Crow Indian Reservation, Garryowen, MT. Since our last visit it seems that the Crow Agency has seen fit to take advantage of the park’s visitors by erecting a couple of trading posts, a casino and hotel near the entrance. Heck, why not?
Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, leaders of the Sioux tribe on the Great Plains, strongly resisted the mid-19th-century efforts of the U.S. government to confine their people to reservations. In 1875, after gold was discovered in South Dakota’s Black Hills, the U.S. Army ignored previous treaty agreements and invaded the region. This betrayal led many Sioux and Cheyenne tribesmen to leave their reservations and join Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse in Montana. By the late spring of 1876, more than 10,000 Native Americans had gathered in a camp along the Little Bighorn River–which they called the Greasy Grass–in defiance of a U.S. War Department order to return to their reservations or risk being attacked.
In mid-June, three columns of U.S. soldiers lined up against the camp and prepared to march. A force of 1,200 Native Americans turned back the first column on June 17. Five days later, General Alfred Terry ordered Custer’s 7th Cavalry to scout ahead for enemy troops. On the morning of June 25, Custer drew near the camp and decided to press on ahead rather than wait for reinforcements.
At mid-day, Custer’s 600 men entered the Little Bighorn Valley. Among the Native Americans, word quickly spread of the impending attack. The older Sitting Bull rallied the warriors and saw to the safety of the women and children, while Crazy Horse set off with a large force to meet the attackers head on. Despite Custer’s desperate attempts to regroup his men, they were quickly overwhelmed. Custer and some 200 men in his battalion were attacked by as many as 3,000 Native Americans; within an hour, Custer and every last one of his soldiers were dead.
The Battle of the Little Bighorn—also called Custer’s Last Stand—marked the most decisive Native American victory and the worst U.S. Army defeat in the long Plains Indian War. The gruesome fate of Custer and his men outraged many white Americans and confirmed their image of the Native Americans as “wild.” Meanwhile, the U.S. government increased its efforts to subdue the tribes. Within five years, almost all of the Sioux and Cheyenne would be confined to reservations.
The total US casualty county included 268 dead and 55 severely wounded. Six later died of their wounds including four Crow Indian Scouts and at least two Arikara Indian scouts. The dead at the Battle of the Little Big Horn were given a quick burial where they fell by the first soldiers who arrived at the scene. Custer was later disinterred and reburied at West Point. Other troops were also disinterred for private burials. In 1881, a memorial was erected in honor of those who lost their lives.
Indian fatalities at the Battle of Greasy Grass (winner’s term) are a little more difficult to determine. Figuring out the Indian casualties has been complicated by inconsistencies in their accounts and pictorial depictions, largely because Indians often bore more than one name and some of the deaths may have been duplicated. Accounts vary between 26 warriors killed According to One Bull, a Cheyenn who lived near the Little Bighorn battlefield listed 26 warriors killed while Major Marcus Reno said he saw 18 dead Indian warriors on the battlefield.
It seems that most people bypass the drive in favor of the visitor’s center and the large monuments nearby. The Custer National Cemetery is also located within the grounds. If one visits be prepared to drive 4.5 miles through the monument. Not making the drive is a mistake. The road follows ridge lines where information plaques explain how to battle unfolded, points of interest and other narratives. Standing on the ridges looking down at all those grave stones is a humbling experience.
We walk the National Cemetery and pay our respects to all who have served or given their all for our great country. We discover that veterans are not the only residents here but wives and children of veterans. We’ve seen wives buried with their husbands but never children nor an unknown Chippewa Indian woman.
Above are a few scenes outside of the Monument on the Crow Rez. Below is a monument constructed at a privately owned museum just down the road.
We love to take the byways over the interstates. Today US 87 was on our radar as there are a couple of historic places we’d like to visit. We’re on our way to Fort Phil Kearney when we see a sign directing us to the sight of the Fetterman Massacre.
In 1866 group of 10 warriors including Crazy Horse attempted to lure a detachment of U.S. soldiers into an ambush. Captain William Fetterman was given strict orders not to go over the hill, do not lose sight of the fort. He took the lure, leading his detachment of 80 men after the band of Indians only to be intercepted by a large group of their brethren who promptly killed Fetterman and all his men- all 80 of them. At the time it was the worst military disaster ever suffered by the US Army on the Great Plains. The Fetterman Massacre took place on Crow Indian land, the attack orchestrated by an alliance of Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe tribes without the consent of the Crow.
Fort Phil Kearney was one of three forts established along the Bozeman to protect miners traveling north from the Oregon Trail in 1866. It was the largest of the three stockaded fortifications.
Its eight foot high log walls enclosed anarea of 17 acres, the longest wall being 1496 feet in length. At its height the garrison had 400 troops assigned and 150 civilians. The Fetterman Massacre occurred in 1866 and the Wagon Box Fight of 1867 was the last major engagement that ended Red Cloud’s War. The three forts were abandoned in 1868 when the Union Pacific Railroad reached far enough west the emigrants could reach Montana gold fields through present-day Idaho, rendering the dangerous Bozeman Trail obsolete. Shortly after Fort Phil Kearney known to the Indians as “the hated post on the Little Piney” was burned by the Cheyenne Indians.
Sheridan (17,900 souls), the seat of Sheridan County is our next stop. The town is beautiful with a 1890’s wild west feel to its downtown district with beautiful homes to its west. The town is named after Union calvary general Philip Sheridan. The townsite grew from a trapper’s cabin to a small town in 1882. The arrival of the Burlington and Missouri Railroad boosted Sheridan’s economy leading to the construction of the Sheridan Inn where Buffalo Bill Cody was once a financial partner.
Coal mines opened north of town along the Tongue River in the 1890’s which drew farmers from back east as well as cattlemen. Immigrants arrived from Europe and Mexico. Today mining, farming, manufacturing drives its economy as well as a strong rodeo culture. Summer events draw participants and spectators for all over including the nearby Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations, leading to the slogan “Cowboy Days and Indian Nights”.
We settled into Grandview Campground and RV Park, Hardin MT. It’s the only campground in town yet I would hesitate to recommend it. The park itself is OK but could use a lot of clean up. It appears to have been a farm at one time. Farmers don’t throw much away so there’s a lot of used “treasures” lying about that could be recycled or at the least removed from public view. We meet some interesting fellas here at the park. Several are from Pennsylvania and are participating in a safflower harvest. A couple of others are transporting huge combines, machines used to harvest crops, in caravans from Montana back home to Kansas. They drive work trucks that displays a “wide load” sign. Since they are never in one place very long when transporting, they pull their travel trailer home on wheels behind them. Interesting young men!
A visitor magnet for Hardin is the Big Horn County Historical Museum. Of course like a lot of museums and places of interest it’s closed. The main building is closed but the grounds are open, but dogs are not welcome. We take some photos and wish the place was open to the public. Sigh…….
Tomorrow we will visit a place that has gone down in infamy. See you there!
We left Spearfish Monday morning heading towards Buffalo Wy. We’ll travel Interstate 90 all the way, leaving the Black Hills behind. We’ll be back in the high plains traveling by towns whose names may be familiar to you.
American criminal Sundance Kid, Harry Longabaugh, was born in 1867 in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania. At age 15, he headed west and received his nickname when was arrested for stealing a horse in Sundance, Wyoming. He was part of Butch Cassidy’s gang, The Wild Bunch. The group embarked on the longest stretch of successful train and bank robberies in the history of the American West. It’s said that Longabaugh was the fastest gunslinger of the group, although he never killed anyone.
We also bypass Moorcroft (1100 souls). The town located at the confluence of the Belle Fourche River and Donkey Creek. The town was originally called LaBelle. The Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad built its railroad through town in 1891 then renamed it. Beautiful Keyhole State Park is nearby.
We stopped in Gillette just because we never have. We found a nice little greenbelt right next to a community ice rink to walk the dogs. The downtown’s business district was too busy through with the beast so we continued on. Excerpt from Wikipedia: Gillette is the county seat of Campbell County, Wyoming. The population was estimated at 32,030 as of July 1, 2019. Gillette is centrally located in an area involved with the development of vast quantities of American coal, oil, and coalbed methane gas. The city calls itself the “Energy Capital of the Nation”; Wyoming provides nearly 35% of the nation’s coal. Gillette’s population increased 48% in the ten years after the 2000 census, which counted 19,646 residents.
Before its founding, Gillette started as Donkey Town, named after Donkey Creek, and then was moved and called Rocky Pile after Rocky Draw a landmark recognized by travelers. Gillette was founded in 1891 with the coming of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad and incorporated on January 6, 1892, less than two years after Wyoming became a state. Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad changed the name to Gillette for Edward Gillette, who worked as a surveyor for the company.
We’ve run into a lot of smoke, most of it coming from wildland fires to the west. The foothills of the Bighorn Mountains are barely visible and the mountains themselves are invisible. Bummer……..
We pulled into the Deer Park Campground, Buffalo Wy (4600 souls) after a drive of 170 miles. . The campground is located on a hill just east of town. The population of the park ebbs and flows like the ocean’s tides with a lot of RV’s leaving in AM and as many coming in to camp in the PM. The park has lots of places to walk the mutzos. Wildlife in the form of deer and turkey inhabit the area and we saw both. A couple of curious horses reside in a large grassy field just on the other side of a two wire fence. Megan didn’t care about them but Ollie went nose to nose with one horse. Every time we took a walk he’d pull me over to the fence to see if his equine pal was waiting for a another meet.
The town of Buffalo was founded on a buffalo trail that forded Clear Creek in 1879 and became seat of Johnson County in 1881. It is located on eastern foothills of the Bighorn Mountains. The region was prime hunting ground for Sioux, Arapaho, and Cheyenne Indians, and many armed conflicts ensued as settlers moved into the area. Forts were established to protect miners and other white travelers on the Bozeman Trail; these were abandoned in 1868, but white settlement was not far in the future. The community soon saw considerable conflict between farmers and cattlemen, and the site of the final battle in the Johnson County Cattle War of 1892 is 13 miles (21 km) south at the TA Ranch.(https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/johnson-county-war-1892-invasion-northern-wyoming)
Buffalo is a shipping point for livestock and lumber, with grain and sugar beet cultivation and oil wells in the vicinity. It also serves as a tourist center for the Bighorn Mountains region. The sites of Fort Phil Kearny and the Fetterman Massacre (1886), in which 80 U.S. soldiers were trapped and killed by Sioux Indians, are a few miles northwest.
Famous is the historic Occidental Hotel. Founded in 1880 the hotel became one of the most renowned in Wyoming. Located near the Bozeman Trail the hotel was visited by many famous people of the Old West. People who enjoyed the hospitality of the Occidental were Buffalo Bill Cody, Teddy Roosevelt, Calamity Jane (who drove freight wagons on the Bozeman). Even the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid rode from their hideout at the Hole-in-the-Wall would visit on occasion. As time passed the Occidental was expanded and rebuilt until it became a “grand” hotel.
Tomorrow we’ll head north and visit some very historic western sites. See you there!
We drove from Pierre SD to Spearfish SD, a drive of around 219 miles on Thursday. We’ve been in the area before but never to Lead or Sturgis. Driving from the northern Plains back to the Black Hills was pleasant. We’re happy to be in the hills once again. We are staying at the Elkhorn Ridge RV Resort. The place is very nice and not terribly expensive. We’ll enjoy our stay here and use it as home base in order to do a little exploring.
This place is truly a resort. It has a conference center/meeting room, tennis courts, swimming pool, and walking paths. Besides the nicely laid out RV sites, cabins are available for those without a home on wheels. There is lawn art everywhere mostly of animals native to the area.
Our first place to visit is Sturgis. Yes, THAT Stugis. The town famous for its annual motorcycle rally. The town of 6,627 souls swells to unbelievable proportions. This year attendance was down however, with only 460,000 attending over a 10 day period. That attendance figure is down about 7% from normal.The motorcycle rally has been over for a couple of weeks and the town is quiet with only a few visitors enjoying the place. Those attending the rally said they were there because it was something to do.
Stugis was founded in 1878. It was originally named Scooptown because many of the residents “scooped up” their pay from nearby Fort Meade. Its name was later changed to Sturgis to honor Civil War Union General Samual Sturgis. Sturgis was designated the seat of Meade County in 1889.
Deadwood is located at 4500′ and Tuesday it snowed! There’s still patches of snow on a couple of rooftops and in shady areas around town. Deadwood (1270 souls) is the seat of Lawrence County. The entire city has been designated as a National Historic Landmark District.
Excerpt from deadwood.com: The discovery of gold in the southern Black Hills in 1874 set off one of the great gold rushes in America. In 1876, miners moved into the northern Black Hills. That’s where they came across a gulch full of dead trees and a creek full of gold and Deadwood was born.
Practically overnight, the tiny gold camp boomed into a town that played by its own rules that attracted outlaws, gamblers and gunslingers along with the gold seekers. Wild Bill Hickok was one of those men who came looking for fortune. But just a few short weeks after arriving, he was gunned down while holding a poker hand of aces and eights – forever after known as the Dead Man’s Hand.
(From Deadwood.com): You can find these colorful characters walking the streets of present-day Deadwood as a part of Deadwood Alive. This theater troupe reenacts the major historic events – like the Trial of Jack McCall and Wild Bill’s assassination— that inspired the legends you know today.
As one can imagine gold played out and folks moved on. The current population of 1270 souls pales from the 25,000 who lived here in its heyday. The place fell on hard times now and then and suffered through three major fires. Gaming revived what was to become another ghost town. What is left today are the period buildings at its core, modern day resort hotels. their architecture playing off of 100 year old buildings, big name concerts, gaming and walking in the footsteps of Wild West legends.
Lead (LEED) (3124 souls) is not far from Deadwood. The town was named for the leads or lodes of deposits of valuable ore, in this case gold. The Homestake Mine lies at the edge of town. The mine was the largest, deepest (8240 feet) and most productive gold mine in the western hemisphere before it closed in 2002.
Lead has a great mining museum. If ever in Lead don’t miss it! Yes, mining at the Homestake Mine is a main theme yet a very large portion of the museum is devoted to the town and its people and its way of life.
Lead was founded as a company town which was made more comfortable through the efforts of Phoebe Hearst. She established a town library, free kindergarten, and opera house, provided college scholarships.
In the early 1930’s due to fear of cave-ins of the miles of tunnels under Lead’s Homestake Mine, many of the town’s buildings located in the bottom of a canyon were moved further uphill to safer locations.
Today Lead and the Homestake Mine have been selected as the site of the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory, a proposed NSF facility for low-background experiments on neutrinos, dark matter, and other nuclear physics topics, as well as biology and mine engineering studies.
Spearfish (10,494 souls), founded in 1876, lies just west of Elkhorn Ridge RV Resort. The city was founded at the mouth of Spearfish Canyon it’s roll in the Black Hills Gold Rush being a supplier of foodstuffs for the mining camps in the hills. The Homestake Sawmill was built to supply timbers for the Homestake Mine.
Spearfish Creek emerges from the canyon and runs through the center of town. An unusual phenomenom is that in winter the creek freezes from the bottom up, with ice at the bottom of the creek bed and water running over the top. The cause is the fast running creek doesn’t allow ice to form on top, only the bottom of the creek bed.
We enjoy fish hatcheries and Spearfish has a beauty. The landscaped grounds are worth walking through, the “fish” train car is historically significant. Heck, the whole working hatchery is historically significant. The train cars were used to transport fish from one location in the nation to another. At the moment rainbow trout are being raised.
Right next door is the Spearfish Municipal Campground. It’s pretty nice, I wanted to camp there but it’s a first come, first serve sort of place. With so many people enjoying the outdoors we couldn’t take a chance. Oh well, maybe next time.
We took the scenic drive up Spearfish Canyon. Talk about beauty! Sheer limestone cliffs, beautiful trees and a couple of small waterfalls are all highlights within the canyon. Partway up the canyon quite a few trees have been broken about 20 up. No, couldn’t be. We’re in the Black Hills! But it’s true. Back in July two tornados hit the canyon wreaking havoc on the trees. Not only did the twister break the tops off of some they toppled others.
Near the top of the canyon is Spearfish Canyon Lodge. The handsome lodge is surrounded by God’s beauty. The lodge offers overnight accommodations, fine dining and entertainment and more.
Tomorrow we’ll be heading west into Wyoming. See you there.
Alrighty then, while in Rapid City we had a day maxing out a 102 degrees last Saturday. Two days later here in Pierre the high was 47 degrees. That’s a 55 degree temperature swing folks! Nighttime temps dropped from high sixties to nearly freezing. Sheesh! The weather slowly started to warm into the low sixties during our stay, which is comfortable for us.
A major encounter which affected the destiny of all inhabitants of the region occurred in Fort Pierre on September 24-28, 1804. At the mouth of the Bad River, in present day Fischer Lilly Park members of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery met for the first time with the Lakota people, known to them as the Teton Sioux. Differences in trade objectives, diplomacy, and the lack of an interpreter lead to an armed confrontation, the closest Lewis and Clark came to a premature end to their expedition. Today the park is certified as a National Park Service Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail site.
Also of historical interest is the Verendrye Site. French explorers Francois and Louis-Joseph Verendrye buried a lead plate on this hillside overlooking what now is Fort Pierre on March 30, 1743. The plate documents the Verendryes as the first European explorers on the northern plains. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 made the area a part of the United States. The plate was found in 1913 by a couple of teenagers who considered selling it to the local print shop. A state historian caught wind of the plate, realized it’s importance and saved it. The plate is on display at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre.
We visited Casey Tibbs Rodeo Center in Fort Pierre. Casey was born in nearby Orton, SD in 1929. He held the “World All-Around Cowboy Champion” title twice, the world saddle bronc riding championship six times and the world bareback bronc riding championship once all between 1949 and 1959. He was featured on the cover of Time Magazine in 1951.
He went on to raise and breed horses in Ramona, CA but not before becoming a stunt man, stunt coordinator, technical director, livestock consultant, wrangler, and actor for the film industry. He even wrote, directed, produced and starred in the film Born to Buck! He was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame and three more Halls of Fame. A man this famous and I’d never heard of him. He passed in 1990 from cancer.
Pierre is a small capital city as far as capitals go at just over 13,000 souls. It is only one of four state capitals that don’t have an interstate running through it and is unique among them in not having access to an expressway. The locals say that because there is no interstate not many folks from out of state visit. By the by, Pierre is not pronounced as the French pronounce the word, Pea-aire, but more like “Pier”. The city lies on the east bank of the mighty Missouri River and our campground is just a few miles downstream.
Pierre was founded in 1880 on the east bank of the Missouri River opposite Fort Pierre, a former trading post that developed as a community. She was designated as the temporary state capital when South Dakota gained statehood in 1889 and another election was held in 1890 to become the permanent capital. It was selected because of its location in the geographical center of the state. However there were several attempts to move the capital. After three elections, many citizens believed that a large, permanent building would end any further relocation efforts.