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Geology & Natural History

Colby Mammoth Site

Remains of at least seven mammoths, probably from a meat cache dating back more than 11,000 years, were found when the Colby Mammoth site east of Worland, Wyo., was excavated by a crew under Wyoming State Archaeologist George Frison in the 1970s.

The North Platte River Basin: A Natural History

The basin of the North Platte River takes up the southeastern quarter of Wyoming, plus a finger of land along the tributary Sweetwater River in the center of the state. The courses of the North Platte and Sweetwater determined early fur-trade and emigrant routes. Since that time, the basin’s water and other resources have continued to draw industry, stock raising, dams and irrigation—and people.

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Encyclopedia | 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.
Encyclopedia | When Thomas Boylan started collecting dinosaur bones on his homestead in 1915, he first envisioned completing a dinosaur skeleton and using it to attract customers to his gas station on U. S. Highway 30 near Como Bluff. However, he was told that he didn’t have enough bones for that. Instead, he used more than 5,700 bones to build a structure that has become known worldwide as the Fossil Cabin. The historic Fossil Cabin was built in 1932 and stands about five miles east of Medicine Bow, Carbon County, Wyo. The cabin has been featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Encyclopedia | The abundant vertebrate fossils of the Green River formation in western Wyoming have been known to science since the 1860s. Most are fish, buried in lime-rich mud at the bottom of freshwater lakes about 50 million years ago. Fossil Butte National Monument, west of Kemmerer, Wyo. was created by Congress in 1973 to protect a site extremely rich in these fossils.
Encyclopedia | 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.
Encyclopedia | 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.”
Encyclopedia | Western Wyoming’s Green River drains 4,000 miles of forested mountains and high desert, home to migrating wildlife, grazing cattle, a few thousand people, and in recent decades a booming natural-gas business. Since prehistoric times, people have worked to balance the basin’s resources for their own benefit — and that struggle continues today.
Encyclopedia | Legend Rock, about 30 miles northwest of Thermopolis, Wyo., features nearly 300 images carved or pecked into a rock cliff by ancient peoples over thousands of years.
Encyclopedia | Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site, northeast of Hyattville, contains pictographs and petroglyphs left by Wyoming’s ancient people, as well as an attractive, state-run campsite and small museum. Archaeologists have found evidence at the site of human habitation stretching back 10,000 years.

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