Tom Ross: Exploring Carbon County, Wyoming’s wide-open skies
June 24, 2013
Steamboat Springs — Anyone looking for an inexpensive getaway from bustling Steamboat Springs would do well to consider the two-hour drive north to Carbon County, Wyo., where the Encampment River flows into the mighty North Platte. There, travelers will find wilderness and Western history to explore and at least one two-story outhouse.
Near the little town of Encampment, Wyo., where copper miners congregated at the beginning of the 20th century, you'll find inexpensive camping as well as a re-created pioneer town assembled from authentic historic buildings. And 20 miles up the road in Saratoga, there are some inviting shops and restaurants along with a natural hot springs to soak in that is open by donation 24 hours per day.
Anglers flock to the area, some in private jets, to fish for trout in the North Platte and Encampment, both with their headwaters in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area back in good old Colorado.
The outstanding cultural venue in the area is the Grand Encampment Museum, which is really a campus of more than a dozen historic buildings moved to a park-like setting. The museum is open seven days per week by donation from May 25 to Oct. 15 and staffed by knowledgeable student guides. The museum was open until 6 p.m. on Sunday, but you can confirm hours by calling 307-327-5308.
A number of the buildings originally were used for something different than the collection they house today. For example, the Kuntzman Building was an insurance office in 1900 but has been converted to a saloon for museum purposes because it is large enough to accommodate an authentic wooden-back bar, a poker table (with vintage cards strewn about) and a little billiard table.
You'll find a fully equipped frontier doctor's office, a retail store, primitive blacksmith shop and a residential cabin converted into a replica of the newspaper office of the old Battle Miner.
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Unique to the area are remnants of a tramway that ran 16 miles on wooden towers between a copper smelter in Encampment and the Ferris Haggerty Mine. There were 375 wooden towers and 800 ore buckets, several of which are installed at the museum.
Our favorite exhibit was the beautifully furnished Parkison House with its collection of antique musical instruments, but if you've got youngsters along, the exhibit they'll remember best is the two-story outhouse. Think about what alternatives there were in olden days when the snow piled up so deep the first floor of the outhouse was buried.
Visitors can enjoy views of the upper Platte River Valley and the distant Medicine Bow Range from the U.S. Forest Service Bottle Creek Campground or enjoy close proximity to the stream and the wilderness hiking trail at the BLM Encampment River site. Camping is first-come, first-served, and the nightly fee is $10 for both campgrounds. The BLM has 11 campsites on the North Platte next to a boat ramp at Bennett Creek, about a 23-mile drive fro Encampment. There is also accessible fishing there. And there are six more campsites on the North Platte at Corral Creek.
The most direct route to Encampment from Steamboat is to drive up the Elk River Road to Columbine and follow Forest Road 550 all the way to a junction with Wyoming Highway 70, a distance of about 80 miles. However, you'll get there much faster if you avoid the winding dirt roads and travel over Rabbit Ears Pass, then north of Walden to the junction of Colorado 125/Wyoming 230 for the drive down the North Platte River Valley. It will take you only two hours to drive the 109 miles.
For an excellent guide to hiking in the Encampment area, consult the book "Hiking Wyoming's Medicine Bow National Forest" by Marc Smith. You can find a copy at Bud Werner Memorial Library.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com