“Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play”
Dr. Brewster Higley
State 16: Wyoming - September 20, 2017
Woke up at a Walmart in Cheyenne ready for a brand new day. Our first item on the agenda was to head across town to the Cross Country Couple's “Made in the USA Factory Tour” for the State of Wyoming: Terry’s Bison Ranch. Like peanut butter and jelly, teachers and apples, shoes and socks, and Romeo and Juliet so goes Wyoming and Bison. If you don’t believe me look at the state flag pictured.
Terry's Bison Ranch began in 1993 when Ron Thiel originally bought the old Terry Ranch on the outskirts of Cheyenne for the purpose of raising bison. Ron’s son thought it would be a great idea to start a company that would allow people to be able to get up close and personal to the great North American Bison. Thus, Terry's Bison Ranch Resort became a reality. From the ranches humble beginnings, today it features camping, RV sites, cabins, café, saloon, kids corral, ATV tours, horseback riding, gift shop, and the latest addition is the Wyoming School of Horseshoeing! Clearly we are not in Connecticut anymore! lol! However, we came to Terry's Bison Ranch for one reason, and one reason only, and it wasn’t to learn to become a professional horseshoer. We came to learn about bison ranching, and to get up close and personal with a bison.
We paid the $12 per person admission at the gift shop for a 1 hour long 2-mile train ride to the bison herd, and the depot was about a hundred feet away. As we walked down a hill towards the depot, out of the blue Lori abruptly and aggressively shoved me, and yelled “WATCH OUT!” Just as I was about to get real angry with her about being shoved, I looked on the ground and saw a rattlesnake basking right near my left foot. If she did not push me out of the way, I would have unknowingly stepped directly on the rattlesnake, which would have certainly ruined my day! Ironically, usually I am the one who points out obstacles to be avoided to Lori, and I am very glad she was there on this day return the favor! I took a picture of the rattlesnake I almost stepped on.
What we were about to board resembled an old metal boat jerry-rigged to a rail cart, but what it lacked in esthetics, it made up for in functionality. The cart appeared to be strong, sturdy, and offered plenty of protection, which is all that really matters when going into the middle of a heard of bison. Please see the pictures below.
Upon boarding the train, we were pleased to see there were only 4 others aboard, so we would have less competition for bison interactions. Before we knew it, we were cruising down the tracks at 10 mph to have a rendezvous with a herd of bison! Our tour guide was excellent, and provided a lot of information about ranch operations, ranch amenities, and the herd of 5000 bison. Apparently, a single herd of bison actually consist of 2 sub herds; the males and the females. The baby bison stays with the female herd until they are 3 years old, and then the female baby bison stay with the female herd for the rest of their lives. Once the male baby reaches the age of 3, they can either join the male herd or become a loner and live by themselves.
At this point on our train tour, I saw a sign that said “Welcome to Colorado”, and was very confused. Apparently, our train trip through the ranch crossed state lines, and it was the most unexpected state welcome sign on our trip! Not only are we not scheduled to visit Colorado for another 3 months, we didn’t even have time to do our ceremonial countdown to the state border. Oh well! At least I got an amazing picture of a bison right in front of the Colorado welcome sign.
It was at this point we reached the bison herd, and our train came to a bumpy and screeching stop. Our guide handed us a 5 gallon bucket full of 3-inch-long cylindrical hard pellets. She said they were compressed grasses and sprouts, and referred to them as bison cookies. Next, she swung open the train door, took a handful of “cookies”, tossed them out and screamed “Come and get em"! Just then, 3 dozen bison came charging towards the train over a nearby hill. It was a scary, yet powerful experience to have such raw and wild power rushing directly at you across the Wyoming/Colorado plains. Please see the pictures below.
As soon as the bison reached the train they devoured all of the cookies, and then looked up at us with the most longing eyes as to say “don’t you have anymore for us?”. The guide gave each of us an opportunity to stand near the open train door, and hand feed a bison. It was so amazing being so close to a 2000-pound wild animal with large sharp horns, and have it look at you so lovingly with an open mouth and a large extended tongue. One of the Bison even let me pet her on her nose! Please see the pictures below!
Bison are such gentle, soulful creatures, and they are also vegetarians like us! It was sad to imagine, that in 1890, bison were nearly slaughtered to extinction, and their numbers went from 30 million down to 500 in less than a century. Today, the bison are again on the move, and their numbers total over half a million! Spending 30 minutes parked on train tracks feeding bison in the heart of the American West is an experience I will never forget.
After leaving Terry’s Bison Ranch, we drove 55 miles to Laramie, WY home to the state's only 4-year university, Wyoming State University. I have long heard of the natural undisturbed beauty of Wyoming, and she did not disappoint! The unique terrain, natural rock formations, native plant life, set against a towering mountain as a backscape was unlike anything I had ever seen. What I did not hear about Wyoming prior to arriving was how damn windy it is! Constant 60 miles per hour winds rocked Rosie all over the road for the entire drive from Cheyenne to Laramie. It was a very scary, yet beautiful drive, and we were exhausted from feeling both emotions simultaneously. When we finally arrived at Laramie, WY we both did not feel very well. We were breathing heavy, and having problems catching our breath. We were both extremely thirsty, had headaches, felt tired, were extremely gaseous, and thought we were both getting sick. Then, we looked at Michele, our GPS, and she displayed an altitude of 7396 feet! Holy Cow! Mystery solved! We were experiencing altitude sickness. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do other than give your body time to adjust, drink lots of water, and eat foods high in iron to build up more hemoglobin in the blood. This also explains why we have had an insatiable craving for salads the past few days which is high in iron. We have been munching through 1 pound packages of organic spring mix, like there was no tomorrow. It’s fascinating how your body tells you exactly the foods it needs if you just take the time to listen.
After finishing our yummy salads, we realized we had made huge boo boo. We had driven to Laramie, WY, instead of our intended destination Fort Laramie, WY, which is 117 miles Northeast from our current location. Off we went for an unplanned 2-hour drive through gorgeous hills of Southeastern Wyoming. Just after exiting the small town of Guernsey, WY, 12 miles outside of Fort Laramie, my day took another turn for the worse. I saw the dreaded flashing lights in my mirrors with the associated “WOOP WOOP” noise, and I immediately pulled over. I am driving a large white cargo van with out of state plates, through rural back roads far from home, so I understand how it may appear suspicious to a police officer. The cop came up to my window, and told me I was going 37 mph in a 30 mph. Seriously, I thought to myself, it's only 7 mph over! I could see my car insurance rates going up before my very eyes, and I was getting angry! However, he was polite and respectful to me, so I reciprocated. When he asked where we were headed, I told him we were on a cross country trip, and our next stop was Fort Laramie, WY. After correcting my pronunciation of the town, and running our information, he returned with a writing warning, and at the bottom the cop wrote “Enjoy Wyoming, and be safe”. I have a personal goal of traveling 30,000 miles across the country for a year without a single moving violation, and my perfect records still stands! Phew! That was a close one!
After going to the wrong town, an unplanned additional 2-hour drive, and being pulled over by the cops for going 7mph to fast, we finally arrived at the Cross Country Couple's “Historic Location” for the state of Wyoming “Fort Laramie”. In addition to being the first settlement in the state of Wyoming, from 1834-1890, Fort Laramie, was a fur trading post, the primary military outpost of the region, and key restocking point along the Oregon Trail. Tens of thousands of trappers, traders, Native Americans, missionaries, immigrants, soldiers, miners, ranchers and homesteaders bound for the pacific coast and Salt Lake Valley stopped at the fort. In addition to the Oregon Trail travelers, stage coach lines, the pony express and the first transcontinental telegraph all passed through Fort Laramie. Fort Laramie played an important role in hosting several treaty negotiations with the Northern Plains Indian Nations, and of most significance was the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie ending the Indian Wars. In 1868, the first transcontinental railroad came to Cheyenne, WY 97 miles to the South of Fort Laramie. With decreased traffic to the fort, and the Indian wars coming to a close, the fort was decommissioned in 1890. For the next 48 years Fort Laramie wasted away in the harsh Wyoming environment, until 1938 when it became part of the National Park System. Restoration of the salvageable and significant structures began in the 1950’s and continues to this day. The ruins of the structures are also reinforced to prevent further loss.
When we arrived at the Fort, we were unsure what to expect, but were just happy to have finally arrived! Normally, when we enter a National Park we stop at the visitor center to get our passbook stamped, and to inquire with the Ranger about the best way to explore the park. Usually, the location of the visitor center is blatantly obvious. It is the large modern building usually right off the entry road of the park, but no such building currently presented itself. After meandering around the forts building and ruins, we finally stumbled upon the visitor’s center located within one of the forts restored buildings. Albeit challenging to find, it was quite refreshing to find a visitor’s center that worked with the parks environment instead of distracting from it. After watching a brief movie and speaking with the Ranger, we departed the visitor's center with map in hand to explore the first settlement in the State of Wyoming: Fort Laramie!
The fort consists of a 224-acre site containing 13 restored buildings, 11 standing ruins, and several buildings where only the foundations remain. The buildings which were restored, were also filled with period appropriate furnishings. The doors within the building were removed and replaced with glass, and you could look into each of the 19th century furnished rooms. The restored buildings we visited were: The Captains Quarters, Old Bakery, Old Guard House, New Guard House, The Magazine, Post Surgeons Quarters, Lt. Colonel Quarters, and the Post Trading Store, which are pictured below in the order there are mentioned.
The most impressive of these restored buildings was the bachelor officer quarters or more commonly known as the “Old Bedlam”. This is the oldest standing building in the entire state of Wyoming. As we were about to walk up the stairs to the Old Bedlam we were greeted by a adorable and fearless baby rabbit. Please see the pictures of this historic treasure of Wyoming (and a cute baby bunny) below.
Another noteworthy restored building was the Enlisted man barracks. This building is the most original, and the largest building within the entire fort. Please see the pictures below.
The building ruins we visited were: 3 Officer Quarters Buildings, The Administration Buildings, and the Calvary Barracks, which are pictured below in the order they were mentioned.
Of all of the ruins, I found the hospital ruins of the most interest. Although you would not know from it's current appearance, the hospital had 12 beds, a dispensary, kitchen, dining rooms, isolation rooms, and surgeon’s office. There is even a nearby graveyard for final resting place for the patients whom died. The hospital ruins were perched upon a hill overlooking the fort which resulted in some of my best shots of the day pictured below.
Below are some additional pictures of Fort Laramie.
Why do we even bother visiting an old fort? How is looking at the ruins of 170-year-old building going to help us choose a new home state? Who cares about history; shouldn’t we be looking towards the future instead? All are valid questions. Besides it just being cool to physically stand in the oldest building in Wyoming, below are a just a few of the things we learned from our visit to Fort Laramie, which could help up in determine if Wyoming is our new home state. Some of the people who once lived in and traveled through the fort include Native Americans, missionaries, immigrants, soldiers, miners, ranchers and homesteaders. By looking at the past inhabitants of the state, it provides us with insight into the people who currently live in Wyoming today. How well a park is maintained reveals the commitments of a state to preserve it's history. Compared to most other historic forts we have seen, Fort Laramie was the most well preserved, restored and maintained. A commitment to historical preservations, and diversity of a state’s residents are very attractive qualities in a potential new home state.
After departing Fort Laramie, we drove 123 miles Northwest to Casper, WY. While it was a beautiful drive, the setting sun seared my retinas the entire way. My sunglasses were rendered useless, and my face was convulsing after two hours of constant squinting. While Wyoming was gracious to us with her beauty, she punished us with a gusty, blinding experience, and literally left us breathless at 7400 feet! I guess Wyoming giveth, and Wyoming taketh away, which is why she will always be “Forever West”. Upon arriving in Casper, WY we found a nearby Walmart where we had a much needed night’s sleep.