July 26, 1995
While percolating in Saratoga’s scorching hot springs, consciousness gently baking into a blissful soufflé, I was suddenly startled by a terrible roar which ripped the lazy Wyoming sky in two. KKKKKKrrrrrrrrrkkkkkkkkk. What in the name of John Bridger?!! U.N. black helicopters? An errant intercontinental ballistic missile? The Wyoming Militia?
Relax, relax, I’m quickly told. It’s nothing quite so dramatic. Just some of the neighbors. Rich neighbors. With big Lear jets. Loud Lear jets.
Settling back into the near-boiling mineral springs, I ask myself, how’d they find this place? When questioned, the locals are a little sheepish about their jet-setting neighbors. They begrudgingly respond, “Oh, some corporations own ranches in the area … ” That’s about all you’ll get. No names or stories of yukking it up with movie stars. A clue about the town’s prevailing attitude may be in the title of a local theatre production this summer: “Never Trust a City Slicker.” Thank God I left my Global Positioning System rig in the car.
Saratoga, on the banks of the North Platte River, serves as the western gateway to Medicine Bow National Forest, in the southeastern section of the Cowboy State. The eastern portal is Centennial, which boasts an intimidating law enforcement presence (left). In between is a camper’s paradise.
Rising out of the desolate Wyoming plains, the Snowy Range of the Medicine Bow Mountains was still blanketed with snow in early July, leaving most of the higher altitude campsites closed. (One local said there’s more snow in the region this summer than he’s seen in 40 years.) Campsites on the west side of the park, however, including Ryan’s Park, offered lush, lower elevation respites. Although Ryan’s Park was near capacity, its well-placed and spread out sites allowed for an agreeable measure of privacy.
Medicine Bow is said to refer to two things: The quality of bows crafted by Native Americans out of mountain mahogany, and the healing waters of Saratoga’s hot springs, at the edge of the North Platte River. It is also said tribes would lay down their bows and arrows in neutral territory at the springs. Much later, Medicine Bow became famous because of Owen Wister’s novel, “The Virginian.”
Throughout the years, Medicine Bow has seen a varied trail of visitors – Native Americans, loggers, railroad barons, recreationists. Perhaps the most intriguing “visitors” were German prisoners of war during World War II, who were interned at Ryan’s Park. Locals requested the labor to help with timbering.
Saratoga is about as unobstrusive as a “resort” town can be. Fishing in the area is legendary, spawning the town’s slogan: “Where the trout leap in Main Street.” But besides the Lear jets parked on the tarmac at the airport, little about the modest town pegs it as a resort. The hot springs are developed, perhaps with a little too much concrete, but they are free and open to the public seven days a week, 24 hours a day, year-round. With temperatures between 117 and 128 degrees, the springs are close to searing. Stop by in the evening; the cool air will temper the heat.
In town, the Saratoga Museum contains a fascinating collection of historic and prehistoric exhibits. Archaeologists consider Saratoga the “Atlatl Capital of the World,” atatl referring to a device developed by ancient hunters to propel spears at things like woolly mammoths.
Departing Saratoga and heading back into northern Colorado, I recalled a comment by a Saratoga native now living in Denver. He lamented that Saratoga was quickly becoming the next Aspen. Rest assured, friend. Saratoga, despite its airport traffic, is, for now, a quaint gateway to Medicine Bow National Forest. High-brow jet setters notwithstanding, city slickers are few and far between.