I began the day with a short walk around Hot Springs State Park adjacent to the City of Thermopolis, Wyoming, where I had spent the last two night at a Best Western situated in an older structure listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Besides the nicely appointed rooms the key draw relies on its proximity to the hot waters that soothe so many people. Especially wonderful is that the hot tub’s waters are piped directly from the spring and require no external fuel source to warm them. I purposely rose early so that I could watch the sunrise from a high point just above the springs and found myself surprised at the presence of a herd of buffalo that I later found out, from a handy sign, the State of Wyoming keeps there. I met one of my fellow sojourners who was out jogging and we reveled over the morning’s glory, the vibrant colors flooding over the eastern horizon.
The sun having risen I made my way back to my room where I changed into a swim suit and moseyed out to sit in the soothing waters for a spell. I then visited the breakfast bar after the warm waters had worked their wonders, feasting on waffles and consuming great quantities of passable coffee; greeted and bid adieu to my companions; packed up and deposited my baggage in the Subaru Outback station wagon; and checked out and made my way to the highway to commence my travels for the day. I was, on one hand, elated at having had the weekend to build the bonds of friendship, but on the other I did not want to depart and rather continue to relax in the hot water. Despite my reluctance to depart, I did need to get back home fairly soon, and my thrill at being on the road again soon rekindled itself as I drove south of Thermopolis on co-signed U.S. 20 and Wyoming 789, towards the Wind River Canyon.
I drove on a section of road that I suspect is now a county-maintained section of the old main highway, crossing an older steel-truss bridge over the Bighorn River before rejoining the current alignment. I found a pullover in the Wind River Canyon itself and stopped to walk down to the water’s edge. Even with modern transportation infrastructure this canyon retains a powerful pull on my imagination. Still, I dallied but briefly, driving on towards the town of Shoshoni, where I turned left, to the east, on co-signed U.S. 20-26. The mountains popped up in my rear-view mirror as I drove out into the short-grass prairie. I drove out some twenty to twenty five miles until I left the pavement and began to drove south on Fremont County Road 507, also known as Castle Gardens Road. None too many people live out this way, I thought to myself as I noted the widely dispersed houses in this wind-swept land.
The reason I drove out this way was to visit the Castle Gardens that the Bureau of Land Management provides stewardship for out of their Lander Field Office. This area marks a break in the undulating prairie and contains some interesting sandstone spires and fins. However, the main interest are the petroglyphs thought to date back about eight hundred to a thousand years ago. I followed the trail around and wondered about the people who left these carvings in the rock. There is some vandalism that unfortunately detracts from the respect needed to protect and preserve cultural sites like this one for the future. That is why the chain link fence has been placed around many of the more important or obvious panels. It is sad that such measures are needed, but better than letting them be ruined by thoughtless individuals. Still, I wandered around and explored both the anthropology and geology of the area for a couple of hours before continuing on my way. The sandstone strata appear to be a bit tilted, just enough to cause erosion to eat away at the rock’s face. Perhaps this localized uplift is a result of the main chain of the Rocky Mountains to the west rising up and disturbing the rock in much the same manner as if the earth were water, causing ripples to flow outward from the disturbance. Castle Gardens is out of the way and requires a somewhat significant investment of time to visit, but I found the effort worthwhile and would like to visit again.
I continued south on the gravel county road until I reached the junction with Wyoming 136, were I turned to the west and drove over the rolling landscape towards Riverton. However, before I reached that city I made a junction with Wyoming 135 and turned to the south rising up towards the Beaver Divide, the high ridge that divides the Wind River from the Sweetwater, the Missouri from the Platte. Here I stopped one last time for the day at a view point some half a mile from the main highway to look over the land to the north and west, especially. I could espy the great chain of the Rocky Mountains and marvel at this still wide open and relatively wild country. My heart and imagination soar at sights like this and I dallied for a time, taking it all in, thinking about the long history of humanity and natural history, sometimes one and the same, having occurred here. Shoshone, Arapaho, Crow, and others, all made their home here along with the buffalo and elk. The mountain men, the first thrust of manifest destiny, came later in the early Nineteenth Century, exploiting the natural resources for pecuniary gain. Still, despite the continuance of that exploitative culture, I can sense the wild here and my heart races at that thought.
I drive down the Beaver Divide to the south and the Sweetwater River, where the highway ends at U.S. 287-Wyoming 789. I turn to the east and follow this highway all the way to Lander, passing all the same sights I had seen on my way north a week and a half prior, and Interstate 80. I crossed into and out of the Great Divide Basin, a closed system, prior to reaching Lander. Here I headed still further east on the four lanes of the interstate. I continued retracing my route north when I turned to the south on Wyoming 130, and saw the Medicine Bow Mountains rising to the east, up to the high point in the Snowy Range. Finally, I decided to stop for the night at Saratoga. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the local hot springs are municipally owned and I could soak whenever I chose. I took no photos or snapshots because when I went over it was well past dusk and all was dark, but the waters were fine enough and I enjoyed the relaxing end to a long day of travel and exploration.