Oregon Trail fans, does this look familiar?
In the middle of the Wyoming desert rests Independence Rock. This well-known landmark was an important milestone for pioneers traveling on the Oregon Trail. If you were traveling on the Oregon Trail, and you made it to this marker by July 4, you knew you would be able to venture through the valleys ahead without encountering their fatal snowfalls.
Traveling to this monument of our American past isn’t for the faint of heart. It lies an hour from the nearest city, cell service is spotty at best, and you may just be visited by rattlesnakes. However, that didn’t stop us from making the 60-minute trip from Casper, WY, to Independence Rock State Historic Site. We loaded up on water, trail mix, and sunscreen and headed out to the open road.
Upon our arrival, we exited the car and were quickly greeted by the 90-plus degree heat. We wondered, should we continue? Climbing up a huge, shadeless rock in that heat didn’t seem like the best idea. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. But that didn’t stop us from trying. In spite of the heat, we told ourselves that this was the one chance to climb up Independence Rock. How many times in our lives would we be taking a trip to Wyoming? And if we ever came back to this state, would we really make drive back out here?
So, we continued. We walked around the rock, trying to scout out the easiest path upward. We were quickly greeted by this interesting testament to the past:
In 1850, and then in 1858, these pioneers traveling along the Oregon Trail carved their names into the rock.
“Wow!” we thought. We knew there were more carvings on top. Our determination renewed, we continued our search for an upward path.
After looking, searching, debating, and wondering, it was obvious that there was no easy way up. I looked for what I thought was the “safest” way, and began to climb. My wife thought the wisest course of action was to wait at the bottom. Come to find out, it was.
This is me climbing up the rock. When I was climbing, I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I would eventually have to come down.
The views at the top were amazing. The stale air at the bottom of the rock had been replaced with a warm, constant breeze. And, voilà, I had full cell phone service! My wife had no service at all at the bottom.
The view from the top. Yup, I was up high.
Let’s play the game, “Where’s Christina?” Can you see her waving in the distance?
At the top of the rock, there are various carvings from people who have passed by throughout the years.
Many of these carvings date back to the Oregon Trail era.
The carvings, the view, and the constant, warm wind makes the summit of Independence Rock a breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Just remember, if you climb up, you’ll eventually have to come down.
Some cool views of the top, taken right before I started my downward journey.
I did manage to find the one shady place on top. I stayed here for a minute to rehydrate and think about my plan of action.
I tried to climb down a different way. I would descend a bit only to be met by a cliff. I had to backtrack. I couldn’t tell my wife why I was taking so long, not because I didn’t want to, but remember, she had no cell service. After a bit of time, and after jumping over a few rocks and mini-gorges, I was able to find my way back to the base.
If you decide to venture to this part of Wyoming, make sure you’re prepared. As the map below shows, Independence Rock State Historical Site is in the middle of nowhere. Make sure your car has a full tank of gas before leaving the city, and make sure you’ve taken enough water and snacks for yourselves. But don’t let that stop you. The journey to this historic site is worth the effort.
The closer, satellite view shows Independence Rock next to the rest area. To get to the rock, park in the rest area parking lot on Route 220.