In my first article, I revealed why the city of Casper is so important to me. The roots of my love for writing and travel came about there.
This article and the one to follow will focus on a few great sights and things to do when visiting this often under appreciated central Wyoming city and surrounding area. There are, for example, museums, outdoor fare, oddities, cosmopolitan-style places to refuel your travelin’ body – the latter topic will be part of the third installment.
Bubble-licious at The Science Zone
This is Casper’s 10,000 square foot science mecca for kids of all ages. It also has the distinction of being located in the Sunrise Shopping Center, touted as America’s first enclosed shopping center! The permanent exhibitions in the collection are described below.
The first exhibit is the Bubble Zone. Large bubbles are created with two- to three-foot bubble wands. I learned that bubbles can’t be made by water alone. Soap needs to be added to the water because the soap relaxes the surface tension by about two-thirds, which then allows for stretching of the liquid mixture into bubbles! The Body Basics exhibit shows how the human body works. X-ray machines reveal acutal bone structures. Children use a real stethoscope to check their heartbeats. The Brainfood Café isn’t a gross-out eating place, but a place where visitors get a restaurant-style menu for various brain teasing games and puzzles.
Live experiments and presentations take place at the Demo Zone. During the Christmas season, the popular “Science of Santa” demonstration uses science to explain, among other things, how reindeer fly, how Santa comes down and goes back up chimneys. Another popular showing is live demonstrations done with liquid nitrogen. At the Gems and Minerals exhibition, hundreds of gems and minerals can be viewed, thanks to a generous local college professor who teaches geology. And if you’ve never seen fossilized waste before, this is the place to go. Two specimens of fish and mammal droppings can be admired up close and personal!
The Zoo Zone is my favorite area, full of nature’s smaller creatures – several species of turtles like the Red Eared Slider and Painted Turtle. One of the most popular pets for everyone who lives here is the the non-poisonous Rose Hair Tarantula, part of the spider family. A number of Geckos thrive here too, including the Day Gecko – it can detach its tail when in danger. Beard-A-Lee, the friendly Bearded Dragon, that originally came from the Land Down Under, can be petted! She likes crickets and scrambled eggs.
The upcoming exhibition that’s sure to draw interest is called “The Robot Zoo”. It will run until the middle of May of 2007. Animal robots will demonstrate via biomechanics the workings of live animals, including a fly with a three-foot wingspan. This interactive exhibit is to cover some 2,500 square feet. For more information, see the Science Zone‘s website.
Wyoming Veteran’s Memorial Museum: Honoring The Troops!
Joye Kading is one incredible woman. She made life more bearable for our troops during the Second World War while stationed in Casper. B17 and B24 bombing crews were trained there, starting in late 1942. Kading is loaded with an arsenal of knowledge and stories about America’s involvement in the war. She will gladly tell you about any or all the exhibits at this former Servicemen’s Club.
The soldiers stationed in Casper helped to paint 15 beautiful wall murals on Celotex plaster board that detail Wyoming’s history from the time the Indians lived on the land until well into the 1900’s. The murals make up the collective “History of Wyoming” namesake. No paint was available, so the enlisted men-turned-artists used products like red soil with a fixative to create these beautiful works.
Kading stated that close to 6,900 artifacts, uniforms, swords, model planes, guns, etc., have been donated to the museum for showing at different times of the year. While I was there, much of the focus was on the first two World Wars, but some exhibits honored the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the Korean War, even our current involvement in Iraq (including a set of “Most Wanted” playing cards that feature pictures of Saddam’s buddies, most of whom have been captured and/or killed). World War II is one of my favorite periods of American history, I was impressed with the collection.
Some of my favorite pieces currently on display include a Japanese propaganda leaflet that was dropped on American troops in February 1945, and a pair of dog tags from World War I that are circular (I had only seen more modern ones on television and film that appeared longer like sausages). Did you know that the troops in World War II were issued short Camel cigarettes, each pack contained only four? That surprised me. You’ll even find a number of artifacts like knives, uniforms and flags from former enemies – Third Reich and Japanese Imperial Forces.
Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum is roughly nine miles northwest of downtown Casper on Natrona County International Airport’s grounds at 3740 Jourgensen, Casper, WY 82604. 307-472-1857. The website is under construction.
Casper’s Seeing Eye House: Wyoming’s Big Brother?
Lovers of the written word will remember the seeing eyes billboard from The Great Gatsby, that witnessed many of the important events of this great American novel. In Casper, you can view a house that has one large eye on the front of it (made me think of poor ol’ Gatsby, one of my all time favorite reads). This attraction is so popular that school buses drive by it for a good look. This has been happening since the early 1980’s, according to Jack O’Herra. He’s the father and co-builder of this eclectic house, along with his recently deceased son, Teddy (the last owner of the house as of this writing). Teddy was the architect and designer of both the house and the eye. It was completed more than 35 years ago. O’Herra told me that at night, when this eye is lit, people who drive by it have reported the sensation of it following them!
The Seeing Eye House (private residence) is at 1033 N. Kimball, Casper, WY. It’s free to look at and take pictures of from the sidewalk or street in a courteous manner.
Wanna Know The Time? Don’t Ask the Parking Garage!
Another of Casper’s oddities lies in an alleyway. The well stocked Western attire-themed store in the heart of downtown Casper, called Lou Taubert Ranch Outfitters, has a large clock that once boldly proclaimed the time to those who were in the downtown area – until a parking garage was built years ago across from it. The clock is now slowly dying of a broken heart due to lack of usefulness. For city oddity lovers, this is one easy attraction to see because of its central downtown location.
The Clock Nobody Sees (‘Cept The Sanitation Department) is in the alley behind Lou Taubert Ranch Outfitters at 125 E. 2nd Street. Free to look at, but your trash donations to the alley dumpsters help keep the city clean!
Salt Creek Oil Museum: Fulfillment of a Life Long Dream
The oil boom for Casper began when black gold was discovered in the Salt Creek Fields in 1889, which led to the first of Natrona County’s oil booms. The small town of Midwest (roughly 45 miles north of Casper) was in the midst of the Salt Creek oil fields. It came into being to serve as an oil transporting center to the refinery facilities back in Casper. Midwest also hosted the first night football game in 1925 using electric lights.
Pauline Schultz, a Midwest resident, had this dream starting back in 1934. She wanted to chronicle the history of the town and the local oil boom in the Salt Creek area, where more than six million people work in the oil fields. She collected newspaper clippings, photos, artifacts of all kinds, hoping to see this area be given its due honor. It would take 60 years before her collection was showcased, which also features good old fashioned Americana to complement the Salt Creek area’s historical items. I’ll make a conservative estimate and say that tens of thousands of items are housed in this museum.
Permanent exhibit rooms feature a school room, an x-ray room, even a doctor’s office, named the Lynne Cheney Room. The current vice president’s wife has family roots from the Midwest area, even made a two-hour visit a few years back.
I discovered some dated crude oil samples near the entrance of the museum. I was particularly excited to see a 1931 Kellogg’s Wheel of Knowledge (of) Interesting Facts About The United States. The wheel shows that the population then was under 123 million, consisted of 48 states. Being an avid runner, I was impressed with the 1937 Midwest High School track sweater. Because many small towns revolve around their local high school teams, a vast collection of Midwest High School trophies, articles and other items abound!
The Salt Creek Oil Fields also contain the Infamous Teapot Dome area, where one of the most notable presidential scandals evolved during the early 1900’s in the Harding Administration. One book is on display that can even be picked up and browsed. It’s called The Origins of Teapot Dome. Ms. Schultz has her own published book of religious devotionals on display just as you enter the museum.
Roy’s Travel Tips:
Since my last article on Casper, its airport has a new website address, making Casper easy to reach.
I really enjoy staying at the Parkway Plaza – comfortable beds, free high speed internet, complimentary fitness center and fair prices – things that mean the most to me. It’s in a great location, too, just a few walking blocks away from downtown Casper.
In my next article, I’ll show how Casper’s restaurants help give this Western oil town a cosmopolitan feel.
My first article on Casper, Wyoming is here.
Roy A. Barnes writes from and now makes his home some 180 miles south of Casper, Wyoming. So he’s never really that far away from the birthplace of his writing and travel passions, always closer to Casper in his heart!