Days 167-170/ Aug 20th-23rd– Lyman, WY to Wahsatch, UT: Thank you for purchasing my steer

‘Made sixteen miles, encamped at Fort Bridger.  This is a pretty place to see in such a barren country… a thousand acres of level land covered with grass, interspersed with beautiful stony brooks, with plenty of timber…’ – Diary of Elizabeth Dixon Smith, August 9th 1847

Wind-turbines in southern Wyoming

Southern Wyoming: Rich in oil, gas... and wind

If we were walking across America during the early 19th century rather than the early 21st, we could have done a lot worse than hire Jim Bridger as a guide.  One of the great explorers, scouts and mountain-men of the American West, by the age of 26 in 1830 he had discovered South Pass in Wyoming (the key to the overland route across the Rockies), become one of the first Europeans to see Yellowstone, and discovered the Great Salt Lake (which he believed for many years, erroneously, to be part of the Pacific Ocean).  Bridger was a leading light of the western fur trade, and acted as a guide for the early surveyors of the transcontinental railroad as well as for the US army on their campaigns against restless Indians and truculent Mormons alike.  On top of all this, he found the time to marry women from the Flathead, Ute and Shoshone tribes, all of whom he managed to outlive.

Barbed wire exhibit at Fort Bridger State Historic Site

No museum in the West is complete without a barbed wire exhibit

Today, Jim Bridger is commemorated in the names of mountain ranges, forests, passes and towns across the West, not least at Fort Bridger in the Bridger Valley, a belt of lush meadows scattered with hay bales, black cows and piebald horses.  After hundreds of miles across the brushy scrub of the High Plains, it felt like we’d arrived in heaven.  Lyman, at the east end of the valley, was clearly within the orbit of Utah.  Just across the road from TJ’s ice-cream parlour, where we had breakfast, was the smart brick Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, resembling a smart doctor’s office, and the Bridger Valley Pioneer was filled with small pieces about local Mormon boys leaving on their evangelical missions.  Elder Brandon Bud Taylor (who looked barely old enough to shave) was about to begin a mission in Seoul, and we wondered at the idea of these children, whose life experience amounted to little more than helping with the hay harvest and playing high-school football, being parachuted into one of the world’s most sophisticated metropolises with instructions to save its inhabitants’ souls.

Lyman Eagles practice in Lyman, Wyoming

The Lyman Eagles are put through their paces

We’d seen the school team, the Lyman Eagles, in the middle of their first football practice of the summer as we’d walked into town yesterday evening.  According to the Pioneer, they had won only two of their nine games last season, possibly, we felt, because they were coached by a screaming man standing on top of a stepladder in the middle of the field.  This wasn’t the only summer activity for the youth of Bridger Valley: we had arrived just too late to catch the Uinta County Junior Livestock Sale, but the paper was filled with appreciative small ads from local children who had sold their first cows there – ‘Thank you to Ernie and Mary-Lynn Georgis at Boot Hill Feed for purchasing my steer – McKell Hadlock’.

There were only 150 people in Fort Bridger, a short walk west down the valley, but they supported between them two churches, a large trailer park and the Jim Bridger Club bar and liquor store.  Jim Bridger had founded a fur-trading outpost here in 1842, just in time to catch the collapse of the industry, but the town flourished instead as a brilliantly placed staging-post on the Oregon, California, Mormon and Overland Trails.  ‘I have established a small fort, with blacksmith shop and a supply of iron in the road of the emigrants,’ he wrote to potential investors.  ‘By the time they get here they are in need of all kinds of supplies.’

Old store at Fort Bridger State Historic Site

Stocking up on walking provisions at the Fort Bridger State Historic Site

Wilford Woodruff, a member of the first group of Mormon pioneers bound for Utah, grumbled that ‘the articles at Bridger’s fort were at least one-third or one-half higher than at any other post in America that I ever saw.’  It was the start of a fractious relationship with the Mormons, who tried to have Bridger arrested for selling alcohol and guns to the Indians  and later purchased the fort from him, only to burn it down in 1857 to stop it falling into the hands of an advancing federal army.  An early pioneer described Fort Bridger in 1845 as ‘a shabby concern… built of poles and dogwood mud’, but its site today is a pleasant place, with more of the feel of a peaceful public park than a rugged frontier fort.

Sally by sign to Evanston, Wyoming

Dawn: and the grim task ahead of us is spelled out

After following it all the way from its starting-point in western Missouri, outside Fort Bridger we bid farewell to the Oregon Trail, which turned north-west here towards, well, Oregon.  Whatever other privations they suffered, at least the early emigrants who took it avoided the day that greeted us next; a series of six-mile climbs over the ‘Three Sisters’, a range of steep olive hills that separated us from Evanston, accompanied by howling winds and the scream of truck engines on the interstate beside us.

I-80 running over the Three Sisters near Evanston, Wyoming

Tackling the first of the Three Sisters outside Evanston

We took refuge in a service station, where we met Mike, a burly forty-something trucker on a run to Oregon with his two-year-old daughter.  He had only been driving for three months, but had already reached the same conclusion as we had after our 2,000 miles across America.

“These truckers, I tell you, they could shut the country down like that.”

We asked him how he was enjoying the life.

“It’s fun.  America’s big.  I’m used to gettin’ across it in two days with my team-mate.  But it’s rough.  I prefer solo driving, ‘cos I can get some good sleep at night.”

Mike’s team-mate today was his little girl, who was pressing her face longingly against the glass of a stuffed-toy machine.

“She’s sposed to ride behind the safety net in the back.  But I put her on my lap out in the country and let her drive.”  We made a mental note to walk further away from the shoulder in future.

Like almost everywhere in southern Wyoming, Evanston had been a railway and a mining town; unlike almost everywhere in southern Wyoming, it was quietly charming.  The wide, sunny pavements of Main Street were lined with planters ablaze with pink and red geraniums, and there was a quiet little square with several places – The Scoop ice-cream parlour, the Main Street Artisans Cafe, Kate’s (‘A Place for Libations and Conversations’) – that looked like fine spots to while away an hour with a newspaper.  We ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant with cactus chandeliers, and marvelled at the first pedestrian crossings we’d seen for several hundred miles.

Main Street in Evanston, Wyoming

Main Street in Evanston, Wyoming

At the cluster of motels on the edge of Evanston, only the Dunmar Inn stood out, with its baffling promise of ‘World-Famous Pillows’.  By the interstate, a huge billboard advertised an indoor shooting-range, with a catchy name – Get Some Guns – and an arrestingly simple marketing slogan: ‘Shoot Machine Guns’.  The last house in Wyoming was a mock Tudor mansion, complete with a stone-clad medieval turret that rose above the sagebrush.

Just over the Utah state line we were picked up by Brian, a goateed young Puerto Rican who had moved to Wyoming only a few months ago.  We asked him what he thought of Evanston.

“Boring.  I just sometimes don’t know what to do there.  I wanna go out with my wife, and go to places, but there’s nothing to do here.  I just bust my ass workin’.  I pick up people from bars.  That’s the business right there, man.  I got people throwin’ up, I got people fightin’ inside the car.  It’s crazy, you know?  It’s crazy.  Wyoming is very crazy.”

Utah-Wyoming state line

Entering Utah... already equipped with 'ski-poles'

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4 Responses to “Days 167-170/ Aug 20th-23rd– Lyman, WY to Wahsatch, UT: Thank you for purchasing my steer”

  1. Grant Holmstrom Says:

    I happen to know the screaming man on the ladder and he is not our head coach, my dad is who toke over one game into last season, and I was at that practice and it was interesting someone was watching us, You never know.

  2. Grant Holmstrom Says:

    Great photo, brings back a lot of memories of last season

  3. Cheyenne Charlie Says:

    Thanks for sharing what western Wyoming looks like. As the 9th largest state, it takes years to see it all.

  4. Patrick Says:

    Thanks for documenting your experience. Loved the pic of Sally chillin on the roadside. What an adventure!

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