We never intended to wind up in Lander, Wyoming. Since leaving Flaming Gorge in Utah, we were heading north on US Highway 191 toward the Tetons and Yellowstone. After camping with Linda and Ken, our road buddies that we met in Bend, Oregon last year, we caravaned with them, boondocking at Walmart in Rock Springs, Wyoming. In fact, we boondocked there for a couple of days, all of us being cheapskates. Free camping is free camping.
And besides, it was time to re-supply there anyway. After some good times, shared dinners, and extremely competitive games of “Sequence”, it was finally time to part company. They to Pueblo, Colorado, and us to the Tetons.
Even though we were underway, at one of our rest breaks I took a look at our map and saw that we had a choice about which side of the Wind River Mountain Range we wanted to travel. Regardless, both routes would lead us to the Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. We had been on 191 all the way to Jackson, Wyoming in the past. So, it was an easy decision to turn on Highway 28 and head around the south end of the Wind River Range toward Lander.
Not having done our homework, we were surprised that Wyoming Highway 28 followed the routes of the Oregon, Mormon and California Trails, not to mention passing in close proximity to South Pass City and Atlantic City, both known for gold and outlaws. Butch Cassidy is probably the most famous of the outlaws that ventured to the area. In his case, he was captured by the Lander Sheriff and eventually sent to prison. South Pass itself was the route that allowed the pioneers to get over the mountains as they headed west. This area also marked the “Parting of the Ways”, a junction on the original Oregon Trail whereby those heading to Oregon went one way, while another trail led to Utah and California.
Lander, Wyoming turned out to be a very pleasant surprise to us. When you think of Wyoming, you think of cowboys and a “country” way of life. That’s Lander. Cowboy hats, big buckles, plaid shirts, Wrangler jeans, and boots are the uniform of the day.
The town has a lot of pioneer history, with many of its 7500 residents being direct descendants of those who came here either by covered wagon, on horseback, or on foot. This region is also home to the Arapaho and Shoshone indian tribes, both of whom share the Wind River Reservation just north of lander.
All in all, we spent 5 days in Lander, including the 4th of July. The first three days, we camped along the Po Po Agie (pronounced Po PoAshue) River as it passes through the Lander City Park. You can camp in the City Park for free for a maximum of 3 days. On the 4th, we attended a rodeo, and watched the town’s 4th of July parade sitting in our lawn chairs along the sidewalk on Main St. Later that evening, we watched one of the best fireworks displays we’ve ever seen from the top of a hill overlooking the town. Rather than having one professionally produced fireworks “show” at a single location, we were entertained by spectacular fireworks launched by individuals and groups throughout the town and entire valley. Starting at about 9:00 p.m., which is sunset in these parts, the “show” lasted until well past midnight.
There are two museums in Lander, both on the same property. One is the Pioneer Museum, and the other is the Museum of the American West. Both are well worth a visit. One really cool aspect is the “town” that has been recreated outside the Museums, with actual restored buildings. Everything from a Mercantile Store to a newspaper office to a livery stable, as well as an authentic pioneer church and homesteader’s cabin are all on site.
While here, we drove the city looking at the various neighborhoods. We like to do that as we travel. And we love grabbing brochures of the homes that are for sale. It kind of gives you a feel for the pride and economics of the area. We found most of the neighborhoods to be high on pride of ownership. And home prices were quite reasonable. You can find million dollar homes anywhere. But, we found nice homes in nice neighborhoods for $150,00-$300,000.
Lander is not near anywhere. If one needs a big city, it’s probably Salt Lake or Denver, both of which are several hundred miles distant. Perhaps, in a sense, that’s a good thing. We talked with many residents of Lander and all of them loved living here. From the young couple who’s families moved here from San Diego, to “Noni” (short for Winona) who has lived here since 1942, they say Lander has all they need and is a great place to live and raise a family or to retire.
We felt that during our short time here. Everyone we met was warm and friendly and welcoming. And you can’t beat the beautiful scenery of the area, including the snow-capped Wind River Range as a backdrop to the town. We’ll be back.