Most of my memories of Wyoming have not been ones I want to relive. Nearly every time my sister and I drive on I-80 from Denver to Salt Lake and vice-versa, we’re met with the same result. Car accidents and harsh winds always seem to leave us parked on the freeway. An eight-hour drive eventually turns into a twelve-hour excursion. Even though the feelings of dismay from these memories and repeat advertisements for Little America exist in the back of our minds, we decide to join my parents to visit a couple of National Parks and gain more passport stamps. To our delight, Wyoming holds more for us than unexpected freeway stops.
Our first stop finds us at Fort Laramie National Historic Site. An old fur trading fort eventually turned into a military post. The buildings are staged with furniture and décor to recreate this historical setting. Although I’m not crazy about the animal skin rugs, a bakery, jail, and Captain’s living quarters intrigue me as they recreate the life and experience of the mid to late 1800s. A must-see is the soldier’s barracks that are arranged to show daily life. Thin twin mattresses sans box springs with labels above of soldiers’ names and hats placed on shelves show the close quarters. A chessboard with makeshift game pieces of corn cobs becomes my family’s favorite detail.
The next destination brings us to the first National Monument and final location of the famous sci-fi movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Recalling the numerous times I carved Devils Tower out of mashed potatoes and added broccoli for trees, I’m eager to experience this monument in person. One Native American legend that illustrates many tribes’ connection to this monument tells the story of seven sisters who ran away from their brother after he changed into a bear. After climbing a tree that rose and grew up into the air, they escaped into the heavens. The ridges on the sides of the monument are marks from where the bear clawed at the tree. The Native American influence still remains at the monument as prayer cloths tied to trees can be found throughout our walk around this natural landmark. Many tribes continue to petition to have the name changed to Bears Lodge to create a more positive meaning of a place they are spiritually tied to.
The main question that lingers in my mind is over whether or not rock climbers should be allowed to climb Devils Tower. Although I understand the challenge, adrenaline rush, and the close connection with nature that climbers crave, I’m still torn over the issue. If Devils Tower was made a National Monument for preservation purposes, and Native American tribes continue to respect and connect to this specific landmark, I see how climbing Devils Tower hinders these purposes. This situation reminds me of a time neighborhood children chased each other through my family’s backyard before we had a complete fence line established. We could hear the gate close in the backyard and my dad went outside to confront the children and remind them this was inappropriate behavior since it wasn’t their house. I don’t like the idea of random children running in my parents’ backyard, so how can I approve of rock climbers playing in the lands that belong to Native American ancestors? It’s later brought to my attention that this issue has been addressed, with Voluntary Climbing Closures in June, a time when many Native American ceremonies occur. This results in a 80% reduction in the number of climbers in June (for more information, you can read about closures HERE).
As my family continues to the next state of our National Parks destination, I find there’s more controversies embedded in America’s past. Wyoming is only the beginning of our trek through the western United States history. It may seem strange, but I begin to think my sister and me are relieved we’re finding more in Wyoming. Instead of only seeing billboards for Little America, we’re eager to explore America’s past to learn for our future.
Where have you visited that showed you ancestry and heritage of a place? Do you think specific outdoor activities should be restricted in historic sites?