HISTORY: A quick history of Sinks Canyon State Park
It’s no secret that Wyoming is home to some of the most beautiful wildlife and scenery in the country. Most people attribute that beauty to Yellowstone National Park. And you know, they wouldn’t be wrong. Yellowstone is absolutely gorgeous. However, they may not know about the hidden gem nestled right here in the Wind River Range: Sinks Canyon State Park.
Sinks Canyon is the product of massive glaciers and ice sheets. Ever since those glaciers retreated and melted off man has journeyed into the canyon. There is evidence of people in the canyon as far back as prehistoric times. Native Americans used the canyon for hunting, gathering berries, and even to quarry stone. With Western Expansion they were quickly followed by Mountain Men, European explorers, cattlemen and settlers. As claims were quickly staked in the Lander valley the need for supplies became apparent. Thus, came the addition of sawmills, hydroelectric power-plants, and stone quarry’s in the canyon.
The town of Lander was officially founded in 1875 and from that point onward people would visit the canyon to enjoy the beautiful scenery, fish the ample rivers, camp under the trees, and explore the unspoiled wild lands that to this day are abundant and lush in our mountains.
The road to the canyon at the time was nothing more than a dirt wagon track and more often than not it would take a full day to arrive. But that sure didn’t stop anyone.
It wasn’t until the 1930’s that the canyon would start to be called “Sinks Canyon”. At the time there was dispute over whether it should be officially named “Sinks Canyon” or “Big Popo Agie Canyon”. But “Sinks Canyon” won out in the end.
The canyon experienced many quick changes as people across the US became aware of not only the recreational value of the wild lands but also the educational value that could be found in the ground and in the wilderness. The University of Missouri set up a base camp for geological studies. The National Outdoor Leadership School leased the buildings around the Rise to teach outdoor courses. And the US Forest Service founded and built The Middle Fork Ranger Station.
With all of this progress it didn’t take long for people to realize the need to protect the canyon for future generations. People became aware that without some sort of preservation the beautiful wild lands they got to enjoy, might disappear as more and more was developed.
In 1939 and 1953 the Wyoming Game and Fish Department bought large portions of the canyon to be set aside for a wildlife habitat. In 1963 Pacific Power and Light Company donated over 7 acres of property to the City of Lander to be used as a park.
State and city officials worked together alongside private citizens and together they created Sinks Canyon State Park. The bill creating the park was signed in 1971. Sinks Canyon was officially a state park, the first park created under the Wyoming Recreation commission.
Improvements were made around the park while the goal to protect, maintain, and preserve the wild atmosphere that fills the canyon was paramount. It was even written in the original park development plan: “Within the canyon walls are found unspoiled symbols of the best of Wyoming. The mountains, the river, the fish and wildlife; sage, wildflowers, aspen and pine trees, a rugged country of tranquil quiet under blue sky. The development of park facilities must accent and enhance these values. To overwhelm them with chrome plated campgrounds and concession stands would be unwise.”
Since then, Sinks Canyon State Park has been an important part of not only Fremont County but the state of Wyoming as a whole. The Popo Agie River with its alluring yet peculiar vanishing act, drawing water underground for over two hours only to come out ¼ mile away would catch anyone’s attention. The canyon is home to world class climbing, endless fishing destinations, glorious hiking trails, breath taking waterfalls, an epic natural water slide, and beautiful camp sites just to name a few. Thousands of people visit the canyon each year to enjoy this preserved piece of Wyoming history and Wyoming wild lands.
To say we are grateful to the people that worked to create a protected park in the canyon is an understatement. With the intense hustle and bustle of this day an age, and the need to keep going-going-going, it’s an invaluable thing to have a place to go to escape, unplug, recharge,
and connect with nature.
Sinks Canyon is truly a hidden gem here in Wyoming.
And I am so proud that I get to explore a little bit more of it every year.
Photo Credit (Black & White) Sinks Canyon State Park Website (Color) Alyx Raven Miller
Written by: Alyx Raven Zgurich