Monday August 24, 2020 (100th Blog Post)
Easy drive today of 200 miles. About the first 1/3 was valley type driving – mountain ranges to the east and west driving in a relatively flat and green (much of it irrigated) miles and miles wide valley. Did I mention the valley is also a major US oil and gas producing region? No evidence of the kind of ugly, at least to me, derricks, rocker pumps, flaming torches; instead just hundreds, no thousands of neat vertical storage tanks with an occasional 6 or 8” pipe coming out of the ground with a valve attached and then disappearing back underground. Very little to disturb the beauty of the landscape. Then the valley started narrowing and narrowing some more followed by an easterly turn over the mountain and voilà, I was on the Wyoming high plains. Totally different geological features. Generally flat, rocky, arid and replete with massive buttes – beautiful in a very different way. The highway finally dead ended/merged with I-80 which I traveled for about the last 40 miles of this segment.
I had been unable to get a weeklong campsite at a National Recreational Area campground south of the town of Green River and in the huge Flaming Gorge NRA nor at a number of other public and private campgrounds radiating out from the Gorge area. So I elected for a ‘sure thing’. The northwestern corner of the Flaming Gorge NRA is anchored by the town of Green River and the Northeastern corner by Rock Springs, WY. The southern portion of Flaming Gorge is in Utah. Rock Springs is a town of about 25,000 and is a hub of WY’s oil and gas industry and was a hub of its coal industry. The old coal section of the town is just plain tired. The outskirts exhibit the wealth of the oil/gas industry with modern major buildings for storage tank suppliers etc, for industry servicers like Caterpillar, Cummins, Peterbilt etc and facilities for actual oil & gas exploration companies like Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger. City and county buildings, roads and parks reflect the immense financial contributions of this industry.
Though these facilities still look sharp and new, the current worldwide slump in oil prices is evident wherever you look. Baker Hughes, Halliburton and Schlumberger buildings stand empty and vast parking lots vacant. The huge Caterpillar facility has two cars and a pickup outside. COVID19 and the oil recession has closed many restaurants. It’s not a ghost town by any means but it is suffering.
So, back to camping. In the recent glory days couple of decades or so, the County – Sweetwater County – built Wyoming’s largest and likely most modern fairgrounds/events complex.
Reservations for a night, a week or a month or more are no longer required. Just drive in, pay a very modest fee, drive around and pick any site you wish and settle in. No stress. And though not along a beautiful riverbank etc., it is very centrally located to many interesting, at least to me, things to see. I’ll be here a week, perhaps longer.
Tuesday, Aug 25. A complete rest day with a couple easy chores like ordering Rx refills etc.
Wednesday, August 26.
Ambitious plan to see the 2nd largest living (shifting) sand dunes in the country, petroglyphs and a drive through a wild horse sanctuary. Accomplished the sand dunes and petroglyphs. About 14 miles north of the campground is a dirt road towards the petroglyphs and then further to the dunes. Two lane gravel with shoulders about a full foot to 1.5’ below. You better not wander and if there is an oncoming vehicle, best to slow to a crawl while passing. Pictures absolutely do not do justice to the vastness, the buttes in the distance, the incredible amount of sagebrush, the arid conditions and emptiness. What was completely surprising was the occasional cow/steer or even several grazing on what, I’m not sure. And these animals are LARGE. Even got to see a pronghorn antelope which startled me by jumping across the road and running into the distance. Unbelievable speed. Of course it was way too fast for me to grab the camera and snap a picture but I’ll remember the sight. Never have seen one before.
And at the end of the 28 miles is the beginning of 72 miles of sand dunes (but with a maximum width of 3 miles) headed by an ATV area and primitive, though not dispersed, camping area. No water, power or sewer. A primitive toilet, a dozen or so concrete picnic tables and fire rings. Evening silence, no light except stars and moon = solace.
Thursday, August 27th.
Today proved what a smart decision it was yesterday to postpone the drive through the wild horse sanctuary. I did that today and though it was just ‘driving’, it was exhausting. It is known as the Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Tour. Directly across the road (Yellowstone Road and yes, it does run the 200+ miles to Yellowstone) from the campground are the White Mountains, more like a Mesa -flat top vs jagged peaks).
The scenic tour starts about 15 miles north of the campground where a “gravel” road climbs to the top of the White Mountains. The “gravel” road runs some 25 miles along the mountain flat top and bluffs until it once again descends the side of the mountain to the town of Green River. To one side are the steep bluffs to the valley while to the other side are miles and miles of flat top rock and scrub brush. Extraordinary scenery. First let me tell you why I put the word gravel in quotes when saying “gravel” road and why driving the 25 miles is so tiring.
I wonder where that pothole goes?😀. Those pieces of “gravel” are tough on your tires, back and butt.
‘Wild Horse Scenic Tour’? What’s with the ‘wild horse’? What is so scenic?
WY tries to maintain a population of about 6000 wild horses in the state. About 2500 are in the Rock Springs region and this sanctuary on the White Mountain Range is home to many. The sanctuary comprises about 400,000 acres but without any border fences, it is whatever the horses say it is. It is also home to elk, coyote, pronghorns and multiple other animals, most of which you will not see. Indeed, I saw only two groups of wild horses. One was too far off the ‘road’ that my iPhone pictures could barely show them. Another group of five I saw and took some distant pics while I could for fear my car might scare them off. Not so and I was able to get closer and even better pics. Amazing animals. I felt very fortunate that I got to actually see any in their natural vast habitat
So that’s the horses, what else is there to see? In a word, vistas!
Friday, Aug 28, 2020
I’ve decided to make a slight change of plans. I was going to drive the Flaming Gorge yet from here. It would be an approximate 200 mile route south from Rock Springs along the east side and around the ‘bottom’ in Utah returning north up the west side to Green River, WY and back to Rock Springs. Instead I’ve decided to relax through the weekend and then move south along the east side to a campground in Utah. The southern end appears to be more scenic per the brochures and more accessible to the water. Also from the Utah location I’ll have more exploring opportunities.
So today I went into the historic district of Rock Springs where they have an area museum. It was a bit disappointing. No real theme and somewhat unorganized. Other than a few ‘built in’ exhibits (like the building used to house the county jail and court) the rest sort of appeared to be that folks cleared out their attics, donated the stuff to the museum in return for a tax write off and placard “Donated by the XXX family”. While one jail cell was ‘dedicated’ to Butch Cassidy it was mostly pictures. Another cell was all Calamity Jane but I can’t find anything that shows she spent much if any time here or that she was in a jail cell, anywhere, anytime. Another cell had a display of women’s formal gowns of the day. From what I can tell, there wasn’t much call for satin gowns in this hard scrabble country and even if so, in a jail cell? Nonetheless a few items that I actually have memories of caught my attention.
All in all, if any of you really want to go back in time for the largest collection of anything and everything Americana and old, go to Harold Warp’s Pioneer Village in Minden, NE. Twenty six very large, some multi story, buildings spread over 20 acres. Guarantee it’s good for 3 full days of browsing.