After riding for the Pony Express, serving in the Union Army, scouting for the western military, gaining fame as an “indian fighter”, killing thousands of American Bison for the Kansas Pacific Railroad, and trying his skills as an actor on the Chicago stage, William F. Cody founded his Wild West Show in North Platte in 1983. The show toured the US and Europe until about 1909, and made Cody wealthy.
I started this latest (Summer, 2022) trip west by crossing from Iowa to Nebraska on US Highway 30. At that point it is also the Lincoln Highway route. I followed US-30 / Lincoln Highway to west of Laramie, Wyoming where I turned south to visit some of the National Parks in the Great Circle. When I rejoined the Lincoln Highway in Utah, it follows US-50 to Sacramento and on to San Francisco.
This Stonehenge is atop a bluff on the Washington side of the Columbia River near Maryville. It was built between 1918 and 1929 by pacifist-entrepreneur Sam Hill as the first monument to World War I soldiers. Mr. Hill mistakenly believed that the original Stonehenge was the site of human sacrifice, and the monument was intended to remind viewers that people are still sacrificed to the god of war.
After wandering through the National Park Canyons, I again picked up the Lincoln Highway in the guise of US highway 50 in Ely Nevada and followed it through Nevada on the “loneliest road in America.” Some news organization gave it that moniker quite a few years ago, and I did not find it to be true. There was plenty of traffic, places to stop, pipelines, powerlines, farms and ranches that made it not at all lonely. In my experience a much lonelier road is highway 21 from Milford Utah to Garrison Utah. During that 80 mile drive I saw a dozen cars (some parked), two ranch houses, a mine of some kind, and a few lost cattle – nothing else. Occasionally there would be a dirt road with a sign that said, “Sometown Nevada 30 miles.”
I was generally disappointed with my Lincoln Highway drive. For some reason I expected it to be like Route 66, but it was not. Route 66 is alive. Towns along the way like Seligman, Winslow and Tucumcari make a big deal about it. There are many 66-focused restaurants, shops, museums and the like, and people you meet want to be a part of the history of the Mother Road. On the Lincoln Highway it was difficult to find even a highway marker. The first place I found a shop where I could get a Lincoln Highway sticker for my trailer door was the Medicine Bow Museum. It seems to me that the Lincoln Highway is a historical fetish of the Lincoln Highway Association, but they have failed to capture the interest of the people who live along it.
I rejoined US-50 north of Garrison and followed it through Ely Nevada and the “not so lonely road” to Fernley Nevada for the night. At Sparks I left highway 50 and turned northwest toward California.
The most fun I have on these wanderings is when I come across a place that is truly spectacular and I had no idea it was there. Such a place is the Crooked River Gorge.
Because of a scheduling problem, I had an eight hour driving day; pretty long for me, and stopped at a rest area north of Redmond Oregon to sleep for a while. Signs in the parking lot said “dangerous cliffs” and “leave your pets in the car. Many dogs have died here!” That was ominous. A short walk brought me to the Crooked River Gorge.
Hoodoos are a geological formation when erosion attacks a hard rock layer over a much softer rock. Some are small and others as tall as a 10-story building. Because of the minerals in the rock they can have spectacular colors. They are found all over the world, typically in dry, hot areas, and the most impressive are in Bryce Canyon National Park. If you want to know more about how they are formed, the National Park Service has a good explanation. As you can see in the photo below, as the mesa has eroded over the eons, freeze/thaw cycles and erosion has removed the rock, leaving spires of varying height – as if they were dug from the ground.
North from the entrance to the National Park you will find the trailhead to Mossy Cave and Tropic Ditch. In 1892 pioneer setllers of the town of Tropic worked for over two years digging a canal to divert water from the Sevier River, over the cliffs of Bryce Canyon and into the Tropic valley, a distance of 15 miles and a drop of 1,500 feet. To reduce the labor, they followed natural courses where possible. Except for the drought of 2002, the water has flowed continuously for 130 years, giving life to the people and crops of Tropic Utah.
I spent two full days here, hiking through this magnificent landscape.
CanyonLands is a relatively new National Park opened in the 60’s. It is a 90 minute drive from Moab; rugged and minimally developed. Ninety-five percent of the park can only be reached by hiking or 4×4 trails, many of them considered “high technical difficulty.” ATV’s are not allowed. There are no amenities like food, gas or cell phone service. The only flushing toilets are in the visitor center. The campsites are paved, but primarily to keep vehicles from damaging the surrounding desert.
From the 1890’s to as recently as 1975 Ranchers have run cattle in Canyonlands. This is not pasture grazing – this is high desert. I imagine the cattle only survived. The cattle and the cowboys that tended them were surely tough. The cowboys lived in open air “bunkhouses” under the overhanging rock for months at a time. The black is the smoke deposits from the stove behind the bush. (No, the white box in the center is not a beer cooler!)
Medicine Bow is a really small town on the Lincoln Highway and the Oregon Trail, It’s history is as a bawdy town filled with bars, gunslingers and prostitutes. So much so that it inspired Owen Wister to write the novel, The Virginian, a story about western life, the Lincoln County Wars and the life of a ranch foreman he called The Virginian he placed it in Medicine Bow. I was able to gather much of Owen’s story from folks at the Medicine Bow museum. About 1884 Owen Wister suffered some sort of mental break resulting in vertigo, blinding headaches and hallucinations. His father had a friend in the “Wyoming Territory” and asked the friend if Owen could spend a summer on his ranch to recover, and all was arranged. Owen was met by the ranch foreman when he arrived on the train in Medicine Bow, and they proceeded north to the ranch somewhere near Jackson, Wyoming, a distance of maybe 200 miles. On the trip the foreman told Owen tales of the territory and the foreman’s adventures.
I stopped at the Lincoln Monument a few miles east of Laramie, and highest point on I-80/US-30. The visitor center there has a lot of information about the Lincoln Highway. It gives all the credit for the Lincoln Highway to Henry Joy, the president of Packard Motor Company and the first president of the Lincoln Highway Association. There is no mention of Carl Fisher, the man who originally conceived the idea. Curious oversight.
While there I met Henrik Bjorklund, a Swede who with 5 others is driving his 1959 Chrysler Imperial from Florida to Alaska, then ferrying from Alaska to Seattle and driving to LA. The cars in the tour are all Detroit chrome and iron before 1961. These cars are beautiful and immaculately restored. Henrik told me that they found the cars in the US, shipped them to Sweden, restored them and shipped them back for these tours.