In 1843, explorer John C. Frémont reported coal in what’s now southwest Wyoming. In the 1860s, the route of the new transcontinental railroad across Wyoming was chosen partly to access abundant coal deposits for fuel for the locomotives. Coal mining boomed, labor strife increased and Wyoming’s coal industry thrived despite worker strikes and a number of horrific mine accidents. Today, the state produces 40 percent of the nation’s coal, most of it from huge strip mines in the Powder River Basin in northeast Wyoming, for rail shipment to electric power plants in 34 states.
Geology & Natural History
Browse Articles about Geology & Natural History
|Elk Basin Oil Field||Rebecca Hein|
|Fossil Butte National Monument||Annette Hein|
|Fossil Cabin at Como Bluff||Stephanie Lowe|
|Grass Creek Oil Field||Rebecca Hein|
|Green River Basin natural history||Emilene Ostlind|
|Hague, Arnold||John Clayton|
|Ice Slough, Oregon Trail landmark||WyoHistory.org|
|Jensen, Henry, oral history||Dana Van Burgh|
|Knight, Samuel H.||Alexandra Hullinger|
|Kortes Dam, History of||Annette Hein|
Geology & Natural History
Seminoe and Kortes dams, both located in a remote stretch of northern Carbon County, Wyo., were constructed in the 1930s and 1940s primarily for the production of hydropower. While power plants at both dams still generate electricity, the area is frequented by tourists, especially fishermen who travel to the renowned Miracle Mile, just downstream from Kortes Dam, to catch trout.
Boysen Dam, named for local businessman Asmus Boysen, was constructed on the Wind River in the 1940s to control flooding and to provide irrigation water for agricultural purposes. The dam was completed in early 1953 and its power plant continues to generate electricity today. Boysen Reservoir provides recreational opportunities as well.
Wyoming’s bone-dry Bighorn Basin is isolated by its surrounding mountains and watered by crucial rivers and streams. Its history and natural history are rich with discoveries of dinosaurs, oil and gas, and with the traces of its occupants—American Indians, ranch and farm families, railroad families and oil workers.
Alcova Dam, a Bureau of Reclamation project, was completed in 1937. The reservoir opened in 1938 and a power plant was completed in 1955. The $20 million dam project didn’t achieve the high expectations of immense wealth that were forecast at the time of its inception, but continues to provide irrigation water for farmers and ranchers and generates hydropower for the area. Alcova Reservoir offers fishing, boating, camping and swimming opportunities for visitors.
Anchor Dam was built in the 1950s on upper Owl Creek in Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin. The bedrock under the reservoir site is porous, and the reservoir has never held much water. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation more than doubled its initial costs with subsequent mitigation efforts, which proved unsuccessful. The dam stands today high above a small pool of water.
Created in 1911 and named for President Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln County is perhaps best known for its extraordinary geological history, showcased at Fossil Butte National Monument. The county seat, Kemmerer, Wyo., is the site of the first store opened by James Cash Penney, founder of J. C. Penney & Co., a business that still operates nationally today. Agriculture, mining and oil and gas industries continue to spur the county’s economy.
Oil seeps were reported often in the early 19th century in what later became Wyoming; it was sold, for example to Oregon Trail travelers for wagon lubricant. The first producing well in Wyoming Territory was drilled in 1883 at Dallas Dome southeast Lander. Perhaps the state’s best-known historic oil producing region is the Salt Creek Field, north of Casper, which was one of the world’s largest-producing fields in the 1920s. Oil remains an important part of Wyoming’s economy and culture today, and the state is ranked high among the top national producers.
The Powder River Basin sports a colorful history. Bones of bison slaughtered by people, found south of Sundance, Wyo., date back 6,000 years, and northeast Wyoming remained a favorite hunting ground for American Indians into the late 19th century. At that time the Powder River Basin was the scene of violent conflicts between the Indians and U.S. military men. Abundant grass made this region a favored spot for cattle and sheep ranchers. Under the grass is coal—so much of it that about 40 percent of the coal mined in the U.S., comes from the Powder River Basin.
Samuel H. “Doc” Knight taught geology at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyo. from 1916 until his retirement in 1963. For a decade he was the only geology teacher, but as his classes began to grow in size and popularity the geology department expanded into a nationally recognized program. He established the university’s science camp in the mountains west of Laramie and revitalized the university’s geological museum. Knight taught an estimated 10,000 students throughout his career and was known to many “Mr. Geology of Wyoming.”