More History in Casper

After leaving Evanston we drove through the middle of Wyoming following the historic corridor traveled by emigrants on the California, Mormon and Oregon Trails.   We drove on roads that were in the middle of nowhere and the land stretched out into emptiness for miles and miles during our stormy, rainy trip.   I couldn’t help but think about the emigrants and their struggles traveling this forbidding land with days and weeks of endless prairies and hills  to cross.  The only signs we saw were billboards cautioning drivers to watch out for deer, cattle or antelope crossing the roads.   In the picture below, is a billboard reminder of a pronghorn antelope.  There are many of them in Wyoming and they are one of the fastest animals on earth!  We did see pronghorn from time to time but none that were moving fast or crossing the roads.

After our rainy drive, we arrived to our next destination, the city of Casper located in eastern Wyoming.  We checked in to our RV park and found our site to be a muddy mess.  It was the thick, clay type of mud that stuck to everything.  Our truck was mud splattered and soon the trailer inside was a mess as we tracked in chunks of mud.  The park has some gravel but it seems to have been swallowed up by the mud.

The next day we visited the National Historic Trails Museum which is a beautiful building located on a bluff with a terrific view of the city.  This museum was well worth a visit.  It outlines through sign boards, exhibits and maps the emigrant journey on the California, Oregon and Mormon Trails as well as the Pony Express.

The museum has an interesting movie which it shows in the same area as life size figures arranged in scenes.  There are other fun things to experience in the museum.  We sat in a replica covered wagon which simulated crossing the Platte River.  The wagon jostled and a screen in front showed us going into the river and a trail boss yelling and leading the way.  It did feel rather authentic.  Another simulation was the stagecoach ride through the countryside and into small towns.


I must say at this time, that Mark and I have very different styles when visiting museums.  They are opposite styles.  Beth carefully reads each signboard and exhibit, soaking it all in and Mark strolls casually by each exhibit, occasionally resting his eyes on some descriptions, but more often than not just moving on.  As a result, Mark is done way before Beth and is telling Beth that she will never get finished.  Actually this has been a pattern with our travels for a number of years.  Mark usually finds a bench and reads his books on his iPhone or just relaxes.  I have several pictures over the years of Mark sitting patiently on benches waiting.

Mark’s note.

Beth is surely right about us being opposites in many things.  I plan to write about that some later.  Museum speed is one of those things.  Beth is so slow.  While sitting waiting for her here I had a vision of a string of emigrants passing by with their plodding oxen.  When they spied Beth their faces suddenly glowed with the knowledge they were no longer the slowest thing on the trail!

Our next full day in Casper found us taking it easy in the morning and running errands.  In the afternoon we did some sightseeing.  We first went to a neighborhood park next to the Platte River to see the historical site called Reshaw’s Bridge.  In the picture below, do you notice that both 1’s are placed backward on the sign?  Mark and I thought that was a little funny, although I have to admit that until Mark pointed it out to me, he was the only one that noticed the error.

The original bridge was built here by a John Richard in the years 1852 – 1853.  Richard was French but the townspeople misunderstood his name due to his accent and called him Reshaw.  The bridge was a great bonus to the emigrant who could cross for a price instead of fording the Platte River or arranging to be ferried across, a dangerous or expensive situation.  We learned at the Trails Museum that many emigrants lost their lives while fording the Platte and other rivers during their overland journeys.    As I watched the Platte River at this spot and noted the strong current I tried to imagine what it would be like to go into that river with a full wagon of supplies as well as children, family members and any animals that they brought along.  What a difficult situation to hope that everyone and everything arrives safely.

We next headed over to Fort Casper and the adjoining museum.  We toured the museum first and this time I thought I would give Mark a break and instead of reading all the information in the display cases I took pictures of some of them to read later.  I got done rather quickly and am thankful to live in an age with cell phone pictures that I can review!  The museum features information on many aspects of frontier life as well as Casper’s history.  The most interesting thing I learned at this museum was that the Platte River used to be three times the width it is now, the size of three football fields.  I had assumed that the river I saw was the same river the emigrants experienced.  Due to damming and other changes, the river now flows much less than before.  I realized that crossing the Platte was even more difficult than I previously imagined.   Below is a picture of my favorite artifact from the museum:  an iron tea kettle found on the Oregon Trail.   From several books I have read regarding travel on these trails there was a stream of discarded household items stretching along the trail.  When people became unable for various reasons to carry their belongings, they just left them and soon the trails became like secondhand or thrift store shopping.   Travelers could find almost anything they might need including furniture, clothing, household goods and even foodstuff.

Fort Casper was built in 1865 as a frontier post and abandoned in 1867.  The present fort is a reconstruction built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1936.  The buildings which are furnished in period style include a store, blacksmith shop, living quarters, stables, commissary, barracks and a kitchen.  I thought the rooms were furnished well to give a good idea of life in this fort.

In conclusion, our two night stay in Casper turned out to be a pleasant time.  The mud did dry some and the best part was relaxing in the evening down by the Platte River which runs next to the RV park.

Thanks for reading and look for us next time as we journey on to South Dakota.

Nature, History and a Roundhouse found in a small town ….. but alas, no moose!

Today we left Wyoming and headed for South Dakota after spending a week in that interesting state.  I wanted to do a couple blogs on our short time in Wyoming.  One of the big difficulties I will have while nomading is not being able to explore more in each state we come to.  One of my objectives when I started this journey was to explore less of the Western United States and more of the Midwestern, Southern and Eastern states that I have either spent little time in or never seen before.  I have done several trips to Wyoming in the past, so although I would have loved to explore more of the state on this trip, it would have prevented us from visiting places in the Midwest before the winter weather sets in.

Our first stop in Wyoming was the town of Evanston.  We chose Evanston because it was the perfect day’s drive from our overnight stop at Wells, Nevada.  In addition, when I looked it up it had this nice park called Bear River State Park not too far from an RV park in Evanston.  After setting up our RV at our site in Evanston, we headed over to Bear River State Park to check it out and do some walking.  The weather was perfect that day – sunny with an amazing display of clouds.  Bear River is beautiful and the walking paths were great.

Sign boards along the way explained the wildlife in the area and I read that moose were frequently spotted at this park!  I have only seen a moose once in my life and that was in Rocky Mountain National Park.  It was not a great sighting, the moose was in the bushes and not in clear view.  I was excited about the prospect of seeing a moose here at Bear River.  In my imagination, I would round a corner of the river (like the picture below) and see a moose standing in the river in plain view – water running off his antlers and coat while he foraged the river bottom for food.

It became our goal for the next two evenings to try and spot a moose.  The state park visitor center had a very nice employee who showed us on the park map the best places to look and suggested early evening as the optimum time.  We walked along the river and even away from the river past the willow thickets and into the trees and meadows, no luck.  In fact, we saw no wildlife at all except for birds and I was very happy to see some black billed magpies.  But not so much as a squirrel rustling in the bushes as we walked around.  Rocky and Bullwinkle, where are you?  The park does have a herd of bison that are in a fenced area as well as several elk.

I learned something new from the park visitor center.  There are no “buffalo” in North America, only in Africa and Asia.  The animals we often think of as buffalo here are actually “bison.”  Buffalo and bison have different physical characteristics and life spans.  This park was a real find for us in our travels.  It was beautiful, near our RV park and a great way to get some exercise!  I like the picture below of two young boys fishing together on the river.  It seemed rather old fashioned and small town.  What a great way to grow up!

We had other discoveries in Evanston which made me realize how fun it is on travels to find the unexpected.  Evanston is a very historical town.  Pioneers traveling on the Oregon, Mormon and California Trails all passed through here.  The first coast to coast auto route in 1913, known as the Lincoln Highway passed through here.  There was an original 1928 highway marker in town set up by the Boy Scouts.  We visited the local town museum and I also took a tour with a kind docent at the Chinese Joss House or temple down the street which is only opened by request.  She was willing to walk me down there even in a good rain storm.  There was a Chinese town in Evanston with peak years in the 1870’s and 1880’s when more than 100 Chinese lived here.  The Chinese came to work on the railroad and also in the coal mines.  This temple is a reconstruction of the original and I was expecting a temple interior with altars like the ones I have been privileged to see in California.  This temple is really a museum with some artifacts but mostly information on the life of the Chinese.

I love history, can never get enough of it.  Railroads are one of my favorite historical topics and something we often encounter in our travels.  This visit was no exception.  Evanston has a strong railroad history and has the only remaining round house between Omaha and Sacramento.  It could service 28 engines and the massive turntable still works.  We were able to poke around the rail yards and see old railroad cars and the renovation of the round house in progress.  In the picture below I am standing in a box car that was repurposed as a picnic venue!

I was really impressed with what this town is doing with the round house.  They are turning it into a convention and event center.  Weddings and parties can even be booked here.  The restoration is only partial at this time and it was fun being able to see both the old and the new.  In the picture below I am standing next to one of the pre renovation engine stall doors.

We read in a brochure that the city was fundraising for the rail yard by selling miniature or HO size rail cars highlighting Evanton’s railroad history.  We stopped into City Hall and purchased a car highlighting a time when Evanston had ice ponds to chill fruit and vegetables carried on the rails.  We saw and learned about other interesting things here in this town but this post is long enough so I will end for now.  My next post I plan to talk about our visit to Casper, a larger city than Evanston but also full of history.  Thanks for reading!