May 2018 – We recently took a beautiful drive with our RV on the scenic back roads of Wyoming, going across the lower part of the state on an eastbound route from Bear Lake, Utah, to Newcastle, Wyoming.
Years ago we drove a similar westbound route on I-80 across Wyoming, and that drive has stood out in our minds ever since as one of the most boring drives of our lives. So we stuck to the back roads a bit north of the interstate this time, and what a rewarding decision that was!
At the start of our drive, as we pulled into the town of Kemmerer, Wyoming, we did a double take when we passed a small J.C. Penney store on a street corner because a sign on the storefront said it was the first of its kind. James Cash Penney opened this store in 1902. On his first day of business in his new little store, could he have possibly imagined that one day there would be 850 JC Penney stores across the country?!
This part of the country is a rich area for fossils, and embedded in the sidewalk on each street corner we found a little plaque that said “Wyoming’s Aquarium in Stone” decorated with the image of a fossil. There were fish, trees and crustaceans of all kinds.
We decided not to hunt fossils and continued our journey east. Pronghorn antelope watched us as we passed.
We had known the weather was going to take a nasty turn because Mark had just finished washing and waxing the truck and trailer when we were at Bear Lake and our rig was finally sparkling clean. As everyone knows, the sure fire way to do a successful rain dance in the modern era is to wash and wax your vehicle!
We took a small detour to Fontenelle Reservoir where we were very surprised to discover that the tiny white dots on the sandbars out in the water were pelicans.
The reservoir was very low, so the coming rain storms would be welcomed.
We were treated to some extraordinary skies. Big black clouds loomed overhead and we could see them spilling rain onto the landscape in the distance.
The sky was constantly shifting, and the growing storm seemed to be boiling on the horizon for a while as it approached.
We ran around taking photos and soaking up the intoxicating crisp air that preceeds a huge rain storm. It was bitterly cold out, but it was too beautiful to stay inside and miss the spectacle.
Eventually the storm cleared and peace reigned as sun shone through late in the afternoon. The distant shore turned a rich shade of burnt orange.
At sunrise the colors changed again.
Fontenelle Reservoir is busy in the summertime, but we were getting delightful paybacks for our runny noses and layers of clothes because we had the place to ourselves in the pre-season cold. We took a lot of long walks and played many games of fetch with our puppy Buddy.
A large resident group of noisy marmots who live by the lake taunted Buddy mercilessly. They had dug extensive burrows with lots of big entrance holes, and Buddy was forever diving headfirst into the holes trying to get them.
But then we’d hear a cackling cry in the distance, and Buddy would pull his head out to see a little fellow standing on his hind legs outside a different entrance hole, his mouth wide open as he chattered and teased from a safe distance.
The next leg of our trip took us east across wide open land that stretched lazily to the horizon in every direction.
There were no cars ahead of us and no cars behind us for miles as we drove, and we were entertained by various road signs that warned us about the other folks that might be sharing the road.
We had been on a remote stretch of road similar to this in Nevada a few years back, but luckily this time it went a short fifty miles or so rather than several hundred miles!
And then, just as we were beginning to get that white line fever of boredom, the road took a turn and headed into the mountains. The torrential rains we’d experienced a few days prior had blanketed the mountains in a layer of white snow, and the storm clouds loomed once again.
We were amused to watch the temps drop from the low sixties to the low thirties as we climbed into the mountains, and my shutter finger was on overdrive as one spellbinding vista after another came into view.
Suddenly the road descended off the mountain pass and the snow vanished, but the dark clouds still hung heavy above us.
When I had studied the Wyoming atlas and looked for interesting things along the route we would be taking, I had noticed the words, “Red Canyon.” Even knowing it was coming, my jaw still dropped when a ribbon of rich red cliffs angled off into the distance in front of us.
A red dirt road wandered to and fro at the base of the cliffs and we wanted to explore it. But the rains had made everything very gloppy and muddy, and we were concerned the dirt road would be a gooey mess. Next time!
We arrived in Riverton, Wyoming, still grinning from ear to ear after our sensational drive. The next morning we fueled up for another great day of scenic driving at a little Wyoming Espresso coffee shack. I love these little coffee outposts scattered throughout the west
But Mother Nature decided to keep the curtains closed on her beautiful stage that day. As we embarked on our scenic drive thick fog rolled in. We passed a scenic viewpoint and could only guess at what lay behind the mist!
This part of the route follows the Oregon Trail and passes two sites that commemorate the Mormons’ arduous cross-country walking trek pushing hand carts every step of the way. But the rain began to pour in pitchforks and we decided to hold off on those explorations until another time.
We love taking small back roads roads like these rather than the interstate, and once the fog cleared and rain stopped and sunshine filled our views, we were charmed by the rural scenes around us. But navigating small roads requires paying close attention, and we were quite shocked at one point when the road in front of us suddenly turned to dirt.
Mark slammed on the brakes and looked at me. “Ummm… does this turn back to pavement?” He asked. I had no idea. I was as surprised as he was that it had turned to dirt without any warning!!
We decided to go a little ways and see what lay ahead, but we knew we had gone too far on the roads less traveled when we crested a small hill and saw a cow in the road staring at us.
Oops! Mark skillfully got our rig turned around and we chose another route.
Of course, just because we were now on pavement didn’t stop the farm animals from crossing the road in front of us!
At long last we made it to Newcastle, Wyoming. It had been a wonderful trip of about 600 miles on lovely back roads, and this little RV trip will stand out in our memory for its wild weather, beautiful scenery and quiet charm!
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More info about this area:
- Riverton area campgrouonds – RV Park Reviews
- Fontenelle Creek Recreation Area
- Our route on Wyoming’s back roads (minus two wrong turns onto dirt roads!)
Other blog posts from Wyoming:
- Lakes and Light in Wyoming and Colorado
- Finding Enchantment…in Encampment, Wyoming!
- Brooks Lake, Split Rock, Adventure Travelers + Wyoming Highlights!
- Grand Teton National Park – An American Treasure!
- Summer Fun in Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains
- Bighorn Canyon – A River Runs Through It in Montana!
- Chief Joseph Scenic Byway – Mountain Majesty Near Yellowstone NP
- Wildflowers in Wyoming – Spring Showers Bring Spectacular July Flowers!!
- Beartooth Highway Scenic Drive – Dazzling All American Road – WOW!!
- 4th of July in Cody, Wyoming – The Cody Stampede Parade!
- RVing Wyoming – Lakes, Mountains and Waterfalls
- Buffalo Wyoming – RVing Basque Style in the Bighorns!
- Buffalo Wyoming – Cowboys, Cowgirls and Sheriff Walt Longmire!
- Eastern Wyoming Small Towns – An RV Trip through Wyoming’s Quiet Side!
- Grand Teton National Park Wyoming – Rare Sightings!
- Grand Teton National Park – 101 Ways to Enjoy The Tetons!
- Grand Teton National Park WY – Mirrored Waters
- Grand Teton National Park WY – Wild Skies
- Flaming Gorge, WY – Absolutely spectacular, colorful views and friendly big-game animals
- Pinedale, WY – A beautiful modern-day Boomtown
- Jackson, WY – The Wild West Tamed & Gentrified
- Afton, Wyoming – Cowgirl Town!
- Devil’s Tower, WY – Remember “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” ??
- Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming – Stunning!
- Yellowstone National Park, WY – Bubbling Geysers
- Yellowstone National Park, WY – Big Game Animals
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I’m a country boy at heart and just ate up those spectacular photos of rural Wyoming. Loved the sky shots!
Just drove the Blue Ridge Parkway, chasing the warblers on their northward journey and will post that part of our recent road trip soon.
Thank you, Stewart. Wyoming has given us some of the most deliciously dark and brooding skies of anywhere we’ve been, not just on this visit but when we went to the Tetons and when we visited Alpine too. What a fabulous travel theme you had for the Blue Ridge Parkway. I love the idea of chasing warblers on their migration!! Happy travels!!
You guys really know how to bring out nature’s colors! Beautiful, as usual. Sunshine, then snow….excellent! Looks like Buddy is getting to be a big boy!
The only thing that can hold us back is fog, but then it makes for a good laugh later, Pete! Buddy is a long legged 22 lbs. now. We get low to the ground on a lot of shots, so he appears bigger than he is, but his energetic sprints are so zippy he’d put Usain Bolt to the test!!
I don’t know how you guys put up with all that traffic during those brutal Wyoming rush hours! Thanks for another great ride-along!
It’s pretty tough, Jeff!! (and we’re pretty spoiled, I know). Thanks for riding along through all that brisk weather!!
Such beauty in those skies….and you do the awe-inspiring scenery proud with your appreciative commentary !
Thank you. It was chilly, but those storm clouds were magical!
We came across the Big Horn Scenic Byway as well one week ago, quite the blizzard on top of the mountain. We came from SW Missouri, went to the Badlands, SD then Deadwood, visited Mt Rushmore, and Devils Tower, Yellowstone for 5 days then just left Bear Lake, UT where we met my brother and his family. We are now in Ogden, UT at my brothers home for a few days, then traveling south to the Arches, etc.. before we make our way back to SW Missouri. Emily you inspired me years ago when you and Mark first started. We finally bought a starter TT Winnebago Micro Minnie to get our feet wet and see if we are going to like it. So far it’s amazing. I am a while from retirement. But self employed and taking the summer off to explore.
Wow, Katie, a blizzard on the Big Horn Scenic Byway just a week ago, yikes! That’s the fun thing about Spring, you never know what kind of crazy weather you’ll get as Old Man Winter rears up for a few final blasts before taking a nap over the summer. Sounds like you are on quite a trip and are hitting lots of great things out west. We love all those places!
I am blown away that you came across our blog so long ago and have followed our journey all these years, and it means so much to know we’ve inspired you and that you are finding you like RVing too. Have fun with your family in Ogden and enjoy your continued explorations this summer!