There is a canyon on the north end of the Medicine Bows that few know. Its shadowed walls hold hidden secrets, discretely placed, hushing those who encounter them.
Here the solid remains of an ancient dune field, nestled into the granite range, have been exposed by tumbling waters. The creek has carved a canyon, filled with pines, broad as a bowl at the top but narrowing as it descends. Sandstone walls tower overhead, forming cliffs, domes and alcoves that reach nearly two hundred feet to the sky. Ah sandstone, the colors of skin, white, red and brown, sinuous and soft to the touch of wind and water.
Across the valley a pillar stands alone on the hillside, holding forth above the pines. It is matched by what appears to be another column on the near side, but in closer inspection is a tall, narrow fin of rock.
Swallows, vultures and hawks have found homes in these walls, setting out to cut circles in the sky. Flowers brighten the slopes. Orchids hide in the shade.
To add to the interest, cowboys and adventurers have carved names and initials, dates and places, and the delicate profile of a woman’s face. Finding and deciphering the glyphs can make a day hike into a treasure hunt. The earliest I’ve found was left by C.M.E. back in 1878.
Of course some stupid yahoos have scrawled and scribbled their names near and over some of the ancient markings. By telling you about this treasure I’m entrusting you. Let’s preserve this place. We can write on a facebook wall instead. Some recent arrivals have artistically carved new age and Native American symbols on one tower, wisely choosing a new slate, unmarked by historical figures.
Walking into White Rock Canyon, while not particularly deep or long, is a bit challenging. There are no real trails. You may come across the overgrown remains of the one heading down stream, mid slope, but, then again, you may not. Plan on picking your way through the brush and pines. There are several old beaver dams which allow for dry stream crossings.
The greatest concentration of glyphs is to the north where the canyon narrows. The oldest are further yet where the going is very difficult and the creek runs against the cliff wall. More are on the lone pillar.
If you go…..
Take I-80 west from Cheyenne about 90 miles, exiting at Arlington, exit 272. Turn under the interstate then go west along the south service road. At the third forest service road, FS 111, turn south. Continue on gravel FS 111 about three miles. Three tenths of a mile past the Medicine Bow Forest boundary signs take the right fork to its end at the parking area. The canyon signs have been removed by vandals. There are no toilets or water. The canyon can be quite hot mid summer.
A few years ago I wrote a different piece about White Rock Canyon for the Cheyenne Tribune-Eagle. It contains a few additional facts which might be useful…..
Hike of the Week: White Rock Canyon
Highlights: A sandstone canyon sporting two tall rock pillars inscribed with glyphs from the cowboy era, a laughing stream and a lush growth of pines.
Location: Near Arlington on the north edge of the Medicine Bow Mountains.
Total Distance: One to two miles down and back.
Elevations: Rim, 8280’; Floor 8060’
Maps: USGS White Rock Canyon quad; Medicine Bow National Forest Map
Trailhead: Take I-80 west from Cheyenne about 90 miles, exiting at Arlington, exit 272. Turn under the interstate then go west along the south service road. At the third forest service road, FS 111, 1½ miles from Arlington, turn south. Continue on gravel FS 111 about three miles. Just after entering the forest take the right fork into a parking area. The canyon sign has been removed by vandals.
The hike: This is a little adventure more than a hike as there are no trails to follow. It’s better this way! From the rim you’ll spot two sandstone pillars across the creek. Your mission? Scramble off the canyon edge and cross the vale to find the spires. It looks easy until you discover how well hidden they are among the tall pines. After inspecting the inscriptions you’ll want to follow the creek downstream (East Fork of Wagonhound Creek) to the narrow canyon gates where there are more glyphs from turn of the century cowboys and travelers. The walls here are nearly 200 feet tall. While there try to figure out how this white sandstone came to exist in sight of the massive granite bulk of Elk Mountain. Return the way you came.
Pointers: Please don’t even think about defacing these old etchings or of adding your own. Even oil from your hands is damaging. This is one of few records left by these early arrivals, the ancestors of some familiar names in Laramie and Cheyenne today. We have many other ways of “making our mark” in the 21st century.