The Big Spring Scenic Backway
The Big Spring Scenic Backway is a 68-mile route from Kemmerer to Cokeville in Wyoming’s southwestern Lincoln County. The Backway is crisscrossed by historic emigrant trails, parallels willowed river valleys, and plunges deep into the Tunp Mountain Range in the Bridger National Forest. Traveler services are available in Kemmerer, Cokeville, and Diamondville. Good tires are highly recommended when traveling this Backway. The Forest Service also recommends only high clearance vehicles westward from Kelley Guard Station.
Along the Way
This rugged Wyoming backway is chockfull of local history—about 57 million years of it! Start your trip just west of Kemmerer at Fossil Butte National Monument. Hike into a prehistoric lakebed, join paleontologists for a fossil hunt, or meet the inhabitants of an ancient water ecosystem at the visitor center. From there it’s a short drive east to Kemmerer and a very different sort of museum. In 1902, entrepreneur James Cash Penney opened his “Golden Rule Store.” Named for his policy of fair dealing and honest value, Penney’s venture grew and prospered. Today, with more than 1,600 stores in operation, JC Penney’s is a household name, and the Golden Rule Store, along with the JC Penney Home/Museum, are still open for business. Leaving Kemmerer behind, you turn onto the dirt track of Big Spring Scenic Backway itself. Abandoned homesteads are visible from the Backway, testament to the western migration of the 19th century. The Old Settler Cabin is the first of these, a sagging log structure on a windswept plain. More than 350,000 emigrants with loaded wagons crossed this landscape, headed toward Utah, Oregon, and California from 1841-68. As you make your way towards Cokeville and the end of the Backway, keep in mind that this was once the sheep capital of the world. Its proximity to the Utah and Idaho border gave long-ago rustlers and outlaws, including Butch Cassidy, a handy way to escape into neighboring jurisdictions.
If You Go:
Fossil Butte Monument, (307) 877-4455
JCPenney Home/Museum & Mother Store, (307) 877-3164