LARAMIE, Wyo. — Heading westward from Iowa, there are fewer and fewer signs marking the route of the Lincoln Highway. This is especially true in Wyoming, where significant sections of Interstate 80 west of Cheyenne were simply built over the original Lincoln Highway.
But Wyoming is home to a gigantic Abraham Lincoln monument along the route at the highway’s highest point, 8,835 feet at the Summit Rest Area on Sherman Hill.
The 16th president’s bust looks down on Interstate 80 from the top of a tall column built out of stones. The sound of the highway echos up to the Lincoln statue, especially as the sputtering of truck engine brakes cuts across the monotone hum of vehicular traffic.
Lincoln’s head was built by Wyoming’s Parks Commission to honor Lincoln’s 150th birthday. It was sculpted by Robert Russin, a University of Wyoming art professor and a Lincoln fan (When he died in 2007, his ashes were interred in the hollow monument). The head originally was perched at Sherman Summit, 8,878 feet above sea level, the highest point along the old coast-to-coast Lincoln Highway. When I-80 was completed in 1969, the head was moved here — losing a couple of hundred feet (and any eponymous rationale for existing, really) but gaining a vast new audience.
The road up to this point from Cheyenne, which sits at roughly 6,000 feet, travels across the high plains. This is what Colorado’s Front Range must have looked like before suburbia. The landscape here is certainly majestic and my photos don’t do the topography justice. It’s broad. It’s easy for the eyes to gaze out over the vast expanse.
Yes, there are mountains in Wyoming, plenty of them. And you can see them off in the distance. But along Interstate 80, travelers aren’t necessarily forced to confront them head on. Unlike Interstate 70’s dramatic and gorgeous crossing of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, the Lincoln Highway and modern-day I-80 mostly lacks the same kind of deep and narrow canyons, towering peaks and craggy mountain passes expected when headed toward a lofty crossing of the Continental Divide.
There’s a steady change in elevation on the route uphill from Cheyenne, but there aren’t as many topographical reference points in this higher-elevation landscape.
For being the highest point along the highway — and I should note that this is not the Continental Divide, which awaits me more than 100 miles west of here — Sherman Hill doesn’t feel like a great promontory. The approach to the Sherman Hill pass is fairly gentle. There are ridges back in Pennsylvania that seem like they’re much more significant obstacles. I’m sure trucks must have a harder time climbing to this point, but for my rental car, traversing this territory was a breeze.
At the Summit Rest Area, I picked up a copy of that day’s Casper Star Tribune from a newspaper box. It has a story about former Vice President Dick Cheney, who previously represented Wyoming in the U.S. House of Representatives.
During an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Cheney had said that his health has been “nothing short of a miracle,” thanks to a heart transplant and before that a battery-powered heart pump. The story, which isn’t particularly newsworthy, is only four paragraphs long. Nevertheless, Cheney’s heart condition is above-the-fold news here.
Paging through the paper, I definitely felt like I was in Wyoming with rugged-sounding headlines like “Gillette man finds mountain lion under porch” and “Enzi, ranchers and advocates target beef-price manipulation.”
I’d like to say that “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” but the Lincoln Highway’s route skips the Sunflower State. There’s no yellow brick road heading west to San Francisco from here. But perhaps Dick Cheney is Wyoming’s Wizard of Oz? Perhaps Evanston, my intended destination for the night, is Emerald City. But I have a long way to go to find out.