September 22, 2013

South Pass

On our way back from Yellowstone National Park, we noticed a point on the map labeled "the summit of the original South Pass."
Intrigued, we took an unmarked gravel road, which turned into a rarely used 2-track, to the site, marked with the faded sign shown above. 
While traveling down the road, we saw several sage grouse, which blended into the environment very well, but didn't seem at all wary.  The pioneers called them "prairie chickens".  These birds, about the size of a small domestic chicken, could easily have been hunted by the children of the group as the wagon trains passed through.  A grouse a day per family would have added considerably to the meager trail fare. 
This 3 way marker was labeled Mormon, California, and Oregon Trails on 3 sides, marking the path that all 3 groups traveled.  The state of Wyoming has reconstructed a mining town at what is named South Pass City, about 20 miles due north, which attracts tourists.  Sadly, and surprisingly, this actual South Pass summit, the trail taken by about 400,000 souls traveling west in the mid-1800's, has very few visitors in modern times.
Another faded marker shows the Oregon Buttes.  This landmark can be seen directly above the sign and is visible for many miles, a compass for weary travelers.
Back on the paved road, we found a few more tributes to those who traveled west. 
Lander Cutoff was used by some to shorten the trip to Oregon by up to a week. 
From this point, the travelers diverged.  Right to Oregon.  Left to Utah and California.
Another marker is a tribute to the first white women who crossed the west on this trail.
File:Oregontrail 1907.jpgThe route from St. Louis, Missouri to Oregon was 2000 long, hard miles.  Some ten percent of the travelers weren't strong enough and were buried along the trail.
This is lonely territory, with the Wind River Range looming to the north, and miles of prairie all around.  From our comfort zone in 2013, the hardships of such a trip are difficult to imagine. 


  1. It is hard to comprehend the kind of hardships those early pioneers faced going west. A great post Janie, thank you!

  2. I'll thank you too, Janie, this is a terrific post, most of the signs were readable by enlarging, and I especially loved the two women who crossed. Wonder who put that great stone up for them? A wonderful history lesson! Between you and Troutbirder we are going to be smarter than we were.

    Jo, Stella and Zkhat

  3. We have it so easy now days

  4. Thanks for sharing pics of the historical Oregon Trail.

  5. Great post Janie. And you and Steve get the "Brave Explorer Award." I can do gravel roads but launching across a barely marked track without a 4 wheel drive would test my deficient courage capacity....:)

  6. How did they manage, those hardy souls who traveled west? Weather, sickness, geography, and ambush threatened. Your photos speak of a desolate land, Janie. Did it snow in UT last night?

  7. Thanks for sharing these fascinating pieces of history. It's hard to imagine the strength and courage it would take to follow these trails.

  8. What a post. I don't think that I would have ventured down the two track to find those markers. Imagine all the people who went by. I can't even imagine such a journey.

    Hardship to me is driving 200 miles without cruise control.

  9. Wow. Desolate for sure. I can't imagine the bravery of those early souls heading for a better life....amazing.

  10. It's sad to think that those landmarks are not seen by very many travellers. Very interesting history - 2000 miles of hard travelling would have tried the strength and resolve of many. Very sad to think of those buried along the way.

  11. I've actually always been a bit terrified of the open prairie. All that sky, reminding us of just how small we really are...

    Greetings from Minneapolis,


  12. That is a lonely stretch of the prairie.

  13. An amazing post Janie, I thoroughly enjoyed it as it combined my love of Wyoming, maps and history into one neat package. Your photos, as always, are wonderful. I love the turbulent sky in that first photo. I can just hear the silence in this area as you guys traversed it. Awe-inspiring. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Most of us don't think about how hard live was back then. At least the countryside looks a lot like it did so it's easier to imagine there than it is here where all the "trails" are now paved.

  15. I love these old trails and imagining what happened back then. and we were just north of you on the California Trail that week!
    - The Equestrian Vagabond

  16. Must be very humbling to stand where those brave pioneers stood so long ago. Beautiful post.

  17. Yes, it is difficult to imagine. It's sad that so few pass by this place now.

    Enjoyed this post!




Blog Widget by LinkWithin