#Lookback: Motor Tourism of the Upper Wind River

    A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community, brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

    At the start of the 20th century, the automobile drastically changed the ways Americans traveled and visited their country.  However, the change was not immediate.  Some places resisted the arrival of the automotive, including Yellowstone National Park, which legalized motorized vehicles on its land only in 1915.  However, for the large spaces of the American West, especially Wyoming, automobiles were an important way to connect small, disparate towns more than the railroad was capable, especially on the Upper Wind River Valley.

    However, with the arrival of the motorized car came the demand for better paved roads, and ways to navigate them.  From 1916 through 1940s, the route from Lander to Moran Junction was constantly being resurveyed and updated to better road standards for arriving travelers.  In 1918, the State Highway Commission and the U.S. Government agreed to begin building a road between the eastern boundary of the National Forest and Black Rock Meadows, initiating the construction of what is now known as Togwotee Pass.  In 1921 the 12- to 16-foot-wide road was dedicated, finally completed in 1922 for automobile traffic.  Until World War II the road was gradually maintained, widened, and resurfaced.

    The road over Togwotee Pass opened up access to Yellowstone National Park from Lander and Riverton through Dubois, bringing in tourists driving cars up to Yellowstone and, eventually, Grand Teton National Park.  The town of Dubois, the last town before crossing the pass, began to see a new wave of tourists.  Dubois had already established itself as a tourist destination with many dude ranches, including the CM, T Cross, EA, and Triangle C (then the Rocky Mountain Lodge) in the 1920s.

    While automobile tourism was in its infancy during the 1920s and 30s, various services were being established to encourage drivers to travel in their cars rather than by train.  Several oil companies ran “travel bureaus,” providing customers with maps, information about road conditions, brochures, and travel advice.  Among these, Conoco’s “Touraides” were particularly innovative.  The spiral-bound maps were custom-assembled to the motorist’s trip, proposing a best route, highlighted across a map of America and then broken into individual maps highlighting points of interest and with written descriptions of places to visit in the quarter of any given state or specific city.  The Touraide also provided a list of places to stay and going rates for various businesses.  This meant that hotels, campgrounds, and resorts could advertise in the Touraide, bringing in visitors from around the country.  

    Dubois was included on the map of Northwestern Wyoming in early editions of the Touraide, described as having “a distinctive Western life and hospitality of its own.”  The road over Togwotee Pass is clearly marked as an improved (but not paved) road.  Furthermore, several of the ranches around Dubois are also marked on the map.  The Diamond G Ranch (now Brooks Lake Lodge), T Cross Ranch, Dennison Ranch, Duncan Ranch, Double Diamond Ranch, and Wells Ranch could all be marked as destinations on a Touraide, bringing motorists directly to their stay at any of these places.  While these are not the only guest ranches marked on the Wyoming Touraide, it is notable how many Dubois area ranches had themselves included on the map, making it particularly convenient for motorists to navigate to their stays.

    After World War II, motor tourism exploded in popularity through the 1950s, and still remains extremely popular in Wyoming, with its spread-out population and places to visit.  Although the roads have widened and been paved, and the maps are now more often digital than printed, they still ferry visitors along to where they want to go.

    Next up for the Fremont County Museum

    January 18, 6pm at the Dubois Museum, “My Life Caving: Juan Laden” Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

    February 8, 6pm at the Dubois Museum, “Brian DeBolt: Wolves in Wyoming”

    Call the Dubois Museum 1-307-455-2284, the Pioneer Museum 1-307-332-3339 or the Riverton Museum 1-307-856-2665 for detail regarding their programs.

    The Wind River Cultural Centers Foundation has been created to specifically benefit The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum.  The WRCCF will help deliver the long term financial support our museums need to flourish.  In the current economic environment, the museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark over the last four years.  Please make your tax deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Wind River Cultural Centers Foundation at PO Box 1863 Lander, WY 82520 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.  

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