Saturday, September 26, 2009

To Wyoming

From the Stanley Hotel, we head up to Rocky Mountain National Park. Though its very cold and cloudy and some of the roads are shut down, it's still beautiful and we get lots of views of elk in mating season.

We then begin to head north to Wyoming, passing through the old settlement of Virginia Dale, Colorado along the way. Established in 1862, Virginia Dale began as an Overland Stage Stop. It was run by Joseph "Jack" Slade, a bad-tempered, notorious outlaw. As the stage agent, Slade built the house, stage stables and other buildings. However, he was allegedly also the leader of a gang who was regularly robbing the stage line. On one occasion six masked men relieved the stage of some $60,000 and according to local legend it was buried near the station and never found. Though the stage line suspected Slade, they could not prove it, so they just fired him. Uncharacteristically, the bad-tempered Slade, left without any problems. He moved on to Virginia City, Montana, where he soon got in to trouble again and after threatening a judge, was hanged. Several old buildings remain in this old settlement including the original stage station.

Our next stop is the Wyoming Territorial Park in Laramie. Here is the 1872 Territorial Prison which once housed numerous outlaws, including Butch Cassidy. The facility was operated as the Territorial Prison until 1890 when Wyoming became a state. In 1890, the facility was reorganized as the Wyoming State Penitentiary. It closed in 1902 and afterwards became a stock farm for the University of Wyoming. The site also includes a number of old buildings that have been moved in from other locations.

Continuing to mosey on, our next stop is Fort Fred Steele, established in June, 1868 to guard the Union Pacific Railroad against Indian attacks. The fort, located on the west bank of the North Platte River, once included some 300 troops, a sawmill, blacksmith, saddler, wheelwright and sutler's store, in addition to regular fort buildings. After the major Indian threat had passed, the War Department deactivated the post on August 7, 1886 and transferred its troops to other military facilities. A small community continued to stand at the fort location, utilizing some of the fort buildings and surviving with the logging industry and sheepherding. The community saw a brief economic revival after the building of the Lincoln Highway in 1922 but died when the highway was rerouted in 1939. Today, all that's left of the site is a few remaining foundations, a few standing ruins, and a couple of buildings.

Next we make our way to Rawlins, but alas, it is too late in the day to take a tour of yet another prison -- the Wyoming State Penitentiary, which began to be built in 1888, but due to lack of funding and Wyoming's notorious weather, would not be completed until 1901. When it opened, it had only 104 cells, no electricity or running water, and lacked adequate heating.

During its 80 year history, it housed approximately 13,500 people, including eleven women. throughout the years, overcrowding was a constant problem and several additions were built throughout the years. When the prison closed it sat abandoned until it reopened as a museum in 1988. Called the Wyoming Frontier Prison today, the site includes guided tours, the Wyoming Peace Officers' Museum, and an exhibit on the current Wyoming State Penitentiary

Then, we're headed northeast and following the Oregon-California-Mormon Trail. We stop for a few photo opportunities at Devil's Gate, a gorge on the Sweetwater River. Though, this site is along the trail, the wagons never passed through the rock formation, instead choosing to circle around it. In the early 1860s, four women who were camped near the point climbed to the ridge and when an 18 year-old ventured too close the the ledge she fell and was killed. She was buried in the gorge and her grave marker was inscribed with this epitaph:

"Here lies the body of Caroline Todd
Whose soul has lately gone to God;
Ere redemption was too late,
She was redeemed at Devil"s Gate."

Just a few miles to the east we come to Independence Rock, so named for a fur trader's Fourth of July celebration in 1830. This huge rock is one of the most famous of all Oregon Trail landmarks and was a favorite resting place for travelers along the trail. Called the "Great Register of the Desert", more than 5,000 names of early emigrant were carved on this boulder. Between 1842 and 1869, almost a half a million emigrants passed by here on their way to a new life on the American frontier, many of whom documented their passing by carving their names into this important landmark. Here, we also see the remains of the Oregon Trail, which are very hard to make out and we only know they are part of the path because of a marker placed in the road.

We then venture off the highway onto a gravel road that follows the old trail into Casper. Here, we see not only better traces of the old path, but also beautiful scenery and lots of pronghorn antelope.

It's full dark by the time we reach Casper and settle down for a much needed rest.

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