Five hundred years ago, American Indian tribes began driving bison into a natural sinkhole bordering the northern Great Plains and the Black Hills. This perfect trap allowed the people to acquire large amounts of meat and hides to be used for their own survival.
The site was discovered just west of the Wyoming-South Dakota border about halfway between Sundance, WY. and Spearfish, SD, during construction of I-90 in the early 1970s. In 1989, the family of Woodrow and Doris Vore donated the site to the University of Wyoming, and today, the sinkhole is known as the Vore Buffalo Jump.
Archaeologists estimate that at least 4,000 bison were killed over a period of about 250 years at this place. The Vore site is known for its massive quantities of bison bone and stone artifacts, which have been remarkably preserved in discrete layers. The sinkhole contains hundreds of layers of sediment, known as varves, which have washed into the depression annually. Scientists count varves like tree rings and combine this information with other dating methods to estimate when each bison jump occurred.
I was surprised to find Wind Cave National Park on my little tourist map. I had never heard of it. I was excited to tour another cave. This one featured descending 300 stairs. Luckily my knees held out.
In 1903 Wind Cave was designated a national park by President Theodore Roosevelt, it was the 7th national park and the 1st cave to be designated a national park anywhere in the world. The cave is notable for its calcite formations known as boxwork, as well as its frostwork. Approximately 95 percent of the world’s discovered boxwork formations are found in Wind Cave. The cave is recognized as the densest cave system in the world, with the greatest passage volume per cubic mile. Wind Cave is one of the longest caves in the world with 149 miles (240 km) of explored cave passageways, as of 2018. Above ground, the park includes the largest remaining natural mixed-grass prairie in the United States.
Sylvan Lake is probably the most recognizable of the five Custer State Park lakes, and of any of the Black Hills lakes for that matter. Its definitely my favorite. It is featured in the Nicolas Cage movie “National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets” (although the location may seem off). There is a 1 mile path around the lake that is mostly easy and accessible near the front. It gets a little rocky and steep along the backside of the lake, but the vistas are beautiful and well worth it.
I spent much more time here than I did Mount Rushmore. I was very interested in the process of how the monument was being built}. I first came here as a child, and then could not see what the monument would become. Now, half a century later, the vision is clear.
The sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski is quite the character. Without him there would be no Crazy Horse Memorial. Korczak arrived in the Black Hills on May 3, 1947. He worked on the project until his death on October 20, 1982, at age 74. During his nearly 36 years of working on the Mountain, he refused to take any salary at Crazy Horse Memorial. His wife Ruth, and then their descendants carried on the work.
Known to the Arapaho Indians as “Land of the Earthborn Spirit,” Vedauwoo’s (pronounced vee-duh-voo) protrusions of Sherman granite were shaped by millions of years of icy, windy and wet weather. At an altitude of 8,000 feet, Vedauwoo is a rather secluded rocky oasis in southeastern Wyoming, filled with dense pine forests and aspen groves. It is surrounded by a seemingly endless expanse of high plains and lies under a dome of intense cerulean blue sky. Whether you’re interested in scaling the ancient sculpture’s rounded rocks, investigating the surrounding aspen and pine forests or simply passing time deciphering animal shapes in the formations, Vedauwoo is the perfect place to stop.
At an elevation of 8,247 feet, this monument stands at what once was the highest point on the route of the Union Pacific Railroad in Buford, WY. The tracks were rerouted a few miles to the south in 1901, but the monument still looms over the surrounding plains and can be easily accessed from Interstate 80.
Completed in 1882 at a cost of $64,000, the structure honors Oakes and Oliver Ames, financiers and politicians whose business skills were largely responsible for the completion of the transcontinental railroad. The Ames brothers took control of the management and financing of the Union Pacific portion of the railroad at President Abraham Lincoln’s request. Prior to their involvement with the railroad, only 12 miles of track had been completed. Not long after the railroads completion in 1869, however, Oakes Ames found himself at the center of a massive scandal concerning the railroad’s financing.
Guernsey State Park in Wyoming is a 6,000 acre state park surrounding Guernsey Reservoir that provides a variety of water recreation, day use and overnight camping opportunities. The rugged and scenic landscape of the park offers scenic vistas and overlooks, hiking and biking trails, rock climbing and wildlife viewing opportunities. In addition to the unlimited number of outdoor recreation activities that can be found at Guernsey, the park is also a National Historic Landmark.
Guernsey State Park provides the finest examples of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) work in the Rocky Mountain area. Built by the CCC, the Guernsey Museum, the Castle and Brimmer Point are available to explore. The Castle, with its giant fireplace and winding steps, leads to an observation area for a spectacular view of the park.
One of Wyoming’s oldest stone buildings, the Wyoming Territorial Prison housed more than 1,000 outlaws including the notorious Butch Cassidy. Built in 1872, the site served as a federal and state prison until 1903 when a new penitentiary was completed in Rawlins about 100 miles of Laramie.
13 of the prisoners were women. They had their own section of the prison, their own bathroom and did not have to do hard labor, but did do sewing and mending.
My favorite part of the tour was the Prison Industries building (aka the Broom Factory). Convicts produced approximately 720 brooms daily and were sold all over the US.
Set on the property of the impressive Ivinson Mansion, the Laramie Plains Museum is one the region’s finest repositories of history. This distinguished historic house museum is a must-see when visiting Laramie, Wyoming. Saved from demolition, the mansion has been restored to its original 1892 opulence, so a docent-led tour is a treasured step back in time to understand its pioneer owners and view three floors of area artifacts.
The setting of the American West has often been romanticized in the print and video media, where lives of western women have sometimes been depicted as easy, simple, carefree, romantic, and often glamorous… Nothing is further from the truth! These women worked very hard and right alongside the men to make the American West the one we know today.
I wish I could sit down with these women and listen to their stories.