The trail circling Turtle Rock at Vedauwoo is undoubtedly the most popular trail in the Cheyenne, WY, area. And for good reason. It’s close, easy and fascinating in its mix of geological artistry and biological wonder. On any given weekend throughout the spring, summer and fall it’s thrumming with college age kids, seniors and young families toting toddlers. On a weekday you just might have it to yourself.
The well trodden trail is about two and a half miles long with only a little elevation gain and loss, dropping about a hundred feet and coming back up a couple of times. The circle is just right for a two hour walk with visitors from out of town or to combine with a picnic.
To get there take I-80 west from Cheyenne, WY, to exit 329, taking the pavement toward Vedauwoo. Turn left to the fee station, paying your $5 day use fee. Continue toward the campground. On the left will be four parking spaces with a wooden sign reading “Turtle Rock”. This is an overflow lot. The trail here leads to the primary lot just down the hill.
Passing this small lot follow the signs to “W Turtle Rock TRHD”, turning left and then left again. Here is a larger lot with a big privy. The trailhead is to your left, close to the big mass of Turtle Rock. Another sign saying “Turtle Rock Trail” leads to the overflow lot above.
To make it interesting….
Look up and to the right from the parking lot. You’ll usually see climbers following one or another of the cracks to the top. These rocks offer world-class climbing at levels from beginner to expert. Climbing books note more than 200 named routes in the area. Just up from the parking lot is the “Clamshell”, a bulging shell of Sherman granite with regularly spaced ribs. It’s a popular start for several climbs.
As you begin your hike you’ll enter a beautiful grove of mature aspens watered by a good sized spring. As the aspens thin the beaver ponds begin. One pond leads to another, many with a lodge built smack in the middle. The ponds support stocked brook trout.
If you’re lucky you may see a moose or two. They were transplanted into Colorado in 1978 and began to wander north. By the 1980’s some had taken up residence in this Pole Mountain area.
Two young males and a female grew restless back in June, 2007, and decided they would like to take up golf. So they wandered all the way down to Little America where they were noticed by greens keepers. Refusing to pay their green fees, they were told — at a healthy distance — to get out. Moose can become belligerents. And these were. Their excursion ended with intoxicants at the 9th hole, as do so many golf games, but these were served by rifle from Fish and Game wardens. Unable to drive, the moose were taken, not to their homes but to the Snowy Range. I don’t know if they decided to try golf again.
Check out your tap water in advance.
The trail ends its descent and climbs up into the rocks in the shade of large pines. In a short while the trees thin and the route crosses some open granite. Soon you’ll hear the sound of splashing water and you’ll come to a small water fall and a beautiful steam.
This is the sound of Cheyenne’s drinking water. During the 1960’s a 60 mile trans-basin pipeline was built, bringing water from the Snowy Range to this tributary of Middle Crow Creek. From here it flows into Granite Springs Reservoir and down to the water treatment facility before heading to your tap.
The trail starts another small climb along this stream. To the left is what appears to be another beaver pond but it actually is the outflow of the pipeline.
On the right you’ll see a small log building, one of the original toilets built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s, and the only one keeping its original wood finish. It is no longer open for use.
The trail comes up to the asphalt at the east trailhead where there is a new vault toilet and a drinking fountain. Follow the asphalt back to the west trailhead by staying close to big Turtle Rock.
Why the name Vedauwoo?
So, as you are wandering you might be wondering why the strange and unique name “Vedauwoo”. Some think it’s a native American word for the place. But, no, that‘s not so. In his memoir Harold Gilbert states, tongue in cheek, that it was named after him. And, in a way, he is absolutely right. For in 1924 he played the character Vedauwoo in an extraordinary pageant held in the box canyon that you are approaching.
The drama, also named “Vedauwoo”, had a cast of nearly 500 including nymphs, sprites and a lusty elf, Indians, trappers, cowboys, the university dean and president. There also was a dinosaur with one line: “groan”. 1800 people came to see the first of two performances.
In the play, Vedauwoo himself, led by a wise cracking gopher, emerges from a hole wearing soil-brown garments, tall and muscular, but his facing showing “the absence of mental and spiritual development.“ His name? It was provided by a missionary, Rev. John Roberts, from the Arapaho word for “earth born“, “bi-ito`o`wu”. It seems we have lost a syllable in the years since.
During the pageant Vedauwoo receives an education in Wyoming’s natural wonders and its history, such that he is transformed into a worthy man to marry the red-haired spirit goddess, Miss Wyoming. The lesson being that “an appreciation of natural beauty develops spiritual beauty.” Or at least that it gets the babe.
The drama was so impressive that people no longer talked of going to Skull Rocks, the previous name. Now they came to Vedauwoo.
The play was written by Mabelle Land DeKay, Yale class of 1901 and a University of Wyoming Drama and English prof. Gilbert writes, “We sometimes wondered if she would survive the worries and problems of production.“ She moved on to Carmel, California in 1948, dying at the grand old age of 89 in 1969.
If time permits take a walk into the Box Canyon to the site of the pageant. The trail is paved for a while and then becomes gravel leading into Vedauwoo Glen. At the end of the trail an old route climbs the rocks to the various flat areas that served as the multi-level stage. Continuing above the stage the route leads to a grand overlook.