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A pit stop for westbound pioneers

The National Historic Trails Interpretive Center, courtesy Wyoming Tourism

Well before Casper was a city, it was a military post and a key stop for pioneers on the Oregon, Mormon and California trails and riders on the Pony Express. Two museums capture those days.

On the North Platte River,  Fort Caspar Museum is a reconstructed 1865 military post that was a key ferry crossing for emigrants. The site includes a reconstructed log building, a replica of the ferry that ran from 1847 to 1849 and a model of the bridge that replaced the ferry. Remnants of ruts that were carved out by thousands of wagon wheels are visible.

At the National Historic Trails Interpretative Center in Casper,  “we try to reintroduce how it was in the mid-1800s, this journey that took months. Then when the railroad came, it only took a few days, and now, we can do it in a few hours,” said Mike Abel, center director.

The Bureau of Land Management owns and operates the center, and because “we’re not a museum, guests get to touch a lot of things,” he said.

One of the most popular exhibits allows visitors to sit in a covered wagon as a film is projected in front of them. The on-screen driver cracks his whip, and the hydraulic wagon begins to bounce and lurch down a virtual trail before crossing the river.

“I’ve had 80-year-old people get out of it and say, ‘That’s exactly what it feels like to be in a wagon,’” Abel said.

Visitors can also pull a handcart, like one that Mormon pioneers pulled behind them, full of their belongings, as they made the trek to Utah. A stagecoach ride lets visitors sit and watch projected scenery pass by the windows.

The 11,000-square-foot center’s large lobby works well for receptions for up to 200 people, and a gallery at the end of the lobby can seat about 40 for special programs and events.