Bill Sniffin: Wyoming Was Prehistoric Land Of Beasts, Rock Art, Mysterious Places

in Column/Bill Sniffin

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By Bill Sniffin

Just about everything about Wyoming over the last 180 million years has been BIG. Although it is vast today, the Wyoming of 180 million years ago sure looked different from today. Most everything was truly gigantic.

Even the geography was different. Instead of high plains with semi-arid desert lands and towering mountains, that earlier place was wet. Very wet.

Some of the biggest animals that ever lived, both reptile and mammal, lived in Wyoming in earlier times.

Wyoming is also a land of giants today. It truly was a land of giants back in its earliest days.

Dinosaurs roamed Wyoming as much as anywhere on earth. Literally thousands of dinosaur specimens can be found in museums all across the planet that were found here in the Cowboy State.

Locally, fantastic dinosaur displays can be found at the Knight Museum at the University of Wyoming, the Tate Museum in Casper and the Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis.

And to show just how long dinosaurs dominated our planet, it is interesting to note just how long dinosaurs lived here. One way to reveal dinosaurs’ long dominance of this place is to consider that the arrival of modern man today is closer, time-wise, to a Tyrannosaurus Rex, which disappeared 65 million years ago than that same Rex is to the lumbering Brontosaurus that was pounding the turf here 150 million years ago.

Wyoming is home to Como Bluff, a relatively nondescript outcropping just off Highway 30 near Medicine Bow. That area has yielded a treasure trove of dinosaur bones over the past 130 years, or during the time that Wyoming has been a state.

There are wonderful sites all over Wyoming for people to experience sites formerly occupied by extinct dinosaurs and giant mammals and get involved in real archeological digs.

Besides the pitfalls of evolution, super volcanoes wreaked havoc on those ancient creatures. Wyoming has been home to the famous Yellowstone Supervolcano during most of these years. Three of the most recent explosions occurred two million years ago, 1.1 million years ago and 650,000 years ago.

It is due to explode again and could blow, give or take, in a millennium. Scientists are watching its every move. Books, movies, and TV specials in recent years have fostered this notion of imminent catastrophe.

And yet for 180 million years, Wyoming survived as a land of dinosaurs and then giant mammals.

Early man arrived here 13,000 years ago. Most experts think these were Asian people who crossed the Bering Strait on a land and ice bridge.

From the time man arrived in our space known as Wyoming people have wanted to record their personal stories.

Long before writing was developed, ancient people recorded tales of their daily lives on Wyoming’s rock walls.

Perhaps these were holy sites where people would study in hope of receiving a vision to guide their way into their uncertain futures. Wyoming is full of these wonderful places, which can inspire both awe and mystery to present-day visitors.

The ancient tribes of hunter-gatherers traditionally recorded their stories by scrawling messages on rock walls and creating eerie rock monuments. Were these sites created or built to honor some long-forgotten god or celestial celebration?

When they first arrived, it is assumed they hunted ancient mammals to extinction. These included the mammoth and other giant beasts, which had evolved into super-large versions of their kind because of no natural enemies – until man, arrived, that is.

The Medicine Wheel in the Bighorn Mountains is often called America’s Stonehenge because of the mystery it portends. It is thousands of years old. Although its purpose is unknown to us but it definitely lines up with certain bright stars, solar solstices and constellations in the sky.

Without horses, those early tribes used natural features of the landscape to provide food and skins for their survival. Two of the most famous are the Vore Buffalo Jump near Sundance and the Wold site near the Hole-in-the-Wall between Moneta and Kaycee.

Other sites exist where earlier Wyoming residents trapped and killed the gigantic mammoth, ultimately driving it to extinction. The Tate Geologic Museum in Casper has one of the biggest skeletal specimens of these giant Wyoming mammoths.

Native peoples dominated Wyoming until about 1720 when it is speculated Spanish invaders barely touched the southeast corner of present-day Wyoming.

This had been a glorious time for these hunter-gatherers before the onset of the European invasion of their vast homelands.

Once the white man arrived, life would never be the same again.

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