Tag Archives: Road Trip

By Bill Deverell

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Very rare glass plate stereoscopic views c. 1859 taken by Albert Bierstadt, courtesy of Wyoming’s Museum of the Mountain Man.

Today I saw a landscape that blew my mind. This is not unusual out here; the rolling ranch lands of Sublette County, with the Teton and Wind River ranges perched on separate horizons, provide vistas of awe in every direction one looks. Up close, grasses and wildflowers, pronghorn antelope, deer, rabbits, smaller critters. We have a lone wolf and a mountain lion on prowl near the ranch, which has sent the dogs into fierce barking in the wee hours of each night. I haven’t seen them, and I don’t expect to. John and I have seen one wolf on our annual trip, a few years ago, atop a mountain pass: a big, black male with a limp running across the open terrain in the rain.

This landscape I saw today wasn’t on a hike, or from the ranch house, or from the car. It was in a museum, the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale. This charming history museum is a winner: great artifacts of the fur trade, good displays of the lure of the beaver and its sumptuous pelt, indigenous artifacts and stories woven into the mountain man lore with appropriate complexity. Downstairs, tucked away in a case at the far end of an anteroom, were two blown up black and white photographs. One showed a line of wagon trains working across the face of a hill, the other showed encamped emigrants on a wide expanse of grassland, their cattle in the foreground, snowy mountains in the back.

Emigrant or overland wagon train imagery, at least before the Civil War, is rare – really rare. I don’t know if I’ve seen any at all. I looked at these blown up images and thought, at first, that these were either post-Civil War or, more likely, film stills from some early 20th century western.

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Very rare glass plate stereoscopic views c. 1859 taken by Albert Bierstadt, courtesy of Wyoming’s Museum of the Mountain Man.

Nope. These were 1859 glass plate stereographic images of overlanders cutting right through this part of Wyoming, no more than about twenty or thirty miles away. John and I had come through this landscape the other day, and I had noted a few historical markers touching upon the wagon trains, their campsites, even the continued presence of wagon ruts etched into the soil. But photographs? I’d never seen any this early before.

The story gets better. The photographer was Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), the great landscape painter whose huge Romantic paintings of western scenes, skies, and indigenous inhabitants of the land excited American and European imaginations of sublime possibilities of experience and awe in the era of Manifest Destiny. We know Bierstadt as a painter, and as a painter of huge canvases fixed in gigantic frames. But a photographer? Maybe I knew that once, a long time ago, and I think I knew that he had a brother who was a photographer. Given the scarcity of any of Albert’s images, I guess I forgot or never knew in the first place that he took pictures, too.

The story gets even better. These images came to light by way of … eBay. Yep. And thanks to the sharp eye and historical sleuthing of Clint Gilchrist, now the museum’s executive director, they have come to reside here. Clint thinks that they are the earliest wagon train photographic images known, and I don’t doubt that he’s right.

Could the story get any better? Yes! Clint very kindly showed me the two glass plates, with their nearly identical positive images paired up side-by- side, two to a plate. Stereographic photography uses two images in which the photographic vantage is different only by a few degrees; these plates would have been used to print cardboard mounted images which, when put into a binocular viewer, would have created the illusion of three-dimensional depth. The viewer’s eyes and brain would overlap the images so that the picture would hover just in front of them, as if they were looking out a window at the scene itself. They were all the rage in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Clint even found the spot near the Big Sandy River where Bierstadt made the image of the cattle and encamped emigrants. He showed me on his computer how he merged the modern and 1859 pictures. The snow-capped mountains align perfectly, and Clint even filled the grassland with modern cows and their overland ancestors scattered here and there. It was awesome.

I want to thank Clint for a memorable visit to this museum and to the past. You really do learn something new every day, and thank goodness for it.

These two rare images of an emigrant wagon train, as seen at Wyoming’s Museum of the Mountain Man, can be found on the University of Wyoming’s web site.


Bill Deverell and his son stop for dinner at Buck’s Sports Grill in Rawlins, Wyoming.

By Bill Deverell

Rawlins, Wyoming. Drove up here yesterday from Colorado Springs, right alongside Front Range. These are the baby Rockies that, in their north/south alignment, help create landscapes of great beauty and attraction up against their eastern-facing flanks. The Front Range, I learned as a kid, is where all the people are and hardly any of the water, and that’s even more true today.

We took the back road, state highway 287, from Ft. Collins (home to CSU and a superb history department) on up to and across the Wyoming border. This is a glorious drive: rocky canyons of red soils, vistas of fifty and sixty miles, every now and then a one-room church with a little steeple sitting in vigil on the open range. French place and river names are flecked here and there, leftovers from the early 19th century when French trappers and traders came through. Best known in these parts is probably the Cache la Poudre River, so named in the 1820s when French trappers got caught in a snowstorm and buried some of their gunpowder on the river’s banks. We hit a big rainstorm at the border, just before Laramie. Because you can see so far out here, the rainstorm sat on the horizon in sheets and sheets — lightning shooting down in big bolts every few minutes — for a long time before we drove right into it.

We made Rawlins by dinnertime, getting a little further than I thought we would. That will make today’s drive to our fishing range destination, near Daniel, Wyoming, a snap. Rawlins is a tough place — the Wyoming State Penitentiary is here, along with its maximum-security inmates. A precursor facility, the Wyoming Frontier Prison, sits in the center of town. It is the 1901 re-do of an 1872 prison. Tours run regularly through the castle-like structure, which, as we drove by at dusk, looked nearly as ominous and imposing as it no doubt was in its heyday. Especially “incorrigible” prisoners were housed in the “dungeon house” portion of the penitentiary. Many an inmate was executed here, mostly hanged from gallows or killed by gas. The last woman inmate, who had murdered her father with a poison plum pie, arrived for a brief stay in 1909, before being transferred to another site. A quick glance at the website describing the history and tours (and urging visitors to “Come Hang With Us”) gives a little sense of the context of the prison’s early years. Train robbers were behind bars here, as were men on either side of the often-bloody range wars that pitted cattlemen against sheepmen. Rawlins is a fascinating place — those early days peek around the corners of its buildings and storefronts to this day, the U.P. railroad tracks run right through town, and this haunted hulk of a prison is still telling stories.

Dinner for us was at Buck’s in town (the menus are big!), a boisterous and friendly place with all kinds of Old West paraphernalia on the walls. I spy Butch Cassidy’s prison mug shot on the wall. Born in Utah 1866 as Robert Leroy Parker to Mormon emigres from England, Cassidy took the name of a ranch hand mentor and put together a notorious band of outlaws late in the century. There are pictures of some of his “Hole in the Wall” gang up as well. The “Hole in the Wall,” a secluded pass through a rocky mesa about 200 miles north of here, was a notorious outlaw hideout, ca. 1880-1910, and Cassidy apparently knew it well. I don’t see Etta Place up here, but I bet she’s somewhere. A Denver schoolteacher, Etta was the girlfriend of Harry Longabaugh, Cassidy’s sidekick, better known as the Sundance Kid. She went to South America with the outlaws in the early 20th century, when things got way too hot for them in Wyoming and the Great Basin. She supposedly returned to Denver to undergo an appendectomy, at which point she disappears into history’s mists. Cassidy and Longabaugh, as the great Paul Newman/Robert Redford film depicts so movingly and well, look to have been killed in a shootout with authorities in Bolivia, though Butch may have somehow avoided that fate, as many still claim.

Not far from Rawlins — we will drive right by it this morning — is the site of one of Butch Cassidy’s signature train robberies made famous in the film. Having stopped the train, Cassidy and his men then blew up the baggage car to smithereens with dynamite, prompting, in the film, Redford (as the Sundance Kid) to ask, “Do ya think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?”


A photo of the Glenwood Springs Bath House (circa 1910) courtesy of the Denver Public Library.

By Bill Deverell

Day Four. Spent the night in Grand Junction, Green and Colorado River country. Hot and dry. Dinner at a pub in Grand Junction’s old downtown. A bit of Dublin broke out while we were there: an eight-piece band playing traditional Irish music. Gave the evening an added dose of cheerfulness.

Up and out pretty early, climbing towards the canyon country of the Colorado River near Glenwood Springs. A quick stop in Palisade, heart of the state’s peach-growing country to fill the car up with a box of peaches, sweet and tiny plums, peach salsa, peach and jalapeno jam, and some rhubarb jam. The plums went fast. Palisade is a beautiful little town, hard up against sheer canyon walls and mesas, drawing, I suspect, all its irrigation from the Colorado River. The peach grower I talked with said that the water rights for his orchard went back to the 1930s, and that his neighbor grower had rights that stretched back to the early 1900s. Irrigation canals cut from the river crisscross the landscape, and the valley that Palisade sits in looks like a plein air painter’s paradise.

Arrived later in the morning at Glenwood Springs, home to the famous hot springs and “the world’s largest hot springs swimming pool.” The town is tucked in the canyon and sits directly atop geothermal activity that bubbles and boils water from down below. Sulphur, rotten egg smells mingle with the gurgle of the springs. The springs at the Glenwood Hotel have been a tourist and health seeker attraction since the 1880s – people come from far and wide to sit in, and even drink, the warm water. The notorious gunman, gambler, and dentist, John “Doc” Holliday, died in this very hotel, tuberculosis (and hard living) having caught up with him at the young age of 36. His was an extreme case – he was an unusual figure in the Old West, a dentist and a killer. Legions of “less colorful” seekers showed up in Glenwood Springs to take the waters, to look for temporary convalescent care in the post-Civil War era when the nation and so many of its people were wounded and broken. My son and I took the waters, and I admit that I wondered if Doc Holliday would have liked the great water slide we rode with exuberance over and over again.

Glenwood canyon was, as ever, beautiful. The Colorado River crashes down right alongside I-70. We saw dozens of rafts, one dowry, one surfer, several kayakers, and lots of people fly fishing in the spots where the Colorado runs slower and deeper.

We drove on past Vail and Copper Mountain and on through Summit County, a part of Colorado I know well from summers and winters of my youth. On through Frisco and Breckenridge, towns I first got to know when they were still nearly ghost towns of the mining past. Now they bustle, and we got stuck in a tiny traffic jam in downtown Breckenridge. Up and over Hoosier Pass, through the tough little towns of Alma and Fairplay. Across the open-space, treeless flat of South Park (the famed and ribald cartoon series draws its name from right here), and then into Colorado Springs from the backside of Pikes Peak. Now we are here for a few days, and I will be interested to see how this city has changed since I grew up here decades ago. It is a curious place.

The 1910 image of the Glenwood Springs Bath House can be found on the website of the Denver Public Library Digital Collections.


Brick from the wall at the Civilian Conservation Corps in Leeds, Utah. Photo by Bill Deverell.

By Bill Deverell

After a great Fourth of July in St. George, my son and I headed out this morning to Colorado. First stop was the CCC camp in Leeds, just east of St. George. Here’s a photo I took of the wall of the CCC officer’s quarters up on the hill. It’s likely, given the other signatures I saw, that this was not “Dobby Cleve.” I think it may have been a man named Dobby who was from Cleveland. What’s amazing about our ability to do family history these days, through various genealogy sites, is that a couple of hours of work would probably allow us to find out just who this was, this man who scratched his name into the stone of a small building in the red sandstone hills of southwestern Utah in the heart of the Great Depression.

Up and out of the canyons surrounding St. George and on towards Cedar City. Here, where there is now a superb Shakespeare Festival, is the site of one of the most notorious massacres in all of American history. In 1857, at the height of tensions between the Mormon theocratic community and the federal government (which resulted in the Mormon War), the Baker-Fanchon wagon train bound for the far West wandered through nearby Mountain Meadows. The emigrants hailed mostly from Arkansas, though they had absorbed some others from Missouri. These later additions may have heightened the tensions, seeing as they came from a region which had so recently persecuted the Mormons in one violent encounter after another.

Mormon militia members, in league with local Paiute Indians, attacked and put the wagon train under siege. After several days, Mormon fighters approached the train under a white flag, offering the emigrants protection and safe escort back to Cedar City. It was a ruse. Once on the trail, the Mormon militia members turned their weapons on the settlers. With the exception of the very young, all were murdered, well over 100 people. Adding another macabre note, the spared children were brought back to Mormon families to be raised as adoptees (some later returned to Arkansas by federal officials). To top off the weird grimness of it all, the one man brought to justice for the massacre, John D. Lee, was executed by federal firing squad twenty years later, sitting on the edge of a coffin at the very site of the massacre. I can’t drive by Cedar City without thinking of all this.

We usually press on to Salt Lake when we take this trip each summer. But this year, a deviation. We turn east onto I-70, bound for Colorado to visit my family. This is a glorious detour from our regular route. Such stunning canyon country, and if you look closely, the landscape reveals far more color than just the spectacular sandstone red. Reds in rich array, whites, grays. It is breathtaking. Not many people live out here, but here and there you can see an old cabin. And in the valleys, where there’s at least a little water, small communities.

On the way into Grand Junction, Colorado, we drove alongside and over the Green River. Full of snowmelt as we saw it today, lazy and powerful, the Green is the parent of the mighty Colorado, falling out of the Wind River Range in Wyoming, where we will be in a week or so.

Tomorrow, we hunker alongside the Colorado River for awhile, a route I love, a trip also alongside the history of the Rocky Mountain West, a journey from the western slope up and over the Rockies to the front range.


Photo of the St. George Post Office (circa 1920) courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society available through the J. Willard Marriott Digital Library.

By Bill Deverell

Thermometer at a brisk 103 degrees.  Lots of water time today.  The good people of St. George have their community pool and slide open today, so that made up part of the day.  “No line for the slide!” my boy shouts, as we opened the place at 11:00 this morning.   Then a couple of hours at the wonderful Fourth of July festival in the park.  It’s a local carnival.  Lots of booths, cotton candy, bean bag toss.  A Ferris Wheel this year – that’s new, I think – and the great outdoor climbing wall that my son loves.  He and it took one another’s measure for several ascensions: fun to watch.

St. George is predominantly LDS – I’d guess three of four people, but that’s only a hunch.  The ratio is probably dropping.  This year, I noticed other churches: Baptist, Episcopalian, a tiny Christian Science outfit that I think is a reading room.  I saw more Latino faces at the fair, though it is just as likely, I’d think, that they were Mormon as Catholic or otherwise.  Pacific Islanders were noticeable at the fair, probably LDS, I’d guess.  The number of African Americans seemed, as it always does, small, but maybe growing?   Mostly I notice the young LDS families – at the park, at the pool, in town.  One year, we saw a family in very traditional dress out for Mexican food; whom I assumed to be USMB – U.S. Mennonite Brethren.  I think, like most places, that the diversity of belief, faith, and acts even in a city like St. George is probably more complex and varied than we might otherwise first imagine.

Fireworks tonight.  We are perched up here on a hill overlooking the northeastern side of town: we’ll get a great view of the fireworks in the park.  We bought our own, too.  My son has endured two (ok, three) lectures about the danger of an unignited firework.  We have sparklers, naturally, and a smoke grenade.  Some floral fireworks that shoot up and out.  As a kid, I stomped on a firework ember, forgetting that I had placed it on the nail I pounded up from the bottom of the wooden stand I build for it.  I still have that scar, as well as the memory of knowing, in an instant, that I had done something which was about to really hurt.

Tomorrow we hit the road for Grand Junction, the Colorado River, and the mineral baths of that great Colorado town.  On the way out of St. George, we’ll pass by some of the tough little homes that the LDS pioneers built 150 years ago, as well as a well-preserved Civilian Conservation Camp that we always stop to see.  The workers carved their names in the walls and doorframes, and looking at them gives me a professor’s chance to talk to my son about the Great Depression.

Lots of American flags today, naturally.  But, try as I might, I heard little overtly political talk.  People were happy to be at the carnival with one another, and their attention (and mine) was mostly aimed at the kids and watching them having so much fun.

By Bill Deverell

Bill and John DeverellThis summer marks the fifth year that my son John and I will drive from Pasadena to Jackson, Wyoming, so that he can spend a week at the wonderful Teton Science School learning about the ecology and environment of the Rocky Mountains. This year, like 2016, will see us on the road for a long time. We have cleared our calendars in favor of wide-open spaces, snack packs in the car, historical markers, and motel swimming pools.

Today was day one. We know this route well. Out of Pasadena early enough to dodge most of the Vegas-for-Fourth-of-July traffic on I-15 North (traffic was oddly light today). Up and over the Cajon Pass, with its beautiful vistas and engineered freeway and adjacent railroad tracks with their impossibly long trains snaking up and down the mountain. I can’t drive this without thinking of the 19th century railroad finding its inexorable way to Southern California, its natural resources, goods, and markets.

At the top of Cajon and on toward hardscrabble Hesperia and Apple Valley, with local hints about Roy Rogers and Dale Evans inscribed on signs and roads, everything baking in the July heat. Las Vegas, eventually, though we roar by without so much as a stop to put a quarter in a slot machine. We’re headed to St. George, Utah, 100 miles from Las Vegas, not far over the state line of Nevada and Utah – with that sliver of Arizona to cross first, near the Virgin River Gorge (more water this year than the usual just-damp condition of years past).

We made St. George by mid-afternoon. Red sandstone cliffs as sentries surround this quaint city of about 85,000, which has been around since the start of the Civil War, when Brigham Young sent LDS pioneers here to grow cotton. We stay at the same motel each year – a good free breakfast, people are friendly, and there’s a little pool. We stay in St. George for a couple of reasons. We feel like stopping by the time we get there. There’s a fascinating silver mine ghost town just to the north, near where we’ve hiked and looked for indigenous petroglyphs in the past. The Fourth of July is celebrated with a small-town exuberance (high school bands, bean bag toss, three-legged race, that kind of thing). And they have a great community pool with a huge outdoor tubular water slide. We’ve hit the pool and slide already today. Tomorrow is the Fourth and we get to hang with the locals for the day. I’ll listen carefully to hear if I can glean information about this part of the Great Basin’s perspectives on the current state of the Republic.