Sweetwater County, Wyoming
Chapters  1 2 3 4

A Sweet Adventure in Sweetwater County, Wyoming

A family dives into the past to create lifelong memories

By Ashley Donde

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Castle Rock and the Green River in Sweetwater County, Wyoming

“Wanted for Grand Larceny and Payroll Robbery. $10,000 Reward,” the age-yellowed sign read. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, donning their iconic Old West bowler hats, looked back at me from the “Wanted” poster.

“Who are they?” my 7-year-old son, Noah, asked as he examined their faces. We were exploring the Rock Springs Historical Museum in Sweetwater County, Wyoming with my 9-year-old daughter, Emelia, and my husband, Sean. The museum, built in 1894, spent many years as a functioning jail, city hall, police station and fire station. The relics within it painted a picture of a bustling mining town.

Castle Rock and the Green River in Sweetwater County, Wyoming

“They were infamous outlaws 100 years ago. They used to live around this area robbing banks, stagecoaches and trains, and they got away on horseback,” I explained to my kids.

We arrived in Rock Springs earlier that morning, eager to begin our family getaway. The stresses of a recent move from Arizona to Texas had been getting to all of us. Sean and I felt a family trip to a new destination would help us reset and recharge.

Splashing around

People observe an exhibit at the Rock Springs Historical Museum in Sweetwater County, WY

We continued through the museum, walking into old jail cells, imagining what type of criminals used to call this place home.

A docent told us we should check out Garnet Park during our visit, a five-minute drive from the museum. When she mentioned “splash pad,” my kids were sold. After completing our museum tour, we grabbed lunch to go, the kids changed into water-friendly attire and we headed to the park for a picnic.

“Slow down,” Sean laughed as the kids stuffed their faces with lunch, eager to play in the water. Ignoring his advice, they shoved the food into their mouths and ran off, leaving us to an abnormally quiet meal.

People observe an exhibit at the Rock Springs Historical Museum in Sweetwater County, WY

As the kids splashed nearby in the geyser-like fountains, we slowly ate our meals, admiring the lush, emerald grass and towering trees surrounding us. By the time we finished eating and cleaned up, the kids were ready to hit the playground. Sean and I were more than happy to watch them from the comfort of the grass. We removed our shoes, enjoying the soft blades beneath our bare feet while the kids laughed and played.

“They’re gonna sleep well tonight,” I said, smiling.

Wild West explorations

A hand touches the White Mountain Petroglyphs in Rock Springs, Wyoming

Thankfully the kids did sleep well because we were excited for our day-two plans. We decided to make our activities a surprise for them. The drive south—along the eastern portion of Flaming Gorge Scenic Byway—only intensified their curiosity. They took turns guessing what they’d be doing, while we all marveled at the magnificence outside our car windows.

Flaming Gorge is a picture of rugged, American beauty. The red walls of the canyon appeared as flames beneath the gleam of the morning sun. Sheer cliffs leading to a watery basin were surrounded by spectacular rock formations, unspoiled by civilization. It was no wonder this area ranks among Wyoming’s top recreational treasures. The proof was in the miles upon miles of raw, radiant splendor.

Our mesmerizing drive came to an end when we reached our surprise destination. We parked the car and hopped out, the kids more excited than ever to learn what they were in store for.

“What are we doing?!” Emelia shouted, bouncing up and down.

“We’re… going… to… see,” I paused for dramatic effect, “wild horses!” I revealed in my most animated voice.

“Yes!” Noah yelled, pumping his little fist in the air.

“Woooo!” Emelia let out a holler that echoed in my ears.

Our tour guides loaded us up in a sturdy, Australian-made Pinzgauer ATV and drove us off to explore Pilot Butte.

I heard them before I saw them. In the distance, swirling clouds of dust fell to reveal a majestic herd of wild mustangs galloping across the vista. Their untamed beauty was awe-inspiring. My emotions quickly changed from awe to overwhelming joy when the excited cheers of my kids cut through the crisp morning air, a moment I won’t soon forget.

A hand touches the White Mountain Petroglyphs in Rock Springs, Wyoming

Our expedition was filled with more wild horses, excited hollers, stunning Western panoramas and an informative tour guide. All four of us had smiles plastered on our faces by the time it was over.

We drove to Green River following our memorable wild horse tour. Expedition Island was next on our itinerary. The park is a historic landmark filled with everything young explorers could ask for—water, trees, rocks and animals. We walked along a paved path, stopping frequently along the way to skip rocks in the flowing river, watch kayakers paddle by and cheer on fisherman wrangling in their trout.

Our relaxed afternoon at Expedition Island was followed by food and fun at the Fish Bowl. My kids were thrilled because this restaurant doubles as a bowling alley. With an extensive menu of seafood, steaks, burgers and sandwiches, there was something for all of us. Happy kids. Happy parents. The day couldn’t have ended any better.

Ancient history

A statue of John Wesley Powell installed in front of the Sweetwater County Historical Museum in Green River, Wyoming

Our final vacation day began at Sweetwater County Historical Museum. Here we met again with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and learned all about the international history of the mining population that made Sweetwater County the melting pot it is today. After perusing the gift shop, we brought our hungry bellies to Boschetto's European Market to taste their “world-famous” Kronski’s kielbasa.

Being the history buffs we are, we decided to take it way back and brought the kids to see the White Mountain Petroglyphs. Nothing brings you face-to-face with the past quite like seeing these ancient carvings. The kids imagined what the creators of these works were trying to convey those hundreds and hundreds of years ago, when the Plains and Great Basin Indians walked the same ground we stood on. We discussed as a family how different life was for them, how they might’ve lived off the land and how drastically life has changed since then.

A statue of John Wesley Powell installed in front of the Sweetwater County Historical Museum in Green River, Wyoming

Our explorations triggered a sweet tooth in the kids, and since vacation is the time to splurge, we took them to get ice cream at Farson Mercantile. Sean and I let out a laugh when the kids reached for their cones, their eyes widening when they saw the massive scoops of ice cream balancing on top. They happily enjoyed their sweet treats while continuing their discussion about the petroglyphs and ancient life in America.

Our final stop was a made-to-order pizza dinner at 9 Iron Italian Grill. Their homemade pizza dough was perfection. We topped ours with a variety of cheeses, Capicola ham, pepperoni, veggies and some of their whiskey sauce drizzled on top. It was a savory ending to a memorable and exciting family vacation.

Cherished souvenirs

Wyoming allowed us to explore, learn and grow together as a family. As we discussed life in America throughout the years, we all realized that what makes life sweet are the people you enjoy it with. Life is meant to be an adventure. Wyoming is the setting of many expeditions undertaken by American explorers, and their stories remind us that no matter where our adventures take us, family remains.

Plan an unforgettable trip with your family to Sweetwater County, Wyoming.