Wyoming’s Wind River

Following the Wind River

The Wind River rises just on the east side of the Continental Divide between Jackson and Dubois to begin its winding journey for thousands of miles to empty eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. It first rushes out of the mountains fed by a myriad of little streams racing to join it from the Wind River Mountains to the south and the Absarokas to the north and sweeps through the quaint little town of Dubois to plunge on down toward Riverton at breakneck speed. Tie hacks working with their huge broad bladed axes used to cut out the ties for the railways during the winter and then float them down the river to the railhead in Riverton when the melting snow in spring made the water boil. These drives began in 1914 and continued through 1944. At the time it was the most efficient way to move the ties. It required no fuel, but it was certainly labor intensive and after the end of the war they began moving the ties to the railhead by truck.

panowindriverduboisTen miles below Dubois the ever growing river passes into the Wind River Indian Reservation passing below the distinctive landmark of Crowheart Butte near which the epic battle between Chief Washakie of the Shoshone and Chief Big Robber of the Crows took place in 1866. A little farther down, the River is joined by an important tributary called Bull Creek where a dam has been built creating an 8 mile long reservoir which catches water from the spring snow melt and releases it more gradually through the summer as the flow in the main Wind River diminishes. This makes it possible to irrigate many acres below and to still keep a good flow in the Wind River which holds some fine trout.

After passing through Riverton the river makes a sharp turn north and heads for the Wind River Canyon where it has cut a narrow passage 2,500 ft. deep through the Owl Creek Mountains exposing a few billion years of geological activity to view. The stretch of highway running through the canyon between Shoshoni and Thermopolis richly deserves its designation as a scenic highway. A dam has been built at the entrance to the canyon which backs the river up for 20 miles behind offering a large lake with excellent fishing and boating possibilities. At the bottom end of the Wind River Canyon the name is abruptly changed with little obvious excuse to the Big Horn River. The reason for the name change seems to be that until a road and railway were finally put the Canyon a little more than a hundred years ago there was no passage possible for travelers so that a long detour was needed for people crossing the Owl Creek Mountains. Apparently when the rivers were named people on each side did not make the connection.

After the Canyon the River flows on north past the town of Thermopolis which claims the world’s largest hot springs. These are open to the public and are a popular bathing place. Well preserved dinosaur remains have been found nearby which attract many visitors. The river continues north through fertile valleys which it irrigates until it reaches the Yellowtail Reservoir just across the border in Montana and forms another artificial lake far south into Wyoming which also has excellent recreational value.