When the Mountains Were Young

The original plan was to drive this road following the Sweetwater River. The problem was that I wasn’t sure if it was actually a public road. The land out there changes from public to private and back again in an arbitrary fashion. Often there are no signs, and you just have to figure it out for yourself. Getting Bureau of Land Management land use maps solves this problem, but in all my preparation, with this I was unprepared.

So it was settled that we would stop here.

“Here” is just west of Sweetwater Station in Fremont County, Wyoming. There is an unmarked road shortly after that leads south directly to the Sweetwater River. When it hits the Sweetwater, it turns right. This photo was taken at that turn.

More specifically, “Here” is very near to the Oregon Trail’s Sixth Crossing of the Sweetwater. The turn in the road to follow the river is where the old trail joins the “modern” road.

In the book Maps of the Oregon Trail, author Gregory M. Franzwa indicates that the road in all BLM land. This book, however, is from the 70s. It’s rare that land reverts from BLM to private ranch, but I wasn’t sure. Again, a BLM map would have solved this problem easily.

Another issue was the road itself. These are the original ruts of the Oregon Trail. I drove quite a few miles in them already and they’re not exactly easy. On top of that, Franzwa suggests hiking it, calling it the South Pass Hiking Segment. Someday I am going to do this.

Pioneers traveling along the Sweetwater had to cross it upwards of nine times after leaving Independence Rock (where the hiking segment begins). The next 125 miles is mostly on public land, but it crosses private here and there. Ranchers are incredibly specific about which land is and is not theirs. If you’re out there, just assume that you’re being watched – and as soon as you venture onto private land, expect a confrontation. Fortunately, with advanced permission, most (if not all) ranchers in the vicinity are perfectly fine about you crossing their land. All they want is a heads up, and honestly, that’s understandable.

‘When the Mountains Were Young’

Camera: Mamiya m645J (1979)
Film: Fuji Velvia 100F (x-07/2005); 64ISO
Process: E-6

Oregon Trail Along the Sweetwater River, Wyoming


2 thoughts on “When the Mountains Were Young

  1. Reading your post makes me wonder … Sweetwater Station … there was something going on there … in an old movie classics … Once Upon a Time in the West from Sergio Leone. Is this really that Sweetwater Station where the whole story played … with Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson and the wonderful Claudia Cardinale 😉

    1. Ha! I didn’t even think of that. This is in Wyoming and was never more than a Pony Express station, really. Hardly any of the pioneers even mention it. I think Sergio just needed a “Wild West” sounding name. I really should watch that again. It’s been awhile.

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