July 31, 2010
Wyoming is a land with a lot of open between its communities and long roads connecting them. Wyoming also has a lot of sights, but like its communities, Wyoming's sights are far between. To reach these sights, you must make the effort.
I had an opportunity to make the effort to experience the middle part of Wyoming far from the interstate and enjoy its many historic and scenic spots. This opportunity would be a long day of driving of almost 400 miles. I relied on the red squares of my road atlas, historic markers on the side of the highways, and the expanse of the Wyoming horizon to treat myself to a day of history and scenery.
The Start - Evansville an hour or so into the morning light. I headed westward following the Oregon-California-Mormon Trail that brought so many pioneers to the West in the 19th century.
|Historic Graffiti on Independence Rock|
Stop 2 - The Devil's Gate is a split in the rock of the southern tip of the Granite Mountains. It was also a landmark for the braided split-offs of the pioneer trail which converged around a half mile to the south to cross the hills here at Rattlesnake Pass. The more adventurous pioneers would walk up the Sweetwater River through the Devil's Gate.
|The Devil's Gate|
|The Devil's Gate on the left and the usual route of the pioneers on the right|
|Part of the Mormon Handcart Historic Site|
Martin's Cove is behind the rock ridge
|Split Rock Meadows|
Stop 5 - A 1956 Wyoming historical marker provided a wide spot in the highway to view Split Rock. And yep, it is definitely another landmark along the California-Oregon-Mormon Trail that cannot be missed.
|Split Rock to the right of the highway litter sign |
(Photo from my later travels in May 2013)
|Abandoned Street in Jeffrey City|
Jeffrey City: The Biggest Bust of Them All
Home on the range, a tiny community consisting of a post office, gas station, and a few souls, sat quiet and undisturbed along this lonesome stretch of highway until the 1950's. That all changed when the nation's uranium industry boomed after World War II.
|Abandoned Buildings in Jeffrey City|
Then came the bust in the early 1980s - and when uranium busted, Jeffrey City faded away. By 1982 only 1,000 people remained. The uranium market dipped lower and nearly everyone left town. Homes were wheeled away, and families left in droves. Today the population is less than 100, and Jeffrey City is quiet once again, though the vacant streets still whisper of the thousands who once lived and played here.
|Ice Slough (2010)|
Stop 8 - The California-Oregon-Mormon Trail crosses the Sweetwater River one more time at Sweetwater Station. The trail headed southwest to South Pass where it crosses the continental divide of the Rocky Mountains. I pulled over and gazed westwards to the crest of the hills realizing those that walked or rode in that direction arrived in Utah, Oregon, and California.
Stop 9 - It was fortunate that I slowed down in the town of Riverton, or I would have never seen the small brown directional sign to an historic site—“1838 Rendezvous Site.” I turned right, was soon on a dirt road passing through dismal industrial uses and junkyards, and ended up at a graveled parking area. I could not find any other historical markers or kiosks, but I saw another directional sign for the 1838 Rendezvous Site and was next to the Wind River. I knew I was in the right location where 172 years ago a group of trappers, traders, and other mountain men and Indians gathered to do what you do at a rendezvous. But that’s all I knew.
|Wind River Canyon|
Stop 11 - It sounded like I was in Greece when I saw the sign Thermopolis, but it only sounded Greek and I was still in Wyoming on US Route 20. The town founders decided to use
ancient Greek to name the town which in English would be called Heat or Hot City. Thermopolis definitely has a better ring to it. The heat is from the many natural hot springs in the area and, as etched in a hillside at the north end of town, the “World’s Largest Mineral Hot Spring”.
The BLM’s information signs said I could imagine myself walking along an ocean shoreline on ground so soft that my feet would sink down in the thick ooze and leave a clear footprint with each step. Of course, this was 167 million years ago with dinosaurs looking for a meal along the shore. You would need a vivid imagination to picture this scene now. The Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite in the Bighorn Basin off US Route 14 is now dry with no water in site. The soft ground of 167 million years ago has now hardened into sandstone, limestones, and mudstones but some of those clear footprints have been cast in rock. I put my size 8½ boots next to the small prints of the theropod to link the past with the present. I imagined myself and the theropod walking along the ocean shoreline and wondered whether the theropod would have been my lunch or if I would have been the meal.
|Elephant Head Rock, Sunlight Mesa, and Pyramid Peak|
Stop 15 - The sun was below the mountains, but there was still enough light for one last stop, an interpretive sign titled Nature's Destruction. The destruction wrought by nature was a giant scar on the forestscape caused by a tornado in 1959. That's right, a tornado in the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of 9,000 feet above sea level.
|Tornado damage in the Bighorn Mountains|
The End - I still had many miles to go before the end of my long drive on this day, and I was soon enveloped by darkness as I passed through Granite Pass at 9,033 feet. I made it to Sheridan, my rest stop for the night. A good night’s sleep, and I would be ready for my jump into Montana the next day.