Thursday, June 11, 2015

Guernsey State Park and Fort Laramie National Historic Site

Our second brief stop in Wyoming this spring was a three night stay at Guernsey State Park. This beautiful, rather remote state park is primarily focused on water sports on Guernsey Reservoir. Unfortunately this reservoir has lost a lot of capacity due to silt deposits and a "silt run" is done in July, where the lake is drained to levels that may not allow water activities, but it usually refills by the end of the month.

Currently the lake is very full due to the wet spring we've had. In fact, we got even more rain during our stay, most of the day today! But the day we arrived it was hot (90 degrees) and humid and we noticed the swim beach was just down the road from our camp site. The swim "beach" was overgrown with young trees and grasses and the water was covered with a wide swath of pollen making it rather unappetizing as a place to swim.

Instead we entertained ourselves by watching giant carp stir up the sediments among the shore plants, flopping and splashing as they loosened nutrients from soil that was newly saturated by the high water level.

That's us all alone in the Sandy Point campground.
The lake is just beyond the cottonwoods.

Clouds building across the reservoir.

A gorgeous sunset our first night.
Only one other RV joined us that night.

The next day we took a scenic tour of the area which included Fort Laramie National Historic Site. Fort Laramie is situated at the confluence of the Laramie and North Platte rivers and as such was an important stop over for humans during the 1800's.

Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes dominated the region in the early 1800's and had good relations with trappers into the 1830's and 40's, when a trading post was built at this site. In the 1850's tens of thousands of overland emigrants traveled through the area as they migrated to Oregon or California or Utah.

In 1849 the US Army bought what was previously known as Fort John in order to establish a military presence along the emigrant trails. Renamed Fort Laramie, it quickly became the principal military outpost on the Northern Plains. It was also a transportation and communication hub, with stage lines, Pony Express and transcontinental telegraph all passing through.

Several treaty negotiations with the Northern Plains tribes were held at the Fort. Over time relations between the Indian tribes and the Army deteriorated as the number of emigrants swelled. Major Army campaigns were launched from the Fort. With the end of the Indian Wars, the Fort's importance diminished and it was abandoned in 1890.

Today the grounds consist of 11 restored structures with excellent period displays inside, several ruins, a visitor center with detailed history of the site, a good video, and personal stories from Indians, emigrants and soldiers.

With very little wood onsite, many of the original buildings were constructed from local rock, including limestone. When the Army took over they sold the existing buildings to locals who salvaged the wood roofs, leaving the walls exposed to deteriorate over time.

View of the hospital ruins.

Cavalry barracks.

The detail in this barracks display is typical of all the furnished rooms, which are viewed through glass barriers.
Those are checkers made of sliced corn cob in the foreground!

The North Platte river was overflowing its banks, and providing mosquito habitat!

Hans tries out a jail cell.

Officers quarters.

Back in the tiny town of Guernsey, we made a stop at the Oregon Trail Ruts site. It's fascinating to walk the ruts and imagine the thousands of emigrants and their livestock that passed through here and their many struggles on the way to a new life .

A lark sparrow serenaded us as we contemplated the hardy souls who passed this way.

Here we could see the wagons passed through the deep rut section, while the walkers traveled along the shallow rut section.

Just a couple of miles from the Oregon Trail Rut site is Register Cliff. This area was the first overnight camp west of Fort Laramie for overland travelers in the late 1800's. Hundreds of emigrants inscribed their names in the limestone cliff face. A fence has been installed to protect some of the oldest inscriptions due to innumerable additions in modern times.

This is a small section of Register Cliff.
Take note of the dark section in the middle of the cliff face...

...there are dozens of swallows nests on the cliff face!

Following our tour of Fort Laramie and Guernsey we took the long way back to our RV. Highway 270 was a short but beautiful drive to the North East entrance of Guernsey State Park. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was responsible for much of the building of Guernsey State Park in the 1930's and our drive through the park got us up close to much of their handiwork. CCC work was begun in 1933 and was about 85% complete when the CCC was disbanded in 1936.

Guernsey Reservoir covers 2,375 water surface acres, with many branches and coves lined with tall limestone cliffs.

A bridge constructed by the CCC.

On the drive up to the CCC Museum we had an excellent view of the North Platte river as it flows out of
Guernsey Reservoir and in to the town of Guernsey.

The CCC Museum is considered one of the finest examples of CCC work in the country.

Museum interior detail.

One of the neatest things about this museum is most of the displays are original.
Original art details information relevant to the time the display was created.

Many of the displays included extremely detailed small mannequins.

The North Platte river as it emerges from Guernsey dam.
The power plant is visible on the right.

Train tracks run through the park, directly past the campground.

Our last stop for the day was The Castle. Actually a fancy picnic shelter, The Castle is a gorgeous CCC-built structure on a bluff overlooking the reservoir.

The Castle.

Hans enjoys the view directly in front of The Castle.

Interior of The Castle.

We saw more CCC work from the bluff.
This narrow road hug the entire East side of the reservoir.
Though there are many beautiful, secluded dry camp sites along the East side,
it is not recommended for vehicles with a combined length of 45' or longer.

Today we had a high chance of rain but first thing in the morning the skies weren't too threatening, so we decided to hit the trail for a quick leg stretcher before we had to cocoon in the RV.

Guernsey State Park website is another inadequate Wyoming State Park website. It briefly mentions trails but offers no maps or details about them. The person at the check in booth didn't know anything either. On our drive to The Castle we spotted a kiosk at Brimmer Point Rd. that had a large sign with trail details.

This morning we discovered the road just beyond the kiosk was gated and locked. No problem, we just parked at the kiosk and walked up the road. It turns out that the fire that devastated a big chunk of the park in June 2012 had hit this area hard and the CCC-built trails had not been maintained since. Thus, we enjoyed a solitary hike of three miles on the road. The views were magnificent and we saw several turkey, deer and a fox.

This burnt CCC trail bridge was possibly one reason why the trails were not maintained.

Ominous skies over Guernsey Reservoir.

Guernsey State Park was a beautiful place to stay for a few nights. They have 142 sites, only a few of those are water/electric (50amp), most are dry. Each site has a picnic table and fire pit. Pit toilets are located throughout the park and there is a dump station. We had good 4G Verizon signal. There is one big drawback with this park and that's the railroad.

We chose a water/electric site in the Sandy Point campground, which turned out to be the campground closest to the train tracks. These are double tracks with LOTS of train traffic from nearby coal and oil sites. If we had chosen a water/electric site in the Sandy Beach campground the train noise may have been slightly muted.

The high volume of train traffic worried us at first and we alternated between fascination and annoyance with the trains. But since we were able to sleep well with earplugs we decided to stay for the three nights we had paid for...and are happy we did because we really enjoyed all the sights we saw during our stay.

We were pleasantly surprised by how empty this park was during our midweek stay. We never saw more than four other RV's spread out among several campgrounds. When we booked our site we could see that this park gets VERY busy on the weekends.

Site 77, Sandy Point campground.
Oh yeah, the trains are close!
The double track means there is lots of idling as trains pass each other, 24/7.

Our view in site 77, Sandy Point campground.
That's a tent camping area beyond the fence and slightly down hill from us.

After a very rainy day we're looking forward to dry driving conditions tomorrow as we head into South Dakota for the next several weeks. That area has been getting lots of rain this spring too so we're looking forward to a lot more green!


  1. Leave it to you guys to find the most incredible sites (and sights) and hikes. Keep your eyes out for pronghorns as you drive over to South Dakota. They're everywhere! Beautiful shot of that lark sparrow!

    1. :-) I LOVE pronghorns and call them out constantly as we drive. I've yet to have a good opportunity to take photos as we're always driving somewhere when we see them!

  2. Another Wyoming gem! I'd love to see the Oregon trail ruts and the rock where pioneers have carved their names. I look forward to your S Dakota posts. I grew up in Rapid City and still have family there.

    1. We're spending about 5 weeks around Rapid City....I think it's going to be stunning after all this rain!

    2. you will get plenty of pronghorn shots at the badlands...

  3. WOW...where to begin? I love history and this post sure is full of lots of interesting things to see and do. Fort Laramie looks like a fun place to explore and the CCC Museum is quite impressive. I just can't imagine traveling the country in a covered wagon.

    The Utah cliff swallows need to take lessons from the Wyoming swallows on how to build a neat nest!

    1. Yeah, there's a lot in this post ;-) But we enjoyed every bit of it!

  4. Oh my 90 degress, no place to swim and mosquitoes. Sounds like you are in the southeast not the west. Those wagon ruts were amazing. We saw parts of the trail and ruts in Nebraska where there was also a register rock. Those CCC boys are just amazing what a beautiful buildings the museum and castle are. Their work is everywhere. We owe them so much and Roosevelt for creating the problem. LOVE your lark sparrow, bluebird and turkey pictures.

    1. All the rain this spring is probably creating more mosquitos here than usual.

  5. Your pics are stunning. I love the rusted stove in the grass and the fungus on the tree :-) The artwork in the museum is wonderful - the CCC built some incredible trails and buildings in their short history. While I'd be okay with all the trains, the mention of mosquito habitat could be a deterrent :-( Thanks for sharing so many great things to see and do in the area!

    1. The mosquitos were more at Fort Laramie than at Guernsey State Park fortunately!

  6. I was able to get really close to some pronghorn in Custer State Park which was amazing. Normally they are very elusive and quick to move on. Thanks for the Guernsey info. We may stay there on our return from the Midwest in Sept.

    1. Fingers crossed that I get close enough, when on foot, to some pronghorns for photos!

  7. I love seeing the original Oregon Trail. I'm so glad there are still a few areas that have been preserved with the real tracks. Love the "registration" with the names. I use to teach the Oregon Trail so this area of the country always attracts me. We would enjoy Fort Laramie but not that jail cell!! The CCC did amazing work. I can't imagine we could find men willing to do that back breaking work today. Safe travels to SD!!

  8. Another very intriguing stop! Can't believe how empty the campground is in summer -- although as you said, it probably fills up on the weekends. The work of the CCC around our country always amazes me -- everything was built with such functionality and beauty. The museum looks interesting, as does the fort. Love your photo of the swallow condos!