Saturday, June 6, 2009

Douglas, WY and surrounding area

We left yesterday morning heading towards Douglas, WY. It's basically east of Casper on I-25 (see map) and is about 45 miles from our home. We were going to Douglas to attend the Jackalope Days Festival.When we arrived, we had no problem finding a place to park. We parked our car right across the street from Jackalope Square. (See picture below. Our car is parked beside the light post on the left hand side) in downtown Douglas.
We got our picture taken at the base of the famous Douglas Jackalope. (See earlier posting telling about the history of the Jackalope). The celebration was very, very small and not what we had expected so we toured the town which is quite lovely. We also stopped by the Douglas Chamber of Commerce and received our Jackalope Hunting licenses and official pin before leaving town.

On the outskirts of town, I spotted this long horned steer and could not believe the size of his horns! They were the biggest ones I've ever seen. Unfortunately, this is as close as I could get to him.
Do you think this might be the local UPS distribution center?
Then we traveled outside of Douglas to visit Ft. Fetterman. It was established in 1867 because of conditions that existed on the Northern Plains at the close of the Civil War. It was considered a hardship post by officers and the men stationed there. (No kidding. After spending some time there, I can see why). Desertions were common and the post frequently laked adequate supplies and equipment. It was the last military outpost in the old West and many of the men stationed here were sent to aid Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn.The only remaining buildings are the Officer's Quarters, which is now where the museum is house and the Armory. The Armory also has three old wagons and buggies in it as well as other fascinating artifacts.

When we drove up to the museum, I opened my car door to get out and then heard a strange noise from Joe. I turned around and out of nowhere, a border collie had jumped into the front seat on Joe's lap and wouldn't get down. That's when Joe said, "See things are so bad here that even the dog wants to leave and it doesn't matter with who"! The following pictures speak for themselves...

I finally convinced Sidney the Dog to climb out of the car. She belongs to the caretakers of the part and followed us all over our tour of the fort. She especially stuck close by while we ate our picnic lunch. And as we drove off, I could see her standing there in the parking lot in my rearview mirror.
Joe standing in front of a buffalo blanket at the museum.These are "flowers"? that were all over the ground at the fort cemetery. They look just like grapes.

Here is the grave of a guy named John who was born in 1860 and died in 1884. The writing on his stone describes him as "An Old Time Cowboy". I wonder why he died at the age of 24?

Many of the pioneers buried here have no headstones and their graves were covered with small rocks and boulders to keep wild animals and Indians from disturbing them.
This is a partial listing of the pioneers buried in this cemetery. Notice some of the names - "Barney" and "King David".
Ft. Fetterman is only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I can understand why after spending some time there. The wind blows all the time and is in open desolate country. We ate our lunch there while holding down items so they wouldn't blow away. In fact, it got so cool there, I had to go get my jacket out of the car.
While driving from one place to another, we happened to pass this old 1886 Pioneer Cemetery and turned around to check it out.
Note the wrought iron turnstile to enter and exit the cemetery. There were also several family plots surrounded by wrought iron fences. Each one was different.
Nothing more known about DC. But at least someone put a headstone up for him or her. These grave sites were covered with small pieces of limestone.

There was even an old water pump located in the middle of the cemetery.

Note the door knobs on the gate. These allowed the gates to be opened wider from both sides.

I know I'm not in Georgia anymore when I see billboards like this.
On the way back home to Casper, we stopped by to see Ayres Natural Bridge. I'd seen signs about it on the interstate, but never had had time to check it out. We did this time and the views were absolutely spectacular. (BTW...that's a very deep and long drop off the side of the road).

The road was narrow, but then became even more narrow.

Ayres Natural Bridge. The only natural bridge in the U.S. that expands over flowing water. The bridge arch above the water is 50' high and 100' long and is surrounded by red sand stone walls.

Indian lore tells of the time that an Indian brave was struck by lightning near the bridge and was killed instantly. His people believed that an evil spirit, "King of Beasts", lived beneath the bridge and had swallowed the life of this warrior. From then on, the Indians would not go near the bridge. It became a sanctuary for people fleeing the Indians. If they could make it to the bridge, they would be safe because the Indians wouldn't follow for fear of the evil spirit.
Someone found a snake and then a park ranger came to put it in a bag. A wedding was also taking place in the park.

Little birds build mud nests below the bridge and there were birds in some of the nests.
On the way back to the interstate, we discovered a large herd of some very ginormous buffalo. Unfortunately, that was as close as my camera and the buffalo would get.
This was an abandoned one room schoolhouse.
Each time before heading out to explore, I try to gather as much information about the town and location as possible. I print off information from the internet, gather up my pamphlets and brochures and off we go. One of my favorite things to do is look for old pioneer gravesites. I had information saying that there was one near Ayres Natural Bridge and we went looking for it.

The problem many times is coming up to a ranch gate and it says "No Trespassing" or "Tresspassers will be prosecuted", etc. So we drove up to this ranch that was supposed to have two gravesites on the property. The paperwork gave directions to the ranch and said to pass an Oregon Trail marker on the left, turn into the ranch road, go until you reached a "Y" and then go to the ranch house and ask for permission to visit the grave. When I reached the ranch gate, it had the "No Trespassing" sign and we almost left. However, I decided to call the phone number on the paper. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

I called, someone answered and we got permission to enter and come to the ranch house. When we drove on the property, we encountered a group of "guard cows" standing in the road. I s-l-o-w-l-y drove through the herd and we came out unscathed and drove on. I was also having to stradle the tire ruts from a 4-wheel drive truck that had dried out. When we got to the home, that's where we met Mary Valasquez (l) and her daughter, Rose (r) who were putting fencing around their garden to keep the chickens out. What wonderful women! They invited us out of the car and told us about their place where Mary lives with her husband. They showed us some of the items they'd dug up in the garden since that was the site of the original homestead. There were pieces of crockery, dishes, bottles, etc. They also showed us the orginal stone-lined well and smokehouse still on the property.

To get to the graves, we had to drive around the ranch property and then down a dirt road. All went fine until we reached the bridge over the stream and that's where I had to park the car. There was too much of a drop for the car to go down and so that's where it stayed while Joe and I walked the rest of the way.Notice the car way in the back at the end of the fencing. (Those are old cars parked on the property on the left of the picture).After walking down the fence line, through a field and up a steep hill, we finally reached the gravesites. And this is the view standing on top of the hill. The grave in the lower part of the picture is the oldest known grave on the Oregon Trail. The Hembree family joined the first Oregon bound Applegate wagon train in 1843, consisting of 111 wagons and 254 people. Near this creek, six year old Joel slipped under the wagon wheels as he climbed down from the tongue and was run over. When he died, he was buried in a dresser drawer. This became the oldest grave on the Oregon Trail and it was seen by all who followed.

The other grave belongs to Private Ralston Baker who was killed in an Indian skirmish in 1867.

400 feet to the north from these graves is the site of the 1860's La Prele State and Pony Express Station.
(For me, all of this is really quite exciting. This is where history took place and it's very overwhelming at times when you realize the amount of people who passed this way many years ago in search of a better life. Are they any different than Joe or I? We came searching for a better life, but did it in the comfort of our car and have a nice place to sleep every day. After spending the winter out here, I am still in awe of the fortitude these people had to continue on each and every day).
This is what the gravesites look like when at the bottom on the hill.
Mary and Rose showed us the wagon wheels and bedsteads which have been fished out of the stream. These are some of the pieces of dishes that have been found in the garden that Mary and Rose gave to me. I now have a basket that I am putting some of our travel finds into such as the Indian artifacts, the Jackalope pin and these dish pieces. Who knows what kind of collection I'll eventually have, huh?Well, this brings our exploring for this weekend over until the kids show up next weekend and if the weather is nice, we'll be off again. This time more north of us.
Joe and I traveled about 255 miles in the last two days and though we'd set out to do specific things, it was the unexpected that was like frosting on our cake. Things like turning the car off in the middle of the road and only hearing the wind and the birds singing. It was watching the prairie dogs chase each other around. It was meeting new and wonderful people who we look forward to visiting with again. Wow, what a weekend! (And it didn't rain like it had been forecast).


  1. Wonder if they are related to the Hembree's in Omega? What happened to the border collie?

  2. You outta ask them sometime.

    I updated my blog with what happened to Sidney The Dog.

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