Tim Van Schmidt
It was quite a sight — “dancers” rappelling down the weather-worn rocks of one of southern Wyoming’s most picturesque spots. This was a “ballet,” being performed at the park in Vedauwoo.
Vedauwoo is a popular regional climbing spot and the “ballet” performance had a definite climbing vibe. After all, these cliffs they were descending from were pretty high, so this required more than just stage skills to complete.
That would be my most unusual experience visiting Vedauwoo, a prominent and unique stretch of land just off of I80 between Cheyenne and Laramie.
Vedauwoo is a unique formation that was created by the uplift of nearby mountains millions of years ago. The main rock type here is Sherman granite — dated at 1.4 billion years old — and while younger rock material and sediment has eroded over time, the harder granite remains, creating unique “hoodoos” throughout the landscape.
The hoodoos and the outcrops of Vedauwoo provide a challenging setting for climbers and the area is known for “wide-crack” climbs.
Mostly, my experience at Vedauwoo has been calm and meditative, with only the big birds who rule these rocks circling high above for company and maybe a brisk breeze. A quiet picnic, a solitary walk along some trails, a stop on a bench just to take in the awesome shapes above — these are all possible at Vedauwoo, though it is a well-known and popular regional destination.
Though I’ve been to Vedauwoo a number of times now as a day tripper, I have more experience with camping on the north side of Happy Jack Road in the Pole Mountain Area of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest.
Just the short drive from the Vedauwoo park north to Happy Jack Road is a good one, rolling and twisting through the hilly terrain for several miles.
Pole Mountain is on the other side of Happy Jack where a four-wheeler road takes you back into relatively secluded camping areas.
There are plenty of cool-looking outcroppings to explore in the area — but also cattle. But more than that, if you get out into the bush a little bit, you can experience the richness of upper prairie life.
That includes a city of swallows, their mud nests tucked under a small cliff; deer bolting from the heart of a lush aspen grove; bright green lichen painting the boulders, and red paintbrush wildflowers blooming on the hillside.
The camping sites are primitive up there — not much more than a cleared area and a fire ring. But that fire ring becomes everything when the night replaces the day.
Both Vedauwoo and Pole Mountain are relatively close to Cheyenne, Laramie, and even Fort Collins. If you get up high enough on just the right outcrop in Pole Mountain, you can see a wind farm, faintly hear and see the traffic on I80, and maybe even some of Cheyenne way off in the distance
However, these reminders of the modern-day world cannot take away from the fact that there is so much more all around you. At Pole Mountain, you walk among the rocks, trees, birds, animals, and wildflowers.
At Vedauwoo, you see how time has sculpted a place to climb.
Tim Van Schmidt is a photographer and writer based in Fort Collins. Check out his channel on YouTube at “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt.”