Sunday, 11 October 2009

Astride the divide

Having waited out snowstorms and ice, we finally managed to cross the Rockies at South Pass in Central Wyoming. The pass is also a point on the Continental Divide – east of this line, waters flow into the Atlantic, while west of it, they end up in the Pacific.

Relatively speaking, it’s a gentle crossing, at an altitude of some 7600 feet.

We climbed and climbed the steep and scenic Route 28, past the short-lived gold rush cities of Atlantic City and South Pass City, until we reached a long, broad, windy plain populated by cattle, roadworks and the occasional oil or gas rig.
It was here that the pioneers on the Oregon, Mormon, Pony Express and California Trails traversed the towering mountain range, before splitting off towards their various endpoints.

At South Pass itself, one can still faintly see the four tracks. We wondered whether any of the pioneers, who would have formed strong friendships along the journey, arrived here and changed their minds about which trail - and destiny - to follow.

We’ve been thinking a lot about the pioneers, trying to appreciate their bravery and steadfastness. Starting their trips at Independence, Missouri, they spent 5-6 months crossing the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains and Southwestern deserts in search of a better life – at a speed of some 12-15 miles a day.

Sophia has a book called something like ‘What if you were a pioneer’, which recounts the pioneer experience. In that, we learned that pioneers walked the majority of their trails – one, because the ride was so bumpy, and two, to conserve the energy of the oxen or horses. Life on that road sounds pretty dire, but they managed to have some fun as well – throwing Fourth of July parties, collecting prairie flowers and making friends along the way.

Sometimes the curved, white-lined Airstream reminds us of a covered wagon, albeit one with a kitchen, heater and bathroom.

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