Best of the Tetons

Bondourant

Rural Wyoming

There’s a lot more to Wyoming than GTNP and Yellowstone!

Wyoming Map

That’s what this page is about! I could fan out into any zone of the state and find plenty of subjects. For this trip, I started at lunch time on Friday, January the 5th and returned home at sunset on Sunday, January 7. The photos on this page are a result of being “in the field” only two and a half days, covering 750 miles and shooting around 4,500 images. I headed south and stayed south this time. I wish I could have afforded the time and travel expenses to poke about another day or two!

Boar's Tusk

You don’t have to go too far to get out of the tourist resort look and feel many associate with Jackson Hole and the Parks. Just do a drive up Spring Gulch Road to see what I mean. I photograph the local ranches and homesteads regularly. It’s nice to “get out of town” once in a while and in this case, explore “Rural Wyoming”.

I never planned in covering a huge portion of the State. My wish list for wildlife subject matter included wild horses, pronghorns, eagles, hawks, and maybe some deer. I hoped to be able to get to the Boar’s Tusk at sunrise, and then hope for some colorful clouds. I wanted to photograph a few of the active farms and a few of the abandoned ones. A sunset or two would be great! Of course, some of my favorite subjects are grungy, rusting vehicles and textures. I know there are nomadic sheep herders working the BLM lands, and I hoped to find some of them. At any time, I’d stop for subjects with great light. In general, I’d headed towards Rocks Springs and Green River because I know there are two BLM Horse Management Areas there (HMAs). No hurry. No set-in-stone plan. No schedule. No pressure! Of course, if I had wanted to photograph Devel’s Tower, I headed out in the wrong direction!

The photo above was taken on Sunday morning. I checked the weather report Saturday night and it looked promising. The Boar’s Tusk is a unique geological formation in the middle of nowhere. It is identified on most maps about 35 miles northeast of Rock Springs. When I look at the photo, I remember the beautiful morning light and I remember the smell of sagebrush, the clouds ripping by overhead, and the sound of the wind. I had to wait about 30 minutes for the light to hit the formation. It was chilly, but not bitter cold that morning.

White Mountain Petroglyphs

Wyoming is steeped in history! You can find dinosaur bones, Native American petroglyphs, fur trade forts and rendezvous locations, rocks rutted from thousands of Oregon Trail settlers, ghost towns, and territorial prisons. At the other end of the spectrum, Wyoming also has an ample of supply of state of the art wind turbines and is home to the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC). The White Mountain Petroglyphs are located NE of Rock Springs. You can also find Petroglyphs in the Dubois area and near Thermopolis.

Paint Mare and Black Stallion

Wyoming has 16 Horse Management Areas (HMA) administered by the BLM. Additionally, the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Range straddles the northern Wyoming border. The Little Colorado and White Mountain HMAs are located just north of Rock Springs and Green River, WY. I found around 50 horses on my one morning on the mountain. Pilot Butte can be seen in the distance, also used by settlers and emigrants as a landmark.

Wild Horse Action

The Wild Horse Loop begins about 12 miles north of Rock Springs and follows the eastern edge of White Mountain to Green River. If you stay on the main roads, you’ll probably be okay, but if you drive on some of the secondary two track roads, you need really good tires. I picked up a shard again this trip, forcing me to change the tire on location. Unfortunately, the tire was ruined. This trip cost me $1400 for new 10 ply tires on my truck! The tires would eventually need changing, so I tried not to let the hassle and expense blemish my trip. I took a lot of photos of the horses while on the plateau, thus I can tell myself it was worth it!

When you find horses during the winter, they’ll likely be in survival mode, and not necessarily in breeding mode (That’s in May and June). Still, stallions fend off challenging youngsters as seen in the photo above. The smaller black stallion was limping badly when I first saw him. The photo shows a swollen ankle, but when the other stallion approached him, you’d never see the limp.

I intended on covering a lot of ground on my weekend trip so I couldn’t spend too long in on place. On another trip, I might spend all three days working the Wild Horses in the Rock Springs area. I should mention that signs on parts of the Wild Horse Loop state the roadway is not maintained from November through March, so Winter access can be dicey.

Log Cabin

Much of Wyoming’s landscape is dotted with buttes similar to the ones above. On my trip south, I pulled over dozens of times to capture shots with bands of light highlighting zones of my photos. This photo was taken near LaBarge, WY.

Jim Bridger

Wyoming is full of surprises! You can find Jim Bridger’s engraving on “Names Hill” near LaBarge, WY. Many of the early fur trappers went on to guide emigrants, railroads, and the army in the building of the nation. This is the same Jim Bridger you might recognize in “The Revnant” movie. Also watch for “The Bridger Trail” in other areas of the State. A lot of early settlers passed through Wyoming to get to somewhere else using trails like the Oregon Trail and Mormon Trail. Many travelers stopped to carve their name in Independence Rock. Rural Wyoming was the backdrop for much of what people think of as “The Wild West”. For example, Butch Cassidy’s Hole in the Wall is in central Wyoming.

Green River Night Skies

There are numerous distinctive rock formations near Green River, WY. A new Hampton Inn at the entrance (or exit) of the Wild Horse loop shines powerful lights onto two of the formations above the hotel. I stayed out late on my first evening to try to capture a few stars in front of the rocks. There are areas of Wyoming that you won’t see a single light at night for miles and miles of driving, making the State a premier destination for night photography. It was too cloudy for night shots on Saturday…but…

Rock Springs Main Street

…The historic old downtown Rock Springs worked just fine. I took photos there Friday night, but I liked these better because of the wet streets and blue sky.

Rock Springs Fire House

This historic old building served as the Fire Station at one end and Rock Springs City Hall at the other end. Look for historic old buildings like this one in Rawlins, Laramie, and Cheyenne, WY. Currently, Interstate 80 traces a path along what was originally part of the Lincoln Highway connecting New York City and San Francisco. It was the nation’s first true Transcontinental Highway. In earlier years, the same route was used for the Ben Holladay Overland Trail Stages. The same route along I-80 is an important leg of the railroad system through the state. Look for large train yards in Cheyenne, Laramie, and Green River.

Daniel Station

Wyoming is sprinkled with remnants of the earlier days of the automobile. This little station is located in Daniel, WY.

Frontier Hotel

Signs were necessary to attract traveling tourists. There are many sign relics all across the state, as seen in this capture in Big Piney, WY.

Back Roads

This is part of the three mile road to the White Mountain Petroglyphs. There are large chunks of Wyoming with no cell service. Back road travel has a bit of risk, especially knowing there will be almost no other travelers around. In many years, roads like this would be totally impassable in January.

South Pass Road

Discretion is the better part of valor. After my time at the Boar’s Tusk and Petroglyphs on Sunday, I drove to South Pass in hopes of getting to South Pass City and Atlantic City. I’ve been there in the summer, but didn’t do my homework for this trip. The sign just off the highway says the road is not maintained from December to March. It was clear and windblown for about four miles. I came upon this scene—where I stopped. I could have “easily” gone through this bank of snow with my high clearance truck and brand new tires, but if things go bad, it would be really bad. Unfortunately, South Pass City and the Carissa Mine would have to wait. I was disappointed, but warm as I headed back to Farson.

Moondance Diner

Movie and TV buffs might recognize this this old diner. The Moondance Diner has appeared in numerous shows, but that’s while it was still in New York City. There was quite a bit of press about a Wyoming resident and entrepreneur moving the diner by truck from NYC to Labarge, WY. I tried to go there soon after the move, but the place was still under construction.  The next time I tried, it had closed. Check out the Moondance Diner‘s site .

The Moondance Diner in popular culture (from Wikipedia)

  • In the television sitcom Friends, the character Monica Geller (Courteney Cox) worked at the Moondance Diner, which was depicted as a 1950s theme restaurant. However, the show was filmed in Los Angeles, and only the exterior shots depicted the real diner.
  • In the 2005 rock- mockumentary film The Naked Brothers Band: The Movie, six-year-old Alex faints on the counter of Moondance Diner after drinking and spilling cans of soda all over himself.
  • The cable television series Sex and the City featured scenes shot at the Moondance Diner.
  • In the 2002 film Spider-Man the Moondance Diner appears as the diner at which Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) is employed.
  • In a-ha’s music video for its 1988 single “You Are the One“, the band enters the diner.
  • The diner appears in the Miami Vice episode “The Prodigal Son”.
  • The diner appears in Reading Rainbow season 3 episode 9, “Animal Cafe”.

Superior, WY

Superior, WY is described as a “living ghost town”. It’s located about 23 miles east of Rock Springs and seven miles off Interstate 80. The Union Hall at the end of the street in this photo serves as a museum documenting the historic old coal mining town. There were some amazing pano images on display, showing two streets of a robust town in its heyday. I checked the Library of Congress, but found only a few images. Check out the town’s site: Superior, WY

Coal Mine

Superior has quite a few structures to remind visitors of days long ago.

Patriotic Bunting

This patriotic bunting on the Workingmen’s Commercial Co. seems to tell a lot of stories…possibly a Centennial celebration? The event was apparently long ago!

Broken Windows

I could take photos like this all day long! Superior is loaded with possibilities like this one.

Tractor

Abandoned vehicles are some of my favorite subjects, and Wyoming has a lot of them. I liked the high contrast aspect of this capture at Eden, WY.

GMC Emblem

Many towns in Wyoming have some sort of Historical Museum. Farmers often park an old vehicle near the fence along the highway. I like to take my “obligatory” photos with my standard lenses, then go back one more time with a telephoto lens for some tight shots and details. This vehicle was on the south edge of Eden, WY.

Broken Glass

I don’t know about you, but I find these kinds of shots captivating and extremely fun to capture. This shot was also taken at Eden, WY.

West of Eden

Rural Wyoming is loaded with “roads to nowhere”. I stopped to photograph quite a few of them, including this tunnel of trees down a dirt road west of Eden.

Wildlife Overpass

Wyoming’s migrating wildlife now has safe crossings along some of the busier highways. I pulled over and took this shot at one of the wildlife overpasses near Daniel, WY. High fences along the roads funnel migrating Elk and Pronghorns to underpasses and overpasses.

Snow Fence

In a few areas of the sate, you can find wind farms that capitalize on one of Wyoming’s resources…wind. In other zones, you’ll see snow fences that are meant to slow down the wind—allowing eddies of snow to build up behind them. Better there than on the roads! Interestingly, some of the older fence staves are now being removed and replaced. The old wood is reclaimed and sold as decorative “barn wood” to the builders and designers. This shot was taken on top of South Pass.

Oil Wells

In Northwest Wyoming, much of the economy is driven and supported by tourist’s dollars. I many of the rural areas, coal, oil, and natural gas are then engines that drive the economy. The state’s wellness often depends on the price of gas. Our NW corner likes to see low gas prices to encourage tourists, but if that’s the case, the state coffers suffer. This photo was taken in the gas fields near Pinedale, WY.

Fence Hopping Mule Deer

Mule Deer, Sage Grouse, and Pronghorn populations are suffering declining populations over the past decade. Mule Deer and Pronghorns are still seen on a regular basis.

Pronghorns

You can find Pronghorns in almost all areas of the state, sometimes in huge herds. Their migration paths are being affected by development and fences in several areas of the state.

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawks are common in the rural areas of Wyoming in the winter. Golden Eagles are also common in the sage covered zones, feasting on ample supplies of Cottontails.

Golden Eagle Nest

This Golden Eagle nest is one of three I saw above the White Mountain Petroglyphs. It has to be 25 feet tall!

Superior

Sometimes you just have to chuckle! This totem pole style post of old license plates was in Superior, WY.

I mentioned earlier that Wyoming is the least populated state out of the 50 states in the Union. It covers 97,105 square miles, yet there are very few roads criss-crossing it. Of the roads that do weave through the state, many of them are closed during the winter months. There are times when you look over the map and realize you can’t get there from here!

Wyoming Population Map

This Census map probably tells a better story than what I could ever try to tell. Large chunks of the state have less than one person person per square mile. Much of the population is clustered in some of the “bigger” cities of Cheyenne, Laramie, Casper and Rock Springs. It’s easy to understand why we don’t have many connecting roads!

Wyoming's Big Sky

In Jackson, much of our sky is cut off by the towering mountains. Drive a short distance into rural Wyoming and things can change drastically. Depending on how you place the horizon line in a photo, Wyoming can have huge and powerful skies. This photo gives you an idea of the desolation and isolation you can find in many areas of Wyoming.

Scenes like this one can plant a seed for future photos. I can imagine going to the Boar’s Tusk again for a night shot with the Milky Way as part of the backdrop. I saw a presentation one time in which Dave Black light painted one of the Four Corners rock formations, with a helper shining powerful flashlights on it from a mile or two off. There are probably numerous similar opportunities for this month’s Lunar Eclipse.

 

I don’t think of rural Wyoming as only flat prairies of sagebrush—but more about being away from the hectic life associated with a larger town. This shot in Bondourant, WY is an example.

Wyoming Map 2

I wish I had time and space on this page to add even more photos from my two and a half day trip.  I covered only a small portion of Wyoming—as seen in the highlighted red roads.

If you are traveling by vehicle to and from the Jackson Hole area, I’d suggest allowing a little extra time on either end of your trip. Pull over when you see something of interest instead of rushing directly to the Parks. Some stunning features are a bit off the beaten path, while others require that you only slow down, stop and enjoy the sites and attractions!

 

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Comments (16)

  1. Marion Dickinson

    Fantastic trip you took and recorded. You managed to capture the flavor of Wyoming. Whoever put Jim Bridger’s name on that rock, it wasn’t him, he remained unable to read or write his entire life. However he apparently never forgot a trail nor location.

  2. Craig Knecht

    Mike, this Rural Wyoming Post is amazing. Having spent some time on the Wild Horse loop near Rock Springs enjoying the sights of wild horses warms my heart. My “Thunder” is one of those who came off the range south of Rock Springs14 years ago and as you know is a regular around the Jackson Town Square on Mounted Patrol Duty. I use many opportunities to get in the truck and explore the “remoteness” of our wonderful state and love how you capture the true feeling in your images. See you around

  3. Great travelogue, Mike. I’m moving from Hawaii to Reno soon so I will have more opportunity for trip like these. You captured the flavor of the plains area indeed. Great blog post!

    Aloha, Bud

  4. Those are some of our favorite back road spots. Too bad about South Pass city, I think that would be interesting in the winter.

  5. As always, great information with great images. Thanks for reminding us that there is plenty to see and photograph outside of the national parks in Wyoming. Your post encourages me to get out there to the rural areas for some nice photographs … but I think I’ll wait until early spring.

  6. Dennis Horn

    Hi Mike, thoroughly enjoyed the photos and post. It is always nice to get away from the more traveled areas.

  7. Jim Bridger info

    James Bridger Historical Sign

    Hi Marion, I can only report what the Sublette County Historical Society’s sign says. The page above puts him in the same area at that time.

  8. Carissa Mine : South Pass City 2009

    Mary, you don’t know how bad I wanted to try to cross that snow and head on into South Pass City. I liked the idea of some of the buildings being covered in snow, but the thought of getting stuck in that area is amazingly sobering!

  9. Randy, There are lots of rural Idaho shots right there around your house! I try to come over at least once a year during winter just to photograph the barns, fences, and raptors.

  10. Sat down with your pictures and stories again. Calm flows from the experience. This is better then whiskey. Thanks again.

  11. Patricia Rider

    Thanks for the information. We’ll be on I80 coming from Indiana January 20 and should be in that area January 22 heading to Jackson. My husband loves horses, so we might be able to check out the wild horses.

  12. Bud, you’ll soon have to change to “Howdy, Bud”

  13. Stunning images from your journey. I was very excited to see the wildlife overpass shot and to hear that WY has installed them. And the Boar’s Tusk photo is awesome. You have inspired me to follow in your footsteps.

  14. Rich cower

    Wonderful set of images Mike. I think this is your best yet, the “tour” around parts of the state is inspirational. Thanks for taking the time to share this.

  15. Lowell Schechter

    Hi Mike . Thanks for sharing your wonderful ride through a state that has a little more to often besides Jackson and the tetons . Your images of different parts of the state of are wonderful .

  16. jeff c birmingham

    Very nice Mike love all the history of WY Looks like you had a great trip.

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