The Wyoming Wildlife Game: Tips for road trips with kids

No matter how big a parents’ bag of tricks, long road trips can induce restless mind syndrome and pick-a-fight-with-your-sister syndrome.
rv_red canyon_04-kyle-dubaWhen my parents’ tactics lost power on our road trips across the Cowboy State, my parents instigated Wyoming-style road-trip games. I’m sure you’re familiar with the alphabet game, I Spy, and the license plate game, but our games were a little more Wyoming than the standards. Today, our favorite—the aptly named “wildlife game”—makes me that much more appreciative of what I see each time I cruise across Wyoming’s Wind River Country.

Over the years, we refined our points system for all types of wildlife based on their population density and associated likelihood of being viewed from a cruising vehicle. Pronghorn antelope or mule deer, for example are worth just one point and five points, respectively, because we saw them on every trip and typically in herds. Antelope and deer playing together, however, might warrant some extra points for their lyrical dedication. On the other hand, a jackalope is worth negative points, because, well … we knew you were lying (jackalopes only come out from underground during full moons and total solar eclipses). Elk are worth quite a bit more, and moose even more. Various fowl garner points based on their rarity and their ease to identify from the back seat. A bald eagle pretty much wins the road trip. Unless, however, you spot an ostrich, which, of course, is worth about a billion points if spotted in the wilds of Wyoming.

Bald eagle, 75 points.

Bald eagle, 75 points.

Feeling we had an unfair disadvantage of about two feet in the back seat, my sister and I would endeavor to keep one eye out the windshield and the other out the side window, eager to be the first to shout, “Two sandhill cranes!! That’s 24 points! I saw them first!” Then we’d quickly scribble those points down on our notebook, practice our math (often while the other sister took the opportunity to be the first to identify another animal), and announce the standings.

Today, as I cruise Wind River Country from Dubois to Fort Washakie or from Lander over South Pass, I keep a sharp eye out for wildlife of all sorts, and I get a little thrill and a heavy dose of gratitude and nostalgia when I spot something particularly elusive, like a beaver or badger. How special to live in a place like this, how important that my parents combatted my misplaced boredom while instilling in me a deep-seated appreciation for the many, many creatures with whom we share this land.

Points System

Photo: Scott Copeland

Bighorn sheep, 50 points

Jackalope                     -10
Antelope                      1
Gopher or prairie dog  5
Cottontail rabbit           3
Jackrabbit                    5
Deer                            5
Canada goose              10
Sandhill crane              12
Red-tailed hawk          25
Blue heron                   30
Elk                               30
Moose                         50
Bighorn sheep             50
Sage grouse                 50
Golden eagle               60
Fox                              70
Bald eagle                    75
Coyote                         75
Mountain goat             100
Badger                         125
Wolf                            150
Black bear                   150
Grizzly bear                 150