Vedauwoo [vee-dah-voo]: anglicized version of the Arapaho word bi-ito’o’wu, meaning ‘earth born’
Vedauwoo Recreation Area encompasses a large collection of 1.4 billion-year-old granite outcrops in the foothills of the Laramie Mountains in southern Wyoming. Evidence of human habitation of the area dates back at least 8000 years; it is the native land of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Lakota, Shoshone, and Ute. With the arrival of white settlers in the 1700-1800s, the native people were pushed from the land as it was homesteaded, logged, and bisected by the transcontinental railroad. Apparently the area was also once used by Wyoming outlaws as a hiding spot. Given the maze of rocks, I can see why.
Nowadays, Vedauwoo is managed by the Forest Service and is predominately a rock-climbing destination. We weren’t actually there to rock climb, but rather to camp and hike. Camping at Vedauwoo is something I’ve wanted to do for a couple years now, but because it’s a small campground that doesn’t take reservations, I wasn’t confident in our ability to find a campsite on a Saturday. Luckily, Pat’s current work schedule includes alternating long weekends, so we took advantage of the opportunity to drive up to Wyoming first thing on a Friday morning this past June.
It was about 7:30am when we pulled into Vedauwoo Campground, and a quick glance revealed many occupied sites. We parked in the first available site we found and then set out exploring the rest of the small campground on foot. As it turned out, there were still about five sites open… including a walk in site that is, in my opinion, the best one in the entire campground! I assume it was still available because most people prefer a site that doesn’t involve lugging your stuff down a short trail and around behind a rock outcropping. Well, a little walking wasn’t going to deter us, and the extra trips back to the car when we forgot something were more than worth it in exchange for the partial seclusion, excellent views, and, most importantly, protection from the unrelenting Wyoming wind.
Regardless of which site you end up in, though, it’s a pretty great location for a campground. The sites are scattered around dozens of rock outcrops, most of which you can easily scramble up. There are a variety of trees and wildflowers. Both the Laramie Mountains and Medicine Bow Mountains are visible in the distance. And, on this particular night, the sunset was absolutely spectacular!
Annoyingly, our peaceful evening was abruptly ruined when we were awakened by a group of inconsiderate idiots who showed up to the adjacent day use area around 11pm – which, mind you, is not day time – for some obnoxiously loud drunken rock climbing (seriously, who rock climbs in the dark while intoxicated?). They proceeded to climb and yell and laugh loudly for hours, during which time Pat and I drifted in and out of sleep while dreaming about the many choice words we would use if we were to confront these asshats. Needless to say, it was not a great night. In the morning, we commiserated with the people from the neighboring campsites who were similarly annoyed and exhausted (and had also dreamed about various scenarios for retribution). This is sadly not our only recent experience with this kind of thing, and it’s making me reconsider when and where we camp.
After finally getting some uninterrupted sleep in the early morning hours, we dragged ourselves out of the tent and packed up our campsite. This was just an overnight trip for us; unless you’re rock climbing, one night here is probably sufficient. But before we headed home, we still had to explore the rest of the Vedauwoo Rec Area. The road continues beyond the campground to multiple day use picnic areas, some overflow camping, and a couple trailheads.
We followed signs to East Turtle Rock Trailhead, which was our starting point for the Turtle Rock Loop Trail. And off we went into a beautiful grove of aspens. We emerged next to a pond and then continued around the loop. This relatively easy 3 mile (4.8 km) trail gently undulates through a variety of landscapes, meandering next to a creek, crossing a few rock outcrops, and weaving through pine forests. From time to time, the trees would open to a pond or meadow.
Inside the loop is a collection of giant rock outcroppings, including Turtle Rock. We didn’t know exactly which one was Turtle Rock, so we spent the hike glancing up at the formations in search of it, squinting at various shapes and debating if maybe each one kind of looked like a turtle. Finally, at about the 2/3 point of the loop (heading counterclockwise), we spotted the turtle.
Then, while writing this post I did a google image search to confirm our findings, which revealed many photos of various outcroppings, all of which are labeled “turtle rock.” So now I have absolutely no idea which one is Turtle Rock. A collection of photos of the various outcrops is below… I’m interested to know which ones – if any – look most like a turtle to you.
For the most park, the Turtle Rock Trail was adequately marked and easy to follow, but we got a little confused when we reached the west trailhead parking area. Here, the trail crosses the parking lot and heads back into the trees, but it’s not well-marked and we initially missed it. Thanks to AllTrails (thank goodness for phone service… don’t be like me, download the map in advance), we located the path and continued around the final part of the loop.
After completing this loop, we drove to the end of the road and then walked the 0.6 mile (1 km) Vedauwoo Glen Loop, which departs from the picnic area and leads a little ways up into the rocks.
We wrapped up our day with lunch at the picnic area, and then waved goodbye to the haphazard piles of granite that had been our home away from home for the last 24 hours. Obnoxious midnight rock climbers aside (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say…), we really enjoyed Vedauwoo.
As you’re driving to and from Vedauwoo, there are a few roadside attractions that warrant brief stops. Just east of Vedauwoo, signs point to a pullout on the left, between the lanes of I-80. Exit here to see Tree-in-the-Rock, a resilient limber pine growing out of a giant boulder. In the 1800s, the railroad tracks were purposely laid to pass right by the tree. When the railroad was relocated, the path became a wagon road and, ultimately, the interstate.
Back on I-80, continue west to the Vedauwoo Road exit, cross under the interstate, and follow signs to Ames Monument. This monument was built by the Union Pacific Railroad to mark the highest point (8247 feet/2514 m) on the Transcontinental Railroad. It is named for the Ames brothers – Oakes and Oliver – who were instrumental in the construction of the Union Pacific portion of the railroad. The railroad has since been relocated a few miles away, but the monument remains.
As the automobile overtook the railroad as the preferred means of transportation, the Lincoln Highway Association formed to facilitate the development of a complete span of highways from New York to San Francisco. The highest point on the route is just west of Vedauwoo on Sherman Mountain. This transcontinental highway was named for President Lincoln and various monuments to him were built along the route. One such monument can be found here, at the high point of I-80 as it crosses the shoulder of Sherman Mountain.
From here, we continued west to the town of Laramie, Wyoming. More to come on that next week. For now, I’ll end with a photo of the sunrise over our campsite at Vedauwoo.
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: from I-80 between Laramie and Cheyenne, exit at Vedauwoo Road and follow signs north; it’s visible from the highway and not difficult to locate
- Fees and passes: entrance to Vedauwoo is $5/car for day use, or hang your interagency pass from your rearview mirror. Campsites are $10/night
- Hiking: Turtle Rock Loop (3 miles/300 feet of elevation gain), which can be accessed from the east or west trailhead; and the Vedauwoo Glen Loop (0.6 miles/270 feet elevation gain) which departs from Vedauwoo Picnic Area
- Where to stay: the Forest Service website is fairly incomplete, so let me clear up a few things. There are 28 sites at Vedauwoo Campground, but there are also about 20 overflow campsites further back near the day-use areas. These sites are all $10/night. They have pit toilets (but bring your own toilet paper because they only restock it twice per week). According to the website, there is potable water; we brought our own, so I can’t confirm this. If this area is full, there is also free dispersed camping just east of the entrance on FS Road 700 (Pole Mountain Area). This area has one pit toilet and no water or other amenities. Additional camping can be found 6 miles (9.6 km) west of Vedauwoo on I-80
- Other: there are fire rings at each established campsite and gathering of firewood is allowed; please be responsible with fire! This area is dry and windy. Never leave your fire unattended, have plenty of water nearby, and be sure your fire is all the way out before you leave (if you can’t stick your bare hand into the coals, it’s not all the way out)