Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Fort Laramie

After seeing the Oregon Trail Ruts Historic Site and Register Cliff at Guernsey it was a few miles on down the road to Fort Laramie, a National Historic Site. We were pleased to find out that our Golden Eagle passes worked here!

Fort Laramie was established in 1834 near the confluence of the North Platte and the Laramie Rivers. It was first called Fort William for William Sublette, one of the builders. It enjoyed a monopoly on the buffalo trade for many years. In the 1840s the buffalo skin trade was tapering off, and in 1841 the Fort became a stopover for the thousands of emigrants coming through on the Oregon Trail. It was renamed Fort John. In 1849 the U.S. Army bought the Fort to establish a military presence on the plains.The Army changed the name again, to Fort Laramie.This building, originally built in 1874 and then recently restored, was a barracks for the Cavalry during the Indian wars.

I was intrigued with this enormous willow tree, across the road from the Barracks. It had been propped up in several places and gave a wonderful shade on a very hot day. I could imagine children using it to play on, and I surprised a bunny who was enjoying the coolness.

With the end of the wars against the Plains Indians, the Fort lost its importance and was abandoned in 1890. It was sold at public auction. Many of the buildings survived because homesteaders purchased them and public agencies later worked to preserve them. The restored house above, named "Old Bedlam" is the oldest documented house in Wyoming. It served as bachelors' quarters and also housed the Fort commander from 1863-64. It sits in contrast to the ruins of two old officers' quarters. I read that the working Fort sat on treeless grounds. Today there are many trees.

These are the ruins of the hospital from 1873, the first concrete building at the Fort. It was a 12 bed facility with dispensary, kitchen, dining room, isolation rooms, and surgeon's office. Not much left here!

This bow string arch bridge, which replaced early ferries, provided a permanent transportation link between Cheyenne and the territory north of Fort Laramie. It has been restored, complete with its ice breakers. We enjoyed walking across it, picturing the horse and wagons and later the model T type cars. The setting is lovely with huge old cottonwoods along the river bank. The modern bridge is right next to it.

As we completed our tour we drove on down the highway to the next little prairie town, called Lingle. We always explore these towns, checking out the downtown, if there is one, and the back streets as well. At this dead end we were amused to find Lingle's Bumper Crop! Someone had fun with that!

We took a different route home to Cheyenne, making a loop. Mr. Keith saw these bluffs in the distance and had to see if we could get up closer. It was very pretty, and we did make it to the end of the road where there was a reservoir, but that gravel road was the worst washboard we've been on! So ended the last leg of our 200 mile journey into Wyoming history. It was a great adventure back in time along the old Oregon Trail!

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Oregon Trail Near Guernsey WY

 The one trip I've most wanted to take since we've been in Cheyenne is north to Guernsey WY, a Historic Site preserving the Oregon Trail Ruts and Register Cliff. The trip includes old Fort Laramie, but I'm saving that one for another post. As we traveled a dirt road leading to the sites I couldn't resist one more photo of the striking wildflower called prickly poppy. This one has a busy bee at work collecting pollen.

 This is the North Platte River made famous as a guide along which the Oregon Trail pioneers traveled through Nebraska and Wyoming. It is a deep, wide river in contrast to the South Platte we saw running through downtown Denver.

 At last, here we are! I've seen pictures of these ruts, but actually seeing them for real was so exciting! We had a short hike up from the parking lot to the site. So much fun!

(Taken from the website: http://www.wyomingheritage.org/registerCliff.htm)
"The sandstone rocks near Guernsey tell the story of the wagon trains of emigrants headed west in the mid-1800s. While trail ruts carved by thousands of wagons dot the western landscape, most pale in comparison to those found at the Oregon Trail Ruts site in Wyoming. Here, the trail ruts are not to be missed since they are carved into the stone. Some gouges are more than four feet deep! These deep ruts result from years of wagon wear and from intentional cutting by emigrants attempting to ease the steep passage up from the level river bottom to the High Plains." The wagons would not have been able to deviate from this beaten path!

 That's me walking the length of the preserved stretch of trail. The roadbed has been smoothed out some, I'm sure, with all the tourists walking there. In some places the wheel channels are more visible than in others.

This part was particularly arduous looking. That's Mr. Keith up there in the red shirt, watching me. To think, this rock surface was probably relatively level, though bumpy, before the wagons came and wore the tracks into it.

" A short drive from the trail ruts takes visitors to Register Cliff, which rises one hundred feet above the North Platte River valley. Following a day’s journey from Fort Laramie, emigrants spent the night at Register Cliff and inscribed their names into the rock face. The earliest signatures date to the late 1820s when trappers and fur traders passed through the area, but most of the names visible today were carved during the 1840s and 1850s when the Oregon Trail was at its height. Today, visitors can walk along the cliff base to view the signatures up close." (If you click on the photo you can read the sign.) We passed by thousands of names inscribed with dates in the 1900s and 2000s. Copycats! The parts written by the Oregon Trail pioneers was covered by chain link to keep the names intact.

 This name was one of the most clear, as far as reading the date. It is signed H. Boles, 1859. I wonder what kind of adventurer or dreamer he was, and I wonder if he made it to his desired destination. Did he have a family along with him, or was he alone. I wonder, I wonder! One other thing I noticed was that many of the signatures were written in cursive, very neatly. Some had the month along with the year, and some included the state of origin for the emigrant.

Register Cliff is a condominium for swallows, or "mud daubers" as I learned to call them in my childhood. Every little overhang was filled with their mud nests and the birds were constantly flying in and out. I see a face in profile on this part of the cliff. The darker spots forming the eye, the nose and the mouth are the nests. Well, I started this blog post with a bee and I'm ending it with the birds! Look for my next post about Fort Laramie.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Wyoming Hereford Ranch

Keith and I like to sometimes take a quick ride into the Wyoming Hereford Ranch on our way home. The Ranch is just on the other side of the freeway from the KOA. Here we found a small herd of herefords near the ranch house. There were new calves amidst the big cows, though they don't show up in the photo. 
From the WHR website:  
Since 1883, Wyoming Hereford Ranch has been a major source of registered Hereford cattle. Superior seed stock has been marketed throughout North America and many other lands providing for efficiently produced tasty, healthy and nutritious beef. The location, the environment, the men and women and the Herefords involved here have made this hallowed Hereford ground.

And maybe these horses belong to the residents of the big house. I always love to see pretty horses in a green field, no matter where we are.
Arriving in the 1870s and utilizing investment capital from Scotland, Alexander Hamilton Swan created a literal empire, consisting of one million acres of land and over one hundred thousand head of cattle. However they were not the efficient kind, being slow to mature and gaunt of frame. To Swan’s benefit, an associate of his, british-born George Morgan, convinced him to experiment with native cattle of England, specifically Herefords. Swan decided to establish a large registered Hereford herd, which he did in 1882 under the name of Wyoming Hereford Cattle and Land Association.

A glimpse through the trees shows some of the outbuildings around the ranch. All the buildings are painted red, a beautiful contrast to the grass and trees. (Click to see this photo up close.)

This is the Ranch House, an amazing edifice. It sits on a little rise above the brilliant red barns and outbuildings.

My favorite part of the Hereford Ranch is this avenue of giant cottonwoods lining the approach to the complex. Our car is pointing away from the buildings because the light was better that way.  I read on the website that the grounds, the barns, and the avenue in the photo are frequently used for weddings and other types of gatherings. Horses and old-fashioned wagons are also available to make the event truly a western one. It is a beautiful place, one that we will visit again and again.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Chugwater, Wyoming

 Today we wanted a short trip that turned out to be about 160 miles round trip. The town of Chugwater beckoned because of the odd name. Though Chugwater is just off I-25 north of Cheyenne we opted to explore a back road, the Horsecreek Rd. becoming the Iron Mountain Rd. It was fairly desolate, with only a few ranches here and there. We were traveling through the Laramie Mountains, elevation up to 6400, a little higher than Cheyenne. Here is a ghost ranch with only the outbuildings still standing. I imagine the house was in the grove of trees to the left. I wonder what caused it to be abandoned?

 We loved this sign at the entrance to Farthing Ranch. When the kids and I lived in Vancouver our neighbors and friends were named Farthing. I wonder if there is any connection? We didn't see a ranch house or other buildings. They must have been down in the draw.

 The town of Chugwater has a population of 244 and the elevation is 5288 feet. We were greeted by this ruined grain elevator next to the railroad track.

 The whole town had an air of days gone by. I'm sure this bank is an old original from long ago, still being used.

 We had planned to eat lunch in Chugwater so we chose, of course, the only place to eat in the whole town. That's Mr. Keith out in front of the Buffalo Grill. We wanted to ask someone about the name Chugwater. We figured it had to do with some thirsty pioneers, but didn't know for sure. It's pretty dry around this part of Wyoming. Upon being seated, we found ourselves at a table next to an old codger who began to talk to us and continued to talk all the way through our meal! Sure enough, he knew the story, and it proved to be kind of gruesome, not what I wanted to hear.

 This is the same story the old codger told us, but copied from Wikipedia.
Some historians hold that the name "Chugwater" is derived from a Mandan account of a bison hunt. According to this narrative, a chief was disabled during the hunt and his son took charge of the hunt or "buffalo jump". Under his direction, hunters drove the bison over nearby cliffs; when the animals reached the ground below, a sound of "chugging" was heard by the hunters. The story concludes with an etymology: since a stream was near the base of the cliffs, the site of the stampede has been called "the place" or "water at the place where the buffalo chug." Could these cliffs be where this awful massacre happened? Or some like them nearby? There is a creek running through the area, as shown by the trees in the photo. I don't like the story, would much rather it had been about some thirsty pioneers or ranchers. But that's how it was.

 We saw many of these lovely wildflowers along the way, growing in the sandy hillsides. The last time I saw these I was in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I was able to find them on my iPad app, "The Audubon Guide". They are White Prickly Poppies. The flowers are definitely poppy-like, and the greenery is like a thistle. They are safe from roaming cattle and pronghorns because of the stickers!

  We traveled home the same way we had come, to see the land from the opposite direction.  We came across this tiny school house, dated 1919 to 1936 and labeled Capitol Vista School. Children must have come from far to attend here!

 Last, but not least, a common sight in Wyoming is a field with horses. After all, it is the "Cowboy State"!