After I left the place where I isolated for the winter while waiting a vaccine and the ability to feel safe traveling again, I stopped in three southern Wyoming towns as I made my way west to my workamping gigs in eastern Oregon. Two places weren’t what I’d call destination towns so there wasn’t a lot to do and see. The other location might be more of a destination town but as I was there only a few days, I didn’t see much.

So, this post is a hodgepodge of random things to do and see if you find yourself stopping in towns along Interstate I-80 in southern Wyoming.

One funny note. Well, maybe not funny. Certainly, factual but it tickled my funny bone. Maybe because I was raised in Wyoming. You know how campgrounds give you a little flyer for their place to include a map of the campground, the rules, etc.? Well, every southern Wyoming campground warned RVers not to put out their awnings. That famous Wyoming wind can be both fierce and sneaky, even on what appears to be a calm day.

Welcome to Wyoming.

Central Southern Wyoming: Rawlins

For my taste there wasn’t much to see and do in Rawlins. In fact, I hadn’t planned a stop there but reservations were hard to come by so I ended up there for a week. Because I struggle with hitching up the trailer to the van, I don’t like to unhook when I’m at a location for a short time and don’t need to go anywhere while there.

I debating unhooking in Rawlins because I was interested in visiting the Frontier Prison, Wyoming’s first state penitentiary. Since I was stocked up on groceries, the prison was the only thing on my list of things I might do.

I still hadn’t decided whether I’d unhook in Rawlins when I arrived at the Red Desert Rose Campground. But as I was checking in, a very convenient solution presented itself. The campground offered a courtesy vehicle. I have heard about these but never been somewhere that had one. In short, they have a car guests could check out for a couple of hours. How nice is that?

So, I didn’t have to unhook and I was still able to visit the prison. Win-win.

The back end of a black SUV parked under a carport. A sign on the carport reads Courtesy Vehicle.
The courtesy vehicle got its own special place to park.

Wyoming’s Frontier Prison

As you know, I’m a big fan of museums in general. But especially enjoy the small ones run by local historical societies, the unusual ones and any that are not what you typically think of when someone says “museum.” A prison definitely qualifies.

At the Frontier Prison, each tour guide starts with tons of facts but the museum lets each guide decide what to share and how to share it. I got a tour guide who thought he was a comedian. He kind of was though some of his puns were pretty bad. A young local kid, he made the tour fun.

Anyone can go see the museum portion but you have to pay $10 for the guided tour through the prison itself. It’s worth the price of admission, for sure. There is also a gift shop.

The outside of a stone three story building, the first prison in Wyoming.
The prison expanded with new additions over the years. This middle section and the part to the left were the original building.
Man in a mask standing in front of the cell door of an old prison. You can also see a second level of cells.
The start of the tour in Cell Block A with the comedian tour guide.

Fun Facts about the Frontier Prison

Since this is a roundup post, I am not going to go into as much detail as a I usually do. But here are just a few of the fun facts that stood out to me as I toured:

  • The prison was operational from 1901 through 1981. In its 80 years, it housed 13,500 prisoners, including women for a short time, which is less than the number of people who now tour the prison annually.
  • In reading the chronological history, there were an astounding number of escapes, including mass escapes (which was a new term for me).
  • When it opened its first block with 104 cells (Cell Block A), it had no electricity, running water or adequate heat. Heat made the little law library the most popular place to since it was warm. The library at the time also housed more law books than the University of Wyoming. Hot water finally arrived to Cell Block A in 1979. Yes, just three years before the prison closed.
  • To help cover the costs the prison built a work building. First it was a broom factory. In 1912 prisoners burned it down though officials quickly rebuilt it. In 1917, prison officials terminated the broom factory. Why? They learned turning it into a shirt factory would generate twice the income. In 1923 the shirt factory burned down and it, too, was quickly rebuilt. In 1935, the penitentiary purchased a woolen mill. When World War II broke out, they started producing woolen blankets for the military. In 1949, a new facility was built and this time they started production of license plates. When the prison closed, they tore down the license plate factory. Turns out, it was more expensive to get rid of the rubble than it was to build it. So, they decided to let the remaining buildings stand until they fell.
  • In 1988, ownership of the prison, affectionately called Old Pen, transferred to the nonprofit who now restores, maintains and runs it.

Photos from Frontier Prison

Looking through the bars into a jail cell. The walls and ceiling, sink and toilet are painted a light green.
I lightened this photo a bit as the cells were dark so it was hard to get good photos. This is inside a cell in Cell Block A, though all looked similar. Each cell housed two men.
Looking inside a narrow jail cell. The door is open and the "bed" is a cement block and the toilet is a metal basin.
The top floor housed those on death row where it was one man to a cell. This is a death row cell.
A large cage attached to the side of a wall.
Guards stayed up above the prisoners in their own protective cages.
The outside of a room with the door closed. The sign tells the hours of the prison library.
The most popular room in the southern Wyoming prison, the law library. It not only was the warmest room in Cell Block A but it had a comfortable chair.
An old gas chamber with a small window. It's silver.
Men were executed primarily by hanging but a few died in this small gas chamber. When it was installed, it was first tested on a pig.
A big dirt and wild grass surrounded by a wall, against the hill and Wyoming sky.
The exercise yard. See that red sign painted on the wall? It’s says “Welcome..” See below for a close up and the reason for the sign. No, it wasn’t to welcome the prisoners.
Closed up on a Welcome sign painted on the prison wall.
The prison actually had a pretty good baseball team so other teams wanted to play would come for a game. The welcome sign was for those who came to watch. However, when they lost one of the best players (due to his execution), the team lost steam and the games ceased.

Western Southern Wyoming: Evanston

You’ll find Evanston just a stone’s throw from the Idaho border. Like my stay in Rawlins, Evanston was not my first choice but I ended up there due to lack of space in the area I hoped to stay. Also, like Rawlins, I didn’t find there was much to see and do.

However, Evanston did have one thing I loved and ended up exploring a dozen times in the month of my visit.  A beautiful river walk.

Evanston’s River Playground

I found the river walk by looking up info about the Bear River State Park. The Wyoming Parks website said all day-use parks are $7 so my plan was to only visit once or twice. But when I got there, there was no fee station or signs about fees. So, I visited several times each week. You can walk on paths throughout the state park or stop for a picnic.

Or what I ended up doing, though the first time I was half lost, was following a path that after a short time said I was leaving the state park and entering the Bear River Greenway. But it was so pretty, I kept going. I walked a mile or two before turning around and, in that time, I came across a couple other parking lots, benches, a fishing pond, a ball field and a stretch that had workout stations. The other parking lots meant you didn’t have to go into the state park to reach the trail but it was only a couple of miles from where I stayed so continued to park there.

The walk promised lots of wildlife but, sadly, I never saw any. It was so hot when I there that I took early morning walks. Maybe the critters were still sleeping.

A sign between a rock wall and a walking path. It reads: Entering Bear River Greenway Evanston's River Playground.
When I passed this sign, I left the Bear River State Park and entered the Bear River Greenway. You can see how nice the cement path is. The bridge in the upper right corner is Interstate I-80.
A roiling river with lots of greenery along the side and under a cloudy gray sky.
The Bear River can be seen for most of the walk.

Joss House Museum Fail

In researching Evanston, I discovered at one point they had a decent sized Chinese population. As such, they have a Joss House Museum. You’ll find Joss House Museums all over, with the same name. Why? Joss House means Chinese temple and with the gold rush and the railroad many Chinese men came to the US for opportunity because things were so dismal in China at the time. But were not treated very kindly. As a result, Chinatowns popped up in the locations where the men settled for work.

Evanston was one such location because of the railroad. A couple weeks after Evanston was my workamping gig at Kam Wah Chung, so I thought a visit to the Joss House in Evanston the perfect chance to start emerging myself in the history and culture of the period.

But when I arrived, I found it locked. I walked a few buildings down to the Uinta County Museum (which shares the building with the Chamber of Commerce). Turns out, the Joss House Museum was closed for renovations. (They should say that on the website…but the way businesses don’t keep their websites updated is a rant for another day.) So, I stayed and toured the Uinta County Museum.

As expected, in a small town it was a small museum. But I’m glad I visited. Admission was free and you know I am all about free adventures. Though, I purchased postcards and made a donation.

Sign that reads: Uinta County Museum with hours they are open. Bottom of the sign says Evanston, Wyoming, Chamber of Commerce, also with their hours.
Signage outside the former Carnegie Library in Evanston, Wyoming.
A full size display that looks like an old general store, including barrels of fruits and veggies and a man behind the counter.
The largest room in the Uinta County Museum displayed an old fashioned general store. It was such fun looking at all the items.

Historic Depot Square

Both the Joss House and the Uinta County Museums were part of a three-block area called the Historic Depot Square in Evanston. It’s a pretty little area for a nice place to walk with a few historic buildings, a 9-11 sculpture, a water fountain, a gazebo and garden.

The Uinta County Museum and Chamber of Commerce are housed in the town’s former library, called the Carnegie Library. Did you know steel magnate Andrew Carnegie financed nearly 1,700 libraries in 1,400 communities around the country from 1889 to 1923? The building served as the town’s library until 1984.

A sculpture in a park. It has two flat pieces standing, though one is leaning (or tipping) to represent the twin towers.
The 9-11 Sculpture. It was dedicated on the one-year anniversary of the attack.

Western Southern Wyoming: Rock Springs

Rock Springs isn’t as far west as Evanston but still is on the western side of the state. It’s only 10 miles from Green River so what you find online covers both. This is where I wanted to stay for the month. But the KOA monthly spots are first come first serve. I’m just too much of a planner (and lack the spontaneity gene) to feel confident hoping to get a spot. And the campground in Green River had terrible reviews. And who wants to stay at a sucky place for a month?

So, I wasn’t in town but a few days. When I initially thought I’d be there longer, I researched the heck out of the place and had a list of things I wanted to do. Several involved driving and, while I’m not a fan of driving, I’m happy to do it for a fun adventure.

Number one on my list was to drive the Flaming Gorge. It is beautiful and there are lots of places to stop along the way for views and snacks. I was especially excited when I discovered that in May, June and July, they offer an all-day bus ride. For $49 including bottled water and lunch, I thought it an extraordinary deal once I calculated how much the 91-mile trip would cost in gas if I drove the van. (Gas was near $4/gallon at the time.)

But, alas, the bus excursion is only twice a week and it just didn’t line up correctly for me to go. Plus, it was so hot while I was there, I admit to not feeling keen on getting on and off the bus into baking hot sun.

Next time.

By the way, the feature photo is taken from a walk into the hills behind the KOA campground early one morning. It was just lovely.

A tan rock outcropping against a blue sky.
The rocks on the hill I walked toward as the morning sun hit them. There were paths all over used by ATV, bike and motorcycles.

Eastern Southern Wyoming: Laramie

I don’t very often post about places to eat as I’m not one for eating out much. But if you get to Laramie, Wyoming, you must visit Sweet Melissa’s. I grew up in Laramie and there was never anything as hip as this place back then. Each time I visited, the place was packed.

And here’s the extraordinary thing…in the middle of cattle country, Sweet Melissa’s is a vegetarian restaurant. Don’t, however, confuse vegetarian with healthy. There are healthy options but there way more things fried and covered in sauce (my favorite being the Cauliflower Wings with Buffalo or BBQ sauce).

And while they have many vegan dishes or vegan-on-request dishes, they also have things like mac and cheese of the day and lasagna of the day, both swimming in cheese. So, is it any wonder the place is popular? If you are looking for a cocktail, try the Asian Lemon Drop. So good.

There you have it. A few random things to do, see and eat in Southern Wyoming. If you have more to add to the list, please do so. If you make it to the Joss House Museum in Evanston, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the place.

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