Road Trip to SD – Day 7 – Golden Spike & Rockets

My Road Trip blog posts keep getting longer and longer. I can’t decide which photos to leave out (and believe me, I’ve left out plenty) so I think each post has had more photos than the last. I know from feedback that at least some of you like the Road Trip posts so maybe you won’t give up on this one. This trip has got to end some time because I have lots more blog posts in my head (and my camera) from stuff around here. So rather than break this one into two posts it will just keep on going until it’s done.

We left off with Day 6 at dark trying to figure out where to stay. We had the map book spread out in the Subway where we had sandwiches for dinner. It was too far to any of the national forest land we were seeing north of Salt Lake City and it was dark by this time. That makes it more difficult to find a spot that is not a designated campground.  I had seen, while perusing the map, the Golden Spike National Historic Site that we thought we’d check out in the morning but still we needed to sleep somewhere. Dan suggested a place off the frontage road where we’d seen climbers on our trip out.


This is what the place looked like in daylight the next morning. Except for the train track next to us and the highway next to that we weren’t disturbed. Can you read the sign that I saw the next morning? “Death’s Rock.”


We took Highway 84 to get around Salt Lake City and north of Brigham City turned west to go to the Golden Spike site.


Before you enter the area near the Visitor’s Center there are plenty of places to stop and read the interpretive signs. This was at the first site, looking back east.


I knew generally about the building of the railroad in the 1800’s but I never knew or had forgotten the details. By the time of the Civil War there were railroads linking states in the east. It was in 1862 that Congress authorized the Central Pacific Railroad in the west and the Union Pacific Railroad in the east to construct railroads that would meet somewhere in the middle.


The details make a fascinating story, and if you’re driving through Utah, this site is definitely worth your time. Before the meeting place of the railroads was finally chosen both companies continued to build grade ahead of where the track was laid. (The graders worked 5 to 20 miles ahead of the tracklaying gang.) The railroad companies were paid per mile depending on the difficulty of the terrain and they were given sections of land. So there was incentive to keep on going. The railroad grades overlapped by 250 miles before Promontory Summit was chosen as the meeting place. This photo shows the site of what is known as the Big Fill.


Here is an enlargement of part of that. This was a ravine to be crossed and the grade could be no steeper than 116 feet per mile. Let your eye follow the slope of the rocks–that marks the ravine. The line of dirt above that is the Big Fill. The Central Pacific built that grade by blasting rock and building up that area. The Union Pacific’s solution was to build a trestle and you can see what’s left of the rocky abutment on the left and just below the Fill. There are photos of the huge trestle that was built to span the ravine (but used only four times because it wasn’t secure enough).


Here Dan is walking on the Central Pacific Grade and you can see the Union Pacific Grade to the left. When you walk on this trail you can use your cell phone at marked stations and hear the information about the points of interest along the way. I find it fascinating that these two crews would have been working this close to each other. And it is so hard to fathom the work involved. Shovels and picks, mule-drawn wagons. Other than using some dynamite, everything else was done by hand. I read that in the Sierra’s sometimes they only progressed 8″ in a day. DSC_3392

We got to the headquarters just after it opened and went to the Visitor’s Center.


There was a display with watches. This is an example of one of those things that never would have occurred to me to wonder about. When did we start worrying about Time?  This is from a sign in one of the displays: “With the completion of the transcontinental railway, marking and maintaining precision time became more important than ever before. Prior to standard railway time, each city and town had it’s own time, often connected to “sun time” which was based on the sun’s movement across the sky. As rail lines crossed various local standard times, scheduling became increasingly complicated. Timetables and timekeepers, therefore, were essential parts of railroad operations.”


This is a view along the track (a replica now) at Promontory Summit…


…and here is where the Golden Spike was symbolically tapped and the final iron spike was driven to complete the railroad. There can be many facets to every story and this is no exception. The material at the Visitors Center (as well as all the others that I’ve visited) speaks to the ramifications of our (humankind in general, and the White Man in the relatively recent history of the U.S.) relentless desire to control and often exploit our surroundings and each other. The achievement of this feat led to the decimation of the bison herds, destruction of the American Indians’ way of life, and “progress”. The West was opened up.


On that final day two locomotives met at Promontory Summit. The wood-powered Jupiter came from the West…


…and the coal-powered  No. 119 came from the East.


These engines are fully-functional replicas of the originals made in 1979.



They weren’t in operation when we were there because the track was being repaired, but    usually they are taken out during the summer…therefore they need wood and coal to operate them.




We spent some time in the No. 119 talking to the man who operates the engines.




We drove part of the Union Pacific grade, now a road,  when leaving the site.


We made a couple of stops along the way. I didn’t take many flower photos on this trip. When you’re practicing 70 mph drive-by photography flowers usually aren’t the subjects of choice. I did love seeing the wild sunflowers that were everywhere.


Time to head home. The map app showed 10-1/4 hours. Go!


Wait! There was one more stop. From where we first got out to look at the railroad grades you could see what looked like industrial complexes covering the hills to the east. When we got back to the main road and turned north we saw that all the property to the east was part of the Orbital ATK complex. Their website says: “As a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, Orbital ATK designs, builds and delivers space, defense and aviation-related systems … Our main products include launch vehicles and related propulsion systems, satellites and associated components…”


There was a Rocket Display outside the headquarters. Each piece was labeled with specs and details of use.



This is the reusable solid rocket motor from the Space Shuttle.


A sign that amused me is the one in red lettering that says “Please do not climb into the nozzle.” I guess that wouldn’t have occurred to me. The blue sign is shown below.


This one pointed out the railroad grades that we just visited (red for Union Pacific and blue for Central Pacific), site of the Big Fill, Promontory Summit, and the route of the pioneers, all of which were visible from here.


Now it was really time to start for home. These are alfalfa fields in Utah…


…and huge barns to store all that hay.


We had noticed these structures under construction when coming the other direction. I looked this up later and and found that they are overpasses for deer to try and reduce the high number of deer/auto collisions in  this area. They’ll be filled in with dirt and vegetation and fences will be put along the freeway to funnel the deer to that area.


Usually when we drive on these trips I don’t do much reading or other activity even though I’m not the driver.


I enjoy watching the scenery. That is what a road trip is about. But driving home from Utah on I-80 isn’t new anymore. And it’s not as fun when you are driving straight through without stops.


I still appreciate this landscape, but I ended this trip reading through much of the travel on this day and I read parts of the book to Dan. I read Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline. From the cover: “Overdressed does for T-shirts and leggings what Fast Food Nation did for burgers and fries.”—Katha Pollit. I’ve been immersed in these ideas for a long time with my Fibershed involvement but it was relatively new to Dan. Now he sees the ads in the paper in a whole new light. I could go on about that topic but I won’t. I recommend that you read this book.


Heading west into the sunset. It was getting dark. No more reading.



A blurry photo as we entered California.


Here is a map of the trips we have taken over the last five years when we started our Road Trips. This year’s trip is in yellow. Now that Dan is retired maybe we’ll be able to do more than one a year. One of us isn’t retired though and has a lot of animals to take care of.


Road Trip to SD – Day 6 – Following the Pioneer Trail

At the end of  Day 5 we had stopped at the Horsethief Lake Campground in the Black Hills National Forest, still in South Dakota.

Black Hills NF, SD

We had looked at the map and planned the direction to start for home, wanting to roads that we hadn’t traveled before as much as possible.


We headed toward Wyoming…


…and saw this along the road.


I had been collecting postcards to send to my 3-year-old granddaughter but hadn’t mailed many yet so today I was going to search out post offices in the small towns along the way.

Newcastle, WY

A gorgeous building across the street from the post office in Newcastle. From there we took Highway 450  west through the Thunder Basin National Grassland toward Wright.

Thunder Basin N Grassland

We were driving through the country where huge herds of cattle had been driven as far north as Canada, grazing along the way, and then shipped by railroad to eastern markets. Belle Fourche, where we had been a couple of days before was one of the important shipping points. (Lonesome Dove fans, note the sign on the post.)

Thunder Basin N Grassland

According to the sign 2500 head of cattle strung were strung out for a mile, traveling 10 to 15 miles per day. They could gain weight over the 300 to 500 mile trip.

Thunder Basin N Grassland

Alternatively picture the thousands of bison that once roamed here while the Native American’s called this home. Same place. Different eras.

Thunder Basin N Grassland

Thunder Basin N Grassland

Black Thunder Mine,WY

Before we got to Wright near the western edge of the Thunder Basin National Grassland we saw the first glimpse of a major industry in Wyoming…and the sky was more gray.

Black Thunder Mine,WY

According to Wikipedia, the Black Thunder Coal Mine is the world’s largest coal producer.

Black Thunder Mine,WY

This is an immense operation.

Black Thunder Mine,WY

I couldn’t get photos to show the scale of what we were seeing. You can see a tip of the excavator down in the pit. Wikipedia says “Black Thunder’s dragline excavator is the biggest in the world and produces enough coal to load up to 20-25 trains per day.”

Black Thunder Mine,WY

The excavator fills this truck with one pass of it’s giant scoop. This is a huge truck–the driver is sitting in that little cab above the wheel.

Black Thunder Mine,WY

Take a look at the photo below to see the true size of this structure.

Black Thunder Mine,WY

east of Edgerton, WY

More of Wyoming prairie. This is between Wright and Edgerton.

near Edgerton, WY

Someone has decorated their oil/gas well.

near Edgerton, WY

I have included this photo because of the two dinosaurs and it reminded me of a photo op that I missed earlier in the trip. The dinosaur seems to be the mascot for Sinclair gas stations. We passed a gas station somewhere along the way  where they had a dinosaur the size of these and it was tied to a fence post with a rope around its neck. I still think it’s one of the funniest things I saw on this trip. It would have looked natural to have a horse tied up right next to it.

south of Casper, WY

We drove through Casper and took Hwy. 220 towards Rawlins.

south of Casper, WY

We watched lightning in the distance. Do you know how hard it is to take lightening photos?

Independence Rock, WY

We were still following the trail of the pioneers…

Independence Rock, WY

…and we stopped as they did when we reached the Independence Rock, which is now a State Historic Site.

Independence Rock, WY

In one of the earlier posts (Day 2) we had stopped at South Pass. Then we were heading east, backwards from the direction the explorers and pioneers travelled. They would have been at Independence Rock first, looking west towards South Pass, 100 miles to the west.

Independence Rock, WY

Independence Rock was the first major landmark after leaving the North Platter River to follow the Sweetwater River to South Pass.

Independence Rock, WY

There is a trail around the rock for modern day visitors. You can see where early travelers left initials and names scratched into the rock.

Independence Rock, WY

This is the remnants of the trail heading on southwest.

Great Divide Basin, WY

We were back on our trail towards Rawlins.

Great Divide Basin, WY

We crossed the Continental Divide.


I used to think that you crossed the Continental Divide once and then were on the other side. I found out that there is an exception in Wyoming (and when I looked at a map of the Continental Divide, also in Mexico). Wikipedia again: The Great Divide Basin is an area of land in Wyoming’s Red Desert where none of the water falling as rain to the ground drains into any ocean, directly or indirectly.” I highlighted this on the map so that I could see it more clearly. South Pass is near that northern route of the Divide.

Rawlins, WY

We found the Post Office in Rawlins (this was across the street)…

Great Divide Basin, WY

…and then crossed the Continental Divide again…

Great Divide Basin, WY

…and again.

East of Green River, WY

Near Green River on I-80. From here on we were backtracking where we’d already driven.

Evanston, WY

It was dark when we got to Evanston, just on the edge of the Wyoming-Utah border. Looking at the map book and trying to find somewhere to spend the night I had found one more point of interest for the next day. We still hadn’t figured out a good place to camp so we stopped here for gas and Subway sandwiches and took the maps inside for closer scrutiny.

To be continued…

Road Trip to SD – Day 5 – Mt. Rushmore

After driving through the Badlands we decided to continue on the scenic roads rather than go to the highway. Some of them were a bit of a guess since all we had was a road map of the state.


Not far out of the National Park we stopped to watch a herd of bison. This is not much of a photo but it give you an idea of the number in the herd.


Then we headed west on a gravel road that went through another part of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. Most of the National Grasslands are located in or around the Great Plains and they are managed in the same way as National Forests. Until I looked up this information I didn’t know that there is a National Grassland in California. In fact it is near the Klamath National Forest where I worked when I was in college–but it was designated as such until after that.


As I had seen on a map in one of the Visitors Centers, the public lands are interspersed with private lands. We saw miles of one of my favorite crops.

Leaving the grassland we drove into the forest again. The engineering of the road to Mt. Rushmore is a marvel in itself. From Custer State Park you drive 17 miles on Iron Mountain Road to Mt. Rushmore. There are three pigtail bridges and three tunnels that were engineered to frame Mt. Rushmore.


This very poor photo shows what I mean by framing the mountain. Each of the tunnels is aligned to present the view of the mountain.DSC_3209

I was surprised when we arrived to be directed to the roof of a parking garage built into the mountain. It makes sense–they have to do something with all the cars that come here.


I knew what to expect of the mountain itself because I’ve seen pictures. But I didn’t know about the infrastructure built around this National Memorial.


There is an amphitheater facing the mountain. From there you can walk on the Presidential Trail around the base of the mountain (or the rubble left from carving the sculptures) and then to the Sculptor’s Studio, where there is a plaster model and tools used by Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mt. Rushmore. DSC_3212

This was an amazing feat in the 1930’s. It took 400 laborers to do this work. DSC_3213

Look at the detail on Lincoln’s face. The noses are about 20 feet long and the eyes are about 11 feet wide. Can you imagine what it would be like to be hanging in a basket here drilling holes for dynamite?


Time for us to move on. It looked as though there were several campsites in the nearby forest and I didn’t want to have a repeat of the night before. We stopped at the first one that we saw and found a good spot. We had time that evening to relax and read.

I finished a book called A Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks.


The author grew up on the family sheep farm in the Lake District of England.  At the beginning of the book he describes how he felt as a boy when it was assumed by “outsiders” that he would (or should) want to do something better with his life, but all he ever wanted to do was to continue with the sheep farm. Also he was resentful with the interest that others (non-residents/city people) showed for the landscape but in a way that he didn’t understand–they didn’t respect the farms and the farming life but looked at the landscape as something with a “higher” purpose. I’m not explaining this very well, but as I was reading this book in the evenings on this trip I found similarities in his description of the visitors to their farm land and the fells above and to us in taking this trip and the others we’ve taken. We are grateful that there are National Parks and other public lands so that we can explore these landscapes that we’d never have a chance to see in depth otherwise. In this landscape we were the visitors, admiring the stunning views, the wildlife, and the agriculture. But we don’t live the life there, don’t have to deal with weather challenges, prairie dog invasions, etc. As an adult Rebanks learned to see the other side and understood the appreciation the “city people” had for the land, albeit without the understanding of the integral part that centuries of farming had played in those landscapes. He found a way in his career (second to shepherding) to promote the importance of farming and shepherding on this land while allowing tourism to benefit the communities as well.

I couldn’t help but find parallels in this book to the experiences that we were having during this week vacation.

Road Trip to SD – Day 5 – Badlands in the Morning

I wasn’t very complete in my description of Jewel Cave from Day 4 of this trip. I usually get out the brochure and re-read the info that is there. Those formations in some of the photos are called Dogtooth Spar, 6-sided calcite crystals formed completely underwater, and Draperies, formed as water trickles down, leaving deposits of calcite crystals. The brochure says that while the cave was forming it was completely submerged in groundwater that was rich in dissolved calcium carbonate. As conditions changed the calcium carbonate precipitated and formed calcite crystals off various depths and shapes on exposed surfaces.


Here is one more photo from Jewel Cave. There is another cave nearby–Wind Cave National Park but we just didn’t have time for everything.


I left off the last post with heading to a Rest Stop in the dark. That was not our best night but at least we slept. However we had chosen this plan after passing up the trailhead parking that said “No Overnight Camping”. We didn’t want to be federal criminals. I will admit here that we are now criminals in the State of South Dakota. The rest stop had a sign posted about a SD rule that you can’t stay more than three hours at a rest stop and there was video surveillance for our safety. I keep expecting to get a summons in the mail.  The photo above is what we woke up to. That weather system was in the west, where we were headed to see the Badlands.


We first had to drive east to find a place to turn around. We commented that South Dakota has big raindrops.


Now heading west.


Eventually we drove through the storm, or it passed us over as it was heading east.  This was the first time that I’ve been “on the ground” in the Midwest and I found this side of South Dakota as beautiful as the Black Hills in western South Dakota, although very different.


Change of pace. A bit of commercialism near the entrance to the National Park.


Now there was someone at the entrance station (it had been closed the night before) but there were no maps. It seems they had run out with all the motorcycle traffic. (We were able to get one at the Visitor Center.)


The first view of the Badlands, although we had a glimpse from the other side just before dark the night before.


The previous night we had driven through the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands on that road south of the Badlands NP, through the eastern end of the Park and north to the highway. If we had more time we could have gone to the National Grasslands Visitor Center further west on Highway 90 in the town of Wall and the  Minuteman Missile National Historic Site just north of the Park. (Note to self: take another trip to SD and buy the Map Book first.) We planned to explore the trails here at the west end of the Park and then drive through the Park, starting our drive home.


We stopped at an overlook. You can’t tell from this photo but the wind was blowing and it was cold. And what was weird is that this fog was rolling in. That sounds like something I would say standing over the San Francisco Bay. Fog rolling in here in the Badlands? In August?


Maybe its not “rolling in”. But it sure settled fast.


The distance view was gone within ten minutes. In fact these photos were taken ten minutes after the first one right after the National Park sign.


We drove on. The formations were stunning but the surroundings did seem cold and gloomy.


At the next stop we saw bighorn sheep! Yes! This was the clearest photo I had of them as the mist seemed to get thicker. “Sheep in Fog”. The sheep stayed around, in fact bedding down right there while we hiked on a short trail on the other side of the road.

Then we went to the Visitors Center to get warm, pick up a brochure and map, and see the exhibits.


Did you know that my background is in Range and Wildlands Science? That’s what the UCD degree was called after it changed from Range Management before I graduated. I admit that I can’t identify most grasses anymore and certainly not these of the Great Plains, but I am interested. The grass is an extremely important part of an ecosystem, whether its these prairies or our irrigated pasture back home. This is a great exhibit.


Remember the Dust Bowl? Well, most of us don’t remember it, but we know about it. This explains why, when you plow up the prairie you have set up the system for disaster. The Park brochure explains that “the Badlands prairie contains nearly 60 species of grass, the foundation for a complex community of plants and animals. The prairie once sprawled across one-third of North America.” Today there are only patchwork remnants of this prairie that “occurs in areas that are too dry to support trees but too wet to be deserts“.


We drove on to the Fossil Exhibit Trail. This area went from being a under a shallow sea, to a jungle after the land lifted up, and then covered with sediment and volcanic ash that turned to soft rock. Eventually erosion exposed all the colorful layers and the fossils they hold, so the SD Badlands in known world-wide for it’s fossil record.


From information found on this website: “Although by definition badlands contain very little vegetation, some plants, particularly prairie grasses, are found in South Dakota’s badlands regions.  Sod tables, remnants of the prairie that have resisted erosion, provide platforms for vegetation.


You can see the layer of soil that held by the roots of the vegetation but that isn’t enough to prevent the sides of the sod table to continue to erode. In fact, the Badlands are retreating to the north in general as natural erosion occurs. Notice the holes at the top of this sod table. We thought that maybe birds used these holes.


Then we saw that these are rodent tunnels that have opened as the erosion occurs. You can see that in this photo.


Beautiful landscape. What would an early explorer have thought, having just ridden over miles of grassland?





Here is a different landscape.  I might not have known for sure what this was except for having visited Devils Tower NM two days before. (By the way, there is a pronghorn in the photo but I’m talking about the mounds and the lack of grass.)


Here is the culprit. I can see how prairie dogs are considered a nuisance. The road took us past  acres and acres of this devastated landscape. As usual there are two (or more) sides to a story. I have to get on with other things right now and won’t try to research this one. Here is one article that gives various perspectives.

The day wasn’t over. We had another stop before camping for the night. That will be in the next post.


Road Trip to SD – Day 2 – Wyoming

We left Day 1 in the middle of the night in the middle of Utah.

Aragonite rest stop, UT

Several years ago Dan built a sleeping shelf in the truck (that comes out when we’re not using it). That way we can put gear underneath and leave sleeping bags, etc on the shelf. So it was easy enough to pull into the rest area near Aragonite and sleep. Just to be accurate the map book shows two spelling for this: Argonite and Aragonite, about a mile apart, and both with the symbol for abandoned settlement or railroad siding (and both on a railroad). Aragonite Incinerator is shown as a Point of Interest. It turns out that it is a hazardous waste facility. All of these points are a mile or more from the highway and the rest area.

Aragonite rest stop, UT

This is a view, looking north to the rest area and all the trucks parked there. There is a trail from the rest area to a rocky hill and a sign that says something about wild horses–so of course I needed to climb the hill. It’s not really as far as it looks–that’s just the perspective of my phone camera.

Aragonite rest stop, UT

Some of the rocks on that hill.

Great Salt Lake

After my walk we got in the truck and started driving. There is one point where the highway crosses  the southernmost part of the Great Salt Lake. Notice the salt built up around those fence posts.


The highway goes over most of Salt Lake City and then heads northeast to Wyoming. We got there mid-morning.

Sheep west of Lyman, WY

Remember these are all drive-by photos, some with my camera and some with my phone. This is not sharp but a photo of range sheep along I-80 west of Lyman.

Pronghorn east of Lyman, WY

Where there were alfalfa fields there were often pronghorn.

Pronghorn east of Lyman, WY

I just looked up “pronghorn”. I didn’t know that they are not really an antelope and the closest living relative is the giraffe.

Green River, WY

At about noon we stopped at a Visitor’s Center in the city of Green River. This is a view of the Green River from that point.

Joy Drill-Green River, WY

There was an outdoor exhibit about Trona. If you’re like me you’d say, “Huh?” From the brochure that calls Sweetwater County the Trona Capital of the World: “a naturally occurring mineral …is a much-needed industrial material because it yields soda ash. Soda ash is used to make glass, paper, laundry detergents and many other products. It is also used in the manufacturing of other chemicals…baking soda and sodium phosphates.” Trona occurs in other parts of the world, but not in deposits of mineable quantities.

There is a plaque with information about the equipment in the photo above. This is a Face Drill and the plaque tells about a Joseph Francis Joy, who at age 12 in the 1890s, went to work in the coal mines as had his father and brother. I assume that he went on to create this company or to inspire the more sophisticated equipment, but the sign doesn’t explain that. However any machine with this many levers seems interesting.IMG_1372

I found the Visitor’s Center to be informative and interesting–a good way to break up our drive. I was curious about a reference to the Intergalactic Spaceport and looked that up later. Wikipedia: “On July 5, 1994 Resolution R94-23 of the Green River city council designated this landing field [the airport at Green River] as the “Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport”, for inhabitants of Jupiter who might wish to take sanctuary in Green River in the event their planet is threatened by collisions from comets or meteors, in apparent reference to the contemporary Comet-Shoemaker-Levy9 impact”. Evidently there is a sense of humor in this town.

Green River, WY

Back outside, there were two horses from the BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro program.


This is the code used for the freeze branding.

Rock Springs, WY

Speaking of wild horses, I saw on the map the BLM Wild Horse Corrals just north of Rock Springs. That is where we were turning north to head up Hwy. 191 so we stopped to look. You can request tours, but we hadn’t made any plans, so satisfied ourselves with looking from the overview. The facility can hold up to 800 horses and is the only off-range holding facility in Wyoming. It also is a rest stop for horses being transported from the West to points farther east.


Heading north. It looks like all the hay that is baled around here is put into round bales. I googled “weight of round bales”. It can vary from 450 to 1700 pounds depending on size of bale, density of bale, moisture content, etc. So don’t ask me how much a round bale weighs.

Rock Spring to Eden, WY

Between Rock Springs and Eden.Rock Spring to Eden, WY

More Wide Open Spaces.

East of Eden, WY

East of Eden, WY. Isn’t that a book by John Steinbeck?

In case you are wondering about what we were doing meandering northeast through Wyoming, our first destination was to be Mountain Meadow Wool in Buffalo. We didn’t decide the order of our trip until we were actually on the road and I talked to someone at Mountain Meadow to ask about the best time to visit. This was all pretty last minute although I had the time blocked out on my calendar for months.


As you know if you’ve followed our road trips in other years (search back in WordPress) we tend to stop at the historical markers we find along the way. Most of the main roads through the West were originally traveled by the Pioneers.

False Parting of the Ways, WY

A Wyoming History website says about the Parting of the Ways: “This may well be one of the most subtly dramatic sites remaining on the emigrant trails. Here, in the middle of an open, sagebrush plain, the trails diverge. Emigrants had to decide whether to stay on the main route and head southwest towards Fort Bridger or veer right and cross the Little Colorado Desert on the Greenwood or Sublette Cutoff. The cutoff, opened in 1844, saved about 46 miles but included some fifty waterless miles.” This site, however, is the False Parting of the Ways, wrongly identified in 1956 and marked with the tall marker in the background. The correct site was identified about 30 years later and the flat plaque was installed here. The sentiment remains the same though–this is part of the Oregon Trail and the country looks pretty much the same.

Oregon Trail, WY

It is so hard to imagine traveling this “road” and covering 10 to 20 miles per day.


Rabbitbrush near the trail.

Hwy 28, WY, South Pass

About 7 or 8 miles away we came to the South Pass Overlook and Interpretive Site. “South Pass is the lowest point on the Continental Divide between the Central andSouthern Rocky Mountains. The passes furnish a natural crossing point of the Rockies. The historic pass became the route for emigrants on the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails to the West during the 19th century. It has been designated as a U.S. National Historic Monument.” Remember, we are following the trails backwards. The pioneers would have crossed this and then come to the Parting of the Ways and the deserts beyond.

Hwy 28, WY, South Pass

Our modern marker for South Pass.

Thermopolis, WY

After traveling north for another couple of hours it was hard to miss this sign on the mountain. We thought “sure, anyone can say they have the world’s largest anything”.

Thermopolis, WY

Then we saw it and thought they might be correct. This is in Thermopolis, population about 3000 in 2010. Back to Google and Wikipedia. “The springs are open to the public for free as part of an 1896 treaty signed with the Shoshone and Arapaho Indian tribes.”

Thermopolis, WY

This is the landscape just north of Thermopolis. Beautiful green alfalfa contrasts with the red rock.

Thermopolis, WY

The landscape reminds me of southern Utah.

Kirby, WY

Look at what I saw on the map coming up! A town named Kirby, which happens to be the name of the cutest granddaughter ever. I should get a hat or a shirt or something there.

Kirby, WY

The Kirby Bar and Grill looks promising.


Kirby is not a big town.

Kirby, WY

This is pretty much it, except for a few gravel roads with houses. That’s the Bar and Grill to the left. There were people there, but no “Kirby” items to buy. We wondered about the big building at the end of the road. It seemed odd to be in this tiny town. This is Wyoming Whiskey, a distillery started and owned by a Kirby cattle ranching family. They give tours but it was closed when we were there.


More landscape in the Bighorn Basin.


Bighorn NF, WY

It was evening when we got to the Bighorn National Forest, part of the Bighorn Mountains. We hoped to find an open campsite. We had blocked out two weeks in which to take this trip and then chose the first week so that we would miss the hoards of people traveling to this area on Eclipse Weekend. What we didn’t realize was that this was Sturgis Weekend, a motorcycle rally that draws 500,000 motorcycles, mostly (it seems) Harleys, to the small town of Sturgis, South Dakota, just over the border from Wyoming. The national parks and towns surrounding Sturgis gear up for the onslaught of people, but evidently, those people weren’t interested in camping in the Bighorn National Forest.

Bighorn NF, WY

It was getting close to dusk and we saw people parked on a pullout along the road. Our Yellowstone experience taught us that where there are people standing and pointing there might be something to see. Two Moose!

Bighorn NF, WY

Check back for Day 3. At this point I am so jealous of my friends whose wildlife photography is outstanding in its clarity. Photographer or lens? Probably both.