Unwelcome Signs in Wyoming

Heading westward toward sunset, somewhere along Interstate 80 in southern Wyoming (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

Heading westward toward sunset, somewhere along Interstate 80 in southern Wyoming (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

EVANSTON, Wyo. — Traveling across Wyoming’s southern tier, I had one destination in mind: a hotel bed. Originally, my plan was to drive all the way from my mid-trip relaxation stop at Boulder, Colo., to Salt Lake City, but when a friend in Colorado asked me whether I knew “that’s a really, really long way” to do solo, I decided to reassess my options. I did, after all, want to make a few stops along the way and take the longer, more scenic drive along the Lincoln Highway’s original route via Medicine Bow.

I decided that Evanston, a city established when the Union Pacific Railroad pressed west through this part of Wyoming in the late 1860s, would be a good stopping-off point. It would still necessitate a long driving day because there is no such thing as a quick trip anywhere in Wyoming.

Like many towns along the transcontinental railroad, Evanston once had a sizable Chinese population in its early years. In fact, there have been archaeological excavations of Evanston’s former Chinatown which uncovered materials belonging to Chinese women, who were always a rarity in these male-dominated communities along the railroad.

According to Western Wyoming Community College:

The most distinctive pieces of jewelry recovered during excavations that can be attributed to women are earrings. Photographs of Chinese women in Evanston show women wearing earrings similar to the ones uncovered in excavation. Other jewelry items uncovered in excavation are less useable as indicators of gender. However, the earrings recovered, as well as the other jewelry items uncovered, come from one living space that posses an internal courtyard. Based on the gold, silver, Ming Dynasty ceramics, jade fragments, variety and number of coins recovered, and shear quantity of artifacts found in this one area, we contend that the occupants had a relatively high economic status–especially when compared to the Chinese coal miner’s quarters north of Evanston at Almy and even railroad laborers homes inside the Evanston Chinatown.

The history of Chinese laborers building the transcontinental railroad and the industries they served along the route is a decidedly unhappy one, especially in Wyoming.

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A Place to Appreciate the Power of Emptiness

(Photo by Michael E. Grass)

The view of the Medicine Bow Mountains near Walcott, Wyo. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

WALCOTT, Wyo. — I’ve never been to Montana to see Big Sky Country but from the looks of the things, Wyoming could rightfully claim that title, too. On my way west from Laramie, I could have simply stuck to Interstate 80 and taken a shorter route through the southern tier of Wyoming.

But the Lincoln Highway bends north, roughly following the Union Pacific Railroad around the Medicine Bow Mountains before eventually rejoining I-80 to cross the Great Divide Basin. Many Lincoln Highway enthusiasts are adamant about taking the old, slower route. I can see why.

Thus far along my trek, this stretch of land might be the most impressive geography along the route. And this is where the combination of light, sky, clouds and topography were finally in harmony and my smartphone was able to capture the true grandeur of the territory.

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(Photo by Michael E. Grass)

Looking southwest along the Lincoln Highway near Walcott, Wyo. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

Because I was off I-80, I had an easier time making brief pitstops to enjoy this landscape. I was also mostly alone out here — passing cars were few and far between — so I essentially had this beautiful land all to myself.

In Travels With Charley, John Steinbeck wrote:

From the beginning of my journey, I had avoided the great high-speed slashes of concrete and tar called “thruways,” or “superhighways.” … These roads are wonderful for moving goods but not for inspection of a countryside. You are bound to the wheel and your eyes to the car ahead and to the rear-view mirror for the car behind and the side mirror for the car or truck about to pass, and you must read all the signs for fear you may miss some instructions or orders.

Bosler, Wyo. (Photo by Flickr user afiler via CC BY-SA 2.0 >>)

An abandoned school in Bosler, Wyo. (Photo by Flickr user afiler via CC BY-SA 2.0 >>)

This original route travels through the mostly abandoned settlement of Bosler, where, according to American Road, “the last souls packed up and left, leaving a ghost village of empty mobile homes and scrawny shacks” when I-80 opened in 1971.

I can understand why economics would drive most people out of this great land. And part of me is thankful that it did so I could enjoy this expanse on my own with few distractions.

There are, for sure, many places like this across the American West, but I want to think that this part of Wyoming could be the greatest, grandest and most impressive territory that anyone seeking to understand the power of emptiness could ever discover.

(Photo by Michael E. Grass)

This is a beautiful place. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

You Can Always Spot a Former Long John Silver’s Location

This looks like a former Long John Silver's location. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

This looks like a former Long John Silver’s location. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

LARAMIE, Wyo. — Before driving through town, I didn’t know much about Wyoming’s third-largest city except that it was the home of the University of Wyoming and the site where Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered in 1998. After I passed through Laramie on my way west, I didn’t know much more than when I came.

This is where the Lincoln Highway, following U.S. 30, diverges from Interstate 80 for roughly 95 miles before reconnecting near the dusty unincorporated settlement of Walcott.

Laramie’s downtown, set on a grid of square blocks east of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, seemed relatively charming, but there wasn’t much here that compelled me to go out to explore.

On my way into town, however, a place called the Teriyaki Bowl caught my attention for an odd reason: It had the classic characteristics of a Long John Silver’s franchise location.

It had a symmetrical pseudo-Colonial design with exterior wooden planks arranged vertically, a cupola on the roof and two doors flanking a squared-off bay window. There’s nothing inherent in this cookie-cutter design that screams out “I am a place that pretends to be dockside where you can get fried fish, tartar sauce, buttered corn-on-the-cob nibblers and hush puppies,” but for most Americans familiar with 1970s and 1980s suburban corridors, this standard design is something instantly identified with Long John Silver’s.

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Lincoln at the Lincoln Highway’s Highest Point

At a rest area along east of Laramie, Wyo., a towering statue of Abraham Lincoln is visible from Interstate 80. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

At a rest area along east of Laramie, Wyo., a towering statue of Abraham Lincoln is visible from Interstate 80. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

2013-06-17 14.41.34LARAMIE, 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.

According to RoadsideAmerica.com:

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.

Another monument to the Lincoln Highway near Laramie, Wyo. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

Another monument to the Lincoln Highway near Laramie, Wyo. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

Adjacent to the Lincoln monument is a marker dedicated to Packard Motor Company president Henry B. Joy, the first president of the Lincoln Highway Association.

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.

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‘Living the Legend’ in Cheyenne

 Chief Washakie outside the Wyoming State Capitol building in Cheyenne. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

Chief Washakie outside the Wyoming State Capitol building in Cheyenne. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

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Wyoming’s state seal sits out front of the Capitol in Cheyenne. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — For the rest of my Lincoln Highway trek from the East Coast to San Francisco, I’ll be visiting Salt Lake City, Carson City and Sacramento, state capitals I’ve never been to before. But first, there’s Cheyenne, capital of the Equality State. This was my first time in Wyoming.

As someone who lives in the nation’s capital, I’m not the first person to point out that Wyoming’s population is smaller than the District of Columbia, yet citizens in the Equality State have two senators and representation in the House of Representatives while those of us in D.C. lack full and equal representation in Congress.

D.C.’s disenfranchisement and periodic federal meddling into local affairs has been the product of the U.S. Constitution and something that’s proven difficult to change over the decades. But enough about the nation’s capital, I’m in Wyoming’s capital city and largest city, with roughly 60,000 people.

While cosmopolitan Denver and its Front Range suburbs feel like they could fit in well somewhere in California — especially considering the high number of Californians who have migrated to the Centennial State — there’s no mistaking Cheyenne for being a true city of the American West. All you have to do is look for cowboy boots and hats.

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