Wyoming's Togwotee Trail Queen

Civil engineer Shelby Carlson discusses the stretch of the Togwotee Trail she helped rebuild.

Shelby Carlson cuts ribbon at Togwotee Pass, Wyo., image

Carlson cuts the ribbon atop Togwotee Pass.

Wyoming native Shelby Carlson used to vacation with her family on Togwotee Pass. From 2005 through 2012, as a civil engineer with the state’s transportation department, she oversaw the rebuilding of a 38-mile stretch of U.S. 26/287 between Dubois and Moran. The road climbs to 9,662 feet at the pass. gotogwoteetrail.com.

Q How long has Togwotee Trail been used?
A
The route probably started as a game trail. Then thousands of years ago, Sheep Eater Indians turned it into a major trade route. A two-track trail opened to vehicles in 1917, and between 1919 and 1921 that was rebuilt and graveled. In the 1950s, the road was paved for winter travel—the last major improvement until this project.

Q The origin of the word Togwotee?
A
It’s the name of a Shoshone subchief under Chief Washakie. In 1873, Chief Togwotee led a Corps of Engineers team into Yellowstone over this pass. The head of the expedition named it in his honor.

Q What’s special about the rebuilt road?
A
It isn’t just better for motorists. We installed eight underpasses and crossings for animals—even built a bridge over a wildlife crossing. Because the road was so steep and we feared creating a temperature differential that would let ice build up, we covered the bridge with three to four feet of dirt. There’s nothing else like it anywhere in the region.

Q What kind of animals use the crossings?
A
We have a photo of a big buck walking through one tunnel. We’ve also seen elk, moose, bears, and all sorts of small creatures. Someone even saw a buffalo.

Q Your favorite spot along the road?
A
The big roadside overlook right above Togwotee Mountain Lodge. Spectacular views you just can’t believe.

Photography courtesy of Wydot

This article was first published in March 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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