Featured stops: Vedauwoo, University of Wyoming Geologic and Anthropologic Museums, Hobo Springs, Snowy Mountain Brewing and Pub
Roundtrip drive time: 5 hours 15 minutes
One need not drive all the way to Yellowstone to get a taste of the diverse geology and paleontology of this amazing state; the southeast corner of Wyoming tells the earth’s history in its stones and artifacts. A bit of driving brings a full day of discovery, just west of Cheyenne. The amount of driving required to complete the circuit should be considered, as your final destination (Saratoga) is about 2.25 hours drive from Cheyenne and you’ll want to allot time for each of the stops.
Drive time: 40 minutes
Hop on I-80 west bound toward Laramie. The broad plains, scattered with cattle and pronghorn, stretch out under an enormous sky as you head toward the Rocky Mountains. In fact, about 30 minutes into your drive, right around Mile Marker 343 is the geographical division between the Great Plains (primarily stratified rocks) and the Rockies (largely igneous rocks). Take the Vedauwoo exit (Exit 329) – you no doubt have already noticed the towering granite formations off to your right. The recreation area, part of Medicine Bow National Forest, is a favorite getaway of locals. The day use area requires a small fee, but here’s your local insider tip for the thrifty reader: If you continue down Vedauwoo Road a bit farther, there are several pull off parking areas where you can access the hiking trail and rock formations via spur trails. Missing are the restroom facilities and picnic tables, so weigh your options. The beginner level, 2.8-mile Turtle Rock hiking path circumvents the massive rock formation in front of you. The word Vedauwoo (VEE-da-voo) is a rendition of the Arapaho Indian word “bito’o’wu” meaning “earth-born.” This extraordinary area features vast, otherworldly rock formations of 1.4 billion-year-old granite, perfect for climbers of all ability levels.
(Drive time: 30 minutes)
After hiking and scrambling over the rocks, you’ll want to hop back onto I-80 and continue the drive to Laramie. Your next stop will be the University of Wyoming Geological Museum (free, open Mon-Sat, 10-4, closed holidays). Dinosaurs, fossils, and prehistoric knowledge abound here, unquestionably the place to go to learn about the local geologic and fossil history of the region. If you want to expand into the human story, the University of Wyoming also has an Anthropology Museum within walking distance on campus (free, open Mon-Fri, hours vary). There are several restaurants and cafes on campus if you need to find some lunch in the midst of your adventuring or on your way out of town.
Highway 130 to Saratoga, WY
(Drive time: 1 hour, 45 minutes)
The next stretch of trip is visual eye-candy. Taking Hwy 130 to Saratoga will wind you through the Snowy Range and deliver vistas with photo-worthy pull-offs along the drive. Centennial has a small visitor’s center if you need a stretch break along the way or crave some more education about the region.
Your ultimate destination, Saratoga, is home to natural hot springs – a “tourist” stop for hundreds of years. Native Americans from the region considered this neutral territory and would come to bathe and pioneers often took advantage of this spot to wash up. Hobo Springs is a free, open 24/7 hot springs access point in Saratoga’s City Park. Restrooms and changing facilities are available onsite. Want something a bit more rustic? The North Platte River behind the park has thermal seeps that spout warm water and create natural pools in the otherwise mountain-cold river!
(Drive time: 5 minutes; Return trip to Cheyenne: 2 hours, 15 minutes)
After you’ve wrinkled your toes and fingers into raisins in the natural bathtubs, grab dinner and some craft brews at Snowy Mountain Brewery at Saratoga Hot Springs Resort. The third-oldest craft brewery in Wyoming has ties to Cheyenne too – their Ironhorse Ale is aged in bourbon barrels from Pine Bluffs Distilling just east of Cheyenne. Want to sample several types of beer? Tasting paddles and flights let you sample several flavors. These pair well with the sirloin burgers, pizzas, or pastas on the expansive menu available at the pub.
With a full belly and a happy soul, it’s time to fill up a growler of your favorite brew and hit the road home. We recommend taking the 1-80 route back to Cheyenne - your bed is calling after a long day of scrambling, learning, and soaking!