The venues that travelers deem as either a neat place to visit or a waste of time and money are often spots where the dramas, the highs, and the lows of another’s past may have played out, leaving imbedded memories. Such is the case for the venue of Casper, Wyoming, and my 2005 visit back to the city where I came of age.
Casper, Wyoming is often overshadowed by the sights and happenings in the northwest and southeast corners of the state, i.e., Yellowstone National Park/Jackson Hole and Cheyenne Frontier Days. As a child, I found myself in the role as a tourist to Casper a few times a year, as I headed some 180 miles north from Cheyenne to visit my grandparents during vacation breaks and long weekends. That is, until fate, in the guise of my father’s promotion within his company, would bring my family to the Casper area.
So it was here, in the heart of Wyoming, where I spent the last years of my childhood and the brunt of my teenage years.
Casper is the only other place I’ve called home. My passion for writing has its roots here, sparked by a broken heart. I fell in love for the first time in Casper, Wyoming (beyond the teacher and classmate crushes), and as a result, Casper is also the only site on the globe where I’ve ever been punched by a female as that particular spectacle haplessly played itself out! My desire to cross oceans to interact with peoples of different lands and cultures was planted here, though it would be years before those dreams would blossom. My loyalties to the New York Yankees came to fruition here, when one October night in 1977, I watched Reggie Jackson smack three consecutive pitches off of three different Dodger hurlers over the Yankee Stadium fence from the comfort and safety of my home on South Lincoln, thanks to my parents’ oversized, unpredictable black and white TV set that decided to not go on the fritz during the game. That particular memory still provides comfort, especially when thinking about the Bronx Bombers’ absolute meltdown in the 2004 playoffs against the Red Sox.
I walked in my old neighborhood during my 2005 visit to Wyoming’s Mile High City (Casper is called that, despite the fact its elevation is officially 5,123 feet above sea level, some 157 feet off the 5,280 feet mark to make a mile). Strangely, I felt as if I never lived there, despite the fact that memories of my six years as a Casper resident have sometimes flooded my senses while running in the deep valleys of north central Spain, or as I was being drenched with precipitation in the midst of Panama’s tropical rainforest.
The title of Thomas Wolfe’s 1940 novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, must ring true for me, too, except for coming back to craft fresh, in the present travel articles about a place I called home in an era that arrived like gangbusters but raced quickly by.
Speaking of eras gone by, Casper was very paramount to settling the Western Frontier. The Oregon, California, Mormon, Pony Express, Bridger, and Bozeman Trails all went through this locale, making it a stop along the pathway to the dreams of many people who were seeking a better life, adventure, and even fortune.
These accounts can be relived at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center. One of its gallery exhibits, called Inscription Wall, is a sandstone wall engraved with the names and musings of pioneers and go-getters who passed through the area during the nineteenth century. One can also find out about the lives of Native Americans via the center’s exhibits, including audio-visual presentations. The entrance to the complex actually resembles the curved top of a covered wagon.
Recreational Casper: More History Plays Itself Out
Casper was named by Sports Illustrated the "50th Anniversary Sportstown for the State of Wyoming" in 2003, because of all the active and spectator sporting activities that can be accessed within the city and its surrounding areas like Casper Mountain, the city’s spectacular backdrop to the south and break from the panoramic plains that otherwise surround the city. The mountain rises to almost 8,300 feet above sea level, and offers not only scenic drives, camping, and hiking, but an annual family festival in Beartrap Meadow every summer.
I remember the time my brother’s little league baseball team and family members had a summer picnic here at this meadow. I myself, while a big fan of baseball, never played except for pick-up games with tennis balls or wiffleballs because I was afraid of getting hit by the tightly wound cowhide. Well, I got to play softball with the picnicers, batting left-handed. One of the parents kept giving me a hard time over this, calling me "wrong-handed" before he threw each pitch to me. Those taunts really irritated the heck out of me. The things we remember…
Visitors to Casper can take a rafting trip without even leaving the city as Platte River Raft’N’Reel offers float and rafting trips on the Platte River. Okay, so rafting down the Platte River through Casper won’t be like rafting down the raging Colorado River, but for me it was a nice experience to take a raft through the northern section of town, which the river runs through. I was told by the guide that sometimes the Platte can be a bit rough, getting the rafters pretty soaked.
The Platte River is the reason for Casper’s founding: Casper came into existence upon Brigham Young’s arrival in 1847. He wanted to establish an Upper Crossing point over the Platte River en route to the Mormon’s new homeland in Utah, using ferries. The area he chose is now Wyoming’s second largest city with roughly 51,000 people.
In 1862, the US Army established a fort close by for manning telegraph stations, named Platte Bridge Station.
In July 1865, Lt. Caspar Collins of the eleventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry fought heroically against the Lakota and Cheyenne during the Battle of the Platte Bridge, but was killed. The fort’s name was changed to Fort Caspar to honor him. Two years later, the fort was disbanded. For reasons unexplained, the letter ‘e’ found its way into the spelling of Casper after the town was founded in 1888. The Fort Caspar Museum and Historical Site, which
includes the fort named after Collins, can be explored. The fort’s buildings were reconstructed on the original foundation sites in 1936. Fort Caspar’s exhibits and buildings focus on Wyoming life in the 1860s. For me, this is one tourist haven that will always have a special place in my heart because my late grandmother would take me here each summer and let me explore the buildings and grounds. I posed for some snapshots, me sitting on an old wagon or standing next to an exhibit while sporting a replica Union Cavalry hat that my grandmother had just bought me.
|Casper Mountain overlooks the city|
The National Indoor Football League team, the Wyoming Cavalry, plays in the 10,000 seat arena called the Casper Events Center. The P.A. announcer certainly let the crowd know what team he supported at a game I attended. The partisan barker jumped all over the opposing side whenever it made a penalty or took a cheap shot at a home team player. Arena football is exciting to watch in person, and it moves faster than NFL football since television timeouts don’t abound like they do in the NFL.
Since its opening in 1982, The Casper Event Center has been one of Wyoming’s principal venues for many top pop and country entertainers and nationally-renowned events like the College National Finals Rodeo. The two most memorable events for me were when Journey, the super group of the late "70s through the mid-80s", performed there during the month of my sixteenth birthday. Later that same year, my mother, brother, and I got to see Karl Malone, the former NBA/Utah Jazz great, play in an exhibition game.
The Colorado Rockies’ Pioneer Advanced Rookie League team, the Casper Rockies, keep spectator sports fans occupied throughout the summer. The team plays at Mike Lansing Field. Lansing was a former professional baseball infielder who played some of his earliest baseball in Casper. Former Major League Baseball hurler, Tom Browning, who threw a perfect game for the Cincinnati Reds in 1988, was born in Casper.
Cultural Casper Loaded with History
My old neighborhood even serves up a couple of places to put on your to-do list when visiting Casper. Those wanting to experience the history of the Casper area since the beginning of time can visit the Tate Geological Museum, which showcases more than 3,000 specimens of dinosaur fossils, minerals, and jade that have been discovered in and around Casper. The museum is located on the grounds of Casper College. Several blocks north of the museum is Casper’s premiere art venue called the Nicolaysen Art Museum and Discovery Center. It showcases contemporary Western Art of the Northern Rockies, High Plains, and of Native Americans. The museum includes an interactive learning center and new exhibits find their way here on a regular basis.
In downtown Casper at South Center Street (part Casper’s ‘Main Street’ that runs north-south), The Wonder Bar is a great place to relax after a hard day’s sightseeing. It was opened in 1934 after the repeal of Prohibition. Horses are allowed to come into the bar as long as they are potty-trained! Celebrites like Dizzy Dean and Ernest Hemingway have been patrons to this establishment, known for the Three B’s: Burgers, Beer, and Billiards. Upstairs from the bar is "The Attic", which features live nightly entertainment.
The cities and regions we visit are where others actually live, breathe, fall in and out of love, experience the great highs, the in-betweens, and devastating lows of being human. The history that gets the most publicity is mostly of the kind that generates the biggest effects politically, economically, etc., especially in an age of sensationalized media. But in seemingly ordinary places like Casper, Wyoming, history has been and is still being made that will play a role in making up those more noted aspects of human endeavor.
Information on Casper’s Bests
What to See:
Casper Events Center: 1 Events Dr. 307.235.8441. Ticket information 800.442.2256. Check online for upcoming shows and events.
Casper Mountain: Just south of town, easy to spot. Visit onlin for information on seasonal outdoor activities available in the Casper area.
Casper Rockies: 330 Kati Lane. 307.232.1111. Ticket information:
Fort Caspar Museum and Historical Site: 4001 Fort Caspar Rd. 307.235.8462. Admission Charge.
National Historic Trails Interpretive Center: 1501 N. Poplar St. 307.261.7700. Admission Charge.
Nicolaysen Art Museum and Discovery Center: 400 E. Collins Dr. 307.235.5247. Free Admission.
Platte River Raft ‘N’ Reel: 17000 Hwy 220. 307.267.0170.
Tate Geological Museum: Casper College, 125 College Dr. 307.268.2447. Free admission.
Wonder Bar: 256 S. Center St. 307.234.4110.
Wyoming Cavalry: 800 Werner Court, Ste. #125. 307.472.5030.
Three major airlines serve Natrona County International Airport (airport code is CPR; located twelve miles west of Casper: United Airlines from Denver: 1.800.UNITED.1; SkyWest Airlines (a Delta Connection) from Salt Lake City: 1.800.221.1212; and Northwest Airlines from Minneapolis: 1.800.225.2525; By auto, Interstate 25 is the main route for getting to Casper.
For a more comprehensive roadmap of the Casper and Wyoming areas, visit this Wyoming map.
Here’s some centrally-located hotels offer great deals and many amenities, including indoor fitness centers, pools, whirlpools/jacuzzis, and shuttle services:
Best Western Ramkota Hotel: 800 N. Poplar. 307.266.6000.
Holiday Inn on the River: 300 W. "F" St. 307.235.2531. Reservations: 1-877.576.8636.
Parkway Plaza Hotel and Convention Centre: 123 W. "E" St. 307.235.1777. Reservations: 800.270.7829.
Also, check BootsnAll.
Casper Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau: To help make the most of your journey to Casper. 992 N. Poplar St. 307.234.5362 or 800.852.1889.
Roy A. Barnes lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He’s a past contributor to Bootsnall.com for articles about London, Virginia Beach, and Central Ohio. His travel articles have also been published at venues like Transitions Abroad, GoNOMAD.com, The Valley Advocate, and Live Life Travel.