A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Casper, Wyoming working with the Wyoming Office of Tourism (visitwyoming) to help promote Casper as a winter fun destination. I didn’t know much about Casper before the trip, other than I had a college friend who worked for the newspaper there several years ago. I hadn’t been to the state since 2005, when I had the chance to dig for dinosaurs in northern Wyoming, so I was excited to see what Casper had to offer. To put it mildly, I was pleased with what I found. What follows are some of my favorite images from the trip and a recap of everything we explored.
I arrived at the hassle-free Casper airport with two other photographers from the Denver area, another photographer who drove up from Fort Collins, and our hosts for the trip. Our first stop was the Nicolaysen Art Museum that hosted a variety of intriguing exhibits including a Picasso and a beautiful photography display by Lucas Foglia, juxtaposing the western life of ranching with mining. They even gave a behind the scenes tour of the “vault” where they keep everything in their collection they don’t have room to display in the galleries. It was a great chance to see the inner workings of an art museum. I was definitely not expecting to find such a gem in a town the size of Casper but I was pleasantly surprised by “The Nic” as they call it.
We then stopped by Frontier Brewing, Casper’s only brewery, for a happy hour tour of their operation which started late last summer. They had several tasty beers you can pour yourself and my personal favorite was their Dark Rye.
For dinner, we headed to FireRock for a delicious meal after a long day. The filet I had was dressed with crabmeat and the mashed potatoes and asparagus made for a perfect combination. To finish off the day I had to try Firerock’s lemon cake with the sorbet and my tastes buds were glad I did! We retired for the night at the Ramkota Hotel where the hospitality couldn’t have been better! We had milk and cookies waiting for us when we got to our rooms and plenty of pillows (a must for me) on a king bed!
Our second day started with a hearty breakfast at Johnny J’s Diner featuring a classic style diner decor. Johnny J’s is a favorite with locals and some can be found there almost every day in their same seats! The omelet and hash browns were a perfect way to start an action-packed day. They are known for their famous milkshakes as well but I was too full to indulge. Next time for sure!
After finishing breakfast we headed up into the foothills as beautifully powdery snow began to fall. By the time we reached Bridle Trail Falls, the scene was completely picturesque. As we hiked up to the base of the frozen waterfall, I couldn’t help but feel like we were walking inside a snow globe. The gently falling snow that coated the evergreens almost looked like a movie set and provided some great photo ops.
Next we headed up Casper Mountain to the Biathlon Center where were got to take some target practice. I surprisingly hit 4 out of 5 of the targets! While we were there we strapped on some snowshoes and hiked around a bit and saw some fresh mountain lion tracks. Thankfully, we never came face to face with it!
Our appetites were large after the morning’s activities so we stopped at the Hogadon Ski Basin Lodge for lunch and the tri tip hit the spot!
The views down the ski area were a big plus too. We got to take a ride on the ski lift after hitching a ride to the bottom with some of the staff in their snow-ready 4-wheeler!
After an afternoon outside we warmed up with some history at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center. As a western history buff, it was excellently done and made for an enjoyable visit. We learned about the various western trails that pioneers used to move west; interestingly, several passed through Casper! There were lots of hands-on activities for kids of all ages. My favorite was the simulation of a covered wagon crossing a river. Although I’ve never crossed a river in a covered wagon, the experience felt extremely realistic.
We then headed back to the hotel for a quick change and rushed off to the center of town for a tour of local restaurants. Our first stop was Wonder Bar. It had a old western saloon feel with updated touches like a 50 tap, pour your own beer wall.
Next we walked around the corner to Branding Iron where we were treated to samples of their appetizers, gourmet burgers and tasty cocktails. My personal favorite was their jalapeño daiquiri.
Stop number 3 was Yellowstone Garage, a spot housed in an old gas station and auto garage specializing in made-from-scratch American food. We sampled some unique cocktails and super delicious spicy chicken wings!
Gaslight Social, our 4th stop, was home to a large performance stage where you can catch live shows with bands from all over as well as a large selection of food and drinks. The nachos we ate had some of the biggest jalapeños I’ve ever seen!
Next up we enjoyed some unique coal fired pizza at Racca’s. We were treated to some of their limoncello and a couple of signature thin crust pizzas.
Our final stop of the night was The Office for some Greek inspired fare as well as some delicious peach pie for a nice dessert after lots of amazing food.
When we arrived at Independence Rock, almost everything was covered in fresh snow. You could make out many animal tracks of rabbits and other small creatures who no doubt make the area home.
Independence Rock was made famous as a landmark for pioneers heading west who carved their names as they passed by. It was so named because western emigrants were told that if they did not make it to this point by Independence Day (July 4th), they should set up camp for winter so as not to get stopped by winter storms before they reached the west coast. I was able to crawl my way to the top of the rock for some great views of the surrounding area. The skies were overcast and the same color as the snow so it made for a very surreal scene. The fresh snow did not make it easy going up but it sure was a breeze coming down, as we were able to slide down in the snow!
As we drove to our next stop, Fremont Canyon, the skies began to clear and the landscape was transformed thanks to the appearance of beautiful blue skies. There was no other vehicular traffic so we were able to get some great shots of snow covered roads and vast vistas. I even got some amazing aerial images from my drone.
In a moment that couldn’t have been more perfectly staged, we came around a curve heading into the canyon overlooking the stream and there was a man fishing in the middle of the water. I quickly grabbed my 100-400 zoom lens and caught a spectacular moment as his tiny figure was juxtaposed against the massive opening of the snow-covered rocks. This is probably my favorite image from the trip.
Lunches followed, provided by Grant Street Grocery. It was the best turkey sandwich I have had in a while and even came with a cookie! Our next adventure for the day was fly-fishing on the North Platte River. The awesome crew at The Reef Fly Shop showed us how to fly fish and took us to the best spots to find fish.
The skies had completely cleared by this point, which made for perfect weather conditions to be out on the boat. Our guide Pat knew all good spots and was a great teacher. I caught 2, yes 2 rainbow trout and was surprised by how fun fly-fishing could be. I didn’t know it could be done from a boat, as the only images I had seen of it were people fishing from a stationary position in the water. As we finished our fishing excursion, the sun began to set, so we all set up to capture sunset photos. The beautiful calm, cool air made for a wonderful moment and the photos reflected that.
After our full day I was definitely ready to eat when we walked into Wyoming Ale Works. The owner greeted us and even gave us some samples of a new beer he recently acquired. The burger and IPA really hit the spot and I of course had room for Oreo brownie with ice cream. Needless to say, I slept well that night!
Since it was our last day in Casper, I wanted to wake up early to catch a sunrise and I'm sure glad I did. We headed to a ridge near our hotel where we could see the whole town, mountains in the distance, and the sun rising. The wind was blustery and chilly but the colors were starting to pop as we all hopped out of the car with our gear. I quickly setup one camera to run a timelapse and started snapping away with my other camera. It was the perfect way to start the day and the vantage point couldn’t have been beat. A crescent moon was still visible as the purple, pink, red and orange hues of the clouds slowly moved over the mountains.
Following our sunrise session we made our way to Eggington’s for one of the most unique and tasty breakfast dishes I have had in some time. The Southern Benedict was savory and filling, and the fresh fruit was a perfect to end the meal.
After breakfast we made our way to Backwards Distillery for a tour and a cocktail making class. I loved their circus-inspired graphic design work. As a big gin drinker, I appreciated their very approachable Contortionist Gin.
Before heading to the airport to fly home, we grabbed lunch at HQ Southern BBQ where I enjoyed their spicy chicken sandwich and award winning mac and cheese.
It was a whirlwind weekend and so much fun. Our hosts really showed us a great time and helped us see that Casper has so much to offer! I will definitely be back soon!