I was in Casper, Wyoming for a few days last week, to attend an annual conference on using CO2 in enhancing oil recovery (EOR), and ended up with a few hours to kill before my flight home. My colleague Eric suggested we had time to see a nearby natural feature, the Ayres Natural Bridge Park, located about 20 miles outside of Casper.
Casper is near the center of Wyoming, straddling the North Platte River and located near the Granite and Laramie mountain ranges, but not within site of the Rockies in the western state. With a population under 60,000, it is the second largest city in Wyoming, and has been an ‘oil town’ for 120 years. (The nearby Salt Creek Field was part of the infamous Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s).
We drove out to the Ayres site, located five miles off Interstate 25, through lovely hay fields and ranch homes surrounded by trees, as well as the occasional natural gas compressor station. Suddenly, the road drops and you enter a canyon that looks out of place among the rolling hills and semi-arid landscape.
At the entrance, an abandoned building stands at a failed attempt to generate hydroelectric power circa 1900. Beyond the curve, and the small house of the caretaker, is a peaceful, green calm and the LaPrele Creek, amidst high red cliffs. The site was known to pioneers who traveled on the Oregon Trail, only a few miles to the north. Today, it is closed to overnight camping but open for picnics and day hikes. As we stood near the bridge and gaped at the tilted sedimentary layers, we noticed a group of kids, mostly girls, with small kits and nets. They were doing science.
A science group of mostly 5th and 6th graders was participating in data collection at the river. Their teacher explained they were checking temperatures, flow rates, depths, and using nets to do population counts.
It’s always fun to find unexpected treasures in familiar places. As a friend of mine often says, there is something to be discovered everywhere.
(all images taken with my iPhone, July 10, 2014)