The Black and Yellow Trail

In spite of continual highway maintenance, reroutes and modern interstates, one can still see and/or drive many portions of the Black and Yellow Trail in northern Wyoming, an early tourist route publicized widely in the pioneer days of auto travel. Researchers Robert and Elizabeth Rosenberg have not systematically explored the entirety of the Trail, but as historical consultants have encountered segments during various projects. Some of these are still in use as highways and represent later realignments of the original route; some are short abandoned segments that fell into disuse as the route evolved.

Sundance to Moorcroft. This drive along U.S. Route 14 exemplifies the philosophy of “enjoying the drive”—early routes often emphasized scenery and attractions over speed. This route follows the Black and Yellow Trail as laid out under a Federal Aid Project and constructed by the Wyoming State Highway Department, designed to allow tourists to stop at nearby Devils Tower. An even earlier route used a portion of present-day State Route 13, abandoned when the road was rerouted by way of Devils Tower.

Gillette to Ucross, U.S. 14-16. An easily drivable and interesting segment of the Black and Yellow Tail is U.S. Route 14-16 from Gillette to Ucross (about 70 miles), which loops some 40 miles north of Interstate 90 between Gillette and Buffalo. As a state highway, it has been continually improved and in places realigned; however, it represents both the early 1920s and 1940s routes. Where it has been realigned, segments of the original road can still be seen from today’s highway. These tend to be short and impacted at each end by the modern road. However, the present-day highway itself closely resembles the 1940s alignment; it features narrow shoulders and two single-span, wide-flange, steel-girder bridges built in 1939 (over Wildcat Creek) and 1941 (over Rawhide Creek.)

A short distance north of the Rawhide Creek Bridge about 10 miles north of Gillette, one can spot an 1100-foot trace on the west side of the highway. Closer to Gillette is an intact 1.8-mile segment, abandoned by a 1940s realignment. It is located on private property, however, and is not accessible to the public.

At the top of the loop is the tiny settlement of Spotted Horse, established in the early 1920s. It boasted a general store, service station, post office and dance hall. A fire in 1935 destroyed the original store, which was rebuilt a short distance west. An early tourist attraction was a wooden horse covered with spotted horse hide, mounted on a gate post in a bucking position. Auto tourists often stopped to have their photos taken on “Old Spot.” A tornado destroyed the dance hall in 1944, but the general store and spotted horse still attract travelers today.

The highway continues west then southwest through Clearmont with its distinctive grain elevators, and the gradual rise to Buffalo offers a spectacular view of the Bighorn Mountains.

Crossing the Bighorns. In 1998, the authors recorded several short sections of the Black and Yellow Trail west of Buffalo, two of which were located between the Hunter Creek Road and the Schoolhouse Park Road. Traces of the old road were found on both sides of the current highway, and due to the steep topography were quite distinct. These segments represent the ca. 1918-1920 construction and were abandoned when U.S. Route 16 was improved and realigned, often to lessen sharp curves.

Ten Sleep. In this area, Washakie County Road 580A represents the 1936 alignment of the Black and Yellow Trail, paralleling today’s U.S. Route 16 a short distance to the south. A single-span Warren pony truss bridge, constructed in 1936, crosses Nowood River on this alignment. Northeast of the truss bridge, the Black and Yellow Trail can be followed into Ten Sleep; southwest of the bridge, it can be driven for several miles before becoming impassable due to topography. Traces of asphalt, intact culverts, and a “FAP” marker can be found along this segment.