Boysen Dam, completed in 1951, marks the southern margin of the east-west trending Owl Creek Mountains and the Wind River Canyon. Drained by the north flowing Wind River, the canyon is 14 miles long, 1.3-2 miles wide and 2,400 feet deep where it crosses the axis of the mountain range, north of here. Steep canyon walls display rocks of the Precambrian and Paleozoic eras ranging in age from several billion to 235 million years. The Wind River originally flowed across flat terrain beneath which lay the buried Owl Creek Mountains. These mountains formed 50 million years ago, as an upward fold in the earth's crust, and were subsequently covered by younger sediment. About 4 million years ago a broad regional uplift of the earth's crust resulted in the incision of the Wind River's channel onto the rising crust, creating the canyon which cuts across the Owl Creek Mountains at a right angle.Rivers usually flow around or parallel to mountains rather than across them. Sediment covering the Owl Creek Mountains was removed via erosion, resulting in development of the landscape you now view. The process continues.
Portions of the Canyon highway follow an ancient trail used by Native Americans, early fur trappers, traders, and U.S. Military expeditions. Native Americans, particularly the Shoshone, used this trail to reach the hot springs in present-day Thermopolis. William Ashley, "general" of the fur trade, floated a valuable cargo of pelts through the Canyon in 1825 on his way back to St. Louis. The Canyon was also a well known escape route for Native American warriors in the late 1800s. Wind River Canyon is sacred to contemporary Native American tribes in the region.