Featured stops: The Gangplank, Buford, Tree in the Rock, Ames Monument, Laramie Depot and Heritage Railroad Park
Roundtrip drive time: 1 hours 50 minutes. Can be expanded using the Albany County Railroad Tour Guide.
Beyond the Cheyenne train highlights (Cheyenne Depot Museum, Ol’ Sadie, the Big Boy, and the Merci Train), train lovers with a vehicle can branch out for a day trip to the west to see our nearby points of interest in Albany County and Laramie city.
The Laramie Depot has put together an excellent tour that works well coming from Cheyenne headed to Laramie to hit the highlights (https://www.laramiedepot.org/railroad-tour-of-albany-county). Details on the history and logistics of this stretch of the Transcontinental Railroad and its subsequent railroad paths are outlined here. The eastern section and hitting the highlights in Laramie make a great day trip adventure from Cheyenne.
(Drive time: 20 minutes)
The stretch of the Transcontinental Railroad between Cheyenne and Laramie, Wyoming, was no easy feat for engineers and today historical markers note some of the significant points along the way. Heading west on I-80, there is a truck rest area at Exit 345. On the east end is a marker, explaining the land formation you will see off to your right (north) as you continue your drive. The “Gangplank,” a geologic feature that ultimately brought the path through where Cheyenne sits today. Without that flat piece of land, the train route would have likely been diverted to the south and Cheyenne may have never been built! Taking the frontage road from the rest area, head west. To your right, you will be able to see remnants of the original UPRR line that weaves across where the (now straighter) current day rails lie.
(Drive time: 10 minutes)
Continue following the service road until you merge back onto I-80 and drive to the Buford exit (Exit 335). On the east end of the gas station’s parking lot, you can see an embankment running to the southeast that was part of the original line. This area has some of the steepest grade of all the U.P. network (1.58% grade), referred to as Sherman Hill, up and over the pass to Laramie. There used to be a quarry here that provided “Sherman Granite” to much of the U.P.
(Drive time: 5 minutes)
Getting back on the interstate, you can easily imagine what the engineers saw from their engines – the westbound lanes of I-80 were built directly on top of the U.P. rail path. Your next stop will be the Tree in the Rock exit (on the left, in the median) for some historical markers about the railroad, the highway, and the regional geology, before heading on to Ames Monument.
(Drive time: 10 minutes)
Exiting at the Vedauwoo exit (Exit 329) and crossing under the interstate, follow road signs to Ames Monument. There’s no missing the 60-foot granite pyramid in the middle of nowhere. It didn’t used to be the middle of nowhere, though. This marks the highest point on the original Transcontinental Railroad (8,247 feet above sea level) and was built for $65,000 in 1882 to honor Oaks and Oliver Ames, brothers instrumental in the first Transcontinental Railroad build. There are informational signs expanding on the monument; if the wind is not blowing too badly, look out from the north edge of the pyramid to see the remaining foundations of the old station, water tank, roundhouse and turntable!
(Drive time: 20 minutes)
If you are following the tour provided by Albany County, you have several options to explore from here. However, if you are looking for a shorter route, we recommend heading into Laramie. Make your way back to 1-80 westbound and take Exit 313. Following 3rd Street into town, turn left on to Kearney Street. Directly in front of you is the Laramie Depot, a restoration of the 1924 building (built to replace the 1917 building that burnt down).
The Laramie Depot Museum is free and open to the public on Mondays and by appointment (please give 24-hour notice). The museum houses a large collection of railyard tools and focuses on the building of the railroad (rail laying and welding). Volunteers lead guided tours of the museum upon request. Tours are also free, but donations are accepted, if you feel so inclined.
Outside to the south of the museum is Railroad Heritage Park. Get an up-close look at a “snow train” with a wedge plow attached to the steam engine, followed by a bunk car and a caboose. Anyone who has experienced a Wyoming winter knows how vital a role this train played!
To the north of the depot spans the footbridge over the tracks, constructed in 1929. It remains a great place to view trains. On the east end of the bridge there are educational pamphlets in a drop box (which undoubtedly will highlight that the 7th track from the east is the original 1868 mainline).
(Return drive time to Cheyenne: 45 minutes)
Before returning to Cheyenne, feel free to explore Laramie a bit more – with a little research, the town is a treasure trove of railroad history sites – many of the buildings have been repurposed, but the old engine house, the quarry (once connected by narrow-gauge rail), the site of the old tie plant, and the rebuilt (1962) trestle are worth the hunt for true train fanatics! You’re only about 45 minutes from Cheyenne by retracing your tracks on I-80, or, take the scenic route and follow “Happy Jack Road” (Hwy 210) back, taking care to watch for wildlife on or near the road, particularly at dusk.