USA - SEPTEMBER 2002
OREGON AND CALIFORNIA TRAIL
"Why Guernsey, Eric?" I heard you say on the previous page.
Well, this is why. Anyone who knows me well has doubtless heard me go on (and on and on) about the emigrants in the 1840s travelling from the East to the West of what later became the USA. Many of them, including the famous Donner party came by the Oregon and California trail which in this part of the USA followed the North Platte river.
One of the things that I've always wanted to do was to follow on foot the route of the emigrants. So here I was, with a rental car, a free weekend in the USA with an important part of the trail only a couple of hundred miles away from where I have to be. I had no reason not to come, at least not as far as Guernsey, which is one of the most accessible points of interest on the Oregon/California Trail.
If you're interested, you can read the extracts of the Donner Party's diary covering this section of the trail. You'll see a reference to Bryants diary, in which he states as early as the 24th of May, the party having been on the road not even a month -
Our progress is very slow. But notwithstanding this, many of the wagons are late in reaching camp, and the train is frequently strung out several miles. I am beginning to feel alarmed at the tardiness of our movements, and fearful that winter will find us in the snowy mountains of California, or that we shall suffer from the exhaustion of our supply of provisions.
I do not fear for myself, but for the women and children of the emigrants. Singular as it may seem, there are many of our present party who have no just conceptions of the extent and labor of the journey before them. They appear to be desirous of shortening each day's march as much as possible, and when once encamped are reluctant to move, except for the benefit of fresh grass for their cattle, and a more convenient and plentiful supply of wood for the purposes of cooking.
You can see from the extracts of the diaries that they "travelled 8 miles" or "travelled 16 miles" - they really had no idea of what was awaiting them in the mountains once October was setting in. In the end, Bryant and several others, dismayed at the lack of progress, abandoned the Donner Party at Fort Laramie a month later. They traded their wagons for pack mules, and made their own way to California. And despite everything that Bryant wrote, he only narrowly avoided disaster in the mountains, being obliged to rely on the generosity of John Sutter at Sutter's Fort (modern-day Sacramento) to see him make the final step into California.
COLD SPRINGS AND THE NORTH PLATTE
Certain points along the trail had developed into popular resting places due to certain important factors being present - palatable fresh water, shelter from the wind, good supply of lumber. This is Cold Springs, the site of one of the many popular emigrant camps along the North Platte.
Timber was a serious problem along the route. Bryant's party noted that at one camp there were seven trees, and he and his party chopped one down for firewood. "The next six parties will account for the rest".
The diary of another party records
"May 24th travelled up the Platte 20 miles. No wood for 200 miles."
"May 25th travelled up the Platte 20 miles. Buffalo chips for fire."
The supply of wood for fires is a constant obsession with the travellers, even more so than water (deserts along the way being a notable exception of course).
I've not been able to discover the event that happened here to which the "rifle pits" refers. It's unlikely to be anything that would relate to the Oregon and California Trail, as during that period the white man and the native inhabitant were living in comparative peace.
There was a considerable amount of confrontation between the native Americans and the US military during the extermination phase of white expansion (roughly between Sand Creek in 1864 and Wounded Knee in 1890). This is very well-documented in books such as Dee Brown's Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, the controversial George Armstrong Custer's My Life On The Plains or John G Bourke's magnificent On The Border With Crook, but nothing seems to explain the rifle pits just here. There isn't even anything in the ... er ... exciting Great Western Indian Fights.
If you know the answer to this, please .
You can also if you would like to add anything to whatever I've written, correct any faults, or merely would like to chat. I like to interact with my audience.
In this photograph taken more-or-less from the same spot as that above, you can just make out the railway bridge that crosses the North Platte, and the hills in the distance. The reason why I took this photograph was because I've seen those hills before. And I'm sure you have too.
They form the backdrop to countless bad "B" feature western movies where the Red Indians come charging down the slopes on their ponies to wreak their revenge on the white man, stuck helplessly in his wagon train at the bottom of the valley or lining the floor of the railway carriage as it hurtles out of control towards the gap in the rails.
One of the biggest problems the emigrants had was to cross the North Platte River. It wasn't the gentle stream you see in this photograph back in the 1840s and 1850s. It was a real challenge. Nowadays there are at least 4 major dams across the river, and these have slowed down considerably the flow of water.
If the weather conditions were right, which wasn't all that often, the emigrants had a reasonable choice of crossing site. Where I was standing to take this picture was at a hollow in the banks of the river that led down to the water's edge. If you click on the thumbnail to enlarge it, you'll see that underneath the copyright logo, there is a similar depression on the other bank. This depression leads almost to the water's edge. To the left of that at the water's edge a pile of stones where the bank has sunk into the river. It makes me wonder how many wagons have crossed at this spot.
The signposts depicted in this photograph indicate two of the most famous places on the whole Oregon Trail. Eeveryone will know them, because they are probably the two most-photographed places on the trail. In the short time I had available, these were the places I had come all this way to see.
I wasn't alone either. There were quite a few people that I met in one place that I met again in the other.
But there were't just these sights to see - there were others much more poignant than that.
Like the graves.
The general standard of health of the pioneers was much lower than ours today, even though they were much more rugged than we are. Remember that the trail could be as much as 2000 miles long, and the majority of the emigrants actually walked for much of the way. The ox-drawn wagons were usually grossly overloaded with all kinds of irrelevances. Many broke down irreparably or the beasts died along the way. Thousands of waggons and their contents were abandoned along the route and were still being rediscovered in the 1930s. Any riding ponies the emigrants had brought with them had long since died by the time the emigrants reached the North Platte.
There were even several groups that were known as "handcart parties". Unbelievably as it might seem, they set out to push handcarts all the way to the west.
There were some pioneers who fell under the wheels of their wagons, or drowned crossing rivers, or caught hypothermia whilst wading the freezing waters, or were murdered by their colleagues, or died in childbirth, or for any one of a hundred other reasons. One interesting fact is that more pioneers were murdered by their colleagues than died at the hands of the native Americans.
Leaving aside the particular circumstances surrounding the tragic Donner Party, Bryant's book "What I Saw In California" is a fascinating account of life on the Oregon-California Trail, and certainly makes good reading if you can pick up a copy.
This is the grave of Lucindy Rollins who died in 1849, apparently. The grave site was subsequently lost - a not-uncommon fate for most of the graves along the trail what with the turbulence of subsequent years and the activities of the fauna in the area.
The grave was rediscovered in 1934, largely thanks to William E. Smith Jr who uncovered the original gravestone close to the site while out on a duck-hunting expedition. The stone was partially covered by soil, but nevertheless Smith was able to read some of the inscription carved thereupon. It's now in the local museum.
Grateful thanks to Doug and Joyce Smith of Mount Vernon, Washington state, for letting me have this information. And if you have anything that you would like to tell me, then . I'm more-than-grateful for whatever information comes my way.
It's more than likely that Lucindy was a Gold Rush follower, and if I had to speculate on the cause of her death, my money would be on cholera. A cholera epidemic arrived in the USA on the European migrant ships in 1847 and 1848, and promptly swept the Eastern Seaboard. It was soon to spread among the emigrant parties and it's reckoned that in 1849 one emigrant in ten succumbed to the disease on the trail.
Despite the numerous websites concerning the Oregon - California Trail, I could find no contemporary mention of her at all, which I found surprising considering the amount of attention that seems to have been lavished on her grave. Some recent research has however come to light that suggests that she may have set out from Dayton, Ohio.
You have to agree that the North Platte River makes a beautiful backdrop to her grave.
But going back to the emigrant ships, some of the statistics are frightening. You can get some idea by considering just three of the thousands of "coffin ships" that made the crossing. The "Virginius" set sail from Liverpool on 28th May 1847 with 476 passengers in steerage. When the ship arrived in Quebec on 28th July, 106 of those were sick, and 158 had died. For the "Naomi" out of Liverpool, also in 1847, out of 334 passengers in steerage, the figures were 100 and 110. For the "Sageunay", out of Cork in 1847 with 11 passengers in cabins and 447 in steerage, the figures were 160 sick and 120 dead.
The list is endless, and doesn't include the countless thousands who died at ad-hoc quarantine stations for the immigrants at places such as Grosse Isle in Canada.
"Ah, no, says he, twas not to be"
"On a coffin ship I came here"
"And I never even got so far"
"That they could change my name"
"Thousands are sailing"
"Across the western ocean"
"To a land of opportunity"
"That some of them will never see"
© 1988 Phillip Chevron.
People at times have accused me of writing pretentious prose
"shome mishtake, shurely" - ed
but I've never written anything quite like this! Maybe I ought to apply for a job now that I'm in gainful self-unemployment!
As I said before, the North Platte River was wider and more rapid than it is today. The Oregon and California Trail followed it as closely as possible, as the ground would almost always be more level and easier to travel along the banks. Just here though a short way outside the town of Guernsey, there's a chalk outcrop that comes right down to the river bank. There's no way around it, so the only way is up and over the top.
With the chalk being soft, the wheels of the heavily-laden wagons would grind their way into the surface and loosen the chalk. Subsequent heavy rain would wash away the pieces of chalk to leave ruts where the wagons had passed. It would be the natural tendency for the wheels of a wagon to slide into a rut made by a predecessor - anyone who has ever driven on a Belgian autoroute and discovered the ornières will know exactly what I mean - and so the ruts would over a period of time become deeper.
When you see just how far into the rock the wagon wheels have cut, it makes you realise just how many wagons went along the trail by here to Oregon and California. And also how much weight they were carrying.
And don't lose sight of the fact that the trail was really only open for about 20 years. It was first used in any numbers in the mid-late 1840s. The American Civil War and then the transcontinental railways, the first of which was completed in May 1869, put an end to all the traffic.
This is one of the most photographed famous locations in American history. And it is absolutely superb!. To be able to walk down the slope through the trail ruts has to be one of the highlights of my voyage. Having said that, I will freely admit that I lost count of the number of times I was to say that by the time my voyage was over.
Looking at these ruts, you might be wondering how some of the emigrants passed this way. Many people have in the backs of their minds the story of the Reed family, members of the infamous Donner party who ate each other in the mountains in the severe winter of 1846. One of the Reed waggons was said to be so big and heavy that it merited the nickname "the Pullman Palace car". Many people wonder how it could have passed this way, given the depth and width of the ruts.
This cannot however have been a contemporary nickname, for the simple reason that the Pullman Palace Car Company was not founded until 1867. There is no mention of this nickname earlier than the 1930s. Reed's stepdaughter Virginia, who was 12 years old when she crossed the USA with her family said that it "might be called" (not that it was called) a "Pioneer Palace Car" (not a Pullman Palace Car). And this is said to relate to a contemporary joke concerning the comfort on the emigrant railway trains of the late 19th Century when she wrote her memoirs.
In the contemporary diaries of the emigrants, it's merely described as the Reed Family waggon, and there is no mention of it being of any size that would attract any kind of special attention.
Charles Kelly, an explorer who in the late 1920s followed the route of the emigrants across the Salt Desert looking for artefacts, came across the remains of five waggons abandoned in one of the worst parts of the desert. He had heard that the Donner party had abandoned five waggons together somewhre in the desert, and because of the "enormous size" and "generous proportions" of one of the waggons that he found, he was convinced that these were the Donner party waggons and that he had found the Pioneer Palace car.
It is however almost certain that Kelly is incorrect. In his book, he recounts that he was told by an ancient pioneer settler by the name of Eugene Munsee that the area around these waggons had been littered with iron implements such as blacksmith tools, but that these had later been hauled away for salvage by "a Chinaman from Tecoma, Nevada".
Kelly was unaware when he wrote his book that later research had uncovered details of a blacksmith by the name of John Rankin Pyatt (or sometimes John Rankin Pyeatt or even John Rankin Pyeat) who, as a member of the Evans party of 1849 had attempted to cross the desert with an oversize waggon loaded with his tools. He had been forced to abandon everything in the desert, and it may well be that what Kelly had discovered were the remains of Pyatt's waggon
In any case, Reed clearly states in his diary that after spending a day or two "recruiting" at the spring, he returned to the waggons and "Weds 9 "September" Mr Graves Mr Pike & Mr Brin loaned 2 Yoke of Cattle to J F Reed with one Yoke he had to bring his family waggon along".
In fairness to Kelly, Reed's diary was only published in 1947. In the later 1969 edition of its book, Kelly quotes the above entry from Reed's diary, yet bizarrely does not revise his opinion of the identity of the waggon that he found.
A couple of miles further on from the trail ruts is Register Cliff, part of the same chalk outcrop as the site of the trail ruts.
Here, the river passes by in a broad sweep, leaving quite a large foreshore between it and the cliff. In spring, the melting snows would cause the river to flood at places such as here. When the emigrants arrived in summer, there would be a verdant and luxurious growth of grass, and so would be an ideal resting place for emigrant parties working their way along the Oregon and California Trail.
The photo on the left gives a little background to the site here at Register Cliff, so I'm reproducing it to save me the trouble of having to write it all out again.
The next two photographs show some excellent examples of the signatures here on Register Cliff. And the cliff is covered with them. The earliest ones date from about 1820 and continue until more or less the present day. There's a good couple of hundred yards of them.
In order to prevent overwriting or vandalism from people of the modern era, many of the earlier signatures such as these are now protected behind an iron grille.
I can understand the urge that people have to leave their identity behind them, but I can't understand this modern urge to destroy what is a priceless and unique historical monument to the suffering of those who passed by here on their way to build a new America out in the west.
There is however one eternal mystery concerning the emigrants on the Oregon and California Trail. Most of the parties kept diaries in which they recorded their adventures. And while they seem to record even the most trivial - and even sometimes the most serious acts, there doesn't seem to be anyone who will admit to writing on the cliff.
Statistics show that the writing was on the wall for many of the emigrants who passed this way. I wrote above that the emigrants faced all kinds of dangers and diseases that were lurking just around the corner, and just like Neil Young's Aztecs in the badlands, many died along the way. Thousand upon thousand of them.
Many of the sick would be jolted along in a wagon until the inevitable overtook them. The presence just here of sufficient water and grazing would be an ideal spot to halt and "recruit" (the vernacular for "to restore the health of") the oxen and other animals, and give the emigrants an opportunity to bury their dead. Quite often, if there were emigrants who were gravely ill, the party would wait here until the patients passed over, and then bury them.
Four emigrant graves have so far been discovered here, and in the photograph on the left you can see the remains of three of them. They appear not to have been excavated, and so nothing seems to be to be known of the occupants.
THE PONY EXPRESS
There are many other interesting historical sites in the Guernsey area that are not connected with the Oregon and California Trail. One of them is the site of a Pony Express station from the early 1860s.
This particular one is sited right on the banks of the North Platte, as you can see, and is only a couple of hundred metres away from the Oregon and California Trail. Water would of course be one of the essential requirements of any kind of relay station, and there can't be anywhere much better than this.
These stations were sited all along the route on average every 12 or so miles apart, the distance a horse could run at full gallop. At each station, the rider would leap from the saddle cluching his mochilla or saddlebag, throw it over the saddle of a waiting nag, leap aboard, and race off on the next leg. After 7 or 8 legs, a new rider (presumably of the Purple Sage variety) would take over.
The riders were paid $100 per month, a fantastic sum when you consider that the average labourer was on a dollar a day. But they were out all day in the wild, totally alone and unarmed, at the mercy of the weather and the evil intentions of bandits and Indians.
"Did you say "unarmed", Eric?"
"I did indeed"
"How come they were unarmed?"
"Because the weight of the gun would tire the horse quicker, and slow it down"
"You're pulling our legs!"
"No I'm not - I'm being deadly serious. There was even a weight limit on the riders of about 125 pounds, or just under 9 stones"
Wartime conditions coupled with the completion of the transcontinental telegraph lines at the end of 1861 saw the end of the Pony Express
During the period of the Pony Express's existence there would only have been "peacetime" conditions out here on the frontier due to a large military presence at places such as Fort Laramie, Fort Kearny and Fort Bridger. This would have ended with the withdrawal of the troops to fight in the Civil War. The 6,000 or so "Galvanised Yankees", Confederate soldiers released from Union captivity to garrison the frontier against the native American opportunism that had erupted all along the Platte, were understandably not too enthusiastic about exposing themselvers to danger.
Guernsey is also home to a big modern army base. In fact, everywhere you go to in the USA seemed to be the home of a big army base. It really makes me wonder why the Americans are all so afraid of these insignificant and irrelevant people who have so much despair in their lives that they set out to take on the world's leading power armed with nothing but plastic knives.
Anyway, here's a photo of some up-to-date hardware that's doubtless going very shortly to kill thousands of innocent civilians in mistake for some poor, sorry individual armed with a plastic knife.
You know, when I wrote this in November 2002 I had no idea how right I was subsequently going to be proved. And events up to the present date (September 2006) have proved the wisdom of the words of King Abdulla, who said
"We must not fall into the same errors as the Unbelievers and count up our guns, our bombs, our tanks and our aeroplanes, and pray to them for deliverance. This is a new idolatry, as men once worshipped stones and trees".
THE BLACK HILLS TRAIL
Further on along Highway 26 are traces of the Black Hills Trail. It was built to convey goods and so on from the railway at Kearney, Nebraska to Deadwood, South Dakota. Gold had been discovered in the Black Hills in 1874 and miners swarmed into the area, despite a treaty prohibiting them from doing so.
But I'm a bit perplexed why the Wyoming Recreation Commission sees fit to erect a monument that freely gives without any remorse whatsoever recognition to a group of treaty-breaking Indian-murdering white men, and fails to give any recognition at all to the thousands of brown skinned Indians who died trying to defend their own land against the invader. It sounds just like Iraq if you ask me
The site of the trail is not known for sure but if you click on the photo to enlarge it, you'll notice that just to the right and underneath the tree on the skyline is a slight depression in the soil. There are also bushes in this depression that could conceivably have taken root 125 years ago in the dropppings of horses, or even have come from seeds in the food the horses have eaten and excreted. At least, this is where I'd search for vestiges of the trail.
Just behind where I was standing to take the photograph is the Chicago and Northwestern Railway. This was originally known as the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad and reached the area in 1902. This rendered the trail obsolete and put the final nail in the Indians' coffin.
From the Black Hills Trail I continued east along Highway 26 until I hit a side road that ran south-westwards in the general direction of Wheatland and ... er ... even more excitingly, Fort Laramie.
A short way down this dirt road is the military bridge across the North Platte River. This was built in 1875 to link Fort Laramie, Cheyenne and the other forts, outposts, trading stations and so on. It is the first iron bridge in Wyoming.
It almost certainly had a darker intention too - that of ensuring a rapid deployment of troops to nearby trouble spots. Thus when a handful of starving Indians reappeared on their old hunting grounds that had been stolen from them by the white invader, in a vain effort to kill a few of the remaining buffalo to keep themselves alive, the US Cavalry could quickly arrive on the scene to massacre them in the name of Manifest Destiny. The same Manifest Destiny that had started with Colonel Chivington at Sand Creek in 1864, and ended so tragically (for the Indians) at Wounded Knee in 1890.
This is the Fort Laramie of western fame. A couple of the buildings here are claimed to be originals, suitably (?) restored, but all the others are reproductions.
It was used principally (at least in the early days) as a supply post for the emigrants on the Oregon and California Trail. In 1849, the United States Army purchased the fort, and Company E of the First Regiment of Mounted Riflemen moved in. The flood of emigrants dried up in the late 1860s with the opening of the Union Pacific Railroad, but the invasion of the native American treaty lands by the white man in the late 1860s and the not-unnatural response led to the fort being obliged to concentrate more on its military function.
In March 1890, once the native Americans had been decimated into submission, the fort was abandoned by the miltary and sold off.
The USA is often described as "the Land of the Free". Well, don't believe it. As you would expect in a country colonised by the Dutch, the word "free" isn't in the American vocabulary and it should rightly be called "the Land of the Expensive". I had a lot to learn about the USA.
And so it was that I was expected to dig deep into my pocket in order to visit the site. I was debating with myself whether to pay to go in when the most incredible storm suddenly broke. That decided it. As Kenneth Williams said, whilst playing in Bamber Gascoigne's "Share My Lettuce"
"I'm not getting wet for a load of bleedin' birds"
and they were my sentiments exactly.
In case you are wondering, by the way, I only half-agree with Michael Caine who on one famous occasion said "there are only two things in life that I can't stand. People who are intolerant of other people's cultures ... and the Dutch"
From Fort Laramie, I continued along the road (which by now had degenerated into a dirt road and known rather surprisingly as the Fort Laramie Road) back over the mountains towards Wheatland.
Ordinarily, I would have been somewhat wary of driving down dirt roads in a rental car, especially in a small rental car such as this, miles from anywhere and well off the beaten track. However, once I relaxed I had no such inhibitions as you will see later on on my journey. The Fort Laramie Road is nothing by comparison, is it?
This photograph is of the Medicine Bow Range and the Laramie Mountains way out in the distance. It was well worth coming this way, simply for this view alone (although if you clicked on the link above, you will quickly form a different opinion).
There was a major storm in the distance, with some really impresive lightning. This was probably the same storm that had soaked me to the skin 20 minutes ago at Fort Laramie. Unfortunately I wasn't quick enough with the camera to capture any of the lightning. What a superb picture that would have made.
THE LARAMIE RIVER POWER STATION
Further along the way is the coal-fired Laramie River power station. There is a continuous circuit of endless merry-go-round trains disgorging tons and tons into the monster 24 hours a day, day after day non-stop.
The footprint of the place was enormous - no one shot with the camera could capture everything. You could get hundreds of wind turbines in this footprint which wouldn't need anything like the expense of energy in mining and transporting the coal. And just think about the footprint of the mine and the railway line from the mine to the plant, and the pollution emitted by mining, transporting and burning the coal. And before all the Brits start to become self-righteous, they need to take a look at what's going on in their own back yard.
There are three power generators here - built in 1980, 1981, and 1982, and each one generates 550 megawatts. Each unit burns 375 tons of coal per hour. That is the equivalent of about 60 trucks - one per minute.
The thing that I noticed more than anything was the noise! And you know the volume at which I can play music, so to drown that out must really have been something. So imagine this next door to you! I'm much happier with my wind turbines and solar panels
The plant needs over 325,000 gallons of water each year, so they dammed the Laramie River and created the Grayrocks Reservoir, a huge lake of over 100,000 acres. But despite this huge environmantal damage, all is not well, as the area has been hit by drought. Normally during the winter and spring, the level of the lake rises to compensate for the losses in summer, but the past few years since 2001 have not gone according to plan. In the spring of 2005, the level of water in the reservoir failed to rise.
The last year that it was considered to be full was May 2001. In June 2005, it was at just 25%. The Power Station Authorities were obliged to resort to buying irrigation rights from farmers, and now own 35 private ground wells. Dallas Wade, the Plant's General Manager, commented that "I think last year (2004) was the lowest year (for inflows) on record (since 1933)". He proudly continued "We pumped 7,000 acre-feet of groundwater during that time. This really helped maintain the level in Grayrocks".
The implications of this are appalling. Of course farmers, having sold their water rights, are obliged to give up farming. And the drying out of the soil is just going to create a huge dust bowl. I wonder how much electricity they could have generated by installing wind turbines on the 100,000 acres of the lake and on the footprint of the Power Plant, and on the footprint of the rail lines and the footprint of the coal mines that feed it.
And how much food they could still be growing.
Most Americans have totally lost the plot, if you ask me. That is - most Americans.
There was a news article on the BBC World Service Radio on 17th March 2007 which stated inter alia that according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration that 2006 was the driest year on record. Someone from a group representing farmers in California explained that this was devastating news, not just for crop growers in California, but for the whole of the USA.
So now that they are aware of the problem, what do they intend to do? Find new ways to encourage rainfall, or pump more groundwater? It remains to be seen. But when I wrote in 2002 about the possibility of water wars in the USA, I was way ahead of my time.
Most of you know the reason why I like to visit the USA. Well, of course it is for the interesting things that one often sees by the side of the road
Exactly like this old car that I found at the side of the road here in Wheatland, Wyoming.
Now I don't have a clue what it might be, so if you can help me out, please . I'd appreciate it.
LIke I said, I don't have a clue what it is supposed to be, but it's certainly old and wood-framed. It's also in need of rather a lot of repair, so I don't suppose there'll be too many volunteers beating a path to the door.
The chassis is missing for a start, and you can't go far without one of those. There's no engine either. I suppose someone has stripped it out to make a hot rod or whatever, and that's a real shame.
On my travels later on, however, I came across a couple of rolling chassis that might do the job. They made me think that I might just be in business here.
In this photograph are the bonnet of a Chevrolet and quite a lot of bodywork (and then only some of it, and nothing else)q of a Lincoln. As for the white car, well once more, your guess is as good as mine. As I said above, if you have any idea what they might be, or you can give me more information, then please . I'd be grateful.
Mike Hill wrote to me, but not to tell me about the cars but to say that I should beware of people possessing guns when I'm taking photographs around here. Apparently the owners of this property don't take kindly to trespassers. All I can say to that is that they should put a fence around their property and put a sign up.
But I'm not convinced about the sanity of any country where an armed response is considered to be appropriate to defend your property against someone armed with nothing more dangerous than a camera. It's nothing more than mass hysteria if you ask me. I just content myself with the fact that I have a penis. So I don't need a gun.
Here in Wheatland I filled up - 8.65 US gallons of fuel that cost $12.27 to do 280 miles. And what is a US gallon? Well, a British gallon has 20 fluid ounces to the pint, so a British gallon is 160 fluid ounces. An American gallon has 16 fluid ounces to the pint, so it has 128 fluid ounces. A British gallon is 4.54 litres and an American gallon is 3.62 litres. It's easy, really!
I also got free coffee - not at all a surprise because you couldn't sell this rubbish that I just drank. Some stuff that I got to drink in North America that goes by the name of coffee I wouldn't wash my windscreen with at home.
Another thing I did here was to put my foot in it. I was just about to go into a "Subway" to buy a sandwich, when the door opened and a beautiful litle girl aged about 4 walked out - dressed in a really pretty party sort of dress with a cotton hat. "Ahh, what a beautiful dress and hat" I said to her - just as her teenaged sister and mother walked out, dressed in entirely the same way. They obviously heard my comment, and gave me such a look that I felt like crawling under the boardwalk.
I didn't mean to cause offence, but I've never met any Amish or Mennonite people before and I hadn't given the religious significance of the clothes any thought at all. In fact, this encounter so impressed itself on my mind that when I did meet some Mennonites on another occasion a couple of years later I kept well clear, even though I would have loved to have gone over to talk to them.
As Éomer said in Lord of the Rings - "I spoke only as do all men in my land, and I would gladly learn better". If anyone with any connection to the Amish or Mennonite communities would like to fill in the gaps in my education, please .
Now that we were fuelled up (both the car and myself) we headed off into the mountains to the south-west, in the general direction of another piece of whimsical history. Yes, there's yet another schoolboy whim about to be satisfied in the general vicinity, and I'm not talking about Becky Moseley either.
The mountain you can see here is called Sharp Mountain and it's 8841 feet high. It looks quite impressive here in this photograph, but that's just a trick of the image because I was comparatively low down. I was to DRIVE over places half as high again as this before I'd finished my adventure.
All of this had me wondering just how high I was up here in the mountains. I reckoned that I was maybe five or six thousand feet up.
I was to find this out for definite soon enough. Only a couple of miles further on, in fact, as I headed myself off at the pass.
This pass here is in fact known as the Morton Pass. It's at a height of 7301 feet and it's on the road between Wheatland, Wyoming, and Bosler Junction, Wyoming.
Impressed? I was at the time. However, I was to drive over roads twice this height before my journey was over. I'd noticed the name on my map, and I thought that it was appropriate to come this way, seeing as I am a part-owner of Morton Football Club in Scotland but mind you, Cappielow never ever looked like this
Marshall Sprague, the famous author and historian who was known for his "accuracy of history and flowing prose" wrote a series of books about the American west. One of which, The Great Gates describes in detail the Rocky Mountain passes. In his work, the Morton Pass is called the "Sybille Pass", the name of the creek that flows through here. This appears to be named after a French fur trapper Jean Sibille, who in the early 1840s was partner in the company "Sibille Adams and Co" This company owned Fort Platte, a rival to the nearby and more famous Fort Laramie, for a short while.
Morton Pass does have another claim to fame, and that is that it is the source of several rare minerals and pelitic rocks that have featured in a number of geological laboratory experiments.
The land here in these three photographs is up for sale - can't remember whether it was for $13,000 or $30,000, but whatever it was, it makes no difference. You're wasting your time because I saw it first! Whether thirteen or thirty thousand dollars, it's still quite a bargain.
Nevertheless, you begin to understand the "car culture" in the USA - there are no shops or any facilities here at all. Even in the villages there's only the gas station cum local store, so to do any serious shopping you have to travel miles. And in winter, you are likely to have three feet of snow dropped on your head in one evening. No wonder they go for 4x4s.
But I was in a hurry. I could feel the light fading and I still had a good few miles to go. So I quickly dropped down to Highway 30 / Highway 287 and, to the accompaniment of "Eddie Waring" I turned right. My destination for the night was 30 miles up the road and I'd been waiting more than 35 years to come here.