Wednesday, September 12, 2007

#16 - Rawlins and Beyond

On the morning of 9/11 we emptied our wallets to gas up the motor home and aim it in the general direction of Muddy Gap and Rawlins. The best thing about Casper was the lowest gas price we’ve seen so far, as low as $2.65/gal. at some stations.

State Route 220 was a long desolate 116 mile drive, punctuated with colorful rock formations, dilapidated homesteads and frequent sightings of deer, antelope and beef on the hoof. It was relatively flat with occasional long grueling grades. We crossed the Continental Divide twice and then another two times west of Rawlins. The passes were all around 7,000 ft.

The “Frontier Prison” is the main attraction in Rawlins (pop. 9,000). Formerly known as the Wyoming State Penitentiary, this impressive facility housed desperados from 1901 until it closed in 1981. Very little funding has been available for restoration so the prison is in pretty sad shape and largely the way it was 26 years ago. A small museum contained lots of interesting photographs and other artifacts from days gone by and the nearby prison cemetery holds the remains of many former convicts who were unclaimed by families.

We took a 45 min. tour, heard stories about the notorious inmates and got to see all the cell blocks, the cafeteria, showers, recreation yard, solitary and death row cells, gallows and gas chamber. It was a thorough tour and very informative and interesting. This was a pretty nasty place to be incarcerated. It was all concrete and steel, very dark most of the time, had a poor heating system and no hot water until 1978. The photos below show one of the 4-level high cell blocks, the gas chamber and Ron in the death row cell area.

After visiting the prison, we jumped on Interstate 80 for the 110 mi. drive to Rock Springs. This turned out to be the most difficult drive, so far. Since I-80 is a primary route between Chicago and San Francisco, it was a parade of 18 wheelers. The speed limit is 75 so everyone was probably going 80+, or so it seemed. Our Honda manual says to never tow faster than 65, so we try to keep our speed between 60 and 65, which made us, by far, the slowest vehicle on the highway. The only folks we passed were those going the other way. We were being passed continuously by big rigs that did their best to blow us off the road. Gusty winds didn’t help.

It was a relief to finally reach Rock Springs. We checked into a KOA campground and found a nearby Golden Corral for an excellent buffet dinner.