On the Road Again—Homeward Bound Part 3 – Teapot Dome

We had developed a routine by day 3 of our return trip, rising as early as possible, grabbing a quick breakfast in the hotel, loading our stuff into the car and taking off on our next leg.

However, this day would add a new wrinkle. We were going to deviate from our pre-planned route and improvise today’s journey. This plan was made more difficult by a mishap last evening when JIm’s phone charger stuck in the car’s plug and shattered in the socket as he tried to yank it out, leaving pieces of plastic lodged in there. When he used a key to pry them out the socket shorted, blowing the fuse. This deprived us of continuous real time navigation using our cell phones, since they could not be recharged in the car. We still had limited use of the phones, but relied primarily on a paper map we picked up at the Wyoming Welcome Center located just across the state line from South Dakota.

We were driving west on I-90 from Rapid City toward Gillette, WY, where we would leave the interstate and head southwest on Wyoming Route 50 and some other secondary roads toward Casper.

Airplane on a post looked odd.

Unfortunately, without the phone’s prompt we missed a turn onto Rt 50 and were in a world of hurt, back on I-90 and headed toward Buffalo an hour away, with no exit in sight. There were, however, emergency crossovers within the center median and we cautiously elected to use one before we got too much further out of the way. Now back on course we did pick up WY Rt 50 and were OK from there.

Entering Wyoming we noticed a few old oil wells. Some were pumping, while others were still. Continuing toward Casper we passed flat open range and ranches but no towns. We wondered how the ranchers handled the needs of everyday life such as groceries, medical attention, car service and other trappings of civilization being so far away from these basics.

Rt 50 merged into Rt 387 and we continued driving southwest toward Edgerton. We passed graveyards filled with old vehicles and oil rigging and realized we were in the midst of a sizeable oil field. We had hoped to find restaurants for lunch in Edgerton and did find one—Denise’s Diner—on the main road. From the artwork within it was clear this was a hangout for the oil riggers and a large sign outside also welcomed bikers.

Moving on, as I leaned forward to shoot a photo of a large table rock formation I checked the map to see where we were. In the tiniest of almost invisible writing it said “Teapot Dome.” Teapot Dome!? Yes, it was that Teapot Dome. Our school books had come alive. As we all remember from our American history studies Teapot Dome was a giant scandal during the early 1920s administration of President Warren Harding. A large U.S. Naval Petroleum Reserve covers this part of Wyoming and the scandal involved the then Secretary of the Interior Albert Bacon Fall, who leased Teapot Dome and other properties in California to oil companies at very low rates without competitive bidding.

It turned out Fall had taken bribes in return for the low lease rates. It took several years for the details to be uncovered and not until after Harding had passed away in 1923, but his administration was tarnished by the scandal. Fall tried to cover his tracks and this story has all the intrigue of the later Watergate scandal including an office break-in and ransacking. Fall went to prison for taking bribes but no one was ever convicted of paying the bribes. Teapot Dome was shut down for 49 years and the field not reactivated until 1976. In 2015 after yielding 22 million barrels of oil worth over $569 million the Department of Energy sold the field for $45 million to Standard Oil Resources Corp of New York.

Large table rock formation within Teapot Dome.

Approaching Casper we activated the phone’s navigator just long enough to get through some tricky turns and route changes and emerged on WY Rt 220 heading toward Alcova. By this time we were running low on gas and expected to find some near the main road. That never happened in Casper and as we neared Alcova, we realized we were getting into open country and might run out before we ever located a station. Our phones were directing us back where we had just come, so we thought it best to exit the main road in Alcova and ask the locals for gas. When we looked up in the tiny town there was a station directly ahead. Thus saved, we jumped back on Rt. 220 which eventually merged into U.S. 287 and intersected with Interstate 80 at Rawlins.

Westward bound for about another hour and a half we arrived at Rock Springs WY and decided to call it a day. On previous legs we had phoned ahead for hotel reservations but abandoned that strategy after we realized our online searches were not getting us to the hotels themselves but to 3rd party reservation services that were charging a healthy mark-up for placing reservations and—in one case—not even fully completing the transaction.

We exited the freeway and picked a hotel that looked nice. It was—and not only that—it offered a made-to-order omelet bar for breakfast and was probably the cheapest of the places we stayed. Yippee! Dinner at a nearby rustic cabin restaurant closed out the day. Click here for earlier blogs from this trip. Next: Some weather on the home stretch.

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