I spent part of my holiday weekend driving from Buffalo, WY, to Worland, WY on the Cloud Peak Scenic Byway. 64 miles of twisty, winding road over the Powder River Pass and through Ten Sleep Canyon. When the road sign says slow to 25 mph, it’s probably a good suggestion, considering there is a series of switchbacks that has you driving right above the next section of road as you double back on yourself.
The interesting thing in the canyon- and reason to switch drivers if possible, is the roadside signs that point out the different geologic strata of the rock formations. It runs the gamut from Cretaceous, Jurassic, Triassic, Permian, Pennsylvanian, Mississippian, Devonian, Silurian, Ordovician, to Cambrian – 500 million years ago. The urge to jump out of the car and go touch the rocks was a bit overwhelming. Unfortunately, I was driving.
On the bright side, the highway department provided plenty of wide spots on the narrow road so you can pull over and gawk at the rock formations. Or put tire chains on in the winter. (People drive this in the winter? Are they nuts??) Or catch your breath and pry white knuckles from the steering wheel. And observe that the guard rails are supported by posts the diameter of telephone poles… about a foot apart. You’d have to really try to break through and plunge the thousand or so feet into the bottom of the canyon. Of course at one point I pulled over in a turn out to let two rolling bombs (gas trucks) go barreling by, because face it, I had a camera and I bet the flames would light up the murky depths well enough to get some good pictures.
The road has gates at either end of its 64 mile length. There was snow on the ground, but not on the road when I went through. There is no way I’m driving that in winter. The reflector lights had four foot orange poles taped to their tops. That tells me the snowplow drivers are the only ones crazy enough to be on that road after November…
On the other hand, the canyon was gorgeous. Like most of Wyoming’s unknown scenery, it was rather stark and plain, but not without its charm. When you finally break out of the mountains on the Worland side, there is a spectacular red cliff formation. On the return trip, my motivation was to get out of the canyon before dark. It was close, the bottom of the canyon was in shadow, and the rock formations painted gold by the setting sun. When I finally rounded the last curve and started into Buffalo, the sun painted the tops of the mountains and chased me home before gradually setting in my rearview mirror. While I was glad to be out of the canyon, part of me wanted to stay and enjoy the majesty of a night in the Big Horns. Then the logical, Vulcan side of me took over and reminded me that it was going to snow, and that I could come back next summer, park, and hike around petting all the Pre-Cambrian rocks I wanted.