One of the things that maps don’t always tell us is what the terrain is like on a given road or in a given town. We’ve been surprised by this numerous times when we get to a place and it is either hillier than we expected or not hilly at all. One such place came up on our drive through Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming.
We had spent the night in Rapid City, SD and wanted to get to Billings, MT via Lowell, WY in order to see the southern section of the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation area, which stretches from Fort Smith in southern Montana, where the Yellowtail Dam is located, to Lowell, WY, the southern end of the reservoir. That route took us on 60-ish miles of Alt-US 14 – known as the Bighorn Scenic Byway – through Bighorn National Forest, from near Sheridan, WY to Lowell. And I have to say that it was one of the most stunning drives of any I have ever taken, including Trail Ridge Road in RMNP. The terrain was rugged and beautiful, the road was wide and smooth, and the views were amazing. In hindsight, that might have been a bigger highlight than Lowell, but at the time, who knew?
How rugged is the country in Bighorn National Forest? The road is closed in the winter, as the elevation reaches 9,033 feet at Granite Pass. That’s getting up there, as the highest point on our side of the Mississippi is a “mere” 6,684 feet (Mount Mitchell in NC). By comparison, the elevation difference between the valley near Dayton, WY to Granite Pass is nearly that whole amount – almost 6,000 feet!
I hadn’t paid much attention to this area before, but now that we’ve been there I am anxious to get back. There are a lot of interesting things to see and do in the area. Perhaps a few days in Sheridan on our way to or from Yellowstone or Grand Teton, when we decide it’s time to visit that part of the country again.
As I sat at my computer working on photos from Wyoming, my mind was reflecting on how I feel about the state and our limited time there. We did drive the entire length from south to north, but saw only a fraction of what Wyoming is all about.
I suppose Wyoming, like any other state, elicits the gamut of opinions, from something like “miles and miles of nuthin’ but miles and miles of nuthin’” to “one of the most beautiful, pristine places in the world.” I found it to be closer to the latter end of that spectrum.
The voice I heard playing in my head said something like this: Wyoming exudes a quiet confidence, as if to say “Welcome. We’re glad you came. If you decide to stay, we’d love to have you. If not, we understand.”
Looking at my photos I was impressed by the lack of litter. Evidently the people who live there respect the land and keep it clean. The land is truly one of-wide open spaces. Even the parking spaces are bigger in Wyoming, probably because there are lots of trucks. The people we met were friendly, the food was good, and the scenery was beautiful. Would I live there? Probably not, especially in winter. But it was a nice place to visit, and I can’t wait for an excuse to go back.
One of the things that really struck me about the midwest was how far you could see without seeing anything but grass, snow fences and (sometimes) wind farms. This is just one of the many roads we traveled and happens to be in Wyoming. I could have taken many photos like this but it would be hard to tell them apart. 😉
I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where I have pulled off the road to take a picture, taken a handful of pictures, gotten back in the car and driven off without being passed by another car, in either direction!
As an added bonus, below is something else I’ve never come across before!