Mike & Joyces Travel logs
Home ** 2006 Travel Logs**
Places Visited: Wyoming: Fort Laramie, Guernsey and Casper (North Platte River, US-26 and I-25)
July 7 & 8 2006: Casper East RV-Park Casper, Wyoming. Casper East RV-Park is a mom and pop operation without a mom & pop! N42° 51.357' W106° 17.338' $24 for water & 30-amps central sewage. They feature gravel interior roads & pads: This is NOT a campground we would relish staying in again however, it certainly looks much better than the Fort Casper RV-Park.
We got up this morning and headed west to Casper, Wyoming following the Oregon Trail. We were following the North Platte River on US-26. Lush fields of irrigated crops followed us into Wyoming. The picture on the right is a mowed field of alfalfa hay where the hay has been raked into rows to dry. When the moisture content is right the farmer will run a bailer through the field collecting the drying hay and package it into bales like in the picture to the left.
Hay can also be baled into blocks like these.
Coal trains run out of Wyoming with a sticatto frequency heading from the immense coal fields to points east. In one 20-mile stretch we counted five of these giant trains all carrying coal east.
When we arrived in Ft Laramie we turned south on SR 160. Within a few blocks we were crossing the North Platte River and looking at an ancient bridge that crossed the river a few yards down stream from the new bridge we were crossing. While at Fort Laramie I read about the construction of this bridge and if I remember correctly it was constructed during the Indian Wars period so that would put construction in the 1870's or thereabouts. In any event it is an OLD bridge. The steel used in construction was probably shipped in on the newly constructed railroad.
As soon as we cross the river we can see old Ft Laramie National Historical Site sitting prominently on a knoll overlooking the river. While visiting Ft Laramie we learned that it was/is situated at the confluence of the North Platte River and Laramie River even though we could not see water in either river from where we were at the fort.
Fort Laramie was at the crossroads of a Nation moving west. It may be the single most important location in America's westward expansion. The fort had its origin in 1834 as a trading post. It did not become a military fort until 1849 (the year 30,000 49'ers made their way west) when the US Army purchased the fort. Fort Laramie remained an army post until it closed in 1890.
Some things are changing while others remain the same as we continue west along US-26 in Wyoming.
The landscape reverts back to normal Wyoming sans irrigation. However, the coal trains heading east remains constant.
Another thing that remains constant is the North Platte River we are following.
Our next stop was in Guernsey, Wyoming at Register Cliff State Historic Site. Register Cliff is a prominent cliff that runs along the southern flank of the North Platte River. The relatively soft sandstone lent itself to "leaving your mark" much as a dog does with a fire hydrant. The wayfarer's penchant for inscribing names and dates on trees and cliffs gives us a view into their small window of history.
Along this famed transcontinental route of the 1800's pertinent dates from the 1820's through the 1860's can be found. Register Cliff invited emigrants because of its broad river bottoms and lush pasture. Travelers eagerly sought this rest stop where they could recoup during lay-overs. Here rest offered the opportunity to "register" with name and date.
We noted a cave in Register Cliff and wondered about it. Then we found a kiosk that explained that one of the 20'th century property owners blasted this cave for the storage of potatoes. The cool dark recesses of the cave offered ideal conditions.
Cliff swallows were also using the protection of Register Cliff as a home as can be seen by this picture. This many cliff swallows in one colony can create an enormous amount of activity. It was this activity that caught our attention.
While in Guernsey we also visited Origan Trail Ruts State Historic Site that preserved visual evidence of the thousands of wagons that passed this way.
Through a narrow passage at the crest of this hill, thousands of people and wagons cut deep ruts into the sandstone.
This hill is just a days journey from Fort Laramie and less than 3-miles from Register Cliff.
One can only imagine how livestock and wagons struggled through this rocky terrain.
While the North Platte River provided critical water for livestock and the emigrants themselves, it also provided a barrier to overland travel. The river's waters were swift and treacherous especially in the spring and early summer. That is why the trail went over this hill, to avoid the rushing waters of the river just over the hill.
The road west can be described in a number of ways: Settlement of new lands (Oregon & California), freedom from religious persecution (Mormon migration to Utah), quest for personal riches (California Gold Rush), communications (Pony Express) and commerce were all reasons for this road west.
In 1852 John Baptise Richard (pronounced REE-shaw) built a toll bridge over the North Platte River near present day Casper, Wyoming. It was the primary bridge for the migration from 1852 until 1860. While emigrants could ford at no cost most paid up to $5.00 per-wagon to cross the bridge. Cost per-wagon was determined by how much water was flowing in the river. The higher the river the more it cost to use the bridge.
This is a reconstruction of a small portion of that bridge. This replica is only showing one section with one pier while the entire bridge consisted of 8 similar piers that spanned the river to a rock outcrop on the north side.
One Oregon emigrant, John Murray, wrote on June 9, 1853: "The bridge is a substantial structure-it has 8 wood framed piers filled and sunk with rock and the reaches are supported by heavy braces. The sides are railed up and the bottom planked. The bridge is about 150-yards long and comes out on the north side on a rocky bank...at each end of the bridge are Indian lodges and trading houses and a blacksmiths shop. Above the bridge about a mile is another trading post where they have lots of horses and mules for sale or trade."
This is a closeup of one of the 8 wood framed piers filled and sunk with rock. While this "pier" is on dry ground now it was probably under water during spring flood.
This is the rock outcropping the north side of Richard's bridge was connected to.
The Mormon companies that make the trek to to the Great Salt Lake Valley really captured my attention. Some of these companies made the trip with hand-carts. Usually two or three men would join forces with one hand cart to carry all their earthly posessions. One or two would pull the cart while the other pushed. Food supplies and bedding would be transported by Mormon wagons drawn by oxen. By using this method many more emigrants were able to make the journey.
While visiting the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Casper, Wyoming I had a chance to experience pulling one of these carts. This was a diorama where you could get on a tredmill and experience pulling one of those handcarts. A display told you how fast you were pulling the cart in relation to how fast you would have to go to make the required 15-miles per-day. I can guarantee you that there were no "fat-boys" on that trip.
Another display at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center was their "register" wall where a sampling of names & dates on register cliffs throughout Wyoming have been duplicated. When I say duplicated I mean down to the color of the rock the name & date is inscribed on. It is interesting to see these names and dates on this wall without having to search through so many graffitti artist names that have been added since the days of the great migration.
This has been an awsome stop for us. I don't know how it could have been any better.
Until next time remember how good life is.
Mike & Joyce Hendrix