Lori Van Pelt
Lori Van Pelt
The railroad hailed once as the “only line to the great Wyoming copper mining district” in the upper North Platte Valley failed to arrive in time for the copper boom—but still carried passengers and cattle for decades, and lumber for nearly a century.
Saratoga, famed for its hot springs, has often been called the place “where the trout leap in Main Street.” Treasured by fishermen, hunters and outdoor lovers, the town continues to thrive on the tourist trade. A sawmill, mainstay of the local economy from 1934 to 1983, recently re-opened.
Called Camp le Grand by trappers and fur traders who held rendezvous in the 1830s, the scenic place at the base of the Sierra Madre Mountains eventually became known as Encampment. Rich copper deposits brought miners, promoters and others who hoped the town would become a western industrial stronghold. That didn’t happen, but today, visitors and locals gather here for numerous festivals held throughout the year that celebrate the town’s heritage.
Lillian Heath, Wyoming’s first woman physician, practiced medicine in and around Rawlins, Wyo., beginning in 1893. As a teenager, she trained with Union Pacific Railroad surgeon Dr. Thomas Maghee, and assisted Maghee and Dr. John Osborne in their post-mortem investigations into the brain of outlaw Big Nose George Parrot. Later she won a medical degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Keokuk, Iowa, where she specialized in obstetrics. She retired after 15 years of practice, but remained keenly interested in medicine until her death in 1962.
Wyoming’s first state prison was located in Rawlins, Wyo., and housed inmates for 80 years, beginning in 1901. In 1988, a joint powers board turned the abandoned building into a museum and renamed it the Wyoming Frontier Prison. Visitors today can tour the cells and see the grounds where 13,500 prisoners, including 11 women, served time.
The Historic Elk Mountain Hotel, built in 1905 by John Evans, is located beside the Medicine Bow River, a place where Overland Trail travelers made crossings during their journeys west. In the 1940s and 1950s, the hotel’s Garden Spot Pavilion became well-known for its springy dance floor and for the many big-name musicians like Hank Thompson and Louis Armstrong who played there. The hotel underwent extensive renovation in the early years of this century, and the pavilion was demolished. Guests today enjoy modern conveniences, private baths and a dining room.
Beautiful Carbon County in south-central Wyoming was established in 1868 and named for its coal. Since fur-trade days, through coal, copper, cattle, sheep, uranium, coal again, natural gas and wind power, booms, busts, and new booms have dominated the economy. The Union Pacific Railroad has by contrast offered a steadying influence, as has the state prison in Rawlins, the county seat. And the North Platte River, locals say, offers the best trout fishing in the world.