Across Wyoming Photo taken in Colorado.

Across Wyoming

Before the road was built, all the locals (all second and third-generation pioneers) agreed that this route across Wyoming was a big mistake. Since we are not pioneers and have a motorhome rather than a wagon, we have to follow the roads. We went anyway but timed it carefully. So going across Wyoming, for us, east to west, involved Interstate 80.

The Wyoming rest stop near Cheyenne is one of the best we have ever stopped at.
The Wyoming rest stop near Cheyenne is one of the best we have ever stopped at.

Interstate 80 also known as the Eisenhower Highway runs east to west across southern Wyoming. It crosses into Wyoming from Nebraska, at Pine Bluffs, then through Cheyenne, the highway then connects to Laramie. Things get interesting between Laramie and Wolcott Junction (east of Rawlins). This is the section of Interstate 80 that the locals objected to. Even the train (almost a hundred years prior) chose a more moderate route. The train route is more moderate both in terms of steep hills and most importantly weather.

Lincoln Memorial Monument

To the east of Laramie is the Sherman Summit with the Lincoln Memorial Monument and rest stop. We were going to stop for one night. The potential for bad weather made us change plans. The weather is frequently bad there. Today on May 20, as I write this, the weather in Laramie may edge above freezing and the area has a winter storm warning. Between Laramie and Rawlins they had snow, both when we were there and at the end of May.

Typical wagon used on the Oregon Trail when crossing Wyoming.
Typical Prairie Schooner wagon used on the Oregon Trail when crossing Wyoming. The much larger and much heavier Conestoga wagons were not used due to their weight.

Parking at the rest stop at the Sherman Summit is permitted overnight provided you are not setting up camp. When we went through Laramie, at the end of April, the weather prediction was bad the following day. We expected snow (at the end of April) and the next day promised high winds. So instead of stopping at or near Laramie, we pressed further west to Rawlins.

Driving across Wyoming In this picture, and others, you can see more bugs on our windshield.
Driving across Wyoming In this picture, and others, you can see more bugs on our windshield.

Had we stayed in Laramie, then the storm may have trapped us in Laramie. By sitting out the storm in Rawlins (camping for two nights) we could ensure our departure westbound when the weather cleared. Staying in Laramie would mean that the mountains would be in front of us. By staying in Rawlins, the mountains and the worst weather would be behind us. This move added about sixty miles to our travel day but also put the Medicine Bow mountain range about forty miles behind us.

Medicine Bow

The Medicine Bow mountains connect the high country in Colorado to Wyoming. Everything north and west of the Medicine Bow range is a high sage desert. Everything south of the Medicine Bow range is high Colorado Peaks.

Driving across Wyoming in the Medicine Bow National Forest.
Driving across Wyoming in the Medicine Bow National Forest.

Sugarloaf Mountain in the Medicine Bow range is the highest mountain at more than 11,400 feet. Elk Mountain at the very north end of the Medicine Bow Range is also more than 11,000 feet. Interstate 80 is about seven miles north of Elk Mountain. This section of Interstate 80 frequently has very high winds and deep snow, even in the middle of May. Pick your crossing time carefully.

The railroad path diverges from Interstate 80 at Laramie (and predates Interstate 80 by nearly 100 years). It takes a northern route from Laramie to Rawlins. The issue in the Medicine Bow area is the steepness of the road and more importantly snow and high winds. When building Interstate 80 the highway engineers ignored these issues and punched the Interstate through the worst area possible with the exception of anything further south.

Snow at Rawlings
Snow at Rawlins. Disregard the light orbs in the photo. These are merely reflections of the lights on the ceiling, inside the RV, reflecting on the window. We are in Wyoming, not New Mexico, the aliens are not coming to get us, the only scary part of this photo is the snow.

Rawlins

Rawlins is located west of the Medicine Bow range on the east side of the continental divide. In this area, the continental divide is somewhat confused because Interstate 80, crosses it twice. The Red Desert, northwest of Rawlins, is the Great Divide Basin.

Great divide basin

Rain that falls in the Great Divide Basin, even if it forms a run-off never exits the basin. It either soaks in or evaporates. West of Rawlins you cross the eastern edge of the continental divide and then cross it again east of Wamsutter. Everything to the north of Interstate 80 between these two points drains into the basin.

Green River Drainage

Adding to the confusion about the continental divide is that the Great Divide Basin lies within the Green River drainage.

USDA Map of the Green River Drainage Across Wyoming
USDA Map of the Green River Drainage

A long long time ago, during the ice ages, the basin was a lake (Lake Gosiute) at the top of the continental divide. In fact most of the Green River Drainage was under Lake Gosiute. The entire Great Divide Basin and most of western Wyoming are inside the Green River Drainage. Water in the Great Divide Basin never joins the Green River.

Not the Oregon Trail

The Interstate 80 route across Wyoming is not the Oregon trail, nor is it part of the Mormon Trail, nor does it follow the Pony Express trail. As already covered, it doesn’t even follow the train route. Instead, it is more direct, close to the Medicine Bow range, cutting across southern Wyoming. The reason that these other routes across Wyoming don’t follow Interstate 80 is that the Red Desert and the Great Divide Basin region lacks drinkable water.

Pony Express Stable at Fort Bridger
Pony Express Stable at Fort Bridger

We spent two nights in Rawlins waiting for the storm to clear and for the wind to stop before we continued westward across Wyoming. While there we had both high winds and some snow. When the weather cleared we then drove to Fort Bridger. The plan (and changed plan) worked, we had good weather for our drive across Wyoming.

Across Wyoming
Fort Bridger is the second oldest frontier trading post in Wyoming. Fort Laramie, north of Cheyenne, (not at the city named Laramie) is the oldest. Fort Laramie predates Fort Bridger and was established eight years earlier.

A Green Hole

In 1840 Fort Bridger was the most valuable property in Wyoming. Jim Bridger (mountain man, trapper, and guide) picked the only “low-elevation” green spot in the southern part of the state. In mountain man terms, Bridger picked this location on the northern side of the Unita Mountains because it was a hole.

Trading post sign at Fort Bridger
Trading post sign at Fort Bridger

The only “hole” next to the only trail

A hole in mountain man terms is a green place, with plenty of year-round water with abundant game, suitable for year-round living. A more famous hole today is Jackson Hole, which refers to the valley (now called Teton National Park). Fort Bridger is at the north end of the Bridger Valley (hole), right on the trail.

Rebuilt Bridger/Velazquez trading post at Fort Bridger State Historic Park
Rebuilt Bridger/Velazquez trading post at Fort Bridger State Historic Park.

The Oregon Trail or Mormon Trail (both are the same across most of Wyoming) didn’t mean the prepared path that we think of it today. Typically instead, in areas that were open, the wagons spread out. Each would take their own path, all going in the same direction. Nearly everyone stopped at Fort Bridger.

Bear Trap at Fort Bridger
Bear Trap at Fort Bridger

At the biggest intersection of every trail

The Oregon Trail and Mormon Trail went through Fort Bridger. To the west is the Mormon Trail leading to the Great Salt Lake stopped at Fort Bridger. The OregonTrail turns north and bypasses Salt Lake at Fort Bridger. The Oregon Trail turns west at Fort Bridger. The California Trail, Pony Express Route, you guessed it, all stopped at Fort Bridger. Yes, of course the train stopped at Fort Bridger.

Rebuilt Bridger/Velazquez trading post at Fort Bridger State Historic Park
Rebuilt Bridger/Velazquez trading post at Fort Bridger State Historic Park

Cut-offs

Cut-offs are later established alternate routes that shorten the route. The Oregon Trail follows the Blacks Fork river through through Fort Bridger. Some maps depict the Blacks Fork cut-off following Little Muddy Creek north of Fort Bridger see the next BLM map in the next picture.

Oregon Trail Map Fort Bridger across Wyoming
Wyoming Oregon Trail Map near Fort Bridger. The Black Fork Cutoff depicted above was rarely used and followed the Little Muddy Creek. It was usually not suitable due to either too much water, too much mud or not enough water.

The only Oregon Trail cut-off that didn’t go through Fort Bridger is the Ham’s Fork Cut-Off. Ham’s Fork was lightly used and went northwest starting at Granger.

Restored room at Fort Bridger
Restored room at Fort Bridger

Further north the Sublette Cut-off went directly west starting at “Parting of Ways” but the Sublette cut-off went through forty miles of waterless desert. Using the Sublette Cut-off could save two days on the trail. Most pioneers didn’t think it was a good route.

Army era school house at Fort Bridger
Army era schoolhouse at Fort Bridger was built by Judge Parker. Judge Parker was the Army contractor who provided supplies for the troops stationed at Fort Bridger.

Jim Bridger established Fort Bridger as a trading post in 1842. For almost ten years Fort Bridger was the only trading post along the is part of the trail. In 1853 the LDS church built Fort Supply intentionally to “compete” with Fort Bridger. Where was it? At the south end of Bridger Hole only a few miles away. As I said Bridger Hole was the only hole (nice place) on the whole trail in Wyoming.

Army era barn at Fort Bridger
Army era barn at Fort Bridger, notice the door, about four feet above ground level. Perfect for loading and unloading wagons.

Fort Bridger was “sold”

Fort Bridger was “sold” to the LDS church even though neither Bridger nor his partner Vasquez signed the deed. The deed was signed in proxy and was recorded in Salt Lake. With my limited resources, I can’t find evidence of payment. Likewise, in the next paragraph, I explain that the U.S. Army leased Fort Bridger from Jim Bridger and perhaps a statement about the times, they didn’t pay either.

Judge Carter's Freight Wagon at Fort Bridger
Judge Carter’s Freight Wagon at Fort Bridger.

Eventually, the Fort Bridger trading post was burned to the ground by Mormon church members essentially to deny the fort to the advancing U.S. Army. This was at the beginning of the Mormon War (this conflict is known by many names). The Mormon “war” was not much of a fight, instead, the Mormons led by Brigham Young backed down rather than face the U. S. Army in battle. Fort Bridger (in ashes) was handed over to the Army. The Wyoming State Historic Site has rebuilt the trading Fort and preserved some of the U.S. Army buildings that occupied the location.

Commanding Officers home at Fort Bridger
Commanding Officers home at Fort Bridger

Evanston

Interstate 80 continues westbound from Fort Bridger following the Mormon trail and enters Utah after going through Evanston (Wyoming). Evanston was the last city of our trip across Wyoming and we didn’t stop. Interstate 80 following the Mormon Trail in Utah goes through Echo Canyon and enters Ogden then turns south to Salt Lake City.

Echo Canyon Rest Area Utah along Interstate 80
The Echo Canyon Rest Area in Utah along Interstate 80 is very pretty.

More Reading

This is not the first time we have mentioned the Oregon Trail on our journey these posts are a few of our articles that have mentioned the Oregon Trail.

City of Rocks National Preserve

Three Island Crossing

Goodale’s Cutoff

Oregon Trail and the Lewis and Clark Trail

Links to places mentioned in this article.

Historic Trails through Wyoming Map

Lincoln Memorial Monument

Red Desert

Oregon Trail

Mormon Trail

Pony Express Trail

Fort Bridger Wyoming State Historic Site

7 thoughts on “Across Wyoming”

  1. One road trip I took after leaving Devil’s Tower was to head to Salt Lake City. i arrived on I-80 starting about midpoint in the state – I think it was at Rawlins.

    Heading west all I could think of how desolate it was, windy, and “what happened to the Rockies”.

    It seems the state line demarcations were well placed. I stayed in Evanston that night and did not push into Utah figuring the motel prices would only go up and I would be in some traffic when I left. It was the right decision.

    I was tempted to take a detour and go to Jackson Hole and see the Tetons, but I also wanted to get home back to San Diego. Thanks for the history and geography lesson; it has me remember that area of Wyoming now in a more interesting light.

    1. It sure isn’t a drive through the pretty mountains. The only two pretty places between Cheyenne and Evanston are the Medicine Bow range which gets pounded by snow and wind and Bridger Valley.

      Scott

  2. High winds & bad weather in Wyoming? Come on!!!!!! NOT in Wyoming!

    The Green River KOA in Rock Springs, WY on August 18th, 2018 was where MY rig was pole-axed by a lightning strike that came through the roof over my head as I sat in the driver’s seat waiting to get out and hook up to shore power once the rain squall passed (coincidentally, it was Site-#13…).

    The dashcam quit recording at exactly 4:31:30 that afternoon as the rig filled with smoke and high-speed flaming debris that rained down on me from where the “Jack” over the air TV antenna used to be. The inner portion of which was converted to shrapnel as the outer portion was instantly blown into a 50-foot frag pattern…..all captured on security camera footage from the main office camera!

    Needless to say, my travels stopped there. I had been leading a rolling rally of Safari International members from the Pacific North West on their way to Shawnee, OK en route to a scheduled 30th-anniversary rally…..

    I didn’t make the rally. Instead, I spent the next 2 1/2 weeks troubleshooting and repairing all the damages to the installed systems and to the electronically controlled drive train. Then, after a shakedown round trip to Rawlins for a face-to-face with the insurance adjuster, we drove the rig back home to Oregon. In the end, it actually ran better than before the lightning strike and EVERY onboard system had been fully repaired or replaced.

    Two lessons-learned: first, the supply chain to Rock springs is very fragile and often broken – second, while Rock Springs isn’t actually the end of the Earth, you CAN see it from there!

    OBTW, my insurance company covered ALL expenses through this process! I was VERY fortunate to have the experience and tools needed for the repair as there were NO commercial repair facilities there who were willing to take on a lightning strike…..the common response was to “just let your insurance company total it out”.

    The real plus was that, as a result of the lightning strike and our front page interview article in the Rock Springs Miner Gazette, my name was now Google searchable and I got to reconnect with a long-lost childhood best friend whom I hadn’t seen for over 40 years!

    It turns out that we had both migrated from our hometown in Northern California to settle in the Pacific Northwest within a couple of hours of each other.

    1. I am amazed at every part of your story, especially about you being able to recover from a lightning strike. WOW.

      Scott

  3. I recently drove from Grand Lake, Colorado to Des Moines, Iowa due to a death in the family.

    To avoid going through Denver, I drove north to Laramie, Wyoming. Nice drive.

    Returning, I stayed one night in Cheyenne, then left at 6 a.m. to avoid the wicked winds that regularly scour the hilly area between Cheyenne and Laramie.

    I understand the wind got to be 140 mph. The next day, May 19, we had a snowstorm here in Grand Lake.

    I am amazed you managed to avoid bad weather. Today is Memorial Day, and we awoke to snow again. We returned from Key West too early!

    I’d like to hear how you are adjusting your travel due to high gas prices. How is your RV holding up?

    1. We didn’t really avoid the bad weather. Rather we avoided driving in the bad weather by picking the right day to move and the right days to drive. Our Stop in Rawlins was just to hide.

      As far as fuel prices go, we haven’t made any adjustments. Except to keep my fuel tank fuller than normal. I just hope some politician doesn’t decide that I am not allowed to buy fuel.

      As far as the RV’s health goes, it is in a constant state of minor repair. I think that is true about all RVs.

      Scott

  4. I grew up in Wyoming. My Dad and brother hunted Elk Mountain regularly. As kids, my brothers and I got a kick out of peeing on the continental divide when we were up in the high country, tickled to think we were watering both the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific at once.

    Dad knew most of the old ranchers in Southeast Wyoming. They told him about a group of them trying to tell the engineers about the proposed route for I-80. They told them the snow gets way to deep in a couple of those areas. The engineers said, “we’ll put up snow fence.” Those old ranchers told them no amount of snow fence would work. They should have listened. Sure enough, that’s the only section of interstate that is closed at least once, every year.

    I remember making the trip from Cheyenne to Laramie – before I-80. It was the old Black Jack 2-lane and the weather and the steepness of that last 10 miles were hair-raising.

    Lynda and I haven’t been doing any RV trips due to the price of gas. And we sure miss it.

    Scott, that is an awesome article on Wyoming. Thanks.

    Best Wishes, Steve.

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