Hanging out in Casper, waiting for a break in the weather. It looks like once this series of storms clears out it’s going to heat up again. Not as hot as a couple of weeks ago, but into the 90s. That’s the story in Casper anyway. I have not been checking much further west.
I’ve reprovisioned and washed my bike and clothes and have charged everything and am pretty much ready to go. But I’m not leaving for another forty hours or so. Too much time on my hands means too much time to second guess my preparations and my planning and it means way too much time to worry, period. I already know I’ve packed too much food and cooking fuel, that I’ll be hauling around even more excess weight than before. So I’ve been bumming around town, trying to keep busy and distracted to stop myself from adding even more.
And I don’t know if this is a nice or a mean thing to say, but I think the sky is the most interesting aspect of this area. Then again, maybe it’s just that my thoughts and attention are drawn to the western sky, toward where the weather comes from and to where I’m headed next, trying to read the patterns of the clouds and the winds. Nevertheless the sky has been beautiful.
Casper marks a new phase of the Pony Express trail. From here west are mountains until I cross the continental divide at South Pass. Beyond the Pass is high desert. The rancher I spoke to at breakfast the other day shook his head when I told him I was heading there. There’s nothing out there, he said. Just . . . desert. He kind of looked like he felt sorry for me.
Casper is the northernmost point on the Pony Express/Emigrant trails (42º50’24” N). From here to Salt Lake City the overall trend of my course will be southwest.
Just outside Casper is Bessemer Bend, also known as Red Buttes. There are, in fact, red buttes out there. Somehow I didn’t expect that. There is a historical site along the North Platte River near the town of Bessemer Bend, set aside as a rest area and park. It was very peaceful.
Red Buttes Crossing/Bessemer Bend (south of Casper) is one of the places where travelers forded the North Platte River—then 300 yards wide—for the last time and started the push toward the Sweetwater River. This crossing was used mostly in the early years of the emigration. After 1847, ferries were available between Casper and Glenrock (Deer Creek). The Red Buttes Pony Express station and an Overland Stage station also were located in this vicinity. Wayside exhibits at this BLM site tell the story.
Red Buttes Pony Express Station was located on a ridge overlooking the North Platte River at Bessemer Bend. Explorers, fur traders, mountain men and emigrants camped at this site. Although the main route of the Oregon Trail was located a few miles north of this site, many emigrant travelers crossed the North Platte River here for the last time on their trek to the west. They preferred using this favorable ford rather than waiting in line and paying the tolls and ferry fees required at lower crossings. Ample grass, good water and pleasant surroundings made this a favorite campsite for some travelers, since the route to and from the Sweetwater River was three days of rough, dry country and poisonous alkali water.
I looked for the Pony Express station marker but never found it.
Once the emigrants crossed the North Platte, the trail was largely dry until they hit the Sweetwater River near Sweetwater Station, a hundred or so miles away. I should reach that point on my third day from here.
The trails all followed the Sweetwater, as I will, until just short of South Pass. Once over the Pass, the rivers run west, of course, the opposite way of rivers on this side of the divide. That’s when the trails hit the desert. The dry run lasts from a little west of South Pass until the Little Sandy and Big Sandy Creeks near present-day Farson. The desert continues further south and west, and I expect to be in it at least until Granger, which I should hit sometime around July 4.
But that’s all in the past for the emigrant and the Pony Express, and in my immediate future starting the day after tomorrow. For now, I’ll just leave you with a few pictures of Casper and the sky.