Rock Springs To Thermopolis ~ The Wyoming High Plains
Every summer the temperatures rise to the boiling point in the Desert Southwest and people seek relief from the heat in the mountains or the northern states. When the temperatures are over 115ºF, most of the locals in the Desert Southwest dream of taking a vacation to a destination that is guaranteed to be more comfortable and Wyoming is one such place!
I recently worked for a short while in Wyoming as a chef and I had the time to explore this territory from one end of this state to the other. Wyoming is a vast expanse of land that offers ever changing panoramic landscapes and this state also has plenty of old west history to tell too.
Wyoming is a great place to take a long scenic drive and for most destinations in this state there will be no choice in the matter. This is because the distances between points of interest can be hundreds of miles, so a visitor will be doing plenty of long scenic drives, whether they want to or not! When touring destinations in Wyoming, there literally is nothing better to do than leisurely cruise through the wide open spaces in between and take in the majestic scenery!
In Wyoming, there are winding mountain roads that are challenging to drive and there are long straight highways that are better suited for land yachts and travel trailers. Wyoming has some of the steepest mountain grades in the west, so depending on what kind of vehicle you drive, it may pay to take a good look at the map before setting sail.
A good starting point for a nice flat scenic drive through the Wyoming High Plains is Rock Springs, which is located near the Utah border. For those who drive sports cars and muscle cars that have a stick shift, there is a challenging way to get to Rock Springs from Utah. Traveling north on U.S. Highway 191 from northeast Utah to Rock Springs is just about as hair raising as it gets, because this dangerous road snakes through many canyons that have steep grades! When I did this scenic route I was driving a small block Hemi Challenger with a 6 speed stick. All that can be said is that powering through the steep mountain hairpin turns was a blast!
It was well after dark upon arrival in Rock Springs and after grabbing a bite to eat I got some rest before heading north through the High Plains. Rock Springs is a fair size city that offers all amenities and shopping. Rock Springs is a gateway to adventure city, so plenty of outdoor outfitters and rentals can be found here too. Rock Springs has some pretty good local places to grab a bite to eat that are far more appealing than the national chain restaurants by the freeway. A good place to grab a few snacks for the road in the morning is Cowboy Donuts, which has won the Best In The West Award in the past. This gourmet donut shop was featured on the Food Television Network and the Watermelon Donuts truly are worth going out of the way for!
The high plains of southern Wyoming are just about as flat as it gets, so for some, this may not exactly seem to be an exciting scenic drive to do. They sure do not call this region the High Plains for no reason at all and from horizon to horizon, all that a traveler will see is endless grassy plains, cattle ranches and a few rolling hills when passing through. The small towns are few and far between, but each has a historic site that gives reason to stretch the legs during this long drive. When traveling on the seemingly endless two lane roads in the High Plains, one cannot help to think of two important demographic facts. First of all, there are more cattle than people in Wyoming and this state has the lowest population of any in the union. This all becomes evident when touring the High Plains!
Traveling on SR 28, U.S. 26 and U.S. 20 from Rock Springs to Thermopolis near the Bighorn National Forest in north central Wyoming definitely is a scenic High Plains drive worth doing. After enduring the monotonous trip through the High Plains, the surreal looking Rocky Mountain Range eventually comes into view. This route rewards travelers with a drive through one of the most spectacular mountain gorges in the world. The Bighorn River runs through this gorge and empties into the Boysen Reservoir, which is one of the most picturesque desert lakes in the west. This end of the Bighorn River is a haven for fly fishing and white water rafting ventures, so it is worth packing some camping gear.
Carefully glancing at the map or GPS is essential when driving through the High Plains, because the road signs can be few and far between and a wrong turn can easily result in driving an extra 100 miles! This actually happened to me after losing cel phone service near the Wind River Reservation and I ended up taking an unplanned grand tour of Crowheart Butte and Fort Washakie, which actually was far more entertaining than the road that I was supposed to be driving on!
Wyoming is a big place and there is plenty of ground to cover when touring this state. Those who like driving long distances in the wide open spaces surely will like exploring what Wyoming has to offer. The scenery along the way is as picturesque it as it gets and this adds to the charm! Keeping a positive note definitely is the best way to approach the long commutes in this state!