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Point of Rocks, WY Serves Up Food, Fuel and History

The Varley family owns this entire tiny waypoint along Wyoming's rocky Interstate 80

By Phil Newman on August 15, 2014

Varley Mercantile, Point of Rocks, WY
Rock Springs / Michael D. Tedesco

Since the Wild West days when notorious outlaw Butch Cassidy laid low in a hideout among the boulder-strewn hills near Point of Rocks, Wyo., this tiny spot on the map has become much more tame and civilized – but no less unique.

Just ask Ed Varley, whose small family owns the entire unincorporated community of Point of Rocks – all 1.8 square miles (40 acres) of it, anchored by a newly remodeled café, a gas station, store and 13-room motel. His wife Rae Dell’s family started the business in 1945.

“Quite a bit of history has happened right around here,” says Varley, an expert on Point of Rocks’ fascinating transformation from dusty trailtown, to railroad stop, to coal-mining mecca, to modern-day attraction.

Coming up on Point of Rocks either by railcar or, more likely, driving along Interstate 80 as it runs eastward out of Rock Springs, 26 miles away, toward Rawlins and then Laramie – it’s tempting to conclude that the old adage “don’t blink, or you’ll miss it” was coined for this exact locale.  

The same was true back in 1862, when Overland Trail stagecoaches began coming through Point of Rocks and often stopped to refuel the horses with fresh feed. Six years later, in 1868, the Union-Pacific Railroad laid track through the area, ushering in the era of modern transportation. It wasn’t until 1900 that a double-rail was completed, allowing two-way train traffic.

Rocky Roads

Another seismic shift occurred in 1913, when the Lincoln Highway was dedicated for automobile traffic – although, in light of World War I, it wasn’t finished in Point of Rocks until 1919, Varley says.

Again in 1930 (when U.S. Hwy. 30 opened) and in 1963 (when Hwy. 30 was expanded to become I-80), the path leading through Point of Rocks changed drastically.

Varley is quick to dispel a misunderstanding that only three people live in Point of Rocks. In fact, he says between 150 and 175 residents make their home there, supporting tourism, the nearby coal mines, and the Jim Bridger Power Station, which took some 3,000 workers to build during the 1970s and is one of the largest coal-fired, electric power generation facilities in the western U.S.

Setting the Stage

Visitors to Point of Rocks can find the remnants of that original Almond Stage Station built in 1862. The sandstone station, with a sod-covered roof, survived at least one Native American attack and an attempted burning. When the tracks came along in 1868, the station became a stop along the U-P transcontinental railroad. Today, the old station is maintained by Wyoming State Parks.

As for Point of Rocks, the Varleys have modernized it with the times, and it remains a coveted stop for interstate drivers dashing across Wyoming.

“We do have a little bit of everything you might need, whether it’s gas, diesel or a bite to eat,” Varley says.

“We do have a little bit of everything you might need, whether it’s gas, diesel or a bite to eat”

Ed Varley
Owner, Point of Rocks
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