Monday, August 31, 2009

Independence Rock

Monday, August 31, 2009
Little America, WY

We had all the hatches battened down, the toad hooked up, and the bus-house rolling out of our camp at Alcova before 9am this morning. Besides being a bit anxious to get going again we were motivated by predictions of strong westerly winds later in the day, and thought it'd be good for the diesel fuel budget to get as much of the drive in before the headwinds really kicked up.

But just about 26 miles from camp we found Independence Rock, a famous landmark used by westward travelers during the great migration of the 1840's, 50's, and 60's. WY-220 runs right past it and there is a large but little utilized wayside right at the Rock. We parked the bus-house and hiked over to see what we could learn.

From a distance it looks like the top half of a freshly baked loaf of bread. It's 1900 feet long, 850 feet wide, and about 130 feet high. Made out of solid granite, it's really the top of a mountain that was buried by erosional activities millions of years ago. Although not as high as some of the surrounding peaks today, it stands out because of it's shape and smooth, weathered, surface.

It became a landmark along the path of the westward migration trails (Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail, etc). There's some evidence that the name came from a band of travelers that arrived at the Rock on July 4th. More generally, it marks the almost halfway point between the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean, and if the traveling party is going to be successful, they needed to be to the Rock by early July or they ran the risk of winter tragedy.

We walked out and around the Rock, finding many carved names and dates. Unfortunately, most of the legible ones were from recent years -- chipped into the granite by defacers, vandals, and high school boys trying to impress their girl with a promise of eternal love sealed in solid granite. I wonder how many of those girls later wielded their own chisels in an effort to remove all evidence of that "forever" relationship?

It's possible to climb to the top of the rock. The gently slopping sides make it relatively easy to scramble to the top -- a good photo spot at least. We both made the climb and have pics to prove it.

It wasn't a long stop but we're glad we did it. For us, on this leg of the journey, it was a kind of kick-off point for later travels on the Oregon Trail.

From Independence Rock we plodded southward to Rawlins, where we picked up another 75 gallons of diesel (2.57/gal) and headed west on the I-80 super-slab. What a contrast from sleepy US-20, but we've got to pick up the pace a bit to make our Portland area objective when we're needed.

Tonight we're at exit 68 along I-80 in Wyoming -- at Little America, which is a bit hard to explain. Little America is a town -- it has it's own post office, it's on most maps, and it has a small resident population. But it's really little more than a large truck stop, convenience store, motel/hotel, a couple of restaurants, and lots of parking. We're staying in their RV area tonight, officially for no charge. But after dropping nearly $40 for dinner, which was actually quite good, I think Little America made out OK on the TDHoch Expedition.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, we're taking US-30 to the Northwest toward Pocatello, ID. The Oregon Trail followed this general path and we hope to explore more of that history as we travel along.

T