Friday, October 22, 2010 Sunny in the morning, 54 degrees; then intermittent rain Central Time Zone
Because we couldn't find our cut-off road WY 160, we stumbled upon some gems of the Oregon Trail in Guernsey, WY. Just off US 26 we found the grave of Lucindy Rollins. Many of the 500,000 pioneers who headed west never made it, most dying of cholera, errant gun shots, or wagon accidents. Thousands were buried along the way. Lucindy was one of them.
Next we walked a path to three lengthy trail ruts. The wagon wheels cut into the sandstone creating ruts as deep as five feet. Walking along those uneven, lopsided ruts, it was hard to imagine how the wagons ever made it through, and yet thousands did. Then we visited Register Rock. As in Capitol Reef, pioneers carved their names, home towns, and the dates into the side of the bluff, some go as far back as 1850. Many are hard to locate because "modern graffiti pioneers" have also carved their names into the rock. Fortunately, the originals are written in distinctive script and print. Interestingly, although many left their names in the rock, no one recorded doing so in their diaries.
Our last stop in Wyoming was at Fort Laramie. A film told us that the government bought the former fur-trading post and converted it into an army fort. The purpose of the fort was to guarantee the safety of those heading out on the Westward Expansion. The Pony Express and three trails shared this part of their routes: those on the Oregon Trail, heading for their homesteads in the Willamette Valley, those on the Mormon Trail heading to the Great Salt Lake to escape persecution in the East, and those following the California Trail in the pursuit of gold. The soldiers were to promote peace between the pioneers and the Indians and also between the various Indian tribes. Once the transcontinental railroad was completed the trails became obsolete, and the fort closed. Several of the buildings are standing and can be toured. For example the enlisted men's barracks is furnished as when it was in use. Cots line the walls of the second floor with their gear, clothing, and rifles near at hand. The first floor was the mess, and it, too, is set with dishes as if ready for the soldiers to sit down and eat. Ruins are all that remain of some of the other buildings.
In Nebraska, we visited both Scotts Bluff and Chimney Rock. At the Visitor Centers we watched short films. By the time pioneers approached these two landmarks, they had traveled 500 miles, eight to fifteen miles a day, over the boring, rolling prairie. Seeing these two rock formations reinvigorated them both physically and mentally. They knew that they were approaching the Rocky Mountains and that their hopes and dreams laid beyond them. This afternoon Scotts Bluff was hidden in fog, but Chimney Rock stood as a sentinel guarding the trails and pointing skyward as if offering a prayer for safety.
Tomorrow we continue our pursuit of the Oregon Trail, looking for its origin in Independence, MO. We have a big problem, though. It is 420 miles and about seven hours away, and the interpretive center closes at 4:30. It'll be quite a sprint in order to make it.
TODAY'S ROUTE: from Cheyenne, WY, 1 25N to US 26E to Guernsey and Fort Laramie, WY, and Scotts Bluff, NE; then NE 92 to Bayard; finally US 385S to I 80E and Exit 177 at North Platte, NE