Halfway to California: July 1846
Updated: Oct 19, 2021
(1800s illustration of wagon train parked beneath Independence Rock.)
Independence Rock was the halfway mark to California. Some claimed if westward travelers made it to this strange-looking landmark in what is now Wyoming by July 4, they could be sure they were making good time. Virginia Reed and her family, still traveling with the Russell Company, arrived at the rock on July 13. Their late arrival may have further convinced some company members, including Virginia’s father, that it would be wise to take the Hastings Cutoff.
Today Independence Rock is a state historic site with a paved parking lot and visitor center. I continued on Interstate Highway 25 north and Wyoming-220 west to see Independence Rock for myself. It may not have been as high or as visually stunning as some of the other landmarks the Russell Company passed, but I found it to be much easier to climb. Faded names, initials and dates of long ago pioneers can still be seen on its granite walls, and a wavering shadow, the Rocky Mountains, hovers in the distant west.
Luckily, pioneers traveling to California didn’t have to climb over the Rocky Mountains. South Pass, a flat, miles-wide area, provided easy passage between the middle and south ranges.
(Today Independence Rock is a state historic site with a paved parking lot and visitor center.)