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US Hwy 20 - Wyoming to Oregon

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US Hwy 20 - Wyoming to Oregon
US Hwy 20 - Page 2
US Hwy 20 - Page 3
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US Highway 20 - Part II
From Casper, Wyoming to Newport, Oregon

“This land is your land. This land is my land.”

– Woody Guthrie

Sometime in the late 1940s my parents decided to visit my grandparents in California. The only part of the trip from Wisconsin I remember was being pulled over by a police officer in Cody, Wyoming. I think we drove through Yellowstone National Park. But like many trips in those days it was goal oriented – get there as fast as possible. Now, with interstate highways, motoring from here to there is even faster. But I think we miss much of the history, ecology, people, and places that make our country special. So here’s the plan – gather the kids and/or grandkids, adopt a different mind set, and take time to mine U.S. Highway 20 for its many hidden gems.(...continued from the Summer ‘06 issue.)

Day One
Wyoming is a geologist’s paradise. On a road trip across the state on Highway 20 the craggy mountains and intriguing striations of rock show eons of time in earth’s geologic history. We learned along the way that Wyoming is the second largest state in the U.S. and it is also the least populated.

We continue our trip across Wyoming west toward the Oregon coast fr om Casper, WY at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center We had ended the first leg of our Highway 20 journey here to Casper. The interpretive center has added a stage coach ride, not as bumpy as you’d see in a movie western but realistic enough for the kids to enjoy. Summer hours 8 A.M. to 7 P.M., winter 9 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. Tuesday through Saturday. Adults $6, less for seniors, students, youth, and children 3 to 5.

Next, we visited Fort Caspar Museum ( on the North Platte River where a small fort, Platte Bridge Station, housed soldiers who protected the area in early pioneer days. Skirmishes with local native tribes resulted in the death of Lt. Caspar Collins. The fort was named for him and was later rebuilt by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It contains artifacts and replicas of army life and in the nearby museum you can learn the history of the town, browse descriptions of oil drilling, and see the replica of a sheepherder’s wagon. Adults $2.

When we first crossed the eastern border of Wyoming we stopped in Lusk and visited the Stage Coach Museum. Here we saw what the early prospectors rode on their treks up to the gold fields in the Black Hills.

Driving along Interstate 25 near Douglas see if the kids can spot the large silhouette of the jackalope, a mythical western critter supposedly half antelope and half jackrabbit! You’ll also spot long coal trains riding the rails from open pit coal mines north of Douglas. Coal from these Thunder Basin coal fields ultimately produces electricity for families from Minnesota to Atlanta, GA.

In the town of Casper you can pause to visit museums and take side trips along the Oregon- California-Mormon-Pony Express Trail to Independence Rock and to the Mormon Handcart Visitors Center. Some of the names etched into Independence Rock are replicated at the entrance to the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center (

Day Two
On the way to Thermopolis, WY you can imagine the native tribes, early trappers, and U.S. Cavalry soldiers traveling through the desolate high desert area. At Hell’s Half Acre, a miniature Grand Canyon, native tribal members in early days herded buffalo over the rim in order to gain meat and hides. This geologic oddity is a craggy horseshoe-shaped gorge that drops some 150 feet from the flat plain. The 320-acre gorge spreads south and is filled in one section with jagged rock spires sculpted by the Powder River. Alien bug planet scenes for the movie Starship Troopers (1997) were filmed here. You can park at the entrance and walk to the edge of the canyon to see the gnarled rock spires.

Finally we meet the Wind River and follow it up the Wind River Canyon. Notice the signs and turn-outs where you can stop to marvel at the interesting geologic formations revealed by the Wind River. You’ll see the Precambrian granite, gneiss, and schist formed some 2 billion years ago. Next, Cambrian shale topped by bright red Triassic siltstone, then Cretaceous layers of sandstone and shale, and, finally, Tertiary volcanic rock merging to shale and sandstone.

The town of Thermopolis, a fine place to pause awhile, features the Wyoming Dinosaur Center & Dig Sites (, Dancing Bear Folk Center, Hot Springs County Historical Museum, Hot Springs County Museum, and Old West Wax Museum. At Hot Springs State park you and the kids can soak in the hot spring waters in several locations. Check with the Thermopolis Visitor Information Center (, for lodging and eateries in the area.


Where is Miles?

Miles is climbing one of earth's geological wonders. Where is he? Click here to find out.


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