It is nearly impossible not to think about history when driving across Wyoming: the open range, the lack of traffic, and the mountains in the distance all cause the mind to wander and to wonder. The wind blowing across the open country is the same, the mountains and geographic obstacles are nearly the same.
What was it like to travel this country on the back of a horse, in a covered wagon, at the yoke of a handcart, or even on foot? What motivated people to give up all they knew in the East for the unknown of the West? As they plodded along day after day, did they regret their decision to go West?
Coming home from Denver last month, I stopped at Split Rock and took photos to show you not only the beauty of Wyoming, but also the strength of our pioneers who traveled the Oregon, Morman, Pioneer, California, and Pony Express Trails through rugged country to reach South Pass, the gateway through the Wind River Mountains. This map shows the trails that crossed Wyoming during the 1800s.
On their way to South Pass, the wagons passed through this natural cut in the rock formation. This area is called Split Rock.
Split Rock Relay Station, a crude log structure with a pole corral, was built at the base of the mass of rocks. It was used by both the Pony Express and the Overland Stage and until the early 1940s was a U.S. Post office.
Because of its unique shape, Split Rock was a well known trail landmark and navigation aid. Emigrants were guided by the rock for an entire day’s travel from the east. It remained in view behind them for another two days. From Split Rock, it was about six days to South Pass, the gateway to the Great Salt Lake Valley, California’s gold fields and the Pacific Northwest.
This area is called Split Rock Meadows
Shoshone, Arapaho, Crow and Sioux Indians occupied this pleasant valley long before the Oregon Trail, which changed their cultures and life styles forever. This led to tragic warfare and the eventual loss of country they had called their own.
You can get a good idea of the terrain along the rest of the trail on the IndependenceRock.org site and a good explanation of the various trails and its Wyoming landmarks on the Bureau of Land Management website.
The Oregon Trail, the main route of westward expansion from 1812 to 1869. An estimated 350,000 people journeyed past Split Rock in search of new lands and new lives in the West.
Ruts carved in the rocks and open range by iron-tired wagons are still visible across Wyoming. This photo of the wagon ruts was found on IndependenceRock.org
The most impressive view of the Oregon Trail Ruts, however, is near Guernsey, located in southeastern Wyoming. You will find a photo here. I have a photo somewhere in my old albums with my niece and nephew standing in the ruts. The ruts are carved out of stone and are up to five feet deep in places. It is impossible not to feel the struggle of the pioneers while standing in those ruts.
I marvel at the determination of these physically and emotionally strong individuals who literally carved the landscape while striving to reach their dream. My journey home paralleled the trail for about forty - fifty miles, yet it took me less than an hour to cover the distance that took the pioneers days to complete. When I think about their accomplishments, I wonder if I would have had the strength and determination to walk in their footsteps.