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GEM, Geology and More

Several weeks ago, we took a camping trip to southern Wyoming - dodging monsoon moisture and looking for new places to explore. This was an area of the state we'd never been to before and it didn't disappoint! In my last post, I mentioned how very much wildlife,

and especially the baby animals, we got to see on the trip. The history, geology and scenic value of the region was absolutely worth it, too.

Photo of pickup and teardrop camper in forested area in Wyoming
Camper in Medicine Bow Nat'l Forest

So we had to go back, and we did. This time, we explored areas we either didn't know about or didn't have time to check out on our previous trip. On this trip, we spent some time at the Grand Encampment Museum (GEM), partly because of the information about the tramway that was used to haul copper ore to the smelter near Encampment, and partly because of a woman photographer who lived in Encampment, Wyoming. I learned about this woman, Lora Webb Nichols, and her unique photographic perspective from an article in Black & White magazine and just had to see what the museum could tell me about her. For example, although raising six children, and either working part time to help make ends meet, or running her own businesses (the Rocky Mountain Photo Studio and the Sugar Bowl soda fountain as well as the local newspaper), she still collected an enormous catalog of over 20,000 images between 1899 and the early 1960's. And you modern moms thought you were busy!

Photo showing evening storm light on a rock formation in southern Wyoming
Storm light on rock formation, southern Wyoming

GEM was actually pretty interesting. For example, did you know that folding bathtubs existed? As in, when not in use, it could be lifted against the wall much like a Murphy bed, and was an attractive piece of furniture. Or that working two-story outhouses were

a thing? GEM has a reconstruction of one. The second story was used when snow got deep; the seats on the first floor were lifted out of the way, and, at least on this one, the upper floor holes were surrounded with deer or elk hide for comfort on a cold winter night (oooo-kay, but I am not volunteering to be the one cleaning it in the spring!).

Photo of antique folding bathtub in open position
Mosely tub in open position
Photo of a two-story outhouse for use when snow became too deep
Two-story outhouse
Photo of antique folding bathtub in closed position
Mosely tub closed

But the main attraction at GEM is likely the reconstructed section of the aerial tramway that was used to transport copper ore from the Ferris-Haggerty mine in the mountains 16 miles to the smelter that was just outside Encampment. From 1902 - 1908, this tramway was the

Photo of section of aerial tramway for hauling ore from mine to smelter in Encampment, Wyoming
Tramway section, Grand Encampment Museum, Wyoming

longest in the world. At its peak, the tram carried about 1,000 tons of ore per day in more than 800 buckets. It was powered by gravity as the full buckets (holding up to 700 pounds each) rolled down the cable, pulling the empties back up as they went. Miners also would occasionally ride the buckets. The museum features a detailed diorama showing the path and terrain the tramway followed. This museum really is a "GEM" of history of the area; I only scratched the surface and could easily have spent half a day there.

Photo of silhouette of American white pelican with orange sunrise glow on water
Sunrise silhouette

Other gems in the area are Saratoga Lake at the nearby town of Saratoga. We camped next to the lake one night, and got to watch the white pelicans feeding before light - looking like phosphorescence dancing on the water in the dark! I got some really nice photos as the sun began to come up, mostly abstracts of the light and the the water and reeds, but a few like this one of the lone pelican.

There are two scenic byways in the area: Battle Pass Scenic Byway, going from Encampment to Baggs about an hour to the west, and the Snowy Range Scenic Byway, beginning a little north of Encampment and ending at Centennial, where we had a very nice lunch. Battle Pass, Battle Lake and the old town of Battle are named for a

Photo of aspen trees lining the road at Aspen Alley in southern Wyoming
Summertime view of Aspen Alley
Photo of Battle Lake along the Battle Pass Scenic Byway in Wyoming
Battle Lake from Highway 70 overlook

two-day clash in 1841 between a small number of fur trappers and a larger force of Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe - the trapper in charge of the smaller party was accused of cheating in his trading practices and brought down the wrath of three tribes on himself and his men. The mountain and nearby lake and creek were renamed for this battle. The beautiful Battle Lake is also noted by a plaque by the road as the location where Thomas Edison got the idea for the filament within the incandescent light bulb (please excuse me for being just a bit

Photo of a rock formation found on the Continental Divide at the top of Battle Pass, Wyoming
Rock formation at the top of Battle Pass on the Continental Divide

cynical about him, but he was known to take other peoples' ideas and "make" them his own, so I wondered if his fishing buddy was the actual idea man). On the western side of the pass a side road leads to Aspen Alley - an aisle of very old aspens growing right up to the road. According to an information sign, this grove contains trees that are as much as 120 years old (individual aspen stems generally live about 80 years). The trees were barely beginning to turn color when we were there, so they weren't quite as spectacular as they would be by early October.

Photo of Lake Marie in summer with the shoulder of Medicine Bow Peak and Sugarloaf Mountain in the background
Lake Marie with Sugarloaf Mountain

The Snowy Range Scenic Byway leads up to Medicine Bow Peak then back down to Centennial about an hour from Encampment to the north and east. This byway is both the second designated Scenic Byway in the U.S. and the second-highest pass in Wyoming. Lake Marie, near the highest point of the pass, is named for Mary Bellamy, who in 1910 was the first woman elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives.

Libby Flats, the highest point along this highway at about 10,000 feet, is a wide, flat area of subalpine trees, meadows and small lakes. An observation tower, built as a CCC project in the 1930's, tops the high point, offering 360-degree views of the surrounding flats and mountains.

Photo of Libby Flats area in southern Wyoming from stone observation tower
Libby Flats view from observation tower

Libby Flats also offers the chance to view fossils of some of the oldest organisms on earth. About a mile from the observation tower is an area with a number of large stromatolites - fossils of photosynthesizing bacteria growth from very early in the earth's development. These fossils are remnants of bacteria colonies that can be found in 'basement' rock around the earth. I saw my first stromatolites in Glacier Park, also in an area where extreme upheavals pushed these Precambrian formations up to high altitudes and close to the surface. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see the formations here for ourselves.

Photo of sedimentary rock and metamorphic quartzite at Libby Flats, Wyoming
Contrasting rock formations

Closer to the observation tower, there are excellent opportunities to see both the sedimentary rocks that have been exposed on Libby Flats alongside the gigantic metamorphic quartzite formations of The Diamond, Old Man Peak and Medicine Bow Peak (left to right in the photo). It made me wish I had more knowledge of geology, and I'd recommend the drive over the Snowy Range Scenic Byway to anyone who enjoys rock hounding, fishing, camping, or just a beautiful drive with spectacular scenery.

Overall, our two trips to this area of southern Wyoming were much more scenic and wildlife-heavy than we'd anticipated, which is always a good thing. We might not need to go back soon, but it's nice to know there are still places we can explore in the area the next time we do.

Photo of North Platte River with early evening light and storm clouds breaking up overhead
Early evening light on the North Platte River, Wyoming

You're welcome to check out other travel, nature and wildlife photography at my website, To continue seeing my ramblings about nature, wildlife, photo art prints and ideas for your home or office, and our adventures with our teardrop camper, please "sign up to stay connected." #wildlifephotography, #NaturePhotography, #naturephotographer, #photography, #nature, #travel, #wyoming, #colorado, #photoart, #buyart, #artforsale, #wallart, #metal, #canvas, #prints, #art, #interiordesign, #interiordecor, #interiorstyling.

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