Independence Rock (Wyoming) and Musings on Letters and Humanity

A lady in too-tight pajamas is smearing peanut butter on white bread. Off in the distance, my mules are grazing. Travel has gotten easier in the past 200 years. The mules and I have arrived at Independence Rock, Wyoming.

Cracker ponders the 1,650 miles he’s traveled to reach the Rock. This is considerably farther than many migrants’ mules that would have started their journey in the mid-West. Not that life was easier then. Dysentery killed many travelers heading this route. One early traveler noted, “we witnessed 8 fresh graves in the last 20 miles.”

For the 500,000 emigrants that passed through here between 1843 and the mid-1860s, Independence Rock marked the approximate halfway point between the Missouri River and the West Coast. It was said that if you reached here by the Independence Day, chances were good you would reach Oregon before the first snow fell.

Given that I’m passing here 2 months after the 4th of July, it’s a good thing I’m not headed toward Oregon. I’m hoping the saying holds for Idaho.

So far we’ve had a relatively smooth run from Casper, Wyoming. Aside from a broken stove, all is well. The mules are in great shape – no sore feet or sore backs.

As to the broken stove thing, that’s not such a big deal. Eating dry ramen noodles just brings back memories of younger days. Small potatoes compared to what the Old Boys endured rattling through here in their wagons circa 1843.

Up On to the Rock

Many of those passing through the area left their mark. Literally. Hundreds chiseled their names in the granite rock rising from the desert. Others marked their passing in paint or axle grease. Most of the markings have been worn away by weather and time. Many remain. This morning, I climbed the rock and walked among the names and dates carved in stone.

It was a moving stroll, clambering among the worn stone, gazing at the inscriptions left over 150 years ago. Many, dating from the mid-1800s, were beautifully crafted. I marveled how men and women who traveled so rough – braving dysentery, cold, heat and homesickness – could carry such fine print inside them.

Many of the inscriptions I witnessed bore serifs and swirls, refinements I associate with feather quills and ink pots. This makes a certain amount of sense. Many of the travelers heading west were well educated men and women and could sign their names at a time when many couldn’t.

More recent graffiti – “George wuz here – 1992” – seemed crude by comparison. Clearly an illiterate bunch of people who couldn’t read the “Do Not Deface Independence Rock” signs.

I made photos of my favorite inscriptions. Hopefully, when I get a better internet connection, I’ll be able to share some with you.

A Day Off on the Leach Field

The mules got a day off. After 3 days of marching through an arid land, they devoured the newfound greenery before their muzzles: the leach field at the Independence Rock rest area.

Water, too, was on tap at a nearby hydrant.

But mules – like dogs – have funny tastes when it comes to beverages. Brick preferred to drink from a pool that miraculously bubbled to the surface then just as quickly drained away. She sipped from the on and off again artesian source with the bliss of a thirsty equine.

I thought “how lovely” until I figured her drinking supply appeared and disappeared as regularly as the flush of visiting motorists.

Not that Brick would be dissuaded. Since discovering her own water supply, she has refused more hydrant water. Mules will be mules. Or, given their seeming preference for toilet bowl water, should I say dogs?

Busted Stove Thanks

Remember how I said my stove was broken?

It so happened that James, who works at the Independence Rock visitors center, got word of my plight. As soon as he got my mules set up with a place to eat, he set about feeding me.

What he brought me for supper amounted to a Thanksgiving feast: Turkey with all the trimmings and a fluffy slice of chocolate pie on a Stars and Stripes plate. The next morning, for breakfast, a pot of coffee with bacon, eggs and muffins. And, just in case I got the munchies, a bag containing beef sticks, granola, mini cookies and fudge bars. Plus apples.

Then the mystery food showed up.

When I returned from climbing Independence Rock, I discovered Brick wide-eyeing a white plastic bag juuuuuust out of her reach. She was manically interested by the contents which I discovered to be 5 peaches. Next to the bag, a cup of coffee and another bag containing 2 egg and sausage burritos.

Why am I mentioning all this food?

Because, on my entire trip, whenever something broke or ran out on me, a replacement showed up. Stove broken? No worries, food shows up. Mules running low on feed? Fear not. A leach field materializes.

What Does it Mean?

Some would say this all proves the existence of a Higher Being. I don’t subscribe to that. What it proves to me is that, for the most part, people still really care for each other.

In other words, when folks see someone else traveling across the land with little more than 2 animals and a bit of gear, they step up to help if they see he’s falling short.

And that’s worth a lot in terms of reassurance, of how we view strangers. That’s the difference between going through life thinking “folks are okay” as opposed to “be safe out there because you can’t trust anyone these days.”

That’s the difference between writing off humanity in exchange for a better afterlife and accepting that we’ve got a good gig in the here and now – as long as we keep taking care of each other.

Not to get all Pollyanna on you. Yes, I know there’s wickedness out there and you’ll read about it next time you scan your news feed. But these are exceptions and exceptions don’t prove the rule, do they?

So yes, James’ and the stranger’s food was delicious. But it nourished my heart just as much as it fed my belly.

Mule Brick and Cracker scored a muffin and a peach. Each.

James informs me we’re having Guinness pie for supper. 500,000 migrants may have arrived at Independence Rock by hoof. Few ate better.

Casper to Independence Rock Thanks

Thanks for:

  • the whiskey, ham and tomato: Renee and Jean
  • the hay: Kirsty
  • the burger and riverside campsite: Ruth and Greg
  • the $10 bill: Allan
  • sweet corn, nectarine, peaches and water: Stacy
  • the campfire: Don
  • the banquet: James
  • the banana Colorado peaches: Rex and Kathy
  • more peaches: the stranger
  • hauling me and my gear 50 miles: Brick and Cracker

And just so you know, yes, I will pass these favors ahead. You can’t always harvest, you have to sow as well.

The Road From Here

From Independence Rock, the mules and I travel toward Muddy Junction, 20 miles away. From there, like the migrants of old, we head toward Sweet Water and South Pass.

Out next major town, Pinedale, is about 150 miles away.


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Bob Skelding
Bob Skelding
4 years ago

It doesn’t take much before your available space requires re-gifting of stuff that’s given to you. On my first wagon trip, heading south ahead of the winter weather, I re-gifted seven jars of homemade BlackBerry jam. However, as tough as it was, I did manage to consume a dozen bottles of homemade elderberry wine.

Danny Coffey
Danny Coffey
4 years ago

I really enjoy keeping up with you
Happy trails. Dan & Linda. Near Cumberland Gap. Tenn. where the miles went to visit Mrs. Linch’s back yard

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