Rectangular in shape, Wyoming is traversed by the Rocky Mts., which angle south across the state from the northwest. East of the mountains is the rolling country of the Great Plains, a mile-high region covered with grasses and sagebrush and interrupted by the upward thrust of mountain ranges. In the center of the state is a stretch of unbroken high plain, across which the wagon trains rolled westward over the Oregon Trail. In the extreme northeast the low, wooded Black Hills give way to eroded badlands extending west to the banks of the Powder River, which wanders through some of the most famous cattle country in the United States. West beyond the Powder is tallgrass country that was the hunting ground of the Crow until the migrating Sioux pushed the Crow westward into the mountains. The Sioux fell in turn before the relentless advance of settlers, and today farms and ranches occupy this fertile and beautiful plains area.
In SE Wyoming the higher tablelands are interrupted by the Laramie and Medicine Bow ranges. Across this region travelers to the Pacific coast made their way when wars with natives in the 1860s made the Oregon Trail hazardous. The railroad followed paths of these wagon trains when the Union Pacific laid its tracks along this more southerly course. In SW Wyoming is the natural gateway through the Rockies: the broad, grassy South Pass. Immediately north of the pass is the Wind River Range, reaching the highest elevation in the state at Gannett Peak. Still farther north rise the Gros Ventre and Absaroka ranges, and to the west, near the Idaho line, the glorious Tetons loom above a lake and valley country of renowned beauty.
From the mountain heights snows melt to feed a number of rivers. The Snake begins its long, winding journey into Idaho and on to the Columbia; the Yellowstone travels north and east into the Missouri; and the Green River flows south to join the Colorado. This wealth of surface water offsets the scant rainfall, and river water is impounded for irrigation, flood control, and in some cases hydroelectric power.
Wyoming has two spectacular national parks: Grand Teton, which embraces the most stunning portion of the Teton Range, and Yellowstone, which includes the entire northwest corner of the state and was the world's first national park. Yellowstone's geysers and hot springs are world famous, as is the breathtaking Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Wyoming is also prime hunting and fishing country. The nation's largest herds of elk and antelope are there; deer, moose, and bear are plentiful, and the rivers, lakes, and streams teem with fish. Also in the state are Devils Tower and Fossil Butte national monuments and two national recreational areas, Bighorn Canyon and Flaming Gorge (see National Parks and Monuments, table). Cheyenne is the capital and largest city; Casper and Laramie are the second and third largest cities.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.