July 21, 2006
Smoky but the sun rose over the eastern mountains in its usual majesty. Some recent signs of a war party of Indians ware discovered yesterday which caused some uneasiness…rolled up the stream on the south side… the most rugged bare granite rocks lay along the north side close to the water…saw some fine herds of ibex or wild sheep, some of which were taken and found to be very fine eating…this region seems to be the refuses of the world thrown up in the utmost confusion.
– James Clyman, written at Split Rock, Wyoming, on August 17, 1844.
It remained dry overnight, and I crawled out of my tent before sunrise. Once I was packed, I strolled into Grandma’s Cafe to be greeted by two truckers, and Grandma herself. It truly is Grandma’s cafe. One old woman ran the whole show in this cluttered place – served, cooked, cleaned – everything. It was awkward because I thought I should be helping her, rather than sitting patiently.
I sleepily gazed up at numerous, framed school-portrait photos of what I could only assume were the grandchildren. I ate a plain omelet, biscuits, and gravy.
This morning I rode directly into a headwind, which had not lost any strength overnight. The wind would do all sorts of queer things today… none to my advantage. There was nothing exciting to speak of through the early hours today – only empty fields covered in sagebrush, and low buttes. A butte is basically a hard, flat-topped rise out of the landscape. It sticks out as a result of the surrounding erosion of less-permanent dirt.
At mid-morning I came to Split Rock – a distinct cleft in the earth that has served as a significant landmark to human beings since time began. The Oregon Trail came directly through here, and in fact the wagon trains knew they were on the right track when they saw this. It served as a guidepost.
The Pony Express later put a station here, where “Buffalo Bill” Cody traded horses on one of his record rides, covering 380 miles on horseback in 21 hours. William Cody got his nickname because of his hunting prowess, bringing in 5,000 buffalo within a year and a half to feed the Union Pacific Railroad crews.
At Split Rock I met two separate couples traveling together who are on a long northwest vacation, with canoes and bicycles hanging from their cars. We assisted each other with photos at the landmark.
At noon I came to Jeffrey City, a boom and bust town. It once had a population of 7,000, and now only about 50 people live there. The only open establishment was the Split Rock Bar, and I went in and had a Busch and a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. The bar has been around for over 70 years, and inside I met Joe Stukel, a former uranium miner.
Jefferson City was once a busy mining town, but it died after the uranium went dry in the 1980s. “That Busch is good beer,” Joe tells me, “You came from North Carolina? That’s where I served the last of my time with the Marine Corps.”
After Jeffrey City, it was on through some more sagebrush covered land – essentially desert. I haven’t seen an acre of forest since Colorado.
I went through Sweetwater City, just another place with nothing but a combination bar/restaurant, and a rest stop across the road. This time I got a soda and Snickers, and moved on. The Sweetwater River is another landmark along the Oregon Trail, named after a wagon full of sugar that was accidentally dumped into it.
The remainder of the day was long and hot, but with spectacular, rocky scenery as I approached some more mountainous terrain. There were cliffs of red rocks, and open places where I could see miles upon miles of sandstone and granite, much like I imagine the scenery of the Southwest would be.
Tonight I finally rolled in o tLander, Wyoming at 8pm. Through the final hours of the day I’d been dreaming of pizza, and like magic, the first thing I saw at the edge of town was a Pizza Hut. I had a whole XL Full House pizza no problem, reestablishing my binge-eating pride after yesterday’s pancake debacle.
Tonight I’m staying on a picnic bench at the town park, dodging an army of overnight, automatic sprinklers! Life is good.