June 3, 2012

Stradling the 41st Parallel

We spent last night in Kemmerer, Wyoming, whose claim to fame seems to be the home of J.C. Penney and the site of the “Mother Store.”  Kemmerer is a cowboy town, as are most of the towns in Wyoming.  On the way out of town we spotted a herd of pronghorn on a hillside just beside the highway.  Southwest Wyoming is home to the largest migratory herd of pronghorn in the continental United States, and it is always a thrill to see these graceful animals.

The Original J.C. Penney Store
Pronghorn Herd, Sometimes Called Antelope
I Think They're Staring at Us
The Pronghorn Is the Fastest Land Mammal in the Western Hemisphere
Although most ranches in Wyoming raise cattle, we also passed several sheep ranches and were surprised to find sheepherders who still traveled in their traditional sheepwagons. What a throwback to an earlier era.

A Wyoming Sheephearder and His Wagons
One of the major sites associated with all of the western trails is Fort Bridger.  Established by Jim Bridger and Louis Vasquez in 1843 as a trading post on the Oregon Trail, it became a Mormon fort in the 1850s and then a U.S. military outpost in 1858.  Fort Bridger is now a Wyoming State Historic Park, and the evolution of the site is interpreted here.

1880s Barracks, 1867 Commisary and 1868 Guardhouse at Fort Bridger
Mountain men, Indian traders, Oregon and California emigrants, Mormon pioneers, Pony Express riders, U.S. soldiers and railroad men all passed through the fort.  We toured several of the original buildings and tried to imagine the fort’s pivotal role in westward expansion.  Although many of the early structures no longer remain, ongoing archeological excavations are uncovering evidence of the fort’s history.  

1884 Commanding Officer's Quarters
Ranch House
Archeological Excavations Are Peeling Away the Layers of History
Adjacent to Fort Bridger is a roadside motel that served the Lincoln Highway, an early transcontinental highway that also passed by the fort.  Built in 1929, the Black and Orange Cabins have been restored by the State of Wyoming.  How cool that Wyoming has recognized the significance of structures like these that reflect the need to accommodate travelers along the new highway.

Black and Orange Cabins
Southwest Wyoming is characterized by its starkly beautiful desert landscape.  We steadily climbed through eroding hills of various shades of tan and green and saw the Uinta Mountains in the distance.  The Uinta Mountains are the only major mountain range in the Western Hemisphere to run east and west.  We crossed into Utah and arrived at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area.  Flaming Gorge was named by John Wesley Powell in 1869 and is a spectacular geological wonder. 

Southwest Wyoming Landscape
Uinta Mountains Loom in the Distance
The centerpiece of the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area is the huge Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which spans the Wyoming-Utah state lines, which happens to be the forty-first parallel.  The area is a popular area for fishing and boating.  We are staying on the west side of the reservoir and have managed to snag a campsite with a water view.  It’s hot and windy here, and there’s very little shade, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.  We’re going to rest here for the next day or so and then explore the red rock cliffs and canyon that Flaming Gorge is known for.

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area
Sunset at Flaming Gorge
A Lovely View

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