I had been dreading Day Five on the Oregon Trail pretty much since planning this trip. After surviving a night at a sketchy motel in generally sketchy Casper WY, I woke up too early on Sunday, June 15, and prepared for a 7.5-hour drive to Pocatello, Idaho. The reason why the drive was going to be so long is that there were few hotel options between the cities, not a lot of landmarks that I wanted to see, and a general lack of civilization. (There were still plenty of Historical Markers on the roadsides, though.)
It was certainly pretty out that day…
About an hour west of Casper, I reached…
There is speculation over how it got the name Independence Rock. Some say that it was so named because it stands on its own, independent of other nearby formations. Some say that the first American explorers to the area reached it on July 4. It is also said that the emigrants had to reach the rock by Independence Day to ensure that they were on track to get to Oregon before winter.
A few minutes’ drive from Independence Rock is the Devil’s Gate.
This was another Trail landmark, where the Sweetwater River cuts between two cliffs. Apparently some of the emigrants would climb up the cliffs to get a spectacular view, but I did not wander that close.
I think the name comes from a Native American tale that involves some giant ferocious animal that cut through the rock. The only other thing I remember is that the Oregon Trail 2.0 game played some spooky music/sound effects whenever I reached Devil’s Gate. I heard no creepy music, but the solitude and the silence-except-for-the-breeze-in-the-grasses was rather eerie.
Further on in Wyoming, there was a place called Split Rock. It was never part of my Oregon Trail game that I remember, but evidently it was a thing back then.
One historical marker that I came across, that I had forgotten to watch for, was one that marked the location of the ice sloughs, called Ice Spring Slough in the Oregon Trail games:
And there’s still more pretty Wyoming:
I have upset a few people with my disparaging remarks about Nebraska, so I will say that my hotel experiences in Nebraska were not quite as horrid as the one in Wyoming. But in terms of geography, Wyoming just has so much more color and texture.
When I crossed the Rockies, I did drive through South Pass, an important area on the Oregon Trail as it is, according to Wikipedia, “the collective term for two mountain passes on the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Wyoming.” I drove past the historical marker for the area without photographing it–I went zooming by, glimpsed the heading “South Pass,” and went “Oh crap!” but did not bother to stop. (The Wikipedia page has a photo of the sign.) But I did drive through South Pass to cross the Rocky Mountains, just as the emigrants did!
When I told my mom, who has taken road trips out west before, about my plan to drive through Wyoming and how remote it was going to be, she was like, “Oh yeah, you’ll be peeing at the side of the road. There’s no place to stop.” That was not quite true (there was a town called Lander, and a gas station further on), but I did spend most of the drive with no cell phone service. That was the scarier part of it, knowing how screwed I would be if I had a flat tire or some other breakdown. Not to mention the winding roads as I was passing through the mountains.
This was the part of the road trip where I began to realize that all my worries over things that might not even happen were jeopardizing the fun I was having. So I gave it up to God, and resolved to deal with problems only if they came up. And they did not. I reached my hotel in Pocatello with no problems, and both the hotel and the town were way nicer than what I’d experienced the night before. I was very thankful indeed, and had a much better night’s rest.
Oh, and the last major stop that day was in Soda Springs, Idaho, so named because it was the location of springs of bubbly “soda” water that the emigrants delighted in. (Some women used the water to make bread.) The soda springs have since been trapped in a geyser–I think some unsuspecting builders created it when digging for a pool–that goes off every hour on the hour. I believe it is called the largest captive geyser in the world, or country.
My timing was just right:
And thus concludes my adventures in Wyoming, and the start of Phase Idaho.