Wyoming Parks Offer Lifelime Memories for Young and Old

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Bill Sniffin
Bill Sniffin

Some of my earliest childhood memories of my dad loading up all of us kids and heading off to a state park for a day of play and relaxation.

That was 65 years ago.  Growing up in a family of 11 kids, the admission-free state parks in Iowa (they still are free) was an inexpensive way to enjoy nature.  President Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps built many of the state parks in the 1930s.
 
This spring, we joined our middle daughter Shelli Johnson, her husband Jerry and three boys and spent spring break visiting state parks. 
 
That means there have been four generations of all of us running up and down hills, throwing rocks into beautiful streams, admiring amazing geologic wonders and enjoying roasted marshmallows cooked on under the stars.
 
It is easy to agree that our national parks are true international icons. But our Wyoming state parks have their special flavor, too.
 
I am a huge fan of our state parks and also want to congratulate everyone involved in them as the Wyoming program celebrated its 75th anniversary last year. 
 
Although I realize that our parks are visited by out of state folks and that is probably the impetus for charging admission fees to some of them, in reality I wish visitors did not have to pay admission fees. 
Having spent the last 43 years in Lander, the state facilities in our area are perhaps the most unusual in Wyoming.
 
Sinks Canyon offers the most unusual disappearing act in Wyoming where the Popo Agie River disappears into the side of the canyon and mysteriously reappears a third of a mile down the canyon, coming out of the wall on the other side. 
 
The state park is also the main entrance to the vast three-million acre Shoshone National Forest.  
 
If you continue on the Loop Road through the Sinks and 30 miles through the forest, you come out at South Pass. Let me tell you about that area. 
 
When I first took over as publisher of the Lander Journal in 1970, my lead reporter was the historian Minnie Woodring.  She and her husband John sold their Sterling, Colo., newspaper and bought the South Pass City ghost town. 
 
In the mid-1960s, it was acquired by the state and is one of the best-preserved historical ghost town sites in the region.
 
Because of her initial encouragement, my family spent countless hours exploring and enjoying this amazing historic site.   The recent efforts by the legislature to expand it and preserve the nearby Carissa gold mine offer amazing experiences to visitors.
 
South Pass was the site of a gold mining adventure back in the 1870s but the mother lode never was found.
 
It was also home to Esther Morris, a justice of peace, who was the first woman in America to be elected to public office.
 
South Pass is one of the country’s most important locales as it provided a way for early Americans to stretch the country from east coast to west coast.  Some 400,000 people traveled over South Pass to settle Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Utah.
 
From there, you head all the way across Fremont County to experience our third state facility, Boysen Lake State Park.  It provides irrigation and recreation for folks in central Wyoming. 
 
You experience Boysen enroute to visit another of Wyoming’s most unusual parks – Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis, just north of there through the spectacular Wind River Canyon. 
 
This is the largest mineral hot spring in the world.  People in my part of the state go there often, especially from October to May, to get out of the cold and to escape the summer tourists.
 
Four other parks that I am hoping to spend some quality time at this year are:  
 
• Buffalo Bill State Park in Cody features a huge dam, which when it was built in 1910 was the biggest in the world.
 
• After driving by Curt Gowdy State Park a couple of hundred times, it is time to go visit that gorgeous place.
 
• Keyhole State Park in northeast Wyoming is a part of the state that I am anxious to visit.   The Devils Tower National Monument area just east of Keyhole and deserves some serious exploration this summer.
 
• Legend Rock (part of Hot Springs State Park) northwest of Thermopolis features petroglyphs that are nearly 11,000 years old.  Amazing.  
 
There are other wonderful sights to see and experience all across Wyoming.  What are you going to see this year? 
 
 
Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns and blogs at www.billsniffin.com.  He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written four books. His most recent book is “Wyoming’s 7 Greatest Natural Wonders” which is available at www.wyomingwonders.com.
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