By Sastry Karra with editorial support from Frank Gallagher
Wyoming is famous for the majestic Tetons and the incomparable Yellowstone National Park near its western border, but they are not the only scenic areas the state has to offer photographers. In southeastern Wyoming sits Vedauwoo, (pronounced Vee-Duh-Voo), an area of granite outcroppings and hoodoos that attracts climbers, hikers, day trippers and, of course, photographers. With dramatic scenery, it’s also a popular location for engagement and wedding shoots.
Vedauwoo was one of the pleasant surprises I encountered while driving through the western US late last summer. Located in the Pole Mountain Area of Medicine Bow – Routt National Forest, it sits just off Interstate 80 at exit 329. A couple of hours drive north of Denver, it’s about 30 miles west of Cheyenne, Wyoming, (the state capital) and 20 miles east of Laramie. Both cities have the usual assortment of hotels and there is a Forest Service campground at Vedawoo.
The formations here are 1.4 billion-year-old Sherman granite, composed of pink feldspar, white quartz, with black specs of hornblende and other minerals, such as mica. Over time, wind and water have eroded the rock into weird formations, rocks balanced on pedestals, and boulders with interesting shapes. These strange and striking formations are featured in the 1936 movie, The Plainsman, much of which was filmed here. The easy 2.8-mile Turtle Rock Loop Trail takes you around one of the main formations. Other rock formations, trails, streams, ponds, and primitive camping areas are found deeper in the forest.
The area is home to cattle, small mammals, antelope, moose, deer, and the occasional golden eagle, black bear, or cougar. At over 8,000 feet in elevation, the weather can change rapidly, so check the weather before going. Summer days have pleasant temperatures and the highest chances for cloudless skies. You can run into snow as early as September and as late as May. Most visitors avoid harsh winter conditions and come between mid-April and mid-October. The campground and some of the trails close for the season in early November. There is a five dollar per car fee for a day pass that provides access to all units of the Medicine Bow – Routt National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland, which can be purchased online.
The transcontinental railroad passed through the Laramie Range near here and the area was mined to produce ballast, the crushed aggregate used by Union Pacific Railroad for holding rail ties in place in the track bed. Most of the trees were cut down for the railroad in the mid 19th century and reforested by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
The name is said to come from the Arapaho word “biot o’wu,” which means earthborn. One story about the name has a Drama and English Professor at the University of Wyoming, Maybelle Land DeKay, creating a pageant about the history of Wyoming that was performed in a sort of natural amphitheater within the rocks here in 1922. Interested in the legends of the native Arapahos, she asked what they called the place, Anglicized it to Vedauwoo, and the name stuck. Some locals believe it was considered sacred land by the Native American tribes of the area.
There are endless photographic possibilities in the hoodoos, rock outcroppings and landscape. You might even have the chance to photograph rock climbers. I wish I had more time here.
My sincere thanks to Dr. Neil Frank Humphrey from University of Wyoming for helping me to gather more information about the rock formations in this state. I also found Roadside Geology of Wyoming by David R. Lageson and Darwin R. Spearing (1991) especially helpful in understanding the geology of the region. Vedauwoo.org is good for a concise history of the area and a description of recreational activities there. And check the U. S. Forest Service website for maps, hiking trails, camp reservations and more.
Jaganadha “Sastry” Karra was born in India, but left when he was 24 years old. For the past 27 years, he’s worked as an IT professional, and has been living in New Jersey since 2004. During his spare time, he goes outdoors and takes nature photos, especially waterfalls. Along with his wife (who loves hiking), they go to many nearby state parks where he can experiment with different compositions. In the summer, when his friends play cricket, he’s been experimenting with sports photography. Find him on Instagram at @sastrykarra, where he posts most of his pictures. On Facebook, he’s active in some photography forums, like NANPA. “Maybe I’ll see you there!” he says.
Frank Gallagher is a landscape and nature photographer based in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in providing a wide range of photography services to nonprofit organizations. He manages NANPA’s blog.